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July 2013 Tech Questions

Posted in How To on May 30, 2013
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Photographers: 4-Wheel & Off-Road archives

Sway or Away?
Q I have a ’12 Dodge Ram 2500, and I plan on lifting it to fit 35-inch tires. Should I keep the sway bar or ditch it? I am building the truck to be an off-road camper with a four-wheel popup camper. I don’t see how it will help me when driving off-road, and I can’t find a sway-bar disconnect. Can I just remove the sway bar altogether?
Kevin D.

A You probably don’t want to ditch your sway bar altogether. I have driven our White Truck project truck, a ’10 Ram 3500, with the sway bar disconnected, and it isn’t very fun. Yes, it flexes better off-road, but on the road it has bad body roll and doesn’t drive well. I would really like to add the disconectable sway-bar system from a new Power Wagon, but these parts are very expensive from the factory, and no one has developed a remote disconnect for the sway bar. I am currently running Synergy Suspension ( sway bar links and they are holding up well. The sway bar sees enormous loads and needs heavy-duty components. There is a large variety of Jeep Wrangler sway-bar disconnects, and I bet you could adapt some of these links to the Ram truck. But remember, they are designed for a quarter-ton Jeep, not a heavy-duty truck. Again, I wouldn’t recommend driving the truck without the sway bar, especially with a heavy load like a camper in the bed.

Tall As a Sequoia
Q I have a ’10 Toyota Sequoia and would like to get a 2- to 4-inch lift kit installed but cannot find one. I live in the Sacramento, California, area. Can you point me in the right direction?
Christian M.
Sacramento, CA

A The Sequoia is a great people mover, and adding some elevation to your ride isn’t too hard since the suspension uses coilover struts in the front and coil springs in the rear. Revtek Suspension ( has a spacer lift that levels out the truck, offers 11⁄2 inches in the rear and 21⁄2 inches up front, and will clear 35-inch tires with minimal fender trimming. Toytech ( offers a spacer kit or a front adjustable coilover suspension that can off zero to 31⁄2 inches of lift. Once you go past a few inches of suspension lift, more changes are necessary to retain proper suspension geometry. In the front, the CV joints will be maxed out above 3 inches of lift. Normally this would require taller steering knuckles and lowering the lower control arms, but no one makes a lift of this type for your Sequoia.

Q Every 4WD I own I think about doing engine swaps on. It’s just how us guys work. A lot of people like me have to take their off-road vehicles through emissions because we also have to daily drive them. What does it take to get a vehicle with an engine swap through emissions and pass? Where can people find info on their emissions requirements for these types of swaps?
Tay J.

A Every state has different emissions testing and engine swap requirements. California is pretty strict, and the general rules are: (1) the engine must be the same year as, or newer than, the vehicle into which it’s going; (2) it must retain all factory emissions equipment (this often means everything from fuel tank vents to air box and exhaust components of the newer vehicle); and (3) it must be from the same weight class as, or lighter than, the vehicle it is going into, even if it is the same displacement engine. For example, you cannot swap a big-block engine from a 1-ton truck into a half-ton truck, but you can swap a big-block engine from a car into a half-ton truck as long as it retains all the car’s emissions.

And finally, in California you need to take your 4x4 with its newly swapped-in engine to the government referee to get it certified. I would bet a good portion of the folks who got to see the ref have to go home and change at least one thing before they get the green flag, so don’t be surprised if they find something wrong. It’s their job.

The best way to determine what a legal engine swap is in your state is to start with the emissions testing shop. Those guys will be the first to see your engine swap and will be able to tell you where to get the best answers. For example, if your local Cooter’s Garage does vehicle emissions inspections, ask them where you can get printed documentation on engine changes and swaps for your state before you even start the swap. Don’t just go by word of mouth; get it in writing. They may refer you to your state’s air resources board, department of motor vehicles, or state police inspector. No matter whom they refer you to, be sure you get the answer in writing so you don’t spend money twice trying to backtrack and make changes.

This is a great questions, and I will be going to the Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) and looking for a comprehensive answer from them. Stay tuned for an update.

Constant Velocity Commando
Q I have a ’72 Jeep Commando with a CJ front clip, a Wagoner 360, an AMC TH400, a Dana 20, a Scrambler front Dana 30 with disc brakes, and a Dana 44 with wheel spacers to match the width of the newer front axle. I am going for the “lower is better and cheaper” thing. So I cut the fenders out as much as I could do and put on some 33-inch tires with no rubbing. Then I cut out the tranny tunnel and jacked up the drivetrain until everything was in-between and above the bottom of the framerails and put a 1⁄2x4-inch steel crossmember. That tilted the engine forward and down, so the fan had to be changed to an electric one and the shifter linkage had to be changed to a cable shifter. The problem is the rear driveshaft is giving some vibration. Is there a cheap way to add a CV? Maybe a junkyard piece can be added to my shaft to make up the angle?
David H.

A If you add a CV you will need to adjust your pinion angle so it points at the output of the transfer case. You seem like a competent fabricator, so maybe you should consider raising the engine slightly. I know this will raise your center of gravity, but it will also get the driveshaft angles back to stock. You do not want the rear output on the transfer case angled upward; it should be either 90 degrees to the ground or angled slightly toward the ground if at all possible. You want the angle of the U-joints equal but opposite, such that the angle from transfer case to driveshaft is the same as the angle from pinion to driveshaft, only one is angled down and the other is angled up. However, there is also a limit to that angle. You cannot have excessive angle on the U-joints. You will need to determine if the angle of the joint is excessive after you determine what U-joints you have.

If there isn’t room to move the engine up then you’ll need to plan on a CV. High Angle Driveline ( makes a variety of transfer case flanges and has a new line of flanges that will work on your Dana 20 transfer case. To this you could attach a custom CV axleshaft, or if you’re lucky you may even find a Toyota CV driveshaft close to the right length and then just need to get it lengthened or shorted to fit. I mention the Toyota CV because they are small, stout, and work with the High Angle flange mounts.

In The Hood
Q I am looking for a fiberglass drop-down hood like Hickey Enterprises sold in the early ’80s. They were made for Ford, Dodge, and Chevy. Who has the molds? Who sells hoods? I am looking for a Dodge hood or all three molds. Any help would be appreciated.
Bruce F.

A That is a great question. Those old Hickey hoods were a brilliant idea from back in the day. It basically took the large factory hood and dropped the center so visibility was great improved. Unfortunately I can’t find the current owner of the molds or whether anyone still is making such a hood. I think this would be a great product since so many new trucks have “Power Bulges” and such that give the truck big aggressive looks but unfortunately impede forward visibility. If any readers out there know of these types of hoods being built, please put “visibility hoods” in the subject line of your email and write to

We do know that Autofab ( offers this type of hood for the ’70s fullsize Ford trucks but have not heard of anyone making such a hood for the GM or Dodge trucks. We recently started building a new F-250 project truck (“Project Super Dirty,” page 82) and noticed that it has a similar hood design, where the outer edges are high but the center has a significant drop for additional forward visibility.

Again, we would appreciate it if any readers would let us know if they have heard of a company making the drop-center hoods for older or current model fullsize 4x4s.

Nuts, I’m Confused
Get Clear About Rear Steer
Q I have been wondering for a while now and hoping the articles on the UAJK with four-wheel steering would have explained it. How does four-wheel steering work? Do you steer the rear independently from the front? Can the rear be set up as a response to the front or a combo of or some other option? Is there a feedback ensuring the track you want and guaranteeing a true track for on-highway use, if that is even legal? I just sold my CJ-5 Jeep, and I would love to build another Jeep. It would be trail-only, and certainly four-wheel steering would be an option.

A Rear steer isn’t for everyone. It adds weight, it adds complexity, it adds cost, and it can add confusion to the driver trying to make it work. At the same time it can allow a vehicle to weave and twist its way over or around obstacles with a different line than the normal front-only steering vehicle. Plus, it can be a lot of fun, after you learn how to use it. I have had experience with three vehicles that had rear steer: our 2003 Ultimate Avalanche, my Fun Buggy rock buggy project, and our 2012 Ultimate Adventure Jeep Wrangler, which we built last year.

The most common rear-steer setup has a hydraulic ram that steers the rear axle independently of the front steering. Running the ram is different depending on your desired vehicle.

On my fun buggy project I had dual PSC ( power steering pumps, one for the front steering and another for the rear. (The front originally had a steering box, but now both ends have full hydraulic steering.) This eliminated any cross-contamination or lack of power. The pump feeds a valve that controls the fluid running to either side of the hydraulic ram that steers the rear axle. Some people run a single pump that feeds the front steering valve and then the rear steering, but this can be prone to delay in the speed of the steering. Plus, if there is a problem the entire system isn’t compromised and I can still steer back to the tow rig with one end. Of course, multiple pumps require additional cost, mounting of the pump on an engine not usually designed for dual steering pumps, and separate plumbing and cooling.

When we built our Ultimate Avalanche in 2003 it had a Stazworks ( rear steer system with a return-to-center option. The system was powered by a 12V electric pump that fed a valve. The valve controlled fluid flow to a hydraulic ram with a secondary sensor ram mounting parallel to the hydraulic ram. The rear steer was controlled by an electric joystick that opened or closed the valve, and a return-to-center button would bring everything back center when pushed. This was done via the sensor ram that told a small circuit board where the ram was pointed and opened the valve to make the ram move the other direction until centered. Push the button and the ram would return to center until the sensor ram was in the center location. This worked very well but does add complexity. On my buggy I can tell pretty quickly if the rear steering isn’t straight, but that is after years of use.

For the UA 2012 Jeep JK we again used an electric 12V hydraulic pump, this time from Northern Tool & Equipment (, and a hydraulic ram from Off-Road Connection ( We used the Haldex 12V hydraulic power unit that was run by a small toggle switch. This has a built-in valve on the pump, and the toggle switch is mounted in the cab of the JK to direct the rear steer. The system works well but is a little finicky compared to the PSC system, which has been foolproof (not a misspelling). The problem is that the steering is not even in both directions because the pump valve is run via a solenoid switch. It is very consistent in one direction but has some slop in the other direction since the pump doesn’t shut down as fast as the solenoid closes the valve.

The idea you have for running the rear steer off the front steering wheel isn’t impossible. In fact, there are large tele-handler off-road forklifts that use just that type of system, where the rear steer turns in the same or opposite direction as the front wheels, or not at all. I have not seen anyone add this type of steering to an off-road trail vehicle, but it might be cool. One problem is that oftentimes I want the front wheels to turn a lot and the rear just a little, or vice versa, and for this reason having a separate valve to control the rear works better for me.

Rear steer is not for road or highway use. Yes, the rear steer can be locked out for street driving (I’ll touch on that shortly), but the problem is the small oil capacity in the rear axle since most rear-steer axles have inner axle seals, whereas most rear axles have oil throughout the entire housing. Every vehicle I have run on the highway with rear steer has overheated and pumped gear oil out the vent and either required a large catch can or made a giant oily mess. Driving short distances to and from the trail isn’t bad; running down the highway at high speeds for hours, especially with a high-pinion axle that requires high oil levels, can be a problem. For that reason I feel rear steer is better for a trail-only vehicle.

To lock out the rear steer on the street, we have used a single or double lockout bar that when installed doesn’t allow the rear steer to turn. This past year we had some super trick custom aluminum pucks made by Shamrock Machining ( that slide over the rear steer ram and keep it from moving. These worked excellent but had to be custom-made for our ram. This made the rear steer safe, and we had no worries of steering it by accident at speed.

When building the rear-steer axle you do not need to worry about caster as much as you do for a front axle. We have built all these rear-steer axles with zero caster angle since we are not trying to get the return-to-center feel of the front steering. I have had people tell me that they add some negative caster so that as their suspension droops out it goes to zero or negative, but that is dependent on your suspension geometry. It is important to have long enough steering arms to give the ram some leverage over the large tires, and to make sure there is clearance for the tires to turn not just at ride height but also when fully articulated or compressed.

I see no reason why rear steer would be illegal on a street vehicle since there have been factory cars and trucks that came with rear steer. That said, I wouldn’t recommend using your rear steer on the street unless you are very proficient and definitely not going fast.

Rear steer is like any other 4x4 upgrade. It can make wheeling more fun or too easy, depending on how well you use it.

Since I am seeing more and more people playing with rear steer I chose your letter as the Nuts, I’m Confused letter of the month. I’ll be sending you a DVD by Busted Knuckle films ( called Rock Rods II. This is packed full of wild Southeastern action with plenty of buggies, and quite a few are running rear steer.

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
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