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.