Article written by Kory Tams, @kory_tams. Kory is an avid outdoorsman and writer raised in Northern Utah. His love of wild places often leads him off-roading and to the trailhead. He’s turned many a wrench and busted many knuckles in the name of adventure.
Don’t be like this guy, standing on the side of the road trying to get a text out for a rescue because your hunting vehicle failed. Now that hunting season is winding down and your hunt rig has served you well, it’s time for some critical maintenance to keep you rolling down dirt roads. Whether you drive a brand new truck, or a 40 year old jeep, these tips will help you stay longer, go further and reach those deep nooks and crannies without a major breakdown.
Let’s get Electrical
Electrical systems can stop your hunt before it ever begins. Here are several easy maintenance tips to keep your hunt rig starting right up.
Check that battery first. Nothing is worse than hearing that sad groan or click when you turn the key, except hearing it when you’re parked at a trailhead. To avoid being stranded, or having to hike to the next road thumbing for a jump-start, take your battery in to a local auto parts store and have it tested.
If it turns out you need a new one, don’t shy away from paying a little extra for a battery with an advertised warranty. At the first sign of failure within that warranty window, get your money’s worth and swap it out for a new battery. It could save you big and only takes a couple hours on a Saturday to gain that peace of mind.
Next is the starter. Now, it’s not as important to actually have this tested, but instead, give it a good inspection. Learn where the starter is on your vehicle and check all of the electrical connections coming to and from. If you see any white, powdery corrosion, clean it well with a mixture of baking soda and warm water, rinsing with clean water when finished. Any signs of corrosion on any one of those connections could cause a voltage drop. With a slight drop in voltage, the starter won’t actually engage the engine and turn over.
If your starter is somewhat exposed to road debris, be it mud, salt, snow melt, sand or gravel, you may see more corrosion. If it’s more tucked inside the engine compartment, make sure it’s not caked with grime and oil residue and again, take the time to clean the connections. A few minutes of inspection is an easy prevention here.
Don’t ignore a Check Engine Light. Your hunt rig, whether it’s 30 days old or 30 years old, has the systems in place to warn you about potential problems. Resolving any codes and warnings on your machine now will have you ready to hit the dirt roads come next summer and fall. Any local auto parts store has the ability to read your vehicle’s computer and give you a print-out of any issues. Take the time to tidy up the list!
Naturally dirt roads and washboard mountain trails have a way of finding the weak points in any rig’s suspension. Here are you a few things to look for after a hard season of ruts (the tire kind) and cattle guards.
Check your shocks. Shocks are not only built to keep your ride more tolerable in and out of the woods and deserts, but also to dampen impacts for the entire vehicle itself. Worn out shocks mean a ton of undue stress is being jolted directly into the rest of your rig’s suspension. This is when things start to break.
An easy way to check your shock absorbers is to find a small drop off such as a curb or gutter near your driveway or a local parking lot. Drive the front two, or rear two tires up on to the curb and then let the rig roll off on its own. Pay attention to the “recoil” or the bounce once it drops. It’s a small impact, but good shocks should let the vehicle drop at a reduced rate AND prevent it from springing up too hard. If you notice a true bouncing feeling, and your rig goes through three or four “ups-and-downs” before it calms, you need new shocks.
Throwing a set of four lifetime warrantee shocks on your rig is a great way to guarantee you’re hitting the hills with functioning equipment every single year. At the first sign of failure, use the warranty and check that off your list.
All attachment points and moving joints need a once-over. Dirt roads and mountain trails can do a number on a vehicle’s bushings, ball-joints and steering linkage. You may notice a new pop or jolt or unfamiliar sound coming from under your ride after a hard-hunted season. These joints are a good place to look!
Bushings are a little tricky to check, because most of them require some disassembly to actually look at them. You want to make sure your mounting holes are still circular and not egg-shaped or oval in any sense. Any misshapen characteristics could throw off very critical geometry needed to maintain a safe, straight ride.
Ball joints, tie rod ends and drag linkages are another critical portion of your rig’s suspension. Each of these has a different job to do, but they boil down to “controlled motion.” They allow two separate moving parts freedom to pivot around a single point. If that point becomes loose and wobbly then both moving parts involved subsequently do the same. Check for torn boots and leaking joint grease. Where there’s a lack of grease and a covering boot, water, debris and rust are sure to follow.
Most vehicle’s that serve as “hunt rigs” have complete sets of ball joints, tie rod ends and bushings that can be found through your local auto parts store or online shopping options. Sometimes it’s worth fixing one or two joints as they need it, but if you find yourself disassembling a good portion of your suspension, you may as well replace a full set and be ready to go next season!
Leave a Blood Trail, Not an Oil Trail
Check for leaks. You’d be surprised how many oil spots can be prevented by changing out a simple gasket near the oil filter or even the drain plug’s crush washer. Leaking oil, even just a little bit, can lead to your engine running on less than the manufacturer recommends and you’re on the road to a more expensive fix with more complicated issues.
Now some of these leaks can be more intensive, this is understandable. If you do need to have a major leak fixed, only jump into the repairs you feel comfortable with. A good rule-of-thumb is to pinpoint a leak prior to taking it to a mechanic or repair shop. Knowing exactly what needs to be done and repaired will save you a lot of time, and will probably leave more cash for the adventures of fall. Avoid dropping off your hunt rig with a general “it leaks, can you fix it?” Being more specific with the problems you’d like solved will save everyone some heart-ache.
Keep Your Rig Rollin’
By far the single most-abused items on your vehicle are the tires. Sure they may go seven or eight months on smooth pavement, but it’s those few months of trailer-hauling, trail-riding, rock-bouncing torment that make a measure of a tire. Most tires labeled “All-Terrain” are really decent at standing up to the task, but the Achilles’ Heel of almost any tire is the sidewall. Thoroughly inspect the sidewalls of all four tires, and any spares you may have used, for any cracks, cuts or chunks missing.
Damage to the tread side of a tire is repairable 90% of the time, but damage to the sidewall is really only remedied by buying a new tire. It may be an expensive fix, but it will be cheaper than the tow-truck bill to get you off the mountain after a blow-out!
Give Her Lovin’
Obviously there are and endless number of things that could stand to be double-checked. Keep an observant eye and ear when it comes to your rig and you’ll find way more things to maintain than are in this short list. If a problem arises, fix it soon, don’t procrastinate. Dive in, do your research and learn the in’s and out’s of any project you may undertake.
Don’t be afraid to get greasy and bust some knuckles taking care of your hunting vehicle. Getting to the trailhead reliably and back home in safety is worth the few hours it may take to get her purring in working order once again!