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Editors' Trail Tips And Tricks - We Ain't No Rocket Scientistians

Posted in How To on March 1, 2010
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You don't have to be a rocket scientist to 'wheel a 4x4. Good thing, too, because, well, we ain't no rocket scientistians. We are, however, privy to lots of trail rides and in the process, a whole mess of trail mishaps that typically require trail fixing. We've also picked up other tips and tricks along the way, like how to 'wheel more safely, how to improve driving skills, and how to get home in time for dinner when it's time. We've gleaned quite a bit from our own blunders, as well, ranging from torn tie-downs that resulted in lost gear to bringing no more than the shorts, t-shirt, and flip-flops on our body for a day run that turned into a night run that turned in to a bivouac.

Read and learn the following trail tips and tricks. One or two of them may just get you out of a pinch one day.

Air Down!
It's obvious – aired-down tires afford better traction and ride off-road. Yet, we've noticed many don't want to do it anymore. Even hard-core 'wheelers don't take the trouble to air down, then wonder why they're not able to surmount difficult obstacles, or are getting stuck in the sand. In a utility vehicle, 10 psi used to be the rule of thumb. With today's beefy sidewalls and load range E tires, 6 psi is the pressure we use in the dirt. It depends on the tires used, but it's okay if the sidewalls bulge off-road. Don't forget to take the time to air up before hitting the pavement, though, as deflated tires get very hot at highway speeds and could fail. Also, having an equal amount of air in each tire makes the ride home on the highway much more comfortable and fuel efficient.

Check The Age
Like everything else, tires age. A tire's age can be a safety problem, though. Tires actually dry out and older tires can come apart – even if they look brand new. Radial tires older than six years can fail, causing serious injury or death. Tires sold in the UK include a warning about older tires, but here in the U.S., the Rubber Manufacturers Association claims age is not a key factor in a tire's performance. We feel it is for radial tires. Bias-ply tires aren't affected, unless they're cracked and leaking air. You can tell how old your tires are. The DOT requires the week and year a tire is manufactured to be molded in the sidewall. The number is the last three or four of the cryptic DOT numbers and letters near the tire's bead. Most times, this number is only on the inside of the tire, so crawl underneath and take a look. In our photo, this tire's "1608" means the tire was built during the 16th week of 2008. If you have a number that says 479, it means the tire was manufactured in the 47th week of 1999. We want you around. Please check the age of your radial tires and, if they're too old, replace them.

Look Where You're Going
When on a bicycle or motorcycle, the place you're looking is the place you'll go. Try riding around a sweeping curve on a bike and look to the right, off the road. Be careful, though, as that's exactly where you'll go. When off-roading, the same thing applies. Look where you want to go and you'll go there. If you're distracted and look somewhere else, you may not surmount an obstacle or could drive off the trail. The other thing to remember is to focus on the end of the obstacle, not somewhere in the middle. If you think about the end, you'll go there. If you're worried about the ledge in the middle, that's where you'll stop. Every time. We realize you need to get over that ledge, too, but think everything out before you start. Once you start, think about the end.

Dry It Off
WD40 (or JB80) and dielectric grease can help you get your engine started on a wet day. If moisture builds up inside the distributer cap the points ignition typically won’t fire. Clean up the inside of the cap and the points with WD-40 and also spray it in the spark plug and coil wire ends to help dissipate the moisture. After that spread the dielectric grease at the spark plug and coil wire ends for continued moisture protection of the ignition system. You can further seal out moisture from the distributer cap by applying a bead of silicone around the edge of the cap.

Hold It Down
JK Wranglers have a problem with the hood moving up and down when driving into a headwind at higher speeds. This can be addressed by a Jeep recall that replaces the hood hold-down straps, or by purchasing Daystar straps that are stiffer than stock. Another way is to machine a block of nylon or Delrin and attach it as you see here. It takes up the slack that's built into the emergency hood latch and holds the hood down.

Tire/Wheel Jack Stand
When using a Hi-Lift jack trailside put the removed tire/wheel under the axle to act as a jack stand. Should the jack tip the weight of the vehicle will fall on the tire/ wheel making it easier to raise than if it were at ground level. It also hopefully won't land on your foot or head. Make sure the tire/wheel is positioned so that the tire won't be punctured or brake lines pinched.

Tie-Down Protector
You can protect tie-downs from abrasion using heater hose. Cut the heater hose to the desired length and slide it over one end of the tie-down. The hose will slide freely so you can position it where needed and then cinch the strap in place. The heater hose will take the abuse while the strap remains unscathed.

Learn First-Aid
Learn basic first-aid and life-saving techniques such as CPR and the Heimlich maneuver. You can acquire training and certificates through many hospitals, community colleges and often your city's parks and recreation department. These are skills that will benefit you on and off the trail.

Carry Spares
If it breaks more than once you should probably figure out that it will break again. Carry spare parts such as U-joints, complete driveshaft, axle shaft, tie rod, or whatever the repeatedly broken part tends to be.

