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Like many of you I follow Forums and Facebook sites about off roading and four wheelers, and there are questions that come up on almost every forum pretty much weekly you know the ones, how big of a tire can I fit on my Jeep stock, what can I air down to, what are the best tires, what is the best lift etc... So to stir the pot and add my two cents to many of these common questions - many of which will not satisfy your need to know simply because there really is no right and wrong answer I'm going to give a few my best shot... However before I start, I don't want to pick on brands as there are many good ones but my rule of thumb is - buy the best you can afford, skip the pressure to build it now if needed and save up and in many ways you can build with a single manufacturer in stages as your budget allows.
I can't air down I don't have beadlocks?
First to make a lot of wheels manufacturers mad but 90% of wheelers do not need beadlocks. If you're not planning on airing your tires down for greater traction in the single digit range, save your cash. One of my favorite wheels and the wheels I have used the most on projects are American Racing 767 steel wheels - no beadlocks. However they only come in 15s and many brakes these days are too large to fit in a 15-inch wheel - very sad. I regularly ran these rims on an array of tires sizes from 33s on up down to 5-6PSI with no bead loss. So the answer is - you bet you can air down almost any tire/wheel combo, which leads into the next question.
What can I air my tires down to on the trail?
This one really has no right answer. It really depends on your tires, tire size and vehicle weight. The larger the tire typically the higher the load rating which means you will first off need less tire pressure on the street than the side of the tire says, and you can air down lower to get the nice flat patch on the bottom of the tire for trail traction. First buy an air compressor of some kind and experiment - start in small steps but really if your over 20PSI tire pressure on the trail in anything above a 31 inch off road tire on lighter rig like a Jeep or Toyota - you are running to much air... Beadlocks or not you won't see me on the trail with much more than 8-12PSI.
What are the best tires for my rig?
This one almost starts fights on message boards and is the argument to avoid at all costs. Typically the first comment after this post will start with uh-oh here we go again... There are some great tires out there and they improve all the time - we are all the benefactors of company tire wars. But we will break it down a bit.
Mud tires typically suck on ice. All Terrain tires suck in mud and deep snow. Both of those tires will affect your fuel mileage over stock street tires. The bigger the tire the heavier it is affecting everything from power to mileage to axle breakage. So with that out of the way... I have nothing to add cause every time I add my two cents on line someone tells me I'm full of shit... Buy the best you can afford...
How tall should I lift my rig?
Another great forum thread generator. So here is two cents. Most guys run much larger tires than they really need to go wheeling. I'm a perfect example. I've had way more fun on many trials on 33-35 inch tires and a winch than I do making all the trails too easy with big 40 inch tires. But I like big tires so... Lift as little as you can to fit the tire size you are shooting for. I'm managing to fit 40 inch tires with a 4-inch lift on the new CJK8, however its taking a lot of work to do that. Typical trail wheeling tires to tackle almost any trail are 33-37s. I ran the Rubicon Trail with one winch pull in a IFS Toyota 4Runner with a 4-inch BDS lift on 33-inch tires and had a great time - my TJ on 40s would have spoiled the fun!
What is the best lift kit?
This is one of those questions that is almost as subjective as what are the best tires. I also preach here - you get what you pay for, cheep lifts are just that. I stress to go with a company that you build with over time and not have a pile of different manufacturers parts on your ride. If you just want 33's on a JK, small spacers for your coils and taller shocks may be all you need. Ready for 35's you many be able to keep those spacers and coils and adjustable lower control arms for pinion angles. Ready for larger tires? Add that same companies upper control arms longer shocks and new coils... In many cases you can step up using many of the parts from one lift combo to another within a brand. Oh and don't be cheap like me - but good shocks - and no everyone doesn't need remote reservoir shocks - that's for going fast.
What winch should I buy?
Over the past 5-10 years the market has been flooded with low cost winches, many of which I would not touch with a 10 foot pole. A winch is an investment you can move from rig to rig, buy the best you can afford. Buy a winch (and take time to learn how to use it safely) that is rated 2X the weight of your rig and a good bumper before you buy a lift kit, lockers, cool tires and light bars - please I'm tired of dragging you all out of the bush with your 50-inch light bar blasting me in the face. Plus no one should wheel without recovery gear. Before you hit the trail you should have tug straps, shackles, a good jack and other relevant recovery gear for your adventure, and cloths in your rig that are warm enough for you to stand in the bush all night with no fire. And last but not least - start saving for a winch and good bumper. You will never see me on the trail in a rig I built without a good quality winch... did I mention buy a winch?
Do I need lockers?
The short answer is maybe. And first off do you know what you are really asking for? I've seen guys drive circles around others without lockers. My first locker purchase was a Lockright in an old Jeep CJ circa 1990 or so. It was so I could keep up with my buddy in his Toyota. Why? Because he had a rig that totally out flexed mine at the time so he could keep wheels on the ground and left me spinning. So the real short answer is pretty much yes... Lockers though do have downsides, they are tricky in icy conditions, and be a bit finicky on paved hot roads and they come in an array of flavours from relatively cheep at $500.00 to expensive at near $1500.00 for top of the line lockers you can activate with switch and require a professional gear set up (and more money). Many people tend to add lockers once they have a lift kit and larger tires so adding a gear change to compensate for the big tires typically goes hand in hand and can make that bill easily $3000.00+ to do both axles. So Lockers are really indispensible off road - just make sure your buying them for the right reasons and have a pro do the install for you.
Tire chains or low tire pressure for snow - and two chains, 4 chains, front chains or back chains? Its wintertime so this tread will be coming up on your local boards if it hasn't already. The answer to me is - chains are for ice - fat flat tires are for snow. I love to snow wheel - I will never run on chains for snow - they are meant to dig though ice to find traction - how do you think they will do in soft snow? Yup - dig. Your best chances in deep snow is to stay on top and not dig and do everything you can with your gas and brake pedals to control tire spin. If you go out snow wheeling with me get use to be me telling you to stop spinning your tires. So the questions of front or back for chains? Well you will have to ask someone else as for me its neither - I don't own chains for my 4x4 I own big tires, beadlocks and drop to 2psi or less for snow. Now you will bark that sure Alstick but you have 44-inch tires, we can’t fit those. So I can say I've run circles around guys with me on 35's and even tires people say are crap in the snow. One more trick, lots of square biting edges. Taking your rock crawling tires with rounded off lugs from getting chewed up spinning on rocks will get you nowhere, my dedicated snow wheeling tires do not see rocks - ever, and are all grooved for extra biting edges. Now icy highways, chains are a great thing to carry, as are proper rated tires for the conditions. I have a set of chains in my pick up.
Last but not least, never feel like you can't ask questions from the old guys like me on the trail, and there is really never is a stupid question except "are we there yet" as the journey should not end till there is 6 feet of dirt overhead.