The Jeep Geek

The Jeep Geek's Blog
Off-road Techniques

Styles of Off-roading

The Jeep Geek is often faced with a customer who expresses interest in Off-roading and building the equipment that they will need to accomplish their goal. Well, there is Off-roading and there is Off-roading. More questions need to be asked and answered before The Jeep Geek can help.

There are three basic styles of Off-roading. The Jeep Geek can build units that will accomplish any of these...but it is important to determine the style that is desired by the Jeeper. For example, a stock Rubicon can accomplish one style, but would be completely inadequate for the other two styles.

So lets examine the three styles:

Off-road Racing.

This is a style of Off-roading that requires a machine that is capable of lots of speed in order to win a race event. Duh. So an engine upgrade is needed, like a 6.4L Hemi conversion that will produce approx. 500Hp. So far so good, but when one travels fast over rough terrain the suspension experiences significant stresses. So a complete re-do of the suspension is needed. Dana 60 axles need to be installed front and back as well as a very heavy duty lift kit that will survive hitting bumps at high speed. There will be times that the Jeep will become air-borne and land with significant force...the suspension must comprehend these pressures. In addition the likelihood of a roll-over or other accident is increased so the roll cage needs to be reinforced. Racing seats should be installed that support a 5 point harness to hold the driver (and any passengers) firmly in the seat during violent crashes or landings. Finally the brakes and cooling systems need to be upgraded.

Building a unit that will work well for this style of Off-roading often makes the Jeep un-usable (or at least unstable) on the road. A lot of weight must be removed to make the Jeep competitive and that weight is often things like air-conditioning, body parts and other comfort items. This is not your daily driver and weekend fun machine.

Finally the budget for this style of Off-roading is large. To do the build, the costs will run over $150K and frequently there is significant damage that will need to be repaired after the race.

Conquest of Obstacles

OK...all Off-roading involves overcoming obstacles...but the distinction here is that finding and overcoming obstacles is the goal. These Jeepers will find the most difficult trail, regardless of the scenery and conquer the obstacles for the sense of accomplishment that this brings. The Jeep Geek feels that this is a very acceptable goal for Jeeping and has enjoyed this type of Off-roading in the past. Adrenalin junkies enjoy this style of Off-roading and their needs are met nicely. This is not to say that difficult trails are not beautiful...for example the Rubicon Trail in northern California is one of the most breath taking trails from both a difficulty as well as a scenic wonder. However these folks are out for the obstacles not the views. Stickers like: “I conquered metal masher” are what you will see on their rigs.

The equipment needed to accomplish this style of Off-roading are lifts (for ground clearance), bigger tires, lockers, winches, skid plate upgrades, body armor...yes, some scratches are to be expected, and at times a bit more power or lower gearing are needed. The budget for these mods is more affordable at approx. $10K - $15K (on top of the Jeep cost).

Some trail damage is likely to occur, so a budget for minor repairs should also be contemplated.

Scenic Beauty

The goal of this style of Off-roading is to get out in nature and enjoy the views...and the occasional wildlife that is seen off the beaten path. The Y-Hike Off Road club members fall into this style of Off-roading. Obstacles are encountered, as stated above, but the goal is not in conquering the obstacle, but rather getting past it to the next great view. These Jeepers move a bit slower so they don’t miss anything. Often this group will drive around an obstacle instead of driving over it.

The Jeep Geek is not currently in a position to afford trail damage...especially with two daughters in college and having just spent a lot of money on camera equipment. He is able to enjoy the occasional challenge that presents itself on these more moderate trails, but again, the goal is the view.

A stock Wrangler is fully capable of keeping up with us, in fact some of the Y-hikers drive other 4 wheel drive vehicles that are not as capable as a stock Wrangler. This group chooses trails that are less likely to cause injury or trail damage to the vehicles. The trips are pleasurable and the folks are a lot of fun to be around.

If you would like to join us on one of our trips, go to facebook and “like” thejeepgeek where trip details are posted in advance. Let us know if you are going to join us so we can plan food...yes, food is important to these trips.

The Jeep Geek hopes to see you out there.

The Geek abides


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Fiat Lux

No...this article has nothing to do with Fiat cars. Fiat Lux is latin for “Let there be light”. The Jeep Geek was classically educated...a true renaissance man. He found this title while reading the Vulgate...google it.

So our topic today is about lighting systems since many of you want to be off-road at night, wether conquering obstacles by moonlight, or simply camping in a nice remote area. The Jeep Geek feels that roughing it is spending the night in a hotel without room service so you probably won’t find him camping out there...but stranger things have happened.

