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Discussion Starter · #1 ·

To be honest, the intent of this thread is to attempt to save myself some time. My PMs are always on overload. I get a couple PMs a week (some weeks are busier than others) asking how someone should build a hardcore trail rig. Each time the answer is specific to the person’s question, but perhaps I can avoid some of the work by covering several topics here….then I can just link them to this thread.

This is not to suggest that I don’t enjoy helping folks out when they request info. I do. (That’s part of the intent of this thread.) It’s merely that many times we hit that 5000 character limit of the PMs with a single question and reply. Typing all that out, only to hit that wall and then try to cut stuff down is frustrating and wastes a lot of time and may also end up misleading to the person with the question b/c I had to leave something out due to the size constraint.

Please also realize that I’m not asking you guys to stop sending me PMs. I don’t mind at all….in fact, I enjoy answering the questions. This is just an idea to help with the amount and detailed nature of the responses.

My intent with this thread is to periodically update it with more information. I’d like to eventually get into frames, axles, lockers, tcases, tires, beadlocks, winches, armor, tube chassis vs. truggy vs. body on frame production vehicles, IFS vs. SFA, wheel bases, Center of Gravity (CoG), suspension types and geometry, link materials, coilovers, air shox, coil springs vs. leaves, steering types, new tricks like lead shot or water in the tires, 4340 chromoly thru hardened axles and new weak points associated with stronger alloys, etc.

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Discussion Starter · #2 ·

The info provided here is my opinion only based on my experience. Feel free to disagree with it. It is unlikely that we will all agree on every aspect of a build. If you would like to post your objections, I will do my best to explain my position. You will be met with the respect you give.

This thread is not intended to be taken as Gospel. I don’t have all the answers. However, I will not bullsh!t you either. If I don’t know the answer to your question, I’ll do my best to point you in the right direction so you can get the info you are seeking. Keep in mind, things change over time, the sport evolves. What was “the way” to build back as late as the 1980’s changed greatly in the 90’s and are vastly different now from even two years ago. Many of those old ways of doing things are still professed as unchanged….but usually only by people that haven’t progressed to the more extreme end of the sport. Does that mean that older lessons learned have no validity? Of course not. Cutting edge tech isn’t necessary to successfully run the Rubicon or most of Moab….running some of the more extreme obstacles in those areas is another story. That is what this thread is about.

That said, I’m not even close to being on the cutting edge of tech with my own vehicle. The tech is progressing so fast that my buggy was obsolete by the time it was finished. I’m not even willing to drive my buggy (while capable enough to do so) on the hardest trails around simply b/c of the amount of damage that vehicles receive on these trails. So, please don’t think that I’m some sort of elitest. I’ll wheel with anyone and any brand of vehicle. My vehicle is not the best one out there, but it suits my needs very well. I have been where you are. I know what it takes to build something that’s capable enough to run really difficult trails and get out without breaking on a regular basis. I’ve spent the money, made the mistakes and have learned volumes from them. I’m trying to impart this knowledge to others so they don’t end up making the same ones and ultimately, that they’ll learn from my screw ups without wasting tons of time and money. A very good motto is: “It’s cheaper to do it right once, than wrong once, and then right.” I find this to be the ultimate truth in building a trail vehicle.

Another good point, speaking in the broadest of terms: “The better a vehicle is off road, the worse it will be on road. It’s an inversely proportional relationship in most instances. Everything is a compromise…you just have to decide what qualities are most important to bring about the performance you are after.”

That brings up another point: while I love Toyotas, I’m not brand loyal to the point of stupidity. If something doesn’t work and it’s a Toyota part, I have no problem tossing that part for something that will work better in the application, be it from Toyota or another manufacturer. If this bothers you, and you’re one of those “I only use Toyota parts on my rig” guys (and there are a LOT of them out there), stop reading now. You will not be happy with many of my recommendations.

Lastly (for disclaimers), my advice here is predominantly for hardcore trails. It is relevant but not necessary for most recreational offroaders. You'll be surprised how far a stock FJC can go with some seat time. This thread is intended for those that have already reached that level of performance and are looking for more.

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·

The first thing you need to decide is what the ultimate goal of your build up will be. The clearer the picture of what you want and what your uses will be, the better the vehicle you end up with will match that vision. It is actually easier than one might think to build something far more capable (and expensive) than what you actually need. I’ve found that to be the case to an extent with my buggy. While I wouldn’t trade it for the world, I’ve discovered that it’ll go more places than I’m willing to take it.

