Jeep Creep: Your Off-Road Questions Answered
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Jeep recalls from NHTSA this month:
14V-104—Chrysler is recalling certain model year 2012-2013 Dodge Durango and Jeep Grand Cherokee vehicles manufactured October 11, 2011, through October 1, 2012. Under certain braking events, the Ready Alert Braking System (RAB) may result in the driver experiencing a hard brake pedal feel. If the driver experiences a hard brake pedal, the driver may not push the pedal as intended, lengthening the distance needed to stop the vehicle and increasing the risk of a crash. Chrysler will notify owners, and dealers will update the ABS module software, free of charge. The recall began on April 3, 2014. Owners may contact Chrysler at 800-853-1403. Chrysler’s number associated with this recall is P05.
I bought a used Grand Cherokee with the 4.0-liter motor recently with about 180,000 miles, and while driving it home I began to notice a light hissing sound coming from the pedal area on the driver’s side. I thought maybe it was a leak in a brake line. I replaced the brake pads and the pedal is still a little soft when braking. But my mechanic told me it was the brake booster, saying the diaphragm inside broke and it needs replacing. The problem is I was told about $500 for the whole job. My friend suggested getting one from a pick-a-parts location. Do you think that's a good move?
Las Vegas, NV
My professional opinion on brake repairs is to always use to best quality part available. You have a used one on the vehicle, should you replace the worn out used one with another used one? Or with a rebuilt booster that has a warranty on it if it fails? Buy new—or at least refurbished (and warrantied)—parts for your GC. You can always get by with a limping engine or a slipping tranny, but if you need brakes—you need them badly, right now, and working properly!
Author’s note: I’ve been saving the following letters as they come in to collect all the towing information in one column. If I don’t answer all your towing questions in this column, please don’t hesitate to send me the question.—J.B.
I can’t figure out what’s wrong with my TJ. It drives fine, doesn’t miss, doesn’t overheat, and works great off-road. I’ve owned it for several years and always drove to and from the trails around where I used to live in Bisbee, Arizona. But my job forced me to move to Southern California about six months ago and driving the Jeep up to Big Bear or out to the desert—and then back home after our fun time—got to be a real chore, so I bought a nice pickup and camper to tow the Jeep with. I followed all the owner’s manual’s instructions on recreational towing and have been towing my Jeep out to the playgrounds and up to the state vehicle area near Gorman, and I want to tow it to the High Desert Roundup next weekend but I have a problem with it that I can’t find an answer to. For a few miles of driving it after towing it, the Jeep smells like a tire fire. What’s wrong with it? I don’t want to tow it any longer if it’s going to catch fire.
Rancho Cucamonga, CA
Not to worry, Frenchie! There won’t be a tire fire while you’re towing or driving. This happened to me also when I towed my 2005 TJ Unlimited and my 2007 Rubicon Unlimited. Because of its design, it never happened with my CJ7. And, like you, I searched high and low for the reason until it dawned on me what was happening. After a particularly long tow, while we were grabbing a snack and a restroom break, I started the four door’s engine to recharge the battery and after a few minutes noticed the hot tire smell. Since we weren’t driving the Jeep at the time, I knew one of the tires was not rubbing on something to cause the tire to overheat and I was able to follow my nose down to the source. I discovered that the smell was coming from the exhaust pipes near the front tires. I later figured out that while towing, tiny bits of tire (almost microscopic) flew off the tires and stuck to the exhaust pipe. This kept happening all the while during the tow and the bits of rubber collected until it was all over that section of exhaust pipe. When the pipe got hot from the engine, it would burn off the rubber and cause the burning tire smell. It doesn’t happen while driving because the bits are so small they’re fried before there’s an accumulation of rubber large enough to notice the odor.
We recently bought a 2009 Jeep Rubicon two-door that we want to tow behind our motorhome. We’re retired, members of the Family Motor Coaching Association, and we’re thinking about joining the four wheelers’ chapter but we need some tow bar information. It looks like it might be a little difficult to mount a tow bar on the Jeep’s front bumper like we did on our Jeep we owned about 20 years ago. Do we have to replace the Jeep’s bumper with an expensive aftermarket one or what?
Grover City, CA
You don’t have to replace the front bumper, Jim, for a tow bar (although you may want to if you’re going to add a winch). According to several letters I’ve received from many different California residents, the old-style tow bars are no longer legal in California. Living in California, you may want to verify this at a local DMV or CHP office, but I’ve been told that the front-mounted tow bars that are then raised up vertical when not towing will garner you a ticket. Like I said, I’ve been told that the authorities are afraid the tow bar could fall down, get caught on the pavement, and cause an accident. So you’ll need a different design. I recommend Blue Ox’s Aventa LX, which has a ball-in-socket design that incorporates a spherical joint instead of the traditional, bolted-together flex joint. This design is said to reduce wear points and allows for an extremely strong and durable attachment between the coach and the towed vehicle. It is a Class IV tow bar, for use with towed vehicles up to 10,000 pounds, weighs approximately 42 pounds, and has rubber boots to protect it from road grime. Its 360-degree swivel allows the coach and towable to be out of alignment or on uneven surfaces while hooking up, its easy fold-away feature allows the tow bar to be stored on the back of the motorhome, and has three-year warranty. The Aventa is attached to the towable with a Blue Ox base plate. If you change towables in the future, you may need a new base plate but not a new tow bar.
We just returned from a trip out West. We towed our ’89 Cherokee to the All 4 Fun Week by the Denver Mile High 4 Wheelers near Leadville. We’ve towed the Jeep all over here in the Midwest but we never experienced the steep grades we towed it up and down—especially down—in the Rockies. We didn’t have an accident but we did have a few exciting, heart-racing stops on the trip! We now think we need auxiliary braking for the Cherokee. Can you give us some advice?
