Click for Coverage
Due to the EU’s Global Data Protection Regulation, our website is currently unavailable to visitors from most European countries. We apologize for this inconvenience and encourage you to visit for the latest on new cars, car reviews and news, concept cars and auto show coverage, awards and much more.MOTORTREND.COM
  • JP Magazine
  • Dirt Sports + Off-Road
  • 4-Wheel & Off-Road
  • Four Wheeler

April 2008 4x4 Tech Questions - Nuts & Bolts

Posted in How To on April 1, 2008
Share this

Confused? E-mail your questions about trucks, 4x4s, 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 been wheeling for about three years now, but i'm always surprised at how badly my truck does on hillclimbs. i was wondering if the color of my paint could have some effect on this because my twin brother has the exact same truck (mom and dad got them for us when we turned 16), and he can always make this one hillclimb that i can't. His truck is red and mine is a dark blue. Could there possibly be, like, more heavy metals or something in my paint that makes his truck have that slight edge?
Pat, Damian's Twin Brother

Answer: I asked our art director and he said red is a lighter color than dark blue. Sorry, it's probably time to strip all the paint off and spray on a coat of orange or yellow, both of which are lighter than red.

Question: My husband is always out in the shop working on his truck, and though i like keeping him company, it's so cold and stinky out there that i don't usually last long. i've been thinking about getting him a pet to keep him company. Do you have any suggestions for a good shop companion?
Dave's loving wife Helen

Answer: Of course i do. What your Dave needs is a monkey. Monkeys are great because they have thumbs, and thus they can grasp things like hammers and screwdrivers when Dave is under the truck working and needs something fetched from the toolbox. Monkeys have small hands so they can reach down into tight places on the truck, which is helpful when Dave drops a socket between the inner and outer fender. A monkey is smart and would understand how to pump the brakes and hold while bleeding the brake system of air. And if you don't think a monkey would be helpful when working in a shop, why do you think they named a wrench after a monkey? So get old Davey a monkey. i think he'll appreciate the gesture. For more info, visit

Question: I have an '04 Chevy Trailblazer twowheel-drive and i am looking for a lift kit. i have had no such luck finding one at all. i can't even find a body lift. i am in the process of doing some performance work to the exhaust, a throttle-body spacer, and intake, and as the Trailblazer sits stock I think it will sound...well, dumb. Now if i had a lift with maybe some 31x12.5xr20 tires underneath, it may not be so bad. i know you are asking yourself will this just be a typical pavement-pounder like so many lifted trucks are? Well, i hope not as i love wheeling, but i kind of got suckered into this Trailblazer and i am trying to make the best of a bad situation.

Answer: How did you ever get yourself stuck in a two-wheel-drive known as a Trailblazer? i doubt you'll be blazing any trails, but since you seem to realize what you have and can admit that it's not a real trail rig but rather something to drive until you get back into a 4x4, i felt obliged to look around for you and quickly found BDS Suspension (517.279.2135, BDS offers both a 2-inch body lift and a 2-inch strut spacer lift for four-wheel-drive Trailblazers. i conferred with the tech team and both kits will fit the two-wheel-drive, but the body lift will only work with the 4.2l V-6. Either kit should clear 30-inch tires and combining them should clear 33-inch-tall tires with the correct offset (+5) wheels. Please don't run 20-inch rims on such a small tire. i suggest a rim half the size of the tire. Good luck.

Question: I just picked up a '91 Chevy shortbox 4x4 with 35s under it for $700. i'd like to get rid of the iFS. i am kind of tired of leaf-spring suspensions and would like to put in a four-link suspension under the front and rear of this truck and still run 38- to 42-inch tires. Who makes a good four-link suspension kit for my '91 Chevy?

Answer: Off road Design (970.945.7777, www. has a new threelink front suspension with a panhard bar for '73-'87 Chevy trucks that is designed for use with coilover shocks. Though this suspension is not engineered for the '88-'98 trucks, we know OrD is looking at adapting it to be a solid-axle swap kit. it currently works with a GM Dana 44, Dana 60, or 10-bolt front axle with the passengerside drop or the '79 Ford Dana 60 with the driver-side drop, which is what you would want for your current transfer-case front output. in the rear you could build your own out of component from the many different rock-buggy supply houses or you could try to modify OrD's rear four-link suspension kit for the earlier trucks as well.