Dry It Out
Kevin Hawkins designed this nifty blade that forces water out of beadlock wheels. It's simple and it works. You can make them too, attaching them to your beadlocks with a thin bead of silicone.

Clean It Up
Carry an emergency spill kit to clean up any fluids that may spill out of your engine or drivetrain component. Spilled fluids can damage the soil and also be deadly to small and large animals when ingested (some types of anti-freeze fluid are said to be particularly harmful due to its sweet taste. Propylene-based anti-freeze is a less toxic alternative). Many hardware stores and truck stops carry spill kits that include super-absorbent materials and towels that work well in containing spilled fluids from engine, transmission, transfer case, and differential leaks. Carrying a small bag of kitty litter is also a great idea. Sawdust will also do the trick. Even a t-shirt will work if that's all you have. Once the spill is contained use a shovel to remove all remnants and pack it out with your trash.

Pack It In, Pack It Out
Carry trash bags and Do Not Litter! This includes cigarette butts. We've seen everything from onion sacks to GI duffels slung around a rear-mounted spare tire to collect trash, but a tailor-made product is even available to help you to haul your garbage off the trail. The Trasharoo from California Tape Products, Inc. is a denier nylon bag with wide buckles that uses a heavy-duty attachment to secure to your spare tire. The Trasharoo can hold up to 50 lbs of trash or even gear if desired. The cover buckles closed to keep trash contained and drain holes are place so nothing nasty pools at the bottom.

No 4x4s Allowed!
Treat all legal trails and OHV recreation areas with respect and don't erode your favorite trails by spinning your tires on an obstacle for 30 minutes while your buddies egg you on (they'll keep at it until you roll, by the way). If you can't make it after a few tries either strap up, winch up, or turn around. Never drive in closed or illegal areas. Just because you didn't see a sign is no excuse. Know the trail you plan to run before you go and make sure OHV use is permitted. Let's keep this great hobby of ours available to our children's children and on.

Bring Grub and Warmth
No one plans to get lost or stuck, and then there are the times when the day is too nice and the trail too intriguing to turn back at the planned hour. Prepare for these contingencies by always carrying food and water and extra clothing in your rig, even on short jaunts.

Be Prepared
Carry a fire extinguisher and first-aid kit in your vehicle at all times. Update and replace contents of the first-aid kit on a regular basis and replace or service the fire extinguisher, as well.

Take a Chill Pill
If something breaks or someone is hurt the last thing you want to do is freak out. Take a step back and examine the situation without emotion. You will figure it out.

Go Slow!
What's your hurry? Pop it in to 4 low and let your gearing do the work. It's called trail-crawling for a reason. Enjoy the trail afoot.

Custom-Valve Your High-End Shocks
When it comes to shock valving, one size does not fit all. Valving that works well on a TJ Wrangler isn't suited to a Super Duty, even if the same shock can physically be bolted to both vehicles. With basic shocks, you're usually stuck with the factory-installed valving. With high-end shocks, you’ve got options. Some companies, such as King, provide valving shims to their customers for at-home tuning. King also offers re-valving services at the factory so you can send in your shocks and let King turn the wrenches. Walker Evans Racing prefers its customers send in their shocks for factory-performed re-valving, but there no charge for this service if it's performed at the same time as a rebuild. Proper valving makes a night-and-day difference in shock performance. Since this story's emphasis is on free performance upgrades, if you've got an adjusting knob on your shocks, turn it! If you can't tell the difference from one click to the next, turn the knob all the way to each extreme and drive the same stretch of trail each time to get a better idea.

Keep Liquids Upright
It doesn't seem to matter how tightly a lid is closed. Sooner or later, almost all liquids seem to find an escape route. Brake fluid in particular is incorrigible in this regard. To avoid problems, store automotive fluids upright in their own dedicated container. Ammo cans are particularly good for this since they're inexpensive, readily available, and weather-sealed.

Take a Printed Map
As mentioned, GPS systems aren't any good without power. Furthermore, inaccurate information sometimes shows up on the screen. Take a printed map with you so that you can cross-reference the info on your GPS and so that you'll have a backup if you lose power. Keeping a hand-held compass in the glove box or center console is also good idea.

Leave Mental Breadcrumbs
With the prevalence of GPS these days, other orienteering methods seem to be falling by the wayside. That's a mistake. With GPS, if you have an electrical failure you've got no more GPS. GPS-equipped or not, take a look backward every now and then as you trek down the trail. That way, you'll be looking at familiar terrain if you have to backtrack.

Spark Plug Tool
When changing spark plugs you can use a section of rubber fuel hose over the porcelain end to help you maintain a better grip so it's easier to start in to the threads by hand. An old length of straight ignition wire and boot cut to length also works well.

Drill it Out
A cordless drill and a bolt extractor can be very handy tools to have on hand if you shear a bolt. Common areas affected are U-bolt strap bolts in the driveshaft yokes, which can quickly have you driving home in 2WD or in-tow behind your buddy.

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