4×4 Maintenance

Whether looking it over for the first time when you get it home, or looking it over for the 1,000th time in ten years, there a few things to look for when it comes to preparing your overlander for your next journey. 

Don’t let this be you on your next outing.
Take the time to maintain your 4×4.
In this post I’ll discuss some of the small things I’ve found wrong with the ’04 LJ when I first got it just over a year ago.  They’re all things common to older vehicles so even if your 4×4 has been sitting in your driveway for a few years now, it may not hurt to pop the hood and take a look.

After driving the LJ off-and-on for a few weeks  I noticed a few things.  First, there was a wheeze any time I left off the throttle.  Ever see Toy Story?  Remember the penguin that swallowed it’s squeaker? Yeah, sounded something like that.  I also noticed some lag in throttle response.  The 4.0L inline six won’t break any land-speed records, but it just didn’t feel as peppy as it should be, especially off the line.  Thirdly, I noticed the distinct sweet smell of coolant both inside the cabin as well as under the hood.  As the tiny little things started racking up while I waited for PennDOT to send me the registration I figured it was time to pop the hood and really go to town on the motor.
One of the first things I discovered was two cracked crankcase ventilation tubes.  The elbow was cracked on the front and barely held together with electrical tape and the rear one had been spliced back together with a short piece of rubber tubing.  I also noticed the radiator overflow cap was busted and the radiator cap itself was loose.

Piecing it all together I started to find the sources to some of the problems.  I jumped online and ordered the parts.  While this isn’t exactly a “How to” blog for automotive repairs, I will say this kind of stuff is essential for overlanding.  When you’re going down the highway, AAA is just a phone call away.  When you’re miles from civilization the last thing you need is stupid like a blown vacuum line leaving you high-and-dry.
One source of the coolant smell turned out to be a cracked radiator which was replaced after the factory plastic upper cap finally let loose.  The coolant smell inside is coming from a pin-hole leak in the heater core.  Thankfully it’s on the top edge of the core and I’m not in any rush to fix it just yet.  It is on my list though.
Newly installed all metal radiator.
Take the time to do some regular routine maintenance.  If you don’t know how, buy a manual.  If you need help, ask.  When I was in college I knew nothing about automotive maintenance.  Through a local group of Jeepers that met on a semi-weekly basis I was able to glean from them a great foundation of knowledge.  Over time I would build onto that foundation.  When I didn’t know the answer I knew there were people like Josh who knew more than I did and they were just a phone call away.  Just ask him how many times over the last seven years I’ve called him with a tech question.  Hell, just ask him how many times I’ve called him in the last six months since I got the LJ.  He used to own one too so it’s nice to pick the brain of someone intimately familiar with your ride. It’s good to have friends who know their shit.
Anyway, once I had sorted out a few small details in the engine bay I got all the fluids flushed.  It’s good to set a baseline for oil changes, coolant, transmission fluid, gear oil, and the such.  I’m not perfect about keeping the best record or sticking to the schedule, but I can tell you she’s up to date and ready to go when the time comes.
Fresh parts make for a nice engine bay.
Never hurts to check and make sure hoses are solid, belts are tight, and caps are snug.
Once the obviously broken things were taken care of, I went over the rest of the Jeep. Here is a common list of things to check on a regular basis:
  • Axles & Differentials – hubs, seals, vacuum lines, shift motors, vent lines, front u-joints
  • Battery – clean terminals, check for damaged or corroded wiring
  • Brakes – drums, rotors, pads/shoes, fluid, hoses, leaks, check your emergency brake, brake lights
  • Belts & Hoses – look for cracks or bulges
  • Body & Frame – look for cracks, rust
  • Cooling/Heating System – look for leaks, fluid levels, clean and repair fins, check hoses, thermostat, radiator cap
  • Driveline/Transmission – inspect case and shifter, leaks, fluids, universal & cv joints, skid plates, drive shafts
  • Engine – carburetor, fuel injectors, spark plugs, wires, pcv valve, pumps, spark plugs, distributor & wires, belts; check for leaks and cracks
  • Exhaust – muffler, tailpipe
  • Fluids – oil, transmission, brake, radiator coolant, gear oils, wipers, power steering
  • Lights – headlights, brake lights, auxiliary lights; make sure they’re aimed properly
  • Nuts & Bolts – tighten axle u-bolts, lug bolts, nuts
  • Steering – check alignment, fluid level, belts and hoses, pump and reservoir for leaks
  • Suspension – springs, shocks, alignment, wheel bearings, steering linkage
  • Tires – tighten lug nuts, air pressure, tread wear (including your full-size spare), look for cuts and missing chunks
  • Wipers – check for wear, washer fluid level
Any good inspection involves multiple senses.  It’s not enough to just look.  You need to listen. You need to feel.  You need to smell.  I wouldn’t recommend tasting to be honest.  Especially if it’s something mysterious from under the driver seat.  It might have been edible six months ago, but not so much now.  However, the other senses will help you diagnose something isn’t right.
This will be an ongoing series of posts so make sure to check the “Tech” theme tab in the sidebar to the right for other 4×4 tech and maintenance related topics.