Tales of the expected!

Or the why, how and what of vehicle spares to be carried.

This article is based upon my many years of 4×4 ownership and occasionally hard usage.

Most of the experiences are personal and relate to my usage of a Suzuki SJ413, an LPG powered V8 Land Rover/Range Rover/Series Hybrid and my current vehicle, a 300TDi Defender 90. I will also add various incidents and happenings which have occurred on trips to other vehicles in the groups.

I will assume all vehicles will be carrying a good quality, basic toolkit along with any special tools that may relate to any roadside repair (hub spanner etc). If you are running a more sophisticated vehicle with electronic controls, then I would strongly recommend that you carry a computer with the necessary software to reset your vehicles parameters. Remember, water and electronics do not mix, and it is becoming a significant issue where a vehicle has to be reset to re-establish loss of traction control, loss of suspension control and correct braking functions whilst on an unsurfaced road, in the rain, with the rest of the group standing around, tapping their feet and exchanging knowing glances (and being smug about it as our older less sophisticated vehicles just plug on). If you have such kit – please bring it with you – it is no use at home.

I will also assume that your vehicle is correctly maintained. Use ‘off tarmac’ places a greater strain on your vehicle – even though it is built for such usage. If there are any weaknesses, then they will be found out. Nothing annoys your fellow group members more than when your vehicle breaks down on a trip and you admit that it has been making ‘funny noises’ for some time and you did nothing about it before coming out. We will not leave you stranded, however, and if your vehicle cannot be fixed, we will make sure you are in a safe place to be recovered from. Please make sure you have your own vehicle recovery plan (AA, RAC, Green Flag etc), do not expect a colleague to tow you over any great distance. If you use a spare from one of your colleagues to affect a repair, please replace it with one of equal quality or pay for it. Please do not expect a part to be carried by a colleague and given to you, they are not a mobile parts shop – that is the reason this article is being published – to make you aware of what parts we expect you to carry. What would happen if all your colleagues decided not to bother as well?

Good, regular maintenance is essential for our vehicle usage, ensuring things like prop shaft UJs and sliders are well greased – preferably after every trip, and your oils are checked, particularly if you have been in water and may suffer contamination – more on that later.

On the subject of water, make sure you know where your air intake is and make sure you do not go into water deep enough to allow water to be sucked in – particularly if it is a diesel. If that happens, you will more than likely destroy your engine, terminally – immediately! Some of us have high level intakes (snorkels) fitted to overcome this issue. However, if you do fit one, please make absolutely sure it is watertight along its induction route. Cable ties where worm clips should be used will not do! Make sure your axle and gearbox breathers are taken to high level as well – more on that later. Regarding electronics, as we said earlier, they are very susceptible to water, so know where your electronics are and do not submerge them in water. You can try to waterproof their compartment (not always easy) or try to move them to a higher point in the vehicle. There are some kits available to do this.

Despite what some people may think, all vehicles, whether Japanese, American or from Solihull, obey the laws of Physics. No make or model of vehicle is immune from any of the issues being discussed – the availability and cost of parts is the only variable. Land Rovers tend to be cheaper to run and the spares availability is better (in this Country).

If you run a more ‘exotic’ vehicle than Land Rover, then you will have to research to see how viable it is to perform a specific repair in the ‘field’ – ie in the rain, in the mud and under your vehicle, for yourself. Most of the experiences I will relate to are based on the Land Rover Defender, Range Rover Classic and Discovery 1. These are the most common vehicles in our sphere and share many common running components – and subsequently, common failures.

Interesting facts – the most common 4×4 in the USA is the Ford F100, and the most common 4×4 in the world is the Toyota Landcruiser (and has been for many years).

Most failures we see associated with driving a 4×4 as we do, relates to transmission bearing failure and wheel bearings. What must be understood is the amount of heat generated in these bearings as the vehicle is driven. These bearings (in the main) do not have the luxury of operating in an oil ‘bath’ as those in a gearbox do, and have no way to dissipate the heat generated. They have to rely on the grease we put in them for their survival. If the bearing is put under duress or is wrongly set, the grease can burn away leading to failure. It pays to check how hot your vehicle hubs are when you stop, particularly if you have recently changed them, and if any are too hot – then attend to it immediately. This heat may also indicate brake ‘binding’ which can lead to an overheating bearing.

