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Reader: I enthusiastically agree with your selection of the Jeep Wrangler Rubicon as the 2007 Four Wheeler of the Year (Feb. '07). That it also captured your sister publication's 4x4 of the Year award speaks volumes for the Jeep's capabilities. There has never been a vehicle as deserving (or as capable right out of the box) as the new JK. As a longtime four-wheeler who has built countless Jeep, Toyota, and Suzuki 4x4s, I feel that the JK is the first vehicle one could build to be truly as comfortable as a daily driver as it is capable as a trail machine. It is nice to see that Jeep still knows how to build a proper 4x4-and partially restore their off-highway legacy after releasing their brand-diluting Compass and Patriot (not to mention the KJ, WK, and XK).
On a similar note, why did Toyota choose to use IFS on the new FJ Cruiser when they already have the RAV4, Highlander, Tacoma, Tundra, 4Runner, Land Cruiser, Sequoia, RX350, GX470, and LX470 with IFS? Why can't Toyota offer just one four-wheel-drive vehicle with a pair of solid axles, especially since they're trying so hard to market the FJ to 'wheelers? Toyota is well aware that solid-axle trucks have advantages in durability, strength, and cost versus IFS designs, and its '80s (and foreign-market) solid-axle trucks were always sales successes; Toyota wouldn't have its good reputation among four-wheelers if it weren't for these trucks!
So as a result, my next vehicle will be a JK Unlimited Rubicon-if, and only if, they make it available with the CRD. The old 4.0L I-6 would have been fine, but the new minivan motor just does not do it for me. Have your editors heard any word about the possibility of a diesel in the Wrangler's future? Those who know the benefits of diesels are crying for something small and diesel and trail-capable!
Editor: You likely won't have to wait much longer. Our sources at DaimlerChrysler won't discuss specifics yet, but reading the corporate tea leaves, our best guess would be that a Bluetec diesel-probably the 3.0L V-6-will find a home in the new Wrangler sometime by the 2010 model year.
About the Toyotas, well, yeah, we'd like to see a solid-axle Toyota truck as well. But let's face it-Toyota hasn't gotten to where it is today by making many bad business decisions, and when it comes to designing and engineering its trucks, Toyota is as thorough and meticulous as any manufacturer, ever. If the company felt it made good business sense to market a solid-axle truck in the States, believe us, it would be done. On the other hand, you can already get a solid-axle conversion for the FJ from All Pro Off Road, and there will doubtless be other conversion kits coming in the future via the aftermarket.
Reader: I have a '75 Chevy long-wheelbase pickup. It has a 12.5-inch suspension lift, 49-inch Super Swampers, a 454 big-block motor, and a supercharger pushing 25 psi. I plan to use it for mud. I would like to know what gears I should put in it.
Editor: This is a slightly trickier question than it appears on the surface. But for starters, here's the basic, and slightly imprecise, formula for regearing your axles:(New tire size old tire size) x old axle ratio = new axle ratio.
Your truck should have come with 4.10:1 gears from the factory, and the tires were probably G78-15 (or something close to it), which is a smidge over 28 inches in diameter. So plug in the numbers:(49 28) x 4.10:1 = 7.17:1.
But here's where it gets tricky. There are ring-and-pinion gears available in that range, but they're only available for a limited number of applications-and since you didn't tell us what kind of axles you have, we can't know whether or not you'll be able to find these gears for your truck. (Hint: Give us as much info as possible when submitting tech questions.) In addition, a 49-inch tire is rarely ever a true 49 inches tall once installed due to factors such as runout (out-of-roundness), vehicle weight, and static loaded radius. In reality, the tires may be a few inches shorter once they're installed on your truck.
Here's an easy (if not cheap) suggestion: Check out some junkyards and/or some online parts sources for a pair of Rockwell 2 1/2-ton axles. They came with 6.72:1 gears in them-and in fact, that's the only gearset available for them, and it's close enough to the ratio you'd ideally want for your truck. Get yourself a pair of Detroit Lockers, slap 'em inside the pumpkins, and you've got a killer mud machine without the hassle of a ring-and-pinion swap. You'll pay more up front, but your running gear will be virtually indestructible afterwards.
Reader: I was going through some of my old mags and came across the May '06 issue. Your project Frontier Nismo article that month got me wondering: If you can do the 4x2 locker modification to a Nissan, can it be done to a Toyota Tacoma also, and how? I know I'm not the only Tacoma owner out there who's needed my locker to work in something other than 4-Lo. I would really appreciate any info you can give me.
Editor: Frontier fabmeister Robin Stover replies: We did some research on this and found a plethora of information pertaining to a similar modification to the Tacoma. Toyota enthusiasts refer to this as the "grey wire mod." On Tacoma trucks, the 4WD computer is tied to the main ECU with a gray wire. When the vehicle is placed in 4-Lo, a ground signal is sent through this gray wire to the 4WD computer. This ground signal allows the locker to be activated when the diff-lock button is pressed. The ground signal also goes to the main ECU, communicating that the truck is in 4-Lo and thus changing the shift points. By sending a ground signal only to the 4WD computer, the locker may be activated in 2-Hi, 4-Hi, or 4-Lo, yet the main ECU is not affected; therefore the shift points will only change if the truck is actually in 4-Lo. You can find this wire by simply removing the driver-side kick panel. The 4WD computer is located toward the back of the panel area, close to the firewall. It has a decal on it that reads, "Computer 4 Wheel Drive Control." Once located, simply unplug the white connector going into the 4WD computer and remove the tape and protective sheathing from the wiring harness. Find the grey wire located in prong number 8 of this plug. Cut this wire, attach a short jumper wire, and then ground it. Tape up the dash side of this wire and test the locker in two-wheel drive or 4-Hi. The diff-lock indicator lamp should illuminate on the gauge cluster, confirming success.