While The Jeep Geek is a huge fan of the Wrangler, the headlights that come from the factory (while adequate for normal road driving) could use a bit of an upgrade for the trails. The standard headlamps are halogen, which is pretty hi-tech for a decade ago, now High-Intensity Discharge (HID) is the new high end for headlamps. These HIDs can be found on some of the Grand Cherokee models, but would be amazing on the Wrangler...so The Jeep Geek did an experiment. He had some HID lamps (aftermarket) placed into Wranglers and while they did indeed throw a nice bluish light pretty far down the road, it was not without some problems...for example, there is a lengthy burn-in period where the light flickers and vibrates a bit for the first dozen or so hours on many of the units. New ballast units also had to be added to drive these lamps and this whole thing left The Jeep Geek with the impression that these mods would not be reliable...so he is not a fan of that approach.

So adding more halogen lamps to the bumper and A pillar are the solutions that Jeepers have used for many years. As can be seen in the picture below, just increasing lamp count will throw more light...but also draw a lot more current. This may result in the need to upgrade the battery and charging system on older Wranglers...

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This just might be the solution for most of you, some limitations, but if your lighting needs are modest, budget is limited, this is the way to go...and these units look just fine and are out-of-the-way.

Now many of The Jeep Geek’s readers are no-limits kind of off-roaders. They are looking for the perfect solution. Here it is. The Jeep Geek is a big fan of Rigid Industries’ LED lights. He has spec’ed light bars on several of his customer builds, and if Mrs Geek buys off, will add one of these light bars to The Hummer Recovery Vehicle.

Rigid makes a number of different configurations from 4 LED spots that can be mounted on the “A” pillar, short light bars that can be mounted on the front bumper...say on the grille guard of an off-road bumper, to a 50” light bar that fits at the top of the windshield of a JK Wrangler. These light bars come in two configurations, one with a single row of LEDs (50 LED lamps) or one with two rows (yep, 100 LED lamps). The unit that The Jeep Geek is considering is the single row 50” for over his windshield.

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Now lets talk about light. This unit produces 16,000 lumens and draws 12.1 amps (173 watts). Lets put this in context. A 100 watt incandescent light bulb produces about 1300 lumens...so this light bar produces the light of over a dozen table lamps for the power consumption of about 2. Now lets talk about life expectancy. These LED lights should last about 50,000 hours of operation. This is about 17 years if you ran them for 8 hours per night every day of the year. You will probably hand these things down to your grand children. That is reliability that The Jeep Geek can get his head around.

The light bar has a combination of spot and flood lenses so the lighting provides a great view down the trail as well as lighting any obstacles to the side of the trail. The picture at the top of this article is a demonstration of the lighting power of this light bar.

The Geek abides

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Wild Flowers

One of The Jeep Geek’s friends (Danny Tomlinson) was up on Kingston Peak this past weekend to photograph the wild flowers...and a few other surprises. You should visit his site at dannytomlinsonphotography.com. The Jeep Geek was privileged to help build his Rubicon to allow him to arrive at some of the most beautiful locations in the Rocky Mountains...in a bit more comfort. After all, as Danny asks, Why Hike?


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Wildflowers are part of the natural beauty of the mountains here in Colorado. This beauty can be found just a few dozen minutes from downtown. The trails are pretty easy up there and shouldn’t present a problem for any trail rated Jeep.

So what are you doing this weekend? Looking for a suggestion, then it is probably time to pack up the spouse, kids and go see our backyard. What else can you do for almost no money (a few drops of gasoline and some water and snacks for the crew). You never know who you will meet out on the trail. For example:


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On this past weekend, Danny shot this picture at the top of Trail Ridge Road. Clearly humans aren’t the only species that are interested in frolic’ing among the wildflowers. Have your kids ever seen Elk in the wild? Have you? Jeeping is all about being out in nature. Experiencing the wonder and majesty of what God has created.

On a personal note...The Jeep Geek has been busy with a few items and as a result the updates to this site have been a bit less frequent than The Jeep Geek wants. He has been learning a new software package that will allow for some more features and a different look-and-feel for this website. So over the next few weeks he will be heads-down to transition to the new website. These have been things that The Jeep Geek has wanted to do for some time...such as tagging the articles by subject so they can be more easily searched, providing a comments section for each blog to encourage a bit more interaction, and also to get some feedback to determine the type of articles the visitors want to see. The new layouts will also allow The Jeep Geek to put up a few targeted ads to help pay for all this...don’t worry, this won’t become something that detracts from the experience...in fact, it may be a benefit to the visitors as these will be links to The Jeep Geek’s friends that will likely be of interest to most of you...hopefully.

