Just as you would take any vehicle to get a once-over prior to a long road trip, you should also be inspecting your Jeep so your next weekend adventure doesn’t become a nightmare. When riding off-road, even on light trails, your Jeep is subject to much more stress than it is in highway driving.
Why take chances? Inspecting the following items will make Jeepin’ more fun for all!
1. Check All Your Fluids.
Check your oil, transmission fluid and other critical levels before and after every trip. Create a checklist, and don’t forget the brake fluid, coolant and windshield washer fluid.
When checking fluids, you should check for proper level as well as color. A plastic syringe with a short piece of clear hose is great for taking a sample of differential and transfer case fluids. A milky white color (a.k.a. “milkshake”) could mean that there is water contamination. This requires further inspection before you do serious damage.
If your battery is unsealed and needs water, only use distilled water. The chemicals in sink water can destroy a battery from the inside. Inspect and clean the air filter or replace it.
Nuts and Bolts
Veteran Jeeper Ed Johnson’s pre- and post-ride inspection checklist includes a number of too-often-ignored items, including:
- The levels and colors of critical fluids
- The condition of brake rotors and pads
- Loose and missing hardware along the suspension and driveline
- Mid-maneuver cracking, popping, rubbing and grinding noises
2. Check Your Tires.
Inspect your tires for cuts, rocks, nails and other damage. Make note of any damage before and after each trip. You don’t want to have a blowout on the trail or, worse, on the highway. Even if you air-down on the trail, a pressure check before you go will let you know if there is a possible leak.
3. Check Your Brakes.
Look at your brake rotors and pads. Brakes will wear faster when used in the sand and mud. Check the rotors for grooves that may indicate abnormal wear and for discoloration — a blue tinge could signify a frozen brake caliper. Jack up each wheel one at a time and check for smooth rotation. On the front wheels, also look for side-to-side play steering components or ball joints for up-and-down play.
4. Don’t Forget the Suspension and Driveline.
This is probably one of the most overlooked items. Look at the springs, shocks, control arms, track bars, drive shafts and universal joints. Check for loose or missing hardware, rub marks, rust tracks, dents in the drive shafts and universal joints for play.
Have an assistant wiggle the steering wheel back and forth about 2 inches each way. Watch the steering components for play, binding and rubbing. While you are under the Jeep, it is a good idea to hit all the grease fittings on the suspension and universal joints. Everything will be under more stress than normal. Grease is your friend!
5. Check the Undercarriage.
Get a sense of your Jeep’s general structural condition. Look at skid plates, fenders and bumpers. Dented skid plates can interfere with steering or the fuel system if it is in the gas tank skid.
6. Check Your Recovery and Safety Gear.
Make sure your winch works. Test your CB radio and make sure your emergency roadside kit is intact. If you don’t have jumper cables, road flares, a basic first aid kit and everything you need to change a tire, buy those items today.
7. Listen Up.
While on your ride, make note of unusual noises. Listen for cracking, popping, rubbing and grinding, particularly during high articulation angles and tight turns.
8. Do a Walkaround.
Once you are off the trail, do a visual inspection. Check the drive shafts, wires and hoses. Make sure you didn’t pick up any branches or rocks. Check your lights and clean off the lenses. Dented fenders and body panels could cause an issue. Look at the tires so you don’t have a blowout on the way home.
9. Give the Baby a Bath.
After your fun in the woods, trails, rocks or mud, it’s time to wash your Jeep — and not just the outside. Hose off the frame, the brakes, the engine bay and, above all, the skid plates. Left unattended, sand and mud left will hold moisture and cause rust. It is also a very coarse abrasive that can rub through gas tanks, belts, pulleys, steering and hinges. Sand can also scratch glass if left in the wipers or window seals.
Now go back to the top of the list and inspect everything you looked at before the ride. If something doesn’t look right, fix it or get the advice of a professional. It’s better to miss a ride than to risk vehicle damage or personal injury! The name of the game is to have fun and be safe.