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May 2009 4x4 Truck Repair & Tech Questions - Nuts & Bolts

Posted in How To on May 1, 2009
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Submission Information
Confused? Email 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 website (, 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.

Email to:

Wronger Than Wrong
Question: I was talking with one of my friends who has been thinking about getting a new Jeep Wrangler. He has found two that he likes, but one of them is two-wheel drive (I have no idea why Jeep would do that to a Wrangler). I know that he wants to lift whatever he gets, and I know they sell prerunner lift kits for other two- wheel-drive vehicles, but do they offer a lift for the two-wheel-drive Wrangler? I hope there isn't a lift because it will add to the list of items on why he shouldn't get the two-wheel drive. Thanks.

Answer: The 2WD Jeep JK Wranglers can use the same suspension lift kits as the 4WD Wranglers. But the only thing worse than a 2WD Jeep is a lifted 2WD Jeep. Tell him to get the 4x4.

Both Right, Both Wrong
Question: It's time for a new vehicle, and it must be off-road capable. I was looking into the new JK, but people say it's not reliable. This will be my everyday ride so it has to be reliable. Someone said look into an FJ Cruiser-its off-road capability is the same as, if not better than, the JK. I have done my research but you guys know your stuff. So which way do I go, FJ or JK?

Answer: I hate taking sides, especially since I know this will tick off some people, but if you want the most capable 4x4 out of the box, get a two-door Rubicon JK. And this is coming from a guy who has owned seven Jeeps before I got my first Toyota, and I still own my first Toyota.

The FJ is a great vehicle. It rides better than the JK, the engine has more power, and Toyota reliability is hard to beat. However, it doesn't have a front locking differential and it does have IFS. Both are detriments off road. If you are looking for high-speed off-road performance, I would concede the FJ is better.

Jeep reliability isn't an issue as far as I've heard. And although power is lacking in the four-door hardtop automatic, it's pretty good in the two-door soft-top manual. The JK has better visibility. I hate the lack of visibility and terrible rear-seat access of the FJ, and that lack of visibility is also a detriment off road.

Neither gets exceptional mileage, but the FJ is probably a better street-driving long-distance touring vehicle just for comfort's sake. But the back-seat riders cannot roll down the windows as they can in a four-door JK. And, again, visibility hurts the FJ and helps the JK around town and on the highway.

So if technical four-wheeling is your goal, go Jeep. If speed is your need, go Toyota. If you carry more than two people, go Jeep, though you'll wish it had a Toyota powerplant. If it were me, I'd buy a four-door, shortbed, manual-transmission Tacoma pickup, do a solid-axle swap with a front JK Rubicon-locking Dana 44, hit the road, and never look back. Or I'd swap the FJ engine into the four-door JK and never look back.

Hot Tranny Juice
Question: I have two 4x4s, both with manual transmissions, and I live were it can get very cold in the winter! The problem I am having is that both my '80 Chevy ( with an SM465) and my '91 Jeep YJ (five-speed manual) are a pain to shift in minus 35 F weather! I have tried going to thinner oil, and that has helped a little. But I am at the thinnest grade of oil recommended by the manufacturer for both of these 4x4s. The newer manual transmissions use synthetic ATF, and this helps a great deal in very cold weather. But I am told I cannot use this oil in my older transmissions or they will fail!

Isn't there a manual transmission oil that is thick enough for these two 4x4s, yet doesn't turn to the consistency of tar in cold weather? I know my wife is not impressed with having to do a bench press every time she wants to shift gears!
Fred H.

Answer: Minus 35! Why do people live in such a place? If you simply moved to a warmer climate you could more easily shift gears and get to see your wife in a bikini instead of the Eskimo parka she probably has to wear every day! OK, all kidding aside, I'm sure there is a good reason you are living on a glacier above the north pole, like maybe you run a polar bear breeding facility or you're some sort of ice scientist.

Either way, I've deducted that there is no need to change oil there. I'd try just setting the parking brake, putting the transfer case in neutral, and putting the transmission in First gear, then starting the truck and letting out the clutch. I assume you let your truck idle for a while until the engine oil is warmed up in the winter, and this will do the same for the transmission oil because the gears will be spinning inside the case even though the truck will be sitting still.

