We love new 4x goodies. No matter if it's a camouflage dash mat or a state-of-the-art data logging tuner, if it looks cool, works well, and is within our budget, we want it! While in these challenging fiscal times we have to watch where we spend our dough, sometimes we simply have to cut loose and get a 4x upgrade for your wheeling machine. Though you may need to hold off on that Hemi conversion for now, an inexpensive air intake or basic Hi-Lift jack mount can be all you need to keep your needs satisfied and wants at bay.
Compiled here are some of the latest easy-to-use and -install items that are great for almost every wheeler's budget. So start cutting cost and grab a few extra cans of beanie weenies and hot dogs at the store, because you now have something new to save up for!
Overkill Engineering has added the McGrumpy Bumper for the Jeep CJ to its line of Grumpy Bumpers. Overkill also has a bumper line for the Jeep YJ, TJ, and JK, the Toyota FJ Cruiser, and Dodge, Ford and Chevy trucks.
The McGrumpy base bumper comes without hoops or a stinger so it's a great platform for a builder bumper. The bumper is constructed with 1/8-inch steel and has a fairlead mount, and D-ring mounts are available. Grumpy Bumpers start at $399.
Information: Overkill Eng., 877.225.0243, www.overkilleng.com
Hi-Lift jacks are one of the most versatile tools you can have in your 4x4. But jacking your rig off road can be a little sketchy with the Hi-Lift's narrow base and lift foot. To make your Hi-Lifting experience a little safer, WabFab Off-Road has created a wide base and tube slider adapter for all models of Hi-Lift. This extrawide replacement base bolts in place of the jack's existing one and uses heavy-duty claws to dig into the terra while you jack.
The tubing adapter simply slides over and bolts to your existing lift foot and is available in tubing diameters of either 13/4 inches and under or 13/4 and over.
Information: WabFab Off-Road, 205.799.5610, www.wabfab.org; $110 for recovery kit (slider adapter and base) or $60 each
Engines like to breathe to make power, and what they like the most is clean air, a lot of air, and dense cold air. Banks Power's new Ram-Air intake for diesel trucks promises all three by using an enclosed system that sucks cold air from outside the truck in through a high-flowing air filter.
Stock air intakes are good because they often have a snorkel pulling air from outside the engine compartment, but they leave room for improvement in airflow. Banks' competitors often pull large amounts of air from under the hood, where the air is warmed by the same engine it's trying to feed. That warmer air isn't as dense.
Banks designed a system similar to stock, but with fewer hurtles and turbulence for the air charge to jump over, around, and through. This type of system adds cost, as it must include a free -flowing air box and a filter that must be molded to fit in the engine bay around items like batteries, wiring, and so on, but in the end Banks claims a 60.8 percent improvement in airflow over stock, and a 3 percent improvement in air density over stock. While the competition may be able to match Banks with airflow, the fact that Banks is flowing colder, denser air means its design surpass the competition.
Information: Banks Power, 800.510.5046, www.bankspower.com
The Banks Power Ram Air Kit for Ford Super Duty 7.3L diesel engines ('99-'03) is not cheap at around $450, but it comes with more than just an intake tube and a filter. The fully molded air box replaces the factory air box and battery tray, plus the easily serviceable intake is California emissions compliant.
The Ram Air pulls fresh, dense air from behind the grille much the same way the factory air box does, but the Ram Air's high-flow filter and freer-flowing intake route can pack a big dense punch of high-octane air to the waiting turbodiesel.
Lokar Locking Flexible Dipstick
Who would have thought a dipstick could be drastically improved? The flexible locking engine dipsticks from Lokar are a really trick component and designed to keep oil in its rightful place even in a rollover. The billet aluminum handle locks similarly to that of an air chuck, and the sticks are easy to install. Their slim design also allows mounting them inside headers and makes them great for custom applications. Applications are available for GM, Ford, and Chrysler. Included is an E-Z Read flexible inner dipstick measuring cable for accurate measuring of engine oil. The dipsticks can be had for under $90.
Information: Lokar, 877.469.7440, www.lokar.com
Get yer tuggin' dun with the new Bubba Rope recovery rope. This synthetic rope is design specifically as a yank strap. Hook it up to your stuck buddy and slowly pull him out of his predicament. If that doesn't work, back up and put a little momentum into the tug. The momentum stretches the rope, and as it rebounds it multiplies the force of the extraction.
The Bubba rope is available in three sizes and ratings. We threw the $110 30-footer in our truck for a weekend wheeling and mud tire test trip. Then afterward we simply hosed it off and stuffed it in the mesh carrying bag in anticipation of the next trail.
