4x4 AnswerMan – Trucks and SUV Questions Answered

Jun. 04, 2013 By Jaime Hernandez
Have a truck or SUV question for the 4x4 AnswerMan? Send your questions to editor@off-road.com. Please include your name and location, and be as detailed as possible about your questions.

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2013 Toyota FJ Cruiser - Trail Teams Special Edition

Hi there 4x4 AnswerMan,
I’ve been doing some reading on 4x4s. I'd like to get one. I want a vehicle that is modestly off-road capable, but still a good regular street vehicle. I don’t need to be able to climb serious rock formations or mud bog through any more than maybe a couple of inches of mud, but want the ground clearance to drive through fields and over rough roads, road debris and ice with sufficient ground clearance.
I have been looking at the following:
Toyota FJ Cruiser <<< So far my first choice but is a bit expensive.
Toyota 4 Runner
Nissan Xterra <<< Second choice
Jeep Grand Cherokee
Ford F150 XTR 4x4 <<< Best bang for buck as far as features go but I'm not really a Ford fan.
If you've got any advice or tips or knowledge on these vehicles you think I should know please let me know your thoughts.


Hi Paul,

Glad to see you’ve taken an interest in 4x4s. They truly are fun and add a whole new dimension to the joy of driving. All of the vehicles you’ve mentioned are good candidates. I’m partial to Toyota because of their reliability and fuel economy. The FJ Cruiser is a very nice 4x4, designed specifically for off-road use, but tame enough to drive on a daily basis. There is a great aftermarket parts and accessories following for this model. The infamous FJ “blind spot” would be my only reservation. Test drive one and figure out if you can live with it.

The Xterra is also nice, a true 4-door. It has plenty of power and is a great SUV capable of holding its own on the dirt. There is some aftermarket following, and you can find plenty of used ones on the market since they’ve been in production since 1999. The Ford F-150 is America’s best selling pick-up, so that tells you something. It’s a good truck, able to haul the mail and play in the dirt. With the Ford SVT Raptor, there’s a great off-road aftermarket following for the late model F-150. 

I guess the main question would be how wide the trails in which you plan to off road. If you’re traveling on narrow fire roads and Jeep trails, the full-size truck is going to have a heck of a time getting around.  If it’s wide-open spaces, then any of these will work. 

At the end of the day, it’s what you feel happy driving and will do the job. Good luck and happy test driving!



4x4 AnswerMan,

I have a 1993 Toyota Land Cruiser and am going to have to replace the rear differential. The truck is a manual 5-speed with a carb, iron head and manual front hubs. I also live in Cambodia. Is the ratio of the Land Cruiser rear diff in America that are automatic the same as my diff with the manual trans? I want to order a diff from America and have it shipped to Cambodia before I take my Cruiser apart and have it down for a long time.
William Webster

Hi William,

Thanks for visiting us on Off-Road.com. If you are referring to a U.S. market 80 Series Toyota Land Cruiser, the gear ratio is 4.10 on the rear differential.  You should be able to swap one from a 1993 to 1997 model if it’s also an 80 Series. If it’s a 70 Series, they are different. The 70 Series rear is the same 8" diff as a Hilux, but smaller than the 80 series 9.5" diff.

Hope that helps. You can also confirm this if you deal with a reputable dealer like Spector Off Road, Man-A-Fre or Profits Cruisers--who all deal with used rear diffs.

Hope you get your Cruiser running again soon. Make sure to send us a photo when you do.



4x4 AnswerMan,

I have a 2008 Cummins with 100,120 kms on it and the fly wheel broke. What would cause this and is there any warranty on it?

Hi D,

You’re running a very high torque Cummins diesel motor on your Dodge. Sometimes it’s just a combination of driving habits and wear that eats up the transmission’s components. The transmission is definitely the weak link in these trucks. If your engine is highly modified with diesel power performance parts, then the transmission will go bad faster--especially if you do extreme towing/hauling or enjoy launching your truck down the asphalt.

