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Suzuki Samurai - Weak Links, Strong Fixes

Upgrades to improve your Samurai

Suzuki Samurais have gained a cult following in recent years. Their low price, light weight, and nimble size make them a perfect choice for budget-minded 'wheelers who like tight, technical trails. With very few modifications, Samurais can be made into excellent 'wheelers that share many of the attributes of the original flatfender Jeeps. As with any vehicle, a lift, lockers, and bigger tires will do wonders to the Samurai's trail prowess. There are a few issues specific to these vehicles, though, that should be addressed if you want to make your Suzuki as reliable and capable as possible.

'Case Closed
Weak link: Transfer-case mounting arms.
Models affected: All.
What happens: The stock transfer-case mount is adequate when exposed to the low torque of the stock motor and gearing. Once lower transfer-case gears or a larger motor are installed, the transfer-case mounting arm can fail.
Strong fix: Spidertrax builds a heavy-duty transfer-case mount featuring box construction design and two added mounting points to make sure that all your available torque gets to the ground.
Contact: Spidertrax.

Stranded Starter
Weak link: Dead starter
Models affected: All
What happens: The wiring on Suzukis from the battery to the starter can often degrade over time, leaving you stranded when you least expect it.
Strong fix: An easy fix to this problem comes in the form of Rocky Road Outfitters' starter relay kit, which upgrades the wiring to the starter and also adds a relay so that fewer amps are drawn from the battery.
Contact: Rocky Road Outfitters.

More Reduction
Weak link: Gear reduction for torque multiplication.
Models affected: All.
What happens: The stock low-range in the Samurai transfer case is a paltry 2.268:1. With the stock 1.3L motor only churning out 76 lb-ft of torque, there is not enough grunt to turn big tires on difficult trails.
Strong fix: Trail Tough offers Rock Monster Gears with a 6.4:1 low-range, 181 percent lower than stock. These gears are manufactured from one piece of billet steel and come complete with all necessary gaskets, seals, and bearings. Due to the offset nature of the Samurai transfer case, the Rock Monster Gears also have the ability to lower the high-range in the transfer case by 17 percent, often making the need to change expensive ring-and-pinion gears unnecessary.
Contact: Trail Tough.

Stuttering Squirrels
Weak link: Vent tube.
Models affected: '86-'90 carbureted models.
What happens: Prior to 1990, all Samurais were fitted with a 1.3L motor with a Hitachi carburetor. Sometimes these mills bog down upon acceleration.
Strong fix: The problem is related to a clogged vent tube, and was addressed by Suzuki under Technical Service Bulletin TS 4-06 03109(R). Simply replace the vent tube with a new piece, which is available from the dealer or most aftermarket Samurai parts vendors.
Contact: Your local dealer or favorite Samurai vendor.

Sloppy Steering
Weak link: Stock drag link.
Models affected: All.
What happens: Once the springs have been relocated to the top of the axles, the passenger-side spring will be directly in the way of the drag link. In the past, bent drag links were used, but these sacrifice strength and often result in bumpsteer.
Strong fix: Calmini offers a kit that puts the tie-rod above the springs with machined billet steering arms, resulting in improved steering geometry and placing steering components up and out of harm's way.
Contact: Calmini

Get A Handle On It
Weak link: Door handles
Models affected: All
What happens: The stock door handles are constructed of plastic, and over time they can become brittle and eventually break, leaving you crawling through the passenger-side door or sliding out the window like the Dukes of Hazzard.
Strong fix: Petroworks can supply you with aluminum door handles for both the interior and exterior of your Samurai that are far more durable than stock, and look better to boot. You could buy stock replacement plastic handles from the dealer every few years, but it is much easier to buy the aluminum handles once and be done with it.
Contact: Petroworks.

Subpar Suspension
Weak link: Stock suspension.
Models affected: All.
What happens: The stock Samurai suspension offers approximately 12 inches of wheel travel and fits 27-inch-tall tires. With leaf springs all around, the suspension is relatively easy and inexpensive to modify, but in stock form it is a limiting factor on difficult trails.
Strong fix: Spidertrax offers a very thorough spring-over kit that doubles the wheel travel and allows room to accommodate 32-inch-tall tires. In addition to placing the springs on top of the axles, the kit includes long-travel shock mounts, bumpstop relocations, and extended brake lines.
Contact: Spidertrax.

To See Or Not To See
Weak link: Visibility on the trail.
Models affected: All.
What happens: While SJ410 Suzukis featured fold-down windshields, the more common Samurai were not equipped with this feature. This denies Samurai owners of better visibility on the trail, as well as the ability to move the windshield frame and glass out of harm's way on the really tough stuff.
Strong fix: Rather than envy their Jeeper friends, Samurai owners can retrofit their rig with OEM fold-down hardware from Rocky Road Outfitters.
Contact: Rocky Road Outfitters.

