Something has broken. Your Jeep is now driving funny (but not “haha” funny) and making noises it should not be making or it’s not moving at all. As soon as you’re done blowing off steam about it, you’re next move is to figure out why it’s blowing off steam, what it is that’s broken or bent, and then decide whether it’s terminal and you’re walking (or hopefully getting a ride out in your buddy’s rig) or you can fix it and keep going. If it’s really bad, you may be able to throw a metaphorical bandage on the break, failure, or disablement, and at least limp the rig out to the highway where either a trailer awaits or a tow truck can be summoned.
All this of course depends on what tools you or the people you’re wheeling with brought along that day, as well as what spare parts are included in the trail tool kit you should be packing in your Jeep for just this sort of trouble. Your attitude will also have a great deal to do with what happens now that something is not working right. Things do and will break if you go four-wheeling much, so being prepared for it from an equipment standpoint as well as mentally are the keys to success. Don’t freak, just calmly make assessments, decide upon a path toward repair, and remember that broken bits are all part of the Jeeping lifestyle. It’s the stuff of great campfire stories. Here are 10 things that have either happened to us or that we’ve seen and how the problem was solved.
Kill it with fire! Heat is your friend when it comes to breaking free a rusty, seized nut. A small butane torch will usually get the job done, and it’s easily portable. The idea is to be subtle with your application of heat to swell the stuck nut, but not the underlying threaded stud or bolt. That way the nut expands from the heat, thus helping to loosen itself from the stud or bolt it surrounds. Having some heavy-duty penetrating oil on hand is useful. However, heat is sometimes much more time-effective than waiting around for a chemical penetrant to take affect.
Bending a tie rod or a drag link is one of the more common trail booboos and, luckily, one of the easiest to fix. The repair seen in the photo above involved straightening the bent rod and then reinforcing it by welding on a length of flat steel to span the repaired bend in the rod. Of course this means you need to have that piece of steel in your trail repair kit. Fixing a minor bend can sometimes be a simple matter of using your hi-lift jack handle as a fulcrum while hammering the rod back into a semblance of linear truth (below).
Locking hubs are another bit of four-wheeling hardware that can see some serious breakage on the trail. If you keep them properly maintained and clean, they are usually million-mile parts. Crack one hard enough on a rock, though, and it will crack into pieces. The splines can also become stripped because the screws worked loose over time. There’s no real way to fix them—they just need to be replaced—and this is where that old Boy Scout preparedness comes into play. Have at least one spare locking hub in your onboard bag of trail goodies.
Most of the time we see front driveshaft fragmentation, the culprit is a loose U-joint or stretched-out driveshaft ear. However, with bigger meats and wheels comes more stress on axle components, especially when you go banging through the boulders on a rocky trail. A heavy throttle foot doesn’t help either. Again, if you’re into seriously hardcore wheeling, we suggest you carry spares. You can keep a completely assembled ’shaft strapped inside your rig somewhere, or pack inner and outer ’shafts and assemble them on the trail when needed.
Tire punctures are pain in, well, the tire. You can change it out for your spare (you are carrying a spare tire, right?) or you can plug it there on the wheel. Having a tire plug kit is a near necessity in every Jeep. You usually have to jack up the rig and remove the wheel/tire combo to make the job easier, but repairs can be done with the wheel/tire still attached to the axle end. This of course requires you, or someone with you, also has an on-board air compressor, a portable compressor kit, or a tank of compressed air.
Tires are among the most-often damaged part of your 4x4 when on the trail. Especially vulnerable when aired down, tires can easily come off the wheel rim when they encounter an obstacle or you crank the wheel hard during a quick turn in loose sand. A ratchet strap (of course you have a couple of those in your Jeep) can help get the tire bead properly seated again on the wheel bead rim. Slip the deflated tire back on to the wheel and use the ratchet strap around the tread of the tire to squeeze it down and hold it on the wheel. Then slowly begin to inflate the tire. As the tire fills with air, it will force the bead on both sides of the tire out and seat them properly on the wheel.
Yeah, this is for real. We’ve done it. It does work, and we learned this one from Granville King, the original old-fart Jeeper. If you have a pinhole leak in your radiator, you’re trying to just get home or off the trail, and you have no better solution in your bag of tricks (like some stop leak), you can take a few teaspoons’ worth of ground black pepper (assuming you have some in your camp cook kit) and pour it into the radiator. Wait long enough for the system to cool down before removing the radiator cap—you don’t want to get scalded by boiling water. Once you’ve poured the black pepper in, fire up the engine to let the coolant system circulate for a few minutes, then recap it. The pepper will get moved to the pinhole eventually because of the water flowing toward and out of it, be puffed up a bit by the warm water, and fill in and plug the pinhole. This is a temporary fix, so you will need to do a proper repair or replace as soon as possible.
No brakes, no good. We’ve seen it, and had it happen to us more than once. A branch, root, boulder, or other debris severs a brake line and now you’re leaking brake blood. You have extra brake fluid and a tool kit that includes locking pliers on board, right? Good. The locking pliers can be used to clamp down on and seal the severed brake line to temporarily stem the flow of fluid. Then top off the master cylinder fluid reservoir and you’re good to go—with three working brakes. In a perfect world, you would also bleed the brakes, but hey, you’re just trying to get off the trail at this point.
As common, if not more so, than flat tires on the trail, a broken U-joint can ruin all the fun. However, with replacement parts, the right tools, and a bit of a McGyver attitude about you, it can be fixed in the boonies. Needle-nose piers can be used to remove the U-joint retaining clips. With the ’shaft removed and placed on a reasonably flat and clean surface, align a larger socket underneath the cap opening. A smaller socket atop the opening can be used to slide the cap down into the larger open socket on the bottom with gentle tapping from a hammer on the smaller socket above. Once the U-joint is out, you can use the same method to tap in both new caps, then finish the job with the new hardware supplied from that new U-joint kit you were carrying.
This one is right up there with the black pepper trick—it has actually worked. If you sprout a leak in your fuel tank because a tiny hole has opened up due to contact with a trail obstacle (which could have been prevented by having a tank skidplate installed prior to going out on the trail) or you have been lax in upkeep and the tank has rusted through in a spot, reach for a bar of soap. By scraping the bar across the hole until it’s plugged with soap, the leak can be plugged well enough to save what fuel you may have left in the tank and get you off the trail, where again either a trailer awaits or a tow truck can be called.