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Techline: Your Top 4x4 and Off-Road Tech Questions Answered Here

Posted in How To: Tech Qa on August 20, 2019
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Micro 4x4
If you were going to build a small 4x4 buggy, like a side-by-side fighter on 35-inch tires, what chassis would you start with?
Nick Mercer
Via facebook.com/JohnCappa4x4

Dollar for dollar, it would be incredibly difficult (actually impossible) to beat what the side-by-side companies like Can Am (can-am.brp.com), Honda (powersports.honda.com), Polaris (polaris.com), and Yamaha (yamahamotorsports.com) are offering. All of the performance side-by-sides from these companies weigh less than 2,000 pounds, which would be very expensive to achieve on a production 4x4. The engines are typically only 1,000 cc, but they produce up to 195 hp, and the chassis offer up to 24 inches of four-wheel independent suspension travel. With price tags that range from $18,000 to $30,000, there really isn't much you could build to compete with them. The second most difficult part would be packaging. The side-by-side companies are able to cram a lot of high-performance features into a very small and deceivingly capable package. Competing with them by starting with a factory OE 4x4 chassis would put you at a disadvantage from the start and would ultimately be a fruitless task. The OE 4x4 chassis would need to have been originally engineered for the street and designed with highway crash ratings and other government-mandated criteria. You're trying to compete with a chassis that was designed to work great off-road with a lot less government intervention. The end result would require a lot of custom fabrication, and you would spend several times the money it would cost to simply purchase a new side-by-side with a warranty. This is part of the reason the side-by-side industry has absolutely exploded in the last decade or so.

The one area your OE 4x4 chassis would shine is in street legality. In most states, side-by-sides are not street legal and cannot be made to be street legal. However, there are exceptions in a few states and specific counties, where side-by-sides are street legal or can be made to be street legal. As always, check your local laws before assuming it's OK to blast down the road in your side-by-side.

Now, if I was intent on building a durable 4x4 on a budget that was light, capable, very maneuverable, and could fit in small places, I'd start with a compact 4x4 that had plenty of aftermarket support. My top picks would be a flatfender Jeep, early CJ-5, or Suzuki Samurai. I'd forget the idea of trying to compete with a side-by-side, especially at speed, and focus more on staying within whatever budget I had planned for my 4x4.

Vintage Jeep Club
Other than avoiding rust, what is a good way to enter the vintage Jeep market? I'm selling an ATV and should have about $6,000 to play with.
Dennis Lederer
Via facebook.com/JohnCappa4x4

With vintage 4x4s increasing in popularity, you're not the only one dabbling in the old-iron market. It's unfortunate for some, and advantageous for others, that vintage 4x4 prices have skyrocketed over the last decade or so. Fortunately, there are many relatively affordable vintage Jeeps to choose from, but not all of them make great projects. As you mentioned, rust is a big concern with any used 4x4—especially in the snowy states that salt the roads, and even the wet states. The ability to access replacement parts is key, be it body panels, glass, or other components. Some of the cool vintage Jeeps like Forward Controls, Willys pickups, Willys wagons, and even older FSJs are getting more difficult to find replacement parts for. One of these projects could take years to complete because of parts location difficulty alone. You'll also likely end up with several parts Jeeps lying around the yard, because that's the most economical way to rebuild one of these Jeeps that aren't as common. The one old Jeep model that is not difficult to find parts for is pretty much any flatfender. This would include the Ford GPW, Willys MB, CJ-2A, CJ-3A, and the CJ-3B high-hood model. There are still plenty of affordable new aftermarket replacement parts available for these Jeeps from companies like Crown Automotive (crownautomotive.net) and Omix ADA (omix-ada.com), among others. You can almost build a brand-new flatfender Jeep completely from aftermarket parts.

When looking for a project to purchase and start on, visit the regular haunts such as Jeep forums like thecj2apage.com and earlycj5.com. Also check the more mainstream sites like ebay.com, craigslist.org, and classiccars.com. If you shop around and wait for a good deal, you should be able to find a decent running and driving project flatfender for $3,000 or so. That would give you another $3,000 to put into it if need be. Keep in mind that your new-to-you Jeep is likely going to need work—much of it will be reversing poorly done modifications and repairs that have been made to it over the last half-century or more.

