HOW TO: Installing a Lock-Right Locker in a Dana 80 Axle

Wooohoo!!! The first, HOW TO article to kick off the HOW TO Series.  The reason I am launching a HOW TO series is because I am finding more often than not install posts that are either misleading or full of misinformation or sadly both. I wanted to highlight one of my recent trials of being told multiple times that a certain install was going to go one way only to find out for myself, that the install was going to be much more involved than the Keyboard Warriors and even the product’s own install instructions proclaimed.


So here is my problem. On doing a routine differential reseal on my rear axle in my truck, I came to see a horrifying sight…. My rear differential was an OPEN differential. Meaning, I had no limited slip, I had no traction device and instead…. I was blessed with a peg leg (one wheel turning) monster.

What was I to do? I really did not need to know this, and as I am taking the truck on more and more aggressive trails having an open differential in a 7500 LB rig really limits what one can do. Now do not hear that “you cant” 4x4 and travel a lot of this green earth with an open differential, but when certain situations arise with a vehicle that has an open differential, you are forced as a driver to drive faster than you would like to and really balance that fine line between abuse and skill. Personally moving slower in harsher terrain probably prevents carnage on a level of 10 to one… Youtube….most of the 4x4 accidents out there happened because speed and skinny pedal are not always the answer to every solution.

So back to the install. I am not ready to go to a full blown Locker at this time, money does not dictate this as an option and with funds needing to go to other aspects of the truck, I need a cheaper solution than spending 1500-2200 to install a new Locker such as an ARB, Detriot, etc. Plus, I am looking at regearing my truck from 3.54 to 4.10 and with that comes almost an additional $750 dollars+ for ring and pinion gears and unknown labor for setting up the front axle to match the rear axle. Or…..I could grab a Lock Right Locker with a street price around 450 bucks and solve my problem currently and keep my build moving on. The idea was also the fact that an install like a Lock Right Locker is fairly straight forward, meaning anyone should be able to perform the task as long as you have a good mechanical understanding of properly torqueing bolts and keeping your assembly absolutely CLEAN and free of foreign debris.

1) So, if this went according to how the interwebs and the instructions tell you… All I would have needed to do is drain the oil from the rear diff, pull the pinion shaft from the differential, remove the 4 spider gears and we are well on our way… The problem is, as you can see…. Those rumors may work for Dana 30’s, 44’s and the like, but the ring gear of the Dana 80 is too freaking big!! There is no way to pull that pinion shaft with the assembly in the housing. Also, this pinion shaft is not held in by a bolt, the Dana 80 open carriers have a roll pin. This means even if the shaft would come out with the ring gear installed,  there is no way to hammer the roll pin out and then hammer the roll pin back in to secure the pinion shaft. This meant the whole differential assembly had to be removed for the install.

Now honestly… this development in how I needed to proceed with the install is not a total game changer. But you will need to have a few more tools than you previously needed. The first is you need an ACCURATE Torque Wrench that will go to atleast 200 Ft Lbs.  As the ring gear bolts on the differential need to be torqued to #180 Ft Lbs. I also highly recommend a fastener thread locker such as Blue Lock-Tite. Now, industry wide as a mechanic, you normally never re-use ring gear bolts. It is always recommended to replace the ring gear bolts. But again…here I am on a  Saturday and need to drive to work Monday. Blue Lock-Tite and proper torque will be fine. YOU CAN use the bolts and be fine. Just don’t come after me if you have a problem.

Open carrier….and NO way to get that pinion shaft on with the Ring Gear on.

Open carrier….and NO way to get that pinion shaft on with the Ring Gear on.

2) First physical step is to now pull the axle shafts, this is an easy process. I recommend having 2 drain pans under each floating hub. Gear oil will be draining out as this is the oil that has splashed into the tubes and keeps the axle bearings in the hubs lubricated. Slide the axles far enough out of the hubs that they tilt in the axle tubes.

Here the axle is pulled out of the carrier and there is a drain pan to catch the gear oil.

Here the axle is pulled out of the carrier and there is a drain pan to catch the gear oil.

3) Now with the axles out of the differential carrier, it is time to pull the carrier. This is my recommendation. Make sure you have a clean flat surface to place the carrier on once it has been removed from the axle housing. The reason being is this assembly is awkward and easily a 70 pound chunk of iron. You absolutely do not want to drop this… any damage to the ring gear, or the ABS ring (speed sensor) or either carrier bearing could lead to a much longer install as you source and install broken bits.

Pro TIP- MARK each Bearing Cap, they MUST go back into their original positions in the axle Assembly. You cannot place the left, cap on the right cap, YOU CANNOT flip the caps 180 degrees. Mark them some how so you know exactly how they came out of the axle housing.

2ND TIP-Make sure you know which bearing race goes to which carrier bearing, YOU CANNOT SWAP THEM SIDE TO SIDE. I used a little dab of model paint, red for right side, blue for left.

4) Again, make sure you have a clean work surface. ABSOLUTELY CLEAN. You do not want grit in any bearing, ring tooth, etc. This must be a clean surface. Wash your hands, treat this as if you are making a sandwich YOU ARE GOING TO EAT. Now you need to have a roll pin punch and you need a BFH (Big Friggin Hammer). Now someone in the engineering department at DANA has a sick, sick sense of humor and designed the roll pin of the Dana 80 pinion shafts to be .225 in size. Oh, but Adam…that’s not a common size.. I KNOW. A 1/4 punch is too big, a 3/16 punch is to small. I also was cursed with the fact that when my carrier was built someone had just gotten a letter from his ex wife asking for more money, because my roll pin hole was not fully finished when machined. This would lead to 3 prayer candles being lit and several sessions of curse word charades.

PRO TIP: Do yourself a favor and order a NEW roll pin before doing this install. They cost a whopping $2.07 on the internet. I could have saved myself HOURS of headaches if I had a new roll pin. But I was stuck in the shop on a Saturday with no way of getting parts until Monday. I had to make what I had at my disposal work.

If you have the ability….utilize a ¼ inch punch and a press, and you can gently press the roll pin just far enough past the Pinion shaft that you can pull the shaft and move on with the install. My problem existed in that I used the BFH and the oversized .250 punch and hammered the roll pin out far enough to pull the pinion shaft. What happened internally, is my unfinished carrier and too large of a punch caused the roll pin to mushroom/wedge itself into the backside of the carrier. More on that later.

Ring Gear is removed to facilitate pulling the pinion shaft.

Ring Gear is removed to facilitate pulling the pinion shaft.

5) Use a brass punch and gently tap on the Pinion shaft, my pinion shaft happened to still be quite tight and so I had to use the hammer all the way out, but again, little taps, very little pressure. Now with the shaft removed the spider gears or commonly referred to as the side gears, can be removed through the larger windowed hole in the carrier. Remember you need to save the thrust washers off the back side of the side gears. these thrust washers will be reused on the new “coupler” gears of the Lock-Right Locker.

Now with the Carrier empty it is time to clean everything again. I like brake clean and fresh rags. Completely clean the carrier of grit and oil. The reason being is your carrier has probably been spinning around in that diff for what…. 10 years? 20 years? Or like mine…340K miles. No matter how often the rear end may have been serviced there is grit, grime and goo hidden in the carrier. Now with a Locker going into it, lets make sure none of that grit finds its way between the teeth of the locker or binding up in the springs of the locker.

