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Old 02-02-2014, 08:53 PM   #1
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4WD basics

OK… Initially, I did not have immediate plans to move forward with a 4WD conversion but now am second guessing that thought.

I do not have any desire to go rock crawling, or even significant four wheeling, but do want capability to make it to ski in snowy/icy conditions as well as have access to trail heads found off of 4WD trails. Part of me things I could get by with chains most of the time, but have already run into issues on slightly washed out roads where I could not make it in the van, but my Suburu was fine.

I do not know a ton about 4WD, and would like some advice. Are any of the common conversions out there which would be better for my basic application than others? Like many people, cost is a major factor, but I want it right too.

Any and all suggestions would be helpful. I am in Colorado, but can travel for the right option.
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Old 02-02-2014, 10:56 PM   #2
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Re: 4WD basics

Maybe a diff lock is also OK for what you want to go......and much cheaper
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Old 02-02-2014, 11:50 PM   #3
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Re: 4WD basics

What do you currently have for tires? A good differential combined with good tires can usually go further than a 4x4 with open diffs and highway tires.

As for 4x4... You lowest cost option is probably Ujoint Offroad, for simple reason you can DIY in the install and start with used axles. UJoint uses a leaf spring setup (as does SMB) which you won't find an any modern 4x4 short of a Class-8 truck. Longer leaf springs can ride well however, which Ujoint uses. Packaging isn't quite as tidy which is probably the main reason for OEMs to all go to coil springs (or torsion bars in the GMs).

The most OEM setup is QuadVan, but it's probably tied for most expensive with SMB, once you spec out similar options. QuadVan uses the stock Ford axle and coil-spring setup. Quigley also is coil-spring, but uses their own control arm setup and has very limited travel. Agile Offroad can make a Quigley better, or install a Twin-traction beam IFS 4x4. Its probably the best riding setup, but the axle doesn't have the high ratings or larger brakes of the newer Dana Super-60 in the QuadVan setup. The SMB setup uses an equivalent DynaTrak axle.
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Old 02-03-2014, 08:25 AM   #4
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Re: 4WD basics

I have a decent tire, I guess. It's a Falken Rocky Mountain, and I'm in 17" wheels now.

I hadn't thought about a differential locker, I guess I should look into that as well.
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Old 02-03-2014, 08:38 AM   #5
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Re: 4WD basics

I had an 89 E150 with a two inch lift and 245 tires. It did the trick for over a decade in Colorado, but it required extreme caution parking in snow country, and chains were used often. Keep in mind that a locking differential can only be used at very low speeds. From what I learned from others on this forum is that 10-15 mph is max. Not very useful for I70 unless you're stuck in traffic on a hill with poor traction......I have to say my 4x4 with new BFG's and the long wheel base is incredible in the snow. I had a blast driving wolf creek pass this past November. Roads were super slick and traffic was crawling while I was driving the speed limit with no slippage....
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Old 02-03-2014, 08:48 AM   #6
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Re: 4WD basics

Caleb... Thanks. Your situation is very similar to mine. A locker probably isn't the answer. I see so many cars fail to make the tight turns uphill to get to winter park, I've been afraid to drive the van. Thanks for input.
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Old 02-03-2014, 11:07 AM   #7
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Re: 4WD basics

We're in the same boat. We have done a lot of exploring with 2wd and we've usually run out of ground clearance or courage long before we ran out of traction. Mud is the exception but we don't get much mud. Haven't tried sand at all.

We also do a lot of skiing. We have great snow tires but still need to to take an extra 20 minutes to chain up on the way up to the ski area. Once chained up, we are as good as 4x4 around the ski area (at 25mph).

Bottom line is we didn't want to spend the extra $13k, deal with climbing in and out, and lose 1-2mpg just to save 20 minutes a few times each winter. And to get 1 mile further down the trail before turning around.
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Old 02-03-2014, 12:50 PM   #8
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Re: 4WD basics

I did an aftermarket conversion about 3 years into owning the SMB; I used Salem Kroger (no longer around, but they did leaf springs).

Frankly the traction isn't the most important feature of 4WD IMHO, it's the gearing. The transfer case with the low range is super useful to me in situations where the 2WD just didn't cut it. Since you're in CO think of those Silverton trails; sometimes fine for traction IF you could go slow enough with fine control. Not to mention saving brakes on descents.

