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Techline - June 2014

Posted in How To: Tech Qa on May 8, 2014
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4x4 Cars
How would one go about converting a compact car (Beetle, Yugo, Hyundai, etc.) to a 4x4? Is that even possible?
George Holler
Via email

Since there are a few companies that offer all-wheel-drive cars (Audi, Subaru, Mini, and so on), I am assuming you are thinking more along the lines of a robust wheeler- sort of a Beetle with Wrangler underpinnings. Converting a compact car to four-wheel drive, while retaining as much of the original powertrain as possible, would be incredibly difficult for many reasons. One of the major challenges of attempting to convert a compact car, such as a Beetle or Hyundai, would mean having to overcome the front-wheel-drive architecture of the car. Unlike a 4x4, there is not room underneath the small car platform for things like a rear driveline or transfer case. This is why most people looking to accomplish the car-to-4x4 merger choose to transplant a compact car body onto a 4x4 chassis.

Jokingly, these mergers of metal are often referred to as Trars. Most of the time, people all but abandon the car’s powertrain and frame (in cases where one even exists). Being that the majority of two- and four-door passenger cars are unibody, most Trar builders will bolt or sometimes weld the car body to the 4x4 donor frame. As unconventional as it may sound, there are some very clean examples of how to blend a car body onto a truck chassis. So, is it possible? Sure. I imagine with enough time, money, and fabrication skills, you could make any compact car a useable 4x4, but it’s not going to be easy.

Ratio Range
Can differential gear ratios be different from front to rear? I have been told yes and no. Some of the guys say you can get away with a slight ratio difference if you are only driving in mud.
Tomas March
Via email

The basic answer is no. You always want your gear ratios to match front to rear. A 4.88:1 up front and a 4.86:1 out back isn’t going to make enough difference to matter, but a 5.13:1 in one diff and 4.10:1 in the other is a sure way to break parts (generally your transfer case will be the first to go). Mud racers that use heavily-staggered tire sizes front and rear sometimes run different gear ratios to make up for the difference. That works OK in the low traction, fast-tire-spinning mud world, but it is not something you want on your trail rig.

Toy Shop
I’m looking for an off-road/fab shop near Miami, Florida. I am new to the area and need a few items welded on my Tacoma. Any help would be great.
Carmine Richards
Via email

Roco Performance is a great 4x4 and fabrication shop that I’ve worked with in the past. The shop is located at 1781 NW 79 Avenue, Miami, Florida. You can also contact the company by phone at 305/392-6808 or online at

New Explorer
I have an ’01 Ford Explorer Sport. It’s my first car and I want to make it trailworthy. I plan to spend most of my time on-road and won’t do any serious rockcrawling or mudding. Currently, the only thing that’s not stock is a K&N Performance air intake. I have no idea where to start with getting parts for it. If I do a lift on it, it would only be one or two inches.
Daniel Murray
Via email

When I was your age (geez that really makes me sound like an old man), I wheeled an ’87 Isuzu Trooper II. It had highway radials, (which were terrible off-road), hardly any power, and virtually no aftermarket support. Regardless, I had an absolute blast. Having a subpar machine taught me to be a better driver, and my early trail mistakes gave me insight into the tools one should always have with them on the trail.

The aftermarket for your Ford Explorer is more limited than the earlier generations. Despite that, there is a community of Ford Explorer enthusiasts just like you. Online sites, such as, are great places to check out tips and tricks for modifying the Explorer platform. As far as lift options go, Performance Accessories ( lists a 3-inch body lift (part#70023) and Superlift Suspension ( shows a 4-inch system (K494).

“Since it is your first 4x4, I would start slow and get used to using the vehicle off-road. Spend some time in low range in the dirt.”

Both kits may be larger and more involved than you want to go at this time. Since it is your first 4x4, I would start slow and get used to using the vehicle off-road. Spend some time in low range in the dirt. Get to know how the vehicle reacts over different terrain. A set of mud-terrain tires, a tow strap, a fire extinguisher, a first-aid kit, and a tire plug kit should be on your purchase radar. If your Ford Explorer doesn’t have front tow and rear towhooks, I would put those on the list as well. A receiver hitch out back can work as a tow point if your Ford Explorer already happens to be equipped. If you don’t have a local 4x4 shop, then you can get much of what you need from online retailers, such as 4Wheel Parts (

Crawling under your rig will also lead you to be a better off-road driver. Look for what hangs low and is exposed (e.g., oil pans, transfer case, shocks). This will give you a better idea of what could be easily damaged when wheeling. As your wheeling progresses, you may find that a rear locker would be a great performance upgrade. Luckily, your Explorer’s 8.8 rear differential has a wide array of aftermarket support. This means you can easily outfit it with a rear differential locker and stronger axleshafts when you are ready.

