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Tips And Tricks For The Trail - Tech

Posted in How To on April 1, 2009
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Contributors: Phil Howell
Photographers: Phil Howell

When you hit the trail it sometimes hits back. Whether it's a new dent in the quarter panel, a busted driveshaft, a broken shock mount, or more, we've all had those days when the trail got the best of us. One way to beat the odds in such situations is to be prepared for it by carrying the appropriate tools and spare parts. But once crap happens, it happens, so you can also help yourself by brushing up on some basic tips and tricks that might help you get off the trail after a mishap, or avoid such mishaps in general. If you're a leathered 'wheeler, then most of these are likely old hat to you, so consider it a refresher course in "the basics." If you're new to the trail then learn and live. It might just save your tail down the road.

Brake Line Crimp
A pair of vice grips can be used to crimp off a severed flexible brake line so the pressure within the braking system is maintained. Hard lines can also be crimped by cutting the line and mashing it closed then folding it over and crimping it with pliers.

Brighten Your Lights
Most factory headlamps become somewhat dim after accessories are added, even when heavier battery cables are used. Brighter headlamps are available and are easy to install in place of the factory sealed beam. Still, however, they still won't offer the greatest performance unless you also upgrade the headlight harness. Heat from additional amperage draw of H4 type bulbs can cause slow death to your headlight wiring harness. The connectors eventually melt and the lights will appear dimmer and dimmer until they simply stop working. ARB and Painless Performance are good sources for good quality headlight harnesses.

Get Groovy
You can gain extra traction from your tires by siping or grooving the tread blocks. By adding sipes or grooves to your tires you can create more forward biting edges that will enhance traction. Many tire shops offer tire siping services. To add grooves in large tread blocks you can purchase a hot knife and create you own tread design. It's best to practice tire grooving on an old tire before you start cutting a new set.

Wire Interchange
If your distributer fries its coil wire the engine won't run. Since you can't splice a coil wire you'll need a replacement. If one isn't available you can use one of the spark plug wires and the engine will operate on one less cylinder. This will be enough to get you to civilization, where you can replace the coil wire - or better yet, the whole set. Then you can save the old wires and carry them as spares in your rig.

Limp It Home
If the front or rear driveshaft breaks or blows a U-joint and you don't have a spare, you can still drive home - or at least get to a tow vehicle - in either front- or rear-wheel drive. Remove the offending driveshaft before operating the vehicle. You will need to keep the front hubs locked if you are operating in front-wheel drive. If the front 'shaft is broken you can simply drive home as usual.

Tire Re-Seat
You can re-seat a slipped tire bead by taking the weight of the vehicle off the tire and using an air compressor or air bottle to refill it. If the air pressure isn't enough to re-seat the bead you can wrap a ratchet strap around the circumference of the tire and continue to cinch it as air is added to the tire. Always wear safety glasses, gloves, and long sleeves, and keep hands and face away from the tire bead area. A loud pop will indicate that the tire is seated. You'll often hear more than one pop as the bead seats all the way around the wheel.

Channel The Power
Heavy-duty battery cables are a necessity when multiple electrical accessories are added to a vehicle. The light-duty factory battery cables can affect headlight brightness and even winch speed. If you have installed a winch or any other high load electric accessory, you should install heavy-duty battery cables to allow these accessories to function properly. A set of heavy-duty battery cables help channel power more effectively.

Poor Man's Welder
You can make an emergency welder using two vehicle batteries, two sets of jumper cables, and some welding rod. This will enable you to make small repairs to frame cracks, alternator brackets, spring or shocks mounts, etc., that may keep you from continuing your day on the trail. Two batteries can be attached in series and grounded to the vehicle or object being welded to create a stick welder. Make sure you carry a selection of welding rods to suit various metal thicknesses. To link the batteries, hook the positive terminal of one battery to the negative terminal of the other. The other positive terminal will be hooked to the battery cable holding the welding rod. The other negative terminal is hooked to the object being welded as a ground.

Stop Transmission Shift
The stock rubber mount can wear out pretty quickly when subjected to lots of water, mud, and heat. As this wears out, the transmission is left to react to power from the engine and leans rearward as you accelerate and leans forward when you stop. This puts extra stress on the driveshafts since the angle of the yoke shifts each time putting unnecessary strain on the driveshaft U-joints. To counteract such effects you can install a heavy-duty transmission mount that will keep the transmission more stable during acceleration and deceleration.

Tie Rod Sleeve
You can sleeve a bent tie rod using a Hi-Lift Jack handle. We never really thought this would work until we saw it done. This might not work if you have an extra-long Hi-Lift but the standard Hi-Lift handle is a perfect fit on the TJ, XJ, and YJ tie rod, and should work on a handful of others as well.

Beat The Law
Getting pulled over for a vehicle violation such as a lack of mud flaps is a pain in the rear. Permanently installing a set of ugly mud flaps is also a pain in the rear since they usually look ugly and are torn off by the first obstacle on top of that. Teraflex came up with a simple solution of removable mud flaps a few years back and they've saved us from a ticket more than once.

Hard Core
When you go to air down and find your gauge was crushed under a tire, don't despair. Pull the valve core out and listen. When you hear a whistle, the tire is at an acceptable pressure for the trail. Reinstall the core, go to the next three tires and repeat. You can get even fancier if you have a watch with a second hand. Time how long it takes until the whistle starts on the first tire, than let air out for the same amount of time on the other three. You'll be surprised at how close the pressure is in each tire.

Easy CB Antenna Mount
Rather than hard mounting a CB antenna mount to the body or bumper of your rig where it could be torn off by a rock, tree, or other trail obstacle, look in to the Kilby spare tire antenna mount. It's a great method of mounting an antenna in space that typically goes unused.

Follow The Leader
Sounds obvious, right? Keep the vehicle ahead of you in sight. Also, keep an eye on the vehicle behind you. Leaders, this is especially important. If someone has a problem, they don't always let the people ahead of them know. Trail rides are fun, but not if people get spread out all over creation, lost and angry.

Piss on it!
Not really, but that actually worked one time in the desert when water was scarce. A Hi-Lift jack is usually carried on the vehicle exposed to the elements. When it's time to use, the mechanism sometimes doesn't work. A little lubrication cures this every time, but not everyone has a can of WD-40 handy and other, heavier lubricants attract dirt and gunk, really fouling up the mechanism. Water works fine. If you're in the desert and don't have water to spare ....

Use Your Head
It's all in your mind. Not really, but using your head when driving is very important. When attempting a tough obstacle, think positively. Think about making it. Look at the end, your destination, and aim for that, NOT at something tough in the middle. You'll end up where you look. Every time.

Get In Balance
If you're tired of making repeated trips to the tire shop to have the tires re-balanced (one trail run can throw them out of whack), maybe try adding some ballast to the inside of the tires. We've heard of people using everything from ball bearings to golf balls, but for the best results without lots of trial-and-error testing, you can buy granular or liquid ballast off the shelf at many tire shops or agricultural supply stores.

Stem Tool
For a convenient valve core puller, take an old valve stem and put a core-remover cap on it. To make it more secure, put a drop of Loctite on it before assembling.

Keep Moving
The final tip is obvious, but many forget it. That tip is - DON'T DRIVE IN ONE PLACE! No, we aren't talking about driving in one location, such as Arizona, too much. Think about it.

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