4x4 and Truck

Driving on Water.

Friday, December 8th, 2006

What do Icelandic Jeeps and snowmobiles have in common? Well they can both drive on water of course. Iceland is a very bizarre place. In the 4×4 world, Icelanders are known for building up mammoth trucks with giant wide wheels to stay on top of the snow, and take them on expeditions across the frozen tundra. They are also known for building up wildly powerful tube frame Jeeps, pointing them at hair razing hills, and trying to power their way to the top. The sport is called Formula Off Road.


Well the guys over at Top Gear, and one of the Formula Off Roaders found another use for their race Jeep, driving it across a lake. On the first take they simply prove the theory that the Jeep can drive on water. The second time around the driver decides to race a snowmobile.
Good stuff.

-Bill Mertz

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Gearing Up: Choosing the proper gears for your 4×4 is an important decision

Sunday, December 3rd, 2006

Over the last 6 months I’ve been toying with the idea of regearing my Jeep CJ7. The CJ came stock with some really high (numerically low) 2.73:1 ring and pinion gears in the axles. In ‘86 Jeep was trying to give the CJ a fuel-efficiency boost by putting these gears in the front and rear pumpkins matched with a 5 speed transmission. While my jeep does get surprisingly good mileage, it is a bit of a dog when doing freeway passing, and the gears are really too tall to do any sort of mildly difficult off-roading without riding the clutch a bit.

My Jeep now has a more modern fuel injected 4.0 motor installed in it and gets roughly 18mpg around town and 20-24mpg highway. But I find that driving on the freeway I spend as much if not more time in 4th gear than I do in fifth. Overall I would like a vehicle that can cruise comfortably on the freeway and have decent acceleration and be able to creep around rocks and dirt in low range at a fairly slow rate.

Being the “do now think later” kind of person that I am, I immediately found a good deal on 4.56:1 gear set for my Dana 30 front axle on eBay and snatched it up, figuring I could find a similar deal on the same gear set for the rear. At the time my thinking (or lack there of) was lower is better, and I had heard other 4×4 guys throw this number (4.56) around a lot. Only after the gears arrived did I start wondering what type of rpm my motor would be spinning at freeway speed with these gears installed. This is when I discovered a great internet device called the gear calculator.

There are several different gear calculators on the internet but any of the good ones will let you plug in variables like axle gearing, transfer case gearing, transmission gearing and tire size in order to calculate your crawl ratio, freeway rpm etc.. This is an incredibly useful tool in helping you figure out your ideal gearing. With my current setup, 31″ tires, 2.73:1 rear end gears, .86:1 5th gear my jeep turns 1,654 rpm at 65mph. In 4th gear at 65mph it turns 1,923 rpm. To get a little more freeway pep I would like my motor to be spinning closer to 2,000 rpm in 5th gear, in other words similar rpm to what I’m seeing in 4th gear now. But I also plan on jumping to larger diameter tires, 33 inchers, which means I have to factor this into my regearing.

Here’s a link to a great gear calculator: http://www.grimmjeeper.com/gears.html

After plugging all the numbers into the gear calculator I find that 4.56:1 gears are in fact a bit too low. They would put my engine rpm just over 2,500 at 65mph. But 4.10:1 gears would be right in the neighborhood of where I want to be, roughly 2,300 rpm at 65mph. Still a little on the low side, but definitely livable. My overall crawl ratio, which is the lowest possible combination of gearing (low range in first gear), will also drop dramatically from its current 28.71:1 to a much lower 43.13:1. This should make difficult off-road climbs and descents a bit easier to tackle adding some real 4×4 prowess to the old CJ.

Steep and rocky ascents are much easier to conquer with the added benefit of lower gearing.

If my Jeep wasn’t a daily driver I would consider going even lower with the gears, but since it sees a lot of freeway time it looks like 4.10 gears are the way to go. Be sure and do your research before you spend big bucks on regearing. Things like tires, transmissions and how you use your truck will drastically change what the gears are ideal for your setup. Be smart and use the gear calculator first and you will thank yourself later. If not you may end up like me; anyone want to buy a brand new set of Dana 30 4.56 gears? I’ll cut you a good deal on them.

-Bill Mertz

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Jeepers Creepers

Tuesday, November 28th, 2006

I’ve never owned a car that didn’t rattle and squeak a little, but even I have my limits. My Jeep has always put out a good rattle on the freeway. With mud tires that are always going out of balance, it seems that 4th gear causes an ash tray full of change to start singing right around 2000 rpm. In the past I would just live with these rattles, but after swapping a modern fuel-injected motor into my CJ7 I decided that the Jeep deserved to be treated a little better, so I started going after each rattle I heard.
My 1986 Jeep CJ7. I can just hear it squeaking.