Information: Bubba Rope, 877.499.8494, www.bubbarope.com
The first rule of using any recovery is make sure you have strong solid recovery points and rated hardware. Our 30-foot bubba rope was rated to 28,600 pounds, and the hardware and shackles need to be highly rated also. Do not loop the rope over a tow ball, as they can break and become a projectile hunting driver's heads.
Notice how this little flatfender can extract a four-door Wrangler twice its size from a mud hole. The momentum of the little Jeep combined with the elasticity in the rope can often overcome the grip the mud has on the stuck vehicle, even if that stuck vehicle is heavier than the pulling vehicle. However, it is helpful to have the stuck vehicle's tires driving forward should they gain traction.
We all toss junk into the back of our 4x4 SUVs-it's just part of it. So why not protect your cargo area with an affordable drop-in liner? Quadratec has serviced the Jeep community for many years and is now offering drop-in cargo liners for '87-current Jeep Wranglers. These heavy-duty floor protectors fit nicely into your rig and work great to keep grease and oil from penetrating the carpet.
All liners are easily removable and can be hosed off. And for JK owners, Qudratec even has a small drop-in liner for the rear trunk portion of the tub.
Information: Quadratec, 800.745.2348, www.quadratec.com; $69.99.
Hoodlift for AEV hoods
HoodLift gas-operated strut systems are a great solution for lifting and holding Jeep hoods. The systems have fitments for Jeep CJ, YJ, TJ, and JK and are now available for the Wrangler JK with an aftermarket AEV heat-reduction hood. The HoodLifts make lifting hoods much easier and will hold it up without the factory prop rod.
The AEV heat-reduction hood is heavier than the factory hood, so the folks at HoodLift redesigned the struts to handle the additional weight. The system has easy-to-install struts. Installation requires measuring from the inner cowl of the engine compartment to the inside of the hood. Once this is done, two holes are drilled, one in the hood and one in the cowl, then the ball studs are bolted in and the struts installed. The HoodLift kit retails for $84.95.
Information: HoodLift Ltd., 916.0206.0309, www.hoodlift.com
Ingersoll Rand Portable Power!
Power tools on the trail are a luxury. Imagine heading to your local mud bog with a private chef to make you whatever you want for lunch-battery powered tools on the trail are that good. We've been carrying a full kit of different Ingersoll Rand IQv Series rechargeable handtools, and they get more use and abuse than just about any other tools in the shop or on the trail. Oftentimes we'll bring them along to 4x4 shops where we are working on projects and they'll quickly become the choice for impact and drill duty, as they don't require dragging a hose behind them and offer almost identical torque (with a fully charged battery).
The batteries of the IQv Series cordless tools are available as nickel cadmium or lithium ion, but we only tested the lithium ion. These batteries are lightweight and have an internal microprocessor that protects the battery, optimizes the charging, and feeds a digital display that indicates the battery charge remaining. These batteries are available in 7.2, 14.4, or 19.2 volts, though we only tested the bigger two.
We have been testing the 1/2- and 3/8-inch impacts, a 3/8-inch ratchet, a 1/2-inch drill, and an adjustable work light. Each tool varies in price, but on average each tool is $100-$200, batteries are $60-$140, and the charger is roughly $80.
Information: Ingersoll Rand, 800.866.5457, www.ingersollrandproducts.com
The 1/2-inch IR Cordless drill is only 41/2 pounds but packs a punch as strong as 660 in-lb. With a variable 0-1,300-rpm speed and multiple driver or drill settings, this tool is great for any sort of hole punching needed. We do wish it had a small Philips/flathead bit and holder integrated for screwdriver duties, but most of the time we simply carry the drill and a step bit/unibit for trail and simple repairs.
The other most useful tool of the bunch is the 1/2-inch drive cordless impact. This gun rattles off lug nuts, tightens suspension bolts, and won't lose a charge while you're changing a flat tire. The only upgrades we would like to see is a small LED light to point at the bolt or nut being tightened, and a 12V charger so the batteries could be charged in the truck.
Sitting on Easy Street
Comfortable seating on and off the road is pretty dang important, but what about those poor schmucks who sweat it out in the office? It's true: We sit far more in an office chair than behind the wheel of our favorite 4x4, so why not enjoy the comfort of the trail? Luckily for us we found the Jeep Comm ander office chair. The seat is modeled after a real Jeep seat, and although our Commanders have flown the coop the office chair takes a stately position in our new offices. Of course the chair has lumbar support, tilt, adjustable height, perforated leather, and all the upscale features we like putting our tushes on. It's available in black or cream (sorry, no olive drab canvas like we wanted) and only costs about 1/4 ton of cash.