The very important side effect to this heat build up, and the one which leads to UJ failure, is what happens when these hot components are immersed, suddenly, in cold water. The seals on the bearings are designed to keep the lubricant in the bearing, but when a hot component is rapidly cooled in the water and it contracts immediately, which sucks water (and mud) into the bearing past those seals. That is the reason why we have breathers on the axles and gearboxes – to allow air to flow in and out, thus protecting the seals, limiting the possibility of water contamination. Obviously, these breathers must be extended above the water level, and sealed to prevent water ingress via that source. The UJ bearings do not even have that luxury, hence the reason why they must be re greased regularly, especially if they have been in water. Similarly the prop shaft sliders. The more expensive seals are double lipped, usually to try to limit the possibility of failure. Water entering an axle or gearbox past the seals renders the oil useless and it must be changed immediately, or component failure will follow. A water contaminated oil will appear milky where it has emulsified. If the vehicle is allowed to stand for a period, the water will separate and fall to the bottom. It can then be detected by loosening the drain plug (do not remove) and due to its lower viscosity, it will run out past the threads.

Seals can be damaged by the incursion of dirt or the mating surface can become worn allowing the oil to escape. On an axle, this can lead to brake surface contamination and brake failure.

All the above has happened to me at some point, and most can be repaired in the ‘field’ if you have the parts and tools. The only exceptions may be an axle where the bearing is pressed onto the shaft (Suzuki SJ), where you need an Oxy Acetylene cutter to remove the bearing, and a press to install the new one. You might find a local garage or vehicle workshop nearby where a few pound notes might allow you access to their tools. I have done this on several occasions whilst on a long weekend trip – so worthwhile carrying the necessary spares (don’t forget the seals!). Similar with a UJ – all you need is access to a good vice and circlip pliers. Another component to consider is the stub axle. An overheated, seized bearing may damage the mating surface on the stub axle, which may make the installation of a new bearing impossible. The mating surface for the seal may be overly worn, so a replacement seal may not work . On most Land Rovers, they are all the same – they do not take up much room, so carrying a spare might be a good idea

These sort of failures can be difficult to predict and prevent – but regular checking will identify loose or noisy bearings to replace BEFORE going on a trip. Check also for weeping seals and replace ASAP.

So to sum up so far – always carry wheel bearings, possibly a stub axle, UJs, axle oil seals and lock tabs as appropriate, and don’t forget grease and silicone sealant or gaskets.

It might be a good idea to ‘pre load’ your new bearings with grease in the comfort of your own garage and pack them away in a sealed plastic bag to prevent the grease from leaking out. You can then just ‘top it up’ when you fit them. This will lessen the possibility of contamination should you wind up doing your repair in less than ideal conditions – ie sand, mud and water.

The next most common failure which can be sorted by the roadside is ancillary belts and tensioners. A drive belt failure can render your vehicle undriveable, through lack of charge, water pump or power steering, and the repair need only take a few minutes – if you have the spares. It is a single serpentine belt on the 300TDi – so, if it fails, nothing works. The other related item on a 300TDi (and probably others) is the belt tensioner. If the bearing starts to fail, it can allow the pulley to seize, which causes the belt to loose tension for the hydraulic pump and loss of power steering – sometimes sporadically. This is an experience I had which took a while to identify – until we noticed the pulley was not rotating.

Contrary to common belief, you can change the bearings on this item – I have a couple in the back of my vehicle. You will need a good vice to hold the body while you remove the pulley and take the circlip off the bearing retainer. The replacement bearing is an improvement as it is sealed on both sides, not just one as the OE part.

So carry replacement belts and a tensioner if possible.

