If anybody is really cheap it would have to be us. None of our 4x4s are newer than '85 models and most of them are much older than that. So when it comes to fixing them we're just like every other greasy Joe. We repair it the best way we can afford.
We all have dirt-cheap fixes. The fix may stem from the lack of an open parts store on Sunday or maybe the part or tool to fix your ride is just too expensive. Hey, were not all Hollywood movie stars. Other cheap fixes may come about to cure a nagging problem on your vehicle to which no part exists to alleviate it. Weve come up with some cheap tips and a couple of tips to help you save money in the long run. So check em out, chances are youll be able to use at least a few of these.
Step By Step
Keep it Clean
If you’re headed for the gooey stuff then spray the undercarriage of your vehicle with tire dressing, spray lube, or something similar (it’s best to use something biodegradable). The slippery surface will keep mud from building up and slowing you down. It also makes clean up after the fun a little less laborious.
Do Get The Shaft
We all know to repack the wheel bearings but how many of us check the front axleshafts at the same time? It’s only a few more bolts to find out if a shaft is just about ready to snap like this one on the right with the twisted splines. You really don’t want to reach the trailhead and find that you broke an axle on the first obstacle. It’s also easier to replace than trying to fish the broken end out of the carrier on the trail.
Valve Stem Armor
Those with steel wheels can easily weld a small piece of tubing around the valve stem. The tubing will protect the stem from being crushed or torn out by rocks and other debris.
Let’s face it, many of us don’t have e-brakes or they hardly work (especially when wet or muddy). This wheel-chock-on-a-rope can make for safe rest stops. It also comes in handy when your vehicle is being used as a winch point. Extra bonus: you can remove it from the driver seat by pulling the rope.
Use Da Bootie
A hole in the sidewall can be a real downer. No big deal, fill it full of plugs. The plugs won’t stay in? Break down the tire from the wheel and install an inner tube. Cover the hole from the inside with duct tape and a small sheet of rubber or plastic. The military used to call this kind of repair installing a boot. Sometimes the soles of old boots were used to cover the hole in the tire. This fix is only recommended as a short-term field repair.
To keep the edges of the wheel from being bent this innovator tack-welded a steel ring to the outer edge. Now rocks can grind away without bending the bead-lip of the wheel.
Got It Covered?
If your vehicle has diff covers, go for the thick factory pieces (no cheesy chrome). To keep them from being torn off of the axle, grind the edges down so the cover doesn’t hang lower than the housing.
If you’ve installed longer shackles and your caster is off, there’s no need to weld in new perches. Shims or wedges between the springs and axle can correct the problem. These are also handy in correcting pinion angles. Most off-road and alignment shops have these on hand.
Magnets are your friends. Some vehicles have magnetic drain plugs to collect fragments floating in gear oil. On vehicles that don’t have this luxury you can epoxy magnets to the drain plugs or to the inside of cases and housings. This magnet is connected to a telescoping antenna-like rod so it can be used to clear-out axletubes or pick up lost nuts and bolts in hard to reach places.
Lube It Up
Whenever you install a new seal, it needs to be lubricated to prevent damage during installation and the initial drive. Use grease or a heavy oil for damage prevention.
Dont Back Out
Having bolts back out on engine and driveline components can cause serious problems that can cost some real cash to fix. Keep bolts from coming loose by using the proper thread-locking compound.
Bend Makes Break
Some axle builders weld the cast center portion to the axletubes. This is not an acceptable practice. AMC model 20 owners do this to keep the tubes from spinning in their seats. This is a good field repair, but do not consider this a permanent fix. The cast iron and steel tubes have different flex characteristics and the weld will eventually crack.
Tie It Up
When doing axle work there is no need to completely remove the driveshafts. They can simply be wired up and out of the way. The same goes for transmission removal.
Do not weld on axleshafts. The weld will weaken the shaft and possibly cause it to break at the least opportune time. This should only be done as a temporary field repair for a spun bearing.
Eat Your Locker
Lunchbox lockers may seem like cheap alternatives to full case units but don’t be fooled. Hard off-roading will eventually break these units, possibly taking gears and bearings out at the same time. If you have big tires (33s or larger) and use your vehicle off-road frequently, save yourself some money and go for the good stuff.