Severe Gear Since almost everything the staff at Petersen's 4-Wheel and Off-Road does in one way or another relates to differentials and gearsets, we're always looking for ways to protect them and extend their lifespan. Believe us when we tell we've broken and abused more than our fair share of gears. So for a little added protection we tossed in some of Amsoil's new SAE 190 and SAE 250 Severe Gear Synthetic Gear Lube.
We feel good about using the new Severe Gear Lube given the track record of Amsoil's products. Amsoil tells us that these new gear lubricants are engineered for off-road truck racing, rock racing, rockcrawling, and high-horsepower and and high-torque conditions where centrifugal gear lube sling-off is encountered and where a heavier-viscosity gear lubricant is required. The lube is designed to cling to gears and bearings for the best possible protection during shock loading, high g-forces, and where pinion gears are installed at steep angles.
Giving the lube unscientific finger test, we could feel its clingy viscosity and can see how it might stick to a gearset better than other lubes at high rpm. There's nothing special to do to the differential other than drain and clean out the old diff fluid, and then add the Severe Gear Lube. A quart of Severe Gear retails for about $15.
Information: Amsoil Inc., 800.777.8491, www.amsoil.com
5.11 Quick Light
5.11 tactical makes all types of great stuff for the people with an action-packed lifestyle, such as belts, glasses, knives, hats, and clothing that is easy to move around in and that has lots of pockets. Now 5.11 has a really cool flashlight that is perfect for four-wheelers. The 5.11 Light for Life flashlight is different from other flashlights in that it uses a capacitor instead of batteries. This allows the flashlight to fully charge in just 90 seconds and then run for up to one hour before needing a recharge. Plus the light comes with a charger that runs off 12 volts so you can wire it into your truck, mount the charger on a flat surface, and always have light for an after-dark trail fix or walk home.
The $160 price means you won't be picking one up at your local gas station like the cheapo flashlights available these days, but having that rechargeable security may be worth the extra ducats, plus it can be recharged 50,000 times, doesn't require buying or disposing of batteries, is designed to last 100 years, and only weighs 1 pound.
Information: 5.11 Tactical, 866.451.1726, www.511tactical.com
Easiest Backup Camera Ever
The Master Lock Plug 'N Go Backup Camera is a brilliant yet simple design. You simply mount the screen stalk anywhere it fits and plug the cord into a power port for your cockpit convenience. While we always check for kids and such before we back up, mounting this unit in the engine house made it way nice to watch the trailed Jeep following us down the road. In fact, it's the only way to see anything behind the house, even with mirrors.
The camera is in a self-contained unit with a heavy-duty magnet. This easily keeps it secure for most uses, but it can also be permanently mounted for harsh trails or rough roads. The flat-four connector plugs piggyback into the trailer socket, supplying power and ground without any extra wiring. It also fits inside your vehicle's receiver hitch and can lock with a locking pin. We figure another adapter would allow us to mount the camera underneath for video on the go if we so desired. For around $199 it's a pretty handy device.
Garmin Nuvi 265WT
GPS navigation has advanced significantly in the last 10 years and is much more affordable and easy to use. There are literally hundreds of small GPs navigation units available, and we spent the better part of a week researching the best affordable ones. The problem with choosing a system is that there are only minor differences between the devices yet huge price differences. Finally we chose a Garmin Nuvi.
We found that the Garmin Nuvi 265WT (WT stands for widescreen and traffic) was the easiest to use. After turning the unit on, the user is given a choice to either enter a destination address or just use the map, which simply shows where you are at all times. The deciding factors in favor of the Garmin unit were live traffic updates, the ability to update the maps via computer, voice control, being able to download different vehicle icons (such as a big 4x4), and Bluetooth. We found our Nuvi uncomplicated to use and have become very fond of it.
The only issues we found was that dragging the map around with the touch screen didn't work as easily as it should have, small ads popped up in conjunction with the live traffic updates, and the screen would sometimes not let us zoom out. We purchased our Garmin Nuvi 265WT at Costco for $189.
Information: Garmin Ltd., 913.397.8200, www.garmin.com
Trail D-Vice Clamp Down
Trail repairs just got easier because Mac wants to lend a hand. The new Trail D-vice from Mac's Custom Tie Downs is a simple lightweight vice and anvil that can be slid in the receiver hitch of your 4x4 (or tow rig) for a sturdy place to hold parts that need to be worked on.