Some of the major issues are street legal vs. trailered, type of trails you want to be able to run, and obviously, your budget.

Each of these categories will determine exactly how you design your rig and what you will use in terms of equipment. I’d like to (at a later point) explain a very basic assessment of the legalities involved with driving a heavily modified vehicle on public roadways as well as discuss how you can make your trail vehicle ‘street legal’ if you so choose (though much of this information will depend upon the state in which you live and its regulations and laws).

Street legal vs. trailered will be a big part of determining how you build, but also, what it will cost. If you decide to trailer….you will need something to tow it with, not to mention the cost of a good dual axle, electric brake trailer. This is NOT a cheap sport. Most guys end up spending $20K on a good trail rig before all is said and done….and those are the more “budget” but still capable builds done either wholly or in large part by the owners themselves. The amount of nickel and dime stuff is staggering. The good news is that you can budget a lot of things so that you aren’t blowing $20K at once…you can upgrade as you go….(this is a bit contradictory) but many times this route ends up actually costing more than doing it all at once unfortunately.

I would highly recommend you get familiar with some more “hardcore” wheelers in your area and find out what works there (that’s where you’ll spend most of your time) for the trails you like and want to run. See if you can get some ride along time with some of them. If you’re in my area and I have an open seat, you’re more than welcome to come along. Most guys are more than willing to take newcomers to the sport out (or even seasoned veterans) that are looking to upgrade to harder trails.

Don’t forget to budget in your tools. Of course, this only applies to DIYers. If you pay to have a shop do your fab work, expect to pay 4 times or more what it would cost you if you did it yourself and you likely won’t be able to fix it yourself in the field. DIY is NOT for everyone, but don’t be discouraged. I’m an idiot and if I can build a buggy from scratch, I’m pretty sure with enough time, money, and patience, anyone can do it. I highly suggest you take a welding class if you plan to do your own fabrication or at the very least, get in good with a good weldor and have him show you different techniques to optimize your machine’s capability. Working with a good fabricator can tell you a lot about proper form and function as well as good and proper design. This is just as critical (if not more so) than good welding.

Now is a good time to talk about buying tools. I’m a hobbyist, just like most of you guys. That said, keep in mind that tools can be expensive. You generally get what you pay for. There are many items I will not skimp on, and I suggest you do the same. Such items are things like welders, plasma cutters, air compressors, tubing benders, some hand tools, and various electric or air tools that you’ll use often and use hard. That said, it’s my opinion, that some things you will seldom use or are exceedingly cheap are fine to buy from places like Harbor Freight or Northern Tool, etc. One such example for me is a 7” angle grinder. I buy them from HF for $29 on sale. A good DeWalt, Porter Cable, etc. would easily run $125-175. I’ve burned one up (intermittently works still) in 4 years of heavy use building several projects for various vehicles. To me, that’s an acceptable life span.

I bring up the topic b/c you have to realize (unless you are independently wealthy) that projects like vehicles are expensive for most of us and usually exceed your budget. To keep the wife happy and yourself out of financial ruin, you have to realize you have a pool of money from which to build your rig. While good tools are essential, every dollar you spend on tools, necessarily can’t be spent on parts for the rig. It’s a delicate balancing act. You have to find that balance. I’m just mentioning it here so you think about it some and it doesn’t sneak up on you.

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Discussion Starter · #4 · (Edited)
Land Access Issues:

One other thing to seriously consider: public land access. You could spend $20K on your project vehicle and easily end up with no where to wheel it. There is a HUGE environmental movement in this country (not that that is a bad thing, but motorized recreation is increasingly demonized and characterized as destruction of natural resources; regardless of the facts). Watch TV, read newspapers, or internet news forums for any length of time and you’ll see how our society is indoctrinating our youth into this ‘culture’. There is a very real likelihood that our trails will soon be closed to motorized use. Unless you want to see your investment go to waste, support organizations like United Association of 4 Wheel Drive Clubs (UA4WDC) and the Blue Ribbon Coalition. I’ll edit this post shortly to add a link to both entities. Also, please attend your local NFS and BLM meetings. They are walking a tight rope between environmentalists and recreationists. It’s easier to close than manage despite what their charters say. Be wary of programs like CA’s “green sticker” or AZ’s proposed “Copper State Sticker” programs. They have a track record of graft, corruption and misappropriation of funds that are supposed to be used exclusively for the maintaining of OHV areas. I’d like to go into more detail about this in later segments, but it’s an involved topic and in the interest of time, I’ll cut it short here.