Separate and organize nuts, bolts, and other hardware so you can find it easily. A bin such as this is a good way, but jars and coffee cans work too.
Vulnerable air lines (for air shocks, air bags, or Air Lockers) can be protected with vinyl tubing. Simply slide the tubing over the line before making the final connections. The tubing can be found at auto parts and hardware stores. Pet stores also sell it for air lines in aquariums.
Doing a spring-over and need stock Wrangler springs? Many off-road shops hang on to the old springs after installing a lift kit. They can be picked up for cheap or even free. Remember, front springs have four leafs, and rears have five.
Tow hooks come in all shapes and sizes. The coolest ones can be found at truck and tractor wrecking yards. You may also check heavy equipment stores.
Ditch The Caps
Are you still running chrome caps? If you are you wouldn’t notice that the hub bolts are loose and one is missing. This will eventually lead to hub failure, which is a lot uglier than an uncapped wheel.
If you have Rancho RS 9000 shocks, position them so the adjustment knob is protected from rocks and other obstacles. Also, don’t mount them upside-down. Contrary to popular belief, they don’t function properly in this position.
Most of us don’t run fan shrouds for whatever reason. Mostly because a shroud doesn’t exist for swapped-in components like the engine, radiator, and fan assembly. If temperatures rise, then airflow can be directed from the grill to the radiator with pieces of cardboard. If you are real creative with the paperboard and duct tape you can probably build a complete fan shroud. When you have time later you can use it as a template to build one from aluminum, steel, or fiberglass.
Keeping U-Joints In Line
A broken U-joint is the most common front axle breakage. It’s usually not because the joint was weak. The bearing caps slowly spin and work themselves out of the axleshafts. The retaining clip pops off and the holes in the shaft get hogged out. Eventually one of the caps will spit out, which leads to a busted joint and damaged shaft ears. To keep an eye on the joints, draw a line across them and the ears of the shafts. If they get out of line you’ll know.
Air Is Free, Right?
Everyone has jumped on the bandwagon with easy-deflate tire gadgets. Some of them costing upwards of $50. Why are we in such a hurry? A simple $2 low-pressure gauge and a valve-stem-remover air-cap can make quick and cheap work of airing down four tires. Once you’ve done it this way a few times you’ll find that it’s faster than all the other widgets available and you only have to find a place to store the small gauge.
Hot, Hot, Hot
Protect wires and fuel lines from hot exhaust with heat-resistant tape. Melted wires cause shorts, boiling fuel causes vapor-lock, and melted fuel lines are bad news.
It’s a good idea to run long breather hoses on axles and gear cases, but don’t leave the ends open. Breathers like this can be bought at the local GM dealership and pushed into the hose. For a real trick install, you can run all the lines to one location and use a valve cover breather or something similar for a filter.
Hose clamps have an unlimited number of uses. Here one is used to hold a spare axleshaft to the rollcage. Keep several sizes handy for trail repairs, too.
If you’re in a pinch, can’t afford, or can’t find a wheel bearing hub socket you can make one. You’ll need a small piece of exhaust tubing and an old adjuster nut. Use a vise and a hammer to pound the tubing around the nut. You can use a pipe wrench to turn your homebuilt socket or you can drill a hole in the side and use a screwdriver for a handle. Dana 44 owners will have to get more creative with the welder and grinder.
Easy Tranny Removal
Rather than climbing under your rig to fight the trans bolts, drill holes in the floorboard for the socket and extension to pass through. These holes also function as heaters in the winter. Find rubber plugs to cork the holes in the summer or for mud and water outings.
Look familiar? You bet, it’s a bicycle shifter. One of these from the local bike shop, a cable, and a few home-built brackets will net you a hand-throttle. It works great for those tight situations when you need 3 feet to run the pedals of your 4x4 or to keep the idle up while you are winching.
Bail Me Out
Bailing and other types of wire are always handy to have for trail fixes. Wrap it around the rollcage for easy access. This will work with duct and electrical tape as well.
Spanner wrenches aren’t in every toolbox. You can build one with a piece of round or flat stock. Drill a couple holes, bolt some hardware in place and voila, a spanner wrench. In some cases it will work better than the real thing since the threads of the bolts help keep it seated in the adjuster.
Most top-loader manual transmissions use the top of the shift housing as the breather. It’s difficult to seal out contaminants since this is such a big area. Universal shift boots or junkyard pieces can be used to seal up those swapped-in trannies.
