Fixing Broken 4x4s in the Dirt on Ultimate Adventure #UA2016
Posted in Ultimate Adventure: 2016 on August 2, 2016
Harry WagnerCooper Rasmussen
They say it’s not an adventure if everything goes according to plan. If that’s true then the Ultimate Adventure qualifies because stuff breaks on the event every year and the only way to keep moving is to fix it. From leaky transmission coolers to drivetrain carnage and everything in between, broken stuff on the trail is part of why we do this. It’s just as much of a challenge to fix our broken rigs as it is to climb over a gnarly boulder in the desert heat. Otherwise we could take up fishing or golf and avoid the innovation and excitement generally found on the UA. Gosh, that sounds boring. We’d miss out on all the fun all our friends will have when they break stuff.
The 1975 Cherokee Chief from Power Products Unlimited is classic iron that works pretty well, but leave it to Cooper Rasmussen to break something. While navigating one particularly nasty climb on Isham Canyon he smashed a front axle U-joint. The joint broke, turning sideways, and the ears of the chromoly axleshaft tried to pass each other. This can damage the ball joints, eventually pushing the front knuckle off the vehicle. Rather than tow Grandma (as the Cherokee has come to be known) out on three wheels, it was decided to remove the axleshafts and limp out the rest of the trail with three-wheel drive. Luckily we were near the end of the trail and Rasmussen had his good friends Sam, Keith, and Fred to help him pull the parts. First thing to do is to remove the tire and wheel, place them under the Jeep, and start taking things apart.
Electric impacts make work like this much more enjoyable while on the trail, but some things can’t be mechanized. Best way to pull the spindle off the Dana 44 was with a hammer and some flathead screwdrivers. With the spindle off, the axle should slide out of the housing, but since the ears of the axle were spread a fight ensued. Finally after struggling with the mangled stub shaft someone figured out that a stub can also be passed between the inner and outer knuckle. Rasmussen, you need a Dana 60.
With the broken axleshaft parts out of the housing, rags were stuffed into the axletube to keep gear oil from drooling out and the Jeep was driven off the trail. Rasmussen wasn’t carrying spares (despite the fact that we recommended that he did so), so parts were overnighted to our next hotel night in Placerville, California. On the evening of Day 3 the replacement ’shafts were installed in Grandma’s axle. Did we mention that hotel managers love us?
During the 128-degree trek through Death Valley practically every vehicle got hotter than the owner would have liked. Several engines got close to boiling over and had to cool on the side of the road more than once. Keith Bailey’s transmission in his blue Brusier II chassis got hot and he was worried it was overfilled with transmission fluid. After pulling a line off the evening of the Day 3 to drain a couple of quarts, the fitting on his tranny cooler developed a crack. The fix, on the morning of Day 4, was to pull the cooler and use his onboard air and a cutoff wheel from Rich Conlon in the Bubba Rope JKU to cut up the cooler line to an area where a hose could be clamped on above the crack. The part was reinstalled, and we hit the road to the Rubicon.
The WJ is definitely an underutilized platform for a good four-door wheeler. This former grocery getter has a either the venerable 4.0L or a V-8 and coil suspension and a heavy Unitbody. Plus it’s a Jeep, so many aftermarket drivetrain parts already fit it or could be made to fit relatively easy. During our first trail day in Isham Canyon near Trona, California, Ben Mahin was struggling with his steering. Big rocks had taken their toll and bent something, causing the steering ram to flop the tie rod back and forth rather than turn the wheels. Mahin checked the hardware, tightened it as much as possible, and finished the trail, but later the ram was determined to be bent (from contact with a rock). The short-term solution to keep the Jeep rolling down the road and trail was to remove the ram until a new one could be sourced. If you’re running ram assist, be ready to cap the lines and remove it in case something bends. Most systems use -6 AN fittings, and just about any hydraulic store will carry -6 caps.
Hauling all your tools on the trail isn’t always easy, but Rasmussen from Power Products found this mega big, mega-awesome tool roll from Red Ox with pockets galore. Put it on your must-have list if you’re a gear junkie who likes fixin’ stuff in the dirt.
Running electric fans off relays is ideal, but running dual electric fans off a single relay is not. The fans can pull 30 to 40 amps when they kick on, and most relays are not up to the challenge for duals. We found this out on the Summer Camp Jeep and added this big 40-amp kill switch as a trail fix. The switch sends power straight to one fan, and sends a signal to one heavy-duty relay to fire off the other fan. Everything works great as long as someone remembers to turn on the switch.
The pinion yoke on the back of the grand Cherokee has little tangs to hold the U-joint caps in place. When they break off from rockcrawling you’ll need serious equipment to get new caps to stay in place.
First bolt in the new driveshaft. You’ll want to carry a spare driveshaft (at least a spare rear) and whatever U-bolts or straps your yoke requires.
Next you’ll need a welder. We used a Premier Power Welder, but a couple batteries wired in series with some welding cable and rod would do in a pinch.
Chris Durham welded the old U-joint cap onto the yoke to hold the new U-joint cap in place. It’s not ideal for highway use because it will be way out of balance, but it held the caps in to get us off the trail before a new yoke could be installed.
Editor Hazel had the Super Dirty’s Falken tires running closer to the single-digit flatfender pressure levels he’s used to and shredded one of the Wild Peak MT sidewalls in Isham Canyon. However, a quick tire change turned into a minor ordeal when the lug stud spun instead of the lug nut. By some divine miracle he was able to snake a welding rod from Chris Durham’s Premier Power through the back of the brake rotor to tack-weld the stud to the hub, allowing the lug nut to be removed and the tire changed.
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