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January 2008 4x4 Tech Questions - Nuts & Bolts

Posted in How To on January 1, 2008
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Confused? E-mail your questions about trucks, 4x4's, and off-roading tech using "Nuts, I'm confused" as the subject and include a picture (if it's applicable). Digital photos must measure no less than 1600 x 1200 pixels (or two megapixels) and be saved as a TIFF, an EPS, or a maximum-quality JPEG file. Also, I'll be checking the forums on our Web site (, and if I see a question that I think more of you might want to have answered, I'll print that as well. Otherwise drop it old-school style with the envelope addressed to the address below. Letters published in this magazine reflect the opinions of the writers, and we reserve the right to edit letters for clarity, brevity, or other purposes.

Write to:
Nuts & Bolts
4-Wheel & Off-Road
6420 Wilshire Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90048-5515
fax 323.782.2704

E-mail to:

Question: I have a '99 Dodge Ram 2500 4x4 with 35-inch tires and no lift so far. This is a plow truck as I live in Michigan. When I first put these tires on, they did not rub, but when I bolt my plow on, it is enough extra weight to cause them to rub. I have "trimmed" all I could without it looking too bad, but they still rub. Should I buy a second set of smaller wheels and tires (I think 33s will work nice ) for the winter, or add a 2- to 3-inch body lift? Which do you think is the better way to go? I manage a tire store, and I tell you this because it is not a cost issue. I get wholesale prices on either the body lift or the tires.
Michigan plow boy

Answer: Some folks might think you're crazy asking a guy who lives in Southern California what to do about your snowplow problem, but have no fear. I grew up in Pennsylvania and remember riding to school in our family plow truck, a '50s Jeep FC-150. I would get the second set of tires, as you could write them off your taxes as equipment costs for your plow business, plus you will have more experience on tires, which is good for a tire salesman. I think I would look into a set of 33-inch Hankook Dynapro MT ( or similar tires and fit them with some studs for better snow and ice traction. We tested the Hankooks (without studs) in the May '07 issue and had great all-around results. They are available in a LT285/70R17 (33-inch) and are pinned for studs in both the 15- and 17-inch wheel variants. Though we explain body lifts elsewhere in this issue ("Body Lift Basics"), I am not a fan of a body lift over 1 inch and it is much easier to swap tires for the winter in my view.

Question: I have a '78 Chevy K-10 lifted and with 35s. I put a Centerforce clutch in my SM465, and while it was down I inspected my transmission and transfer case. Everything looked great and acted great for several months. Now every time I get up on the trail in steep ascent or especially when I am using the gearing to creep down a hill, the transfer case will pop out of 4-Lo into Neutral. I think it may be my shifting rails, but I don't know. Any advice will be greatly valued.

On an unrelated matter, I have recently noticed people ducking off the trail to ride up a creek bed that is marked off limits. I am a big proponent of the Tread Lightly! campaign. What can I do to help prevent some of the land misuse?
Hunter Fox78

Answer: If your transfer case was working fine before the swap, I would first inspect the shift linkage from the shifter handle down to the transfer case. Since these parts were most likely removed when you did the clutch work, they may not have been reinstalled properly or might need some slight adjustment. Also check the transfer-case mount. If it is worn out it might be allowing the drivetrain to shift under load and the linkage could be hitting the body and pushing the case out of gear.

As for the hooligans sneaking off the trail, I wouldn't feel bad about approaching them or taking photos of them. This can be hard to do if you feel they might threaten you with bodily harm. But maybe they will learn to at least ask if there can be new trails laid out in the creek bed. Also contact whoever owns or patrols the property and explain the situation. They may even be willing to open some more extreme trails so there are more options for wheeling. This will give you and most four-wheelers a good reputation as you are policing our own members and also trying to find more wheeling options. Those guys breaking the rules are giving us all a bad name. Unfortunately they don't understand that their actions will close down the trails for the rest of us. Of course, those idiots will probably keep breaking the law even after all the trails are closed. However, oftentimes those sneaking off the trail are looking for new places to wheel and if you can work with all parties to help set up new places rather than blazing new trails in closed areas, it will work out best for everyone.