Chasing rattles is no easy task but after tightening loose bolts, lubing grease fittings, adding shims to doors, and sticking empty matchbooks in windows I eventually got the rattles to a minimum. Of course, that’s when the mother of all rattles decided to strike. While driving on the freeway I heard a noise that sounded like a chipmunk caught in a washing machine. It was shrill, loud, and horrible. I limped home very cautiously fearing a mechanical problem, but after an extremely thorough vehicle inspection I found nothing. Worse yet the rattle seemed to occur completely at random.

More tightening and lubing proved futile. Just when I thought I found the source and fixed it, the chipmunks would sing their siren song. So I decided to give up and just live with it. It wasn’t a mechanical problem so there was no real danger, only a foul sound in my ear. After a month of looking the other way toward my death rattle, the sound has completely vanished. It was almost as if someone was trying to get me angry and when they found out it wasn’t working they simply gave up.
I’m sure there is a lesson to be learned in all of this, but I have no idea what it is… perhaps it’s as simple as: “why don’t you just leave well enough alone?”

-Bill Mertz

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Gordon Wins the Baja 1000. Next up Dakar?

Monday, November 20th, 2006

Robby Gordon leaving Ensenada.

Early Friday morning in Baja Mexico Robby Gordon’s team crossed the finish line in first place making it his 3rd Baja 1000 victory. Gordon drove the first 725 miles of the race in the Red Bull/Toyo Tires sponsored Chevy CK1500 pickup truck before handing the reigns over to co-driver Andy McMillan who brought the truck across the finish line. The team finished the grueling event in 19 hours 15 minutes and 27 seconds. Gordon was forced to leave Mexico a little early in order to get in some practice that same day for NASCAR’s Nextel Cup Championship final in Florida on Sunday.
Gordon takes flight in his H3 during testing for Dakar.
The outspoken and multi-tasking Robby Gordon is also scheduled to run the Paris to Dakar race with his Baja 1000 navigator Andy Grider in January. Gordon did not enjoy much success in the monstrously difficult Dakar event last year, but is hoping to put together a good showing with his Toyo Tire shod H3 Hummer in the upcoming race; possibly becoming the first ever American effort to capture the overall title in the Dakar Rally.

-Bill Mertz

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Turn Your Jeep Wrangler into a Truck.

Monday, November 13th, 2006

Photo courtesy of American Expedition Vehicles.
American Expedition Vehicles (AEV) is company that takes OEM Jeeps and transforms them into unique and extremely functional off road vehicles. What makes AEV extra cool is that the finished product looks like it rolled right out of the Jeep factory. With versions of the TJ that include a shortened wheelbase model, an extended wheelbase model which the current Wrangler Unlimited was largely based on, and even a TJ stuffed with 5.7 liter Hemi V8, it should come as no surprise that AEV has now developed a truck version of the TJ.

1984-2001 Jeep Cherokee

Saturday, November 11th, 2006

When I started the Fun and Affordable Cars section of this blog I initially intended to profile sports cars, sports sedans and wagons, but after a little thought I decided to include a few truck/4×4 type vehicles because hey, they can be fun and affordable too. And that brings me to the Jeep Cherokee.

Busting Pickup Truck Myths

Friday, November 10th, 2006

Recently the lads on Discovery Channel’s hit show Mythbusters revisited a myth about pickup trucks and optimal gas mileage. The myth in question was this: pickup trucks get better gas mileage with the tailgate down then with it up. Well the first time they tried it out they totally busted the myth. By hooking up a flow-meter to the fuel line to accurately measure fuel consumption the Mythbusters proved that the reverse was true; a pickup truck gets better mileage with the tailgate up then with it down. Apparently viewers weren’t satisfied with the results the first time around and provoked Adam and Jamie into trying it again.

Ragtop For Your Pickem up Truck

Friday, November 10th, 2006

My sister has a 2004 Toyota Tacoma extra cab 4×4. She bought the truck because she is a die hard snowboarder and wanted a vehicle that she could throw her gear in the back of and drive up to the mountains without having to chain up. The truck suits her needs perfectly.

Recently she has been debating whether or not to get a shell or a bed cover for the back in order to keep the large items that she can’t fit in the cab dry when she is in the snow and rain. She also thought it might give a little added theft protection. However, she also uses the truck to haul bigger items like couches (and scooters when I borrow the truck) which wouldn’t fit under a shell and certainly not under a bead cover.
One possible option was a retractable bed cover that rolls up like a window shade, this allows the bed to be covered or open with little difficulty, but limits you to the height of the bed for any items that you want to stow under the cover. It also doesn’t allow you to sleep comfortably in the back of your truck if you happen to be camping in the rain. She didn’t like the limitation and opted to keep a stock open bed. Then I found the perfect solution for her.