Reader: I recently squeezed a set of 305/70R16 tires on my factory Dodge 1500 4x4 with factory steel rims. Now I have a minor rubbing issue on the front upper control arms at full steer. Obviously, I can't cut that off. I like the tire size and am planning a 2 1/2-inch front leveling kit and add-a-leaf in the rear to get some more lift out of it. My question is: Would it be advisable to use wheel spacers in the front (1 1/2-inch aluminum bolt-on kind), or just pony up for some aftermarket rims with better backspacing?
Editor: Wheel spacers, to us, are at best a necessary evil. At times, such as when installing larger-than-stock tires and wheels side by side (i.e., in a rear dualie application), you may have no other choice, but the downside to spacers includes (but is not limited to) increased wear on suspension and hub components, diminished ride and handling characteristics, and premature failure of stud-and-nut assemblies. For the vast majority of applications, including yours, we'd recommend going to a set of wheels with the proper backspacing. Besides being safer, they should eliminate your tire rub too.
Reader: I read your review on the '07 Explorer Sport Trac (Aug. '06) and enjoyed the article very much. I have been in the market to buy the new Sport Trac, but I was a little concerned after you talked about the trail aspect. I am looking to do some four-wheeling and looking for a vehicle that can do it all.
My two choices are the '07 Sport Trac and the Toyota 4Runner. I know the Toyota is more competent on the trails, but how much more? Can you elaborate on the '07 Sport Trac on the trails? Can the new Sport Trac be lifted with the independent rear suspension? If so, who can do it?
Editor: To answer your questions:
1. A lot more.
2. If the trails are mild, the Sport Trac will be fine. Any kind of rough stuff, get the Toyota.
3. Sure it can, if you've got the requisite fabrication skills, a thorough understanding of suspension geometry, and plenty of time and money.
4. Nobody we know of.
Reader: I am looking to purchase the September '06 issue with the article regarding the long-term Duramax and the dealer issues you had. I own an '06 Ford F-350 4x4 with the 6.0L Power Stroke, and my local dealer is a hard-ass when it comes to any type of warranty issues.
Editor: Back issues can be obtained by logging onto www.primediabackissues.com or by writing to Primedia Back issues, 2900 Amber Lane, Corona, CA 92882. Cost is $9 per magazine. Be sure to specify the month and year of the issue you want.
Reader: I'm an aspiring writer and I would love to write for a four-wheel-drive publication. How do I get something read by an editor as a possible magazine article? I also do a lot of photography for local skaters and BMX'ers, and I am very experienced with action shots. I love taking pictures of rigs mashing it up on the trail, and I would love to be a professional photographer. Is there any advice you could give a college student with dreams of being a four-wheel-drive photographer/writer? Mad props.
Editor: It's pretty simple, actually. Drop us a line with a story idea or two that you'd like to submit. If you've got a written sample of your work, and some sample photographs, by all means send them along too. They don't necessarily have to be samples of four-wheeling action, but it wouldn't hurt your case. We're always on the lookout for talented freelance contributors, so if you're really good, chances are we'll have some work for you down the road. Send queries and/or submissions to Editor, Four Wheeler, 6420 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90048, or e-mail to email@example.com.
Reader: After reading your response to the letter about the Jeep Compass (Feb. '06), I had to write. What a cop-out! How much did Chrysler pay you to run the Compass story? Who cares if it is a Jeep? You are a bunch of hypocrites. You say that you will not run stories about non-low-range vehicles-then what about the raving about the stupid Honda Ridgeline? (I don't believe it has low-range, either.) But I guess that Honda paid to have it featured too. If you will not give equal space to other non-low-range vehicles, then don't run them at all. Even if the ugly Compass has a CVT transmission, does it have low-range? No.
When the CVT transmission ever does make it into a regular Jeep, then talk about it. I have been reading Four Wheeler since I was a teenager. (I remember the buildup of the UPS-brown Blazer.) As for Jeep being the "flagship brand" of four-wheeling, as you say, that is a total joke. The true flagship Jeep died when Damnler-Chrysler (spelled wrong intentionally) purchased AMC. At least you are one of the only ones that still feature articles about trail rides.
Editor: Yeah, yeah, yeah, and they ruined the Jeep brand when they built the Liberty, or when they gave the Wrangler round springs, or square headlamps, or French gearboxes-hey, we've heard it all in our day.
Here's the deal: We've never said that we won't ever testdrive vehicles lacking a low-range gear, and when a vehicle that we think is of singular interest hits the market-such as Jeep's first-ever all-wheel drive, or Honda's first attempt at a pickup truck-we're gonna take one for a spin and see what it can do on the trail. The manufacturers usually claim an unspecified degree of "off-roadability" for these vehicles, so we accept their invitations for testdrives, and see if their new models live up to the hype. Generally speaking, they don't, but every now and then, we find ourselves pleasantly surprised by how capable some of these so-called "crossovers" can be on the trail. The Ridgeline is one example, and the new Land Rover LR2 (which we'll discuss in a future issue) is another. Like the old saying goes, don't knock 'em 'til you've tried 'em.
However, we don't invite any vehicles to participate in our annual Four Wheeler or Pickup Truck of the Year tests unless they have an honest-to-goodness transfer case and a low-range gear-so rest assured, you'll see no Compass in next year's FWOTY test. Believe it or not, it wasn't always that way-if you're a longtime reader, you may recall the presence of Audis, Subarus, and AMC Eagles in some of our early FWOTY tests-but we've adhered to the two-speed standard for 20 years now, and we have no plans to change it anytime soon.
And for the record, we have never been paid by Jeep, or Honda, or any manufacturer, to publish a trail test of any vehicle.