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Building Your 4x4 For Mud - Built For Mud

Posted in How To on June 1, 2009
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Photographers: Robin StoverKen Brubaker

Mud--filthy, sticky, gooey, havoc wreaking gumbo. It may be the most divisive substance in all of wheeling. There are those who build for it, and those who avoid it at all costs. There are those wheelers who identify with it and its appeal, and there are those who stick to the rocks.

For those who love the mud, they don't mind the extra weight of the stuff when it dries, or the mud clods that fall off the truck onto the driveway, nor do they feel any suffering when it comes to wheel and driveline vibrations or the inevitable hosedown of the truck at the end of the day.

To these guys, building for mud means high horsepower, low gearing, waterproofed components and big tires. There is a feeling of satisfaction that comes from meeting the challenge and a sense of accomplishment when the mud pit has been beaten into submission (or a frothy milkshake).

Driving in mud takes exceptional skill and years of experience, but where do you start if you want to build your rig to take on mud? As in any other venue of wheeling, there are different levels of building from the casual mud truck to take on a muddy trail, all the way up to hardcore, pit-thrashing racers that meet on the weekends at the local mud hole.

No matter what type of mud you want to play in, there are some basic components your rig needs, and of course these suggestions can be scaled up or down to fit your needs, but any mixture of these ideas are sure to make your vehicle more capable.

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Mud Tires
A good mud tire has big biting lugs, and a open design that allows wheelspeed to self-clean the tread, giving the tires an aggressive, functional presence you just don't get from your run-of-the-mill all-terrain. While job-specific mud tires do their job amazingly well, many of us have the need for a streetable mud, which just about every major tire manufacturer offers these days, giving the vehicle mud capability on the trail but only slightly compromising the on road performance with acceptable noise levels, NVH characteristics, and handling.

Vehicles that are properly geared are getting the most power to the ground and are less likely to bog down in the deep stuff. Some hardcore rigs that are built specifically for mud even run a slightly lower (numerically higher) gear ratio in the front of the truck to keep the front end spinning faster, helping to pull the truck through. Of course, if this is your strategy, you aren't able to use four-wheel drive on hard, high-traction surfaces because your driveline will bind and possibly break.

Traction Aids
At the bare minimum, any truck running through big mud should be running a rear locker for maximum traction. Some will argue that a front limited-slip is a perfect complement to a rear locker, allowing the driver to have more effective steering inputs, though a front locker is often the traction aid of choice in the front differential, ensuring each wheel is getting an equal amount of power.

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A Friend With A Pressure Washer
At the end of the day, you'll want to hose off the mud before it dries, and a pressure washer is the perfect way to blast it away. Dry mud can cause a bevy of problems, including drying in clumps that will cause noticeable vibrations to wheels, tires and drivelines, as well as weighing down your rig, increasing fuel consumption--and if you have been wheeling in an acidic environment, the mud can be caustic to unprotected metal as it dries, quickening the rust process.

Driveline and Axles
With big tires, lockers in the front and rear, high horsepower and often a lot of things spinning fast that are not perfectly balanced over inconsistent terrain, you have a recipe for driveline or axle disaster that can include everything from dropping to pretzeling or grenading. The best solution to this problem is to make sure your drivelines get upgraded with the rest of the componentry to an appropriate size and beefier joints for the task at hand. Your truck will thank you for it.

Extended Vent Lines
For any vehicle that will be spending time in a muddy or wet environment, it is important to extend all of your vent lines high above the danger. We also suggest one-way valves or filters on the end of the line, which will help the keep the vented components from sucking in water from a rapid temperature change that can occur when a hot differential or transfer case encounters cool water or mud.

Recovery Gear
If you are going to play in the mud, it is inevitable that you are going to, at some point, need to pull out your recovery bag. Recovery tools, in addition to front and rear tow points, shackles, and a winch (or two), should include a quality strap, a line weight, and even synthetic winch line, which floats on mud rather than sinking in it like a steel cable will.

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