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Old 07-26-2012, 12:14 AM   #1
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What not to do with your 4x4

Last week I was on a camping trip to the Northern Sierras where I pushed the boundaries a little too far. Take a look at the following drive-train photo and see what's missing.



Thats right, everything from the inner shaft to the spindle. This in no way is a bash against SMB engineering. In fact, if the machine wasn't built as well as it was, I would still be up on the mountain trying to figure out how to get myself 250 miles home.

Here is the situation that caused the painful mess you see. Learn from my mistake.

We were camped at a very isolated lake in the Northern Sierras. (Smith Lake in Sierra County) On the climb out I used the lockers for a very short straight uphill section. Dina, who was spotting, said she heard a clicking noise from the front end. I did not hear it so continued on. Then I reached a tough area and actually got high centered on the rear differential where 4x4 and lockers would not free me. Had to winch myself about 12-inches off the rock. I felt nothing unusual in the drive train. About an hour later (all in 4x4) I started down a dirt track and decided it was going to be more than I wanted to tackle and decided to back out of it. The trail was steep (1:1 slope) but straight. There was loose gravel over slick-rock and I started spinning all wheels. Engaged the Lockers in reverse but still could not get traction. Had no choice but to forge ahead and find a spot to turn around. I kept the lockers engaged while I went forward down hill into a left hand turn. It was hard to turn (I knew it would be) but felt I need the lockers there because I needed the traction rather than riding the brake. Then I heard terrible popping noise (More like gunshots) It felt like the van was "swallowing" the left front tire. I was able to get out and look but did not see anything broken but did not look very hard either. (It was an awkward location.) Disengaged the lockers, did a 10 pt turn and started back up the hill. When I got to the loose gravel section I re-engaged the lockers. Major popping and banging at this point. Dina (again spotting) said there was sparks from the left front.

Disengaged the Hubs and the Xfer case and left what is left of the axle hanging there. Slowly made my way 45 miles to Quincy where I had a repair shop check it out. The whole way I was thinking I would see the tire fly off at any minute. The shop manager crawled under said I "should" be able to make it home. Met up with my group at Buck's Lake for my Ham Radio weekend and came home Sunday night.

SMB gave me the name of a local 4x4 shop that Dynatrac recommended. I had them look it over where they explained that I simply put too much pressure on the U-joint and it "exploded". Had I not had the lockers engaged on the downhill turn (full weight of the van on that joint) it probably would not have happened. So I need new axle shafts, U-joint, Bearings, Ball Joints, maybe new inner seals in the pumpkin. He thinks the knuckle and spindle is okay. The shop owner reiterated that the SMB 4x4 is an excellent design with all quality parts. He made a pitch for a more robust U-joint which I think I will go with. He did show me a $2,000 replacement joint that would never fail. I laughed and said I learned my lesson and would not push it that way again. As it is, this learning moment is going to cost between $1,000 - $2,000 depending on how badly its messed up.

After this fix we will work on replacing the semi-floating rear. He thought the semi-floater was just plain stupid. Well... I can't really say the words he used exactly.

On the positive side, we found one of the nicest campsites. (Made our top 5 list) Too bad I will never go back to it. Its located at Lat 39.654633 Lon -120.722754 if you have the inclination to go there.

Here are two signs along the trail. At the time, (going in) I thought they were humerous.



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Old 07-26-2012, 07:28 AM   #2
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Re: What not to do with your 4x4

Sorry to hear about the snafu, but thanks for sharing the details.

I've always found steering tight and somewhat difficult when the front lockers are engaged. Not being a 4x4 or mechanical expert, I've always assumed that this reflected stress building up somewhere in the front driveline, and that I should avoid if possible.

Good luck with the repair.
R
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Old 07-26-2012, 10:29 AM   #3
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Re: What not to do with your 4x4

Typically having the front end engaged will limit the turning radius, but usually having a front locker isn't dangerous to your front end unless you're on solid rock where one side can't slip even just a bit compared to the other side. Loose rock, or even a bit of dirt is usually more than enough to allow one side to slip enough. When both axle shafts are forced to rotate at exactly the same speed while in a sharp turn, bad things can happen.

Sorry to hear about your issue, but glad you were able to drive out on your own.


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Old 07-26-2012, 06:57 PM   #4
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What not to do with your 4x4

Also sorry to hear this. Another point to remember is that when Dina says something is clicking it is time to stop and check it out. The clicking may have been an early warning sign that something was wrong. This from a 2wd guy that has had front wheel drive CV joints fail because he ignored the clicking.
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Old 07-29-2012, 04:23 PM   #5
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Re: What not to do with your 4x4

How many miles on that axel? I have a 180k on mine and there is no zerk fittings to greese them? I should replace them.............Nothings Cheap! when it comes to Dana.............Brad
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Old 07-29-2012, 09:34 PM   #6
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Re: What not to do with your 4x4

Sorry to hear that Charlie. Keep us posted on the repair and if you end up with an improvement.
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Old 07-30-2012, 01:59 PM   #7
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Re: What not to do with your 4x4

-hijack on

I haven't ever done any 4wheeling, and had a question about the trail. Did I read right, the steep hill which you couldn't go up backwards in 4wd locked, you were able to go up forwards in 2wd unlocked (after the explosions)? I've only got 2wd so I can't back up any hill, but I would have thought with 4x4 it wouldn't matter which direction you're going?

hijack off-

by the way I agree listen to your spotter. It may not help the van but it will have other benefits!
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Old 08-02-2012, 01:40 PM   #8
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Re: What not to do with your 4x4

Charlie ,
Which roads did you take into Smith Lake ? The Gold Lake Road or Butcher Ranch Rd via Co Rd 621 ?
they both could be a bugger after heavy winters prior to grading , Haven't been up there in a lot of years but always found that you had plenty of solitude and decent fishing for moderate sized Brookies
Sorry about your misfortune and know that hopeless feeling of wonderment in broken situations a long ways from home . Glad you made it safe and sound .
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Old 08-02-2012, 09:58 PM   #9
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Re: What not to do with your 4x4

Quote:
Originally Posted by Greggd
Charlie ,
Which roads did you take into Smith Lake ? The Gold Lake Road or Butcher Ranch Rd via Co Rd 621 ?
I went in via Gold Lake. Stayed the first night in a small clearing just above a forest service(?) cabin that is above the Gold Lake 4x4 campground. That place was packed by the way and by the looks of it, stays that way all summer.


The 2nd night we were at Smith Lake. No one around for miles.


Came out via Butcher Ranch (which is a super highway gravel road now) for a ways, Goofed around at the Sierra Buttes where I did the damage, and exited the area through Packer Lake (paved).

Gold Lake 4x4 trail up and over the pass to Summit Lake was't bad at all. It was the Spur to Smith Lake just before Gold Valley that was "challenging".

10,000 lbs high centered.


I actually would not mind going back to Smith Lake sometime. The rocks and winching just come with the territory we like to explore. I just would not get myself in the situation that caused the axle failure. The more I think about it the more I kick myself for attempting the other trail that did me in.
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Old 08-02-2012, 10:00 PM   #10
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Re: What not to do with your 4x4

Quote:
Originally Posted by 1bajaboy
How many miles on that axel?
39,000 fun and exiting miles.
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