Next is the improved suspension. You can get lift and better suspension without 4WD. Camburg used to make a nice package. Some of this I'd consider mandatory for all vans, like improved sway bars.

Then there's the traction. Yeah, it helps at times when I've got grip in one end of a mile long van but not on the other. But here again improved tires help a lot. And what most people run aren't optimum for snow and ice. Some real snow tires and studs are probably gonna make a 2wd outperform a 4wd with say standard "off road" tires in winter conditions. Folks here often use E range BFG ATs, even though the Ds have a better snow and ice rating, eg. People debate whether lockers suck in the snow (issues with both tires spinning, especially on cambered roads, and in turning, where the facility of have both wheels turning no matter what the traction is produces unfavorable results. Probably can be compensated for, but I haven't seen very many people getting lockers FOR snow).

And finally, this is a heavy clumsy vehicle. Lots of $$ can be poured into it and at the end of the day you're stuck with an even more expensive tow that probably isn't covered by your insurance or emergency roadside policy.

So consider spending it on good tires and those new skis you've been eyeing....
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Old 02-03-2014, 01:59 PM   #9
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Re: 4WD basics

This is my experience on snow and ice. Your's may vary.

My 2WD van was a tractor with CAM Lock tire chains on the rear. If you want to buy some cam locks and are willing to take your life in your hands installing them on the side of the road, and again when removing them for road sections where they are not required and will wear out prematurely, and then again putting them back on when needed, you will be good to go.

My 2WD van was kinda ok with Hercules Trail Digger MT studded tires all around. Still, going up hill if I lost momentum because of someone braking ahead of me, the van wanted to fish tail. Uphill is what gets pickup trucks too. My van is so heavy in front because of the engine and so light in the rear because of ... well because of no engine weight in the rear ... the tail would rather go sideways instead of trying to push that big engine up hill.

Once converted to 4WD my van is again a tractor on snow and ice but without the need for chains. I still have a set of Hercules Trail Digger MT studded snow tires on separate rims for when the Winter is severe or for driving miles and miles in BC or Idaho or Montana where the roads are plowed but scraped down to the ice. Otherwise for the mild Winters we have been getting recently 4WD with Michelin LTX M/S2 load range "E" are sufficient.

I would not put any tire less than load range "E" on my van. It weighs ~9,000-~9,600 lbs. packed. Weigh your van fully packed with people and gear and then take that weight and divide it by one of your tire's max weight capacity. It will be an eye opener.

Now that I have 4WD, I would really not want to drive the van in snow country without 4WD, unless I really had too.

As discussed in a recent thread, I envy those with selectable lockers for getting across snowplow berms or for getting unstuck. But I agree, lockers are probably really only safe for slow speed.

The chains and tires discussed above can be found in this thread along with contributions by more knowledgeable SMB'ers:

viewtopic.php?f=3&t=8399&hilit=BEST+TIRE+HERCULES& start=45
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Old 02-03-2014, 04:42 PM   #10
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Re: 4WD basics

Interesting thread. (Something to consider going to 4x4):

When converting to 4x4 consider any garages you have been able/need to drive into, especially at he ski resorts, shopping malls, etc. The 2 to 4 inches of total actual lift resulting from the current 4x4 conversions could put an immediate stop to that.

We converted our 2003 E350 EB using the IFS 4x4 conversion offered by QuadVan at the time (unfortunately, no longer available) along with a limited slip rear. I was not that interested in a lift since our primary use was skiing and boat launching, just wanted the extra traction and convenience. The attraction of the IFS set-up for us was:
1. front end lifted by 4x4 so the van sits level (no rear lift) with no additional frontal area for aerodynamics and we could still get into the condo garages (BIG ), so garage access/clearances remained the same.
2 the ride was kept comfortable with the IFS ( opted for the sport suspension with dual shocks upfront and sway bars, van handles like a dream in the mountains)
3. 4x4 when I needed it retrieving 6,500 lbs of boat,trailer,gear on a ramp that required the rear tires to be in the water or on the marine growth.
4. Can still get on a trail, just do not have the ground clearance provided by lift.

In the snow, does clearance really do much? The axles are the same height regardless of lift.
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