The most important step in preparing for your next Overlanding adventure is making sure your vehicle is ready too.
Having a regular maintenance routine for your Overlanding vehicle just makes sense and can benefit you in the short and long term. It could mean the difference between getting your vehicle back on the trail promptly or getting stuck waiting for help in less-than-ideal circumstances.
Keeping your truck or SUV in tip-top “Overlanding shape” is the best way to ensure trouble-free journeys, especially when traveling through challenging terrain, the high heat of the summer, or torrential downpours. Some of our maintenance advice may be common sense, but some you may not have considered. In any case, it’s best to proactively maintain the essential components of your rig.
Inspect the strut mounts by opening up your hood and look at each side’s strut or shock towers. They extend through the fender right above each wheel and are held together by nuts and bolts. Look for any signs of corrosion or rust on the fasteners. Also, look for any that are loose or damaged.
Measure the distance between the tire and the fender on all 4 wheel wells. The front should be the same on the passenger’s side and the driver’s side and the rear should be the same on both sides as well. If one side is lower by more than an inch this side would be where a problem might originate.
Put the parking brake on and make sure the vehicle is in park. Using the appropriate jack points as listed in your owner’s manual, jack the vehicle up so you can see the underside of the suspension. Now, use a flashlight and examine the rubber bushings on each wheel. You’ll see these between the suspension components. They prevent metal-on-metal contact. Usually, they are black but can turn gray with age. Look for missing bushings, cracking rubber or any tears. If they look worn out it’s time to replace these parts.
The next step is to check out the tie rod ends. These connect the steering box to the wheels. To find the tie rod ends start at the power steering box and follow the arms to where they connect to the wheels. These also have bushings so look those over for any damage. Then make sure they are not damaged, bent or missing pieces.
The importance of tire maintenance cannot be overstated. Wet conditions shorten stopping distance and restrict maneuverability, while warm temperatures and hot pavement increase heat and friction. Tire tread wear (or impending tire wear) only makes these problems worse.
Check the tread depth of your vehicle’s tires before your trip, regardless of the distance being covered. Purchase a new pair if they are half as thick as when you first bought them. Routine rotations and inspections for pebbles or other potentially damaging debris are important ways to prevent wear.
It’s also essential to regularly check the recommended air pressure. Tire performance might be hampered and gas mileage reduced when it doesn’t have the right PSI (or even the recommended PSI when aired down). Early in the morning while the tire is cold is the optimum time to assess the tire pressure because heat causes air to expand.
The sidewalls of good quality off-road tires should be strong to help them overcome rocks and other sharp objects. Although a small amount of bulging at the top or bottom of a tire is typical, this may be avoided by never overfilling the tire. The suggested air pressure for how low to air them down for off-road use can be found in your vehicle owner’s manual.
Punctures still occur even the finest preventative tire care. So make sure you have a spare tire, a tire plug kit, an air compressor and that you are familiar with their use.
Wheels and Bearings
Check your wheels for any dents, bends, or cracks. The optimum time to inspect your wheels’ bearings is when there is no weight on them. Bearings keep your wheels from grinding to a halt.
Jack your vehicle up to the point where the tire is barely off the ground. Then try to tilt it by holding the top and bottom of the wheel, pushing the top and pulling the bottom and then vice versa. There shouldn’t be any play in the wheel. Your bearings should be good if you don’t experience any unusual sounds or loose objects while on the road.
Visit your neighborhood auto mechanic to have the lug nuts re-torqued to the correct specifications to ensure they are not too tight (or too loose). Your wheels need bearings and lug nuts to function properly. If you don’t take care of them, your wheels could come loose or even fall off while you’re driving.
Your brakes may be under more strain as a result of the extra weight of an Overlanding setup due to the roof rack, or a bed rack and all the extra equipment. Take a test drive to determine whether your stopping distance has increased or whether your steering is swaying when stopping before loading your vehicle with food and gear. If there is, have your car inspected by a mechanic.
Perform a basic oil change first. Then, check the levels of the fluids in the wipers, power steering, transmission, and brakes. All need to be filled up or replaced.
Check the condition and/or level of the coolant if your engine starts to run a bit hot. The engine has to work harder to maintain cooling in the summer heat. Refrigerant may also need to be supplied if your air conditioner is not operating at its best. If this doesn’t resolve the issue, there might be another issue, like a leak.
Hoses and Belts
You may check for wear and tear on your vehicle by probing the hoses and belts. Examine the belts that drive the alternator, fan, A/C, and power steering. These belts may all be separate or your car may use a serpentine belt, depending on how old your car is.
The power steering hose, as well as the upper and lower radiator hoses, need to be examined. It’s not unusual for seams to develop cracks, frays, leaks, or even tiny bulges. The summer’s heat and humidity will make their condition worse and increase their risk of breakdowns.
Other than times of intense rain or dusty conditions, these are frequently disregarded. It’s not until you can’t see that you notice you need new wipers. If they stop working properly, just replace them.
In order to ensure a solid connection and efficient power transfer throughout your vehicle, all battery connections must be clean and tightly secured. Make sure the battery is securely fastened as well. Use a load tester to measure the power levels. When it’s not fully charging or doesn’t hold a charge, the battery will need to be replaced.
When you need to use your jack, it’s crucial to know where it is and how to use it. Inspect the jack to make sure everything is in working order and all the jack parts are available.
Lighting and Mirrors
Ensure that mirrors are positioned to your satisfaction. Verify that all of your running lights, turn signals, brake lights, and headlights are functioning properly by taking a walk around your car.
Gear Mounts & Fasteners
All the Overlanding gear mounted on your roof rack, bed rack, truck bed or cargo area should be held securely in place. Check all the attachment points to make sure nothing is loose or missing. All of your mounts should be securely attached to your rack and the gear should be fastened tightly to the mounts.
This may sound like a lot of extra work to go on a short camping trip with your friends or family but the proactive approach to make sure your vehicle is off-road ready will be well worth the time and effort. Breaking down on the trail is no fun so ease your mind and prepare ahead of time by taking these steps to get ready for your next Overlanding adventure.