Empty carrier cleaned a prepped for loading Lock-Right assembly.

Empty carrier cleaned a prepped for loading Lock-Right assembly.

6) Assembly of the Locker- I recommend setting the locker up on a clean table, get an Idea of how the system works, inspect the teeth, drivers and side gears. Make sure all the springs are there, make sure your 4-detent pins, (my kit came with 4 spares which is nice if I need to service this unit in the future. Your instructions will walk you through different assembly procedures, the Lock Right unit comes with 8 springs, you need to put one small spring, into one large spring and in doing so will then have 4 “dual spring” assemblies that are used to force the Lock Right Driver gears into the Side Coupler gears.

PRO TIP: Use axle grease to keep the 2 springs together and BE LIBERAL with the grease. Working as a mechanic I was once taught by a very wise mentor that when trying to install springs into ANY assembly, placing axle/bearing grease on the springs will make sure that once the springs has left orbit the spring will STICK and not roll away.

Here we see how the Lock-Right assembly will look loaded into the carrier.

Here we see how the Lock-Right assembly will look loaded into the carrier.

7. Loading the Carrier- Now with everything cleaned, and with a general idea of how your locker works, you will load the carrier, I recommend placing a liberal amount of axle grease on all of the locking teeth of the assembly. This ensures that the unit will have adequate lubrication until everything splashes around. (Yes the assembly is buried in a bath of oil once filled, the instructions say to do it, and it actually makes assembly easier as parts of the locker will “stick” together while you finish the install and fight gravity.) You will load one side of the locker with the side coupler gear AND thrust washer, along with the appropriate internal spacer, then next is the matching center driver. Now you need to load the opposite coupler side gear, thrust washer, spacer, driver and push the NEW forged pinion shaft through the center of the diff. CONGRATS you are on the down hill slide!

As seen, liberal amounts of axle grease helps keep parts of the assembly together as you prepare other pieces

As seen, liberal amounts of axle grease helps keep parts of the assembly together as you prepare other pieces

8. Installing the springs and pin. This part is pretty simple as the windows in the drivers of the Locker are machined really well, so the pins go in without a problem, a tiny flathead makes pushing the detent pins over an easy task. Now it is time to install the springs. This part is easy as long as you have a vice or a good friend to hold the carrier. I fought to install one set of springs and did so in about 15 minute with multiple failures to seat the spring. I finally pushed past my pride, asked a friend to hold the carrier and BOOM, I had the last 3 spring assemblies in the carrier in about 3 minutes

9. At this point the instructions will tell you to take measurement between the driver gears to assure you the carrier is not too worn or that you do not need an EXTRA thrust washer, which SPOILER ALERT…is not provided in the kit… Pray your measurement comes out in spec. Otherwise….its a bad day.

10. Remember that DAMN ROLL PIN? In a perfect world, this is where you flip the carrier over, and punch the roll pin back into your new forged pinion shaft and you are ready to load the whole assembly back into the axle housing. For me…. This turned into a 4 hour detour. So let me suggest what I would have done. First…way back at the beginning, inspect the roll pin hole. Mine had a burr in it, I knew it and saw it and was lazy…if I would have taken 2 seconds to run a .250 drill bit through to the seated roll pin my whole install would have gone smother. Personally, this is how I would do it again. The roll pin sits roughly 2.07 inches long, so if I relieved the back side of the pin hole all this would have done is made it easier to drive the pin out, I could have then driven the pin back in the front side and completely missed all the excitement of breaking 6 punches and having to build my own tool to use in a 100 ton press.

Roll Pin hole that had to be de-burred and machined to relieve now Mushroomed Roll Pin.

Roll Pin hole that had to be de-burred and machined to relieve now Mushroomed Roll Pin.

100 ton press, patience and 6 bent, broken or destroyed punches later…

100 ton press, patience and 6 bent, broken or destroyed punches later…

11. Clean your ring gear, inspect and clean every ring gear bolt. Now I would install all of them with blue Lock-Tite (That is exactly what I did). These bolts need to be torqued to 180lbs at least. There are multiple work shop manuals saying multiple things, I read 180-240, with most falling in between 180-190, I took mine to 185Lbs.

12. Now install the differential assembly back into the axle assembly, make sure you have the correct bearing race on the correct carrier bearing. Also know that the Dana 80 has equal width axle bearing spacers on BOTH SIDES of the carrier. Make sure those spacers are back where they need to be. The Dana 80 Carrier Bearing Caps have 2 bolts a piece, these bolts need to be 80 FT LBS. I like to install mine at 20FT LBS to begin with, then I go to 50 ft lbs, and then finally to 80 ft lbs. I again used Blue Lock-Tite on the Bearing Cap bolts.



13. Install your Axle Shafts and Torque to whatever specs you like, personally 60 ft lbs has always worked for me.

14. At this time you can check to make sure the unit is working. Basically. Make sure that when you turn either wheel, the opposite wheel is moving in the same direction. Lock Right has a procedure in their instruction manual for checking if the locker works. I couldn’t get mine to react in the way they wanted and with knowing how difficult that roll pin had been in assembly I was driving home regardless…with a working locker or an expensive spool. (My Locker works as it should)

15. Filling the diff for fluid, a 4x4 Dana 80 specs out with needing 10.1 pints from the manual. Mine took 10 flat. Lock Right will say you can use 80w/140 Gear Oil to quite the Locker. (Basically thicker fluid acts like a greater sound deadening advocate. My truck is a 2nd Gen Cummins, I couldn’t hear that differential if I wanted.) I used regular ole 70w-90.

All Buttoned up with a Dynatrac Diff Cover.

All Buttoned up with a Dynatrac Diff Cover.

My Experience so far: I now have 5,000 miles on my Lock Right and 3 off road trips. To put it lightly, this Locker was worth every penny. I lucked out and got my unit for a song through someone I met at SEMA 2018. But even at the going rate of around $450.00 dollars, you are looking at something AT LEAST 700 dollars cheaper than the next available unit installed. Honestly, aside from my nightmare, a shop should realistically be able to charge 3 hours at 105 dollars an hour, 80 for fluid and you would still be at around the 860 dollar mark out the door without touching a wrench. For me, I would still do this myself, I happened to draw the short end of the stick on this one. O well, But for the cost of the unit, a Lube Locker Gasket and fluid, I couldn’t have come close to finding anything better than what I have. I have had this unit in the snow, mud, sand, gravel, etc. The unit works consistently and has rarely spooked me. If I get on the gas mid turn the unit will lock up and I will get a chirp from the rear tires, but I have not had a problem of feeling unsafe or regretting my install. In fact every time I am off road I fall more in love with it. The Lock Right is warrantied up to 35 inch tires so for most people this unit will be a great choice and final solution to their traction woes. I am currently on 285’s and one day will move up to 37’s. But when I move up to the big meats, I will most likely re-gear and then have to decide whether I want a Detroit or ARB. But for now, I love my Lock Right, everything has been straightforward and I cannot be more pleased! Places where I would immediately put my transfer case in 4wd I can muster through with 2wd. It is amazing how much your vehicle changes when you rear tires turn with 100 percent power!

Thank you for reading!