The Jeep Geek has been tracking site traffic and is extremely gratified at the results. There is a geometric increase month over month, with some 400 unique visitors each day lately. Thank you all for your support. This kind of success allows The Jeep Geek to invest more in making this a better resource for all of you.

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Armor Up

The trails are pretty much all open...a little late this year, due to the significant snow pack...but open none-the-less. The Jeep Geek has seen the beginning of Wrangler season at the Jeep store where he hangs out. Many Wranglers, many modifications, many questions, all signs of the start of the season.

Some of the questions that seem to pop up are regarding skid plates and side armor. What do I need? What about armor on the differential? Is that plastic thing below the bumper really a skid plate? Is that rock rail, on my rubicon, really enough?

Like so many things, the answers to the questions depend...they depend on how the Jeep is to be used, the type of trails and the skill of the driver. They also depend on something The Jeep Geek refers to as testosterone poisoning. This is a not-so-rare condition in which the male is driving too aggressively for the trail conditions. The situation is made worse by the presence of friends who are cheering the testosterone sufferer to go faster, or take the most aggressive (if not impossible) line on an obstacle. No amount of armor will protect the Jeep (or its occupants for that matter) from this. But for the vast majority of Jeepers, the skid plates that come with their Jeep are fine. There is a reason for this opinion.

The skid plates in general lie within the frame members of the Wrangler where they should not be impacted. If you dent one of these skid plates, you are doing something horribly wrong. Scrapes and scratches are another thing all together...that will happen. But a dent means that the driver did not take the correct line on an obstacle.

The Jeep Geek will explain. If you encounter a boulder on the trail, (if you live here in Colorado you will) the best line is to place one of the wheels on top of the boulder. This allows the Jeep to rise up over the obstacle and lifts the differential up out of harms way. (Thanks to the solid axles of the Wrangler.) Once the wheel starts down the back side of the boulder, the rock rails come into play...they are gently rested on the boulder and the Jeep slides down the boulder to the rear wheels...where the back is again lifted out of danger. That is, if all goes according to Hoyle.

So, Nature is random. Sometimes there is no way to avoid centering on a boulder. Cliffs, rock walls, trees, etc., sometimes dictate our lines. These are the conditions that make additional armor a nice-to-have accessory. By going slow, the only skid plate addition that is likely to be needed is to replace the plastic mud shield below the front bumper with a thick (at least 3/16”) skid plate to protect some of the suspension components such as the electronic sway bar disconnect and steering components. Front differential armor can be added as well. This won’t give a lot of protection, but will allow you to scrape the differential (on a rock) if you have to.

Now, side armor. Remember the tree on one side of the trail and the rock wall on the other? Yup, you may have to squeeze through a narrow opening, or you may have wheels on the left up so high in a ravine that the right side scrapes the ground. Here is where a bit of side armor might save some body work and paint. The Jeep Geek generally likes the body armor that extends 3 to 4 inches from the bottom of the door(s) and which can be used as a step. These are made from thick walled pipe and bolted to the frame for strength.

AEV makes some nice corner armor that is inexpensive enough that this makes sense to add just to give the rear corners a bit of protection. The Jeep Geek has seen several Wranglers that have slid down backwards and dented a rear corner...while this is not a severe disability for the vehicle, it is nice to avoid, and for a few hundred dollars this might make sense.

Now we come to bumpers. There are a number of off-road bumpers available so the Jeeper should be able to find a style that he (or she) likes. Tublar, sheet steel (again real thick here), shorty and in one case, a hunk of lumber bolted across the frame extensions. The front bumper is not a battering ram as one of The Jeep Geek’s customers found. It is a protection for slowly crawling over a high obstacle. It is also a platform for mounting a winch, if desired, or additional lighting...or both. Things to think about with a front bumper are:

  • Pick one that improves the angle of approach over the tires. Some Jeepers even mount shorty bumpers and leave nothing in front of the wheels.
  • The shape should also protect the fenders. Here the shorty bumpers don’t do anything for the fenders so you may end up leaving the fender on the trail one day. Not a big deal, opportunity to upgrade fenders when that happens!!!

The Jeep Geek thinks that the main reason to install an off-road rear bumper is to mount a tire carrier when the tire size is increased. Many tire carriers can be modified to carry gas and water cans, air bottles, and extra gear in general. The consideration for which bumper chosen is to improve the angle of departure somewhat, but this should not be traded off for protection of the rear muffler. While the Jeep can be driven with a damaged muffler, these are expensive parts and need to be cared for when exiting an obstacle.

