When it comes to off-roading, there are a number of upgrades that can be added to your vehicle to gain additional traction. For those areas where mud and rocks are plentiful, a mud-terrain tire is highly recommended. If the terrain is especially rocky, steep, or otherwise hinderful, a driver also has the option of reducing the air pressure in the vehicle’s tires. This lower pressure allows the tire to deflate and spread in width, increases the rubber footprint and provides greater traction as the increased surface area allows the tire to better conform to the terrain over which it travels. This technique is known as “airing down” in the off-roading community and is a common practice among its members. Continue Reading →
I’m currently working on another update to the electrical system and hope to have the article up soon. In the mean time, I thought you all might enjoy a few videos from various excursions over the last few years. These are not professionally shot by any means, but a few friends were kind enough to hang back and take some shots while we played, so I’m more than happy with the results. Over the last couple of years, I’ve discovered that one of the biggest challenges to writing articles is capturing events as they transpire. Whether the format is audio, video or still photograph, and extra pair of hands is usually required to ensure the time line of events is properly tracked.
In the case of installation, it becomes rather a nuisance to have to stop at every step in order to detail progress after the fact. So much of the time, my photographs only tell part of the story. When I have the privilege of participating in off-road events, event capturing will oftentimes translate to standing in the bushes, hanging from tree limbs, or sinking knee-deep in the mud if necessary, in order to do the shots justice. It also means hanging back from the group while everyone else gets to play. For those of you who are willing to go this extra mile, I extend my whole-hearted thanks. Without folks like you, I’d be left with only memories of events past. Continue Reading →
When it comes to modifying the FJ my goal has always been to achieve increased capability without negatively impacting vehicle performance. There’s no doubt that a vehicle designed for hardcore off-roading is going to witness its share of bruises. And the greater the number of modifications, the greater the chances that the stock integrity will be affected. My FJ Cruiser began its life as a daily commuter that saw occasional off-road use. Over the last four years of ownership, the scales have definitely tipped in favor of off-roading. It’s still my daily commuter, but my upgrade priorities now lean towards off-road conditions, rather than worrying so much about what kind of mileage I can achieve. To that end, it’s time to roll back the clock once again, to retroactively discuss one of the best possible modifications available for FJ Cruiser owners.
October of 2009 was a great month for my FJ Cruiser, and probably one of the most significant in terms of upgrades. I had spent the previous month or so analyzing my FJ’s performance characteristics in great detail in an effort to determine my next upgrade path. One of the immediate drawbacks to note was performance on inclines. Although the FJ comes stock with a 2.56:1 transfer case gear ratio, the gearing even in LOW/LOW leaves a lot to be desired when it comes to steep hills. Extremely rocky terrain can also prove frustrating since drivers can find themselves in constant “brake” mode, where their foot never leaves the pedal. On flat terrain, riding the brakes can indeed be an effective method for controlling forward momentum. But on inclines where the surface is loose or slippery, hitting the brakes can lead to disastrous results. The question is, what can FJ owners do to improve this situation? Continue Reading →
As the ratio of off-pavement to on- tips in favor of the dirt path, I’ve found myself in need of a slightly more aggressive tire. For a daily commuter and general off-road use, the Nitto Terra Grappler is a great all-around choice. I ran this tire for roughly 40k miles, wearing the tread to approximately 50 percent of its original depth. For those less familiar with Nitto’s tire line, the Terra Grappler is Nitto’s answer to the all-terrain, and a great answer at that. The Grapplers ran relatively quiet, emitting a slightly higher tone than the BFGoodrich T/A KOs they replaced. As the miles accumulated on these tires, the noise levels did increase, but not disturbingly so. The tires performed admirably through light mud and rock but in heavier conditions, especially after the tread began to wear, they exhibited a noticeable loss in traction. This became even more apparent during a recent snow storm that left us trapped in almost four feet of drift. Since performance has always been a key component in building the FJ, I decided it was time for an upgrade.