-Overland Therapy

Unlocking the Truth Behind Automatic Lockers

Here is the deal. Whenever there seems to be growth in a segment of the aftermarket world whether it is the street world, off road world, even the race world, not long after a product reaches the end users the rumors start. Some of these rumors are based on truth, some are based on end user error, some of them are based in hypothetic knowledge vs. direct knowledge, most rumors are based in the never ending side talk focused on “us vs. them” with no practical knowledge to begin with.  The debate about Automatic Lockers is nothing new, since almost the inception of the Locker, the conversation for and against the Locker has been had around many a campfire, barstool or garage talk. This article is going to move some of that conversation out of the myths and into the facts and personal experience.

Anatomy of a Detroit Locker

Anatomy of a Detroit Locker

FACT: An Automatic Locking differential is a differential where the coupler gears of the left and right axle shafts are locked together in unison as power is applied to the axle through the pinion gear. The “Locking” Mechanism is normally a center section of the differential, most commonly called driver gears or a driver assembly that are placed under spring tension. The Pressure from springs forces these driver gears into the side coupler gears making the whole axle turn together at the same speed.

Pros of an Automatic Locker- Because a locked axle turns together in unison and there is no slip between the left or right tire, the tires are actually receiving 100% of the power being sent to the axle. Other traction devices such as Posi-Traction or Limited-Slip Designs at most can transfer only 65%-70% of the power given to them to the ground. If you have ever had the chance to experience the difference, it is absurd. A locking diff vs. a Limited slip diff is more than noticeable, it can make a driver laugh hysterically while stating terms of invincibility as they idle over previously challenging obstacles. 

Most commonly in some gear driven limited slips, the differential has to allow one tire to slip, causing a ratcheting effect in the differential which transfers power to the other side. This slippage equates to loss of power and to loss of momentum as the differential transfers power. With Posi-Traction differentials which instead of gears inside have clutches, this differentials has no “ratcheting effect”, instead power is transferred between each wheel through the use of a clutch pack. The inherent problem with clutches is that “slippage” between axles equates again, to a loss in power. This is why in this aspect a locker has zero mechanic slip and therefore transfers 100% of the power it is given.

These mechanical traits are only highlighted further with a locker when you start driving a vehicle with one. When driving a vehicle with a locker you start to notice certain things that are no longer happening when off road, like the fact you do not hear tires slip, you also will notice that you will not feel one tire break free and then transfer power to the other. With each tire turning together at the same RPM’s or Revolution Per Minute. There is noticeably less abuse on the whole drive train with a locker.

Cons of an Automatic Locker- Because the unit is “automatic” the driver cannot dictate how and the when the unit LOCKS or UNLOCKS. While there have been some wild accusations and urban legends of people flying off rainy roads, sliding through ice, and “lockers making vehicles wildly undrivable in poor conditions.” I would like to take time and ask….then why would anyone want them if they make a vehicle so uncontrollable to drive?  This is when the “no personal experience” keyboard warriors seem to come out in droves… I have driven an automatic locker in every terrain imaginable, fresh rain, down pours, sleet, snow, mud, sand, rock. About the biggest down fall of an automatic locker is they can chirp tires on pavement when making tight turns, they can make clunking or clicking noises making tight turns in parking lots and they can make a vehicle want to oversteer (Drift)  if you apply too much power in a low traction situation. The most common side effect of a locker is at times the differential will unlock and lock around a corner which can feel like a jostle in the cab.  Most common con thrown out on the forums aside from DEATH with an automatic locker is that with lots of street use an Automatic Locker will also cause your rear tires to wear “more” than without a locker (from the chirping, scrubbing of the slower moving tire through a turn.) There has been no research to my knowledge to prove just how much “more” tire wear that is. I am trying to document this through my daily driven RAM 2500, and so far…my tires are not melting away as suggested by the keyboard keepers of the off road realm. But more on this later.

Why would you want an Auto-locker?

Cold hard facts? First, an Auto-Locker is dirt cheap next to comparable selectable lockers like ARB, OX, Eaton E-Locker, etc. Just in hard parts for a Dana 80 rear end. An Automatic Locker can be had for about 700 dollars (lunch box lockers can be had for sub-$400’s) Where for the same unit from ARB, OX etc. with the needed compressor, Cables, levers, can quickly add up to 1500 dollars+. Thats firgure is just parts, we havent even talked about install. 2nd reason, the Auto-Locker design has been around since WWII,  95% of the Locker’s available today are damn near bomb proof. While almost every off road forum will tell you that its Toyota E-Lockers or ARB air lockers till the messiah returns, the fact is…You will never need an electrical relay or an air solenoid in the middle of the desert with an auto locker. With no need for any supporting modifications (air system, electrical wiring) an auto-locker always works. I own 2 rigs with lockers, one being my Jeep YJ with ARB’s front and rear and the other is my Trail Pig, a 99 Dodge Cummins 4x4 with a Lock Right in the rear. Only one has led me to modify an off road trip because a locker was not functioning properly. Hint: It was not the Lock Right. Double Hint: I love my ARB’s and would not change them for anything in my jeep. Wisdom to be learned? All things have a purpose when we understand INTENT. Back to the Automatic locker, the next point is maintenance.  Automatic Locker’s are like crockpot’s, set them and forget them. Air and Electronic selectable lockers have wires that can chafe, airlines that can crack, O-rings that can go bad in the units. Do not read that automatic Locker’s are infallible, but I have talked to a lot of Detroit and Yukon Grizzly owners and short of trying to be King of the Hammers, or throw 600 hp onto a rock face, automatic lockers have a very low fail rate in the wild. Normally what kills a locker is something else breaking and taking out the side gears in the locker.

So let’s sum this up again, Reason why an Auto locker would be appealing? Lower Cost of ownership than other Traction Devices (Electronic, Air, even some Limited Slip Diffs.) NO need for supporting mods (air tanks, compressors, electronic wiring.) Low Maintenance (No special oil additives, no clutch fibers to replace.)


Myth #1- Locker’s make your vehicle un-drivable on the street.

False*-  I use an asterisks because in the world of the interwebs, half truths become whole lies and the Forums (the meeting hubs of the largely uninformed) are divine instruction. I also want to walk through some of the exaggerations mentioned on the internet. This myth is one of the previously mentioned half truths perpetuated by many individuals with no direct knowledge or experience with a locker at all.

An automatic locker will not make your vehicle un-drivable for “daily driving” duties. I have one in my truck, I drive 400 miles a week in Orange County and LA. I park on narrow streets, I make U-Turns by the hour. I haven’t wanted to throw it all in the trash yet. Not once has the Locker tried to kill me (this has been disappointing.) People say an Automatic Locker behind a manual transmission will make your vehicle “change lanes” between shifts. WRONG, People say you will be followed constantly by, clanks and bangs and your vehicle jumping and jostling at every turn. Not ALWAYS true. Once you drive with a locker you learn how to drive WITH  a locker. Like any modification to a vehicle, you learn how to drive a vehicle differently. You have to adjust your driving when your vehicle is lifted from stock, why is it so much different when you upgrade something like your differential? Once you have a few days in your vehicle You learn how to add and remove power to get the differential to unlock. The only time the diff makes noise for me is when I am making U-turns or sharp turns in parking lots.  Another example is when making right and left turns from stoplights normally the only sound I hear is a tire chirp over a paint strip. Never have I felt the locker make my rig unsafe. 90% of the time I have no idea the locker is there. For those warming up the war drums, I have driven my own vehicle a ¾ ton Dodge Cummins and a Jeep XJ with Lock-Rights in the rear axles, both sticks, and both over at least 1000 miles. My experiences were the same. Yes a Locker in a heavier vehicle feels smoother because of the weight of that vehicle leveraging against the differential, but I never experienced the exaggerated symptoms I have heard about on the interwebs.

