Friday, March 30, 2012

Winter 2012 Edition of UFWDA's The Voice Magazine

The United Four Wheel Drive Association has just released the Winter 2012 Issue of The Voice magazine.  If you haven't ever read a copy of it, you owe it to yourself to do so; it's full of updates on important land-use battles and articles on great 4x4 adventures around the world.  Best of all - it's free!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Jeep Debuts New Concept Vehicles at 2012 East Jeep Safari

Every year, Jeep surprises the off-road community with spectacular concept vehicles that they debut at the Easter Jeep Safari in Moab, Utah.  2012 is no different, with Jeep exhibiting six custom vehicles including one of the most over-the-top 4x4s yet.

Everyone is most excited by the Mighty FC, a modern-day homage to the 1956-1965 Jeep "Forward Control" FC-150 and FC-170, while the J-12 Concept builds on the unwavering enthusiasm for 2010's Jeep Nukizer 715 while Mopar continues to wow us by stuffing HEMIs and portal axles into everything they get their hands on.

Check out Autoblog's preview of Jeep's six Moab concepts here, and stay tuned for a media onslaught after the official debuts at the Moab Jeep Safari.

JPFreek Reviews the 2012 Jeep Wrangler

JPFreek is one of my favorite off-road publications, and I think they did a great job with their review of the 2012 Jeep Wrangler.
As with most of the media, it again sounds like their enthusiasm for the new Pentastar V6 is influenced by the huge improvement provided by the 5-speed automatic versus the old 4-speed unit.  When coupled with the 6-speed manual, the old 3.8-liter minivan motor is perfectly adequate, but there's no doubt the new 3.6 is a welcome improvement no matter which transmission you choose.

I've driven 3.8-liter Rubicon Unlimiteds on both stock tires and 35-inch tires with stock gearing, with both the 4-speed auto and the 6-speed manual;  it is my experience that a bone-stock Jeep with the 4-speed auto feels much more anemic than a lifted 6-speed manual Jeep with 35's and stock gears - that's how big of a difference there is in performance between the two transmissions.

My advice is that if you want a manual transmission Jeep, you might be better-off buying a used 2007-2011 model and saving thousands of dollars versus a 2012 with the new engine.  This is the route I went when I saved $14,000 buying a used 2010 versus a new 2012, and to this day I'm still pleased with this decision.  However, if you have the money for a 2012 model, I have no doubt that you will love the new powertrain and upgraded interior.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Autobytel Reviews the 2012 Jeep Wrangler

Here's a short video review of the 2012 Jeep Wrangler by

Everyone obviously appreciated the old 4.0-liter inline-6 from the TJ, YJ, XJ, ZJ, WJ, and MJ Jeeps, and while the 3.8-liter minivan V6 in the 2007-2011 Wrangler was absolutely neutered by the anemic 4-speed automatic transmission, I've been pleasantly surprised at how decent this engine performs when coupled to a proper 6-speed manual transmission.  While no musclecar, the old 3.8-liter is perfectly adequate even with 35-inch tall tires and 4.10 diff gears when equipped with a transmission that allows it to perform.

The fact that Jeep continues to refine and improve the Wrangler while keeping it true to its roots and purpose is praise-worthy.  Jeep is the only manufacturer who still produces a compact offroad-oriented 4x4; hence, their sales have continued to surge as other faux-by-fours have devolved into tall station wagons or been discontinued.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Jeep Falls Victim to Death Wobble Sensationalism

Imagine my surprise to read a news story on (with video) about a local TV news station reporting on the notorious Jeep "death wobble" shortly after I published a blog post about it.  I'm both frustrated and annoyed because this is nothing more than another instance of a biased reporter's sensationalism misleading the public, disseminating disinformation, and generating hype (and thus, advertising revenue) at the expense of an innocent car manufacturer, their dealerships, and their customer base.

Don't get me wrong; I'm not dismissing the reality of "death wobble."  I have a close friend with a 2008 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon who has been dealing with this problem on and off since he bought his Jeep brand-new.  As someone who works in the 4x4 industry, this is an issue with which I'm intimately familiar.  It's a problem that's as common on Jeeps as it is on almost every other 4x4.  And as happens with the dealerships for every other automotive brand, his dealer hasn't been helpful in solving his problem.

Allow me make this perfectly clear: this is not a problem that's exclusive to Jeeps.  We simply hear about it happening more on Jeeps because of three main reasons:

Monday, March 19, 2012

Tires, Part 3: Treadwright Guard Dog with Kedge Grip

Once I finally determined what size tires and what type of tires I wanted to fit on my Jeep, I had to start selecting from the dozens of different tread patterns available as a 35" tire for a 17" wheel.  Extensive research and debate resulted in my choice being the 315/70-R17 Treadwright Guard Dog M/T.

