Thursday, June 27, 2013

Jeep Wrangler: The Official Vehicle of Summer

Jeep has produced the above 1-minute commercial proclaiming the Wrangler to be The Official Vehicle of Summer.  The entire video is shot on location on the Rubicon Trail, clearly demonstrating why the Wrangler is the ultimate summer vehicle - there is no more fun road on Planet Earth than the Rubicon Trail.

What's so significant about the Rubicon?  Why does Jeep go to the effort to test all their Trail Rated models on the Rubicon before releasing them to the public?  Why does Jeep name their top-of-the-line, most offroad-capable model ever the Rubicon after this trail?  Is the Rubicon Trail really that significant?

Yes it is.  There's a lot more to the Rubicon than most people know, and it is a fascinating history.  You can own the world's most definitive coffee table book written by historian and Rubicon property owner Rick Morris: Rubicon Springs and the Rubicon Trail: a history

I first met Rick and his father at Rubicon Springs at the 60th Annual Jeepers Jamboree.  Getting to hear directly from the two of them tales about the Springs, the Trail, the constant access battles with our government land (mis)managers, and the geologic prehistory of this national treasure was fascinating.  I had to own this book, and I have very much enjoyed reading it and studying the countless old photos.

If you plan to drive the Rubicon Trail for the first time, I highly recommend going with a group - this trail is not just a day-trip for the novice.  Even with a group, I advise you to pick up the 4-Wheeler's Guide to the Rubicon Trail.  It provides obstacle-by-obstacle information on the trail so even newbies know exactly what to expect at every turn, which will help you get the most from your adventure.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Jeep Wrangler Loses its Hardtop

Let the above video be a quick public service announcement for all you JK owners:  Don't think you can get away with not bolting your hardtop down!  If you try to rely upon only the retainer screws on the targa bar, it doesn't take much of a bump to launch the hardtop right off the back of your Jeep.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

10 Rules of Trail Etiquette

Despite the image that the various anti-access faux-environmentalist groups project, we four wheelers are very considerate, nature-loving people.  We build our 4x4s to get us deeper into the backcountry than the "Average Joe" can get.  We are hikers, fishermen, campers, hunters, skiers, and all-around outdoorsmen.  We take care of our natural resources by staying on marked trails, cleaning up after ourselves, and being courteous to others.

Preserving the public's access to public lands requires that every outdoorsman follow a few simple rules of trail etiquette.  These rules are all common sense, but it helps to see how this applies specifically to our own particular form of outdoors recreation.

1.  Be considerate.  That’s the overriding principle here, and it deserves special mention.  Remember that everyone else you encounter on the trail is an outdoorsman just like you.  No matter what form of recreation they're partaking in, they have more in common with you than not.  Help make their backcountry experience a positive one by showing them courtesy and respect.

2.  Yield the right of way to mountain bikes, horses and hikers.  They can’t compete with a two-ton vehicle.  Slow down as you approach them, and give them space; horses are easily spooked and can throw their rider, so pull to the side of the trail and shut off your engine to allow equestrians to pass.  Avoid kicking up unnecessary dust, honking your horn, or other intrusive actions, no matter who you encounter.  Want to really make an impression?  Offer a bottle of water, advice on trail conditions up ahead, or a helping hand if needed.  You’ll make a good impression and you’ll help improve our image.

3.  Yield to a vehicle driving uphill.  That vehicle may need some momentum to climb.  If you force him to stop, he may need to back up to gain that momentum, and backing down a tough obstacle or steep climb can be dangerous due to limited visibility.

4.  Keep track of the vehicle behind you.  If you come to an intersection or a curve, make sure the vehicle behind you sees which way you went.  Don’t assume he did.  He might be in a dust cloud or behind a bush or boulder.

The following vehicles should also try to keep up with the group.  However, that could involve eating a lot of dust, and that’s no fun.  If you go through something difficult, look back and make sure the vehicle behind you made it.  In larger groups or in a maze of trails, it's very easy for someone to take the wrong fork in the road if they're left behind.

5.  Closely observe the vehicle ahead of you. This will help you pick the proper line(s) for negotiating a rough spot.  It also means keeping the proper distance back.  If you're too close, you will find yourself in a dust cloud or in danger of getting hit if the 4x4 ahead of you rolls back.  Consider the ability to see their rear differential to be an absolute minimum following distance.