Myth #2- An automatic Locker causes increased tire wear

Half-Truth-  The logic behind this comes from the fact that since both rear tires are locked together one wheel has to “scrub, or chirp” to catch up to the faster moving tire. The logic is correct. This goes back to the “learning how to drive with a locker.” If I power through a turn, the differential locks up and I get the chirp. If I allow myself to cost through a corner, the differential unlocks and I do not chirp a tire, then no additional tire wear happens. However, once you have a locker installed…it seems some side effects of “hoonage” happens, which means….for a short while, most people like chirping tires around turns or the fact that your peg leg vehicle is now a drift ready metal missile. So sorta like the MPG message… your miles may vary just as much as how many drifts you would like to do….


Myth #3- An Automatic Locker in Snow Equals Automatic Death.

FALSE*- Almost always the first post after a, “Should I get a locker?” post is the race to be the first person to state that in the snow, “Your truck is going to immediately slide out of control.” So let’s take this one slowly. If you are the type of driver that would have killed yourself by now in life without traction control on every vehicle you have ever owned. I don’t have an answer for you. Stick to micro coffee brews and farmers markets. But I am going to assume that people CAN LEARN and can get progressively better at something. A vehicle with a locker in it on ice does require more focus to drive than one without, but interestingly enough, both vehicles are hard to drive, and if you are not focused on your driving in either vehicle, most likely your chances of a favorable ending to your adventure are not good. Driving a vehicle without any traction control or traction devices in the differential makes a vehicle constantly pull to whatever tire loses traction, where a vehicle with a locker will oversteer more in similar situations, normally pulling towards the direction of gravity. Oversteer is when the rear end of the vehicle wants to “physically pass” the front of the vehicle. Think drifting. Many people seem to forget that if you feel the rear end start to “step out “ or start to put the vehicle into a slide…. YOU CAN LET OFF THE GAS. Which will normally make the vehicle get back into line and solve that whole situation of an icy death. (again, certain off camber situations can get more interesting as again a locked vehicle will want to slide toward the direction of gravity.) But, NO, a locker will not make your vehicle un-drivable or unsafe in the snow.

 Even in my Wrangler which I have used for years as my go to snow machine, I have always left my ARB locked in my rear axle in some of the deepest snow situations I have ever been in and my vehicle has never acted out in a manner that made me unsafe. Even now with the Ram, I had the opportunity to drive on a very icy HWY 18 in Big Bear. The biggest thing I can recommend is driving at safe speeds and driving corners with the respect they deserve. I had 2 times in a 2 hour drive where the truck stepped out on me, both times all it took was rolling off the gas and rolling back on smoother.  For years ACROSS America, lockers have been used in snow plow rigs….if the MYTH of icy death was true….how the heck did Detroit sell so many for so long?

So in closing, I want to make one point 100% clear, YES, a Locker will make your vehicle feel different in certain situations. An Automatic Locker will be more noticeable during daily life than a selectable unit such as ARB, OX, Eaton, etc. With an automatic locker you will not want to take corners as fast in the rain, or ice, but you shouldn’t be Ricky racer in those situations anyways. Do I think that automatic lockers are for everyone? NO, if you are a super picky person, if you want your truck to drive like a Lexus, then an Automatic Locker is probably not for you. But if you are okay with wearing your jeans 2 days in a row and are 100% for instating the death penalty for Man buns, an automatic locker might be the right choice for you.

That’s my .02 cents


Outfitting Your Land Yacht- A Guide to Building a Strong, Full Size-3/4-1 Ton Rig

So a 4runner was not enough and binge watching Narcos on Netflix couldn’t get you into a Land Cruiser.  You need a full-size, an Exon-Valdez class rig. Roof Top Tent? That’s cute…You brought your actual living room and kitchen from home. Welcome to the sickness.

If you have spent anytime on Instagram you have quickly learned that unless it’s a Tacoma or a 4runner you are not allowed to have fun and if it’s not a Land Rover then your big ole pig is designated to fire roads only (or read most CA freeways). This is where I hope this post helps you. I don’t want to get caught up in the “he said, she said” but I do want to expand your horizons on the capability of full size rigs. If you have a family, or you simply like the idea of a nice slide in Four Wheel Camper, Hallmark, etc. Don’t believe the rumors. Your truck is not too big, your not going to get stuck pulling onto the shoulder of a dirt road.

The Length and Width Debate (SFW)

Yes, most full size rigs are wider than a Jeep or 4runner, but with each model year it seems these “trail ready rigs” sneak up to the full size width category. Then these pint-sized pipsqueaks add on tires with less backspacing, increase track width through long travel. This all actually lends itself as ammo to the full size debate. If being narrow was the end all goal then most of us are doing this wrong.
Okay, well then the damn thing is too long. It’s like a party barge and a homemade teeter-totter waiting to happen. To that one, it’s a yes and a no. Yes the rigs have some length to them. Overall Wheel Base lengths can be between 130-176 inches. While the potential of going over  razor back trail obstacles or a steep point could lead to high centering there is also this other really nice quality to being super long…. Climbing and Decent. I will tell you between my Jeep YJ and my Dodge Ram 2500 the Dodge feels 3x’s as stable climbing or dropping than the Jeep. With Length means the rig does not want go bumper over tea kettle when going down a steep decline and when you are nosing up a steep incline the rig will benefit from length helping keep the front axle planted and fight the desire to lift a front wheel or transfer weight to the rear of the vehicle.
All challenges aside I will tell you, a well-built ¾-1 ton rig is a hard, hard, rig to beat in capability and build out.
This is unfortunately something you cannot purchase out of catalog or finance with the rig. No amount of money makes up for learning to pick a good line. I beg you to go out with friends and start moderately trying hard and harder obstacles, feeling your rigs suspension work under you, learning what your rig CAN and CANNOT do. I was up in Big Bear this weekend with several full size rigs and was riding in one that I just finished a build out on. We came up to a connector trail called 3N08, the trial is not a tough one but definitely a fun trail for people first learning the capabilities of their rig. As we tooled down the trail we were stopped by 3 JK Jeeps, all telling the full-size we were riding in; the trail is too narrow; you will never make it; there’s a rock garden,” “you don’t have enough clearance.” I loved as these individuals who did not even know of our existence in the cosmos 2 seconds ago and were now informing us of the capability of our rigs. In these situations focus on YOU and your rig, know YOUR OWN capability. Do not trust “random spotters,” a gentleman who owns a an SUV will see a different line than what you may need. Remember, “Trust but Verify.” I love a second set of eyes, but if I am seeing a problem, I don’t let the second set convince me beyond my gut. At the end of the day the “helpful trail people” aren’t going to drop me off at work in the morning.  This may sound counter-intuitive but wheel a stock full size rig a few times, again, find it’s weaknesses: Does the truck not do well if the front right tire is in a hole and the left rear wheel is one too? Does the truck struggle with spinning only one front wheel trying to pull the rig through things? Are you sure your rear diff is not an open diff (aka, no traction aid, lsd, peg leg, one wheel spins only etc.) Knowing your rig better than anyone else is what will make you great in your own rig. Do not show up to a trail with owner’s manual in hand trying to learn how to put it in decent mode (just don’t.)

