Cheap tips and tricks? Yep, we got them! Maybe it’s because we have been obsessed with off-road magazines since we could hold one (that’s long before the internets were invented) and thus have picked up several tips along the way, or maybe it’s because we are consummate cheapskates. We don’t know. We may not know much, but we’ve got a pretty good idea how to pinch a penny, especially when it comes to working on, fixing, and building our 4x4 toys. Whether you’re looking for cheap tricks for the trail, tools, building hacks, or to save a dime on a new part for your rig, you’ve come to the right place.
Cherokee front driveshafts have 1310 double-cardan joints and can be shortened or lengthened for use in the rear of many 4x4 applications.
Buy used milk crates from Craigslist or new ones from the hardware store to stash all your spare 4x4 parts. They also double as a makeshift seat in your beater.
Like Cherokee front driveshafts, Toyota front driveshafts have a double-cardan joint and can be shortened or lengthened for use in other 4x4s, but they offer slightly higher operating angles than the Spicer joint.
Factory-fresh JK (and soon JL) control arms are everywhere. They are well built and should cost next to nothing because fancy new Jeep guys think they are junk. Use them to build your next link suspension.
Building “bastard packs” out of junkyard or used leaf springs is a quick way to get the right ride height.
Check out IAAI or Copart to buy a salvage title or a slightly damaged 4x4 project.
Design the suspension around control arm mounts on your junkyard axle. Lots of modern 4x4s have link and coil suspension, so copy the factory for your next project’s suspension. Here we put a 2012 Dodge 2500 axle with stock brackets under a 2005 Tahoe.
A CJ-7 brake switch is a great universal electronic on/off brake switch with plenty of adjustment.
Repurpose coil springs from TJ, Cherokee, Grand Cherokee, early Bronco, F-150, and fullsize Bronco. These coil springs can be swapped around to gain height or weight rating. You can also cut off a round from a coil to make it shorter.
Isuzu Rodeo rear axles are six-lug Dana 44s with disc brakes and commonly have limited-slip diffs and 4.30 gears.
If you’re out on the trail and bend your tie rod on a Cherokee or TJ, you can use a Hi-Lift Jack handle as a tie-rod sleeve—once you’ve gotten the tie rod straight enough.
Too cheap to take your tires to the used tire shop up the road? You can use a Hi-Lift Jack to push the bead of a tire off the safety bead of the wheel.
We’ve been using an old license plate holder on our trail Toyota. The part that goes over a gas filler on land barges has a spring-loaded hinge, allowing the license plate to slide over rocks and other trail debris.
Welded differentials (aka Lincoln Lockers) are a cheap way to add traction to an open differential . . . if you do it right.
If you can find one, buying CUCV is a cheap way to pick up a set of heavy-duty axles with 4.56 gears and (usually) a rear Detroit Locker. The front would be a GM kingpin Dana 60 and the rear a full-float 14-bolt.
Use a small plastic fuel filter, like one from a lawn mower, on the end of your T-case or axle breather hose to keep out dirt.
Old-school off-road guys like to paint their leaf springs with graphite paint for a smoother ride and slightly improved flex.
Opening up the leaf-spring clamps with a pry bar or thin-walled square tubing allows for a smoother ride and more flex.
Run XJ or Wagoneer springs on any rig to increase the wheelbase. The 1976-1992 Wagoneer, fullsize Cherokee, and J-trucks have an offset center pin that allows you to move a front axle forward or a rear axle rearward by about 2 1/2 inches. We ran them on our 2005 S-10 Chevy Blazer build a few years back.
Use cordless drill to sharpen TIG torch tungsten evenly by spinning the tungsten on grinder wheel.
Gain height on an engine hoist by attaching a hook and chain to the boom with the shortest link possible. This should be obvious, but we see people all the time using the last link to attach and using up 6 inches of wasted height.
Carabineers are a great way to keep wrenches together in your trail tool bag.
Wire nuts make great caps for containers with pointed tips (caulking tubes, air tool oil, and so on).
Have a collection of spray paint? Mark the caps with some paint to distinguish old cans from new ones at a quick glance so you can use up the old cans first. We used black and blue spray paint.
Small scrap pieces of tube and plate make good hydraulic press accessories.
Run some tape around a drill bit for depth setting when you’re drilling partway through a piece of metal.
Use grease on drill bits and taps to keep metal chips from getting into unwanted places (drilling into oil reservoirs like diffs or drilling/tapping steering boxes). The metal will mostly stick to the drill bit or tap, minimizing cleanup.
Hose clamp and soup can material can make a great exhaust hole repair after you’ve ripped a mount off. Soda cans, on the other hand, don’t work well.
Zip ties can be used to make el cheapo spark plug wire separators.
Some old rubber hose split lengthwise makes great chafe protection for cable/wires, brake lines, and hoses and makes grommets around holes in sheetmetal.
Tack-weld a small piece of angle or channel iron over a winch mount bolt as an antitheft measure.
Drill a hole through the end of a mounting bolt for a small lock as an antitheft measure for lights, a Hi-Lift Jack mount, and so on.
Tighten a hose clamp around spare U-joints to keep caps from falling off and to keep those needle bearings in place.
The tips made for the legs of patio furniture also make good dust covers for onboard air chucks.
Chains make cheap limit “straps,” but don’t expect a gentle transition.
Ball cord bungees and reusable Velcro ties are a good way to keep cords, hoses, winch controllers, and similar items stored neatly. Harbor Freight Tools sells both.
Use a zip tie on your shock shaft to see if the shock is bottoming when you hit a bump or flex the rig.
Use early CJ-5 body mounts for isolating custom trans/T-case cross members and more.
Chevy Astro Vans have a flat heavy-duty pitman arm that will fit on most power Saginaw boxes.
Chevy fullsize vans have a forward-sweep Saginaw steering box.
NAPA has a 63-amp, one-wire, internally regulated GM alternator (PN 2134011SW) that should be available at just about any parts store.
We’ve seen lots of internal-spline Dana 44 locking hubs in the junkyard. Some OEM locking hubs were made by Warn.
GM TBI systems can be built using junkyard parts. Books could be written on what to do and what you need, but suffice it to say that it can be a cheap and relatively simple method of adding EFI to your engine.
HEI ignition systems can be built for several engine types using junkyard parts.
Ammo cans are cheap and a great waterproof place to store tools or spare parts in your rig.
Use an old camp cup as a cupholder. We just use a self-tapping screw to hold them in place.
Buy and build a CJ-5, Samurai, Tracker, Bronco II, Isuzu Amigo, or Rodeo instead of making payments on a side-by-side.
If you need to drill a hole or two in more than one steel bracket, tack-weld them together before drilling for exactly matching holes.
Ford PN E5TZ-18183-A is a stamped shock mount, perfect for lots of long-travel suspensions. You can get a pair online or at the Ford dealership for under $50
A quick and cheap way to pick up a little drivability on your 1991 or newer Jeep or Dodge 2.5L four-banger is by swapping a larger 4.0L throttle body onto the intake.