Maintenance, Repair, and Upgrades: The Whisky’s 2023 Saga – Part 2

The Whisky (my Jeep) was in the shop for almost four months. Most of that was waiting for parts, but still, it was a long stretch. It meant I missed some trips, including a Moab trip. I decided to go with a major upgrade: Dynatrac axles. The ProRock D44/D60 kit with 5.13 gearing seemed like the best choice for what I want to do going forward. The axles were quoted at 4 to 6 weeks. They came in at about 5 weeks. Installation of the axels, along with new JE Reel drive shafts and a few other lesser components, and I was ready to try it all out…or so I thought.

The shop found that it wasn’t shifting right. After some troubleshooting they found that the Total Body Control Module (TBCM) was bad. It was ordered from the factory but it was on an indefinite backorder. With time becoming an issue after almost four months, we went with a third-party rebuilt module and FINALLY got back in action just a week before I was to leave for the Rubicon Trail. It took a long time, but I was looking forward to the Rubidon trip with new capability.

First step, a shake down run. Yes, there were a few issues.

When I picked it up the ABS/Traction Control lights were on. The shop owner expected the lights to go off after a little drive time. I know sometimes the Jeep needs a few miles for the sensors and computer to catch up after certain changes so, this didn’t sound outrageous, but it didn’t feel quite right either. But this IS why I take The Whisky to shop that specializes in off-road vehicles. It’s about 33 miles between my place and the shop. The lights did NOT go off. I did some homework online that night and found one of the most common causes for that condition is a malfunctioning wheel speed sensor. I called the shop the next morning and the owner agreed that was probably it. They would put a new wheel speed sensor in when I brought it in for a follow up visit the next week, but it was okay to do my shake down run.

I still didn’t feel quite right about it. I believe if there’s a light on on the dash it’s for a reason. While my own research agreed that if it’s a wheel speed sensor it was probably and it was probably okay to let it go for a little while, we didn’t know for sure. I didn’t feel good about it. So I ordered an OBDII scan tool that would give me wheel speed sensor data. My previous one didn’t get that detailed. The new reader arrived the next day. I plugged it in and sure enough, the left, rear wheel was not providing any data. That’s a good indication that either the sensor is bad, dirty, out of position, or possibly something happened to the wiring during the axle install. At that point I felt okay running it for a few hundred miles until I got back to the shop.

The shake down run was with a couple of friends on the Gold Mountain and John Bull trails in Big Bear, California. It was a great day for wheeling. It was a little bit rainy, but not cold. Temperature was mild and the rain kept the dust down. Perfect.

Locker plug pins and connector housing

The not so perfect? Less than a mile on Gold Mountain and the front locker stopped working. We stopped and took a look. The guys at the shop tied up the excess and old wiring harnesses with zip ties. That’s good, but they didn’t leave enough slack for the wiring to reach the front differential when the axle articulates. So after the first or second obstacle the wires got yanked! I looked underneath to see the connector housing still attached to the differential, but the two wires with pins that should have been IN the connector were just hanging. I was able to re-assemble it and the locker began working again. Not a big deal, but it WAS annoying. That’s just careless work.

A little later, on John Bull trail, the front locker started ‘clicking’ very loudly. It was only in the one spot and I wasn’t able to reproduce it at any point during the rest of the day. I informed the shop anyway, just in case something else came up in the future.

When I got home I took a more thorough look underneath. The wheel speed sensor wiring on the rear wheels were both run between the sway bar link and the axle. That’s a potential pinch point. I didn’t like that. I don’t need crushed or broken wiring because the wires weren’t routed in a safe spot. Also, some of the zerk grease fittings on the control arms were damaged from being dragged over rocks. I had asked for these to be replaced in the past and I’m not sure how the shop managed to grease these components with those fittings in that condition. Okay, so now I have a list for the shop for the follow up visit.

After about 450 miles I took it back to the shop for the follow up. The priority items were: 1) repair wheel speed sensor, or whatever is causing the ABS/Traction control lights to be on, 2) re-torque all connections to make sure everything is tight and safe for my impending Rubicon trail trip, 3) check wiring harnesses and make sure they all have enough slack and are routed so they won’t be damaged during normal off-roading. There were also a handful of miscellaneous other items to address, but they were all minor and wouldn’t keep me from the Rubicon if they didn’t get done.

The entire list got done. I picked up The Whisky on a Friday and left for the Rubicon on Sunday.

The drive to Placerville, where I planned to stay the night before meeting up with the Zen Off-Roaders, is about a 430 miles. New axles and drive shafts, everything checked, greased, and re-torqued. I was ready…or so I thought.

At about 15 miles into my drive the ABS/Traction Control lights came on again. I was annoyed, but not concerned. I figured it was just another wheel speed sensor issue and I wasn’t going to cancel a pre-planned, week long trip for it. At about 390 miles into my drive I found out why the lights were on. It wasn’t a wheel speed sensor.

Somewhere near Elk Grove California, as I was traveling north on the 99, I was moving right at the 70mph speed limit and I lost ALL steering! Suddenly there was NO response to the steering wheel. The ABS system kicked in and I gradually applied the brake. Fortunately I had been traveling in the right-hand lane so when the vehicle began to drift to the right I didn’t have to cross any other traffic lanes. It reached the pavement edge and the gravel shoulder grabbed the wheels directing me onto the shoulder where the Jeep came to stop with just a light skid in the dirt. The shoulder in this particular spot was wide, flat, and soft. I got LUCKY! If it had been narrow or and embankment or a barrier of some kind I might not be writing this now.

After taking a deep breath I got out and went to look under the Jeep to see if I could see what happened. The drag link had lost it’s nut and disconnected from the steering knuckle on the wheel. It was just sitting there on top of the tie rod. It didn’t appear damaged. But it was absolutely disconnected.

Now what? It was late in the afternoon on a Sunday. Do I call a tow truck? Where do I have it towed to? For a moment I looked south down the highway and wondered if I might be able to find the nut. Yeah, that thought lasted all of a few seconds.

The Whisky is set up with a high-steer configuration. This means the threaded stud of the ball joint on the steering knuckle end of the drag link inserts into the steering knuckle from the top instead of the bottom. I wondered, if I can get it back in the hole would it ‘hook’ enough that if I just limped it along the shoulder could I get it off the highway and deal with it in a safer place. The answer: nope. It would pop out with the slightest turn of the wheel.

Okay, so I need a nut. Let’s go look in my bag and see if any of the miscellaneous nuts and bolts I’ve tossed in there over the years might fit. Wow! Yes! One of the nuts was a M14x1.5 flanged nut. Almost exactly the right kind of nut and definitely good enough to get me going again. I got a wrench out, put it back together, cleaned everything up and carefully drove to the next off-ramp where I found a quiet parking lot to double check everything.

The ABS and Traction control lights were still on but everything else seemed okay. I stopped several times to check on the nut and I tightened it a couple of times just to be certain. I made it the rest of the way to Placerville with no issues. In fact, even though the ABS/Traction control lights were on, the steering felt better than it had since I picked it up from the shop.

The next step was to find a shop in the morning to get it checked over.

The Whisky 2023 Saga: Part 3