The Jeep Geek often consuls his customers to go out and run some trails before they armor up, see what they encounter, and from that experience base chose the armor, lifts and tires that make sense for where they want to go.

A final word. As stated earlier, armor is not a replacement for common sense. Testosterone Poisoning is real and should be avoided at all costs. You are the one paying for the damage you incur on the trail...don’t let go of your sense on the trail, and the hobby will be enjoyable and far less expensive.

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Sand Gets Everywhere

Sand is one of the more challenging conditions to off-road in. There are a few techniques that will help improve your ability to avoid getting stuck...and The Jeep Geek may even give you a tip or two if you should find yourself buried to the frame in a sand dune.

You can find Sand in many areas of the country, although the western states have most of it. On the east coast most of the sand four wheeling is done on beaches. There are some amazing sand dunes on the outer banks of North Carolina...also in the desert regions of Western Arizona, Nevada, Utah, eastern California and parts of Colorado. The urge to have fun in the sand is almost overwhelming.

The Jeep Geek would like to point out a couple of things at this point. Sand dunes, especially on beaches, are easily damaged by off-roading. The most delicate part of the beach are the small areas where there are some grasses (or other plants) on the sand dunes themselves. These plants actually hold the sand dune together and provide the only cover for wild life on the beach. Please don’t drive over these areas. In fact, don’t even walk over them. Most sand dunes are small enough that you can drive or walk around them. Overall, “Tread Lightly”. As long as The Jeep Geek is lecturing, be sure you have permission to drive on the sand dunes...some are on private land, others are located on nature preserves and are off-limits to motor vehicles.

Now the fun begins. Why do people drive through sand dunes? Well, because it is fun...and the views are spectacular in some areas. But all this has some down side...sand is difficult to drive in and is hard on the equipment. Sand gets everywhere...The Jeep Geek still doesn’t know why sand gets in his underwear when out in the dunes...What’s up with that?

The first thing that is needed when driving in sand dunes is the right tires. The secret to success in sand is flotation. You need wide tires with paddle type of tread. Most off-road tires will work fine for this, but the standard on road tires are not going to work here. The next issue is inflation of the tires...they should be aired down to about 12 to 15 lbs. This is to provide a wider footprint. With a wide foot print and paddles to dig in slightly to provide a bit of traction you are almost ready to move forward.

Don’t spin the wheels if possible...keep your speed up to about 15 miles per hour...this means don’t use low range in the transfer case. Let the traction control system (brakes) do their job. Lockers on your Rubicon won’t engage in 4 wheel high, so don’t use them. Of course, don’t stop unless you need to do so to prevent hitting something. If you stop, you will likely sink down to your axles and get stuck. This is especially true if you stop while going up hill. Starting on sand while going up hill will cause you to dig into the sand bank. It is better (if you have to stop) to turn downhill before you stop. If you are on the beach, turn toward the ocean...the sand there is a bit firmer.

Keep moving if possible, but sometimes you just have to stop, and you get stuck. In that situation you have the opportunity to dig yourself out. Here are a couple of tips that may help. First, you will have to dig out the areas in
front of all four tires. Move forward slowly and turn your steering wheel back and forth to find some bit of traction to climb up out of the mess. This will only work some of the time. If this doesn’t get you out, you will have to resort to some thing else.

One method to increase traction in sand is to pour water on the sand in front of your tires...assuming you have something more than the bit of drinking water you normally carry. Experienced Jeepers carry two 5 gallon Jerry cans...one with gas and one with water. If this approach isn’t going to work for you, either because you tried it and it failed, or you don’t have enough water, then you can put a blanket or some other cloth on the ground in front of the tires and drive over that. This will likely tear up what ever you put down, but it is better than an unplanned long hike back to civilization in the desert. (If you have to walk out...do so at night...remember you won’t carry enough drinking water to make it out in the day time.)

Another useful device to have if you are sanding is a sand anchor. This can be connected to your winch and you may be able to extract yourself with this. Pull-pal makes a good one and this looks like a combination of an anchor with a couple of shovel heads attached. Don’t bother trying to hammer a pipe or stick into the sand to pull you out...it won’t hold, but the sand anchor will dig in and probably hold the weight of your Jeep.

Once you are finished playing in the sand and you are back home, time to get rid of all the sand...this is vitally important and a lot of work. First use compressed air and blow the sand out of the interior of the Jeep. (Did The Jeep Geek mention it gets everywhere?) Then use a high pressure hose (or steam cleaner) to get rid of the sand from the exterior of the Jeep...focus on the engine compartment and the whole underside of the Jeep...sand will prematurely wear out bearings and seals...so get it all off. Then the last thing is to do an oil change. Change the air filter(s) and oil filter while you are at it...trust The Jeep Geek...they are all dirty. This is also the time to clean all of your other gear...including your underwear...they are all full of sand. You will find sand for weeks afterward, that’s normal.

