Vehicle Preparations before and after a trip
by Khalid Omar & Imad Ali
Road trips don't require much preparation, but 4×4 trips off the beaten track are a different thing altogether. There is no help available off the highway, so the vehicle has to be in good shape and the driver must be well prepared to deal with any eventuality. Of course, the idea is to avoid breakdowns in the first place, so a number of things have to be looked at when setting out on a 4×4 trip out into the wild.
Things to check before setting out:
- Engine Oil & Filter: If a change is due, it is wise to change it before setting out. The engine goes through a lot more stress in a couple of days offroad than it does in a month onroad, so good engine oil is a must.
- Air Filter: Just inspect it to make sure it's not clogged with dust. A good rule of thumb is to hold it up against the sun - if light shines through, the filter is good. If too much light shines through, then your filter is gone! If you use compressed air to clean a paper filter, point the nozzle at the clean side of the filter no closer than 6" from the media. This will force the dirt out back the same way it came in. If you blow compressed air on the dirty side, it will force the dirt into the filter and enlarge the holes in the media, effectively rendering your air filter useless.
- Gearbox fluid: This isn't easy to check on a manual - usually through a bolt hole about midway up the side of the tranny. Automatic trannies feature a handy dipstick for the tranny fluid. With an auto gearbox, always keep a liter bottle of automatic transmission fluid as spare. (Though generally no one ever checks this...)
- Differential fluid: Check by removing the bolt about halfway up the differential cover, also known as the 'handi' in local lingo. You should be able to dip your finger into the oil. Top it up with the correct viscosity fluid if it is low, at least 90 weight for most differentials, although 140 weight is a better choice for our hot climate. Also make sure the fluid is not contaminated with water. It will look like coffee if it is.
- Radiator: This should have a mixture of Japanese coolant and water. Always keep extra water in the car to top up the radiator. This extra water comes in handy for washing up, bathroom duties, etc.
- Undercarriage greasing: Grease everything which has a grease nipple, especially the driveshafts. Check driveshaft u-joints, popularly known as crosses, and grease them. Carry spare u-joints.
- Undercarriage Nuts and Bolts: Tighten all nuts and bolts, especially the suspension bolts on older vehicles.
- Battery water levels: Better yet, get a maintanence free battery.
- Fan Belts and hosepipes: Take a look at them for obvious cracks or slippage. Fanbelts can loosen over time, so they might need to be tightened up.
- Brakes and clutch: Have a close look at the brake fluid in the reservoir, if it looks blackish in color it's about time you got that serviced before you go offroading, the same goes for the hydraulic clutch cylinder. The black coloring is due to the degradation of the washers and needs your attention.
On getting back, the same things which were checked before setting out should be checked again. A basic to-do upon getting back is:
- Change engine oil and filter, especially if the terrain was taxing on the engine. If not, than just change with the regular cycle.
- Servicing! A high pressure wash is essential.
- If it was very dusty, the air filter should be changed, otherwise just clean it out with compressed air.
List of essential spares:
- Hosepipes: Make sure they are the right size and shape for your vehicle!
- Hoseclamps (jubilee clips): Easily broken while removing an old hosepipe.
- Fanbelts: They should be the correct length for your vehicle. Don't throw away your old belts if they haven't broken - you can reuse them at least to get back to civilization.
- Driveshaft u-joints & cross: These take the entire load of the vehicle, and bear a lot of stress offroad. They're also designed to be the first part to break when too much power is applied (to get the 4×4 unstuck for example). The breakable design is a safety feature, because if the cross doesn't break, then the driveshaft itself, or the gearbox or the axles could break, and those are a lot more expensive (and difficult) to fix. In a vehicle with selectable 2wd, you only need spare crosses for the rear driveshaft.
- Air filter: Required in case your air filter gets ruined with dirt and water.
- Fuel filter: Essential item for diesel vehicles. Don't leave home without it!
- Engine oil: Keep a 4 litre jug of engine oil. This is important for older engines which burn oil.
- ATF fluid: Essential for automatic gearboxes. Also an excellent lubricant for silencing any annoying squeaks.
- Brake fluid: Keep at least a can of brake fluid on hand for topping up the brake system and/or clutch system or refilling after field repairs.
- Front brake pads. You won't use the brakes as much offroad as you would in the city, but for an automatic vehicle they're essential, especially in hilly terrain where you might have to ride the brakes. Ideally, make sure your brakes have plenty of life left BEFORE you even leave home.
- Assorted fuses: Especially important for modern EFI vehicles.
- A can of brake oil serves as an excellent medication for minor cuts besides coming in handy in case of a leak in the brake system.
Essential toolbox items
- Wheel wrench
- Hydraulic jack
- Flat block of wood for jacking in sandy/muddy terrain
- Toolbox, see details below
- Puncture repair kit - plug type for tubeless tyres, and patch type for others.
- Spare valve stems - the rubber rots over time, and it can easily break off in rocky terrain.
- Araldite Putty - good for repairing all sorts of leaks. For example, Yaseen managed to put a hole in the oil chamber by hitting a rock, and we sealed it with putty. Without it, the car wouldn't have been driveable short of a welding plant.
- Magic Depoxy Steel
- Super Elfy
- Electrical wires and test light - Essential for troubleshooting electrical problems. Carry a selection of different gauges, for repairing fuses, tying up things, and what not.
- Stiff steel wire - Essential for tying up and suspending things like mangled exhaust pipes and silencers. Wire hangers are ideal.
- A small LED torch - Besides your personal led torch, keep a spare one permanently in the toolbox.
- Radiator Sealant -. More commonly known in Pakistan as naswar.
- Teflon tape
- Electric tape
- Duct tape
- Repair manual for the vehicle - this is important for new SUV's. These are available online for most vehicles.
- A set of metric wrenches (open end or box wrench) 7 mm through 21 mm for Japanese or American vehicles, and similarly sized SAE wrenches for older English vehicles
- Adjustable wrench
- Large pliers
- Needle nose pliers
- Vise grips (aka locking pliers)
- Channel lock pliers
- Large flatblade screwdriver
- Phillips head screwdrivers (large and small)
- Torx (star) wrenches for American vehicles
- Mini sledge hammer
- Small metal block to use as an anvil
- Utility knife
- Wire cutters
The best way to gather these parts is to keep the old ones whenever you replace them. Generally, most parts are in working condition when changed, so they do just fine as spares.
Now, don't panic if much of the above doesn't make sense to you! Building a toolkit over time is pretty easy, as most people who get the offroad bug stick to it for the long term, so over time a comprehensive toolkit develops. The difficult part is learning how to use it, for as yet the tools can't fix broken stuff all by their lonesome selves.
For any serious offroad trip there should always be someone in the group able to perform field repairs, and ideally over time one should learn enough about their vehicle to be able to do the basic stuff themselves. The point is, don't let someone else fix up a tool kit for you without knowing what is in it, how to use the tools, and having a reference manual/shop book to help figure it all out.
Posted in Tech, April 2, 2008, by Khalid Omar & Imad Ali