These rigs weigh 7200 pounds plus out of the box without add-ons.

-Do not skimp on things like tie rods, drag links, track bars, u-joints, transmission and t-case services and BRAKES. Yes everything is built like a brick house, but they are only as good as their maintenance.

-Rigs that I know spend a lot of time in low speed, 4x4, sluggin around 10-12K in weight on back roads I recommend transmission services at 30,000 miles (drain and fill fluid, replace filters at 60k.) Another way to check this is just look at the fluid color, Red is good, burgundy not so good, orange no bueno. Fresh fluid is a key component to off setting pricey transmission rebuilds.
-Check gear oil- I put this in its own category because this should be checked based on 2 things, I like to take a peak every 10k, it’s easy to do and it helps make sure the diffs are not doing anything weird; however, after ANY TRIP in which you encountered nasty mud or water crossings do your self a favor and check.  We had a customer a few years ago that had to reseal both his ARB’s and complete whole differential rebuilds after failing to check his fluid after a water crossing. We only checked after the tech noticed a whine during a test drive when he finished an oil change. The diff fluid had the consistency of Yoo-hoo. The customer admitted that he had not been off road in over a year and the rig mostly sat. Take 10 minutes, save $3 grand+.
-I would like to also note here that if you drive an automatic, which is 99% of the world, these rigs do benefit from transmission coolers and “deep transmission pans.” Remember every quart extra to a transmission has the benefit of removing 5-7 degrees in temperature. AFE, ATS, Mag-Hytec, all have good solid transmission pans that add a few extra quarts and while you are going 5 mph up a rocky trail with 10,000 pounds of dispersed-ness, you might as well protect your investment.
The manufactures really started getting on board with keeping tranny temps down around the model year 2008. Most of the trucks produced after this have large transmission coolers with auxiliary transmission coolers from the factory. So I would just do a deep pan and move on. For those who are ‘07 and older. I have never had a truck return to me with a transmission-overheating problem once I installed a 30,000 GVW cooler AFTER the radiator. (transmission cooler line runs to radiator, then run radiator transmission line to aftermarket cooler, then run cooler line back to transmission).


The only real challenge I see with full-size rigs is they are heavy. Big diesel engines, big transmissions, big axles all lend themselves to big heavy pigs. Here are the tricks to use to help you. First like every other vehicle but MORE full size rigs benefit from airing down. I am personally of the camp that, “I will air down when I need to air down” but going from 80 psi to 25 psi will give you a world of difference not only in trail performance but also ride. If you are going on the Mohave Trail or you know you are going to possibly experience soft sandy washes, do yourself the favor and air down before hand. Another way to look at it, if it’s a “day trip” I’ll air down as needed, if it’s a 3 day off road affair, just air down, its easier on you and the truck.
SNOW- Snow and ice are terrible Kryptonite pieces to 5 ton full size rigs. I spent years ripping around Big bear with my Jeep YJ with front and rear lockers and never had to break out a set up chains. I had snow over my 33’s and could muster my way threw anything. I showed up to the same trail with a full size Dodge Diesel and didn’t make it 25 feet. CHAINS are mandatory, they are no longer optional. Personally I am a huge fan of the RUD 4x4 Chains, by far the easiest ones to install, but anything will work as long as it is correct for your wheel size. They offer different patterns out there, some “y chains” some “flat bar” in my experience one is not necessarily better than the other. They say the “y chains” help with slipping side to side, but every set of chains I have had that are INSTALLED CORRECTLY will transform your rig into a Sherman tank.

*Pro Tip- Do not lower your tire pressure and install your chains. Chains need to have a tight tire to hug. If anything if you roll around unloaded at say 70PSI and you throw on your chains to go wheeling, after getting the chains tight, air the tire up to say 75PSI, this will keep the chains from slipping.
ALSO- once the chains are installed you need to wheel off road, “low and slow,” the game is not to spin your tires, let the chains and the weight from your heavy rig break through and bite into the ice. Believe it or not between a Jeep on chains or a full-size on chains, the full size will chop through more things. Largely because of the weight they have as an ASSET not a liability when equipped with chains.
Mud and 3.5-5 tons does not bode well, this is where your asset is again low tire pressure but also a nice set of self-clearing tires. You’re all terrains work well up to a point but a nice mid-terrain like the Terra Grapplers, or R/T Open Countries, or Cooper SST’s are your better assets in this fight. Personally, I like a full mud terrain. Something like a KM2 (have not had the KM3’s yet), a Pro Comp MT2, or Open Country M/T’s. Basically a good tire that self-clears and has sidewall lugs to help chew threw the earth gumbo.  The downside to Mud Terrains is

A) cabin noise

B) a soft rubber/low tread wear (will wear out faster)

C) they seem to chop easy (where the tire wears unevenly and can cause vibrations and increased noise).  

Rotate Mud Terrains every 5k miles and consistently check your air pressure every month and you will have a good reliable tire. But it is hard to get more than 30k out of a set of mud terrains. With the Pro Comp MT2’s I have been able to muster 38K, still not great but a heck of a lot better than some of my previous choices.
ADD ON’S (This is where you can spend money)

Personally, if you have a sound rig that does not need tires, or maintenance, the first piece of the puzzle from my perspective is to get a winch. A lift, rims and tires, all nice add-ons but they will not get you past the inevitable and that is, ONE DAY YOU ARE GETTING STUCK. A really stuck full-size is something of folk-lore, these beasts are hard to move, your buddy in his jeep will probably break an axle trying to pull you out or yank you through something. Trust me the day you have to use your winch you will talk for weeks about the best investment you ever made (it’s the winch.)
The way this works, is regardless if you have bigger tires, wider rims, your tires are only as good as the contact patch they can leave. A suspension that does not flex or work under the rig will not help a 12.5-inch tire make full contact. So who cares what tire you have if the suspension cannot keep it on the ground or better yet has the tire bound up in your wheel well. Again in my own experience the Fords and Dodges can benefit well from simply a set of front coils and shocks, Chevy’s can use something like Cognito’s upper control arm and torsion keys to gain that little bit of lift and help in articulation.  Side note: if you do have a GM IFS platform do yourself a favor and get the pitman arm/idler arm support brackets. Many companies make them, my personal favorite is again Cognito, they are super beefy and really help correct a design flaw in the GM full-size steering. I once rode in a 2500HD lifted 6 inches on 35s headed to Calico, we were doing about 75, hit a bridge transition and all of a sudden the truck make a right. The idler arm decided it had, had enough of this world and there we were in the middle of nowhere because of a small part.  We survived but I still think what would have happened if we were in Death Valley? Crawling Bradshaw Trail? $240 bucks for peace of mind is cheap.