For a lot of folks, selecting the next set of tires for your vehicle is as simple as replacing the existing set with a new set of the same brand. This is one of the primary reasons why opinions on “the best tire” are so limited. It’s commonplace for consumers to stick to a single brand/model of tire for the lifetime of their vehicle – the theory being that if it works, keep using it. This is the primary reason why I ran BFGoodrich all-terrains for so many years. It was a good all-purpose tire that suited my needs very well in most scenarios. But based on price as well as the reviews provided for the Nitto Terra Grapplers, I took a chance at the time, and switched brands to try something new. And I’m glad I did. I definitely preferred the Nitto all-terrains over BFG’s offering. Not to say it was a better tire but simply that I preferred the look and performance of the Nitto design. Since all-terrains had proven repeatedly that they lacked the necessary traction to get through the tougher obstacles, I decided to try something a bit more extreme this go-around, opting for a mud-terrain tire instead. Continue Reading →
The mid-Atlantic region recently experienced several rather severe snow storms which left us with with more than four feet of accumulated snowfall in less than a week.Â Because of the road and parking lot conditions, many businesses remained closed during that week, to include my current work location.Â As a result of these closures, I had some free time on my hands and decided it would be a great opportunity to test out the FJ’s sure-footedness in some seriously heavy snow and ice conditions.Â The detailed results of that testing can be found in this post, but the bottom line of my initial tests showed that the combination of long, flat skid plates and Nitto Terra Grappler tires just didn’t perform all that well in deep, wet, heavy snow.
Realizing that I required a better solution to this problem, my next thought headed to snow chains. As I mentioned in the previous traction-related article, the use of studded tires in Maryland is prohibited. Using snow chains during inclement weather, however, is perfectly legal. Since I didn’t currently own a set of chains, I began searching the Internet, in hopes of finding a set of chains that not only fit my over-sized tires, but ones that were sturdy enough to endure deep snow and mud conditions. My research led me to the “Grip 4×4” chains, manufactured by a German company known as RUD.Â Among other positive reviews, these chains were personally recommended by Bill Burke, an internationally known and well-respected off-roading spokesman and trainer. Based on these reviews and recommendations, I decided to give them a shot. For my current tire size, a 295/70R17 Nitto Terra Grappler, I ordered one set of model number 2533, the largest size offered in the Grip 4×4 series. Continue Reading →
In my never-ending quest to build the ultimate expeditionary vehicle, a good portion of my focus has been spent analyzing various trail and weather conditions, and gauging the FJ’s capability under said conditions.Â I am once again breaking away from the modding time line in order to get feedback on a more recent experience, one involving the FJ and its performance in two plus feet of snow.
The mid-Atlantic region was recently blanketed with what the meteorologists dubbed, “an epic winter storm.”Â The fallout of this event was more than two feet of snow and ice, and now they’re calling for another 20 inches on top of that.Â Marylanders are used to getting snow in the winter, but it rarely accumulates with such ferocity.Â Thankfully, we were well prepared and decided it would be best spent holed up in the house for a few days rather than venture out too far.Â But by mid-afternoon the next day, the snowing had ceased, leaving us with a wonderful landscape of frosty goodness. Continue Reading →
As a follow-up to yesterday’s article detailing the FJ Cruiser’s core structural components, I’d like to add a few more details, specifically addressing the drivetrain systems.Â The FJ Cruiser can be ordered with either a 5-speed automatic or 6-speed manual transmission.Â Both of these transmissions are extremely capable.Â It really comes down to personal preference as to which model you choose.Â I personally prefer an automatic since I’d rather focus my attention on the trail.Â But for many, a manual transmission is the only way to drive.Â Arguments as to which is better and why are similar to the IFS versus solid axle argument.Â There will always be pros and cons to either side.Â Even though I tend to lean towards the automatic model, I’ve included videos that provide more details for both transmission models below. Continue Reading →