Lift Kits: A do-it-yourself job?

Since off-roading is our goal, we’ve got to either turn our stock vehicle into off-road material ourselves or get a professional to do it.

A lift kit is the first place to start when upgrading your vehicle. An increase in the ride height of your truck will allow for mounting larger tires and the increase axle clearance will allow you to over things

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What to know

Some lift kits for trucks may seem simple, and you might be tempted to not buy certain lift kit components, thinking you can do without them and ultimately half-ass the job. Making modifications without the required parts can be seriously disastrous.

Depending on how much room you have in your fenders, you might be able to jam some larger tires on without too much trouble. But without a lift kit, you’re going to have some tire rubbing, which isn’t good for the tires or the truck.

People do some funny things to make their vehicle off-road-capable like welding together U-bolt extensions, and not buying an extended brake line or engine case mount, or a longer driveshaft, etc. Please don’t try to fashion your own parts to save a few dollars. Even basic lift kits include essential pieces like longer U-bolts and shock absorbers.

Long story short

Installing a lift kit means altering a lot of things. It’s a drastic change. So, all the components are important to upgrade and make changes where needed.  There are some things to do that are essential to the success of the job!

Rigging things arbitrarily and skipping steps not only puts your safety in question, but also increases the likelihood of having to dish out more money to repair or replace broken components down the road. So if you’re going to do it yourself, please do it right. You’ll thank yourself in the long run.

The best way to go is to buy a specific kit for your truck and if you don’t have a replete understanding of everything that needs to be done, find a technician who does.

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Why buy Tires and Wheels in person?

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Tire and wheel internet shopping not always the best

Just because the internet or an over the phone salesperson says a set of wheels and/or tires will fit on your vehicle doesn’t necessarily mean they will. We recently had a customer come into our shop with a set of tires he had purchased online. Unfortunately, he had to make a decision to either exchange them for the correct size or have us increase the lift of his truck. To be fair, it wasn’t any fault of the customer. Not everyone is familiar with whether or not a particular tire will fit a particular vehicle, which is why we stress to everyone that it’s important to first do your homework/find out what dimensions the wheels and tires are that are currently on your vehicle before buying another set.  And if you don’t know where to start when going for bigger wheels or tires, please take your vehicle to a technician and have them take a look.

The whole issue lies in the difference in talking to a person over the phone whom you’ll never meet and talking to an expert technician, face-to-face. The difference is obviously night and day. The technician can see and touch the vehicle and determine with accuracy the right tires and wheels based on all the variables in front of him. The aftermarket sellers on the internet can’t provide the same level of technical support in the realm of tires and wheels, much less for other off-road vehicle parts. Most of the time they are strictly selling a part, not providing customer service.

Ask a Technician 

The biggest part of the equation is figuring out which part is the right one for the job. Without having any professional direction, buying an off-road vehicle part over the internet can potentially lead to not only a huge annoyance, but also extra money out of your pocket that you could’ve otherwise kept.

The most common parts bought without consulting with a technician are wheels and tires. If the kit on the vehicle is designed for a 20″ x 9″ wheel, and a customer wants to put 20″ x 12″ wheels, he would have to go down in tire size or go taller on the lift. The thing to remember is that changing one variable effects all the others. Furthermore,  people often times don’t consider clearance issues and backspacing (how far the wheel sticks out away from the truck).

When you order the wheels online, the company you’re buying them from most likely isn’t asking you questions about how far your fender sticks out from the chassis or how much of a lift the vehicle has, or what dimension tires and wheels are currently on the vehicle. And these are the most important things to consider before making the purchase!

What kind of tire do you currently have on your vehicle?

Also, look at the load rating of the tires. For example, if it’s an E range, there’s a large amount of weight it will be able to handle. A D range is not able to carry as much weight. Remember, even if they are the same size, not all tires are equal.

Wheels have ratings too

When changing wheels, consider the terrain you drive on: highway, hunting camp, somewhere in between? Is it that you just want an aggressive look? Like tires, wheels have ratings as well, and it’s important to look at what weight vehicle they can support.

 

 

Quality Lift Kits Worth the Money

Why buy a high quality lift kit?

Too many times, we see people with a $50,000 truck, looking for the cheapest way to lift it. We know from experience that the cheap lift kits out there simply don’t have all the parts to do the job properly. It’s either that or they’re just cheap products. Unfortunately, we end up fixing and replacing many of those cheap kits out there, costing consumers more than they would’ve paid if they had bought a high quality lift kit in the first place.