Check with your dealer, but I believe warranty is 5yr/100k miles on the drivetrain. 
68RFE 6-speed automatic transmission found on 2007-2013 Dodger Ram 2500/3500 diesel pick-up trucks.

If you do end up having to rebuild the transmission you may want to consider upgrading to some more heavy-duty components that will take the torque better. We really like BD Diesel Performance products. Check them out at http://www.dieselperformance.com/ 

Good luck.


Please help. I fitted my second pair of BF Mud Terrains on my Toyota Hilux but the front tires’ contact surface is wearing unevenly. One knobby is wearing quicker than the one next to it on the whole tire. The tire dealer said that this type of tire does that on the asphalt road. Is it possible?
Johnny Bezuidenhout

Hi Johnny,

The uneven wear can be caused by one of three things: air pressure, bad shocks and suspension components, or improper alignment. You should check all three. 

Common tire wear problems caused by tire air pressure, alignment or worn suspension components.

If your shock absorbers have more than 50k miles on them, or are simply worn from excessive off-road use, it’s time to change them. It’s also recommended that you rotate your tires often to maximize the life and to ensure a more even wear. A good rule of thumb is every 5-10k miles, or every other oil change.

Good luck.


Hey there 4x4 AnswerMan,

My name is Kevin. I'm from southern Illinois. I have an ‘89 k1500 with roughly 7 inches of lift. My question is what would be the best size tire for maximum off-road performance? I have 35/12.5/15 on there now. I always thought bigger is better. But if I went with a smaller tire would I still be able to eat as much mud without putting the truck under as much stress with the heavier tires? Thanks!

Hi Kevin,

Sounds like you already have a pretty good combination. The wider tire definitely gives you more flotation over mud. You can also go into much deeper muck. The benefit to going down a tire size, and maybe even a skinnier width, would be quicker acceleration, more power and less stress on the drivetrain. You would also see an increase in fuel economy since they will be lighter. This may be important to you if it’s a daily driver.

On the downside, the truck will look weird with small tires and such a big lift. They probably won’t do as well in the mud either, if you get into really tacky or deep stuff. 

Try and find a tire loner set first before you make any decisions. Sometimes off-road shops or tire manufacturers will hold events and will lend out tires. A local 4x4 club may also lend you a hand. This way you can see how they look, handle and drive before you buy.


Hey 4x4 AnswerMan,

I’m Casey. I have a 2002 Z71 Silverado 1500 4X4 with the 5.3, what brand of lift kits can I depend on that are cost efficient? Also are the stock axles good for muddin’ or should I upgrade to something new? I have a 6" lift and 35s on it now as for performance, just not to sure on the brand. I’m deployed at the moment so I can’t find out what I have. Sorry, just kind of a quick question, trying to figure out what would be best.


Hi Casey,

First off, thank you for serving this great country and helping fight for the freedoms we have back home. I hope you can get back soon so you can go wheelin’ in your truck. 

As for suspension, it looks like you already have a nice setup with your truck. Brand preference is important for some, but at the end of the day it’s what works best for you. If what you have on there now is staying together and looks to be in decent condition, maybe the only thing that needs to be upgraded are the shocks. Many times suspension lift manufacturers ship out their kits with the cheapest shocks available to help keep the prices down. These shocks either blow out and fail soon after installing, or they simply ride like crap. I would consider upgrading to a mono-tube shock from Bilstein or Fox if you want to improve your ride both on and off road.

Depending on how hard you wheel, that factory 10-bolt GM rear axle and IFS will serve you well. Both should do well up to 35-inch tires with little problems. I wouldn’t go as far as saying they are bulletproof, because they’re not. If you bend the housing, blow out the differential or axle, then you can start looking at upgrading to a 14-bolt or Dana 60 heavy-duty setup. For now, you should be good.

