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Automotive Specialty Tools For Four Wheeler Trails - Willies Workbench

Posted in How To: Tech Qa on April 1, 2009
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I want to talk a bit this month about specialized trail tools and such. In fact, I would like to hear back from readers about some of their special trail tools.

First off, I want to let you know that we break the "don't go by yourself rule" a lot. My wife and I do a lot of four-wheeling, combined with exploring new areas, as we are into geology and mining history, and it often ends up by hiking to a location where there is no longer a legal trail. A lot of people we four-wheel with just are not into hiking or don't have as much available time as we do, so we end up going by ourselves. While most of the time, we tell someone where we are going and call them when we get back, it's not always the case. Because of the going-by-ourselves situation, we carry some stuff that most people don't. No, we don't drag a trailer along behind us, full of the extra parts that some writers think are necessities, like enough oil for a complete oil and filter change, axleshafts, transmission fluid, antifreeze, gear lube, driveshafts, and so on. There is just not that much room in a flatfender Jeep-especially one like ours that has a 22-gallon fuel cell in the bed. What I do is lots of preventive maintenance, and use the best quality parts that I can buy. If a part is questionable or marginal, it gets replaced.

I went over the "stuff" I carry some months back but will hit it briefly again. Military ammo cans and other military specialty-use storage containers make great storage boxes for extra parts and such, being water-tight. I found a flat container that fit in the underseat storage area for nuts, bolts, hardware, hose clamps, U-bolts, an axle U-joint, and a driveshaft U-joint (actually, two of the latter, as I once broke both of them on the rear shaft). There are zip-ties, valve cores, electrical and duct tape, spring clamps, utility and electrical wire, shop rags and hand soap, epoxy, and radiator sealer. For tools, I carry just what tools I figure I will need to get a particular fix taken care of. These go in a heavy-duty vinyl bag that I procured from Master Craft, which also rides under the seat. I carry my extraction accessories, tow strap, snatch block, and such in another Master Craft ( bag strapped to one of the rear fenderwells where it's easily accessible.

Strapped to the top of the other fenderwell for easy access is a military can that holds a homemade first aid kit. In it are 4x4 pads, 6x8 pads, cling wrap, tape, finger splint, alcohol, hemostats, scissors, tweezers, needle and thread, band-aids, bee-sting stuff, and other items that I have found useful over the years.

There is a bunch of other stuff that I missed, but if I remember right, I covered most of this in a previous Workbench.

What I really want to cover is the specialized stuff. For one, there is an air compressor. I chose to use one of the smaller compact electric ones from Extreme Outback Products ( It's not nearly as fast with the refill as the Power Tank ( that I carry on my Grand Cherokee, but it takes up a lot less room and does the job quite well. Naturally, there is a tire plugging kit from ARB ( When we used to travel a lot in Mexico, I carried tire removal tools as well as boots and patches. I would like to be able to carry an extra length of winch cable, but so far just haven't found space for it. There have been times when I had to use my tow strap for extra length, something that I highly do not recommend.

Bolted to the floor of the Jeep is a sealed starter. Why a starter? Because several years ago, while exploring some Colorado backcountry on our own, the starter failed to function and it was a long walk out. We ended up leaving the Jeep on the trail for several days while we waited for a starter to show up via UPS at the nearest town. Yes, the Jeep has an auto trans.

One other Master Craft bag holds what I call survival gear: two space blankets, matches, fire starter, lighter, nylon rope, survival knife, lightweight plastic rain coats, gloves, some chemical light sticks, and a few other items. Oh, and because my Jeep is painted military OD, there is a large bright orange blanket that can be used as a signal device as well as for warmth. This bag also goes under the seats.

A necessity if you live in the Pacific Northwest is a saw. It's not an uncommon occurrence to find downed trees blocking the trail. We have a small folding handsaw for quick removal of those pesky smaller branches, a bow saw with a 2-foot blade for most stuff up to, say, 6 inches or so, and then there is the Stihl chainsaw, as sometimes those trees are pretty big in diameter or we unfortunately encounter a major blowdown. Also along for the ride is a long-handle round-point shovel that has been modified to break down into two pieces for shorter storage, and a folding canvas bucket. I used to carry a Pull Pal ( and found it quite invaluable when exploring Mexico and its beaches, but just don't have enough room for it in the Jeep. Now I hope that there is a tree within winch cable length, and usually there is.

While everyone seems to tout the benefits of a Hi-Lift jack, I don't find it all that useful. My Jeep has a lot of wheel travel (it does an 1,140 RTI), so that means a lot of jacking to get a wheel off the ground. Yes, there have been times where I perhaps could have put it to good use, but most of the time it's just something to take up space, something that I don't have a lot of.

Naturally, there is a CB radio, and a cell phone, but we don't hold a lot of assurance that we can contact someone in an emergency due to the canyons and mountain ranges that often block signals.

Bear pepper spray is a legal item to carry in Montana, so we do. Hopefully we will never have to use it on man or beast, but it's quickly available if needed.

We always take way more food and water than we would ever eat for the time being out. We used to carry a stash of high-energy food but found it just as easy to carry more. Lots of water bottles, usually about three times what we normally drink in a day. There are also a couple of 2.5-gallon water cans that are small versions of the 5-gallon NATO cans strapped to each side of the Jeep.

Two soft backpacks have a wool blanket, jackets, change of socks, warm gloves and stocking caps, and sometimes extra shoes. If we have to walk out, we want to be able to carry our survival gear with us.

OK, most likely I have forgotten a few things, but now is your chance to expand on the list with stuff you carry. I sure would like to hear about it, as I am sure someone will come up with something that I missed and could use. Take a look at ( down at the bottom of the page under "contact us."

Follow-up on removing rusty nuts and bolts: The other day I discovered a new and very interesting product that may turn out to be a great way to free rusted parts. In theory, at least it seems to have a lot of potential. I haven't tried it yet as I am still looking for the perfect test application. It's made by Loctite, a name anyone who has ever turned a wrench knows and respects. It's called "Freeze & Release." According to the press release, "it's a low-viscosity spray-on lubricant that instantly freezes seized and rusted parts to - 45 degrees F, causing hairline cracks to form in the rust layer as the metal contracts." "These cracks allow the lubricating oil to penetrate by capillary action into the rust layer." Sounds good to me. Might be a good idea to wear gloves and safety goggles and keep the fingers out of the way when using it.

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