As off-road enthusiasts, most of us enjoy modifying our vehicles to make them perform better. We'll often do vehicle maintenance as well, even though it's a less-exciting aspect of working on our rigs. We typically prefer to do wrenching at home, usually on a clean garage floor at a temperature that's comfortable for us.
What we'd rather not do is lay on our backs doing repairs on a cold, muddy trail in the middle of nowhere with a less-than-adequate set of tools and spare parts. However, if you venture out onto into the backcountry, sooner or later you'll likely have to deal with a fix-it situation.
Three things can help get you moving again: tools, spare parts, and ingenuity. Obviously, if your vehicle is completely immobilized such that no manner of effort can make progress, you may be left to catch a ride or hike out, returning later with the supplies needed to rescue the vehicle or make repairs. If the problem is minor or can be repaired with a few spare parts on hand, then you'll probably be on your way in no time with minimal fuss.
It's a good idea to carry at least a basic set of tools when traveling out of close proximity to a repair shop or tow truck. If possible, a separate tool kit specifically devoted to your vehicle is a good way to go. That way, it's always with the vehicle wherever you go, and if you resist borrowing tools from it, you know it will always be complete and ready for use. Having it on board at all times also means it's available should you need it on the road, at a friend's house, or should you be scouring a junkyard looking for parts.
One of the best ways to determine if you have a comprehensive tool set onboard for repairing your rig is to consider doing maintenance work on your vehicle using your trail tool kit. This way, you can get a good idea of how much you can accomplish with that set of tools and if you might want to add other tools to it. When working on the trail, some good items to have include hand cleaner, shop rags (we like the blue disposable rolls), latex gloves, and plastic trash bags. Wearing latex gloves during greasy repairs keeps your hands cleaner when you have no good place for cleaning up. Plastic trash bags are handy to place on the ground to keep parts out of the dirt and also work well for wrapping up dirty, broken parts and collecting any greasy mess. Bag it up and sort it out when you get back home.
On the one extreme, you can carry no spare parts on the trail and hope you never need any. If you often venture far from the pavement, however, you'll probably want to think twice about going this route. Any 4WD can suffer from a mechanical failure, and a misplaced rock, stick, or other natural hazard can injure even the freshest or well-prepped vehicle. On the other extreme, you can load up on all kinds of spares and weight down your rig. We've seen people go as far as carrying spare-axle third members on the trail. Remember that if you're concerned about breaking drivetrain parts, extra weight increases that risk. What you need to do is strike a balance and carry spare parts to cover those that you feel are at reasonable risk of failure, without adding excessive weight to your vehicle.
Parts that you may consider keeping on board could include belts, hoses, hose clamps, a fuel pump, fuses, valve stems, and a few extra hardware items. Progressing up the parts food chain, one would start to include U-joints, spare axleshafts, a spare driveshaft, and a spare locking hub. Your needs will certainly depend on your level of adventure and driving style.
Along with your spare parts, it's often a good idea to carry some replacement fluids, should you tear a hole in an oil pan or rip off a brake line on a protruding root. Water should be available in case your radiator overheats or you blow a hose and lose coolant. Drinking water, cooler water, or even stream/lake water can be used if needed to get you back to where full repairs can be made. Other goodies that can come in handy include duct tape (of course), bailing wire, electrical tape, some spare electrical wire, and silicon sealer. JB Weld has also been known to patch together a good share of broken, punched, or cracked parts.
When it's time to perform a trail fix that's a little beyond a straightforward bolt on, your best defense is an open mind and knowledge of your own rig. Plenty of vehicles have limped off the trail with unorthodox repairs. A gas can strapped to the roof with a feeder hose can supply fuel to a carburetor when the fuel pump is dead. A bent tie rod can be straightened and then splinted with a Hi-Lift handle and some hose clamps. A come-along can be used to strap broken suspension components in place, just to get you off the trail. The list goes on and is only limited by your imagination and sense of need. With some forethought and preparation, you should be able to tackle a wide range of trail calamities and keep yourself moving back toward civilization.
Here's a sample list you may want to use to start your onboard tool kit:
• Socket set, ratchet, and extensions
• Combination wrenches
• Adjustable and locking-jaw pliers
• Snap-ring pliers
• Crescent wrench
• Spark-plug socket
• Screwdrivers of various sizes
• Hub socket
• Hi-Lift jack
• Bottle jack
• Lug wrench
• Tire gauge
• Utility knife
• Tire plugs and install tools
• Short length of chain
• Shop rags
• Latex gloves
• Plastic trash bags
• Duct tape, electrical tape, and bailing wire
• Electrical wire, nylon wire ties
• Miscellaneous nuts, bolts, and hardware