🛻 Driving Off-Road

One of my favorites, going off-road is like a little vacation. I get to see beautiful scenery, sometimes wildlife, and since it requires some concentration, I’m not thinking about other responsibilities. It’s a kick to share with someone else or just enjoy by myself. The important thing is to do it deliberately, not like Tiger Wood.

When going off-road it’s important to prepare for the experience because many things can go wrong. I drive a 2000 Jeep Wrangler TJ and because I take care of it, my 21 year old Jeep is still going strong. It hasn’t had a back seat in years. Since I don’t have a lot of money, many of the things that others add to the outside of their vehicles, I keep inside.

Among these things are my “high lift” jack. I also have an air tank which I fill up before I leave home. And rather than a winch, I have what’s called a “come along”. It’s a little hand operated winch that takes up little space and weighs very little. I can hook it up to the rear, the front or the side of the Jeep, so it’s versatile. You may think that limits me because I cant operate it and drive at the same time, but that’s not exactly true. I have a chain for some added length and more importantly, I have a stretchy, heavy duty nylon tow strap.

One day I got stuck and needed to use the “come along”. All I needed was just a couple more feet of forward movement to get to the place where I could drive without assistance. So I hooked the device to a tree and then to the tow strap, which I hooked to the jeep. Then I cranked the “come along” until the tow strap was stretched very tight, got into the Jeep and the tension I had cranked into the tow strap was enough to pull me forward just enough to get some good traction so I could just drive. WHEW!

I also carry a tool kit and a tire patch kit. The air tank will fill up a patched tire. Binoculars come in handy and one never knows, so I carry a pistol and ammo “just in case”. A cell phone sometimes does not get a signal, but most of the time does. Sturdy shoes/boots, appropriate clothing, water, a blanket, and a folding shovel can come in handy. I also have a flashlight, some matches, a fire extinguisher, a utility knife and a rather large “emergency knife” with a saw blade on one side. Just for pure enjoyment, I have plenty of music on a USB stick.

The Jeep itself is somewhat reasonably equipped. I have skid plates under the oil pan, and the gas tank and “rock sliders” under the rocker panels. The front differential has a “cable locker” to send power to both front wheels at the same time and it has its own HEAVY DUTY cover. The rear differential has a skid plate and an electronic locker to send power to both wheels, so it is a true 4 wheel drive vehicle.

The tires and suspension are quite important. The slightly oversized, knobby tires, and my lower gearing, get power to the wheels more effectively. I also have a smallish “lift” in the suspension, so the bottom of the Jeep will clear rocks, logs & other objects more easily.

The shocks are adjustable. The overall effect of the lift, with longer springs and adjustable shocks, is to make the suspension more flexible. On-road, one usually wants a suspension that will keep a vehicle sitting flat on the road and stiff enough, like a sports car or a racer, to keep it from leaning a lot on corners, . Off-road that is just WRONG. Off-road, one WANTS the suspension to flex - a lot - as much as it needs to, to clear objects. The long springs combined with shocks that will adjust to a softer setting, allow that flex and clearance. With the soft shock setting, the vehicle does not get thrown around by all that flexing.

I have also added some tweaks for more power. A throttle body spacer, high flow air cleaner, and high flow exhaust provide that power while NOT hurting my gas mileage.

Of course all these modifications come in handy in deep snow or mud too. The low range of the normal Jeep power train will let me literally climb fairly steep inclines at an idol. The good old Jeep 4.0 liter, inline 6 cylinder motor with tons of torque, lets me use the clutch at very low RPMs and the result is that after over 165,000 miles, I’m still on my original clutch. Can you tell? I really like my Jeep. Here’s a couple of pretty places I’ve been.

_images/driving-1.pngDriving off road 1

_images/driving-2.pngDriving off road 2

About The Author

Harley Armentrout is a happy husband and father, former silversmith, aerospace electronics prototype assembler, test, calibration & repair technician, also writing test procedures at BallAerospace. Then 21 years in the gaming industry, in a range of positions, culminated as a Gaming Inspector, observing and reporting on rules violations, safety issues and criminal activities for the Yavapai Prescott Indian Tribe. After “retiring” Harley taught himself a few graphic design skills and he works as a freelance designer.