Living in Southern California I have no idea how long it will take to warm up the gear oil, but I'd imagine it would be loosened up after 5-10 minutes of warmup. If that doesn't work, you could devise some heat exchanger that you run hot coolant and cold transmission gear oil through to transfer the heat, but that seems overly complicated. Another option is some sort of plug-in heater element similar to a block heater, an oil pan blanket, or a dipstick heater.

Give us a ring if you ever get out of the snow, and we'll go wheeling, down here, where it's warm.

OD Info
Question: I'm reading your article on your project UAJK. I have a Wrangler of my own, and I could never decide on a color for it. I think yours is perfect. I see you got it from Rapco Parts Company, but they sell a variety of paint. Which color did you guys pick? I know this probably isn't a question for Nuts & Bolts, but could you point me in the right direction? Thanks.

Answer: I agree that color is perfect. In fact, I just had my Zamp Racing helmet ( painted with the leftover paint from the Jeep. The paint is Enamel Olive Drab from Gillespie Coatings Incorporated. The color number is 595-33070-11 LFD. And yes, we got it from Rapco Parts Company (

Kevin's Glass
Question: This is for Executive Editor Kevin McNulty. In your article "Scratch-Built CJ-8" (Feb. '09), how did you fabricate the tilt-up front windshield?

Answer: The Jeep in the lead photo is not Kevin's, but you can find the tilt-up windshield from Tyson Design Works (970.250.1401,

More 'Burb Beef
Question: I have a '94 Chevy Suburban 2500, and I want to try to put bigger tires on, but not too big. I was thinking 33s, but everyone I talk to tells me I have to do a lift. I don't have that kind of money, so I wanted to know if there is anything other than a lift to fit the 33s under the 'Burban?
Isaiah T.

Answer: You need to go to a 3-inch body lift and maybe some cutout fender flares to clear a 33-inch tire. I do not like body lifts over 2 inches because of the stress it adds on body mounting components. You could also crank up the torsion bars slightly to add more preload to the front suspension and in effect raise the vehicle, but then you might need to match it in the rear with a small lift block, and this will reduce your downtravel considerably. I'd rather see you simply trim the body to clear the 33s or go with the correct suspension lift.

Nuts, I'm Confused
More is Less
Question: My daily driver is an '03 F-150 Super Crew with a 6-inch Fabtech lift and 305/70/17 Maxxis Big Horn tires. The tires, according to Maxxis, are 33.8 inches tall. The stock Goodyears were 31.6 inches tall. With gas prices climbing higher, I have reluctantly started thinking about putting smaller tires back on. How much difference do 2 inches really make on the truck, and is it even worth spending the money for new tires just to save on fuel? I love having the option to go explore a new trail any time I'm driving around, but is it worth it?
Jason A.

Answer: Ah, the fuel question. Like many of you, I have lifted my truck and then watched fuel prices go up. Then fuel came back down, and I stopped worrying about it. But we all know it will be back up again, so rather than be surprised when it climbs, let's look at the issues of a bigger truck and fuel consumption.

Yes, your tires are only 2 inches taller, but they weigh more and your truck is taller now. This added weight and larger front area means you are hauling more mass and trying to displace more air out from in front of your truck. This uses more gas. If you've added any lights or a bigger front bumper, you will definitely notice some more aerodynamic reduction and weight increase.

There are things you can do to save gas. First, make sure your tires are aired up to even stated pressures. The higher pressure results in less rolling resistance and helps fuel economy. Next, try slowing down. The left passing lane of the highway costs more than the right lane, so ease back and take your time, maybe even find a big rig or motorhome to draft if possible (just not too closely). Many new trucks have a mileage meter somewhere in the display. Challenge yourself to bump that number up every time you drive

Since fuel economy is such a pressing issue, I'm awarding your letter this month's Nuts I'm Confused award. This month Superchips (407.585.7000, is offering you its new Mileage XS programmer engineered with powertrain calibrations specifically for improved economy. The Programmer is available for many late-model gasoline and diesel engines for GM, Ford, and Dodge pickup trucks and fullsize SUVs. Mileage gains of up to 15 percent are available depending on vehicle make and driving style, and in the next few years any increases will be welcomed.

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