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Intermediate-Level Jeep Maintenance for Beginners

Posted in How To: Suspension Brakes on June 15, 2015
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Off-road, vehicles take a real beating. Whether in rocks, sand, or mud, nothing about off-road driving is good for your vehicle. Maintenance is just one of those necessary evils that come with vehicle ownership. Everything from the engine oil to the tires needs to be maintained in order to keep the vehicle in good, reliable condition. Unfortunately, maintenance costs can add up quickly. As sad as it is to say, our budgets are not always what we would like them to be. Doing your own maintenance is not only a great way to get to know your vehicle but also a great way to help keep ownership costs down. In “Drowning In Oil” (July ’15), we talked about changing your Jeep’s fluids. This time around, we thought we would go into some more intermediate, yet still basic-level, maintenance items.

As with “Drowning In Oil,” one of the things we emphasized was that all of this can be done with some basic hand tools in your driveway. While the vehicle’s included jack will do the job, we prefer a hydraulic floor jack. Built-in wheels, a low profile, and along handle to keep you out of harm’s way when lifting the vehicle all just make life easier. No matter which type of jack you use, remember that safety is paramount—always use jackstands to support the vehicle while it’s in the air. For work that does not require moving the suspension, our personal preference is for placing the jackstands under the axles, close to the tire.

Maintaining your vehicle’s brakes is not difficult but is definitely necessary. Brake system condition can mean the difference between life and death. Three things you will want to check are pad wear, rotor condition and thickness, and fluid level. A spongy or soft brake pedal can indicate there is air in your brake lines. Hydraulic (brake) fluid is non-compressible, meaning that when you push the brake pedal, the fluid will push on the piston, putting pressure on your brakes. Because air does compress, the air is absorbing some of the pressure you are applying to the brake pedal. If your brakes do not have a firm, positive feel or if the brake fluid is old or discolored (it should be clear), then you will want to flush the system out. On any aspect of a brake service, when in doubt, don’t be afraid to take it to a shop or someone you trust. It’s always better to err on the side of caution, especially with something as critical as your brakes.

Then there is where the rubber meets the road (or dirt). No matter whether on- or off-road, the tires on your vehicle take a lot of abuse. Regularly rotating and balancing the tires can mitigate some of the abuse, as well as lengthen the life of the tire. While balancing can be difficult to do in your garage or driveway, rotation is not. Rotating the tires means that you’re moving the tires in a pattern to allow for them to wear evenly. There are a number of different patterns in use, but we like to put the spare into the rotation. To include the spare, rotate the left rear tire to the left front position, the front left tire to the front rear position and so on. It’s a circular pattern with the spare ending up in the left rear position and the right rear tire replacing the spare. This allows for even wear on all your tires, gaining a few more miles between buying new sets of tires.

Don’t fret if you don’t have an impact gun. Before you raise the Jeep up and put it on jackstands, use the vehicle’s included lug wrench or a 3⁄4-inch socket to loosen the lug nuts. Once it’s up on the jackstands, finish the removing them and pull your wheels off the Jeep.
The keyword of the day is safety! The very first thing you should have done, after parking your Jeep on a firm, level surface, is to put it up on jackstands. Be sure to check that the jackstands are not canted to the side and that the vehicle is stable and can’t move.
Never let the caliper just hang by the brake hose, and be sure to hang it by wire to the frame. This is a good time to clean all the crud from the caliper. Besides just being good practice keeping parts clean, it will make reassembly easier when you’re not fighting chunks of mud at the same time.
To fit the new pads in you will need to push the piston back into the caliper. First thing is to open the cap on the brake fluid reservoir, to give the fluid somewhere to go. As you squeeze the piston back in, the fluid will push back into the reservoir. To protect everything around the brake reservoir from fluid overflow, wrap a towel around to catch the fluid. You can also use a turkey baster to suck some of the fluid out as the reservoir fills up, but please don’t use the same baster for making Thanksgiving dinner.
Looking closely, you can see the small clip that helps hold the brake pad in the caliper. There are four of these clips, two per pad, and you want to be sure not to lose these. You’ll want to inspect your brake rotors at this point. Don’t have them turned on a brake lathe unless there are major grooves in them. If your rotors are grooved, gouged, or have any visible damage to them, take the rotors to a brake shop, they will have the tools necessary to measure the thickness of the rotor and to turn them if necessary.
While necessary to hold the pad in place, they can be a bit of a pain to work with. We found the best way was to slowly work the tabs on the brake pad into the slots in the caliper, keeping it as square as possible. Once both tabs are started in the slots, firm pressure with your hand should push it the rest of the way down until it’s seated.
When reinstalling the brake calipers, get it seated over the rotor and thread in the bolts a little ways by hand first. Once you get everything lined up and the bolts are partially in, you can go ahead and torque them down to 26 ft-lbs. Remember to use some thread-locking compound on those bolts to ensure they don’t vibrate loose.
Keeping the fluid fresh and air-free ensures that the fluid will do its job and give your vehicle nice, firm brake feel. The only difference between bleeding and flushing the brake system is that when you are flushing the brake lines, you will keep pushing fluid through until there is clean, clear fluid flowing out the bleeder. Otherwise the procedure is identical. Always be sure to use a bleed bottle or catch pan to catch the fluid that comes out.
The oval rubber plug between the caliper mounting bolts is the cover for your parking brake adjuster. Since you already have your caliper off, pull that plug out and use a flathead screwdriver or a brake spoon to do the adjustment. Rotate the star wheel up until you can feel it drag when spinning the hub, rotate it down until the drag goes away, and it’s set.
The last thing you should do before putting your wheels back on is to look over the undercarriage of your vehicle. Whether on- or off-road, bolts can loosen up and welds can develop cracks, amongst other things. A torque wrench and a shop manual with torque specs is all you need to go over everything from the control arms to the drive train. Double check that you won’t have any problems develop that could have been prevented.
Bleeding and flushing the brake lines is a fairly simple process. This nifty little Motive Power Bleeder makes things even simpler. If you don’t have access to one, don’t worry—a friend pumping the brake pedal three to five times and then holding pressure on the pedal while you open the bleed screw will do the same thing. Start at the wheel furthest from the brake master cylinder (usually the passenger side rear wheel) and work your way towards the master cylinder. You only need to open it enough to allow fluid to flow, be careful when closing it not to overtighten and break the fitting. Be sure to keep an eye on the fluid level in the brake reservoir. Top it off as necessary with the required brake fluid.
To prevent warping the wheel flange, tighten the lug nuts in a star pattern, a little at a time, until they’re tight. Finish tightening them by torqueing to 95 ft-lbs. Do one last check and then you can take it down off the jackstands. If you find that the wheels spin too much while in the air, either have a friend hold the brakes while you tighten the lug nuts or get them as tight as you can and then finish torqueing them with the weight of the vehicle on the ground.

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