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Answers to all your 4x4 tech questions

Posted in How To: Tech Qa on March 12, 2016
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Ram HD Steering Upgrades
I have a ’96 Dodge Ram V-10 3/4-ton 4x4. I have had the customary death wobble problem that was resolved when I installed the Luke’s Link upgrade. I have also installed a leveling kit. Since then, it pulls really bad and wears out tires. The adjuster sleeve has been frozen since I've owned the truck and needs to be replaced before I have the alignment done. Can the Y-style link and tie-rod setup from the factory be converted to a T-style set up on my ’96 truck? Also, can you give me part numbers or a phone number where I can locate the parts needed to do the conversion? Thank you in advance. I've been a subscriber/reader for the last 20 years or so and love the magazine!
Joe Nichols
Via facebook.com/JohnCappa4x4

The ’94-’02 Dodge trucks have been known to have some steering linkage and track bar issues. The problems are exacerbated by the installation of lift kits and tires that are larger than stock. The inverted Y system has several drawbacks: it’s not as stout as the T system and the toe setting changes as the front suspension cycles up and down. This toe change can cause erratic handling, especially on rough or uneven roads. The T system features a more-traditional single tie rod between the two steering knuckles. The parts are more robust, and the design eliminates toe change as the suspension cycles. Both systems can cause bumpsteer if the truck is overly lifted without the required steering and track bar modifications. Most leveling kits less than 2 inches can retain the stock pitman arm. The good news is that you can upgrade your steering from the inverted Y system to the heavy-duty T system.

You can bolt up the heavy-duty steering components from a ’98-’99 truck. The Moog (moogproblemsolver.com) part numbers are as follows:

DS1459 (drag link)
DS1456 (long tie rod, passenger side)
ES3496 (left tie rod end, driver side)
ES3497 (ES3527 for 2000-2002) (drag link upper end at pitman arm)
ES2012S (drag link adjusting sleeve)
ES3498S (tie rod adjusting sleeve)

In addition to a dissimilar pitman arm taper that requires a different drag link, some ’00-’02 trucks are said to have a different taper at the steering knuckles too. If you are working with a ’00-’02 truck with the oddball knuckle taper, these parts will not fit.

Mopar (mopar.com) offers a steering upgrade kit that is listed to fit only the ’03-current Ram heavy-duty trucks (Mopar PN 52122362AF). The kit includes all the huge 1 1/2-inch-diameter steering bits that came from the factory on the ’09-’10 trucks. Several people have had success bolting on this kit to ’00-’02 Ram heavy-duty trucks with no mods. Regardless of which way you go, you’ll need to set the toe via the new tie rod and straighten the steering wheel via the drag link.

Spare Sizing
I have a four-door XJ Cherokee with a 3 1/2-inch lift and 32x11.50R15 tires. My spare tire is the 135/80-16 donut tire that came stock with the Jeep. All my buddies are laughing at me and tell me to get a real tire. I don't rockcrawl, and I mainly hit trails and washes in the desert. Will that spare tire get me out of a pinch and back to camp if need be? Are my buddies being clowns or am I the clown?
Ed Lockout
Via email

Running a dinky spare tire is a bit of a gamble. Most 4x4 clubs require a fullsize spare tire. Think of it like this: if the trail is bad enough to tear up your 32-inch tire, imagine what it will do to the tiny street spare. Do you really want to be forced to drive on a dinky donut with weak sidewalls and poor ground clearance? You could be in the middle of the trail when you get a flat. Also, a small tire like that should never be used with a limited slip differential or locking differential. The tire speed difference between the 32 and the small spare will wear out the limited slip clutches very quickly. Significant tire size differences will cause a vehicle with a locking differential to handle extremely erratically on-road. It will likely be a handful off-road too. A proper spare tire should be within an inch or two in diameter of the tires you run on your 4x4. To save space and weight, you can sometimes find a much narrower spare tire of the same diameter.

