Practical Tips From the Driver's Seat

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Everybody wants a Jeep that looks good and is highly capable off-road, and after purchasing a new Jeep, the question almost always crosses one’s mind: How should I spend my aftermarket dollars? Lift kit or bigger tires?

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That question gets asked a lot at our classes, and I often hear from my students that they want to run 5+ rated trails…run with the big dogs…yet still have a comfortable daily driver. This is a tall order and many compromises wind up being made. The bigger the tires and taller the lift, the more necessary it becomes to re-gear or re-axle our vehicle. Brake upgrades should be made (especially if it’s a daily driver and driven at highway speeds), and fuel economy becomes an oxymoron that makes it seem like money keeps going into the project in a never-ending cycle.

Somewhere in all of this, most people seldom give any thought to safety. If you really want to run with the big dogs, the best money spent is on a frame-mounted roll cage. Make sure that the seats and harnesses are capable
of protecting you when (not if) you lay your Jeep down, or roll it over, on the trail. Buy quality skid plates for the steering box and other “vital” daily driver components. And finally, ’wheel it smart’. An occasional bypass of a difficult trail, or timely use of a tow strap, is much cheaper than making a bad decision and paying for its consequences. Since we’re on the topic of safe Jeeping, let me share a few of the ground rules we talk about in the parking lot before we hit the trail. Let me stress that this is only a portion of the list, and that common sense has to play a key role in any off-highway adventure.

• Make sure the load is balanced and secured. You cannot become distracted by items bouncing around inside the vehicle while you’re supposed to be paying attention to a tricky section of the trail.

• Air down at the trailhead and shift into 4-Lo before you need it, and air your tires back up upon exit of the trail. Soft, mushy tires are great for trail traction, but cannot safely travel at highway speeds.

• Buckle up, and don’t drink and drive. Just because you’re not on a road, doesn’t mean the law doesn’t apply.

• Take pictures or give advice from a safe distance. I’ve seen photographers and spotters get run over. No one will stand around your coffin saying, “I thought he knew better…”

• No rock surfing. I’m sure you’ve seen burly guys hanging on the bumper or rollbar to help a vehicle over an obstacle. The obvious problem occurs when the vehicle lurches unexpectedly, and the ‘surfers’ experience the inevitable wipe out. Hang onto a towstrap, or try a different approach line.

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