Where there are multiple obstacles, drop back farther to get a better perspective. This will also give you more time to think through your strategy.

6.  When stopped, pull completely off the trail. You may not be the only person on the trails. Someone could overtake you or come at you from the other direction. When you pull off, pick a spot where you won't be trampling vegetation.  And don't park on tall, dry grass because your hot exhaust system could start a fire.

7.  Don’t throw cigarette butts out the window. Not only is that littering, but it is a major fire hazard.  Many fires are started every year by discarded cigarette butts.  Don’t be a butthead!  Dispose of them properly or you could ruin a backcountry paradise for decades to come!

8.  Boys left, girls right.  Need to stop for a pee call?  This little ditty is a reminder of which direction everyone goes.

Have numerous vehicles and no cover?  Use a “dispersed” arrangement.  The last vehicle stops.  Everyone keeps driving until the 2nd to last vehicle feels it’s far enough from the last vehicle.  He stops and notifies the group.  The process continues until everyone feels they are far enough away.  How spread out you get depends on terrain features.

9.  Let other campers sleep.  Don’t gab loudly, slam car doors, or run your vehicle's engine before 8:00am or after 10:00pm.  Keep your noisy dogs and excited children under control.

10.  No music or other artificial noise makers in camp.  You’re out in the country to experience Mother Nature, right? You shouldn’t spoil the setting with music.  Most other people aren't going to want to listen to your tunes.

The exception is if someone brings along a guitar, harmonica, or banjo.  One of the classic ways to enjoy a campfire is with a sing-along - as long as you aren't disturbing other groups of people by doing so.

AEV Builds the Jeep that Jeep Should Have Built

Forbes Magazine published an article about American Expedition Vehicles' Jeep conversions that included some thoughtful insight about Jeep's position as an OEM as well as AEV's position at the high end of the 4x4 aftermarket.  The review of the Jeep centers around the 2013 Easter Jeep Safari in Moab, Utah but is primarily focused on the business side of the Jeep industry.  From the article:
Let’s face it: if you’re considering buying a Jeep Wrangler 4×4, it’s not for a comfortable plush interior, a high top speed, and it’s certainly not in the hopes of getting decent gas mileage.

You consider getting a Jeep because it’s a fun, rugged, extremely off-road capable vehicle that has a 70 year legacy and an enormous following with outdoor enthusiasts.
If you buy a Jeep Wrangler, then you own what is widely considered the best off-road vehicle you can buy.

But it’s not. It could be better…

And thanks to a quickly growing company called American Expedition Vehicles, now it can be. Jeep’s main focus is on profit and the ability to easily mass produce automobiles that satisfy a huge range of consumers. There is nothing wrong with that, but it goes against notions of passionate production and peak performance that enthusiasts are looking for.

Forbes' article discusses the success AEV has had with their Jeep Wrangler-based Brute pickup truck conversion - demonstrating to Chrysler the sizable demand for their own extremely offroad-capable Jeep pickup.  As I've mentioned before, Jeep may finally be developing a modern Jeep pickup of their own.

Forbes also brings to light the difference between AEV's product lineup, and that of other Jeep aftermarket companies.  Another quote from the article:
… off-road ability isn’t what makes AEV’s Jeeps special … Harriton explains that any decent off-road shop can build a vehicle that will climb rock walls and boulders like this. The trick is developing a vehicle that can also be used as a comfortable daily driver.
Off-road vehicles are usually built upon a series of modifications and compromises that make them uncomfortable and unstable on city streets and highways. Much of this has to do with the kind of suspension required for off-roading.

And it is AEV’s completely redeveloped suspension that Harriton is most proud. The suspension keeps the vehicle stable and smooth on the highway and city streets, while allowing full articulation and solid handling in the most extreme off-road environments you can imagine.

AEV redesigned the Jeep’s suspension from the ground-up, with the help of former Jeep engineers that Harriton has ushered into his fold. Their goal was to develop a vehicle that could be driven in serious off-road conditions, as well as on the freeway, without feeling that it was compromised in either element.