So we have talked a little bit of the weight challenges, the suspension concerns and now we are moving to the meat and potatoes. TRACTION: who cares about 950 ftlbs of torque if you can’t get any of it to the ground? Most of the new trucks are now coming standard with either a Gov-lock (a clutch driven posi differential that when one wheel spins at a faster pace may “lock” and mechanically apply the same power to each wheel) The problem with Gov-locks is many in the industry call them “grenade-locks” cause if you abuse them bad AKA stand on the skinny pedal and all of a sudden a wheel, or both wheels gain traction the diff likes to do its best impression of Katy Perry’s, Firework. Ford is the only one I know that offers a factory E locker in the rear, that is a nice option and then Ram rounds out the group with a gear driven Torsen style “worm driven” limited slip. In short the Ram unit is maintenance free and seems to be a stronger unit that any “clutch pack” style limited slips.
But where all these rigs fall short is the front diff. Your sticker on your truck may say 4x4 but you really have 3-wheel drive.  In 90% of your off road driving this is fine. One front tire pulling that trail pig along is just enough “umphh” for your truck to continue through whatever nastiness you might be in. However, there are predicaments where having a true “4x4” is a must. First is the MUD discussion, mud is dirt in suction cup form. The physical properties of mud are why it “sucks you in,” the dirt and water create a suction and restrains the vehicle from moving forward. With a lot of full size rigs you will find the rear axle buried to the frame and the front axle will have one wheel with a much deeper hole than the other. The reason a from Locker or Limited Slip would help you in this situation is that the drive has the ability to try and “crab walk” the vehicle out of this mess by turning the steering wheel “side to side.” This motion believe it or not can be that hail Mary pass between 5 seconds and 5 hours. The second area where 3-wheel drive really effects these rigs is CLIMBING. Again, you are going to have moments where you are going to be climbing an drop one of your front wheels either in front of a rock, or in a natural recess in the earth and that wheel will now become useless, maybe that wheel is just spinning, or better yet you now have the opposite wheel off the ground. Now that wheel that has no traction is where 100% of your power is going. You are now at 2-wheel drive. The benefit of a front traction aid is that while one wheel may be up in the air the Locker or Limited Slip will now transfer power to the wheel that does have traction, allowing you to move forward (in theory) to plant all 4 wheels back on the ground and move forward. Your third major area where 3-wheel drive is a killer in these rigs is SAND. Sand is a different kind of monster, I personally believe it is “over rated” in difficulty but sand has to be respected. With sand the whole idea is trying to float the weight of the vehicle over as much contact area as possible. You would actually be surprised how well a diesel rig can “dune” in the sand at 15 psi. But where the diesels struggle is the fact you have this 1,000-2,000 pound engine sitting up front trying to pound that front axle into the sand. With only one wheel pulling its weight the rig wants to bury that wheel. With sand and most off road obstacles, momentum is key. With a traction aid up front now you have both wheels “cleaning out” the sand in front of the wheels, instead of going up against these natural parking blocks, you are now chewing through them clearing the way for the rear tires to keep pushing as well. 
How fast do I need to address this? Not very fast, my father has 405k on his ram a solid 100k of that is off road. And he doesn’t have one. But then again he is normally not all alone when off road. However, when you do add a front traction aid your eyes will be opened at how a difficult trail of the past becomes a Sunday afternoon drive with the right equipment. 
So again, the List in the order I rate as the best investments in your rig.

1) Maintenance (transmission pan, transmission cooler, brakes, fluids, etc.)
2) Tires (if you can afford to, do #4 and #2 together, either way most trucks can fit a 33 inch tire without suspension and a 33 will look fine down the road if the truck is lifted)
3) Winch *my personal #1
4) Suspension
5) Traction aid (LSD or Locker)

I hope this has been helpful in someway for you and I hope to see more full size rigs out there on the trails!!

Purchasing an Overland Rig

With the growth of the phenomenon that is "Overlanding" comes some grey areas of the sport. While most of us spend our free days out on the trail enjoying every bit of what "overlanding" means to us, I also recognize a new segment of the population that is popping up. Most of us have been doing this before "overlanding" was coined but for the new segment drawn in by social media and trail rumors I have recognized some people are getting straight hosed. I mean this in a completely professional manner as well. For the past 11 years I have been either a fabricator, mechanic or salesmen for off road performance accessories by trade and as the landscape has changed so have the customers I have come to service. It was actually these very same customers who lead me to this site and community.  So as a daily mechanic/ service writer let me share with you the tips and tricks of buying a good rig or more importantly the right rig. 

Place of Purchase-New
Here you are pretty much forced to go to a dealer but first lets talk about the up-sales. See we all love the TRD pro's or maybe that trail hawk package has you stunned on the new Grand Cherokees. Whatever your poison is the dealer is always willing to add salt for taste. But what I am more concerned about is the fact that most of the people that show up looking to upgrade their rig after the purchase high wears off go straight for the extra "package" stuff they paid top dollar for and they throw it out. Now arguably what you will find is some things like locking diffs sometimes only come with the TRD packages, or the heavy duty, locking axles (rubicon/Powerwagon) only come with some of their packages, but do you your research, find the package you want, and make sure you are willing to dish out the extra 2500+8k plus for an option that results in pretty much stickers, shocks you are going to ditch in a year and rims you will have sold on craigslist. Or the “rock Sliders” that end up selling anyways cause there are these other ones that are thicker and have a step…..New is wonderful, new is nice, but do not be the guy sitting at a trail head in your shiny rig wondering if maybe you should have spent money on different aspects. Here is also my tip of the day, having worked with dealers in limited capacity for past SEMA work, find what you want on their website and then call for their online fleet manager. They will try their hardest to keep you away from this guy, but he or she is the candy man uh...woman. They are able to order at your request, check other dealer stocks and more importantly, they are a strictly numbers people. They want to have a car count in and car count out. You do not need to purchase 25 cars, they are more than willing to help anyone on the phone. My recommendation is have your vehicle picked out, the packages you want and if you can have the build sheet in hand while on the phone. The fleet managers have always gotten it done for me and at prices that didnt make me sit in an office for an hour while my salesman DIDNT ask his boss for a better deal. EXAMPLE: Recently I had a customer who wanted a Rock Warrior Tundra, he was licking his lips and wanting one so bad, but the price was just freaking too much to bear. He spent 2 days calling around to Fleet Managers and found a Limited Tundra, crew cab, configuration he wanted 4x4 of course, and was able to have the dealer swap alloy rims for steel wheels and get one with a LSD rear diff. At the end of the day he was 5 figures cheaper and spent roughly half that on building something that was his own. with the rims, tires and suspension he wanted. 

