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January 2011 Nuts & Bolts

Posted in How To on January 1, 2011
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Get Tanked
Q I've been bitten by the extreme off-roading bug and wish to convert my leaf-sprung '82 CJ-7 into a four-linked assassin. Before even thinking about the four-link setup in the rear, I want to remove the monster 20-gallon fuel tank from the stock location and install a fuel cell behind the rear seat so that I have more options regarding wheelbase and shock placement.

My fuel cell location would be the same as Todd Farrand's '90 YJ, featured on page 46 of the Jan. '10 edition of 4-Wheel & Off-Road magazine ("Too Cool YJ: A Mechanically Inclined Builder's Dream").

An RCI fuel cell like Farrand's seems like the perfect fuel cell for me (does he have it secured by a ratchet strap?). I also noticed a Universal Tank by GenRight Offroad made to fit behind the rear seat. However, at the bottom of the description, the company states:

"NOTE: Due to the non-stock location of this tank, this tank is not considered street legal."

Furthermore, Farrand's Jeep looked like it was green-stickered for trail use only. I live in the San Francisco Bay area. I realize the emissions standards here are strict, but I thought the only thing that CARB cares about regarding fuel tanks is whether the fuel cap or tank leaks fumes. Does it actually matter where the fuel tank/cell is located?

I tow my Jeep to the trails via tow bar. I don't have space to store a trailer, so I want to keep it street-legal.
Mike M.

A I approached the fuel tank supplier Transfer Flow ( and found the following on the website.

FMVSS 301 (Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards) states that anyone who alters a vehicle must meet or exceed the structural integrity and performance of the OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) fuel system. A fuel system includes anything associated with fuel systems such as the fillneck, tank, gasoline lines, fuel pump, emission canister, and fasteners. In other words, if an alterer adds an auxiliary system to a vehicle thereby reducing the performance of the fuel system, he or she has violated FMVSS 301 standards. An example of performance reduction could be if fuel from the original system leaked because the auxiliary system was gravity feeding into the original tank. This creates a real concern as it not only violates FMVSS 301 regulations, but is also a hazardous waste problem.

I understand this to mean that a proper and safe fuel system of equal size with no leaks is required. This may mean building a firewall around the new tank to ensure that it is not in the passenger compartment. You should double-check with your local smog shop before you drop your tank, as they will be the people telling you if your new fuel system passes the rules.

Overloaded With Articulation
Q I have an '05 Xterra. When I added my PRG 2-inch add-a-leaf to my factory leaf springs, I removed the overload leaf because I was told it would hinder articulation. But recently I have been introduced to Overland adventures and have been loading up my Xterra with quite a bit of gear necessary for these multiday excursions, and it has taken its toll on my factory leaf springs, causing them to sag greatly. Right now I cannot afford the $700+ for a custom full leaf pack replacement, so I am going to have my local spring shop re-arch my factory springs and I will reinstall the overload leaves. Will reinstalling the overload leaves actually hinder the off-road performance?
Will K.

A Overload springs are not as bad as many folks think. I would put them back in. Overloads may hinder articulation slightly, but they will also support additional weight and help reduce axlewrap. I think the tradeoff is worth any reduction in articulation you might have, especially when you are carrying heavy loads.

Q I am confused over which truck I should build. I have three to choose from but very little financial resources to back it. The trucks currently at my disposal are a '92 K2500 Suburban, an '00 Ford Excursion (diesel), and an '01 K2500 Suburban. My dilemma comes from the fact that the Excursion has a busted front leaf spring, the '92 'Burb needs a transmission and electrical work to be reliable, and the '01 'Burb needs tires real bad. All of these trucks have been, or are currently, our family daily drivers, carrying our six kids and loads of gear all over God's green earth.

I would sell the '92 if I could, but I wouldn't get back half of what I have in it. It has a stock 454 engine that has been chipped and blown by a Vortech charger, cold air intake, and dual exhaust, followed by a built Hughes tranny. The tires are OK, and the suspension is stock, and originally I thought I'd build this truck. It's really fast and lots of fun (even with 175K miles)

The Excursion also has 175K miles and is just getting broken in for a diesel, and it is our main crew hauler. The broken leaf spring has to be replaced soon. My dream would be to lift it 4 to 6 inches and stuff some 37- to 40-inch tires in there. I realize that the tire size change would require a gear swap as well, so I'm just including that with my save-for goal, to do it all at once. The tires on this truck are in great shape, so if we do build this one the rubber could then go on one of the Suburbans.

