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Newbie Nuts & Bolts

Fj Cruiser Rear Three Quarter Shot
Fred Williams
| Brand Manager, Petersen’s 4Wheel & Off Road
Posted August 1, 2011

The Top 8 Beginners' Questions

I get a ton of Nuts & Bolts questions each month, but some just keep returning and returning. Rather than address individual readers’ questions, this month I’m going to answer the top eight I see all the time.

Keep those letters and emails coming, because we’ll be back to business as usual next month, and I have a huge list of prizes that I’ll be awarding to each month’s best Nuts & Bolts question.

First upgrade?
Q I just bought a (any make and model of 4x4 here), and I want to get into four-wheeling. What is the first upgrade I should do?
First-Time Freddy

A Before you drop a dime on your 4x4 you should roll underneath it. Going four-wheeling is about more than just buying stuff and bolting it to your 4x4. You should really get to know your rig, and a great place to start is in the driveway or garage. Get under there and notice things like driveshaft locations, shocks, springs, engine/ transmission/transfer case height, and exhaust pipe routing. Is this stuff well protected? Is anything leaking? Could a rock smash any of the aforementioned items? If you are driving and come up to a rock or tree stump, could you straddle it with your vehicle? Or should you try to go around it or drive over it with a tire? You need to figure out how low the parts are, if they’re protected, and how well.

Now get up out of the dirt and climb inside that new off-road monster machine. Grab the owner’s manual and read all about shifting into 4x4. Do you need to lock the hubs? Can you shift while moving, or do you need to come to a stop?

Once you’ve read about that, go find dirt or gravel and go through the steps. You shouldn’t drive in high or low four-wheel-drive lock while on a hard surface such as asphalt because the drivetrain can bind while turning. Take some time and get to know your 4x4, how it shifts, how slow it goes in low range, how well it steers in 4x4. Then shift back into two-wheel drive and go home.

At this point you’re almost ready to start off-roading. I recommend you find a buddy with a 4x4 to go with you. It’s always good to go wheeling with a buddy (preferably one with his own 4x4) so you have a spotter, someone to help if there is a problem, and someone to take pictures if you get stuck. Stop worrying about getting stuck; we’re not there yet.

If you have a buddy and you’ve found a spot to go four-wheeling (a local trail, mud hole, and so on) then you’re probably about ready to buy something. Let’s start with a towstrap. But first, while you were checking out your 4x4, did you notice whether it had front and/or rear recovery points? If not, you should get some, at least for one end but preferably for both. Also, order an appropriate towstrap. We’re fond of the BubbaRope ( here at 4WOR, but you can surely find other brands at your local 4x4 shop.

Now that you’ve got a towstrap and at least one recovery point, throw in a fire extinguisher and a first aid kit. I’d expect you could buy all these for a couple hundred bucks. If you don’t have a buddy or really feel like spending some extra dinero, then I see nothing wrong with getting a winch, but as with anything, you get what you pay for. I recommend a good American-made winch for when the going gets tough.

Now the most important thing: Go wheeling. We have many advertisers that will sell you parts to upgrade your truck, but first you need to go drive off-road and start upgrading your off-road driving skills. Get out there and play in the dirt. Start in two-wheel drive and then try for 4-Hi, then 4-Lo. If your vehicle has selectable lockers (like a Jeep Rubicon, Power Wagon, and some Land Cruisers and Hummers) then try them both on- and off-road. The more you try, the more you’ll see what it can or can’t do. Just have fun and pay attention to the trail, your truck, and how it is working. The more you learn from driving, the better you’ll be as your truck grows in tire size gearing and with upgrades—but more on that later.

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