Buyer Beware

Balljoint-problems-due-to-cheap-lift-kits

Just because a shop advertises a kit for a special price, it doesn’t necessarily mean the kit has everything your vehicle needs to be lifted properly. If the cheap lift kit manufacturers would actually outfit their kits with all the parts that are needed, many times the price would end up being the same as a more expensive/high quality kit. Therefore, don’t be fooled by the lower prices. Just because the price is lower doesn’t mean it’s a good deal. Not only is it a false representation of the products, it’s also a huge disservice to people. For example, a front leveling kit over 2″ that doesn’t come with an upper control arm assembly is going to prematurely wear out the ball joint and possibly other components.

In a side by side comparison, you would find that some of the parts in a cheap lift kit are actually thinner than they need to be. For example, a cross member drop bracket on a late model pick-up that’s a five-sixteenths on a high quality kit might only be a quarter of an inch on a cheaper one and come with fewer braces. When a vehicle gets lifted, there’s going to be more stress put on the drive train, the brakes, and the suspension joints. Naturally, anyone would choose to have the thicker components supporting the added stress.

Safety and Durability

There’s no way to keep a good front end alignment with cheap products. There are proper angles and steering geometry that needs to be in place to maintain the alignment. Otherwise, not only will the tires get worn out prematurely, but the ball joints can actually break. And when things break, safety becomes a concern.

Just Ask

Unfortunately, not everyone around knows the difference between high quality and poor quality. If you hear a technician say something like “these parts are just as good”, they probably don’t know the difference. Wherever you take take your vehicle for a lift, please just ask the technician if they are sure what they are offering you in a lift kit is of high quality. Do a quick search online. Look for the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Compliance test logos, like the ones found at Zone offroad and BDS Suspension. If you have a friend who has owned a lifted vehicle for a while, ask him/her what their experience has been. It’s worth it.

Lifted Vehicle Maintenance Musts

 

Recurring Maintenance 

It goes without saying that every car on the road needs recurring maintenance. The tires, oil, transmission fluid, brakes, interior, belts, hoses, power steering, wiper washer fluid, wiper blades, and more all have to be continuously checked, fixed, or replaced at some point in time.

With an off-road vehicle however, there’s more to the story – some added responsibility.  It’s important to stress that owning a lifted vehicle means not only keeping your eyes and ears open for anything that feels loose or anything that doesn’t sound or look right, but purposefully checking things on a recurring basis.

Performance_MufflerHere are some lifted vehicle maintenance items that make the top of our list:

Tire Rotation and Balancing

For whatever reason, too many people don’t think it’s important to rotate and balance their tires as often as necessary.  It’s a popular belief that bigger tires don’t need rotating and balancing as often as everyday/stock tires. This is not the reality. Mud tires/bigger tires need the same amount of service as stock tires.  Ask yourself if you would put off changing your engine oil for an extended amount of time. Probably not. Trust us when we say rotating and balancing tires is just important a maintenance item as changing your engine oil.

Brakes

Anytime you alter the size of your tires and wheels on your vehicle (specifically bigger tires and wheels), naturally, your brakes are going to wear down prematurely. With bigger tires and wheels, the brakes have to handle more weight, more rolling mass and more resistance. Just like with any other vehicle, a lifted truck’s brakes need to be checked regularly, even when you have higher quality calipers, rotors, and brake pads

Grease Fittings

If you take your vehicle off-roading, all your grease fittings need to be maintained more frequently. Tie-rods, ball joints, U-joints, idler arms, some after market track bars, and some after market control arms all have grease fittings. Remember to use lithium-based grease on polyurethane bushings, not a petroleum-based grease. (Petroleum grease is used for rubber bushings.)

Steering Components

Ball joints, tie rods, and hub bearing assemblies all need to be checked. When the vehicle is jacked up, a good method is to put one end of a pry bar in the ground and the other against bottom of the tire. Move the pry bar in an up and down motion against the bottom of the tire to see if it moves in any sort of a wiggling fashion. If the tire wiggles, this means the ball joint is going bad. For checking tie rods, have your helping hand turn the unlocked steering wheel while you do a visual check to see whether there is any movement in the socket.

