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February 2012 Nuts & Bolts

Posted in How To on February 1, 2012
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Doorless Legal?
Is it legal to remove the doors on my ’92 Jeep XJ and drive it on the street in Pennsylvania? Most of the local police don’t have a problem with it, but one in particular said I needed to contact the state department of transportation for a yea or nay. After a year of trying, I keep getting the same response: “This has been turned over to our research department, who will contact you via phone in seven days.” Of course seven days comes and goes with no answer.

I see CJs, YJs, TJs, and JKs doorless in Pennsylvania every day during the summer. I even see Humvees running around doorless. So wouldn’t it be discrimination to say that I can’t remove the doors of my XJ? The officer said he thought it posed a safety issue but couldn’t explain why the other vehicles were “safer” than my XJ. He let me go with a warning and said to do my homework and let him know, which is why I want to do the right thing and find out if it is legal.
Bill P.
Via email

This is a great question. A woman recently asked me whether I put doors on my Jeep CJ-5 before driving it down the road. I said no, and she was horrified. So I asked around, and the consensus is no one knows. First and foremost, let’s examine this from the officer’s side. He doesn’t want to spend his day cleaning up idiots who fall out of their Jeep while going down the highway, and that is respectable enough. And he is most likely concerned with your safety more than giving you a ticket, so we are in no way harping on him for doing his job.

Where it gets funny is that the Pennsylvania vehicle code states the following on the state’s DMV website.

It is unlawful for any person to do any of the following:

Willfully or intentionally remove (other than for purposes of repair and replacement) or render inoperative, in whole or in part, any item of vehicle equipment which was required to be installed at the time of manufacture or thereafter upon any vehicle, by any law, rule, regulation or requirement of any officer or agency of the United States or of the Commonwealth, if it is intended that the vehicle be operated upon the highways of this Commonwealth unless the removal or alteration is specifically permitted by this title or by regulations promulgated by the department.

Are you just as confused as before? You should be.

Here is my advice. If you remove the doors, add a sideview mirror. Oftentimes this is the required device referred to in explanations like the above. If you get pulled over, explain that you added the mirror. If he wants a door, then ask if a strap or a tube door would be legal. If he says no, then ask for the specific law that requires doors. He’ll likely show you the above vehicle code. But here is where it get’s messy. You need him to show you where it says that a door is required at the time of manufacture, not that it is illegal to remove a part that is required. I believe there are laws that say vehicles need such items as sideview mirrors, taillights, seatbelts, and windshield wipers , but none that require vehicles to have doors. Otherwise, how could we have Jeep Wranglers and motorcycles?

The majority of people I have asked in the off-road industry believe it may be illegal to remove the doors from vehicles that are designed to have doors because the doors have the mirrors, but since open-top Jeeps are designed to have their doors removed, it is legal to do so. However, no one can show me a law that says such. Plus, this makes no sense because most open-top Jeeps are not crash-tested without doors. Current JK doors have the mirror attached. Nor are the current Wrangler doors any easier to remove than many other vehicles; you still need tools.

Closing argument: Wear your seatbelt, install a mirror, don’t drive like a jerk, and if you get pulled over don’t give the guy grief. He’s just trying to keep you from falling out on the street. Then give him a copy of this magazine, tell him you did your homework as assigned, and invite him to go four-wheeling. —Fred Williams

Level & Lower?
I am looking to level my ’08 Ford F-150, and I want to know if I have to regear the truck even though I am only looking to level it. Also, I want to put bigger tires on it, but I will only be using it as a daily driver and occasionally going to the beach.
Christian C.
Camden, DE

A leveling kit will not require regearing your axles, but going to larger tires may. If you are only going up an inch or so from stock I would not worry about regearing your axles. Once you are 3 inches or more over stock you may find that the engine has a hard time propelling the vehicle with larger tires. The average F-150 leveling kit will clear 33-inch tires. If you go that big you may find the engine lagging a bit to get the tires moving off the line and the speedometer off a few mph, but even so I’d hold off changing gears unless you really notice a drop in power. A gear swap is much more in-depth a job than a leveling kit and costs a fair bit more. There are many programmers you can buy that will fix the speedometer for you.