Treadwright tires are different than any others in the light truck market.  Instead of being a sub-brand of a larger tire manufacturing company (as are most big- and small-name tire brands) they take good tire casings with worn-out tread, and retread them into good-as-new tires.  This results in much higher-quality tires than could otherwise be made for the prices they charge.

How are retreaded tires made?  Treadwright explains the process on their website:

Jeep Timeline Video Slideshow

Someone put together a pretty cool video slideshow on YouTube that shows the evolution of the Jeep from the 1940's until the present:

Friday, March 16, 2012

Modern Marvels: The Military History of Jeep

One of my favorite T.V. programs is Modern Marvels.  They produced a great episode on the history of the Jeep which can be viewed on YouTube:

Partway through part 4 and into part 5, they discuss how the Jeep's innovations evolved into the HMMWV:

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Jeep JK Death Wobble

A common problem that Jeep Wrangler owners complain about is the notorious "death wobble" from the steering at certain speeds.  This oscillation or shimmy in the steering has multiple potential individual or combined sources: track bar brackets or bushings, tie rod ends on the drag link or the tie rod, worn steering box sector shaft bearing, maladjusted caster angle, sloppy control arm bushings, worn ball joints or kingpins, and out-of-balance or out-of-round wheels and tires.

As your Jeep piles on miles (especially difficult off-roading miles) components will wear and each make their own minor contribution to the problem.  Add large, heavy tires on wheels that space them far out from the steering axis, and preventing death wobble can become quite a challenge.  A steering stabilizer can help dampen the shimmy, but it's not a fix for the root cause(s) of the problem.

This is by no means a problem that's exclusive to Jeeps, but it's more commonly reported with them because so many more people modify theirs for extreme off-road use.  I've had death wobble problems on most of my off-road vehicles over the years, and in my experience the number one cause of the problem has been welded steel wheels (which are rarely as concentric as a machined aluminum wheels) and out-of-round tires (Super Swampers are notoriously egg-shaped).  However, the tires are only the start of the oscillation; the rest of the suspension and steering can either resist or compound the problem.

Rock Krawler Suspension put together a short video showing one of the common sources of the death wobble while they were diagnosing a customer's Jeep:

YouTube is full of videos showing 4x4 owners' fight against the dreaded death wobble.  Here are two that illustrate the symptoms quite well:

I'm paying particular attention to the buildup of my Jeep to ensure that I will not have to deal with death wobble.  I'm using nothing but the best steering, suspension, and ball joints, and my choice of wheels and tires is for ones that are as concentric as possible.  My goal is to have steering that is smooth and free from death wobble even without a steering stabilizer installed.  Stay tuned.

*** UPDATE 5/21/2013 ***

Diesel Power Magazine just published an article entitled Curing Death Wobble.  They have listed and explained the 11 most frequent causes of steering shimmy:

  1. Tire Pressure
  2. Tire Balance
  3. Alignment
  4. Track Bar
  5. Tie Rod
  6. Drag Link
  7. Ball Joints
  8. Steering Damper
  9. Control Arm or Leaf Spring Bushings
  10. Wheel Bearings
  11. Steering Box

Jeep says "thank you" to their fans

Jeep just hit a major milestone with their Facebook page: they now have 2-million fans, which is more than any other vehicle brand in the world.  They are showing their appreciation by releasing this brief "thank you" video.  It gives us a glimpse into the Toledo Jeep factory and the people who manufacture, sell, and service Jeep vehicles.

It's nice to see a company showing a genuine appreciation for their customers.  Jeep and their current management really seem to care about their customers - it makes me proud to be a Jeep owner.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Tires, Part 2: All-Terrain versus Mud-Terrain

Now that I've determined what size tires tires I want to fit on my Jeep, I can start selecting from the dozens of different tread patterns available in that size:


I've almost always chosen mud-terrain tires for my various 4x4s because I am one of the few who actually needs an aggressive tire for off-road performance.  I have used a wide variety of all-terrain and mud-terrain tires over the years on my previous vehicles:

Nuts & Bolts - How they're made

I wanted to share this video from The Discovery Channel's program "How It's Made" covering the manufacture of nuts and bolts.

After seeing the processes behind their manufacture, I have a lot more appreciation for fasteners that come with all the parts I'm installing on my Jeep!

Friday, March 9, 2012

Jeep Wrangler versus Land Rover Defender 90

Here's a foreign video comparison between the Jeep Wrangler and the Land Rover Defender 90.  It's a good bit of entertainment because it's not just the typical "fluff" review that's purely subjective - in this video you can see the how and why of the differences between the two industry benchmarks in off-road ability:

It's interesting to note the different overseas front bumper, and the fact that their Rubicon doesn't have the BFGoodrich Rubicon Mud-Terrain tires that the U.S. models come with.  The Jeep's performance in mud and dirt would undoubtedly be better if it had a proper set of mud-terrains.

