Creative Field Fixes
Photography by Harry Wagner
We once overheard an observer on the trail say “you guys seem to get excited when something breaks”, and honestly, they are not wrong. The pioneering spirit that took settlers across the West by covered wagon lives on today in off-roaders. As they say in the Marine Corps, you have to “Improvise. Adapt. And Overcome.” Regardless of what breaks, with a few basic supplies and a lot of imagination you can typically limp off the trail. Note that nearly all of these field fixes are temporary, and designed to get you to pavement. Driving on public roads, particularly at freeway speeds, with compromised steering, braking, or suspension components puts yourself and the general public in harms way and as such should be avoided.
Zip Ties and Bailing Wire
People often joke about zip ties and bailing wire, but they can be useful for a variety of field fixes. We have held shock reservoirs in place with zip ties and made impromptu radiator hose clamps out of bailing wire before. Hose clamps are a better solution to both of those issues though, and are another great item to carry with you to lash items back together. We have even nursed a broken leaf spring off the trail with hose clamps and duct tape.
Tape of All Kinds
There are a wide variety of tapes on the market, we typically carry duct tape, electrical tape, and self-bonding silicone tape. The latter has proven useful to patch radiator and heater hoses and hardly takes up any room in your vehicle. Electrical tape is useful not only for covering wires and loose connections but also to wrap around a surface to make it larger for a snug fit to reduce rattles. As for duct tape, they say it is like The Force. It has a light side, a dark side, and it holds the universe together.
Ratchet straps serve a variety of functions on the trail. They can help lash your gear down so it doesn’t move around (you ARE strapping down your gear, right?) or you can put one between your axle and frame and tighten it so you don’t have to lift your vehicle as high to change a tire. Ratchet straps can also be useful to pull a component back into position. For instance, if you break a bolt in your track bar and need to line up the bar and bracket to get a new bolt installed. Don’t have a new bolt? Cross two ratchet straps from the frame on one side to the axle on the opposite side to prevent side-to-side movement.
When it comes to field fixes you are really only limited by your imagination. We have seen a log and straps used to hold a tire in place with a c-clip broke inside a Dana 35 axle. Or a Powertank used to pressurize a fuel system when the electric fuel pump stopped working. Start by determining what you need to do and then determine what you need. If something is moving that needs to be immobilized, does it rotate or move fore and aft or side to side? This will help you determine how to hold it in place. Then you can use your winch cable, ratchet straps, or whatever else you have available to perform the fix. Similarly, if something is leaking, can it be capped off or the line clamped down? We have removed a bent steering ram from the steering system and simply capped the hydraulic fittings at the box to get off the trail. Like, like many trail repairs, it was messy but effective. A tarp and PIG mats are helpful any time fluids are involved to keep them from damaging the environment.