Brain Transplant
Weak link: Electronic Control Module
Models affected: '91-'95 EFI models.
What happens: The electrolytic capacitors in the ECM discharge a corrosive fluid that can eventually damage the circuit board if left unchecked. This leaves you with a motor that will not function.
Strong fix: Petroworks can repair your fried ECM for a fraction of the price that the dealer demands.
Contact: Petroworks.

Lack of Power
Weak link: Underpowered 1.3L motor.
Models affected: All.
What happens: Samurais have never been known as powerhouses, relying more on their size, weight, and gearing to supply forward motion. Sometimes, though, there is a muddy hill or sand dune in your path and the only way to conquer it is with horsepower. Fortunately, there are several options to supply your Suzuki with more power than the stock 1.3L.
Strong fix 1: Calmini offers conversion kits to utilize a 1.6L motor from a Sidekick or Geo Tracker (don't laugh-Mike Shaffer won the RCAA championship with one of these mills in 2002). The kit includes an adapter plate to your stock transmission, a new motor mount and spacer, all hardware, and an optional fuel pump
Strong fix 2: Acme Adapters offers everything you need to swap a 1.5L, 1.6L, or 1.9L naturally aspirated or turbocharged Volkswagen diesel motor under the hood of your Samurai. The kits come complete with all of the hard-to-find parts and adapters to make this swap possible. The kit also includes a detailed installation manual with color photos to help you through the process and assist you in locating the common parts needed for the swap, saving the customer money in the process.
Strong fix 3: For those of you with rampant power addictions, Lightning Conversions offers kits to swap a 4.3L Chevy Vortec motor in your Suzuki. Basic kits include driveshafts, motor mounts, a tranny mount, and a throttle cable, while more complete kits are available with everything from exhaust manifolds to oil pans to full-tilt turnkey motors.
Contact: Acme Adapters, Calmini, Lightning Conversions.

Spring-over Symptoms
Weak link: Driveshaft length.
Models affected: All.
What happens: Unlike Dana axles, Suzukis use a pinion flange instead of a traditional yoke to connect the driveshafts to the axles. Once a lift kit is installed, the driveshafts are often too short and can come apart under extreme articulation.
Strong fix: To save the expense of new driveshafts, Petroworks offers billet-aluminum extensions that install between the driveshaft and the pinion flange. The driveshaft extensions are made of anodized aluminum and come with all necessary mounting hardware.
Contact: Calmini, 800/345-3305, www.calmini.com.

Full of Fuel
Weak link: Range of travel in the backcountry.
Models affected: All.
What happens: While Samurai motors use fuel sparingly, extra capacity is still appreciated on extended trips. As owners know, these small rigs do not have a surplus of space to mount heavy jerricans.
Strong fix: Petroworks offers a DOT-approved 15-gallon polyethylene gas tank with five gallons more capacity than stock. A 3/16-inch-thick, zinc-plated steel skidplate is included and there is no loss of ground clearance relative to the stock tank.
Contact: Petroworks.

Bad Brakes
Weak link: Leaking master cylinder.
Models affected: All.
What happens: Over time, the Samurai master cylinder will start to leak brake fluid. Not only is low brake fluid a danger on the road, but the fluid is extremely caustic and will eat through any paint it encounters.
Strong fix: Petroworks can provide you with new grommets for your master cylinder that will prevent leakage. The grommets are inexpensive and easy to install, remedying a potentially dangerous situation.
Contact: Petroworks.

In The Clutch
Weak link: Stock clutch.
Models affected: All.
What happens: Once you add those bigger tires and a high(er)-horsepower motor, the stock clutch is subjected to loads it was never intended for. The problem is made worse when the vehicle does not have the proper gearing and the clutch needs to be slipped when four-wheeling.
Strong fix: Most high-performance clutches are designed for racing and increase clamping force at high rpm. This is not of much use for the four-wheeler, as we need to be able slip the clutch at low rpm and not have it fail. Petroworks offers a clutch designed specifically for 'wheeling that has a twin-friction organic/ceramic disc that engages positively but does not grab.
Contact: Petroworks.

Steer You Straight
Weak link: Manual steering.
Models affected: All.
What happens: Samurais don't come with a lot of frills from the factory. This is a breath of fresh air with the current manufacturer trend towards active suspensions and traction control. While the simplicity keeps the Samurai inexpensive and reliable, creature comforts such as power steering make turning big tires much more enjoyable.
Sturdy fix: Calmini offers a kit to retrofit the power steering from a Sidekick onto your Samurai. The kit comes complete with all laser-crafted brackets, heavy-duty U-joint, and specialty hardware and spacers. The box, pump, and reservoir can be sourced locally. With easier steering and the use of Suzuki parts, this upgrade is an easy decision to make.
Contact: Calmini.

