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Nena Knows Jeeps: Preparing a Jeep for 1,000 Miles of Desert

Nena Knows Jeeps

Nena BarlowPhotographer, Writer

The first year of the Rebelle Rally was 2016, and Emily Miller of Rod Hall Racing had put together an all-women’s off-road rally lasting seven days and covering more than 1,000 miles of desert roads. The competition would not be for speed, but for navigational accuracy using only a map and compass—no GPS allowed. I was asked to prep some Jeeps for that first Rebelle Rally and decided to compete as well, and I have ever since. Having completed our third year in the rally, we have fine-tuned an approach to preparing a Jeep for such an endeavor.

Since the tires are what actually touch the ground, we start there and work our way up to the steering and suspension components. We inspect and tighten all of our control arm mounts, tie-rod ends, ball joints, steering columns, track bar mounts—anything that attaches the frame to the suspension and steering—to proper torque specifications. Shocks and springs are next, and anything that looks questionable gets replaced. Air filters (don’t forget cabin air filters), oil filters, differential fluid, transmission fluid, transfer case fluid, are all checked and cleaned, topped off, or replaced.

Finally, we look at what additional equipment will be needed for self-sufficiency. On the Rebelle Rally, teams can have mechanical or recovery assistance with the push of a button, but they pay for it in penalties, so it’s good to be as self-sufficient as possible. Recovery devices such as traction boards, kinetic rope, and appropriate screw-pin bow shackles and soft shackles are a must-have. The factory Wrangler jack can be used to lift the axle high enough to change a flat or get the vehicle unstuck from many high-centered situations. We don’t provide Hi-Lift jacks, but we recommend that participants carry one if they know how to use it properly and safely. The same goes for winches.

Beyond the minimum vehicle basics, you should think about what specific spare parts might be needed for your rig, as well as how to change them out in the field when you’re tired and hungry, at night, in the rain. Truly, the most difficult challenge of any long-distance trek like the Rebelle Rally is overcoming the mental and physical fatigue to make smart navigation and driving decisions for 10 hours a day, many days in a row.