The Outdoorsman’s 4X4 Inspection And Maintenance Checklist
Today, outdoorsmen have an overwhelming number of choices if they decide to own a 4-wheel drive vehicle. Modern technology has made switching into 4-wheel drive as simple as pushing a button. What hasn’t changed is the need to inspect and maintain those many moving parts that drive through water and mud. It’s just a matter of time before friction, muddy water or obstacles cause a seal to leak, or a part to fail. Those many seals protect bearings and some major mechanical parts, so early detection and repair can save both money and downtime. Which makes a 4X4 inspection and maintenance checklist a valuable to thing have.
There are many reasons an owner needs to inspect the various parts of a 4×4 drive-train.
First, a thorough pre-season 4×4 inspection can increase the odds that everything will work flawlessly in the months ahead. Secondly, a good postseason inspection can determine if month’s of hard use have caused any problems. Or maybe you’re in the market for a used four-wheel-drive vehicle and you need to be sure you’re making a good buy. No matter why you need to know, we went to the experts to explain how to prevent, detect and rehabilitate the most common four-wheel drive issues that hunters and anglers face with their equipment.
Clutch and Powertrain
I spoke to Wesley Ellard at Clutch and Powertrain in Mobile, Alabama about some of the more common issues that sportsmen encounter on their off-road vehicles.
“Leaks are an early sign that you have a potential problem. It might just be a seal that needs replacing, but often it can be an underlying mechanical issue,” Wesley said.
Brothers Wesley and Jesse Ellard started Clutch and Powertrain in Mobile in 1969. They have supplied parts and repaired trucks and SUVs for over 50 years. As we discussed how to inspect and maintain a 4-wheel drive powertrain, he described some of the services they offer.
“We specialize in building and selling clutches, driveshafts, differentials, axles, cables, manual transmissions, Power Take Off (PTO’s), and numerous bearings and seals,” Wesley added. “We also offer parts for cars, trucks, heavy-duty, high-performance racing, agricultural and industrial applications.”
Wesley said that checking for dripping fluid around the transfer case, axles and driveshafts should become a habit. In addition to an inspection before a road trip, it’s a good idea to make a follow-up 4×4 inspection after any trip, especially if it involves any off-road adventures. A good cleaning and bright light allow for an easier examination. Here are a few items that may warrant your attention on you 4×4 maintenance checklist:
- Axles & Differentials – Inspect all bolts, boots, clips, u-joints, and grease points. Check to ensure everything is tight and look for leaks or oily residue.
- Body/Frame – Look closely for any cracks or rust. Remove any sticks or debris that often get wedged underneath.
- Powertrain/Transmission – Inspect transfer case and shifter for leaks. Check fluids, universal & CV joints, and skid plates.
- Exhaust – Check muffler, tailpipes, and all hardware holding tailpipes in place.
- Steering – Inspect tires, fluid level, belts and hoses, pump, and reservoir. Check all boots for tears or rips. Check joints for any slack.
- Suspension – Springs, shocks, wheel bearings, steering linkage, and control arms. Note any unusual play in components.
- Winch – A good winch is like an insurance policy. Grab leather gloves first. Free spool rope/cable from the winch and inspect. Check for loose connections and look for frayed rope or wires; rewind.
Buying a Used 4-Wheel Drive
Buying a used off-road vehicle can be challenging, and the more information you have about its owner and how they maintained it is vital. Still, buying a used pickup or sport utility vehicle is appealing for many outdoorsmen on a budget, mainly because of the price of buying used compared to a showroom model. New 4x4s depreciate quickly, losing (on average) half of their value within three years. By focusing on a 4×4 that is three to five years old, you can increase your odds of getting something dependable while saving money. Also, used vehicles are generally cheaper to insure.
Used 4wd Checklist
- When performing a 4×4 inspection on a used vehicle, make sure you do so on a bright, sunny day. Take a friend along with good eyes.
- Switches on the dash activate the differential on many newer models. The amount of wear on and near that switch can help indicate the amount of use.
- Start at one corner and walk around the vehicle. Inspect lower edges for rust or damage. Make another pass and look closely for any fresh touch-up paint. Ensure all the paint matches.
- Ask about any past repairs and primary use and then drive it.
- Shift the vehicle in and out of 4-wheel drive several times and listen closely for any unusual noises. Then, drive to an off-road location while listening for any vibration or unusual noises on the way to check 4wd.
- Have someone watch the traction of each wheel as you go forward and in reverse. Have your friend watch to see if the wheels track evenly.
- If the transmission is automatic, depress the brake and shift through forward, reverse, hi, and lo range. Listen for any hesitation or unusual sounds.
- For manual transmissions, find a slight incline and release the clutch slowly as you back uphill. Listen for clutch chatter and notice at what point the clutch engages.
- Take a good flashlight and inspect for leaking fluids and check for slack in the driveshafts and all the u-joints.
If the vehicle looks good up to this point, ask if you can let a good mechanic give it a once over. If agreeable, this will determine if it’s a keeper.
Keep in mind that servicing and repair of 4X4s require additional expertise when compared to the average automobile. Therefore, it’s a good idea to have certified, experienced mechanics perform your 4×4 checks. If you need parts or service, call Wesley or Jesse at Clutch and Powertrain. They also offer repair work in their machine shop with same-day service. So whether you are a Do-It-Yourself kind of person or a take-it-to-the-shop type of person, they have you covered.
Having friends with 4-wheel drives is a good thing. If there is an off-road group in your area, join it, and you will learn and benefit from their collective experience. I think I called on my cousin to pull my old CJ5 out of the mud twice before I invested in a winch. If you carry along a couple of tree straps, a good clevis hook or two, and a snatch block, it can make the difference between a long walk out of the swamp or just a few more details added to an adventure.
Clutch and Powertrain