Question: I am looking at buying a welder for my personal use. I have never welded before, but have read everything I can on the subject, and am comparing two different welders-the Hobart Handler 140 MIG welder and the Lincoln Electric SP-135T MIG welder. My questions are: 110-volt versus 120-volt, what is the difference? What does weld thickness mean, what material can they weld, and can a 110-volt welder build a full chassis and rollcage for an off-road 4x4.

Answer: I received your question just as I was talking to Caleb Krisher, the manager of Product Development at Hobart Welders. I ran it past him and here are his answers.

110 volt versus 120 volt: Both manufacturers are referring to the input power coming from your garage or shop outlets, which over the years has been called 110, 115, and 120 volts. It's all the same, and this number should have no bearing on one brand over another. However, there is a difference between a 110-120-volt machine and the more powerful 220-230-volt machines. If you have a 230-volt outlet in your house for the oven or an electric clothes dryer, all you need is an electrician to run another cable from the power box in your basement to your garage and install the receptacle.

Weld Thickness ratings usually refer to the thickest mild steel that can be welded with this model using a single-weld bead technique. You may be able to weld thicker steel, but it will require multiple passes or multiple beads to get welds that completely penetrate and join the steel with adequate holding power.

What Materials? Both the Hobart and the Lincoln you are considering are set up for welding mild and stainless steel right out of the box. If you want to weld aluminum, you really should step up to a welder that is powered by 220/230 volts and purchase a spool gun. Aluminum wire is so soft it will "bird nest" at the drive rolls inside the welder, while a spool gun puts the drive rolls inside the gun, and only pushes the wire about 6 inches to the weld zone. You would also find that a 110/115-volt unit just doesn't have enough power to weld aluminum in what is called "spray transfer."

Chassis and Rollcages: A 110-volt unit can weld a full chassis or rollcage as long as the material is 1/4 inch or less. However, the additional power of a 220-volt machine can make up for weaknesses in your welding technique, metal preparation, and the like. After all, your life is on the line when you're wheeling. Is it worth spending $700 on a 220-volt unit instead of $400 on a 110-volt unit to ensure adequate welds? We say yes.

As for which brand to buy, well, it would be wrong to assume Caleb wouldn't recommend his own Hobart team. However, there are three leading brands in the U.S. that manufacture strong, industrial quality products-Hobart, Miller, and Lincoln. You usually can't go wrong with one of these. Depending on which model you're comparing, each manufacturer has some benefit over the other at different price points. That being said, remember that Hobart is the official welder of our Ultimate Adventure, so they recognize the value and interests of off-roaders, and their Hobart Handler 187 is a great all-around 220/230 machine and available online at for under $700.

Question: I've got a couple of old Broncos ('78 and '79) and I wheel them in the Silver Lake sand dunes here in Michigan. I drive from my house to the dunes and that's a good stretch of highway. I've heard about the STAK transfer case from you guys and I see they have one with Overdrive in it. I called the company and they said it'll bolt right into my Broncos. Do you feel it is a viable alternative for Overdrive in older vehicles like my Broncos?

Answer: I have a STAK three-speed transfer case in my red Chevy and I love it, but it does have a few issues compared to other transfer cases I've used. First, the massive gears inside, which give it so much strength, are very loud at highway speeds. This is not an issue when you have a loud engine and loud mud tires, and other users have told me their cases were quiet. If you are daily driving this Bronco you might get annoyed compared to a quiet chaindrive case. As for the performance of the case, I love having multiple gears to play with, and I think the Overdrive version would be excellent for your application. The only thing I wish was that the Overdrive STAK had a lower middle gear, as it currently has 0.79:1, 4.33:1, and 1:1 ratios. I wish that 1:1 was more like 2:1 for slightly lower gearing.

Question: I'm building a rock buggy in my barn and it has a Dana 300 transfer case and a Dana 44 front axle. I really like the way Toyota driveshafts attach with flanges instead of yokes, and I have found a Toyota driveshaft that I think is the perfect length. I've heard that the Toyota U-joints are pretty strong. Is there a kit that allows me to bolt this driveshaft to both the Dana 44 and the Dana 300?
Gary N.

Answer: InchWorm (530.677.8111, and High Angle Driveline (530.877.2875, both offer a flange kit for the Dana 44, and both have the same spline count as the Dana 300 and should work there as well.