Differential Oil

It’s important to not neglect changing the differential oil in both the front and rear differentials, especially if the vehicle is taken off road often. We recommend changing the differential oil about every 15,000 miles, at a minimum. However, it does vary, depending on the driving conditions.

Increased Reliability and Durability

These are just a few of the maintenance items that should be performed on a recurring basis. Doing these type of maintenance checks, among others, will ensure the reliability and durability of your vehicle.

It’s a small price to pay to be able to enjoy that awesome, high-up ride our lifted vehicles provide us with.

 

 

 

 

The Culprit of Catalytic Converter Failure

Poor vehicle maintenance

No matter who you are, if you own a vehicle, any kind of vehicle , you must do intermittent maintenance (or have it done by a professional technician). It can seem like the maintenance is incessant, which is because there are so many moving parts and pieces that don’t always need fixing or replacing at the same time as others. Regardless of whether we do the work ourselves or take our vehicle into a shop, air filters must be changed if dirty, the right fuel must be used, and the oil must be changed on schedule, especially after being in some severe driving conditions or taking many short trips. Falling off track with these maintenance musts is a recipe for having yourself an inefficient catalytic converter.

Eventually, a combination of these conditions can increase carbon accumulation in the combustion chamber, leading to higher combustion temperatures and compression ratios. The result?  Excessive NOx output by the engine.

Combine excessive NOx output with carbon fouling of the spark plugs and O2 sensors with the contamination or fouling of the catalytic converter and you have the ingredients for an emissions systems failure. In short, the catalyzing metals in the converter are no longer exposed to the exhaust gases, and the converter is rendered inactive. When it gets bad enough, it can actually make a vehicle stop running!

The deactivation of the catalytic converter causes a reduction of O2 storage, which is detected by the O2 sensor, resulting in a PO420 diagnostic trouble code.

Thermal Failure

A converter can be destroyed by excessive heat. Since there are no moving parts in a converter, the usual suspect is fuel contamination, the result of an engine operating system failure or malfunction.

When the vehicle is running in a rich air-fuel mixture condition, unspent or raw fuel (HC) along with carbon monoxide (CO) is pumped into the converter through the exhaust system.

The oxidation (or burning process) of the raw fuel continues unchecked, raising the internal temperature of the converter to a point where the converter matting and substrate are destroyed.

The conditions of “thermal failure” prohibit the converter from storing oxygenthus setting off a PO420 diagnostic trouble code.

 

What are the signs?

-Engine light on (P0420 or a P0430 are the two inefficient codes on the diagnostic)

-Losing mileage

-Losing power

-Can’t reach highway speeds

-Sound of rocks in an empty can (due to overheating of thermal blanket in converter)

2 Options to fix a Failed Catalytic Converter

Catalytic converters come in two basic forms, either a universal application or a direct-to-fit/vehicle-specific application. The most cost-effective way to go is to replace it with a universal application, if available. On the hand, a vehicle-specific application will cost more.

All original equipment catalytic converters carry an 8 year/80,000 mile federally mandated warranty (whether you are the original owner of the vehicle or not). So, if you have, for example, 75,000 miles on your vehicle, and you suspect you have a catalytic converter problem, by all means, take it in to be checked by the dealership for your make and model vehicle. Don’t take it to an aftermarket auto shop when you can use the warranty!

Aftermarket auto part shops offer 2-year manufacture defect warranties on catalytic converters. This is also federally mandated.  Most dealerships only give a 1-year warranty for replacements. Not to mention, an OE replacement at a dealership could cost you twice as much!

Again, the lack of maintenance on the vehicle is the ultimate problem, NOT the catalytic converter. The catalytic converter has no moving parts! It’s essentially a pollution filter.

Keep in mind also, any time your check engine light comes on, the best practice is to IMMEDIATELY have your vehicle checked by a reputable technician.

7 steps to fix the Death Wobble

New Jeep suspension parts

Fixing the Death Wobble

The death wobble is incredibly annoying and isn’t an easy fix. When it happens, the suspension system is essentially out of equilibrium (and it feels like your Jeep is literally falling apart). Not to worry. You just have to zero-in on what the cause is.

Each death wobble case is NOT the same! Therefore, finding and replacing the component(s) that have gone awry is what will get you back to smooth running on the road.

There are many areas in the suspension system, including the tires and the body, that could be causing the problem:

Continue reading 7 steps to fix the Death Wobble