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?

5.1. Is my Wrangler ready for off-road use right out of the box?

(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.

5.2. Tow hooks, tow straps, and safety items

(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 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.

5.3. Assorted tips on off-road driving

(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:

5.4. So, is off-roading all that great?

(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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.