The '01 Suburban is a good truck: solid, reliable, our other daily driver. It needs tires and shocks and has 125,000 miles on the odometer. This truck has a 6.0L, all stock, and again with the stupid IFS. Stock, it is a great ride (per the wife; I prefer the Excursion). I could sell it to finance the build of the Excursion, but in today's economy these trucks went from being worth $12K-$15K to $6K-$9K overnight. Whenever I put a For Sale sign in it, everybody calls me, expecting me to just give it away! Maybe I could swap the blower and tranny with the '92 and then sell that one?

What would you do? My wife and I used to make monthly trips to the dunes of Silver Lake, Michigan, but that was 12 years ago, before the six kids. Now the baby is almost 2, and we would love to get back into the sand.
James "Lightning Rod" S.
P.S. Want to buy a Suburban?

A Build the Excursion, sell the others. The Excursion has the 7.3L diesel, which is a good engine, a solid front axle, and plenty of room for your crew. I fear you'll lose money on any deal you make selling the Suburbans, but I wouldn't build the Suburbans unless you're planning a solid-axle swap. If the Excursion only needs a leaf spring and you want to lift it, then I see that problem as being easily fixed. Plus I think you could hot rod the diesel engine for power comparable to the blown big-block and afford the lift and tires for what you get for the two Suburbans. I like Chevys a lot, but the diesel should be more fuel-efficient, you already own it, and it will fit your herd of kids.

Stroker Pipes
Q I have a '75 K10 Chevy that I just installed a ZZ383 motor in. The headers that were recommended were the Hedman Hustler HED-65868s from Summit. The problem is that the motor's LT1/LT4 D-ports did not match up to the headers' oval ports. Have you had any experience with this? Any advice? Do I need to go to someone who does custom exhaust?
Kirk S.
Via email

A You do not need a custom exhaust. In my Fun Buggy project I used some headers from Sanderson (800.669.2430, on the ZZ383. The part number was CC1-D. These headers have the D-port you need for your GM Fast Burn heads on the ZZ383.

Taller tired Toy
Q I want to put 35X12.50X17 tires on my '88 Toyota regular cab 4WD with ISF. I want all suspension, no body lift, and no trimming to the fenders or body of the truck. I am trying to locate a suspension lift that will work for this project but won't break my wallet.
Theresa K.
Via email

A Superlift claims that its 4- to 5-inch suspension will clear 35s but will require wheels with 31/4-33/4 inches of backspacing. Rocky Mountain Suspension (800.470.9234, sells this kit for about $1,100. I have heard of people using a 4-inch suspension and longer rear shackles to clear 35s, but they had to overtighten the torsion bars for the additional lift.

Camping Flat
Q Do you know of any camper tops made to fit the back of a flatbed truck? The truck I drive now is a 3500 Ram, and I'd like to take it on the road sometime without having to pull an RV.
John F.
Welsh, LA

A Northstar Campers (319.233.3461, has an Escape Pod camper that is designed to fit on a flatbed truck. Other options I've seen include using a standard slide-in camper and then installing toolboxes on the flatbed beside and in front of it, or modifying a small tow behind camper into a slide-on camper, but this seems like a fair bit of work.

Q I have an '81 K5 that I have been wrenching on for the last 41/2 years now. I put in an old diesel (a '79 Olds 5.7L-don't laugh) that runs good. The problem is it does not like to start when cold. I was wondering if you know of any solar-powered unit to keep my block heater going in the field, or any other way to keep the block warm besides a generator and extension cord.
Jason H.
Via email

A That is a good question. I have a great foldable solar panel from Power Film Solar ( that puts out 12V and would be good for keeping your batteries charged, but I do not know of a solar-powered block heater. Espar (800.387.4800 offers a gas-powered coolant heater that may be of interest to you, or you may contact a local tractor trailer shop and see if they have something similar. Another option is to make sure your glow plugs are working properly and your battery is strong for both preheating the glow plugs and cranking over the engine. It may be beneficial to run two batteries in parallel for additional cranking amps.