Earlier this year Bestop released a new version of its Supertop soft top for the Toyota Tacoma as well as many other mid-sized trucks. When erected the top looks similar to a hard shell enclosing the entire bed, but unlike a hard shell it can be folded out of the way in seconds or completely removed without much difficulty. The top features a super durable fabric design that is completely water tight and UV resistant. The side and rear windows, which can be ordered in clear or tinted form, zip out easily and can be replaced with mesh screens or left open for things like dog-hauling duty, or camping on a warm night.
Click on the pic to read an installation write-up by Off-Road Adventurers
Overall I really like this unit. I’ve seen a few up close and I think they look and function great. I’m sure with heavy snow use the windows will eventually cloud up, but replacements are easy to come by and can be zipped right into place. Probably the biggest downside is that a soft top doesn’t provide much theft protection. Since this is not a big concern for my sister, I’m pretty sure this top will be on her Christmas list this year. If Santa doesn’t bring her one, she can easily afford to buy it for herself with prices around $500. Kudos to Bestop on a well built and well thought out product.
-Bill Mertz

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Changing of Seasons

Thursday, November 9th, 2006

Most people from outside of California (and some from here) don’t think the Bay Area has real seasons. The climate is so temperate, that its sort of stays the same all year round. Well I disagree. We do have a mild climate, but as soon as you try owning an open-top vehicle, especially a Jeep, you will appreciate the Bay Area’s seasons. In the summer I can drive around in a t-shirt, shorts and flip flops with no doors or top on my Jeep and be pretty comfortable. Spring and early fall usually require doors and a bikini top (like a soft targa roof that covers the front 2 seats). Later in fall and in really early spring your hands and feet start to get numb if you don’t blast the heater, and a beanie, long pants, hooded sweatshirt and scarf are a must. Winter, you basically need a ski suit, and you are still cold, unless you have the hard top on, in which case it is possible to be luke-warm.
CJ7 with bikini top fitted.

Today I put the fiberglass hardtop back onto my Jeep CJ7. This is usually about the time that I do it every year depending on things like rainfall and temperature. I was actually doing pretty well with the top off until a recent bout of showers got me thinking. The capper was last night when I woke up at 3:30 AM and heard the light patting of rain. You see normally if I know rain is coming I will cover the Jeep with a tarp, but this rain was unexpected. The CJ’s electrical system, namely the horn, has been known to short out when in the open rain setting the horn off at full-volume until such time that the police arrive at my door. So as soon as I heard the rain I ran outside in my boxer shorts in the wee hours of the morning and put a plastic-bag over the steering wheel to keep the horn-button dry. The next morning as I woke up feeling groggy and terrible I knew the top needed to go back on the Jeep.

Putting the top on is a relatively simple task. It takes two or three people, depending on spinach intake, to lift it onto the Jeep; then you simply fasten it to the body with about 8 bolts. It takes about a half hour including a 15 minute beer brake. But for some reason I dread doing this job. I don’t know if it’s because putting the top on means the end of nice sun-shiny days, or because there will be no papers that I needed to file my taxes flying out of my vehicle. Maybe it is the musty smell that the Jeep develops every winter from small leaks and lack of adequate ventilation. Whatever it is putting the top on sucks.
But once it is on the car is transformed to a vehicle I can use every day; a vehicle where I can feel the heat from the heater and actually hear the radio (if it had one). And you know, when I first put the top on each year, I even like the looks of the CJ a little better. Of course the exact same is true when I take the top off every year. So for now I will try to enjoy the closed-roof Jeep experience until next spring when I will undoubtedly take the top off to early and get rained on for a month.
-Bill Mertz

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Awesome Vehicle from Down Under

Thursday, November 2nd, 2006

I swear, Aussie’s have all the cool toys. I was browsing around on Ford’s Australian website to see what we were missing out on here in the States and I found a vehicle to make me drool. The Ford Falcon Ute is part compact truck and part Ford Mustang. Based on the Australian Ford Falcon sedan platform which seems to be very similar to the Ford Mustang platform, the Ute is a compact rear-drive pickup that I would love to own.

It seems that here in the States true compact pickups are getting harder and harder to find. Even the Toyota Tacoma has grown a little portly. And when you do find a small pickup, they seldom come with a power plant that you could describe as fun. Enter the Falcon Ute. With enough cargo room to put a motorcycle in the bed, the Ute is a very practical size. It also has some great engine and transmission options to make it a fun little truck. The Ute comes standard with a 24 valve twin-cam 6 cylinder that puts out a respectable 260 horsepower. Not enough, well how about a 300 horse 5.4 liter V8. Still not enough; well then try the turbo Ute’s 335 horsepower turbo charged inline 6. Guess what, there is more. The Ute XR8 offers a Boss V8 that puts out an impressive 356 horsepower. Now that is a lot of options and frankly all of them sound pretty good, especially in a relatively small rear-drive setup.
The Falcon Ute harkens back to the Ford Falcon Ranchero of the 60’s. We have a 1963 Falcon Ranchero as our shop truck and it is a really great vehicle. Small enough to park but big enough to hall parts, it can be used to tow or with its 289 V8 you could take it to the Wednesday night drag races. Imagining a modern version of the Ranchero with a smoother ride, AC, a 5 or 6 speed transmission and more power makes me dizzy.
Why can’t they bring this thing to the US?
-Bill Mertz