I have a ’98 GMC K2500 that I use as my daily driver and tow rig. I would like to get some 17-inch wheels for it (I have a set of nearly new 17-inch tires in the garage), but I do not understand why the wheels I find are not hub-centric. I know the factory wheels are hub-centric because I have to pry them off the hub, but it seems to me this would be important on a truck that sees cargo hauling duty. Is it important for the wheels to be hub-centric?
Grant B.

A hub-centric wheel is aligned on the hub by the center hole, whereas a lug-centric wheel is aligned by the lug nuts. Your 2500 uses eight lug nuts, so, no, you do not need hub-centric wheels to replace your factory wheels. OEMs use hub-centric wheels for better alignment of the wheel to the hub and to aid with braking, but it doesn’t aid in load carrying capacity. A properly rated wheel will support the load whether hub or lug centric. Most aftermarket wheels are not hub-centric since OEMs use different hub diameters yet universal lug diameters.

More Tons Mean More Fun
I have an ’85 Chevy Silverado 1⁄2-ton and want to make it a 1-ton. I recently was told that the 1⁄2-ton frame is not strong enough for the 1-ton drivetrain. I noticed in the Aug. ’11 issue that you had a ’75 Chevy K-10 with a 1-ton drivetrain [“Ultimate Revival”]. Is there anything that I have to do to the frame in terms of making it stronger or any other part of the truck?
Tyler Bailey

This is a great question, Tyler. To help us provided you with the most thorough answer, I consulted with the fullsize GM experts at Offroad Design, Offroad Design makes a host of upgrades for GM wheelers, and the Watson family has piloted their fullsize trucks everywhere from Baja to the Hammers to multiple Ultimate Adventures. Here’s what they had to say.

“There are lots of 1⁄2-ton trucks, Blazers, and Suburbans with 1-ton axles, and in general they hold up OK. The 3⁄4-ton and 1-ton frames have thicker material and are stronger, but they’re not perfect either. There are a few weak spots on all the frames that are a problem no matter what axles you’re running. The steering gearbox area is number one, as they all crack there. Another area to watch is the engine crossmember. They often crack too. And last but not least, the rear upper shock mounts tend to crack the frame eventually as well.

“With those areas fixed, we find that over time and with a lot of flexing cycles, the sheetmetal of the cab will start to fatigue and crack before the frame becomes a problem. Ideally you should look at a rollcage, extra crossmembers, and possibly some frame boxing to keep the frame totally rigid, but don’t be afraid to build the truck and use it. You can always just add the extra strength as you can and as you need it.

“There is a lot of fun to be had with what you have. I do recommend spending some time checking your truck over between trips just to catch small problems before they become big problems, but that’s standard procedure for anything you use off-road.”

5.0 for More Go
I have a ’93 Ford Ranger extended cab 4x4 with the 4.0L and five-speed transmission. It has an 8-inch suspension lift with a 3-inch body lift. I would like to swap in a 302ci but am having trouble finding the right adapters to bolt the engine to the transmission. I am not exactly sure about the whole process. Any info would be greatly appreciated.
Dustin Silverman

You’re in luck, as the 302ci engine is a very popular swap among Ranger and Bronco II enthusiasts. While the complete conversion is pretty involved, there are a few aftermarket companies that can help you out. The transmission adapter you’re looking for is PN 712541from Advance Adapters, Advance Adapters can also provide you with the engine mounts and other miscellaneous adapters that you’ll need for the project.

Remember that wiring, cooling, intake and exhaust routing, and your suspension will all need to be addressed when you squeeze in the V-8. Depending on whether or not your truck will see the street post-conversion, you will need to check your state’s emissions codes to make certain that your swap is legal and up to code.

On the Clock
In the July ’11 issue the feature “Chevy Function” has a caption that says the truck owner clocked the transfer case to adjust for the angle of the front driveshaft. What does this mean? I have a ’91 Chevy 4x4 1⁄2-ton, and I am planning on doing a solid-axle swap just as the guy in the article did. I got a lot of info from that article and will use it as I do my build. What does it mean to clock a transfer case? Will I need to do it to mine? Any help will be greatly appreciated.
Dallas Myrick

Clocking a transfer case simply means to rotate or change the position of the transfer case, just like changing the hands of a clock. The output yokes on the transfer case are where your driveshafts connect, and in many cases clocking the case will lower the yokes so as to decrease the driveline angles. In this case the factory NP241 transfer case was clocked down (lowered). This was done to lessen the angle on the front driveline.