If you still insist on running the tiny spare tire, at least plan for the worst. In most cases you can repair and refill a flat tire on the trail. Carry a plug kit and a source of on-board air. Safety Seal (safetyseal.com) and Power Tank (powertank.com) offer quality tire plug kits that can be used to repair and seal up most flats. This way you’ll only have to resort to the tiny spare tire in worst case scenarios.

Used SUV Shopping
I'm looking into buying a new-to-me daily driver SUV. Ideally, I'm hoping to find a third-gen ’95-’02 4Runner with the 3.4L V-6. I have $4,500 to spend. I'd also consider an Isuzu Rodeo/Honda Passport or Mitsubishi Montero. I'm not looking at any extreme mods, maybe a 2-3-inch lift at the most. I'd like to know what your experience is with the Rodeo/Passport and the Montero. I'm really hoping to find a clean and babied 4Runner that's been owned by a yuppie family or a clean original XJ, but those are getting hard to find.
Tony Ridder
Via facebook.com/JohnCappa4x4

The 4Runner is probably the best buy. In my area there, is an overabundance of used 4Runners available. The prices are far more reasonable than the Tacoma pickups of the same era. I think you will get the most for your money with the 4Runner, and it will certainly retain its value better than the Rodeo/Passport or Montero. Also, there are not many lift kits and other aftermarket parts available for the Rodeo/Passport or Montero.

Look for a 4Runner with less than 150,000 miles or so, if you can. Check the usual stuff like you would when buying any used vehicle. Beat up, bent, and missing skidplates are a sure sign the vehicle has been used hard off-road. Look for something clean and straight underneath. Hopefully, the owner will have a stack of maintenance receipts, indicating it was well cared for.

The Jeep Cherokee XJ is also a good buy. I'd look for a ’97-’01 model, again, with less than 150,000 miles or so. The 4.0L and AW4 engine and four-speed automatic transmission combo is easily good for 250,000 miles when well maintained.

If you’re looking for a reliable daily driver, in most cases you’ll want to avoid overly modified 4x4s. Big lift kits and huge tires may look cool and work well on the trail, but they chew into fuel economy and reliability in most cases.

Waggy Envy
I need some Jeep advice. I'm looking at buying a ’84 Grand Wagoneer. It’s from New York. The owner wanted $1,000. I talked him down to $800, and he's firm on that. It runs, but is it worth it? I want it as a daily driver, and I plan to restore it over time. What can I do to the 258ci inline-six in it? It has 119,000 original miles.
Anthony Vagnini
Via facebook.com/JohnCappa4x4

Pretty much any 4x4 that runs and drives is easily worth $1,000. However, since it’s from New York, it’s likely infested with rust. That would be fine if you simply planed on cutting it up and beating on it off-road, but if you're thinking you want to restore it to like-new glory, you'll likely be better off starting with a cleaner rig. Replacement steel FSJ body panels are available from companies like BJ’s Off-Road (bjsoffroad.com), but the cost and labor may be prohibitive if it’s really rusty. You may be money ahead if you ship in a clean one from the Southwest. The FSJs get pretty miserable fuel economy and won’t pass smog tests in some states, so you can often find them at a low price. Fortunately, they aren’t really collectible Jeeps, although many people overprice them thinking they are rare. They aren’t rare or collectable, just not all that common, especially in the rustbelt.

Most Grand Wagoneers came with AMC V-8 engines. However, some did come with the AMC 258ci inline-six. The AMC 258 engines are incredibly durable. As long as they have at least some oil pressure, they will last nearly forever. There are lots of modifications you can make to the engine. Companies such as Howell EFI (howellefi.com) and Fast (fuelairspark.com) offer fuel-injection kits. Performance Distributors (performancedistributors.com) offers a GM HEI-style DUI electronic distributor that improves the ignition immensely. Several different exhaust headers are available. The stainless steel versions are the most desirable, but they are also more expensive than headers made of mild steel.