Edit to add: Blue Ribbon Coalition: BlueRibbon Coalition - Preserving your recreational public land access

United Assoc. of 4 Wheel Drive Clubs: United Four Wheel Drive Associations Official Site - United Online - An International Organization

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
New vs. Used vs. Building It Yourself:

I get a lot of PMs regarding whether someone should buy an already built rig they found on Ebay or on another board.

The answer always depends largely upon the person doing the buying and what they expect, their mechanical aptitude, how much the vehicle in question is going for, etc.

Used comp rigs can be a great buy….but there are drawbacks. Usually, by the time the competitor is ready to sell, the chassis and many components have been used HARD. You never know if you’ve bought a chassis that is ready to crack, has an engine that’s about to blow, or generally just has metal fatigue everywhere in the drivetrain. On the other hand, some competitors are only selling to fund their next build, or b/c this one doesn’t work exactly how they want and it’s often easier to start over from scratch than to try and redesign the rig. I suggest using extreme caution if you go this route….get a compression check done on the engine, go over as much as you can to make sure it’s still a good deal in reasonable shape. Be cognizant of the fact that this rig has likely been rolled, has run at extreme angles robbing the transmission, tcase and engine of fluid which could have greatly shortened the components’ lifespan. Even if the chassis has some major issues, depending on your mechanical aptitude, it may not be a big problem to have a chassis that needs repair or a new engine and often times if the seller knows of the problems (or you inform them), you can get a helluva deal.

Being able to buy a used comp (or even trail) rig built by a highly regarded and well known chassis builder is a beautiful thing. These guys get a reputation for their chassis by not only their performance on obstacles but usually their durability as well. They will be proportionally and appropriately more expensive due to this reputation however.

On the other hand, good, used trail rigs are out there that were built by competent home builders….but they are much more rare and you need to know exactly what to look for in terms of both design and fabrication quality. If you don’t know your ass from a hole in the ground when it comes to engineering an offroad suspension or fabbing up frames and other parts, you need to find someone who does to go with you to examine the used vehicle. It is far more likely that the used, but heavily modified Jeep or Toyota or whatever you find on Ebay or a forum board is an abortion of a vehicle built by someone just trying to get it together as cheaply as possible, found out it didn’t work at all, and now is trying to unload it on the unsuspecting. Even these vehicles can be a good buy from time to time, b/c while the fab work is atrocious, the drivetrain parts may be worth the purchase price. Again, whether or not you buy a rig like this will depend upon how good you are as a fabricator/designer and whether or not you’re buying this rig to strip for parts or to actually wheel.

If you find a rig like this and want my opinion, just send me a link and let me take a look at the pics. I’ll try and tell you my honest opinion from what I can gather from the pics. I do this a lot around here. Hell, post the link here and we can all look at the rig and I’ll try and tell you what it is I’m looking for.

We’ve briefly scratched the surface of “building it yourself”….but let me just say, IMO this is the best way to go for guys that want to run extreme trails. You need to be able to fix things that go wrong on the trail….if you built the rig, you are that much more prepared. It will likely take longer, it will likely cost almost as much, (unless you already have a lot of tools, are proficient with them and have a good engineering background) but ultimately it will be more rewarding to be able to say you built your rig. Not only that, but you can constantly improve and modify it to keep up with the latest advancements yourself.

Also, I tend to believe no matter how much money you have and even if you bought a complete turn key buggy from a reputable builder….at some point you’ll decide you need something done to enhance or repair that vehicle and it will be unfeasible for whatever reason to take it back to the original shop that built it. That’s where being able to do some work yourself will come in handy. I’m a firm believer in learning by doing. While I don’t suggest you just pick up a welder and start using it like a hot glue gun for metal, I do think you should attempt things like fabrication after thoroughly researching it and perhaps getting some instruction from either fabricator acquaintances or formal classes.

As for new vehicles to build into trail rigs; if you have the money, more power to ya! Since this forum is dedicated to the FJ Cruiser, I often get questions regarding how to set it up to run really hard trails. Unfortunately, my answers sometimes probably aren’t what the person asking really wants to hear. I won’t sugar coat things and I definitely won’t lie to you. Some people respect that; others prefer to have smoke blown up their ass.