Driving on the sand dunes is fun, but will take its toll on your Jeep and on your body. Have a blast, but go prepared. Take the things you will need to recover in sand. Also an important safety tip is to let either the National Park Service or Bureau of Land Management (who ever controls the land where you will be going) know that you are planning to be out there. Set a time when you will contact them to let them know you are safely out of the area. This way someone will know if you are in trouble. You really don’t want to hike out in the desert. If you absolutely have to leave your Jeep, leave a note indicating the direction you are hiking and the time you left your Jeep so rescuers can find you.

Be safe out there and “Tread Lightly”.
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Steering the Course

All modern Jeeps have power steering. This has caused havoc on the trail. OK, maybe havoc is a bit overstated, but manual steering is preferred for off road. Huh, has The Jeep Geek lost his mind? No my friend, enhance your calm and The Jeep Geek will explain.

This is a cautionary tale, you can destroy your steering system on the trail. When we were all in driver’s education, we learned the correct way to steer the vehicle, but then we promptly adopted the wrong approach for the rest of our lives.

The Jeep Geek can still hear the old football coach (who was also the driver’s ed teacher) admonishing him to only turn the steering wheel when the vehicle was moving. The rationale given was that to turn the steering wheel with the vehicle stationary would put flat spots on the tires. Well, The Jeep Geek would like you to know that the most important reason to not turn the wheel on a stationary vehicle off road is to save the steering system.

What often happens is that one of the wheels is against an obstacle...see the last article. If you are stopped, then the obstacle may prevent the wheel from shifting right or left. If you have a power steering equipped vehicle and decide to just turn the wheel in that condition, damage will occur...almost guaranteed. Maybe you will be lucky and only destroy the wheel...but you could easily damage the steering gear as well. Here’s how that happens...in a non-power steering system, when we turn the wheel and get a significant amount of resistance we stop to see what is wrong...in a power steering equipped vehicle we don’t get this feedback and the system generates so much power that things can go snap without further warning.

If the vehicle is moving (even slowly) and the steering wheel is turned into an obstacle, the Jeep will attempt to climb the obstacle and you will get feedback when a corner of the Jeep rises...humm, something is over there.

So back to coach (whatever his name was). Only turn the steering wheel when you are moving...or face the repair bills if you have power steering. And, yes, non-power steering is better for off road...but more work in town. So The Jeep Geek is glad The Hummer Recovery Vehicle is equipped with power steering as he spends more time driving in town than on the trails...but he is cautious with the steering wheel off road.
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Rocks on the Trail

On the subject of trail damage...how did we get to trail damage? The Jeep Geek has no idea, just kinda came to him today. He was meditating on some rocks and was inspired to write this article.

There are so many ways to damage a Jeep out on the trail. Most people think of body damage, fender damage, drive line damage, but one of the most common is tire damage. This type of damage is usually caused by those damned rocks. The good news is this damage can largely be avoided if you know what to look for on the trail.

Finding a line is the key to successfully navigating any obstacle on the trail. Looking for that path that prevents scraping the bottom of the body, suspension components, differential covers, or dragging off the muffler involves looking for large protrusions. Once found, the careful driver will make sure he places his wheels over the center of these. If the careful driver’s Jeep has rock rails, then very little damage is likely. Slowly crawling up the rock and slowly moving back down is the key to success here.

Danger does wait out on the trail. It usually is accompanied with warning signs...if you can just read them. Scroll up to the picture at the top of this page and the arrows will show you those signs. What you are looking for is black marks on the rocks where other Jeepers have lost sidewall rubber, or white streaks were they have lost the rims of their wheels. Either bit of damage may require the replacement of the wheel or tire.

Now for the really bad news. If you scrape the side wall of your tire, it could be damaged to the point that it will go flat. You get to enjoy the exercise of replacing a tire out on the trail. Now if you have been doing 5 tire rotations on a regular basis, then the spare tire will be almost the same diameter at the ones on the axles...you can just replace the flat tire and move on in 4 wheel drive mode.

If you have not been doing 5 tire rotations and your spare is brand new and the tires on your axle are worn down significantly, then you have a lot more work to do...you will have to make sure that the oversized tire is placed on the front axle and you will have to limp home in 2 wheel drive mode. Having two different sized tires on a driven axle will place considerable strain on the axle and transfer case.

Here’s the really bad news...it is usually the back tire that scrapes these evil rocks...your spotter usually gets the line correct for your front tire, but often they neglect to watch the rear wheels.