Not Apple Cores
Doing an engine swap and don’t have any of the accessories (alternator, starter and so on)? You can buy new ones from the parts store but you will be charged for not having a core. To avoid the core charge head down to the local junk or scrap yard and pick up the cores you need for almost nothing. Sometimes these components work fine as is.
High-mileage engines can have an excessive amount of carbon deposits on the valves and pistons. To remove them would normally require the engine to be torn apart. Instead of doing a teardown you can use about 4 ounces of ATF. If you have a suction bottle set-up (pictured) then you already know how to use it. Rather than buy this tool, disconnect the PCV hose from the valve cover with the engine running. Use it like a shop-vac to suck small portions of ATF into the engine. When the cool ATF hits the hot carbon, the carbon shatters and exits through the exhaust.
The exhaust of your vehicle can tell you a lot about how well the engine is running. Blue smoke indicates oil consumption. White smoke can indicate a blown head gasket. Black smoke usually indicates a rich condition. It is normal for some water to exit from the exhaust but steam clouds are bad news.
Toyota and some other stub axles have a threaded hole in the end. Sometimes it is difficult to install the axle retaining clip on a stubborn stub. To access the groove in the shaft, you can thread a bolt into the shaft and use a prybar to slide the shaft outward. Open-knuckle truck owners can use the prybar on the axle U-joint to help install the retainer clip.
Wrecking Yard Locker
Early Toyota pickup owners keep your eyes out for to 4Runners with factory electric lockers. You’ll need to modify your housing slightly to accept the 4Runners third member, but a little ingenuity will net you a cool original swap. Tacoma third members cannot be used.
If you are having a Ford 9-inch axle built, you can get extra long tubes installed. The longer tubes can then be gusseted on the inside of the housing for extra strength. Factory original 9-inch axles do not have tubes protruding into the center section.
Forget all the hype about what locker does what and when. Who cares? Get a spool and never worry about it again. A spool costs about one-third of the price of a full-case locker.
Wrap It Up
If the cover on your steering wheel looks more like your dog’s chew toy, you can wrap it with bicycle handlebar tape. It offers a comfortable grip at a lower price than a new wheel. Electrical or duct tape can also be used, but this can get sticky. If you need to tape up some loose wires later you can remove some from the steering wheel.
Wind It Up
Be sure to properly wind your winch cable after you use it. If you don’t the cable will fray and get kinked, possibly causing the cable to snap at the least opportune time. Use gloves whenever pulling cable.
To get more travel out of your leaf springs you can remove the bolts from the spring clamps. If the clamps are the folded-over type you can cut the tops off or bend them out of the way so the leaves can fan out.
Cut It Out
Cutting the center support out of your shackles will allow the spring to twist when the suspension is articulated. This eliminates some bind and allows a little more wheel travel. Don’t do this to excessively long shackles.
If you’re fabricating suspension links or bushing mounting a rollcage, it can be difficult to find the right size tubing to fit the bushing you’re using. YJ Wrangler shackle bushings have an outside diameter of about 1-1/4 inches. They fit nicely into 1-1/2, 0.120 wall tubing. The bushings usually come with collars for the bolt holes so a 1/2-inch bolt can be used to secure the mount.
When installing leaf springs don’t over-tighten shackle and spring pivot bolts. They should have locknuts so tighten them enough so you can still easily spin the bolt with a wrench. Over-tightened bolts cause the vehicle to ride poorly and limit articulation.
If your truck doesn’t fit into your garage for repairs then you can air down the tires so it does. For top end engine work completely take off tires and rest axle on short jackstands for accessibility.
Still Dont Fit
If you have a really big truck then a second set of tires and wheels can be put to use for garage fitment. Still don’t fit? Drive the vehicle into the garage on an old set of wheels without tires. This probably isn’t the best idea for parking every night though.
Slip A Pedal?
Ditch those slippery-when-wet rubber pedal covers. Use skateboard grip tape to provide slip-free pedal action. It also will work great in the beds of pickups and on nerf bars.
Tape For Ducks
Duct tape can be used for all kinds of fixes. Always keep a roll of it handy. Torn seats, broken taillamps, and worn-out steering wheels are only some of the things duct tape can repair.