Question: I just bought an '00 Jeep TJ. I have the lift and everything else planned but I have the bottom-base stock model with the 2.5L 150ci engine. It runs great in First gear going mild off road, but out on the highway or uphill I start to lose power. I'm a Marine stationed at Camp Pendleton and there are hills I have to take to get anywhere. What can I do to get more power out of my Jeep without having to get a whole new engine?
Semper Fi.
Jack W., via 4wheeloffroad.comv

Answer: I think the Jeep four-cylinder is a great engine. I've ridden across the country in a YJ and an XJ with that engine, and have wheeled with it and think it's a tough little bugger. It gets respectable fuel mileage, which is important these days, and I personally like wheeling with an underdog engine. However, the Jeep 2.5 needs any help it can get with breathing in and out. Look into an intake like the Brute Force from AEM (310.484.2322,, a header like those from Pace Setter (602.266.1964,, and a free-flowing catalytic converter such as the Super High Flow from Random Technology (770.554.4242, Unfortunately there aren't any high-flow cats that are California-legal for use due to their not being able to pass the visual inspection, though they will still pass the sniff test.

Now if the cat was positioned above a skidplate, we're not sure it would be visible anyways, but we wouldn't condone such behavior. Hopefully your Jeep is registered in your home state even though you're stationed in California and that isn't a problem where you're from. Adding an aftermarket after-cat exhaust will also help in the flow area, such as one from Doug Thorley (800.347.8664,

Another upgrade is bumping the axle gearing a bit lower. Your Jeep came with 4.10 gears, and tires any larger than stock require lower gears. We built a TJ a while back with 32-inch tires and 4.88 gears. Lower gearing helps your engine accelerate and pull hills, though going too low can cause the engine to rev too high when at high speeds.

With the current fuel issues going on, I think building performance four-cylinder vehicles are important to consider. Though they don't compare to big V-8 power, they do offer a great way to combine daily driving and weekend wheeling. To help in your buildup I'd like to send you a new front hard-core bumper from Fab Fours (866.469.9056 These TJ bumpers will give your little Jeep a rugged look as well as help to protect it when off road. Designed to support a winch if you wish, this front bumper offers clearance for bigger tires as well as improved approach angles when off road. Plus there are two shackle mounts for recovery points should your little four-cylinder get you too deep. Good luck with your buildup, and thanks for your service to our country.

Question: I have an '07 F-350 and I just recently bought a rack for it with sport light mounting brackets. I was thinking I could have some nice lights to see better when backing up or to work behind the truck at night. However, I have looked all over for some kind of flood lights or work lights. Would you know of anything besides foglights? I just want some squared lights that really flood the back area of the truck and are not huge.

Answer: I have used some great lights from Warn (800.910.1122,, as well as IPF lights from ARB (800.910.1122,, and both offer square off-road driving lights that should work for you, plus IPF has a light and wiring kit to tie into the factory reverse lights. Also check out the new line of lights from Daystar (800.595.7659, The Daystar lights are all round, but there are smallish 5-inch versions. An unknown lighting company I really like is Hamsar Diversco (800.567.5483,, which offers a ton of automotive and heavy equipment lights, and should also have what you need.

Question: I'm trying to decide between a Detroit Locker and a limited-slip diff for my '85 4Runner rear. Which one will work best off-road and still be safe on the road, in bad weather, on the freeway, and so on?

Do I have to trade on-road manners for off-roadability, or is there a happy medium? I don't want all the extra parts and problems of an ARB Air Locker, just a simple, strong, carefree unit that works well on and off the pavement.

Answer: I have found that for better performance you need to spend a little extra time with preventive maintenance. For example, you don't want all the parts and problems of the ARB, but I have found that with careful installation, proper routing of the air lines, and correct wiring of the air compressor and solenoids, the ARBs are practically trouble-free. The same goes for a Detroit. While some folks claim the Detroit has odd street driving characteristics with it constantly locking and unlocking as it goes down the street, I have found that if you keep your tires close to the same air pressure all around then these tribulations nearly disappear. Even a limited slip requires a bit of maintenance such that many with clutches need special oil additives and eventually the clutch material wears out. One unusual limted slip is the Truetrac, which uses helical gears instead of clutches to perform and really offers more streetable, long-lasting qualities. If it were me, I would choose the Detroit or ARB over a limited slip any day, because with a little maintenance and careful installation you will have a better-performing off-road traction device with very livable on-road characteristics.

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