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Making Your Rig Road Worthy After A Day In The Dirt

Posted in How To: Body Chassis on May 6, 2015
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How often have you seen someone come off the dirt and hit the pavement headed home at highway speeds without even a casual glance at the mechanical condition of their vehicle? Granted, if you've just been cruising down a dirt road, it may not be a big deal. But, if you’ve been out speeding over whoops or rockcrawling, you've been putting some pretty good stress on your drivetrain, steering, and braking components. You may usually air up your tires before hitting the road, but it's a good idea to perform a few quick checks under your rig before doing so. While some of these checks may seem obvious to you while you read this, they can be items you simply neglect or forget to check on your way back home. You’re hurling a 2-ton chunk of steel down the road, so it’ll be handy to have full control of your vehicle without worry of a broken or failed component. The safety of you and others is counting on your vehicle being mechanically sound. Don’t be the one to cause a crash.

After playing in the dirt, two of the main places to examine are steering and suspension parts. There's a lot of hardware holding all these pieces together and failure here could be harrowing. We usually check leaf spring and shackle bolts, link bolts and link ends, all steering components and linkages, coilover mounts, and knuckle joints. We're looking for nuts that may be loosening as well as bent linkage components. A quick glance at the driveshafts is prudent as well to spot rock scarring or joints that could be failing and are starting to sling grease.

Brake lines are critical components and have to work hard. Just on a normal basis, they have to withstand twisting and movement on the front end and also flex during suspension travel. Add to that the fact you may be dragging them through weeds and brush, plus the hazards of an occasional flying rock. They should be checked for leakage, nicks, or damage to the outer casing, and signs of kinking where the flexible hose meets the hard fittings. Note also that a stainless line can degrade if dirt works its way past the stainless braid to the point it contacts the inner Teflon tubing and is allowed to abrade on this surface. Over time, the Teflon tubing may rupture and cause a fluid leak. An outer plastic sheath helps prevent this.

Here's a trick we've seen on a lot of race vehicles and some trail rigs. Marking critical nuts with respect to the mating bolt with a paint pen can offer you an easy way to monitor whether or not hardware has backed off its initial torque point. Certainly, assembling hardware correctly the first time with the appropriate thread-locking compound can go a long way toward never having to doing tightening maintenance, leaving hardware undisturbed until you need to actually disassemble components.

Tire condition is not as big a concern if you trailer your rig on the road. However, if you drive your vehicle at speed on the highway there a few things you should check. First, obviously, is that you air up to road pressures. Second, it's a good idea to check for any signs of tire damage. That could be sidewall bulging or deep cuts in the sidewall that could result in tire failure. A quick visual of the beadlock bolts is good as well. Note, many manufacturers recommend you use no more than 25 psi air pressure with beadlocks to prevent breaking the ring bolts and risking tire retention failure.

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