Mar 17, 2012

The Last Straw

Leveled out again
Technically we were on the road, but we still felt completely unorganized and overpacked.  Thankfully, my brother cleared out his garage for us.  Finally ANOTHER chance to re-organize, de-clutter, do some work and get rid of unnecessary stuff.  

This was round two, three, or seven (I lost count), of our version of Hoarders.  We'll call it "Nomadic Hoarders."  You know that part of the show where they designate a keep and throw-away pile, then force the hoarder to thin their collection?  This is our method for FORCING ourselves to thin the collection.  Again, this is where my tendencies to over-prepare come back to bite me in the end. 

WARNING:  This post gets extremely boring.  Unless you're into tech-talk, and the mechanical stuff, I'd suggest you move on to lighter reading...

My brother was able to help me out for most of the work, which was a huge blessing since I've been in a little over my head lately.  It was great to see that he had taken more of an interest in what we were doing, although it came at a cost.  Our time together was filled with "You know what I'D do if it were me taking this trip…" and he began searching online for RV's and vans saying, "that's what you need for your trip".  Eventually it turned into, "Hey Nicholas, why don't you go on your own road trip and do it how YOU would want to."  My sister-in-law really liked that idea.  At least we've planted the seed, although they may have to save longer than us...I showed my brother the alternatives to an RV: Sportsmobile, Wildernest, Flip-pac and Earthroamer.  I believe Peyton's college fund has found a new direction, sorry kiddo.

We fabricated an extended battery tray, which made it possible to mount two Odyssey PC1200 AGM batteries next to each other for my dual battery setup.  Once that was finished, I headed over to Tri-City Battery to have them install the parts that I had collected for the system.  Unfortunately the most important piece of my dual battery system, the Automatic Charging Relay, was missing a terminal screw.  Since Tri-City battery normally builds their own dual battery systems for RV's and we were running out of time, I gave them the green light to go a more traditional route on our setup.  They wired a continuous duty solenoid to isolate the two batteries, which keeps us from draining the starting battery when parked.  While the engine is running, the batteries are both charged simultaneously.  The "house battery" or auxiliary battery powers a Blue Sea fuse box that sits behind the passenger seat.  They did a great install and we were able to get a great discount.  Even though the install took longer than they quoted, they did not charge me for the extra time.  I was very grateful that they were so honest, that seems to be rare this day in age.

There once was one, now there's two! (batteries)

After the dual battery isolator was setup, my brother helped me wire the Fan-tastic Vent Fan that I had previously installed on the roof.  He also wired in some LED lighting, and some auxiliary 12v outlets in the back for charging  accessories.  It's been really nice to charge cameras and our Steri-pen while we're on the go or away from the vehicle.  The lighting has almost completely eliminated the need for our lantern...we'll see.

While my brother was doing electrical upgrades, I was taking care of other loose ends.  I replaced all of the belts under the hood, along with all of the hoses and flushed the radiator and topped it off with some fresh long-life coolant.  I replaced the brakes and greased the suspension again.  I changed the oil and used a Mobil1 Synthetic that's guaranteed for 15,000 miles…even though they say 15,000 miles I will change the oil in about 7500 miles since the conditions we'll be driving in are more demanding than you typical trip to the grocery store.

When we left Texas we were so loaded down that the rear started to sag again, even with the new suspension.  I did not install the OME Heavy Duty kit (which supposedly adds 500 lbs to your GVW).  My reasoning was because I'm never going to overload the vehicle beyond its GVW (although we're dang close) and it will not always be a dedicated overland vehicle.  If myself or the next owner decides to retire the 4runner back to a grocery-getter, the super-stiff Heavy kit would be a pain.

Big deal, the rear was sagging.  It could actually present a big problem on our trip.  With the Old Man Emu rear leaf design their is a leaf pack added in the front.  If loaded down on rough roads, the bolt/nut for the leaf pack has been known to rub the lip of the fuel tank in the 1st generation 4runner, which could lead to a ruptured fuel tank.  Thanks to James from Home On The Highway for testing this scenario out for me ;) , I knew to watch out for the problem.

Not much breathing room for the lip and that nut ;)

To solve the problem, I decided to go with an overload spring.  The beauty of this approach is that after this trip, the overload spring can be easily removed and the suspension is suitable for lighter loads again.  Instead of using a typical overload spring, I decided to try the Zuk Coil Spring modification, often seen on Yotatech.   I had tried it before the Old Man Emu suspension, for over a year, with great success.  I wanted to try this again because I feel it's a great test for such an affordable and easy modification.  Plus, I figured the guys at Yotatech would appreciate the rigorous testing.  The coil springs I used were from a 2001-2005 Jeep Wrangler TJ, cut to 14" long with an angle grinder.  I picked up the springs from a junkyard for less than $50 and borrowed a coil-spring compressor from O'Reilly's.  It was free because I returned it within 48 hours.

The install is simple:  Jack up the rear of the vehicle, remove rear wheels, allow the rear axle to "hang" and take the weight of the vehicle off the springs.  Compress the coil springs with a quality coil spring compressor.  This is not a time to cheap out, you don't want to mess with a Harbor Freight coil spring compressor…trust me.  A 3/8" air ratchet can be extremely useful and speed up the process, but only if the coil spring compressor doesn't advise against using one.  After the coil springs are compressed enough, you can slide them into place between the leaf springs and the frame.  Place the wide end of the coil spring so that it surrounds the upper bump stop, then slide the tapered end of the coil spring around the lower bump stop.  Once it's wedged in there, Be sure to plan ahead so that you can completely tighten/loosen the compressor's nut,  eventually removing the coil spring compressor.  Once the coil spring is un-compressed, the gap between the frame and the axle is what holds the coil spring in there.  As long as the coil spring is longer than that gap, once the weight of the vehicle and cargo is added to the vehicle the coil spring won't be going anywhere.