Here’s the truth as I see it: The FJC is a great, all around wheeling vehicle. It’s very capable in stock form. That’s not to say it doesn’t have its issues. Anything can be improved. The biggest issues that will be the hardest to overcome with the FJC on hard trails are the limited visibility as well as the overall weight and size of the body. Ultimately, it was those issues that kept me from choosing a FJC as my next project; a 4 seater family wheeling rig. Every other weak point (in terms of offroad use) can be overcome relatively easily (when talking extreme vehicle mods).

It should be obvious that the stock IFS front end isn’t up to the task of 4wheeling harder trails. A SFA is necessary (at least at this point in time with regards to available IFS systems that are actually affordable enough to go into a hobbyist’s recreational wheeling vehicle). I’d imagine this statement will cause a huge stir on this site. It is not meant to be an inflammatory statement, but one as point of fact. Anyone that will argue the point is obviously not talking about the type of trails and obstacles of which I’m speaking when I make that recommendation.

I’m not implying that an IFS FJC can’t do harder trails (like Pritchett Canyon in Moab for example). It’s already been done by IFS FJCs. However, a SFA FJC will have a much easier time, will be much less likely to break and will likely far surpass the IFS FJC when it comes to optional lines and obstacles regardless of the driver’s experience level. If you are at the level of running these harder trails, it’s extremely unlikely that you have very little experience or seat time. Further, running more extreme trails weekend after weekend will ultimately take its toll on ANY front end. But it will take far longer on a properly engineered and equipped solid axle than an IFS (even if modded with a good coilspring lift kit, longer a-arms, etc from All-Pro, Donahoe, King, etc.).

I often get questions regarding selling the FJC and/or “just buying a Rubicon”. To be honest, if extreme wheeling is your thing, then yes, the Rubicon will be an easier (not necessarily better) route to take. The Rubicon could be cheaper as well, but keep in mind the old saying, “Jeep stands for Just Empty Every Pocket”. With the myriad of available conversions, suspensions, axles, and various and sundry options, the Jeep could easily end up costing much more just b/c of the options available for customization. With a Jeep you are really only limited by your imagination, but at the same time, you end up in a “sea of sameness” since Jeeps are the most common vehicle you’ll see on harder trails (not the really extreme, buggy-only trails).

Another good option can be to buy an older Toyota truck, 4Runner, or TLC and build that. Best of both worlds (if you have the ability to fabricate)…stellar reliability and great capability as well as a little more unique. There’s a reason why you see certain vehicle makes on the harder trails. Generally, it was a good platform from the factory and then an aftermarket following grew to support the more extreme use. Samuris, Toyotas, Jeeps, early Broncos, D90s, etc. are all examples of this concept.

Anyone who disagrees with my assessment of IFS’s viability on harder trails has an open invite to come to AZ and prove me wrong. I will do everything in my power to make sure you don’t damage your vehicle and will warn you before eminent damage occurs if you are willing to take my advice. If you’re solely coming to prove a point and will not listen, I doubt you’ll be happy with the experience. Otherwise, you’ll probably have a great time and will continue to come to AZ in the winter to enjoy our trails though it will likely be in a SFA equipped or converted vehicle after that first trip. ;)

More when I get more time………


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Awesome thread man. Truly lots of great information in there.


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I'm confused...

(Just kidding! You're right. This is what the Forum is for...thanks!)

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Thank you Sean great info!! reps for you sir!!! these are real reps and are redeemable @ the local 4 wheel shop:lol:

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Discussion Starter · #15 · (Edited)
Okay....control arms (links) it is. Man, I just realized you may be asking about A-arms....I'm not the guy for that question. Don't know much about I'll stick to the links.

First thing to consider when talking control arms is material selection.

Personally, on ANY rig I wouldn't consider anything lighter than .250" wall DOM or Chromoly tubing.

There are a LOT of cheap bastids out there that will try and use heavy wall pipe, square seamed tubing and the like. Pipe and tubing are NOT the same thing. Pipe is sized and measured by ID, tubing is measured by OD. (Oh, and if I abbreviate something and you don't know what it is....please ask...ID is inside diameter, OD is outside diameter). Yes, pipe can work....but to hold up to heavy use, you have to usually make huge compromises in terms of overall diameter to get the strength from the low yeild strength of pipe. I've even seen guys use cheaper HREW tubing (hot rolled electric weld aka mild steel) for links (aka "control arms") and then try to reinforce them by welding angle iron to the bottom to help stiffen them when you drag them across rocks. Or, they'll stuff smaller and smaller OD pieces of tubing inside the larger piece of tubing to try and strengthen the link. It only delays the inevitable.