The Wrangler in this video also happens to be a diesel model - I'd kill for one!  But in all honesty, I'm satisfied with the performance of my 3.8-liter minivan motor.  It's not a fantastic engine, but it does the job and still has more than adequate power even with 35" tires.  If I want speed, I'll drive one of my cars.

What I care about is off-road performance, which is the whole reason why I bought a Rubicon.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The Ten Most Quintessentially American Cars

Jalopnik just published their list of the Ten Most Quintessentially American Cars, and the Jeep Wrangler is one of them.  Here's what they had to say:

Why it's your all-American: After it won the war, the Jeep came back and sired a hell of a family of outward-bound rock crawlers. No other vehicle embodies the wild-frontier trailblazer spirit like the essential Jeep, even if current models are more plush and technically advanced than Patton could have dreamed possible. If you want to see the country, this will let you see more of it than anything else short of a helicopter.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Tires, Part 1: Choosing the right size

We've all seen the full range of Jeeps, from bone-stock mallcrawlers to huge monster trucks.  Somewhere between those two extremes lies the perfect size.  "Perfect" has a different definition for every Jeep owner because it depends upon what type of terrain they intend to drive on and how they weight the ration between form and function, but building it "perfect" for your needs keeps the cost down while maximizing its capability where you need it to perform.

Before selecting your Jeep's suspension, you must first determine what size tires you want to run.  Suspension height must match the tire size or else you're compromising your Jeep's performance.  

I happen to value function over form.  I don't care for glitz and glam; I laugh at huge lift kits, tremendously oversize tires, and blingin' wheels.  I mentioned before my intended uses for my Jeep, and since then I've spent quite a lot of time researching and weighing the benefits and compromises between my various options.  I am approaching my Jeep's buildup from an engineering standpoint because I'm not trying to impress anyone but myself.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Jeep Wrangler: Made in America

The Jeep Wrangler is one of the best-selling and highest-content made-in-America vehicles.  According to this story by ABC News (video after the link), the NHTSA reports that the Wrangler is 79% American-sourced content.

On top of that, every Jeep Wrangler sold around the world is assembled at Jeep's plant in Toledo, Ohio and the company just invested another $1.7 billion into the facility.  FIAT/Chrysler/Jeep CEO Sergio Marchionne is even quoted as saying that it's "unthinkable to assemble a Wrangler somewhere else."

I happen to be a big proponent of buying American whenever possible, so I'm happy to see how American the Jeep Wrangler really is.  One of my top considerations with every aftermarket part I buy for my Jeep is the country in which it's built.  American-made parts are automatically moved to the top of my list of considered options.

5-minute Jeep Disassembly and Reassembly

Watch the Canadian Armed Forces disassemble and reassemble a specially-modified Jeep in under 5 minutes!  They demonstrated this for the crowd at the 2011 Bantam Jeep Heritage Festival held in Butler, Pennsylvania:

And reassembled:

Unfortunately my 2010 Wrangler isn't quite this easy to work on, but it's certainly easier to work on than most modern cars are.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Songwriter Donna Lee Holman Sings About Her Jeep

Here's a short little video that Chrysler put together about a singer/songwriter named Donna Lee Holman whose gig includes a song about her stock Jeep Wrangler.

Popular Mechanics: Best for Low-Speed Four Wheeling

Popular Mechanics is one of my favorite magazines, and they just published their list of The Best Trucks and SUVs for Every Job.  Their winner for the category of Low-Speed Four Wheeling is the Jeep Wrangler Rubicon.

In their words:
The Wrangler still uses rugged body-on-frame construction and a solid axle at each end of the chassis for serious four-wheel-drive durability. The Rubicon model pushes the chassis to another level with locking differentials and a suite of hardcore parts that transform this machine into arguably the most off-road capable 4WD available today. The Wrangler Rubicon, in both two-door and four-door (Unlimited) guise, can easily crawl over boulders, logs, ditches, and mud holes that would halt most 4WD vehicles. . . .The Wrangler really is the last honest, hose-it-out-when-it's-muddy 4WD vehicle. We hope the formula never changes.
As expected, there are readers who commented on the article "What about the _______?" but the simple truth of the matter is that no other currently-available new vehicle has the off-road abilities of the Jeep Wrangler Rubicon.  The closest vehicle in off-road ability is the Ram Power Wagon, but its size and weight challenge it in most types of terrain where a Jeep is in its element.  The IFS vehicles from Toyota and Nissan are a far cry from the Wrangler since they lack the strength, gearing, and front differential locker that the Rubicon comes with.