5 Things You Must Check Before Off Roading
We may be slightly biased…
But there’s nothing like Off Roading. From the thrill of the drive, to being in nature with friends and family, it’s truly a magical experience. With a combined 25+ years of wheeling lessons, we’ve broken down the 5 things you MUST check before Off Roading. Here’s our list:
1. Check The 4×4:
Having your 4×4 working may be the most important part of hitting the trails. Before you head out, make certain you rig engage, and disengage your 4WD. You don’t want to undertake this test after spending an entire day travelling just to find out its not working. If you have lockers, this is a good time to ensure they’re fully functional, too. Remember, going wheeling in 2WD just isn’t the same!
2. Inspect the Rubber:
You wouldn’t go hiking in flip flops, so there’s no reason to head out on the trails with bad tires – to do so is a recipe for disaster. Be sure all tires are inflated to the proper highway-speed pressure as recommended by your vehicle manufacturer. Yes, you’re going to air down when you get to the trail, but you don’t want a head start on low tire pressure.
For this assessment, you must check your tires for signs of cracking. One common place for these fractures is between each lug along the wheel sidewall. If there’s no signs of cracking, you’ll want to begin a tread depth analysis. On mud tires, you are going to want at least 4/32 to 6/32 of depth for proper traction.
In addition to the assessing the tread, you can use this time to identify potential areas of your tires with uneven wear. To avoid uneven tire wear, we highly recommend rotating your tires every 3000 miles/5000 km. No need for the criss-cross type rotation. Simply switch your rear tires to the front and move front tires to the back, no switching sides. You also don’t need to rotate in your spare.
3. Top up Fluids:
Assessing the items listed below may seem more obvious than our other choices, but you’d be surprised just how often they get overlooked. Here’s the list:
- Motor Oil
- Windshield, Power Steering, and Brake fluid
- ATF and Gear Oil
When inspecting, ensure none of the oils are compromised with mud or dirt. With a quick look, you can also identify any potential leaks. Trail rides can take anywhere from 30 minutes to a week (maybe longer in some cases). Plus, you are “Off Road,” so you’ll likely end up far away from supplies. A leak or malfunction in any of these components could be detrimental to your trip. One way to mitigate this (in addition to inspections) is to bring extra supplies for your vehicle; especially if you’re Overlanding!
4. Belts and Hoses:
We’re going to get a little more technical here…
Don’t worry if you don’t fully understand (that’s what we’re here for). If you’re serious about off roading and minimizing impact on your vehicle, you’ll need to check your belts and hoses. There are two options with this inspection: work with professionals like ourselves, or do it alone. We strongly recommend the first one, but if you’re going to tackle it yourself, here’s how you can:
- Pop the hood and have a good look around the engine bay.
- Locate the Lower Radiator Hose (close to the elements) and the Upper Rad Hose. Inspect them for cracks, splits, hardness and rusty or broken clamps.
- The Alternator/Water-Pump and Power Steering Pump are all on a single belt called a “Serpentine Belt,” check this part for cracks along the side and down the middle. Take note of how old this belt is. We recommend changing it every 5 years or 60,000kms. Be sure to keep the old one with you; it can act as a spare on your excursion.
5. Check your Running Gear:
Similar to tip number 4, this is something we strongly recommend using a licensed technical professional for. These checks, if not done properly, could lead to serious or fatal harm of yourself, or someone else. However, if you’re going to perform them yourself, it’s vital you do it right. We’ve broken down the phases of each assessment. Note: these are summarized versions for education purposes and shouldn’t be mistaken for how-to guides. The component breakdown is as follows:
Ball Joints: For this, you’ll need a pry bar. Next, identify the lower control arm and steering knuckle (C knuckle). You should see a Ball Joint connecting them. Once you properly located these parts, check for any play, or up and down movement. If they move more than slightly, you will need to replace the Ball Joints. On a Solid Axle, we recommend to replace both the Upper and Lower Joints if you’ve identified a bad Ball Joint. The cost of doing all repairs at once is less than doing them in phases. Plus, if one has already failed, the others will likely follow suit. However, if your vehicle is IFS, then we would recommend changing the failed parts only because the Upper and Lower Joints are independent.
Steering: This inspection requires two people. First, the vehicle needs to be elevated (both wheels off the ground). Once secured safely, one person is to place their hands at 9:00 and 3:00 O’clock. From there, they should begin to rock the Tire back and forth repeatedly. While they are doing this, the second person should be assessing the joints and Tire Rod ends for excessive free play. If you identify this unnatural movement, then you will need to acquire new Tire Rods, and perform a front-end alignment.
Wheel Bearings: Like the steering examination, you’ll have to elevate the front passenger Side Wheel. Once the vehicle is secured, place your hands at 12:00 and 6:00 O’clock. Rock the Tire up and down to identify excessive free play. If you feel it, then you’ll want to get a new set of Wheel Bearings.
Drive Shafts: With the vehicle secured in park (in a safe location and wheels chocked), make your way under while laying on your back. Locate the ends of the Drive Shaft at the Differential and Transfer Case Yokes. Start at either end of the Rig or Shaft. Grab the Shaft with one hand and rock it back and forth. If you feel any end play within the U-Joints, that’s a red flag. If everything is firm, the Joints are still acceptable! If you have a Driveline Vibe and perform this inspection while identifying no end play, chances are you have a seized U-Joint. This will require a replacement.
When you’re hitting the trails, it’s essential everything is done right. As mentioned in multiple sections, we strongly recommend having this done by qualified professionals with real experience. A failure in any inspections could lead to serious, or potentially fatal consequences. We really don’t mean to scare you, we just want you to enjoy the trails and do it right!
By using this list, you’re not going to be “that guy,” you know – the one who destroys the entire trip experience because of equipment failure that was preventable. You only get so much time in the bush, so lets make the most out of it. Happy wheeling everyone!