As for performance, the best thing you can do for your truck is make sure that the differential gears have been swapped out with lower ones that work well with your large 35-inch tires. Either 4.56 or 4.88s would make it zoom down the road nicely. If it’s purely an off-road rig, something deeper may be appropriate.

Please keep us posted on your return, and send us photos of your next off-road adventure.




4x4 AnswerMan,

What’s the width of the wheel used on the Cooper Discover ST Maxx Review?

Hi Patty,

We used an 8-inch-wide wheel. It’s still working great. You could probably go up to an 8.5 or 9 and it would still look/work good.


4x4 AnswerMan,

Just bought my first project truck, 1986 Chevy K10 4x4. The exhaust system is un-hooked after the headers and I am wanting to redo the exhaust system from there back with duals. Recommendations on pipe size and mufflers to go with please? Previous owner said the engine is a 1990s 5.7L from a Corvette. Not sure about the headers but they look aftermarket. I’m mainly interested in performance gains horsepower/torque, for mudding and hauling, something just barely street legal or not! Lol Please help!

Thanks much in advance!
Joseph B Cortez

Hi Joseph,

Looks like you’re putting together one Bad Bowtie Chevy. If you don’t mind your truck being a little loud, the Flowmaster muffler is a favorite, offering plenty of grunt and power gain. The Magnaflow muffler is also nice if you’re looking for something made of stainless with a softer tone, yet still performing with power and torque gain. As for the diameter, some of this depends whether you plan to run dual exhaust straight or using a crossover pipe, modifications to the heads, engine, intake, carburetor CFM or fuel injection, among other things. My suggestion would be to find one or two good muffler shops in your area, tell them what you want to do with the truck and get a quote.  Custom is always better if you can spring it. I’m guessing they are probably going to suggest either a 2- or 3-inch exhaust.

If you don’t mind welding up your own pipes, you can get some universal muffler exhaust pipe kits from Summit Racing or JEGS that will work. My brother-in-law has done a few on his ’69 Camaros and they look and sound sweet.

Vroom Vroom!



Hey 4x4 AnswerMan,

My question might be a stumper for you. I have a '98 Chevy Z71 K2500 Ext. Cab Lwb.  I was driving it and it just stopped on me. Now before she stopped she would shift from O.D. on its own. When she did give up on me, I was approaching a curve at roughly 30-35 mph and I heard a noise as if you accidentally put it in park while still moving. I have the 480LE transmission and I'm not sure on the transfer case. All she does now is make the noise in all gears and won't budge.
David Petrie
Vidor, Texas

Hi David,
Sorry to hear you’re having shift problems. You’re on the right track, as the problem is going to be either in the transmission or transfer case. There’s a chance the transfer case may have popped into neutral. Make sure it’s set to 2H. If that doesn’t work, also try testing in 4HI and 4LO to rule out the transfer case. Check the linkage to make sure it’s fully engaged. If it’s an electronic shift, the actuator motor may be bad or stuck. Try tapping it with a rock or hammer (tap, don’t slam).

If it’s still there, move on.

Check oil in the trans and see if it smells burnt or has any metal in it. Same for transfer case.

If the noise you’re talking about is a metal “clack-clack” that increases with acceleration, but the truck still moves around fine, there’s a chance it’s the flex plate. I have a similar Z71 and managed to break one in the past. I’ve also burned two transmissions and cracked a transfer case housing on the same Z71. Pedal to the metal in dirt is fun, but it sure hits the wallet with a vengeance.

In all reality, the best way to find out what is wrong is to take the transmission and transfer case out of the truck. If you’re not afraid to turn a wrench, set aside a weekend to work on it. You can also take it to a transmission shop and have them check it out--if you can drive or tow it there.

Good luck.


4x4 AnswerMan,

I have a 6-inch lift on my 1994 Chevy K1500 4x4. It was there when I bought it but the rear is higher than the front. What is the best way to even out? Low on $, so cheaper is better.