Keep your eyes peeled, look for those low rocks with black marks and make sure you place the wheel directly on top of these, or steer completely around them if possible.

Remember this, if you damage a tire and have to replace it, the cost will be between $200 and $300...most of the time, you will have to buy 4 or 5 tires at this time to make sure they are all the same diameter...so multiply the tire cost by 4 or 5.

The plastic fenders on your Jeep cost between $200 and $300...and don’t have to be replace if they are scraped...you can just live with the Colorado Pin-striping. So, it is better to take a line that might scrape the fender then the wheel.

Any way, that’s The Jeep Geek’s two cents.

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Manual vs. Automatic

The battle lines have been drawn for decades and now The Jeep Geek wades into the fray. Many beginning Jeepers have asked The Jeep Geek if they should purchase a Wrangler with automatic transmission manual transmission. The answer he gives is:...well it depends.

If you want to roar down city (or country) roads like a bat-out-of-hell, then the Jeep Geek recommends a corvette (ok...just kidding The Jeep Geek wanted to see if you were paying attention). The Jeep Geek recommends a manual transmission. This is because you can pick shift points that are at the top of the torque curve. In addition most of the power boosting engine mods available for the Wrangler only work well on manual transmissions. Apparently the automatic transmission computer tends to de-tune the engine performance a bit which wipes out any gains made by opening up the breathing of the engine.

The Jeep Geek recommends the automatic transmission if the new Jeeper wants to do some off-roading with their new Wrangler. Huh? Automatic is better for off-road? Yup. The rumbling sound you hear is old Jeepers turning over in their graves.

The key issue on off-road use is control. Slow and easy, carefully executed maneuvers yield the desired result, getting over an obstacle with a minimum of damage to the Jeep (and the ego of the driver).

So given slow is good when rock crawling, lets examine what that looks like on the trail. When you start going over a rock you are going to be moving slow as you climb it...however once your wheel gets to the upper portion of a large rock (or small boulder) it will pick up speed if you aren’t using your brake. Going down the back side of a rock requires just as much slow going as the front side. If you allow the Jeep to lurch forward as you transition to the back side of a rock, you will allow the Jeep to slam down on the rock and this is a potential cause of damage to your Jeep. So rock crawling requires one foot on the gas pedal and one on the brake. In a manual transmission you will also need one on the clutch. (not really, The Jeep Geek will explain in a few moments).

It is just a lot easier to rock-crawl with one foot on the brake and one on the gas. Then you can control speed on obstacles a lot easier. Yes, you do have a hand brake, but that activates only rear wheels, and your hands are going to be busy on the steering wheel as you are crawling...don’t use the hand brake unless you stall and need to restart the engine.

So is it even possible to rock-crawl with a manual...yes. The technique is similar to crawling with an automatic, one foot on the gas and one foot on the brake. It is a bit more difficult to do this without stalling, but stalling your Jeep is not the end of the world. If you do stall, just apply the parking brake (so you don’t slip off the rock), take your left foot off the brake and put it on the clutch and restart the engine...let the clutch out slowly as you release the hand brake...then get that left foot back on the brake.

So what about heel-toe technique with the brake and gas pedal? Leave that for your roadsters out on country roads. It is just too dangerous on the trail. You need to concentrate on keeping the vehicle moving (slowly) and riding the brake is the best way to keep things from getting out of control. (Things can get away from you fast on the trail.)

So what do you do if you bought a manual transmission Wrangler and you want to go off-road? Learn the technique above and have a ball out there. Don’t beat yourself up if you find you are restarting the Jeep often as you learn the technique.

Which transmission is right for you? The one you enjoy driving most. Both choices are good, personal preferences should dictate. Just don’t think that with an automatic you are somehow impaired off-road.
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Winching

A winch is a handy device to add to your Jeep. It is useful in a number of circumstances that you will face on the trail. The Jeep Geek has mentioned that it is useful when fording a stream, but this picture (above) shows another application.

Here the driver has determined that the trail is too slippery to drive. The ice on the trail may cause the Jeep to skid off the trail and careen down the hill. A carefully located tree strap and the winch line are placed on the high side of the trail. The driver then carefully draws the Jeep forward with the winch and if there is any slippage then the winch line keeps the Jeep on the trail.

So a winch is useful when there just isn’t enough traction to overcome an obstacle. Other circumstances include steep grades, boulders, muddy trail, sand, and as mentioned...ice on the trail. It is also useful when the Jeep is stuck...self recovery...Or when the Jeeper encounters another vehicle that is stuck (probably not another jeep).

