As well, most of those components end up being in front of the control-arms and dangerously close to the bottom of the ground-clearance – which puts them in danger of trail-damage. And with systems that require control and/ or sensors to re-center, or systems where a loss of hydraulic pressure leaves you in a “fail as-is” situation (or wheels that then behave independently – trail damage may not just mean not finishing the trip, it can mean not getting home. This is not an option for me since I don’t trailer my rig.
Ron’s system appeared to eliminate all my major concerns about installing rear-steer.
– it’s affordable
– it installs easily (for the most part)
– it’s mind-numbingly simple
– components are durable and don’t compromise clearance
– mounted such that trail damage is highly unlikely (more to come on that)
– it returns to center under failure of any component
So… after interacting with Ron for several weeks, having him help me understand the details of the system, having worked together to confirm that it would work with my wheel/ rear-winch set-up, I pulled the trigger. All parts showed up exactly as agreed, and on-time. Instructions were simple and clear with videos online. The only major complication for me was that it took me 2x fuel tanks to perfect the art of getting it modified to not interfere with the cylinder. The first one I got too hot, and burnt a hole in it. Thankfully HMMWV fuel tanks are relatively cheap (Ron sent me one of his, gratis… but it didn’t work because his was from a gasser). In retrospect, I should have taken it to a plastic welder (most body-shops can do this) and just had the thing sectioned… but that was the hardest part. After that, install was smooth sailing.
A quick note on how the system self-centers… obviously the springs create the motivation to equalize – but there’s also a ball-point-pen size hole in the middle of the cylinder which equalizes pressure/ volume from one side to the other and allows the springs to do their thing and center the system with the pump off without hydrolocking. Now… the system does NOT have any sort of positive-lock to keep the rod centered… how mine is set-up (without the dual pilot-operated check-valves that Ron has since found & recommended), it relies on spring tension/ compression to stay centered, as well the resistance of fluid to move from one side to the other through that pinhole down the middle of the cylinder. When I first drove it down the street (25-45mph in the neighborhood) – I thought I’d made a horrible mistake. I couldn’t believe how much movement the rear-wheels still had despite the heavy springs and the tiny hydraulic flow-path. The truck felt super loose. My concerns went away after 15min… you realize that it’s not a lack of control, it’s just a strange sensation when the rear tracks just a bit. After a couple days, I can say with complete honesty that I no longer even notice. A buddy of mine took it for a few days while I was out of town to drive it in a parade or two… He said it felt different daily’ing it for a couple days, but nothing he thought to be concerned about or noticed after a few hours.
Now… I will say, that at highway speeds (over 60mph, RetiredWarHorses installed a 6.5T/4L80… cannot recommend enough, not just for the quality of the install, but all the help leading up to it, and continued guidance from Steven Kavanaugh in the years since), entering a sweeping turn will white-knuckle you at first because the rear wheels want to continue tracking straight. While I have gotten more used to that sensation… I haven’t completely acclimated to it at high speed like I have at low/ moderate speed… I definitely ease off the gas when the highway gets twisty. This is my single issue with the system. Bumps, potholes, and lane-changes (even at high speed) are super-stable… it’s just the high-speed sweeping turns where the fluid has time to move, and the gyroscopic energy of a fast-spinning wheel resists a change in plane-angle that the rear-wheels want to track just a bit. I’ll install the DPOCV that Ron recommends sometime in the next few months (it’s not such an issue that I feel the urgent need for it) and report back. My concern with that addition is that it may slow-down/ limit the self-centering of the system that makes me love it (not only for practicality/ high-speed stability sake, but now that I’m using it regularly, for the ease of use and fun-factor). I’m also gonna put some thought into some sort of comb-shaped “lock” that I can pin between the wraps of the spring to mechanically (not just hydraulically) lock it into place for extended highway use… but again, it’s not so urgent or concerning for me that I anticipate putting forth the time/ thought/ effort to do this anytime soon.
So, after installation and road-worthiness test, it was time for a proper shake-down. We went to the off-road park, and put it through its paces. I liked it immediately after install… I loved it offroad. I like to consider myself practical. Especially when it comes to tools and equipment, I’ll choose form over function any day. While I realize that those sentences appear incongruent with someone who bought a HMMWV instead of a Jeep for off-roading, I think most folks will understand that you still want to LOVE your vehicle more than you would LOVE a tool. All that to say, that I don’t consider myself one who shows-off. But that first day at the park… I just couldn’t help it… crab-walking and tight-turning are just so DAMN FUN that you can’t help but do it at every opportunity, even gratuitously… I still do even now, weeks later. It’s hard to explain, but it is just neat to drive with each hand on a separate vehicle control device and mess with different input combinations in a way that you just can’t do in any other vehicle. It’s fun the way operating a skid-steer is fun, using all your extremities for a different control-function. But, I digress… the system worked exactly like I had hoped off-road. There wasn’t a single trail that I couldn’t fit on with a little finesse. I didn’t have to three-point turn ONCE to get down a trail. And the Jeeps I was with were TRYING to best me. Being able to crab-walk saved me from likely mirror-mount damage (or at least some extreme Colorado Pinstriping) more than a couple times. Turning around when we found ourselves at the end of a spur (with a rock wall on one side, and a muddy slope on the other) we hadn’t intended to be on wasn’t easy… but at least it was possible. Without the rear-steer, I’d have been backing up the whole way… which is NOT fun in a slantback.
I also, unintentionally, tested the “bulletproof” moniker. Against my better judgement, I’m going to admit something significantly embarrassing, and describe what could have been one of the worst days of my life. After coming down an obstacle, which required 4L… I stopped on the hill, facing down, and got out to take a picture of the Jeep behind me coming down off the same obstacle I had just passed. I’m not a big picture-taker… but my dad (who was in the Jeep behind me) has a memory condition – and the experts say that the more pictures you can take, then practice speaking to the context behind them, is one of the best non-medical forms of therapy for folks with his condition. So… It’s a helluva obstacle, it’s gonna take a minute to get down, so I shut the engine off. Since the engine is off anyway, I put the transfer case into 4H since the next step in the trail was pretty low-key. I put the transmission into Park, and stepped out to take the picture. Unfortunately, I must not have gotten the TCase into 4H… it must have been in Neutral… because when I stepped out of the truck and took my foot off the brake – the truck rolled down the hill… and gained speed quickly. Thankfully, no one was in front of it as the truck went into a ditch probably 50 yards away at about 30mph and slammed into the embankment on the other side. Testament to the durability of the truck, besides some minor damage to the brush-guard,