Intermediate-Level Jeep Maintenance for Beginners

    Deeper Into the Fray

    Justin MajichPhotographer, Writer

    Off-road, vehicles take a real beating. Whether in rocks, sand, or mud, nothing about off-road driving is good for your vehicle. Maintenance is just one of those necessary evils that come with vehicle ownership. Everything from the engine oil to the tires needs to be maintained in order to keep the vehicle in good, reliable condition. Unfortunately, maintenance costs can add up quickly. As sad as it is to say, our budgets are not always what we would like them to be. Doing your own maintenance is not only a great way to get to know your vehicle but also a great way to help keep ownership costs down. In “Drowning In Oil” (July ’15), we talked about changing your Jeep’s fluids. This time around, we thought we would go into some more intermediate, yet still basic-level, maintenance items.

    As with “Drowning In Oil,” one of the things we emphasized was that all of this can be done with some basic hand tools in your driveway. While the vehicle’s included jack will do the job, we prefer a hydraulic floor jack. Built-in wheels, a low profile, and along handle to keep you out of harm’s way when lifting the vehicle all just make life easier. No matter which type of jack you use, remember that safety is paramount—always use jackstands to support the vehicle while it’s in the air. For work that does not require moving the suspension, our personal preference is for placing the jackstands under the axles, close to the tire.

    Maintaining your vehicle’s brakes is not difficult but is definitely necessary. Brake system condition can mean the difference between life and death. Three things you will want to check are pad wear, rotor condition and thickness, and fluid level. A spongy or soft brake pedal can indicate there is air in your brake lines. Hydraulic (brake) fluid is non-compressible, meaning that when you push the brake pedal, the fluid will push on the piston, putting pressure on your brakes. Because air does compress, the air is absorbing some of the pressure you are applying to the brake pedal. If your brakes do not have a firm, positive feel or if the brake fluid is old or discolored (it should be clear), then you will want to flush the system out. On any aspect of a brake service, when in doubt, don’t be afraid to take it to a shop or someone you trust. It’s always better to err on the side of caution, especially with something as critical as your brakes.

    Then there is where the rubber meets the road (or dirt). No matter whether on- or off-road, the tires on your vehicle take a lot of abuse. Regularly rotating and balancing the tires can mitigate some of the abuse, as well as lengthen the life of the tire. While balancing can be difficult to do in your garage or driveway, rotation is not. Rotating the tires means that you’re moving the tires in a pattern to allow for them to wear evenly. There are a number of different patterns in use, but we like to put the spare into the rotation. To include the spare, rotate the left rear tire to the left front position, the front left tire to the front rear position and so on. It’s a circular pattern with the spare ending up in the left rear position and the right rear tire replacing the spare. This allows for even wear on all your tires, gaining a few more miles between buying new sets of tires.