The Trail Repairs You Need To Know
Are you the guy who blocks the trail and stands next to your broken Jeepscratching your head, waiting for someone to fix it for you? In our minds, a true off-road enthusiast is not only measured by the capability of their Jeep or driving skill, but also by their ingenuity and ability to solve a problem when something inevitably goes wrong and a Jeep needs to be limped off the trail. It doesn't matter if you're driving a $100,000 shop-built buggy or $100 rust bucket, these are the top five trail repairs you need to know.
Second only to tire damage, U-joint or U-joint related hardware failure is near the top of the list for the most common trail failure. If you have no clue how to swap out a U-joint with minimal tools you best learn what's involved and carry spares. A metal plate or a solid bumper makes for a good workstation. A heavy hammer and a short section of steel tubing or an old socket can be used to tap the old U-joint caps out and the new ones in. It's also a good idea to carry the related U-joint U-bolts or straps and hardware needed for your Jeep. A spare yoke or two isn't a bad idea either. Ultimately you should try to use the same sized U-joints throughout your front and rear driveshafts. That way you only need to carry one spare with hardware.
Tools Required: Common hand tools, flat steel or aluminum plate, short section of 3/4-inch diameter heavy-wall tubing, and the correct spare U-joint.
Tie Rod/Draglink Sleeve
Very few Jeeps came with admirable tie rods. Older model Jeeps are the worst. Fortunately, if you came prepared you are already carrying the perfect trail repair for a bent tie rod or draglink. All it takes is a Hi-Lift Jack handle. You'll need to straighten out the bend as best you can using a winch, bottle jack or man power but be careful not to snap it in half or screw up the threads on the ends. Once you've got the tie rod somewhat straight you can remove one of the tie rod ends and slip the Hi-Lift handle on over. Then reinstall the tie rod and be on your way.
Tools Required: Common hand tools, Hi-Lift Jack, and a little creativity to straighten the bent link.
If you've never unseated a tire bead while diving off-road it's very likely you're running too much air in your tires to make proper traction. Typically the tire can be reseated while the wheel is still on the Jeep. Jack up the rig and remove the weight from the unseated and deflated tire. Remove any debris or mud from the bead area of the tire and wheel. Lubricate the bead surfaces with water or whatever liquid you have on hand. Then have a buddy add air while you pull the bead to seal on the wheel. Sometimes it's necessary to use a ratchet strap around the circumference of the tire to get a good seal started. But once the tire starts filling, immediately remove the strap before pressure builds and there is too much tension on the strap. Once the tire pops back onto the bead, air it up (or down) to the proper trail pressure and be on your way. Or you could simply forgo all this drama and get a set of beadlock wheels.
Tools Required: Air source, ratchet strap, water or other liquid.
A short length of chain and a few bolts can do wonders in keeping you mobile on the trail. Broken motor mounts can be wrapped and bolted, steering boxes with broken or severely-cracked mounts can be lashed back onto frames, and even broken leaf springs can be cinched back together. Yep, it's butch but it gets the job done when you don't have a welder or scrap metal to make a proper trail repair. The '76-'86 CJ and early FSJ guys in your group are likely steering box chaining candidates and nearly every Jeep has motor mounts that are suspect, especially on the driver side. Wrap the component in question and use a Grade 5 or Grade 8 bolt through the links to pull the chain tight. Once you are moving again, check it frequently and adjust as needed to make sure the chain stays tight.
Tools Required: Common hand tools, 2-foot length 1/4- or 5/16-inch chain, 3-4-inch-long bolts that fit through the chain links.
Hopefully you're not the kind of person who sits in your car on the side of the road waiting for AAA when you get a flat tire. Truth is if you're driving off-road you should carry a fullsize spare tire and you should have the tools and know-how to install it. But sometimes the tire really only needs a plug or two and a source for adding a few pounds of air to get you back rolling down the trail. Look for a complete plug kit like this one from Powertank (PN KIT-8132) that comes with everything you need to plug a tire, stitch a torn sidewall and more.
Tools Required: Tire plug kit, and air source.