Steering rods, track rods and suspension/trailing arms can be easily bent or broken. I have experienced all of these failures. A trailing arm failure can be catastrophic. I have seen one bent and broken two. The last trailing arm I broke was when I was doing 70mph plus on a dual carriageway. The vehicle ended up sideways to the direction of travel with the front wheels on the opposite carriageway. One of the rear wheels was locked up against the rear cross member and the shock absorber was bent. Luckily, as this had occurred before at low speed on a lane, I was carrying a spare and was soon mobile again (to deliver the vehicle to its new owner!). Steering bars and track rods are easily bent as original equipment on Land Rovers. Luckily they can just as easily be bent straight – but remember to replace ASAP as they will be weak. I have bent both on several occasions – so I now use aftermarket heavy duty ones and cranked, heavy duty trailing arms.

These items are easily obtained and stored in your vehicle for use as spares – probably as you upgrade to the heavy duty aftermarket ones.

Drive shafts and differentials are a little more difficult. The failure of these components is more often than not, down to overly enthusiastic driving – or put another way – lack of mechanical sympathy. A failure can ruin your day, however. Replacing these components in a front axle is usually quite time consuming and normally results in an immediate repatriation on the ‘big yellow taxi’. The front and rear diffs on a Land Rover are normally the same – so if you have a spare with you, it might be justifiable to replace it if you are away for a few days. The rear is easy to change if you are away for a few days. I can well remember the long weekend we went on in Dartmoor, when I stripped a third of the teeth off the rear differential on my Hybrid (aggressive driving up some rock steps). The following morning was spent with my passenger and I stripping the rear axle while Steve Walsh and Ray went out to search for a Series Differential to suite. They found one on a farm and we were back on the road by the afternoon, when Steve found he had broken a half shaft on the same steps. You see – memories are made of this! Drive shafts (half shafts) are an easy change (normally) – but each corner is different! I would suggest that if you are going in a group with common parts – you each carry a different one.

So to sum up – carry drive shafts with you, they can be easily and safely stored. Carry a spare differential with you if you are going away for a few days. Again, if there is commonality in a group, just one left at base camp would suffice. A strong magnet attached to a length wooden dowel or piping (to fit down your axle tube), is a good addition, to remove the remains of a drive shaft from the output of the differential. The splines have a habit of twisting off there.

Brake pipes can be broken or sheared off. I had an experience, again in Dartmoor, when a tree branch caught up in my rear axle and wiped off the rear brake pipe across the axle. Alan Webb came to the rescue here and we drove around to find a garage who would make us up a replacement. Carrying some brake pipe (and a Flaring tool) would have saved some time for a situation that could easily repeat itself.

As a matter of interest, I also rolled my Hybrid in Dartmoor – only chipped the paint on the winch bumper (and lost 8 gallons of petrol down the lane as the filler cap leaked and it was on the downward side!)

Electrical problems should also be considered, and a length of wire with various connectors can be useful. A small, gas powered soldering iron (don’t forget the solder), insulation tape and a selection of fuses to suit all the fuses on the vehicle. Don’t forget those which have been added on for additional ancillaries – not just the stock vehicle ones. A set of bulbs for your lights should be an obvious requirement.

Remember the potential electrical loading you could have. Alan Webb came to my rescue again when the kill switch I had fitted to my winch decided it could no longer carry the current I was passing through it and promptly melted (after some years of sterling service). I have now installed a switch more capable of carrying the load. Such things have the potential for fire – so be aware. On that note, please carry a fire extinguisher.

Brake pads can wear very quickly in some environments, so carrying a set of spares, possibly made up of old pads with some life left, could suffice in an emergency.

Appropriate oils and lubricants for your all your vehicles requirements should be carried along with some WD40 possibly. Also, water to replenish your cooling system.

A selection of hoses and worm clips to affect repairs to cooling and fuel systems.

A light duty ratchet strap or two can be very useful for all sorts of temporary repair as well as tying things down.

If you are driving any other make of vehicle, I would suggest you acquire a copy of the vehicles Maintenance Manual or appropriate Haynes Manual, and look, in particular at the information, to see what is required to repair your vehicle in the areas covered above. This should give you an idea what is feasible, and what spares and tools are required. As stated earlier, it does not matter where your vehicle was designed, or built – you will suffer the same issues. No one can beat basic physics.

On a final note, bear in mind that your repair may be done in less than ideal conditions, so please ensure you check it, or if necessary do it again when the situation and environment is better. Better that, than it failing prematurely the next time out – it has happened.