Seat time is the best investment you can possibly make. I would grab a couple buddies (preferably ones with 4x4s!), pick a wheeling destination, and go. With the interwebs and texting-bookfaces, you should be able to research a nearby place to wheel that is suited for stock or lightly modified 4x4s.

Ram Fans
I have a ’96 Ram 1500 with the 5.2L engine. I am trying to get more power from it and have been looking at replacing my stock mechanical fan with a set of electric fans. I don’t do a lot of rockcrawling, mainly just a little trail riding and occasional mud wheeling. I am worried about the reliability of the electric fans but have heard it’s a good way to pick up power. What are your thoughts?
Brendon Laird
Via email

Anything you can do to reduce drag on your engine will help free up power and increase efficiency. This is one of the reasons you’ll see most late-model ½-ton trucks and SUVs moving away from traditional mechanical fans and hydraulically-driven power steering pumps in favor of electric-powered components. Companies such as Flex-a-lite ( offer a wide range of puller- and pusher-style electric fans that could easily be adapted to your Ram. Electric fans can be very reliable, but mechanical fans are slightly more durable. If power is what you are after, electric is definitely a great option.

Tracking True
I drive a mostly stock ’97 Land Rover Discovery Series I. It’s main uses are getting my wife (who is a doctor) to the hospital for her shift in the worst possible weather, and getting through some steep ex-logging “roads” that are frequently slippery with snow, slush, and shallow mud during hunting season. The majority of the time, the Rover comes through like a champion with the center diff lock engaged (thanks also to quality tires), but on occasion, I manage to get one tire in the front and one tire in the rear spinning simultaneously.

I think lockers would mostly be wasted on me, and I’d like to avoid the expense and complication. My thought is to install a set of Truetrac limited-slip differentials. It appears to me that those would go unnoticed most of the time, provide just enough assist on those rare occasions that I need it, and sometimes eliminate the need to lock the center diff. I get conflicting advice, however, on whether to install them both front and rear or only in the rear. A couple of people, whose opinions I trust, swear that having one out front will render the vehicle all but uncontrollable, but what they describe sounds more like the problems with a Detroit Locker. Others, whom I also respect, say you never notice the Truetracs kicking in until the traction loss is serious enough that it already has your full attention. What are your thoughts?
Max S.
Via email

I’ve always been a firm believer that limited-slips are great for sports cars, but typically not worth the investment for wheeling. They will never be a locker when you need them, and while the Eaton Truetrac ( is one of the finest examples of an effective and reliable limited-slip differential, you could still find yourself pulling a one-wheel-peel off-road. Driving on-road in snow and slush with an automatic-locker or aggressive limited-slip isn’t something that I would want my wife doing and I don’t believe yours would like the added handling quirks. Sure, a selectable locker may seem like a hefty investment, but for what you would spend on two limited-slips, I would gladly pay for one ARB Air Locker ( to be placed in the rear differential.

The ARB will act as a completely open differential when not engaged, so it won’t change any of the on-road handling of the vehicle, which I am sure you and your wife will appreciate. When you are ready to go off-road, simply engage the locker switch, and the rear will be 100 percent locked. Unlike a limited slip, which requires a certain amount of wheel-slippage before it engages, the Air Locker locks both axleshafts in as soon as you flip the switch. This allows you to take a slower, more controlled approach off-road. If you want the off-road performance, minus any new on-road handling nuances, you really can’t beat the ARB Air Locker.

Where To Write
Address your correspondence to: Four Wheeler, 831 S. Douglas St., El Segundo, CA 90245 or send an email to All letters become the property of Four Wheeler, and we reserve the right to edit them for length, accuracy, and clarity. The editorial department can also be reached through the website at Due to the volume of mail, electronic and otherwise, we cannot respond to every reader, but we do read everything.

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