A vice or anvil is great for changing axle U-joints, bending metal, and clamping stuff as you cut it down or weld it together. The Trail D-vice is lightweight at only 16 pounds, and we definitely recommend securing it solidly while four-wheeling so it doesn't bounce around inside your truck. Another option is installing a receiver hitch onto your trailer somewhere so you can clamp stuff during in-camp repairs.
Information: Mac's Custom Tie Downs, 866.371.5175, www.macscustomtiedowns.com
The 4-inch vice jaws can be opened up to 81/2 inches, perfect for installing U-joint caps. The vice is also handy for holding shock's while rebuilding them during in the field testing, but we'd add some aluminum or brass soft jaws.
The 5/8-inch-thick steel pad behind the vice is a good little anvil for beating on things like tie rods, wheel hubs, and suspension parts. The Trail D-Vice retails for about $160.
While you may think a winch belongs on the front of your 4x4, having a winch in a bag can be handy. New from Superwinch, this diminutive 2,000-pound-rated winch is the hot ticket for all those small pulling projects or accidental stucks you encounter. Simply attach the 8-foot remote and longer power leads to your battery with the supplied clamps, and hook the winch between puller and pullee for a quick retrieval with the 49 feet of 5/32 cable.
While not designed for heavy-duty recoveries, this compact unit can be stowed away for that rainy day when you slide off the road and just need a little tug to safely recover your ride. It comes with attaching straps, a shackle, and a remote lead as well as power leads-and, oh yes, the bag! The whole kit and caboodle retails for about $199.
Information: Superwinch Inc., 860.928.7787, superwinch.com
If your truck sits atop 2 1/2-ton Rockwell axles and you're looking for a better way to steer the massive axleset, then Old Town Customs has a part for you. OTC's newly designed high steer arm can be used on either the driver- or passenger-side knuckle and is composed of 1-inch steel. Each arm ($125) comes bare and is fitted with a grease fitting, an antisheer bracket, and Grade 9 hardware. The arms also come in pairs ($250) or as part of an OTC fully hydraulic steering kit.
Information: Old Town Customs, 936.462.3945, www.oldtowncustoms.com
Tired of thieves, crooks, and other lowlife dirtbag scum-sucking bucketheads steeling stuff out of the bed of your truck? Master Lock has just released its Truck Bed U-Lock, which is designed to fit in stakehole pockets or be attached to the welded tie-down points. Then a hardened steel shackle can be clamped to hold a cable or chain that you have run through your tools, spare tire, dirt bike, or the collar of the fearsome pit bull who lives in the bed of your truck. For $50 it's added security against bandits.
Information: Masterlock, 800.464.2088, www.masterlock.com
Battery & Alternator kill Switch
It's helpful to shut down the battery and charging system in certain off-road situations or when storing the vehicle long-term. This Combination Battery and Alternator Kill Switch is designed to completely shut down the battery and charging system in an emergency or for storage.
The kill switch prevents battery drain (and theft if hidden properly) and reduces the risk of electrical fire in the event of a rollover. The switch, which pushes off for emergency shutdown and twists on, is color-coded to indicate on/off and operates smoothly thanks to a spring-loaded design. The switch can be wired into the ignition for added security. The cost of the switch is just under $90.
Information: Flaming River, 800.648.8022, www.flamingriver.com
Dynamat Xtreme & Dynaliner
If you are having trouble getting your significant other to ride with you due to your 4x4's engine and mechanical noise, or if the drone of mud tires on your daily driver is driving you batty, then Dynamat Xtreme and Dynaliner may be the answer. The Dynamat material is made from a lightweight elastomeric aluminum covered material that's really easy to install.
Dynamat Xtreme is slightly on the pricy side for sound-deadening material that works as a vibration damper, but it is worth it. We noticed a significant reduction in noise in our rigs after the material was installed. Dynamat Xtreme also blocks the radiant heat of engines and exhaust systems and keeps it from entering the cabs of vehicles. Dynaliner works great at cutting down vibrations and the hollow sound when used under headliners.
The price for Dynamat Extreme starts around $30 and goes up to around $300 for bulk packs.
Information: Dynamic Control of North America, 513.860.5094, www.dynamat.com
Wide-Track Spacer Solution
Back in the day, most wheel spacers were cheesy cast aluminum, slotted pieces of death that we would never recommend to use, even on the street. Nowadays, solid machined pieces of aluminum are precision-made from a variety of manufacturers that eliminate the scary part of spacers. We ordered a setup from Spidertrax for our Project Pete's Jeep, as running 33-inch tires on a stock flatfender greatly reduced our steering radius from the bigger tires hitting the frame before full steering lock. The 6061-T6 aluminum spacers come with the studs installed, and a vial of thread locker for mounting the spacer to your stock lugs with the included nuts. By spacing the wheels out an extra 11/2 inches, our turning radius improved and the wider track improved stability. Spacers are also available to convert bolt patterns if you have a special set of wheels that you need to run. Spacers are sold in pairs for $99.95.