Tire-Pressured
For years I have been looking for a quality accurate tire pressure gauge. What have you found that would meet my requirements in your travels? I try to take care of my tires in all seasons. I love Four Wheeler and can't wait for each issue!
Dick
Pittsburgh, PA

Checking your tire pressure regularly and maintaining proper on-road tire pressure will help increase tire life, and correctly lowering your tire pressure for off-road use offers many benefits, such as improved traction, more flotation on loamy surfaces, and a smoother ride over rough terrain. As you have probably found, it's not unusual to see two or three tire pressure gauges provide two or three entirely different pressure readings on the same tire. If you are looking for accuracy, you can steer into the large-dial pressure gauges that are commonly used by drag racers. Companies such as Power Tank (powertank.com) and Summit Racing Equipment (summitracing.com) offer these large-dial tire pressure gauges. Since you probably take your 4x4 off-road, you might consider going with a gauge that has a built-in tire deflator, too. Companies such as ARB (arbusa.com), Currie Enterprises (currieenterprises.com), and Power Tank offer large-dial gauges with built-in tire deflators. For the best pressure accuracy, you might consider a digital gauge. These are also available with built-in tire deflators.

FJ Solid-Axle Swap
I have been a subscriber for years and Four Wheeler is a great magazine. I have a mildly built '13 Toyota FJ Cruiser with a manual transmission, a 2 1/2-inch lift, and bigger tires. I haven't had any luck with my independent front suspension. I am considering going to a solid-axle swap, but I'm not sure of the axle options or link set-up parts. Any info you could provide would be great. Thank you!
Vinny Brooks
Via email

The Toyota FJ independent front suspension assemblies are incredibly robust for a factory setup. However, it's not unheard of to reach the operational limits of the components off-road. The most failure-prone parts are the rack-and-pinion steering assembly, CV halfshafts, and high-mileage bushings and tie-rod ends. Other issues arise from banging the A-arms and their pivot points into rocks at moderate speeds. When they get bent, it can make aligning the FJ suspension difficult. If you're only having trouble with the CV shafts, RCV (rcvperformance.com) offers Ultimate IFS CV axle sets for the FJ as well as other Toyota models.

If you have reached the point where you are simply having reliability issues with the entire IFS assembly, then a solid-axle swap is a great solution. However, converting your FJ to a solid front axle is quite a task, and it requires good welding skills at the very least. A solid-axle swap is not a bolt-on conversion. The good news is that much of the custom fabrication can be averted thanks to solid-axle swap kits from companies like All Pro Offroad (allprooffroad.com). The company offers a complete three-link solid-axle swap kit for the '07-up FJ. The entire IFS setup on your FJ needs to be cut off and replaced with the weld-on brackets from the All Pro kit. Companies such as Diamond Axles (diamondaxle.com), RuffStuff Specialties (ruffstuffspecialties.com), and Trail-Gear (trail-gear.com) offer axlehousings that can be used for your swap. These will be the easiest axles to use for your conversion, and they allow for the use of a common Toyota 8-inch differential.

Cherokee Stop-Start Defeat
I'm proud to be a Four Wheeler subscriber since the late '60s. My first 4x4 was a Scout. I currently have two Jeeps. I read with interest in the Techline column in the September '19 issue regarding stopping the auto stop-start feature. While I am OK with this feature in the '15 Cherokee I have driven, I was interested in the work-around you described for the '19 Wrangler. Other Cherokee owners have asked me about a way to disable or reset the '16 Cherokee so it would default or disable the stop-start feature. Does the method you describe work for the '16 Cherokee system? If not, are you aware of a method to keep the stop-start disabled on a '16 Cherokee?

Keep the magazine coming and keep including local/regional trail rides with contact information for those of us who are always looking for a road trip destination. Have Jeep, will travel!
Doug S.
Via email

Thanks for sticking with us all these years! Interestingly enough, you have been a subscriber longer than some of the current staffers have even been alive! Anyway, the stop-start feature on the Jeep Cherokee is designed to conserve fuel, and it can be turned off with the switch in the center stack, but the system reverts to "on" each time the ignition is turned off as you mentioned. You can see a video of how the Jeep stop-start system functions and some of the parameters needed for it to operate here: https://bit.ly/2YaigwV.

There are a few work-arounds to defeat the stop-start system on the fly. We have seen a YouTube video that shows how to unplug the battery intelligence sensor to permanently disable the Cherokee stop-start system. The downside is that the system will think there is a problem, which will illuminate a warning light on the dash and give you a warning message in the information center each time you start the Jeep. Ultimately, it seems less annoying and problematic to simply use the stop-start button on the dash each time you get in the vehicle, but the choice is yours.

Another option is to contact Z Automotive (zautomotive.com) to see if the company has plans to develop a product for the Cherokee to permanently defeat the auto stop-start feature without illuminating dash and warning lights. Who knows, if the company gets enough requests, it could justify a new product.

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