Place of Purchase- USED
So the vehicle is a few years old, or 20... give or take. Here is my recommendation as a mechanic, do not buy a used car from a dealer and do not care about what CARFAUX.. I mean CARFAX has to say. Now let me dial it back, I understand some of us need the financing and the dealer is the only game in town. But understand this, most used cars come from an auction, they were sent to an auction because some dealer took it in on a trade and then didn’t see the advantage of keeping it, it may need work, it may have needed work, for some reason it was deemed a liability. You also have no history on the vehicle that is tangible. It could have been lovingly cared for by a grandfather, or it could have been a 16 year old BJ Baldwin Wannabee. Just be aware of the limitations but that does not mean you are incapable of finding a sound rig. So back at the dealer, then my recommendation is when you find the vehicle you want you need to immediately ask the dealer for an inspection pass for the vehicle. Some dealers say take it for 24 hrs, others say 4 hours. But what you want to do is take a list of their "100/200 point Certified Pre-Owned (CPO)" check list and take it directly to a mechanic you trust. Why you are doing this is because dealers are not always honest and a check-list largely made up of menial stuff that does not matter to the health of the vehicle will not actually give you the clear bill of health EXAMPLE: Not an overland vehicle, but the shop I work at had a great customer come in with a CPO  2015 Mini Cooper, clean little car, clean carfax, super low miles and the thing was half the price of a new one... WOW, even I loved it... 2 seconds with my scan tool and boom, 42 codes, 12  stored engine codes, 7  pending brake codes, 23 body codes. Ended up finding the vehicle had been in 2 accidents that were not reported (body panels/ bumpers did not have manufacture body codes/vin). She was buying someone else's lemon.
The reason you want the pre purchase inspection is also an honest answer on how the vehicle is maintained. Many times the fluids will all be fresh (cheapest thing for a dealer to fix). But how about brake percentages? How about past repairs? Generally an independent shop can tell you when things have been replaced. Maybe valve cover gaskets dont match or there is silicone on something that shouldn’t have silicone. Most independents with a smog machine may be able to check previous tests? Has it had a history of failing smog? why did it fail smog? In fact you can check any car in CA by simply typing Vehicle Smog Test History in google and checking the first dmv link. (I would link but I was told it would block my post.) It is crucial to make sure your vehicle does not fail based on improperly installed cats, incorrect sensors, the list goes on. But again a good honest independent will help you steer clear. 

The next thing is having a truck up on a rack tells you things, a mechanic will be able to find bends and twists in things that shouldn’t be there, maybe you have accessory covers that are missing. Rocks make noises and leave kisses, its a sign of their affection. Maybe the tires are wearing funny, is this because of tie rods, ball joints? Bent arms? Improperly install lifts? Or just a bad alignment? How about diff fluid? These are hard to check at a dealer, but up on a rack much easier. Remember shiny objects whether they are in jewelry or engine/gear oil both mean the same thing. MONEY. Again, an honesty mechanic will be able to tell you if they feel anything is in danger or not. Now remember you can take your independent advice back to the dealer and some dealers will not care at all, their price is take it or leave it. But I have always experienced some dealers who are willing to go out of their way to make their customer feel satisfied. I had one Toyota dealer do a timing belt, waterpump and cam seals because the vehicle was right at the scheduled mileage and they didnt charge the customer, I had a dodge dealer replace front and rear brakes on a Ram3500 4x4 because what the rotors were undersized but the pads where "above 60%". Again, free because it was brought to their attention.

O no.....the dreaded upsale AGAIN. It is a used car so what they are going to hit you with either  a manufacture or aftermarket extended auto warranty. What you need to know is that the dealers make more off of the aftermarket warranties than the manufacture warranties. So they will most likely push an aftermarket, this is however, what you need to know regardless. Read every page of the warranty they put in front of you, check to see what it covers.  Skip to the "stated not covered repairs" what does it read? Does it replace ignition system components? emissions equipment? Head gaskets? Transmission failure? automatic shift solenoids? Again, your trust independent mechanic will most likely be able to tell you what the automobilese you are reading actually covers. But it is not all bad. Toyota, Ford, Chevy, Dodge and Jeep seem to have pretty good extended warranties, I have had transfer cases replaced, mode doors and actuators taken care of, but again there is a lot of mumbo jumbo out there where you end up paying 3800 dollars for an extended warranty that will replace a sun visor bulb but not an exhaust manifold.  The only two aftermarket extended warranties I have had any luck with have been Endurance and Carchex.  Both have replaced transmissions, suspension components and drive axles. Both require a deductable which was either 250 or 500 (check your warranty I am sure its related to level of coverage) but the nice thing was they paid us directly and the customer just walked in, gave us whatever the deductable was and off they went. (I am not a lawyer, double check yourself, I have no affiliation with them).

Craiglist Abyss

A lot of people give CL a bad rap, ooo its a bunch of bottom feeders, a bunch of con artists, a bunch of dishonest shysters. I am sorry... have you seen our politicians (composes self). What I am trying to say is for every Nigerian Prince with a 7 figure banking problem there is still 10 or so (statistic made up on site) good people selling good cars with good intentions. Again, Call them up, go look at the rig, ask them hey will you take a deposit? Can we go to a mechanic tomorrow for a pre purchase inspection? Most will happily oblige. I have always said, "hey let me pay 105 bucks(standard rate for an hour) and get a pre purchase inspection and if I decide to pass you can at least have the bill of health on your car for the next guy".  Most of the time again no problem. If the seller is really apprehensive of such a request, I personally would back away from the sale. People should understand whether its 5 grand or 50 grand it's a risk. However, maybe this is still not possible to here is your checklist

Coolant- there should be no "floaters" that is a professional term. Floaters will normally look like white scale or small little floating crystals, these show up when coolant has not been maintained.  Number one "AH HA Caught you moments" is normally when the radiator is full of fluid and the recovery bottle is empty. There is a leak somewhere, do not let someone tell you different. It is low for a reason. Most coolant drain and fills are about $150 bucks parts and labor. Also if there is any fluid floating on top of the coolant it can be multiple things, I have had teenagers put brake fluid in radiators because they did not know better, and I have also seen oil in coolant from head gasket failures. There should only be one fluid in a radiator (it’s radiator fluid)
Coolant Colors
Toyota- pre-03 red, post 03 pink (this is a blanket standard some got different colors sooner later) if it is green or orange it is wrong
Chevy/Dodge- Should be orange, each manufacture has their own name for it but it should be orange from 96-up.  The diesel's is where it gets complicated, it should technically be orange, but as long as the fluid is something like a fleet guard extended life diesel coolant it should be fine. 
Fords- pretty much 98 and up it should be Motorcraft Gold/yellow color, again diesels can go either way from the factory they should be gold/yellow, but you can run old fashion green in them with the proper additive, or the fleet style diesel coolants. 

Reason I list colors is because if you get any browns or purples you may be looking at a contaminated system which will require a flush and a new thermostat. Depending on the vehicle that can be a 250-500 dollar expense right out of the pocket book. Blending coolants can lead to scaling and corrosion in the cooling system, this eats water pumps, head gaskets and jumpstarts electrolysis. 

99% of the time this fluid should be bright red, fluid that is starting to turn will go from bright Red to roseish red, to orange, and then brown/black. YOU DO NOT WANT IT TO GET PAST ORANGE. What does this mean for your transmission... This is a crap shoot. I have customers that flush their transmissions every 30,000 miles and their fluid is dark dark brown each time and they have over 200k miles and still ticking. I have people who have never had dirty fluid in any of our inspections and have lost transmissions before 100k.  What we are really looking for is the law of averages here. 
1%- Allison Transmissions and pretty much anything european actually have clear looking transmission fluid.  BUT this also has changed a little the "Transynd " Allison specific fluid has changed in later years, the new bottles have more of a tint of red then the old stuff, so if you pull a dipstick and its nice and clean and clear. it may just be the original fluid, if it is red, ask the owner if they used Transynd, if they know nothing about it, keep this in mind. There are now "aftermarket" fluids that will work in the allisons but for the longest time and pretty much the industry standard, it is best to have the Allison fluid in them. 

