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Tricks for Better Off-Road Performance

Posted in How To: Tech Qa on May 6, 2017
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Whether you are on a tight budget, skimping to save for any upgrade, or on an unlimited modification budget, the fundamentals are often underrated. Here are a few tricks that will only cost you a few minutes of your time to make your Jeep perform significantly better when you leave the pavement.

1. Air down

Though I like to run at about 12 psi on most trails, not all tires and driving styles are appropriate for that. Even if you don’t know the ideal pressure for you and your rig’s tires yet, reducing the air pressure in your tires by just 10 psi will allow your tires to grip the trail noticeably better, reduce the likelihood of puncturing your tire on a sharp rock, and improve the ride quality for you, your passenger, and your Jeep’s components. You can always let a little more out to see if it helps if you find yourself constantly losing traction on the trail. Don’t think 4 psi can make a difference? Think of it this way: if you are at 20 psi and drop to 16 psi, you just increased your footprint, ergo traction, by 20 percent. But remember, it is always safer to have a way to air up before long trips home on the highway, especially when dropping below 20 psi.

Disconnecting your front sway bar keeps more tires in contact with the terrain. It’s a simple equation, even for the mathematically impaired: four tires touching the ground is more traction than two or three!

2. Disconnect the front sway bar

Remember when we used to just crawl under our rigs with wrenches and disconnect our front sway bars at the trailhead? This can still be done! OK, so maybe not totally free—you do have to invest in the correct wrench sizes and a set of heavy-duty zip ties, but shouldn’t you have those things anyway? Yes, you can spend $150 for a set of manual quick disconnects or up to $3,000 for the power sway bar disconnect on a JK Rubicon if you prefer to spend less time laying on the ground in front of your Jeep. Disconnecting the sway bar allows more wheel travel, which equates to not only a softer ride on the trail but better wheel contact with the terrain, and that means better traction. Don’t forget to reconnect before you get back on faster roads!

Take the time to identify what pressure is best for your tire, based on its construction, sidewall height, the relative weight of your rig, and the terrain you will be traversing. A fully aired-up tire would not be able to wrap around a rock ledge like this.

3. Lighten the load

Too much weight or even just weight in the wrong places can negatively affect your Jeep’s traction and performance on the trail. I’m known for making passengers get out of my Jeep when I get stuck, often with the result of being able to just drive out. Think about it: if my Jeep weighs 5000 pounds, and two passengers at 250 pounds each get out, I have instantly reduced my Jeep weight by 10 percent. Sometimes that makes all the difference. What are you carrying on your Jeep that you don’t need? That CD collection of ’80s hits? The Chilton’s manual for the VW Bug at home in your garage? Carpet? A few pounds here and there add up. What weight you do carry is best carried as low and as close to the center as possible.

4. Drive well

Last but not least, the most important no-cost modification you can make is to your driving choices—make good ones! Often, the difference between making it home in one piece versus limping home with expensive repairs needed is not the trail or line we choose, but the patience and care we exert in carefully and deliberately choosing a judicious path and easing our way through it. Take your time to assess the options, don’t let your ego dictate the line, and be gentle on the skinny pedal.

No more excuses about needing expensive upgrades. You spent a lot of money to acquire that fine piece of machinery. Use what you have. Go get it dirty.

Here is how we used to disconnect our sway bars—laying in the dirt with wrenches! And a buddy to lift or push down on the bumper to get the Jeep level enough. This trick still works!
Once the sway bar is disconnected, there is no pressure exerted on it, and usually, just zip ties or duct tape are enough to hold them up out of the way of the suspension.
The stock JK Rubicon’s Smart Bar travel is not as aggressive as disconnecting the end links of the sway bar, but it’s a huge improvement over getting dirty or not disconnecting at all! What surprises me is how many Rubicon drivers don’t take advantage of this, or don’t understand when and how to use it. Use it anytime you are in uneven terrain, especially rocks and ruts, in 4H or 4L. The Smart Bar will automatically reconnect if you exceed 18 mph, so you don’t have to worry about getting tippy at highway speed.
Not only is it good to clean out your Jeep on a regular basis to shed unnecessary weight, but it also gives you a chance to make sure everything you do need is in there and secured for safe driving. Load heavier items lower, and softer and lighter items up top. Not pictured here is my heavy tool bag which is tied down behind the driver seat, as close to the center of the Jeep as possible.
You will feel more stable in tippy spots if you have loaded your Jeep with the weight as low and close to the center as possible.

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