In this regard, I would say the American Expedition Vehicles has succeeded. The vehicle was able to tackle seemingly insurmountable obstacles off-road, and seamlessly transition to smooth, quiet, and stable freeway driving.
Regular readers of this blog will recall that after much research and debate, I decided on the AEV 3.5-inch DualSport suspension for my own Jeep.  To say that I am pleased with its broad range of capabilities is putting it mildly.  As a recent test drive of my Jeep by a friend and 4 Wheel Parts Service Manager demonstrated, the AEV suspension rides and drives better than a stock Wrangler while remaining fully capable of hardcore rockcrawling.  Coming from a highly-trained technician who installs, tweaks, and test-drives Jeeps with almost every available suspension kit, that's high praise - he was genuinely surprised and impressed by how much better my Jeep rides and drives than the countless other Jeeps he test-drives every day.

It's nice to see American ingenuity at the cutting edge of vehicular development.  AEV's engineering team has been recognized by Chrysler with multiple awards and partnerships.  From a business standpoint, Forbes also recognizes this leadership:
Using some of the best suppliers in the United States, AEV is able to custom order parts to their specific specifications or build in-house. It is part of a new birth of American automakers, and it is exclusive, high-end, and in direct contrast to what most people think about the American car industry.

Long Term Wrapup: 2012 4x4 Of The Year

Regular readers of this blog will recall that I posted nearly a year and a half ago that Petersen's 4-Wheel and Off-Road Magazine awarded the 2012 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon their 2012 4x4 Of The Year award.  That win qualified the Rubicon for a long-term test to validate the staff's conclusions about the vehicle's capabilities, and the magazine has now published their final update to the test.

A quote from the article:

Our 2012 4x4 of the Year winner was the Jeep Wrangler Rubicon (Feb. ’13). Pitted against the venerable Ram Power Wagon Crew Cab, it was still a solid-axle slugfest with double throwdown lockers and all the good equipment. However, the Rubicon shone brighter than the Ram. As the winner, the Jeep was ours to punish and enjoy over the course of a year.
We say “punish” because the Rubicon won its marks as the no-holds-barred winner for a few straightforward reasons. First of course is capability. A custom-fabbed 4x4 could easily outdo the Rubicon in many off-road venues, but for a mass-produced, production-based vehicle straight out of the box, the Rubicon is hands-down the most capable rig ever made. Face it: What other vehicle could drive cross-country in comfort while negotiating many of the country’s toughest trails and do it all for a price many of us could afford? We have had a chance to wheel this Rubi far more than any other 4x4 of the Year winner for this one reason.

Second on our list is the confidence-inspiring reliability. Sure, any vehicle can break, but when the going gets tough, what other contemporary, available rig would you take? There just isn’t any other choice. Any trail that goes beyond the pale is still possible by pushing through with the 4:1 transfer case gearing in 4.10 axles that can be locked with the flip of a switch, and a suspension supple enough to handle nearly anything short of competition climbing and speed contests. And speaking of speed, torque, and power, the new 3.6L V-6 is more than enough engine for whatever the Rubicon is tasked for, unlike the old 3.8L, which was more than underwhelming.
Jeep has preserved the Wrangler's tough and capable qualities while continually refining it year after year.  No vehicle is perfect, and Petersen's mentions the gripes that came up over the course of their long-term test, but Jeep and the aftermarket industry will continue to perfect the total package for each owner's particular needs.

Congratulations are owed to Jeep for not screwing up the Wrangler.  Every other competitive vehicle has been discontinued or emasculated with independent suspension and a unitized body.  The Wrangler is the last remaining serious offroad SUV.  Let's all hope that the JK's successor in 2015 or 2016 will continue the Jeep legacy.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Jeep Wrangler Suspension Installation on Dirt Every Day

Fred Williams from Petersen's 4-Wheel & Off-Road Magazine produces a web video series called Dirt Every Day in which he covers a broad variety of different offroad topics.  A recent episode shows the installation of an Old Man Emu 4-inch suspension lift kit on a Jeep Wrangler Rubicon Unlimited.  He includes some great tech tidbits and shows how the simplicity of the Jeep's solid-axle design allows anyone to install a suspension kit in their own driveway.  Check out the video here:

ARB's Old Man Emu 4-inch lift kit: OMEJK4
 ARB produced their own video about this particular suspension kit, which can be viewed here: