Tips That Get Us Further Up The Trail And Keep Us Out Of Trouble
Anyone who knows us knows that we hate spotters. It's not that we don't appreciate the help when we need it. But we're out there to go wheeling and to choose and drive our own lines, even if they aren't exactly "where the guy with a Jeep like ours just drove up." Most of the time we like to test our own skills, not the spotter's. So with that in mind, here are some tips to get you driving cleanly over obstacles on your own and moving forward with fewer breakages.
Follow The Fall Line
Most of us don't like to sidehill in a situation where a rollover is possible. For some reason, it seems nearly all the sidehills we encounter are at the top of a 500-foot cliff or a mile-long 45-degree mountainside where you'd end up tumbling 50-plus times. Always try to keep your Jeep square with the fall line (arrow) of the climb or decent. It's also a good idea to leave antisway bars connected whenever sidehilling is the only option. They will help make your Jeep more stable, especially if you have a coil spring or overly flexible suspension.
New owners of 4:1 transfer cases and add-on crawl boxes often drive dangerously slow at the wrong time. While super-creepy, boring, Toyota-truck low range on a flat, easy trail may only upset the people behind you, going too slow down a particularly steep and rough descent could mean flipping end over end. Pick a gear that's low enough to control the downhill speed but high enough so that if you get into trouble, you can throttle out of it to keep the rear wheels on the ground. Also, avoid overuse of the brakes.
Driving over rough sections of trail can often cause unintentional throttle input as your foot bounces off of the accelerator. This in turn can result in an even rougher and inelegant obstacle attempt as your Jeep lurches and bounces over the trail. Try wedging the side of your foot against the tranny tunnel. To apply the throttle smoothly, roll your foot into the pedal over obstacles.
Tripod Pedal Manipulation
Every manual-trannied Jeep owner has fumbled with the clutch, brake, and gas pedals when stopped on a hill. There are several alternatives to winding up the engine and dumping the clutch. A popular method is to simply start the Jeep with the tranny and transfer case in low gear. This is fine for early Jeeps without a clutch interlock that won't allow it. The '98-and-later Wranglers can be easily modified to start while in gear (check your owner's manual or "Crank 'n' Creep" in the Nov. '03 issue). Other Jeeps with an interlock may require slightly more ingenuity.
Another popular method is to utilize the parking brake rather than the brake pedal to hold the Jeep on the hill while you manipulate the gas and clutch pedals. As you roll in the throttle and release the clutch, you can slowly release the parking brake with your hand. Unfortunately, only later-model Jeeps have hand-operated parking brakes.
The third option is the method of choice for us. With the tranny and transfer case in low gear, we let the Jeep idle and slowly release the clutch until we feel it drag the engine rpm down. This is usually enough force to hold the Jeep in place just long enough for you to move your right foot off of the brake pedal and over to the throttle, where you can roll into it as you finish releasing the clutch. It takes some practice and skill, but you're probably driving a manual-trannied Jeep because you're a real driver and not just going for a ride.