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January 2005 Letters To The Editor

Posted in Project Vehicles on January 1, 2005
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The "Letter of the Month" author will be sent one of Four Wheeler's highly prized license plates. So be sure to include your full name and address when you write Four Wheeler at: Four Wheeler Magazine
6420 Wilshire Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90048

Reader: Please forward this to Matt Dagleish, whose letter, "2WD to 4WD?" appeared in Techline (Oct. '04). I converted my Dad's '99 2WD XJ Cherokee to 4WD. It cost him $5,000, which included parts and labor. After doing the math, we decided to convert rather than trade in due to the depreciation and also because I installed used assemblies, which are cheaper than new.

Our project vehicle is a 4.0L six with manual trans. The Jeep dealer queried about this quoted $10,000 due to having to change the frame. I walked away since there is no frame to change on this unibody vehicle. I spent about 8 hours over a couple weeks shopping for a trans, 231 transfer case and Dana 30 front axle, as well as ordering a new shift handle and bezel, and getting linkage, front shaft and wiring parts from the junkyard. I got the used front axletube's alignment checked, and also new bearings and seals throughout. The used trans was only a few years old, as is the transfer case, so no additional work was done on them.

Installation took about 10 hours total, including wiring in the dash light in the bezel and wiring in the 4WD shift indicator light in the dash. I made my dad buy a factory service manual, and the $120 for that was included in the $5,000 I mentioned. I couldn't find the correct front shaft, so I bought a long one and had it shortened at a driveline shop. The 4WD front-axle knuckles wouldn't take the '99 brake calipers, so I swapped knuckles between it and the original. The top two bolts on the engine/trans bellhousing for the trans are Torx. I couldn't tell and used a common hex wrench, but when I saw the first one I got out, I bought the correct socket (bought a set for about $30). I had to get the rear driveline shortened a little as well.

I used air tools but they aren't necessary. I couldn't find the correct transfer-case linkage bracket, so I modified the one I got at the junkyard, which required some welding. The finished drivetrain sat high enough to cause the front driveshaft to beat on the floorpan in high-torque start-from-a-stop and hill-crawling modes, so the transmission mount could have been 1/2 inch shallower. I just beat the floorpan from underneath a little until I couldn't get it to make noise anymore. The new floorpan shape isn't noticeable.

Not to toot my own horn, but my dad took this finished project Cherokee in for regular warranty-related servicing and the folks at the dealership never had a question about how his factory 2WD has grown to 4WD. The only thing I didn't put on it was the "4x4" emblem on the rear quarter-panels.

If you don't want to or can't do all that, buy a vehicle that already has four-wheel drive. I talked to three shops, including the dealer, before I decided to offer to do the job myself, and the other two wouldn't touch the job. But with all stock parts, no lift and mild Goodyear 31-inch radials, I 'wheeled that thing in some crappy places trying to make sure it wouldn't stick my dad out in the desert. And I saved him about $15,000, including depreciation, loan interest, upgrades and so on. Using all factory parts made the job relatively simple.
Ken Johnson

Editor: Wow! Thanks for the update, Ken. We just wish we'd had our cameras and notebooks at the ready while you were at work. This question is asked quite frequently, and you've done a great job of answering it-at least with respect to Jeep Cherokees.

Reader: As a recent convert to 4WDs from muscle cars, I first saw your magazine about four or five months ago while scouting for bargains in a trash-or-treasure shop. For the princely sum of $1.20, I picked up a couple of issues of Four Wheeler from 1979 and 1980. I read them cover-to-cover, devouring every word of every article and advertisement. What a hoot! These mags were published in the middle of the oil crisis and they're full of speculation that the "imported mini-trucks" would be the wave of the future and the big, U.S. trucks might become extinct. I also chuckled my way through articles on Renault's 4WD foray, Russian-Boar hunting (with pistols) and a handy "how-to" about tying a dead deer to my fender.

I'm not poking fun though, because I can't magically see the future either. I enjoyed these old issues so much that after some searching, I've found a news agent here in Sydney that sells current issues of Four Wheeler. Now I'll be buying it all the time, in addition to my regular Australian magazines.
Mark Hinsley
Sydney, Australia

Reader: I would like to encourage Toyota to follow the examples set by Jeep and Dodge and come up with a production vehicle that is targeted to those of us who really use our trucks for four-wheeling. Jeep has been building vehicles geared toward enthusiasts for some time, and now Dodge has built its new Power Wagon. Toyota, which has a huge following and a proven record in building durable and capable four-wheelers, needs to meet the challenge and develop a reasonably priced wheeler that is not so luxurious that it is primarily a foul-weather 4x4 or mall runner.

They have shown us that they have the technology, and it is not so cutting edge that it's too expensive to put on a production vehicle. They need to build a truck/SUV that is more utilitarian, very capable off road and does not come with a $40,000 price tag. Eliminate some of the non-essential bells and whistles, and focus on the durability and off-roadability. Lockers front and rear, lower T-case gears, better suspension articulation and so on.

I believe there are plenty of us Toyota enthusiasts who would gladly upgrade our trucks (or add another to the stable) to the newer version, if it were only available. Come on, Toyota. Step up to the plate and build us a true four-wheeler that we can be proud of.
Erik Rohde-Moe
Sonora Regional Medical Center

Editor: Guys at Toyota, are you listening? Actually, the Tacoma pickup, which is available with a rear locker, is an incredibly capable vehicle. Granted, it doesn't have that front locker-but it's incorrect to dismiss it while suggesting that Toyota doesn't offer a capable trail vehicle.

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