As you increase the degree at which your driveshaft operates, you raise the chances of driveline joint damage and wear. How tall you plan on making your Chevy and the type of travel you expect both play factors in making your front driveline live. If you’re planning on doing a similar build as the Chevy featured, then I would say yes, plan on clocking your NP241. You will need a clocking ring, which simply bolts to your factory transfer case. A good source for clocking rings is North West Fab Works. The company offers a variety of clocking rings for New Process/New Venture, Dana, and BorgWarner. You can check out the full list of clocking rings at

Locked Where?
I have an ’89 Toyota 4x4 pickup that is my daily driver and my toy. I’m looking into purchasing a locker for that extra traction, as the limited slip just doesn’t seem to be enough at times. I can only afford to do one axle at a time. Would it be better to put the first one in the front or the rear? And what type of locker would you recommend for a daily driver?
Tim Ryals

No matter if it’s a dedicated trail rig or daily driver, in my experience locking the rear axle first will practically always net you the most off-road performance gains. Sure, a front locker makes pulling the front end over obstacles much easier, but once the front end is over, your rear will be a one-wheel wonder trying to heave the rest of the pickup over. A front locker will also put more stress on the front-end components and steering. And since your ’89 pickup is equipped with the factory independent front suspension and solid-rear axle, we’d opt for spending money on the stronger and more reliable rear.

Dropping a locker into the rear axle of your truck will be a much easier and cost-effective upgrade. Also, when engaged off-road, a rear locker doesn’t harm your steering or handling as much as a front locker does.

As for a choosing the best locker for a daily driver, selectable lockers such as the ARB Air Locker (, OX-Locker (, or Auburn Gear Ected ( are all sound options.

While there are various types of selectable lockers, each is designed to give you the best of both worlds. When a locker is set to open, most act like a standard open differential, though some work similarly to a limited slip. When engaged, the units lock 100 percent and allow zero differentiation in axle speed between the shafts. When unlocked, this equates to better on-road handling with less tire and equipment wear over a full-time or automatic locker.

Nuts, I’m Confused
Mini Mudder
I have an ’02 Nissan Frontier 4x4, and I’d like to start competing in mud bogs and hole-and-hill races. Should I sell my Nissan and buy an older truck or build the Nissan? I don’t want to run over 35s on whatever I decide to build. The main thing is I’m on a budget and will be doing all of the work myself. Any help is appreciated.
Brandon Yates

Growing up in the South I always loved going to the local hole-and-hill and mud bog races. Over the years I have seen everything from $300 clamped-out beaters to $100K tube buggies race through the mud. Without question my favorite class has been the street guys. Your Nissan Frontier is a great pickup, and the aftermarket support isn’t too shabby. The independent front suspension can make it a little more costly and challenging to build, but with a little time, research, and tools you can build it up in your driveway without breaking the bank.

Body lifts, cutout fenders, and a good set of mud terrains are commonplace in the street class. While body lifts won’t do anything to improve your suspension travel, a mild 2- to 3-inch body lift will give you more room for some bigger cleats, and they’re a good bit cheaper than most complete suspension lifts.

Another popular upgrade for the Nissan is swapping in the 1⁄4-ton running gear from a Nissan Titan. This conversion will be a bit more involved, but many of the parts required can be found on the cheap at wrecking yards across the nation.

As for the older fullsize truck option, they are great for bogging as well. Classic fullsize picks are generally simple to work on and can be lifted on the cheap, and most have solid front and rear axles. One of the drawbacks for fullsize truck mud running is that most are pretty heavy. When you’re wheeling in the mud, light is might. The lighter your rig is, the easier and faster it will skim through the muck.

Just remember: Where there is mud there is usually water, so keeping your daily driver and mud racer one in the same will require plenty of cleaning and routine servicing and greasing.

Since your questions brings back so many great mudding memories I’m choosing your letter as our Nuts, I’m Confused letter of the month. You’ll receive a $200 gift certificate from Tom Wood’s Custom Drive Shafts, a company that has been building driveshafts for mud runners and rockcrawlers for years and has a variety of constant-velocity, long-travel, and high-angle drivelines to pick from. Now when your mud runner needs a heavy-duty shaft upgrade you’ll be ready. To find out more about Tom’s drivelines, visit

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 fax to: 310.531.9368 Email to:

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