Question: I have a '98 Ford Eddie Bauer Expedition that i am slowly turning into a 4x4 rig. So far i put a 3-inch body lift, a safari rack, a CB for talking on the trails, lights on the rack, an Evolution programmer, and some safety stuff like fire extinguisher and a first aid kit. i plan on lifting it and adding 37-inch tires, a winch, lockers and a few other things. But i have a few friends with Hummers and i like the four-wheel independent suspension. Have you in your travels come across any Fords done up like this? Any advice?
Clyde B.

Answer: I never expected to get a question asking for independent suspension as so many readers want to tear out the complex, lightweight components found in a front independent suspension. However, i can see some advantages to a fully independent vehicle, such as ride quality and differential ground clearance if you are willing to deal with the costs of conversion. Before we go any further, did you know that in 2003 Ford actually offered the Expedition with an independent suspension both front and rear? Also the front and rear independent suspension on Hummer H1s have what is known as a portal hub, and this not only increases the ground clearance of the suspension, but also has reduction gears at the wheels so it decreases the stress on all the axle and CV parts. if you were able to swap all this under the Expedition, (or better yet, stuff it under an H3 Alpha just for the cool factor), you would have great ground clearance, and could have a pretty good ride once you get all the spring rates figured out for your lighter Expedition. But the conversion would be very expensive and completely custom.

Other options i have seen are those from Creative Motorsports (www.gocms. com), where custom independent suspension systems are offered with computercontrolled suspension heights. Also Cwi (360.274.3373, has systems that use a Dana 44 centersection from a Jaguar that has been made to work in the back of a Toyota and with some more custom fab it might be adapted into your Expedition, but it's probably too lightweight. Of course either of these would require an enormous amount of fabrication. i think you need to determine why you like the independent suspension. is it because of the ground clearance, ride, or just coolness factor? Whatever your reason, i think you'll find that the cost, strength, and reliability of the solid axle far outweigh it.

Question: I hear that Editor rick pw always wears sandals no matter what the weather is like. How does he keep his feet warm on cold days?

Answer: Our editor-in-chief grew up in Alaska, so to him it's always summer everywhere else, no matter what time of year it is. Since his Jeep has a big-block V-8 under the hood, if by chance it should get below negative 5 degrees, he can simply hang his little piggies out the side of his Jeep, under the body near the exhaust, and give them a reheat.

Question: I have an old Dodge truck and my seats are completely ratty. luckily my uncle has an upholstery shop and is willing to recover them in any material i want. Do you think i should use vinyl, leather, or fabric? Which will hold up better to the wet muddy wheeling we have up here in the Northwest?

Answer: I used to live in the Northwest for a short time and i understand your issue, though i think you are overlooking the perfect mate-rial, alligator skin! Alligators live in the water and mud so their skin should hold up great and they are tough since they like to fight and wrestle with each other and whatever they are killing so you know their hides are durable. Alligators have been around for hundreds of thousands of years so you know the new seat covers will last. And even though gators live in very hot and humid places, they seem to be comfortable so your seat won't stick to your back and get all clammy on those warm summer nights. yes, i do believe gator skin seat covers are the way to go.

Question: If you were going to build a truck, what buggy would you start with?

Answer: I would start with an antique buggy such as those used during the chariot races of the roman Empire. if you could find one in pristine condition, say in your grandma's attic or buried in the hills of italy, you could most likely sell it on eBay or to some museum and have enough money to buy whatever truck you wanted.

Question: If you were going to build a rock buggy, what would be the perfect donor rig to use?

Answer: I would start with any 1-ton truck with a front and rear solid-axle fuelinjected V-8 and manual or automatic transmission. i would then upgrade to an aftermarket transfer case so you can get more low-range gearing or add some sort of doubler or reduction box in front of the stock transfer case. Since Chevy parts are so common, i'd probably look at an '87 K30. i admit that you can make a great buggy out of a lightweight '85 fuel-injected Toyota solid-axle mini-truck, but if you want big power, strong axles, and a tough transmission, then a 1-ton is where it's at.

