Beyond Tool Kits in Field Repair Situations

by Bill Burke
Having a good tool kit is very important, but only half of the solution. KNOWING how to use those tools and spares is equally as important.

CASE IN POINT: Recently, I was leading a club over some rough routes and a few of the rigs were set up quite well. Having all the goodies on the rig made one person in particular feel invincible! He would take all the tough lines and even wanted to climb a very tough section of the route that required winching along with using the lockers on the front and rear axles. Once I guided him over the section, he had to turn around and come back down. While maneuvering to turn around I asked this “well-prepared” person if the ARB lockers were OFF. His answer was, yes! Then I heard the SNAP, CRACKLE, POP of one of the front half-shafts.

DISCUSSION: When using lockers of any kind on hard surface terrain like slick rock, granite faces, large sedimentary rocks and even dry dirt, make sure that they are disengaged, or unlock the front hubs. I usually recommend that a slight throttle bump (or “goose”), or quick tap on the gas pedal will give enough momentum to slacken the gears so that the air/electronic lockers will disengage themselves from the binding that usually occurs when on unforgiving surfaces. BEFORE trying to steer, make SURE that the lockers are actually DISENGAGED, even if you have turned them off!

Once off the obstacle, I used the tire hydraulic jack to lift the front end up–like changing the tire– and diagnosed the problem as the left front axle being broken. Some of the other club members had a good set of tools, but had NO knowledge on how to make a field repair. They didn’t have a shop book, or Haynes or Chilton books. The rigs were all basically the same–Land Rover products. Since I carry a tool or two, I began to disassemble the front wheel, rotor, stub axle and exposed the steering swivel housing. Land Rovers have enclosed steering knuckles (CV joints). Sure enough, the CV joint was fragged! Having full-floating axles really is nice in these situations. I removed the broken axle and bits and pieces and began to reassemble the parts.

The question came up, “What if Bill wasn’t here?”

One of the club members mentioned he had a special tool kit put together by the shop mechanic back home! Great! PROBLEM was, the owner of this great tool kit didn’t know a slip joint pliers from a vise grip and the tool kit didn’t have a wheel bearing nut socket or snap ring pliers even if he could figure how to get the rotor off the stub axle!! I am not being condescending here, just stating some important facts.

As mentioned in other field repair articles, at least be somewhat familiar with your rig or go with a group where hopefully someone else will be there to help you. I was responsible for this group so I affected the field repair, a somewhat advanced repair for most 4WD SUV owners, but more common than most Land Rover owners would like to think! Having an ARB locker in the front axle helped with the next few days of wheeling. YES, the rig–once I spent some MAJOR quality training time with the owner, finished the day and did Steel Bender the next day with a missing axle! Love those full floaters!

We were able to air-freight the new axle and miscellaneous parts in and I could install the new axle without a problem at the hotel. Getting all the broken pieces out of the swivel housing was a problem and really the swivel housing should be inspected for damage, but, it was a field repair that allowed them to drive home and 4-wheel the rest of the weekend!

ANOTHER CASE IN POINT: While leading a trip over the East side of the Hole-in-the-Rock trail one of my clients was experiencing difficulty on some of the ledges going in the first day. While guiding him up I noticed that the front end was not spinning either of the tires. “Are you in 4WD?” I asked. “Yep,” he replied. Hmmmmmm! I strapped him a few times that day and then at camp that night I looked for the reason why the front axle did not work!

It was a General Motors product with the electric solenoid axle disconnect. The transfer case was in 4WD, but the axle was not getting the signal. Power was going to the solenoid; test light confirmed this. I unscrewed the solenoid and decided that I could shim the plunger out to engage the front axle. I just needed some type of shim. I rummaged through my box of goodies and found a transfer case spacer, kind of like a piece of conduit. I used the hack saw and made the spacer fit to keep the solenoid extended. The front axle worked all day and I was able to guide a stock 4-door Tahoe to Cottonwood Canyon and the Hole-in-the-Rock viewpoint and back to camp. The owner finally realized what 4WD really can do. For two years from when he bought the used truck, he never really had 4WD! From what he told me, he kept getting stuck in places that he should not have. I really think that he drove that 2WD rig with luck and some skill. Once he had 4WD, was he ever impressed!

Go back to my photo essay, A 4-Wheeling Photo-Essay, and look at the pictures of the items I carry along and by all means get a shop or Chilton/Haynes book to help you figure it all out.

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. Also, and this can’t be repeated too many times, carry along some special tools like the wheel nut socket or fuel injector puller or whatever. Take a few classes from the local trade school or adult education on basic mechanics and repair procedures. Understand the methods of fasteners and torque specifications. Hang out at the local 4-wheel drive shop; maybe even offer to sweep the floors in hopes that some of the knowledge will rub off on you!

Knowing how to use your rig properly off the highway, knowing how to affect field repairs and knowing when to say when on the difficult obstacles will make you feel more confident when in the back country. It’s like if you carry all the right stuff and the proper spare parts, you will never have to use them. That one item you forget, like the toilet paper, will be the only thing you need!

Drive like you don’t want to break, like you want to smell the flowers, like you don’t want to get greasy, sandy, dirty, like you want to enjoy the scenery, like you get a thrill from climbing that rock face, mud bog, sand hill or dirt road! Watch your tire placement, keep throttle openings to a minimum–don’t spin the tires–use the winch or Hi-Lift jack instead of beating the old tired horse. Join a club or go with a trusty guide for a few of the first trips, learn the ropes and get some ideas before you have to actually use them when on your own! And Don’t be a stick-in-the-mud!

TREAD Lightly! Leaving a good impression.