Editors get bored, we like to think too much, talk too much, and given enough free time will get into too much trouble. That’s why we began “Ask 4WAAM”. It gives me specific stuff to think about that’s also useful to you, our reader.
This article was originally published in 2016 but the question came up again with almost the exact same situation, so here we are again.
Maintenance? What’s that?
Today’s question revolves around maintenance. The question was “What maintenance do I need to do to my off-road vehicle.” (Paraphrased because the question was Jeep specific, but the answer applies to everyone.)
We chatted back and forth a bit and it was immediately apparent the question that was being asked was asked because the person cared and wanted to keep their vehicle in top operating condition. They wanted to know about bushings, joints, rod ends, drive shafts etc…
Here is what started their line of questioning. They went to X off-road shop and had a lift, wheels, tires, new driveshafts, and all the supporting bits installed. Money exchanged hands, they were patted on the head, and with no other education sent on their way. For the record, a good shop will at least offer to do the maintenance for a fee and let you know what needs to be done. A really good shop will tell you about all of it, show you where it is, and then ask you to bring it back. That way you are educated and they get a repeat customer.
Back to our question asker. The Jeep was great for a while, a few trips off road, some bad weather, several thousand road miles, and now some squeaks, some groans, and some wobbles. “Why did this happen?” he asked, to which I replied, “Did you grease the bushings?”. This prompted a very long pause in our electronic correspondence. When the reply did come back the answer was a simple “No! I didn’t know I needed to.”
Therein lies the problems for many off-road neophytes. They want the lifestyle, the camaraderie, and the fun but most don’t understand the maintenance of a modified vehicle. Just an FYI a stock Jeep or other factory off-road vehicle are generally maintenance free when it comes to control arm bushings, drive shafts, and generally their overall operation. Swap in new parts when the old ones go bad, change the fluids and drive on.
Aftermarket parts often have grease fittings, need regular service, and sometimes require specialized tools to do it.
I don’t want to do that much maintenance!
“What should I do?” was the last question he asked. The answer is, do your maintenance, pay someone to do your maintenance, or replace your parts more often because those dry joints wear out faster.
There is another option if you plan it out from the very beginning. Several manufacturers have developed excellent suspension systems that are maintenance free or significantly less maintenance. Two of the more prominent systems is from Metalcloak and TeraFlex. The Duroflex joint that MetalCloak developed and the more traditional joint in the TeraFlex Alpine control arms are examples of low maintenance suspension components. They also offer excellent control, articulation, quiet operation, and comfort.
So the next time you go to buy a suspension system, drive shaft, or other aftermarket part ask yourself, “Do I want to do the maintenance, or do I want something simpler?” Remember simpler maintenance doesn’t always mean you are giving up capability. Heim joints offer excellent flex but don’t offer the same on-road control and terrain dampening that a rubber joint offers. Both types of joints offer maintenance free and greasable options you can choose from.
Speaking of drive shafts just briefly. Many top tier aftermarket drive shafts have to be disassembled regularly for proper maintenance. The cardan joint requires grease to be injected directly into the joint with a grease gun and needle fitting. Not something everyone wants to do in addition to suspension joints, rod ends, oil changes and differential fluid change. We have had plenty of experience with these types of driveshafts exploding when not properly greased on a regular schedule.