That’s a big Hell yeah, Matthew! You definitely should have your Jeep equipped with an auxiliary braking system. As many motorhomers say, “It’s better to stop 10 feet in front of a brick wall instead of 10 feet behind the wall.” However, you didn’t mention a budget, so I hesitate to suggest one specific brand and/or model. Any RV magazine will have many ads on braking systems, or you could Google auxiliary braking systems. Either way, please add supplementary stopping power to your Jeep.
Trailer or Tow Dolly?
I have a 1984 CJ8 Scrambler that I’ve been fixing up over the years. I’ve installed a lift kit, 35-inch tires, ARB lockers, 4.56:1 gears, roll cage and a winch. I tow it to events all over the Western states. I’ve always worried about what could happen if one of the big off-road tires should blow out while I’m towing it at freeway speeds, or if the tires are wearing out too fast from the towing. Over the winter months, I installed a 4:1 low range in the Scrambler’s Dana 300 transfer case. I really like the better traction for rocks and up hills, and the hold back going downhill, but the instructions said it can’t be towed with all four wheels on the ground. So I think I need either to get a trailer or a tow dolly. Can you help me out here?
I’ve never been a big fan of tow dollies, Joel. I was using a rental unit with a ’68 Jeepster several years ago and it started whipping back and forth and I had to slow way down and get off the freeway. And you’re right about possible trouble if a tire blows—especially a front one—and your large off-road tires do wear faster because of their open-tread design. On a tow dolly, you’d have to tow with the weight on the dolly, which would still cause the rear tires to spin the transfer case, so a dolly wouldn’t work in your case. With a trailer you can carry extra tools and parts, a set of paddle tires if you’re heading for the dunes, you can leave your lower off-road air pressure set, and you can back it up if you get stuck in a deadend street. Plus, you can use it to haul other stuff when you’re not off-roading. And, although I have no solid proof, I don’t believe the trailer’s weight causes the tow vehicle to use more fuel because its reduced rolling resistance makes the fuel use a wash. Oh yeah, and trailers come with brakes. A trailer can be a big plus in a Jeeper’s life!
We towed our 2009 Sport out to Farmington, New Mexico, and the Jeep’s battery was dead when we got there. I’ve towed CJs and YJs and have never had the battery go dead before. I hooked a battery charger to the motorhome’s generator and recharged the battery and then read the Jeep’s owner’s manual. It said I have to disconnect the ground or minus side of the battery terminals when I tow, which I did for the return trip to Denver. But it’s a pain and I have to reset the clock and the stereo. What can I do to avoid doing this in the future?
Along around ’06 and/or ’07, Chrysler decided it was cheaper to delete the non-accessory ignition key location across the board. PT Cruisers, Dodges, all Jeep models, Rams, they all lost that location, so now in order to release the locked steering wheel the key must be turned to the accessory slot, which means you have to turn off the stereo, heater, etc., whenever you tow, and you’ll still run the battery down with all the lights and electronics that fire up when the key is in that slot. That’s why you’re supposed to remove the ground cable. There are various aftermarket kits available to avoid doing this, or you can do what I do: My JK has “smart” keys with chips in them so they must be used to start and run the engine. I purchased a “dumb” key (no chip) from a Jeep dealership. This dumb key unlocks the gas cap and unlocks the steering wheel. It will also allow me to start and run the engine as long as the transmission is not in gear or any accessory is on. As soon as I turn on the radio or shift into drive the engine dies—which means I can allow the engine to idle and charge the battery while I buy snacks or use the restroom or just stretch tired muscles. I can also leave the key in the ignition while towing with the doors locked up.
I’ve been using magnetic towing lights on my Jeep for the past year. I really don’t like using them. They’ve fallen off the Jeep a few times, the cord scratches the paint after the Jeep gets dirty out on the trails, and they are just a pain in the rear to use. What else can I do for safe towing?
Corpus Christi, TX
I’ve used magnetic lights a few times, Jason, and I have the same opinion as you. On my ’07 JK four-door I’ve gone to hard-wired lights utilizing the Jeep’s lights themselves. You’ll have to use diodes or the turn signals will work both sides at once. It’s very hard to explain exactly what must be done, but I’ll try. You’ll need two diodes—many auto parts stores have kits for this which include the diodes, solderless connectors, connectors, etc.—one for each taillight. You can mount the trailer plug on the Jeep’s front bumper. Route a ground wire from the plug to the frame (make sure the metal is clean for a good connection). Run a wire from the plug to the Jeep’s wiring loom for the running lights (this will operate the taillights, side clearance lights, and front parking lights) using a 12VDC circuit tester to find the correct wire within the factory loom. Now comes the most difficult part: route a pair of wires along the Jeep’s frame all the way back to the driver’s side taillight. Remove the screws holding the taillight and pull it out as far as you can, then route one of the wires over to the passenger’s side taillight (remove it as well). Use the circuit tester again and determine which wires are for the two turn signals. Using a solderless connector on each circuit, connect a wire to each turn signal. Using the instructions on the diode, connect the diode into the circuit between the light switch and the solderless connector. The diode keeps the current from passing through the brake light switch to the other turn signal. Diodes are like one-way valves, as they will allow current to flow in one direction only.
As usual, each month, I’m shouting out a huge THANK YOU to Paul Schupp at Rock Lizard 4x4 in Kingman, Arizona, for his invaluable assistance in answering many of the Jeep Creep questions.
Send your Jeep questions to firstname.lastname@example.org, Attn: Jeep Creep.
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