Sloppy Shifter (Part 1)
Weak link: Transmission shifter locating bolt.
Models affected: All.
What happens: The factory transmission is notorious for its sloppy shifting. The problem is often related to the shifter locating bolt, which often breaks off and results in this vague shifting.
Strong fix: Replacing this bolt will result in more precise shifting. Just make sure that you get both halves of the broken bolt out of the transmission before buttoning everything back up. The size of the bolt varies by model year, but Petroworks can get exactly what you need at a reasonable price along with a polyurethane shifter bushing for an even more precise feel.
Contact: Petroworks.

Sloppy Shifter (Part 2)
Weak link: Transfer-case shifter sheet.
Models affected: All.
What happens: The transfer-case "shift sheet" is a donut-shaped bushing that is located under the shift lever. Virtually all Samurais have or will be affected by this part failing at some point in time. When the seat fails, the transfer case will be stuck in Neutral or locked so that it will not turn. Many a savvy Suzuki owner has purchased a Samurai for pennies on the dollar when the seller thought that the transfer case was broken, when in fact the real culprit was the shift sheet.
Strong fix: The fix for the shift sheet is very simple and can be performed from inside the truck with just a screwdriver. While an OEM replacement part is available, a better option is to use a more durable polyurethane shift sheet such as the one available from Petroworks. You can even get a kit with the transfer-case bushing, transmission bushing, and transmission shifter bolt all together.
Contact: Petroworks.

Axle Armor
Weak link: Stamped differential housings.
Models affected: All.
What happens: The differential housings on Samurai axles are made out of thin sheetmetal. This may be cost-effective for the manufacturer, but if a rock bends the cover into the ring gear, you can expect to pay big bucks on the repair.
Sturdy fix: Petroworks offers 0.375-inch steel "pumpkin caps" that are easily welded to the differential covers for added protection.
Contact: Petroworks.

Thief Repellent
Weak link: Lack of storage.
Models affected: All soft-top models.
What happens: As with many other open-top rigs, lockable storage is at a premium in the Samurai. Leaving your vehicle unattended with the top down is an invitation for less desirable types to help themselves to your belongings.
Strong fix: Tuffy Security Products manufactures lockable center consoles out of heavy-gauge steel and outfits them with its Pry-Guard locks. Now you have a place to stash your stereo, sunglasses, or GPS without worrying about it disappearing.
Contact: Tuffy.

As The Birf Turns
Weak link: Birfield joints.
Models affected: All.
What happens: Unlike Dana axles, Samurai axles use Birfield joints instead of U-joints to facilitate steering on the front axle. When placed between low gears and tall tires, the Birfields often become the weak link.
Strong fix 1: Spidertrax has come up with a simple solution to strengthen the Birfields. A ring is installed around the Birfield that keeps it from expanding, and thus breaking.
Strong fix 2: If Birfield rings are not enough to end your breakage problems, the next option is to upgrade to CV Unlimited's Samurai Newfields. These joints replace the stock Birfields and feature greater resistance to breaking, thanks to the improved materials, heat treating, and cryogenics.
Strong fix 3: Want to get rid of those messy Birfields altogether, gaining strength and improving turning radius in the process? The Spidertrax Sidewinder open-knuckle front axle replaces the stock Birfields with U-joints and 26-spline chromoly stub shafts. The housings accept Sidetrack third members and use stock Samurai hubs, spindles, and brakes.
Contact: CV Unlimited, Spidertrax.

Oil Spots
Weak link: Leaky engine.
Models affected: All.
What happens: Most Samurais seem to leak oil from the back of the motor. With only 3.7 quarts of oil in the case, you cannot afford to lose any!
Sturdy fix: Fortunately, the fix is often easier than changing the rear main seal. The O-ring on the distributor is usually the culprit. Petroworks offers new O-rings that will seal up the distributor tight.
Contact: Petroworks.

Up The Amps
Weak link: Alternator.
Models affected: All.
What happens: The stock Samurai alternator delivers 40 amps of current. That may be enough to run the headlights, but if you have added a winch or auxiliary lights to your rig, the charging system is probably having a hard time keeping up.
Strong fix: Petroworks offers kits to retrofit a Delco alternator from a GM vehicle with up to 105 amps. The kit comes complete with the alternator, brackets, wiring, and bolts. Now you can winch your Suzuki at night with all of the lights on without worry.
Contact: Petroworks.