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Nena Knows Jeeps: Preparing a Jeep for 1,000 Miles of Desert

Posted in Features on November 29, 2018
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The first year of the Rebelle Rally was 2016, and Emily Miller of Rod Hall Racing had put together an all-women’s off-road rally lasting seven days and covering more than 1,000 miles of desert roads. The competition would not be for speed, but for navigational accuracy using only a map and compass—no GPS allowed. I was asked to prep some Jeeps for that first Rebelle Rally and decided to compete as well, and I have ever since. Having completed our third year in the rally, we have fine-tuned an approach to preparing a Jeep for such an endeavor.

Since the tires are what actually touch the ground, we start there and work our way up to the steering and suspension components. We inspect and tighten all of our control arm mounts, tie-rod ends, ball joints, steering columns, track bar mounts—anything that attaches the frame to the suspension and steering—to proper torque specifications. Shocks and springs are next, and anything that looks questionable gets replaced. Air filters (don’t forget cabin air filters), oil filters, differential fluid, transmission fluid, transfer case fluid, are all checked and cleaned, topped off, or replaced.

What will your Jeep have to endure for 1,000 miles of desert?

Finally, we look at what additional equipment will be needed for self-sufficiency. On the Rebelle Rally, teams can have mechanical or recovery assistance with the push of a button, but they pay for it in penalties, so it’s good to be as self-sufficient as possible. Recovery devices such as traction boards, kinetic rope, and appropriate screw-pin bow shackles and soft shackles are a must-have. The factory Wrangler jack can be used to lift the axle high enough to change a flat or get the vehicle unstuck from many high-centered situations. We don’t provide Hi-Lift jacks, but we recommend that participants carry one if they know how to use it properly and safely. The same goes for winches.

Beyond the minimum vehicle basics, you should think about what specific spare parts might be needed for your rig, as well as how to change them out in the field when you’re tired and hungry, at night, in the rain. Truly, the most difficult challenge of any long-distance trek like the Rebelle Rally is overcoming the mental and physical fatigue to make smart navigation and driving decisions for 10 hours a day, many days in a row.

Off-road use can wear your tires three times faster than normal pavement driving. Given that figure, do you have enough tread life left to finish the trip?
How old are your tires? The date is the last four digits, “1517” in this case, which means this tire was produced in the fifteenth week of the year 2017. In our dry environment, and in our commercial world, we don’t like to see a tire that is more than 3 years old.
Extra front lower control arm skidplates are cheap and easy insurance against unforgiving desert rocks.
Don’t just look at all of your bolts; torque them with a wrench. Sometimes things don’t appear loose, but a mere quarter-turn can make a difference. Also, have a friend turn the steering wheel back and forth while you observe the bushing movement on track bars, control arms, and all steering components.
Air filter, cabin air filter, and oil filters should be clean to start a long trip. We often shake or blow out air filters mid-trip, too.
This road doesn’t look that tough, but do this for 30 miles and then carefully feel your shocks. The constant vibration is friction that can cook weak shocks to death. Make sure your shocks are large enough capacity for your Jeep, and that they are in good shape before you leave.
These are the basic items that we stock every Rebelle Rally Jeep with, and this is part of a larger kit that goes in every guide Jeep.
Traction boards such as these Maxtrax are invaluable in any soft surface¬—sand, mud, snow, or cinders. Make sure you have at least one traction board.
Some of our JKs out on the Rebelle Rally in 2016. Photo by Paolo Baraldi, courtesy of Rebelle Rally.
We had seven of our JLs compete in the 2018 Rebelle Rally. They all finished, AND finished with nothing more than one blown shock.
My white JL, Juliet, won first place in the 2018 rally, under the expert driving and navigating skills of Michelle LaFramboise and Elise Racette of Canada.

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