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FJ Cruiser to Race at Baja

Thursday, November 2nd, 2006

The Baja 1000 is an epic off-road endurance race that crosses the unforgiving terrain of the Baja peninsula in Mexico. Every year a massive field of cars and trucks ranging from basically stock VW bugs to full-custom tube-frame race trucks gathers at the starting line in Ensenada Mexico to try their luck at becoming an off-road racing hero. On November 15th a new face will join the fray at Baja.
The all new Toyota FJ Cruiser is considered a nostalgia vehicle. Based on the venerable FJ40 Land Cruiser of Toyota’s past, the new cruiser is much more luxury SUV and much less hardcore 4×4 than its ancestor. However, Toyota is out to prove the soft image of the cruiser wrong. A full race truck has been constructed using the FJ Cruiser TRD package as its base. With a full roll cage, fuel cell, upgraded brakes, 4.88 front and rear gears, and a combination of Donahue coil-over’s in the front with Fox Racing shocks in the back, this Cruiser is ready to take on the hard terrain.

Entered in the Mini Stock Class, the FJ Cruiser will be piloted by Pike’s Peak God and off-road racing legend Rod Millen and his son Ryan. With drivers of their status behind the wheel the bar will be set very high for Millen’s team.

The 2006 Baja 1000 runs from November 15th-18th.
-Bill Mertz

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Is your truck a beast? Then you need these…

Thursday, October 26th, 2006

I’m not a big fan of modifications that are purely for aesthetic purposes, especially on 4×4’s. Frankly chrome doodads and shiny whackamadoos don’t really do it for me. But, when someone comes out with a clever product I have to give them credit. Even if it is just aesthetic, Todd Johnson at Primal Effects came up with a pretty cool and original product; Truck Tusks.
yj tusks
Measuring 27 inches long and weighing 13 lbs these giant cast aluminum tusks mount straight to the bumper of your 4×4. Although currently they are only available for Jeep CJs, Wranglers, Toyota FJ40s and Hummers, they look like they would be easy to adapt to other vehicles. Primal Effects is also a burgeoning company and will undoubtedly be expanding their range of products. While the tusks are not meant to be bashed or used as a real off-road bumper, they do look tough and could certainly stand up to bumper duties for day to day driving. And as the folks at Primal say “heads will turn and people will look”.

For more information check out the website yourself.
primal affects
-Bill Mertz

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‘07 Jeep Wrangler, Just Another Jeep?

Friday, October 20th, 2006

Ever since DaimlerChrysler announced its plans to release the 2007 Wrangler JK (replacing the TJ) I’ve read a whole lot of criticism about the new Jeep. Honestly I can’t blame the critics. This Jeep, like most, is really easy to criticize: It isn’t particularly attractive, it has a new unproven V6 engine that is replacing the reliable inline six which has been available in Jeeps in some guise for over 30 years, did I mention it’s not very good looking. Well for the all the straight-six lovers out there all I can say is that change is inevitable. But for those who think the new Wrangler is lacking in the style department I have news for you; THERE ARE NO PRETTY JEEPS. We Jeep owners may like the styling of our Jeeps, but that’s because they belong to us. You don’t here new mothers calling their infants ugly either.

The point of a Jeep, especially the Wrangler, isn’t to be beautiful. The Wrangler was built to be functional, and quite frankly it looks like it will get the job done when the roads get rough. The new motor puts out respectable power figures, the JK still has a solid front axle with coil sprung suspension, and Jeep is still making the Rubicon edition which caters to those who want a rig with more off road prowess right out of the box. It seems to me like the new Wrangler JK will do an excellent job of keeping the Jeep name alive and well with Jeep’s core supporters—off road enthusiasts.
I’m curious to see what other folks think about the new Wrangler.

Wrangler JK
Click to read a full review from JP Magazine.
-Bill Mertz

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About Automotive Blogger

Some people use their automobiles only to get from Point A to Point B. You know there's more than that. You get mad when someone makes a remark about your car that's less than flattering. You get riled when a cool car is destroyed in a straight-to-video movie. You realize when a new car doesn't deserve it's name of a great car of the past. When you see someone driving a boring vehicle, you feel sorry for them. You know it's not the destination that counts - it's the journey. Welcome home gearheads. Welcome home, car freaks. Welcome to the site that fuels your automotive obsession - AutomotiveBlogger.net

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