Engine oil- Gas rigs, check the oil, is it low? Is it black? If you rub the dipstick on the back of your hand and cannot see your pores/your own skin color underneath, its too dark, is it black and low? This might be a sign of poor maintenance records or an engine that is not running properly. Is it low because it leaks? Is it low because it burns oil? Dark and low on oil can pretty much sum up stuck piston rings or bad valve stem seals. The more often the vehicle has had shotty oil changes the more aware you need to be about the possible need for future additives to try and loosen up stuck rings such as Rislone Stop Smoke Ring Repair additive, B&G, or Engine Restore. I have always had best luck with Rislone or with motors that have been abused I will run a quart of ATF (it is a detergent) with my next 3 oil changes. normally the ATF will help clean the inside of the motor and help get the gunk out.

Diesels- Diesels need pretty much 4 things there whole life, air, heat, fuel and oil. Since these engines have higher compression, deal with higher heat and pull heavier loads oil is very very important. Many of these systems are 14 quarts or more and they run a lot of things. The newer diesels depend on oil to help with their variable geometry turbos (VGT), the oil itself on motors like powerstrokes actually help fire the injectors and so when oil is neglected and allowed to run low this means maybe the turbo has excessive wear from being run low. Powerstrokes are famous for stiction, which basically means the oil passages in the motors, high pressure oil pumps and injectors get clogged. Different solenoids can become clogged. In general, oil is very very important and due to the fact that replacing an engine in pretty much any diesel is a 15,000 dollar PLUS date. Make sure it is taken care of. Now with Diesels the old “dark oil” test is a no go. I can put fresh oil in any diesel motor and fire it up once for 5 minutes and then pour out dark oil as soon as I shut it off. Just make sure the oil is on the stick. If the oil level is a little below full that’s okay. If the oil is not reading on the stick. That is not okay. Again, Law of averages.

Brake Fluid- perfect color is almost clear/gold. Most..... its either charcoal colored or black. Charcoal suggests an average maintained system, pitch black means there is contaminants, most likely water, rust and fine metal particles. So what does this mean? Most of the time a simple flush will straighten everything out (does the pedal feel soft? old fluid will make it feel squishy and the pedal will go down further). Another observation is that sometimes on vehicles with drums in the rear, improperly adjusted rear brakes will also make the pedal go down farther and make the vehicle feel like it does not want to stop. Keep this in mind as well.  But dirty fluid is dirty fluid. Next is the level of the fluid, is it low? is it empty? if It is low most likely it is a sign that either the front or rear brakes are needing to be done, but as the caliper and wheel cylinder push farther out the amount of fluid in the reservoir becomes less. If it is VERY VERY low, then you may have a situation where you have a leak somewhere, it can be a leaking caliper or wheel cylinder. But a system that is maintained should not be low or dirty.  #law of averages.

Okay Overland Therapy I have a rig in front of me, oil is dirty and low, brake fluid is dirty and low, transmission fluid is brown and coolant bottle is empty and the radiator is full. What do I have?

You sir/fair lady have a story, most likely the vehicle may run fine. It may not show any signs of abuse, but you have a solid case against the law of averages. In all reality it sounds like the average car I see everyday, but that does not make it great. It means the seller most likely does not routinely check his or her fluids, needed repairs may have been declined and you should just be aware that fluid does not disappear. If the coolant bottle is empty and there are no immediate signs of leaks, it might be the water pump, they can leak right after being started and then seal up before you park it at work 10 minutes later. an water pump on say a UZJ100 Landcruiser is most of the time completed with the timing belt, crank seal, cam seals and idler pulleys. That can instantly be a 950-1100 dollar repair. 

Thats why I stress the importance of having your potential rig checked out, are the brakes wearing evenly? Do you know? a pre purchase inspection will tell you, is this caused by a caliper issue or maybe drum brakes out of adjustment? the list can go on and on.

Aftermarket Parts
This is one of those segments that is a double edge sword. It is so nice to find a FJ80 with an ARB front bumper and winch already installed, its like 3k just hanging there for free. But while a winch bumper and winch may be an awesome addition there are other things to be concerned about. A lot of people out there finance their rigs, then hit up amex for zero percent and then make a catalog throw up on their car. If you have seen pretty much 80% of every JK Wrangler on the road you have seen it. It's like Helen Keller grabbed a 4 wheel parts catalog and a dart board. Again what are you paying for? OOO it has 18 inch rims, thats so sick.....but it also limits tire availability and they actually suck off road. 17 inch is as big as you need for 99 percent of the rigs. Unless you are hanging a 42 inch tire off of your rig, do not even think about 20 inch rims. You will not get traction and "airing down" is actually more of a "lets blow a bead in the wild" proposition. OOO it has a 6.5 inch lift, perfect!! How much fun is it going to be loading and unloading it...and are you going to put a RTT on it?  Ever seen a skinny chick with big hair in the wind? Now experience it on four wheels.  Now granted this wont be the experience with every rig. But take the time to think it out, why did someone spend 20+ grand on something in extras to burn the cash and get rid of it? I always laugh when I see the ad for this absolutely sick looking vehicle and then it says "will only trade for stock truck plus cash". A lot of the time the "postcard rig" does not end up being the capable cruiser they set out for. 

Suspension- I was in this industry and the companies backing these products come and go like the wind. LIFETIME GAURANTEE….but our website is gone and our phone is disconnected. Make sure you buy a vehicle that if the suspension has been modified it has been done by someone you can still get parts from, or from someone you may not need to get parts from.  Old Man Emu is a legend, Rubicon Express, Carli Suspension, Kore, Fox Shox, King, Total Chaos, Cognito, CST, BDS, Slee Off road. These are all companies I have worked with, and sure there are other names, but look into and do some solid searching on does their lift fit an aesthetic need or a functional need? I have seen too many lifts destroy ball joints, tie rods, cv-axles and steering components because they were engineered for looks and not function.  I have one truck I cannot for the life of me get to track true without burning up tires because the lift kit was engineered so that I will never be able to get proper camber adjustment on one side. Worse thing you can do is actually go backwards from what the factory had.  Dont end up buying someone else's mistake

Lockers and Traction Devices- I MUST MUST MUST insist that if you are buying a rig and they claim it has a traction device that when you do a pre purchase inspection you simply ask if they are willing for you to pay for a diff service or ask if your mechanic can take a peak with a bore scope. $100 bucks can save you on a $1000 dollar lie. I had a customer come in a few months ago and show off his newly acquired BA rig and it was, it was a solid rig built well. "It has lockers front and rear". Drive around a locker-esk symptoms. Put it in 4wd, steering did not get stiff.... My heart kind of sank and I decided I would check it for him during his now "after purchase inspection". Luckily I was able to use a bore scope and found his front and rear diffs where OPEN....not even LSD in the rear. He had admitted to spending close to 2k more than the closest comparable Rig based on the previous owner's statements.  He had no way of tracking the scammer down. For things like "its got Detroit’s, or Arb's, Yukon grizzly, LSD or the list goes on and on" Have a mechanic check it out and ask for receipts!

Well thanks to all of you that stuck it through to the end. I hope this helps you going forward!! Good luck on the adventure!