Lincoln Arnett

Hi Lincoln,

The easiest and cheapest way to level out your truck would be to use a smaller rear suspension lift block. Chances are you already have a really tall one between the axle and leafs. They sell universal lift blocks ranging from 1 inch to 5.5 inches. All you have to do is measure the current block you have and subtract the number of inches you want to lower the back, so it sits level with the front. They simply swap out with the shorter rear suspension lift block. This should take care of your stinkbug problem.

You can find more info on rear lift blocks at 4-Wheel Parts


4x4 AnswerMan,

I have a Chevy 2011 2500HD with extreme off road 4" frt & bk lift.  The dealer put 11" wheels with 35s. Now it rubs front left turns and right. Also, when I go through any small dip, the height, center of hub to fender, is 1 " off—left compared to right. They used Fab Tech Parts, they also twice cut out fender well at bottom corners to fix problem but still no fix. The dealer is family. Trying to fix without opening a can of worms but may have to.

Big Question is what is the best way to fix this being cost effective? The truck only has 16,000 miles on it and I believe they used a Torsten lift. The truck rides very rough. I've had many 4x4s to compare to thanks.

Houston, TX

Hi Ski,

Fabtech makes good suspension lift kits—so that’s probably not your problem. If the truck is riding rough, chances are the torsion bars are over cranked and maxed out.  This is very possible, considering the dealer stuffed 35-inch tires under a 4-inch lift. If the truck is lowered an inch or so, you should notice an improvement in ride. In the process, the height difference you mentioned should also get fixed. I suspect one of the two torsion bars may have backed off—leaving your truck’s suspension lower on one corner.

As cool as those wide wheels and tires may look, they are going to continue to be a problem, especially when you have the suspension height lowered to help with ride quality. Typically, 35-inch tires require a 6-inch suspension lift on late-model trucks.  You might be able to get away with 35s, but they need to be a skinnier tire (315s), preferably on factory or 8.5-inch wheels with proper offset for your truck and lift. If you truly want to get rid of the rubbing, you may need to go down a tire size (like a 33-inch diameter) and switch wheels and tires completely.

The other option is to keep hacking metal off the fender wheel well and maybe adding wheel spacers. Even then, you might still have some rubbing issues.

If it was my truck, I’d look for different wheels and tires. The truck is too new and miles are low to have it drive so poorly.

Sorry I don’t have a quick-fix answer. Hope this helps get your truck straightened out.

Good luck.


4x4 AnswerMan,

I have a 2000 Chevy Silverado Z71 I was wanting to know about the rear end. I have heard that they are easy to tear up and about 1500 dollars to replace. Is there anything I can do without modifying a bunch of stuff to make this better and a lot more durable?


Hi Travis,

Your 10-bolt GM rear end should work good for a while. Depending on the type of wheelin’ you do, it may very well last you a lifetime. Where things change is once you start incorporating large diameter tires that bring on heavier weight and more stress to the housing and internals. If you’re not trashing it too bad, you should be able to get away with just upgrading to a larger oil capacity rear diff cover. The added oil will help keep gears and axles cool—increasing their life. As for the housing itself, you can add some gussets to strengthen it. Staying with a tire size under 35 inches should also help.

Another option is to upgrade to heavy-duty axles and quality aftermarket gears.  Chromoly axles are a lot stronger than the factory ones. If in the future you find yourself tearing up the rear axle under your “normal” off-road use, then it may be time to upgrade to a 14-bolt or Dana 60. If you’re looking to keep things light, Currie makes some nice heavy-duty housings that offer plenty of clearance and strength. Check out more on their site at http://www.currieenterprises.com/.

Have a truck or SUV question for the 4x4 AnswerMan? Send your questions to editor@off-road.com. Please include your name and location, and be as detailed as possible about your questions.

More 4x4 AnswerMan Columns
April 2013

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February 2013

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