Death Wobble Woes
I have a ’95 Jeep XJ Cherokee. The Jeep had death wobble about a month ago. I replaced just about everything underneath. The shaking stopped after I replaced the ball joints and installed a new Dodge Durango steering box. Recently, the death wobble started coming back. How can I fix this?
Kevin Kalb
Via facebook.com/JohnCappa4x4

Death wobble and unpredictable shaky steering can be caused by many different things. It’s sometimes caused by a combination of worn or loose components. However, the Number One cause of death wobble is worn or loose track bar ends. Check the track bar ends and hardware very carefully. Also inspect the holes that the bolts pass through. Loose hardware will cause the bolt holes to wallow out. No amount of tightening will fix this. If the holes are wallowed out, you’ll need to either cut off and replace the brackets, or burn in some weld washer reinforcements. JKS (jksmfg.com) offers heavy-duty weld-on replacement track bar brackets for several Jeep models. Companies such as Low Range Off-Road (lowrangeoffroad.com) and Ruff Stuff Specialties (ruffstuffspecialties.com) offer many different sizes of weld washers to repair wallowed out track bar and other suspension mounting holes.

The second most common cause of death wobble is worn drag link/tie rod ends. Again, you’ll need to inspect them closely for any slop. Make sure the pitman arm is properly seated on the splined end of the steering box sector shaft. Sometimes a new pitman arm doesn’t initially fit tightly on the sector shaft splines. Check the nut after the first 100 miles or so of driving, and more regularly if you find that it is loose. Mark it with a paint pen for quick inspection and load it up with thread-locking compound if it refuses to remain tight. Pitman arms with worn, poorly cut, or the incorrect splines should be replaced.

The fastest and most effective way to check for slop in the steering system and track bar is to recruit a buddy. With the engine off and the steering column unlocked, have your assistant saw the steering wheel side to side 1/8 to 1/4 turn while you look for unusual movement and loose hardware. Replace, repair, or tighten anything that looks suspect. You may need to check further downstream too. The steering shaft joints can wear and the mounting can come loose.

Traction for Plowing
Thanks for a great publication! I'd like to ask your recommendation on electronic lockers. I have a ’98 Ram 2500 that plows snow every winter. Who makes a good tough locker? Is the front axle locker the best choice, since it holds most of the weight? I just don't know where to start. Thanks in advance for any help or advice.
Steve Cammann
Wayne, PA

A locking differential can improve traction in any number of on- and off-road scenarios. Choosing the right unit is incredibly important for all applications, but even more so in snow and ice. What might work great for running a big V-plow down a long straight one-lane road may not work so well in a cramped parking lot or driveway. Sometimes plowing snow can require a lot of tight maneuvers. In these situations you may find that you’ll need to turn the locker off for best results.

There are several selectable lockers to choose from. The strongest is probably the ARB (arbusa.com) Air locker. The airlines can get damaged if routed poorly, but repairs are usually quick and simple with the ARB airline kit (PN ASK001). If you are willing to sacrifice a little strength, the Auburn (auburngear.com) Ected Max has a unique feature that may be beneficial to you in the snow and ice. When the unit is unlocked, the differential acts like an aggressive cone-type clutch-driven limited slip. This will help keep you from getting stuck when making tight turns with the locker off, it can also help avoid the sideways-slide that is common with full locking diffs when used on ice and compacted snow. The Eaton (eaton.com) ELocker is another solid option that is available for your truck.

Where you should put the locker has a lot to do with personal preference and how you plan to use the truck. Generally, if you are only installing one locker, it’s best to install it in the stronger rear axle. However, in some applications a front locker can help pull the front of the truck around on slick surfaces. Adding a locker only in the front axle works well for some users because the 4x4’s engine and plow put more weight over the tires and improve traction. However, if you keep sand or salt in the bed of your truck, a rear selectable locker might be the better solution. Ideally, you could install a limited-slip front differential with a selectable locking rear differential. This would give you the best of both worlds without adversely affecting the handling of the truck on dry pavement. The limited slip in the front will allow for tight turns and usually won’t produce enough stress to cause axle problems, and the rear locker can be engaged when the going gets tough, then switched off when making tight turns on slippery surfaces. Running both front and rear selectable lockers is another option, although the cost may be prohibitive.

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