The Jeep Geek has seen several cases where an off-roader has broken an axle because the driver didn’t winch over an obstacle. They instead rocked the vehicle back and forth by shifting the transmission between 1st gear and reverse. This maneuver places strain on not only the axles, but the entire drive line...it is possible to blow out a U-joint or damage the clutch. These hapless drivers find that a winch is about the same cost as replacing an axle or drive shaft, and then the next time they have more off-road capability with a winch. These drivers feel especially dumb when they already have a winch installed and didn’t use it.

So what type of winch is needed? What size? Where should it be mounted?

Well The Jeep Geek recommends at least a 9500lbs winch (even though the Wrangler is only about 4000lbs. The reason for this is the rating of the winch is measured directly at the bottom of the spool. Each wrap of the winch line derates the pulling capacity...if you have 4 wraps of line on the spool, the spool diameter is greater and the pulling capacity is only about 6500lbs. It is best to have a bit of over-capacity when winching so a rule of thumb is to ensure that the weight of the vehicle represents 60% of the winch capacity. This prevents burning out the winch and also have the capacity to over come drag (from the frame dragging along rocks) and suction (that may be present in mud).

The most common type of winch available today is an electric winch that runs on 12V electric power of the Jeep. There are some power-takeoff types still out there, these run on a pulley that is driven by the engine, but these are rare and not really as useful as an electric winch since the engine must be running to operate the winch.

As far as where to mount the winch, most are mounted on the front bumper, however The Jeep Geek has seen some that are mounted on a trailer tow receiver hitch that can be mounted on both the front and rear bumper. The rationale for this approach is that sometimes the Jeep is facing the wrong direction to permit effective winching in a recovery mode. While this is certainly an inventive approach, there are other techniques that permit winching out of such a situation. With the hitch receiver mounted winch, the user should be aware that a winch is very heavy and it is nontrivial to haul this winch to the other side of the Jeep and mount it for action.

So a word on the bumper is needed here. There is no place to mount a winch on the factory bumper of a JK vintage Jeep, so an off-road bumper with winch mounting plate is needed. Older Wranglers have steel bumpers that can support a winch. Regardless of the vintage of Jeep it is vital that the winch be mounted on a surface that is securely attached to the frame of the Jeep otherwise damage to the bumper or body of the Jeep is possible (read probable).

Now safety is an important topic to cover in winching. If the winch has steel cable installed on the spool, you should be aware that force is loaded on steel cable. What this means is that the steel cable holds this force and if the cable breaks it will whip back with extreme speed and force. This can cause severe injury if someone is hit by the cable. The Jeep itself can also be damaged if the cable hits it. It is always a good idea to place something over the cable such as a heavy blanket or coat over the winch line to dampen the force in the event of breakage. Also, the winch line should be periodically inspected for rust which will weaken the line.

Most winches have a remote control unit that permits the operator to stand away from the winch to prevent injury if the line should break. Keep your eyes and ears open when winching so you will know if and when the cable breaks.

The Jeep Geek recommends that the steel cable be replaced with synthetic line. There are a couple of advantages for this. First, synthetic line does not load like steel cable. This means that if a synthetic like breaks it will just drop harmlessly without whipping back at the operator. Also it is lighter than steel cable and the lighter you make your bumper, the more clearance in the front you will enjoy.

Another safety consideration is to always wear heavy leather work gloves when working with the winch line as individual strands of the cable can break and cut your hands. Always keep a pair of gloves in your winch accessory kit.

On the subject of an accessory kit...there are a few items you should carry in your Jeep if you have a winch. You should have a tree strap so that you can attach to a tree as an anchor point without damaging the tree. (Never loop the winch line around an object and place the hook on the winch line. This will damage the line by placing severe force on a small portion of the line.) You should also have a recovery strap that can be placed on one of the tow hooks of the Jeep for pulling another vehicle out of trouble. A recovery strap is a long length of fabric or synthetic material that does not load like steel cable. Also a snatch block should be part of your kit. A snatch block is basically a pulley that can double the capacity of your winch and is useful for recovering a vehicle that is heavier than your Jeep (such as a pickup truck). It is also useful for maintaining direction if your recovery requires you to make a sharp turn in direction during the recovery.

As you can see, having a winch will enable you to traverse terrain that might not be possible without some assistance. This will allow you to go further down the trail and discover something that others will miss due to a lack of equipment or tech
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Fording...a Primer

Safe fording is about technique and a little common sense. In the previous articles we have talked about equipment and the picture above illustrates the drawback of a cold air intake...if this Rubicon had a cold air intake system it would be sucking water into the engine. However the OEM air box draws air from the top of the engine compartment near the front right hood latch. Obviously a snorkel mounted above the hood would make this particular crossing even safer...so would a change in technique.