More Modern CJ
Q My first vehicle was an '82 CJ-7, and I loved it! I would really like to get back behind the wheel of a TJ when I get back from Iraq. The only problem is I really don't have enough know-how to build what I'm looking for. I'd really appreciate it if you guys could point me in the right direction. Anything would be useful. I'm looking for an everyday driver with mud, trail, and possibly rock capabilities, right now I'm stationed in Hawaii, but that will keep changing, and so will the terrain, so I need a go-anywhere, do-anything Jeep.
Via email

A You, my friend, are the perfect candidate for a Jeep Rubicon. Jeep engineered the Rubicon for all types of terrain, and the TJ variant is a great 4x4. You could spend a lot of time and money learning and building a base-model Wrangler, or you could find a good used Rubi and hit the trails today. I'm all for building and modifying your 4x4, but if you want a simple way to go play, find a good used Rubicon. I'd track down an '05-'06 Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon. These are hard to beat; they have a little extra wheelbase, front and rear locking differentials, and a discountable front sway bar. The 4.0L straight-six is a rugged motor. And because the TJ Unlimiteds were only made for a few years, they'll likely hold their value over time.

Lift or Lock?
Q I recently acquired an '89 Toyota SR5 4x4 with a 22R that I will drive daily and use to hunt and occasionally wheel. My question to you is budget-minded. I can't decide if I want to lift it 4 inches and put on 33s or stick with 31s and a rear locker. What is your recommendation? Also, I know you hear this question a lot, but I am definitely getting mud-terrains and can't decide between Firestone, Cooper STT, and BFGoodrich KM2.
Matthew R.
Via email

A A locker will take you farther off-road than a lift kit and bigger tires. I also just drove 3,000 miles around far-eastern Russia on BFGoodrich KM2 tires, and they worked flawlessly. I hope that answers your questions.

Father-Son Four-Link
Q My 13-year-old son, Owen, bought a stock '87 Toyota SR5 about a year ago as his own Toy with 4-H money. I am currently deployed to Afghanistan and received a copy of your Aug. '10 magazine. I sent the link to my son to check out. He loved it. We want to build a version of Squishy. I am scheduled to return to the States around the first of the year. I would like to start buying some parts and have them delivered to the house so Owen can start with laying things out in the garage and doing some prep work to pass the time. Planning on: new tires and rims, air shocks, four-link rear suspension, changing the fluid in the transmission, an exo-cage, and rebuilding the stock brakes. We are looking for build plans, hints, tips, and a potential parts list.
Thomas E.M.
Dep. Cmdr., Team Orthos
Camp Kelegai, Afghanistan

A This sounds like a great father-son project. When you mentioned wanting a four-link/air shock suspension, the Trail Link suspension from Trail Gear (559.252.4950, came to mind. Trail Gear offers a weld-in crossmember and link setup with air shocks for about $1,300. Tires and wheels are a personal choice, but for a trail rig I usually recommend a mud tread, and 35s or 37s are about as big as you want to go with Toyota axles without upgrading to chromoly internal parts and upgraded Birfields. Exo-cages are usually custom fabricated, and I don't know of any kits available. Good luck with your project.

Nuts, I'm Confused
Shocks vs Rocks
Q I was just wondering why all the OEMs choose to mount the lower shock mount on the rear axle on the bottom of the axle below the centerline.

All I've ever seen this configuration do is reach out and grab rocks and such. I once had someone tell me that they thought it was to help locate the axle, but I called B.S. on that. I ask because I'm planning on swapping the rear axle on my '78 Bronco, and the shock mounts are hammered so I am going to fabricate some new mounts and weld them on top of, or centered on, the axle. Any input/suggestions?
Eagle Point, OR

A The lower shock mounts are low so that the upper shock mount can also be low and not require a higher floor or truck bed.

If you imagine the shock is 18 inches long when fully compressed, then you need 18 inches of vertical space between the axle mount and the frame mount when the suspension is bottomed out. If you raise the lower mount up, you'll also have to raise the upper mount, and this starts taking up valuable cargo space. Can you believe that an OEM is more concerned with interior space and cargo than off-road ground clearance? (Please read the sarcasm in that rhetorical question).

It's probably because most buyers are not looking under their new 4x4s but rather in the bed or around the back seats. Some 4x4 owners try to raise the shock's lower mount and then angle the upper mount so that the shock does not sit vertically, but the more angle of a shock from the direction of axle travel the less effective the shock becomes. If you raise your lower shock mount for ground clearance, you may need to change shock lengths or cut through the floor of the Bronco to mount a higher upper mount if there is not spare room under the body.

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, 831 S. Douglas St., El Segundo, CA 90245
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