ANY of these ideas are bad ones. Why?

Picture what will happen if a link fails for ANY reason, be it a SRE (spherical rod end aka heim joint) breaking, a link buckling, or the threads pulling out of the end. The axle will immediately and with unbelievable force "walk" itself forward on one side and backward on the other if the vehicle is under load. When this happens in the rear for example, the rear driveshaft can be driven right into the tcase busting the main output shaft along with all kinds of other things inside the case itself. Same with the pinion shaft on the rear axle. B/c of the impact, the pinion gear can be sheared. Also, the driveshaft itself can easily be rendered useless and any coilover on that axle is likely to bend the shaft making an expensive and complicated rebuild necessary. In short, you want to avoid a link failure AT ALL COST. Getting off the trail with all those or even a few of those parts busted can be a major event.

So, what's the best thing to build your links out of? Well, it depends (as with most anything else). If you're going to really make the strongest link possible, heat treating is your best option. The problem is: DOM (drawn on mandrel) tubing cannot be heat treated. It's still a form of mild, seamed tubing. It's harder and more dimple resistant than HREW, and has a small amount of "memory"....meaning it can be bent a certain amount and still "bounce back" to its original shape.

By contrast, un-heat treated 4130 Chromoly isn't really much stronger than DOM until it's heat treated. It does have better memory, has a harder outside 'casing' and is usually about 20% stronger than DOM when it's not treated. The real advantage to using 4130 Chromo is that once it's heat treated, it can be 4 times stronger than DOM and is even stronger per lb. than an exotic and expensive Aluminum link made from aircraft grade solid 7075.

Eventually, I'll post up a link to the 3 and 4 link calculators that will give you yield strengths and bending moments for whatever material you want to use.

One word of caution with 4130 Chromo....don't heat treat it past 40Rc (rockwell C scale). It becomes too brittle and will actually fracture if heat treated above that point very far. Usually a good heat treat place can get it within 3 points on the Rc scale. They usually have a flat rate for set it's $95 and then 15-30 cents per pound. You can end up doing 8 links for about $150 around here assuming you don't need to anneal them as well....which adds another $95 onto the price.

I should probably explain why and when you anneal something.

There is a good reason to spend a LOT of money on your SREs. If they fail....well, I already explained that. ;) My recommendation is buy nothing but the biggest ones you can possibly afford. Scratch that. Save up to buy the biggest ones they make. That's generally a 1.25" shank by 1" bore SRE. They make them in all kinds of varieties. Some are chromo body, some are a mild steel. Every single failure of a SRE I've ever seen was b/c the body broke and essentially "peeled" away from the "ball". Spend the extra money on a chromo body. They are generally rated about 1.5 times higher in RSL (radial static load) than their mild steel counterparts.

RSL is the best method to determine strength. The problem is: only true metal on metal SREs can withstand the test without deformation. Pseudo-SREs like Rubicon Express Joints, Currie Enterprises Johnny Joints, Jimmy Joints, the massive EVO joints (basically all the rebuildable joints that use a teflon or polyethylene bushing to reduce shock loading) can't withstand much of a sideload without having the shock reduction device (usually polyethylene) deform. So it's very hard to get an accurate gauge on the strength of these joints.

That doesn't mean you shouldn't use them. Actually, they are highly desireable b/c they can be rebuilt, they are quieter on DDs (daily drivers), and if you get good ones, they will be more than strong enough.

I'm not sure if Currie is still using this method of retention, but if they are....skip them. They used to use a snap ring to hold the bushings in. When sideloaded even a small amount, they'd pop the snap ring, the big retaining washer and then the joint and the whole thing would come apart. Not pretty.

RE joints by comparison, used a screw in washer that threaded directly into the body. Those are a much better design.

