There’s no better time than right now to take care of all the basic maintenance jobs that you may have been putting off. Here, Steve Cassano walks you through some basic jobs to start with, and the right tools to have on hand.
Begin with the basics
When I sat down to write this article, my main objective was to address the simple jobs that required little skill and few resources. The caveat being that I assume you have some fundamental tools but if not, then I suggest the following tools as a basis to build on as your needs increase and skills improve.
I’d like to emphasise that your 4WD of choice was probably an expensive outlay and continues to be so. So make sure the tools you have are of good quality and fit for purpose. Not much use taking a knife — and a rusty one — to a gun fight.
I personally only like tools from leading manufacturers. There are many quality lines that perform as expected for the job on hand. For the vast majority of vehicles, the metric standard will cover you but there will be occasions when imperial sizes may be required, especially for some older vehicles and occasionally for fitting some after-market accessories. Luckily for me my US-brand vehicle is finally setting metric as their standard too.
Let’s start with a set of open and closed spanners that range from 8–21mm, though I’ve had need to use up to 24mm for some suspension components. Opt for the ratchet style as they are just so handy and quick to use, even though they’re a little pricier.
Next a ½ inch socket set with a similar size range is essential. Make sure they’re chrome vanadium steel for added strength. Back this kit with a ¼ inch set for the smaller jobs, which usually range from 4–13mm. I also got my hands on some longer extension bars to access those tricky areas. Finally, I found a 450mm ½ inch breaker bar, which I sourced for $30. That comes in very handy to remove stubborn bolts by improving leverage. A varied set of screw drivers consisting of flat and Phillips-heads will get used a lot. You’ll also need an assortment of hand tools such as pliers, snippets, vice grips and a Stanley knife as a minimum. Many modern vehicles use Allen keys, so get your hands on a set of these too.
These suggestions are just for starters. You’ll find as you learn more about your vehicle or trailer what else you may need. I’d guess that you should budget for at least $250 to start your new mechanical career.
The final tool that I highly recommend as essential, is a ½ inch torque wrench. Mine is rated 10–150 Ft-lb, (13.60–203.50 Nm) and cost me just under $70 a few years ago. It’s really important to ensure all bolts and nuts are torqued to the right specifications as stated by the car manufacturer. It should be easy enough to track down your 4WD’s specifications online, just as I did.
What to do
Here are a few quick and easy suggestions that can be done in your driveway, especially before undertaking long trips or tackling rough roads.
This is one of the easiest tasks to perform, using simple tools and in some cases none. A cleaner filter should improve engine performance and economy, and will protect the engine. Of course, you’ll need to source a quality filter. This doesn’t necessarily need to be OEM, just as long as it’s a reputable brand. A Toyota Hilux for example, would range around the $25–35 mark for a good filter. Most filters housed in the air-box are either flat or conical shaped. Removing the top cover should expose the filter for easy change over. I always take time to vacuum any debris and wipe out the interior and edges for any dust.
If it’s really dirty, I’ll remove the whole air box, taking care of any attached sensors, and wash it out. Make sure it’s completely dry before reinstalling and ensure the lid sits snugly in position and any sensors are firmly re-attached.
Talking of filters, an often overlooked one is the cabin filter. Not many people know that most modern 4WD’s interior air flow passes through a paper/synthetic filter. I’m not familiar with every model’s design, though you’ll generally find them hidden behind the glove box. Removing the glove box lid is the usual process to allow access to the filter. There are dozens of online videos to show the right processes for changing a cabin filter for your model of 4WD, but it usually just requires sliding out the old filter and replacing it with the new one.
From what I’ve seen, for most models it takes just a few minutes with no tools required, just as mine did. Make sure it’s oriented the correct way when inserting the new filter. You’ll should easily source a quality filter for well under $25. As a hint, some models won’t allow you to remove or add a filter unless the vehicle is in recirculate mode and ignition is on. Check your user manual.
The patient winch rope
One accessory that gets neglected is the electric winch or rather the winch rope for this next task. There it is, sitting patiently until the moment you really need it, so it needs to be looked after. I’ve had the same Warn winch for over 10 years, so it was time to take care of the five year old winch rope. I decide to replace the rope with a new Dyneema synthetic rope to ensure there were no weaknesses in my favourite recovery tool. So hunting online, I sourced 26M of 10mm rope for around $76. After un-spooling the old rope and cleaning up the drum, I used a new short bolt to secure the end of the new rope to the drum. Then under as much tension as I could muster, I evenly wound the new rope on and secured it in place. I was very pleased with the result. This should last for many more years as long as the rope is not overly damaged during one of the more testing tracks. By the way, it’s not necessary to get as much rope on the drum as possible as there is less pull/torque as more layers are added. I usually recommend keeping it under 28 metres.
Another task that I’d been putting off for a while is a little more interesting and requires a little dexterity under the chassis. There are four components of a 4WD that are usually fitted with breather tubes. Those are the engine transmission, transfer case and each of the differentials. The hoses allow air inside these sealed components to escape as heat builds up and intakes air when cooled, like during water crossings, thus preventing water ingress.
Most 4WDs will have some sort of breather hoses but they’re rarely long enough and some can be just a few inches. My suggestion is to ensure that both axle breather hose ends are set well above any possible water line.
It’s a simple job replace the existing hoses with longer ones. In my case I needed to route about 2 metres ($34 for 4m of 5/16” fuel hose) from each differential to a higher position.
My existing hoses simply fit over barb connectors attached to the top of the axle tube. In some cases it may be on top of the housing itself, just depends on your 4WD. I removed the hose clamp that allowed the old tube to simply slide off by hand. Next I un-clipped a few mounting points and saved the end valve/filter to be re-used. For the front, I routed the hose up to under the hood and the rear was sent high into the right tail-light assembly. I’m sure you’ll find a million possible paths for your situation that will do the job. Make sure there is enough slack in the hose near the axle ends to allow flexibility during suspension articulation. Use appropriate cable-ties to secure them and slide the end valve and hose clip in their place.
I hope you found these suggestions helpful and inspiring. They, like many other small things you can do to your 4WD, will help you better understand your vehicle, which can only be a good thing. It should swallow up a few days hunting for the right parts at the right price online then installing them all. Just remember to recheck your work after a few hundred kilometres to ensure all is working as it should.
All this while we are all saving a few dollars by doing it ourselves.