Information: Spidertrax Off-Road, 800.286.0898, www.spidertrax.com
Whether you need to blow up that old air mattress or inflate your tires after a long day of wheeling, a portable air source is a worthwhile investment. For people looking for a lightweight and easy-to-transport air system, Smittybuilt has introduced a 2724 compressor kit. Each 12V assembly uses quick-disconnect battery clamps to power the compressor and comes complete with a coiled hose, multiple air fittings, and a carrying case.
Information: Smittybilt, 888.717.5797, www.smittybilt.com; $79.99
The Dana 44 is one of the most common and mass-produced solid axles in the world. Found under everything from International Scouts and early Broncos to late-model Dodges and Jeeps, they've stood the test of time. And while gears, shafts, and housing upgrades are extremely popular, one of the easiest and best ways to protect your Dana 44 is to equip it with a differential cover. New from G2 Axle & Gear are beefy cast iron factory replacement covers that are designed to give your 44's differential a little added protection from off-road obstacles. Provided with each cover are a gasket, sealant, and new hardware for the install.
Information: G2 Axle & Gear, 310.900.2687, www.g2axle.com; $99.99
Modern factory rim sets are better than ever, but the OE backspacing usually doesn't work well with larger-than-stock tires. This means when you fit your 4x with bigger rubber you run the risk of rubbing the oversized claws on the frame, suspension, and brake components. To solve this issue, Tera Flex offers wheel spacers and adapters for 5-on-41/2 and 5-on-5 wheel bolt patterns. So whether you are trying to give your stock wheels a little offset or convert over to a different wheel bolt pattern, Tera Flex has a wheel spacer for you.
Information: Tera Flex, 801.288.2585, www.teraflex.biz; $141.99.
Driving your Jeep with no doors is a great pastime, but can be a little dangerous and illegal in some states when done without a driver-side mirror. American Rock Rods' mirror relocation bracket allows Jeepers to maintain their factory mirror while hitting the terra without a door. This is accomplished by relocating the mirror from the door to the windshield hinge. This heavy-duty mount ships anodized black and is built from solid machined billet and 3/16-inch plate aluminum. Currently, brackets are available for the '97-current Jeep Wrangler, and they maintain the factory detent.
Information: American Rock Rods, 303.683.8009, www.americanrockrods.com; $49.95
If you wheel a Jeep Wrangler TJ or JK, you've probably noticed that your Jeep's hood likes to flutter at highway speeds. While we haven't heard of many cases where the original rubber latches let loose, we decided to err on the side of caution and strap our hood down tight, once and for all. To get rid of our hood buffet we swapped out our original rubber latch connecters for a set of Daystar's heavy-duty polyurethane replacements. These bolt-in units install in just a few minutes and come with everything you need to make your Wranglers hood more secure.
Information: Daystar, www.daystarweb.com, $24.99 (JK or TJ)
Brakes and steering are two of the most important parts of any vehicle. And while brake lines and calipers are easy to protect and keep out of harm's way, your steering gearbox is often an easy target for abuse. This is especially true of the '97-'06 Jeep Wrangler TJ, as the forward-mounted box hangs low and is exposed at the front of the round-eyed wheeler. To protect your valuable steering box, Rough Country has developed a two-in-one steering box skid and brace. The skid-steer brace takes less than 30 minutes to install and uses your Wrangler's factory mounting points. This lightweight skid is a cheap way to protect expensive parts.
Information: Rough Country Suspension Systems, 800.222.7023, www.roughcountry.com; $65
If you wheel a '07-current Jeep Wrangler JK then you might want to take a peak under your Jeep and make sure that your EVAP canister is still there! Though a damaged emission's canister might not leave you stranded, replacing one will cost a pretty penny at the dealership and prevent your Jeep from passing an emissions test. A great way to protect the vulnerable canister is with an EVAP skid from Poison Spyder Customs. This beefy 3/16-inch steel skid gives the EVAP a 3/4-inch boost and protects it from end to end. Each powdercoated unit comes with all the necessary hardware and detailed instructions to make it a simple driveway install. So stay green and protect your vehicle's EVAP canister and the environment.
Information: Poison Spyder Customs, 951.849.5911, www.poisonspyder.com; $99