If I were making a recommendation on which SREs to vote would be the EVOs. They are HUGE. 1.25" shank by 1" bore. They come with misalignment spacers/reducers and are about $70 a piece (last I checked). They also have the advantage of having a shank already cast into the housing. EVOs:

The RE joints and Currie Johnny Joints (JJ) have to be welded to the end of your fishmouthed links. Welding in that area, to the fishmouth *could* be a failure point as it does receive a good load when you wheel. here's a pic of what I'm talking about in terms of the fishmouth/body junction:

If you want regular SREs, again 1.25"x1" are the size that will hold up the longest and be the strongest. Chromo bodied ones are rated at 77K lbs RSL. When I bought mine, they were about $70 a piece but you still had to buy misalignment spacers/reducers and jam nuts. Misalignment spacer:

All this brings me to the point I'm laboring to make.

Since I'm recommending such large SREs (1.25" shanks), you need a fairly good sized OD piece of tubing. The minimum I'd consider on the lower links is 2"x.250 wall. Uppers minimum would be 1.75"x.250" wall. There is nothing wrong with going to a heavier wall...I know lots of guys running .500" just have to have machine work done to open the ID enough for a threaded tube insert/adapter or open it enough for 75% of the thread for a 1.25-12 tap. There's nothing wrong with bigger are normally limited in this aspect by what you can fit under your rig. The bigger the OD, the stronger the link even with slightly thinner wall thicknesses. You will likely have to have the ID of the 1.75" tubing opened up to use a standard size threaded tube adapter. Take it to a reputable machine shop to have this done....the fit should almost be a press in...wait to drill any rosette holes until AFTER the machinist has bored the ID out to your threaded tube adapter size.

This brings us to annealing. You have two common options to "thread" the ends of your links. You can drill and tap the end or you can buy what are called "threaded tube inserts/bungs"
and weld them into the ends of the tube. Most folks don't have lathes big enough to handle 2" tubing and right and left hand taps for 1.25-12 thread pitch are very expensive and most guys use the weld in threaded tube inserts.

The 'proper' way to heat treat a link with a welded in threaded tube insert is to first drill a few pilot holes in the ends of the link so you can rosette (aka plug) weld the threaded tube insert to the tube. Then you'll complete a weld pass around the circumference of the threaded tube insert. (Sidenote: always weld the insert into the tube with plenty of lube on the threads and it's also a good idea to have a right and left hand 1.25-12 bolt threaded into the insert so that any heat won't distort the threads from welding).

The problem is: most threaded tube inserts are not 4130 chromoly. They are 1026 the metals are dissimilar. In order to "normalize" the two metals to one another before heat treat, they must be annealed.

Now, while this is the 'proper' way to do it. You don't have to. I'd recommend it as it's the strongest way and is only about $100 more for something that will last a LONG time if done right the first time.

The other way to do it is to go ahead and pre-drill your rosette weld holes in the ends of the tube (it's a b!tch to do this after they are heat treated to 40Rc b/c it's so surface hardened). Take the tubing to your heat treater and have them treated. Then, come home and weld in the bungs. If you do it this way, you loose the heat treat at the very ends of the link, but it isn't really that crucial since the bending moments are in the middle of the links; not at the ends.

I went through this all really fast. I may need to do some editing to make everything right. Please ask if you have questions.


PS. Poly - Fox Shocks, Donahoe Racing, Beard, CTM, Currie Enterprises, Edelbrock, total Chaos, Ramsey winch, Walker Evans, Wilwood, Mastercraft, and more... is a GREAT source of parts for things like SREs, tube adapters, reducers, misalignment spacers, coilovers, lockers, axle shafts and the like. Great service too. Prices are a little higher than at other places but you get better tech advice so it's worth the extra $$$.

PPS: article on SREs....including EVO, RE and another joint:

Pirate4x4.Com - Extreme Four Wheel Drive

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Discussion Starter · #16 ·
Forgot to go into detail on 7075 Aluminum for link material. I know lots of guys using it. It works well but is expensive and is harder to work with. It will need to be solid and for a 40" piece of 2" solid 7075 it is only 4 lbs. lighter than a comparative piece of 2"x.250" wall 4130 Chromoly....and it's weaker by several thousand pounds in bending once the chromo is treated.

IMO, you are better off using heat treated 4130 than you are 7075 aluminum. The Chromoly can be welded to in the field if necessary fairly easily and you can buy much more of it for the same money.

6061 Aluminum is NOT acceptable for use in links. It's simply not strong enough. 7075 by contrast has memory and for a good length link can be deflected up to 12" and return to normal.

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