1997-2006 Jeep Wrangler (TJ) Frequently Asked Questions
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5. The Beginner's Guide to Off-Roading, or: What do I need to hit the trails?
(copied from old FAQ section 4.1)
That's a silly question. It doesn't come in a box. Actually, I took my Jeep wheeling without making any modifications, other than a few safety items required by my club (see below), such as tow hooks. It performed well - even though I had to bypass a few tough obstacles on the trail, I gained a real respect for the Wrangler's redesign.
Even if you didn't buy your Jeep for the purpose of off-road
driving, I suggest you take it off-road once or twice anyway, just to see
what it can do. After all, you wouldn't buy a mountain bike and ride it only
on pavement, would you? (Well, many people do, come to think of it.) Find
a club, or some friends who know about four-wheeling, and get some instruction
from them. You'll have more fun at it and run with less risk of getting stuck.
(copied from old FAQ section 4.2)
If you go wheeling often, you'll probably get stuck, and you'll need someone
to pull you out of wherever you're stuck. You'll need a tow strap, preferably
made of heavy-duty nylon and rated at least 20,000 pounds. Along with that,
you'll need to mount tow hooks to the frame. The front bumper has two places
to attach tow hooks below either end of the grille - you'll need to use
a Torx T-55 bit to remove the factory bolts, and you should use grade 5
bolts to mount the new tow hooks. Grade 5 bolts have three lines on the
top, while grade 8 bolts (a higher quality) have six lines on the top.
Never use chains or cables as a replacement for a tow strap. They could
snap and become missiles when they break. Also, never attempt to use a
trailer ball as a towing point. A trailer ball could snap off and fly through
the air. I saw an X-ray of someone who had a trailer ball impaled in his
skull as a result of this.
It's also a good idea to mount tow hooks on the rear, but this gets trickier.
If you mount them to the bumper, you will have to drill your own holes,
and you should be concerned about the strength of the bumper. With the
advice of a friend, I mounted these tow hooks through the bumper with a
¼ inch steel backing plate. I later found that this method relies too much
on the bumper mounts -- after I buried the front of my Jeep in a snowbank
(on purpose) and needing to be pulled out from behind, I found that the
sudden jerk on the tow strap had pulled the bumper mount and deformed the
bracket that holds the bumper to the frame. I'm now looking for a better
place to mount my rear tow hooks.) You can also look for a secure place
on the frame to mount them, but this can also be tricky. I found
out more about rear tow hooks at Camp Jeep -- click here
for the full story.
Most clubs also require roll bars for soft-top vehicles and a battery hold-down
strap, which are standard equipment, and a fire extinguisher mounted within
easy reach of the driver. Hopefully you'll never have to use it on your
Jeep, or anyone else's, but it's not fun to watch anyone's vehicle burn.
(copied from old FAQ section 4.5)
Here are a few insights and ideas I've gained on off-road driving, as based on my small amount of experience doing it:
- Don't let anyone talk you into doing a trail, or a section on the trail,
that you don't feel comfortable doing. You don't have to worry about being
a wimp because you can't handle some obstacle that beefed-up Jeeps or other
4x4's are taking. That ability comes with experience. Also, if someone gives
you a hard time about it, remind them that it's your Jeep and that you're
making the payments on it, not them. Offer to break their truck and see if
- Go out with a four-wheeling club and get some experience from the
more knowledgeable members. Most people are eager to help newcomers - if
they aren't, find someone else who's willing to help. It beats trying it
on your own and getting stuck hours from civilization.
- Having less air in your tires means your tires will have a larger
contact surface with the dirt, which gives you more traction and lets your
tires flex around obstacles like logs or rocks. If you're at street pressure
(like 33 PSI, for example), you'll have trouble with traction. If you air
down to 20 or 15 PSI, your tires will give you much better traction. Don't
overdo it, though, or you may run the tire off its bead. Going lower than
about 15 PSI gives you more of a risk of doing this.
- This isn't the Indy 500. You don't need to drive fast - drive slow
enough so you can pay attention, but fast enough to keep up momentum. Let
someone else beat the living daylights out of their truck by trying to bang
and power their way over obstacles - finesse usually beats power.
- If you get to a large hole or dip in the trail, try to put your wheels
on both sides of it, rather than having one wheel in the hole and one on the
top. If you do the latter, you will probably get stuck and end up with tires
spinning in the sand.
- Most of the time, it's easier to straddle ruts than it is to drive
in them. You won't have to worry about ground clearance or mud as much that
- Above all, drive responsibly on the trail and practice respect for the environment. Tread Lightly! has a list of suggestions for minimizing impact on the trail. It might be fun to spin out and carve a muddy rut somewhere, but land managers see this sort of behavior as contributing to environmental damage. The Blue Ribbon Coalition is worth checking out, as well -- they're a land advocacy organization that promotes responsible behavior, as opposed to trail closures.
(copied from old FAQ section 4.6)
When I originally wrote this FAQ and put up my site, I was really getting
into off-roading. Since that time, though, I've abruptly found out that
off-roading really isn't as fun as it's made out to be. Here's a few things
that have soured me on off-roading:
- It's too competitive -- or at least that was the situation in my club.
Basically, the whole point of off-road events there seemed to be to take on
the biggest obstacles possible, to possibly break a driveshaft or axle or
some other part doing it, and to hoot and holler about it afterward. That's
fine if you bring your truck there on a trailer, but my Jeep is my only vehicle
and I have to drive it to work on Monday.
- I had a falling-out with the club's membership secretary in which
she accused me of various forms of negative behavior. She made it quite clear
that she didn't want to see me at any club events again, and she claimed
that she had to fear for her safety. For the record, this was precipitated
by my throwing two legal pads on a shelf after she chewed me out for asking
her one too many times about the club's web site.
- I didn't really fit in with the club membership. When I first joined,
someone told me that it was mostly a blue-collar club. Long nights of beer
drinking and noisy campgrounds aren't exactly thrilling to me.
Because of this, I've quit the club, and I don't expect to join another.
I'm very bitter about the experience, which explains why I never update this
FAQ. I know I'm inviting flame mail by saying this. Don't bother with the
flame mail, though; I've already made up my mind.