Question: I have a '74 Ford F-100 ranger 4x4 with 33x12.50x15 tires and a small lift. Whenever i hit a bump in the road, especially on the driverside tire, the entire truck bounces violently and will do so till the suspension settles back down. Any help would be greatly appreciated.

Answer: You might want to check all your suspension and steering joints and bushing. Being 34 years old, there's no telling what type of shape the tie-rod ends, radius-arm bushings, and track-bar mounts are in, much less the tires. i'm older than that myself and i can tell you i've had some track-bar issues some mornings, especially when the weather is cold. To check the steering, have a friend turn the wheel back and forth slowly and make sure everything is moving relative to each other. if something is loose, it will have some slack in the joint and needs to be replaced. Also watch the track-bar mounts and see if they are shifting, such as when the opening is slotted or the bolt is worn out.

Then have your friend slowly drive the truck and hit the brakes while you watch the front suspension links from beside it. Excessive movement in the radius arms should be noted as those bushings could be worn as well. The ball joints on your front axle and even the bearing in your front wheel hubs can cause erratic movement if they are badly worn. Also there is caster and toe in, both of which can lead to this situation, which is commonly known as death wobble. Be sure with the 33s that you have 1/8-1/4 inch of toe in, and from 3 to 5 degrees of positive caster, any less and you can be wobbling down the street like a guy leaving the bar. Finally, it could be the shocks. if you can push up and down on your front bumper and it continues to bounce, your shocks are done and need replacing. if all those items are fixed or OK, then it might be time for some new tires. Be sure they are inflated equally and balanced to start, then try switching them front to rear and see if it helps.

Death wobble is a terrible thing that can affl ict any type of truck, especially those with solid front axles. i'm hoping this answer can help other readers with similar issues, and i'm awarding you the Nuts, i'm Confused letter of the Month this issue. i'm hoping you can use the high-flow 77 Series intake from K&N (800.858.3333, that we will be sending to you. These intakes come with an oversized high-flow conical air filter, and many have a heatshield to protect the incoming air charge from the heat of the engine, resulting in a clean, cool, dense gulp of air. These kits are guaranteed to provide more horsepower and increased acceleration, are easy to install, and can last up to 100,000 miles before they need to be serviced.

Question: I really want to win the "Nuts, i'm Confused" next month. What question should i ask?
Brian E.

Answer: First of all, you need to ask a question that applies to the most number of people. i'm always looking for that perfect question that by answering i can help a lot of people, not just one single obscure issue you have with your rare oddball truck that no one has ever heard of. i want your oddball questions, but remember, help your fellow wheelers and i'll reward you with a prize. Second, make it a real question that can be positively answered. i get many questions where someone wants to know the best suspension, best tire, best performance chip, best seat covers, and so on, and truthfully i haven't driven every single lift kit made by every manufacturer for every year truck over every type of terrain. I'm getting close, but i still have about 75 more trucks to get through and until then I'm looking for questions about problems you are stumped on, not just my opinion.

There may be questions where you're trying to decide between one type of product-say a hydraulic window opener versus an electric window opener-and i just might have some insight you hadn't considered, so feel free to ask those types of questions. But if you just need an opinion, then read the rest of the magazine where we test tons of different products and hopefully we will review the parts you are considering, such as when we do the giant suspension shootouts or the 4x4 of the year tests.

If you have a problem with your truck-it doesn't run, needs to fit giant tires, or just smells funny-then this is the place to ask. i'm here day and night trying to find the answers, and for those i don't know i find the guys that do whether he's that weird old truck guy that lives out in the woods or the head engineer at the largest truck manufacturer in the world. So send in any questions you might have. if it's opinions you want, i'll share them with the other guys and we'll determine how best to test the products you can't decide between. if it's a good old "solve my problem" type question, then i'll do all i can to find the answer. The more applicable it is, the more likely you'll go home with the monthly prize. Oh, and by the way, if some of the questions this month seem a little goofy, well it is April and any fool knows you gotta laugh every now and then. See ya next month!

Connect With Us

Newsletter Sign Up

Subscribe to the Magazine

Browse Articles By Vehicle

See Results