There is a dream scenario, a perfect day everyone hopes for when they get their rig out in the wild. All your friends are present and accounted for. The sun is shining. Nature is singing her hopeful tunes. Life is good. And the breaks just seem to keep going your way. Every hill and boulder are mounted with a roar of torque, and perhaps a celebratory “yee-haw!” There isn’t a stream or a mudhole that can bog you down. Nobody overheats. Nobody gets stuck. There’s probably a Bob Seger song playing in the background, and a few cold ones waiting whenever you get to where you’re going. It is as glorious and as American as anything you can think of.
This day, as any serious off-roader can tell you, practically never happens.
Tires spin in the muck. Plumes of smoke or steam waft from under the hood. Radiators overheat. Hoses wiggle themselves loose. We often end up spending the prime of our weekend broken down on the trail and far away from town, hungry and frazzled and yelling at our sunburned buddies like a scene straight out of The Hangover.
But friends, it doesn’t have to be like this! When the setbacks leave us broken down on the trail, we can overcome them. A little preparation and the right gear can go a long way, and have us back out there in no time. The best defense is a good offense. Being proactive, bringing the right tools, and knowing the steps to take when the mud hits the fan are critical to ensuring that our day is more like the trail ride of our dreams, and not an utter nightmare.
Preparation is Key
Quality Over Quantity
The easiest fix? Never breaking down in the first place. Let’s be honest: it’s much less likely you’ll need to repair something if you start with quality parts. And, despite what you may believe, few aspects of your vehicle’s well-being are more important than a quality cooling system. Bob Folkestad, President of GC Cooling, can certainly attest to its importance, but informed us that as much as half of the serious off roading community overlooks installing a premium aftermarket cooling system, simply because it isn’t a sexy way to spend money on a nice rig.
“The radiator is low on their priority list,” Folkestad said. “The Jeep market is, in my opinion, the number one modified vehicle in the world. But, from a cooling perspective, it’s like number fifteen on their list of things to do.” His solution? A high performance GC 16-inch electric cooling fan will keep everything at the right temperature, especially in those high-RPM, low speed situations that stock systems generally aren’t suited for. “At a stop light you don’t use a lot of power,” explained Folkestad. “But if you’re climbing up the side of a big hill … you really use a lot of torque and horsepower to get up and over those obstacles.”
Treat Your Toys With Care
Furthermore, Folkestad reminded us that an aftermarket part is only as good as its installation. “If you mount an aftermarket electric fan, make sure it’s mounted to the radiator,” he said. “They have a nylon strap that goes through the core sometimes and those are very dangerous when off-roading. From the shaking and rattling, it’ll ruin the radiators. So, make sure you use a heavy-duty bracket that actually mounts to the frame of the radiator, instead of through it.” Proper installation can be the difference between repair and replacement when broken down on the trail.
And that attitude applies to the removal of parts as well. Folkestad knows a lot of off-roaders like to remove their engine thermometer, thinking it will flow more water and cool their engine better. “But actually, it ends up biting them in the butt,” he said. Instead, it ends up making the radiator the same temperature as the engine, keeping the system from effectively cooling.
Keep That Recovery Gear Close
Ever gotten stuck off-road? Like really, really stuck? Out in some desolate network of thick shrubbery that a tow truck can’t get to? Then you already know how important recovery gear is. If you’ve somehow managed to avoid this fate so far, learn from the rest of us. It’s not IF you get stuck, it’s WHEN. The right tools make all the difference in whether you come out of it with a chuckle and a story to tell, or whether you have to come back in the morning with an excavator, a police escort, and a grumpy Monday morning crew of buddies you will now owe favors to until their grandkids are off-roading via Space-X travel.
The primary piece of gear to get yourself out of a bind? A winch. A WARN winch, to be specific. The most trusted name in the game, WARN has been “unsticking” your forefathers since the 1940s. And the fact that they’re still around is no accident.
For complete peace of mind, throw in a Warn, TrailFX, or ARB recovery kit before you hit the trails as well. Including useful bits like a snatch block, shackle, tree protector, gloves, and 10 feet of 5/16 inch chains complete with hooks, you will definitely (read: probably) make it home tonight. And just to be sure you’re getting up and out, add a Hi-Lift jack. Hi-Lift has become the standard bearer of the culture. And it even looks badass mounted on the hood of your rig.
It is important to be prepared for as many obstacles as there are acres of back woods. And there are a hell of a lot of those. For electrical issues, it’s a good idea to pack spare relays and fuses, and a multimeter to assess your situation. Consider a dual-battery set up in case being broken down on the trail turns into camping in the Jeep for the night. Simple electrical tape is important to have on hand too, especially if you forgot the first aid kit. And a roll of the Almighty Duct Tape goes without saying.
Getting Patched Up
Scrape something up on the trail? Yikes, that might not be good. A tube of POR Patch can come in handy to seal oil pans, diff covers, gas tanks, or any other rupture you might incur on a rugged trail. Not a permanent fix, but it could just get you out of the woods, both literally and figuratively.
Expect the Unexpected
Such a colorful variety of disasters can befall your vehicle while off roading, that it’s truly impossible to prepare for everything. Maybe a momma bear will claw off your side-view mirror. Maybe a hunk of frozen waste will fall from an aircraft and decimate your hood (hey, it can happen!). Heck, maybe you’re on one of those drive-thru safaris somewhere and a rhinoceros is in a blind rage, trying to poke his face full through your quarter panel and stabs your power steering fluid reservoir with his angry horn. (Not LIKELY, per se, but theoretically possible.)
But we need to play the odds. Cover the problems most likely to happen. And always, always bring the tools that can help you out. Nothing feels worse than being broken down on the trail, stranded as the sun goes down and the temperature drops. Unless, of course, you’re stranded, its getting dark and cold, and you have just the thing to get you out of this mess… but you left it at home in your garage. That might be worse.