No river or stream should be forded until you walk through your intended path. You are going to get wet...get over it. There are a couple of reasons for walking the path. First and most importantly is that you want to verify the depth and speed of the water. If the water is moving so fast that you can’t walk it...your jeep will be swept downstream. If the water gets too deep, then you will destroy your engine. Since water depth and speed can’t be judged from a distance, you have to get wet to make sure that your line is going to work.

Secondly, the safest way to cross a stream or narrow river is to winch your jeep across. Yup, walk across the stream out-hauling your winch line and secure it to a large tree or rock. Then wade back, put your transfer case in neutral, turn off the engine, and release the break. Winch across and there is almost no chance of damaging your Jeep. This approach won’t work if the stream or river is wide, current is rapid, or there is nothing to put your tree strap on. However where possible this is the way to go.

So at what angle should you cross a stream? For years we where told that we should cross at about a 45 degree angle, more or less in line with the current...the rationale was to present less sail area for the current. All this is well and good, now the tread lightly folks are telling us to cross at a 90 degree angle...the rationale being that this more acute angle is easier on the stream habitats.

Here’s the thing. The Jeep Geek feels you should cross at an angle that is determined by the trail. So if the trail is a 90 degree crossing, cross at 90 degrees, if the crossing is at 45 degrees, then cross at 45 degrees. This approach will prove the least impactful to the environment. The Jeep Geek is a fan of Stay the Trail Colorado and recommends that off-roaders stay on existing jeep trails whenever possible.

A final word...The Jeep Geek has watched the new 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee ads with a great deal of interest and pride. This vehicle is going to be a real game changer for Jeep. However, one of the commercials scares the cr@p out of The Jeep Geek. It is the one that shows the Grand Cherokee blasting through the stream, throwing water over the hood. If you do this with your Jeep, you will find yourself facing a very high repair bill when water is sucked down the intake, into an engine cylinder. The cylinder will explode making a very loud bang and blowing the head off that side of the engine, breaking the crank shaft and sending fragments of the cylinder walls into other parts of the engine.

Any river or stream ford should be done slowly...just like the one pictured above. If you are splashing water up, then you are in danger of a many thousand dollar repair bill.
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Snorkels may be the Solution

In previous articles The Jeep Geek observed that a drawback of a supercharger or cold air intake is that it reduces the ability of the Jeep to ford rivers. So how can a Jeeper who loves to ford still get the power increase that they want?

The Jeep Geek has carefully researched this vexing question and has come up with two solutions. One solution is a technique discussion that will comprise the next article, but for this article we will look at an equipment solution.

The solution to having the air intake too low is to raise it. Yes, The Jeep Geek knows that this is obvious. Here is how to do it.

Use a snorkel. Here is the catch...sigh...there is always a catch. Most snorkels on the market are not cold air intakes...in other words they use the OEM air box and just connect a longer pipe to the intake port on the top of the air box. This approach won’t allow for the performance gains we have been talking about since it will continue to restrict the input side air flow.

However, Volant has created a combination cold air intake and snorkel that replaces the OEM air box and opens the input side nicely. The Jeep Geek has included a picture of a Jeep that has been modified with the Volant Snorkel.

While this approach should provide both the performance gains that come with a cold air intake or supercharger, it will also provide protection while fording by lifting the intake to a position at the top of the Jeep...say 72 inches above the ground (or more if you have lifted your Jeep).

So will the maximum depth that you can ford suddenly become 72 inches just by adding this snorkel?
No. There are other limitations such as the electrical system and...of course the ability of the driver to breath under water. What the Snorkel will do is prevent the dramatic engine damage when water is sucked into the intake system. If the electrical system gets flooded, it is just a matter of drying the system out and you are on the road again...a cheap fix. The Jeep drive line, electrical system, and passenger compartment are somewhat water resistant...but your Jeep is not a submarine.

So are there any drawbacks to the snorkel...is this the perfect solution? Sorry, no, not perfect. Adding the snorkel will require more cutting on the hood of your Jeep. If you have added the Avenger supercharger as we discussed in a previous article, then you are getting to the point where there is not a lot of the original hood left. Aside from the modifications to the hood, the Volant snorkel has a flexible section in the snorkel pipe to allow the Jeep hood to be opened, however it will require a bit more work and will not open as widely as an un-modified hood. This is more of an issue for the friendly technician who works on your Wrangler as they usually lean the hood on the windshield to get it out of the way. They won’t be doing that with this setup.
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