Leave the comfort of civilization where Uber can pick you up for a ride or AAA can rescue your stalled vehicle, and you enter a domain where your own self-sufficiency may be put to test. As they say, stuff happens. Parts fail and vehicles break.
As a start, having at least a basic mechanic tool kit onboard is a good idea, along with a few vital spare parts. Almost inevitably there will come a day when you can’t fully fix a vehicle out on the trail and you’ll need to improvise a temporary repair or find some way to limp a rig back to a recovery point.
Here are a handful of trail fails we’ve encountered and a few tips on dealing with them.
We’ve seen a number of rigs damage or break suspension link components that position an axle. If you have replacement ends on hand or a welder handy, you might be able to reconstruct the suspension. In absence of those, you can often use ratchet straps to hold pieces in place to nurse a vehicle back to an accessible tow or repair spot. We’ve also used a come-along to hold trailing arms in place when a mount broke and short lengths of chain to constrict suspension movement.
Broken axleshafts mean you’ve lost some significant drive capability, whether it’s a two-wheel-drive or four-wheel-drive rig. On front-drive axles you may be able to continue onward with a broken shaft, but without drive. However, in some cases, the break will interfere with steering movement and require removal of just the axleshaft. The wheel hub can usually continue to free-spin on the spindle. A broken rear shaft on a semi-floating axle may well put you out of commission if the broken shaft won’t stay in the housing and allow you to carefully drive it to a recovery location. On full-float rear axles, the wheel can often continue to operate on the spindle despite the broken shaft.
Leaf springs are incredibly resilient and can take a long-term beating. However, a leaf can fatigue and fail by snapping in two. If this happens to a mid-pack leaf it’s often not a big deal, but break the main leaf and you’ve got a headache on your hands. We usually carry a few of these U-bolt clamps on leaf-spring rigs and have used them a few times to patch together a spring pack out in the boonies. With a little ingenuity the pack can be clamped together so it can continue to support the vehicle.
Driveshafts can see a lot of stress in the dirt. Overload can damage mating splines, bend tubes, or grenade joints. Running a damaged driveshaft may eventually cause excessive wear at transmission or transfer case output shaft bearings, or at the axle pinion bearings. Binding in the splines could transfer shock into the transfer case upon compression and cause cracking or damage to the case. It’s sometimes best to remove a damaged driveshaft on a four-wheel-drive rig. On solid-axle front suspensions, over-extension (where the driveshaft may pull part) can be temporarily limited by restricting the front axle droop with a ratchet strap or length of chain.
Most off-roaders carry at least one fullsize spare tire, and sometimes two onboard. We’ve seen vehicles wipe out multiple tires on runs or puncture a tire when the rig is in a location where the tire is not easily changed. We carry a quality tire plug kit for just such repairs. Single plugs can stop a small puncture leak while multiple plugs can often do a surprisingly good job of stopping air from coming out a sidewall tear well enough to get you off the trail. You’ll, of course, need an air source to reinflate the tire.