Click for Coverage
Due to the EU’s Global Data Protection Regulation, our website is currently unavailable to visitors from most European countries. We apologize for this inconvenience and encourage you to visit for the latest on new cars, car reviews and news, concept cars and auto show coverage, awards and much more.MOTORTREND.COM
  • JP Magazine
  • Dirt Sports + Off-Road
  • 4-Wheel & Off-Road
  • Four Wheeler

Nuts & Bolts - December 2013

Posted in How To: Tech Qa on October 18, 2013
Share this
Photographers: 4 Wheel & Off-Road Staff

Tied One On (the Trailer)
Q What is the proper way to tie down a vehicle when trailering? I have been told to make sure I compress the suspension, as this will help save the bearings and keep the vehicle from bouncing. I have also heard to use axle straps and not compress the suspension. Do I cross the tie-downs from side to side, forming an “X,” or pull from the closest corner of the vehicle? I have seen vehicles tied down multiple ways and want to know which is right.
Parker J.

A The right way to tie down your vehicle is so that it doesn’t fall off. There is no one correct way to tie down all vehicles, but I always tie down vehicles by the axles if possible. I run two front straps straight from tie-down points on the trailer deck to axle straps around the axletube, being sure that the axle straps don’t rub on sharp suspension mounts or compress or tweak hard or soft brake lines. I usually run the axle straps just inside the steering knuckles on the axletube.

In the rear I also run two straps to axle straps, but back there I usually cross the straps to help keep the vehicle from moving side to side. Plus, since the rear diff is usually centered on the towed vehicle, I usually put the axle straps just outside of the differential on the axletube. For straps I recommend Mac’s Ultra Pack from Mac’s Custom Tie Downs ( Mac’s offers a full line of different tie-down kits and straps.

I find that strapping the vehicle down by the axle allows the rest of the vehicle to move freely via the suspension. I also put the vehicle in low range in the transfer case and set the parking brake (if it has one) to help make sure it doesn’t move while on the trailer. I have been in a vehicle where the towed vehicle came off the trailer, and it is not a good time. Plus, I would hate to be the guy towing a big lifted 4x4 that came off and smashed into a family. That is not a place I ever want to be, so I’m pretty thorough when strapping down.

I have seen many people tie down vehicles above the suspension on the frame. In fact, many tow companies with rollback trucks do just that. I think this is fine, but am always worried that if the trailer were to hit a big bump the suspension could compress and the straps could come loose. Many commercial tow vehicles use chain, but I find straps to be great for the recreational towing I do.

I recommend tying up the ends of your straps with tape, bungee cord, or zip-ties to keep them from flapping. You can also fold them back into the ratchet handle to keep them from getting loose. Be sure and check your straps often. When going on a long trip I usually load the vehicle, get on the road for 20-30 miles, and then stop for fuel and check the straps. This short distance is usually enough to get them settled or jostle them loose if they are inclined to get loose. Make sure to retighten the straps at every fuel stop.

On Track or Off?
Q I have an ’03 F-250 I am setting up for more trail duty, but it is also a daily driver. The factory steering sits far too low because the track bar bracket is in the way. I would like to eliminate the track bar in order to move the steering up out of the way. The only problem is the crossover-like steering setup from the factory instead of the old push-pull setup, but trucks that switch to crossover don’t always use a track bar. The truck does not have the heavy diesel engine, which I assume is why it was installed with a leaf-spring suspension from the factory. I know there are kits available that relocate the track bar bracket and replace the knuckles, but they are also very expensive. Can the track bar be removed without many negative effects, or am I missing some other reason for it?
Mark F.

A I agree, a track bar with a leaf-spring suspension doesn’t make sense. Some manufacturers used them while others did not. The track bar is trying to push your axle side to side during suspension movement, when leaf springs want your axle to move front and back. I feel the track bar was installed to force the axle to move in the same arc as the drag link, but it inherently wants to bind against the direction of the leaf springs.

I think some truck builders use a track bar with leaf springs when they go very tall with the lift and feel the need to keep the axle from shifting side to side under the truck (or the truck moving side to side above the axle) when you steer, but leaf springs are usually pretty good at allowing and controlling suspension movement at the same time. I would say remove the track bar and drive it. If it feels like your steering is pushing the truck side to side when you steer the wheel with the truck stopped, it may be time for new spring bushings, but I think ditching the track bar will only help increase the off-road ability of your truck. Just because the factory engineers installed something doesn’t mean it was designed to work well off-road in the parameters that we like to use our vehicles in.

Divorced or Together?
Q My friend and I want to build my two-wheel-drive S10 into a 4x4. It is a V-6 manual transmission. I have already purchased some military Chevy 1-ton axles and am looking for advice on the transfer case. Do you know of a divorced transfer case that will work with my project? I am on a pretty low budget, but I can do a lot of the work myself.
Todd F.

A A divorced transfer case may seem easy, but I’m not sure it will be really cost-effective. As far as divorced transfer cases that will work with your passenger side front axle are concerned, there is the Suzuki Samurai case, which is probably too small and it has an offset rear output.

Novak Conversions ( has a kit to put a Spicer 18 or 20 in a divorced setup, and the Spicer 20 wouldn’t be a bad option since your military rear axle is a centered pinion GM 14-bolt. The low range in the Spicer 20 is 2:1, which isn’t very low. You can, however, get a 3.15:1 low gear set for the Spicer 20 transfer case from Teraflex ( There is a Dodge version of the NP205 that would work also, but it is pretty heavy for an S-10 and only has a 1.97:1 low range.

If you want the 205 you may want to consider the Lowmax 205 that has a 3:1 low range from JB Conversions (, though it may require special work to make it divorced. I know Advance Adapters ( offers its Atlas transfer case in a divorced mounting style, but this may be at the upper realm of your budget.

The issue with a divorced transfer case is the cost of three driveshafts in addition to building a crossmember and running all the shift linkage into the cab of your 4x4. If you’re running the 4.3L V6- you could try to find an SM-465 with a NP205 or Spicer 20 already attached to it from a fullsize Chevy truck or Blazer, which should bolt to the back of your 4.3L V-6 without too much work. Just be sure you get the bellhousing along with the transmission. This won’t give you an overdrive gear, but it will give you a granny First gear for off-road crawling, and it will probably be cheaper and easier to find than building a custom divorced transfer case setup.

Lift N Tow
Q I have a stock ’84 Jeep J-20. I would like to add 35- to 37-inch tires, but I am afraid of losing the utility of the truck. I am planning to install 4.11 gears, lockers, and a 3- or 4-inch lift. How much will a lift take away from the load carrying and towing ability?
Brandon M.

A Very good question. Often the springs used in a lift kit are properly rated for the same load as the stock springs. Some can even allow more load capacity, so be sure and check with the suspension company or your local 4x4 shop before you purchase the lift you desire.

The fact that the truck has a higher center of gravity can affect its load hauling and towing ability. I would not recommend lifting a truck that is primarily a tow rig, as that could require drop hitches and greatly reduce braking ability after adding larger tires. Plus, there is no denying that a lifted truck is a taller truck when it comes time to load or unload the bed. With a good trailer brake controller and a slight lift and tires just a few inches over stock, I don’t think you’ll have a problem towing, but a stock truck will almost always tow better.

I have a lift on my tow rig, but that is because the truck sees double duty as both tow rig and exploring camping truck, so I wanted the ground clearance for off-road use. I have seen many tow rigs on 37s, but I’d stay with 35s or smaller and just 1-2 inches of lift or a leveling kit if you are more concerned with towing and hauling than off-road use.

Q I have a ’79 Jeep J-truck with a TH400 automatic transmission. Will this automatic bolt up to a Chevy V-8? I know Chevy used the TH400 also.
Richard C.

A Unfortunately AMC used a different bolt pattern on the TH400 automatics, so they are not the same as the GM TH400. However, the internals are the same, so if you wanted to swap your tranny guts into a Chevy case, then the Chevy engine will bolt onto the transmission.

Screaming Steering
Q  I recently picked up a ’77 Blazer, 6-inch lift, 37-inch Swampers, Dana 60 front with a Detroit Locker, and Dana 70 rear with Detroit. It has an SM465, an NP205, a GM 400 small-block V-8, and a 10,000-pound Ramsey winch. The problem is if I touch the steering wheel the power steering screams, so I replaced the pump and still have the whining. I would really like hydro assist steering, but I need to save up a bit before I can afford power assist or full hydro. Do you have any idea what may be causing the steering whine? I have a hard time getting tension on the power steering pump belt. I have pry-bar’d the pump until there was tension on the belt and tightened all the bolts. Any help or ideas would be nice because I can›t even get down my driveway without my power steering pump squeaking, let alone think about a trail or rocks. 
Salem, OR

A Power steering whine is often caused by low fluid or a restriction in the system. Before you get very far, are you sure the steering system has no air bubbles in it? Start the Blazer and turn the steering all the way in one direction, let it sit there a minute, and then turn it all the way in the other direction and let it sit there a short time. Then double-check that the steering has enough fluid.

Does your steering system have a cooler? You may want to make sure that the cooler is flowing and not blocking up the system. Some vehicles have a cooler that runs into the radiator; be sure there isn’t a leak in the cooler where it is getting contaminated by the radiator with coolant. The same goes for the old hoses that could also be collapsing. Is the fluid level possibly low because of a leak, or is there a problem with the steering gearbox itself? Check for leaks around the box and hoses and within the cooler.

One option you have is to upgrade your steering gearbox, cooler, and hoses at this point, and then upgrade your pump and add a ram assist later. For example, you could call PSC Motorsports ( and get a steering gear that is plumbed for ram assist but that has the ram-assist ports capped off for now. This box will work just like your current pump but allow you to upgrade to ram assist down the road. I recommend replacing the gearbox, cooler, and hoses when you replace the pump, just in case there are contaminants in the system. Or at least flushing them clean to verify they are flowing right.

When going through your steering system check for leaks, loose or worn-our steering tie rod ends, and possible frame cracks around the steering box mount. Steering and brakes are the most important parts on your truck. I know you want to go drive it, but it would be better to wait until you get it right rather than chance an accident.

More Gear Grunt
Q I have a ’75 K-5 Blazer, 350, 465, 205, Dana 60, GM 14-bolt, and 4.10 gears. It had 35s, but I’m going to 37s. It drives well at 65-70 mph, but when pulling trailers uphill the split in the four-speed gear ratios is too wide. I feel I need an in-between gear. It does OK off-road but could be a little lower. A few years ago I found an underdrive splitter box that had a 17 percent split. Now I can’t find it anywhere. I recall the price was fair, especially compared to new gears and an overdrive or five-speed tranny, but I can no longer find this gearbox. Can you help me?
Greg R.

A You’re talking about the Ranger Underdrive from Advance Adapters ( This is a gear reduction box that goes in front of the SM465 after the bellhousing. They are good gearboxes (I have an overdrive version in my M37 between a V-8 and an SM465), but one complaint about them is the gear whine. Unfortunately Advance Adapters no longer offers the underdrive version to the public, and although the overdrive version is still available and could work for splitting gears, it won’t give you lower off-road gearing.

Nuts, I’m Confused
Belts for Dates
Q I have a ’79 CJ-7 with the factory lap belts, and my girlfriend’s mom will not let her ride with me in the Jeep with just the lap belts. I need some help with how to install three-point belts in that year CJ. The factory roll bar doesn’t have an attachment for the three points. Is it OK to drill a hole through the B-pillar bar?
Keith B.

A Your girlfriend’s mom should be more worried if you showed up in a lifted 4x4 van with a mural of Conan the Barbarian on the side than your seatbelt configuration, but that isn’t really the question here. If you drill a hole through your rollcage to mount the upper point of the three-point belt, you should weld a sleeve through to the cage and run a large thick washer on the back side of the roll bar so that the bolt (preferably a Grade 8 bolt) doesn’t rip through the bar. Or you could look for an ’82-plus CJ-7 or YJ roll bar that already has the provisions for a three-point seatbelt.

Since this requires welding you may want to just skip the three-point belts and go straight to four- or five-point ones, such as those offered by MasterCraft Safety ( Oddly enough, these types of belts are not always street legal depending on your state. To properly mount the harnesses, you should weld a shoulder bar across behind the front seats to the roll bar and run the upper two harnesses to that, and then mount the lap belts to the factory lap belt mounts.

If you really want to impress your girlfriend’s mom you could keep the factory lap belt, add a three-point shoulder belt for street driving, and add the four- or five-point harnesses for off-road use. You could also get a haircut and a good job and wear a clean shirt when you pick her daughter up. In fact, I am picking your letter as this month’s Nuts, I’m Confused letter and can actually help you with that clean shirt by awarding you some Dickies work gear.

Dickies has been sponsoring our Nuts & Bolts section the past few months and is also giving 4WOR readers a discount by offering 15 percent off your next purchase now through December 31, 2013, with the exclusive discount code WDFWD. Just enter the code at time of purchase for your discount.

As for you, Keith, I’ll be sending you a pair of Dickies Duck Insulated Coveralls. These are great for winter wheeling in your old CJ. They will keep you warm and are water-repellant, and they have double knees in case you have to get under the Jeep in the shop or snow. Head-to-toe zippers make for easy removal. These coveralls have heavy brass zippers and tons of pockets, making them great for cold days in open-topped Jeeps or in any Jeep with a tired old heater.

Submission Information
Confused? Email your questions about trucks, 4x4s, and off-roading tech using “Nuts, I’m confused” as the subject and include a picture (if it’s applicable). Digital photos must measure no less than 1600 x 1200 pixels (or two megapixels) and be saved as a TIFF, an EPS, or a maximum-quality JPEG file. Also, I’ll be checking the forums on our website (, and if I see a question that I think more of you might want to have answered, I’ll print that as well. Otherwise drop it old-school style with the envelope addressed to the address below. Letters published in this magazine reflect the opinions of the writers, and we reserve the right to edit letters for clarity, brevity, or other purposes. Write to: Nuts & Bolts, 4-Wheel & Off-Road, 831 S. Douglas St., El Segundo, CA 90245 fax to: 310.531.9368 Email to:

Connect With Us

Newsletter Sign Up

Subscribe to the Magazine

Browse Articles By Vehicle

See Results