Originally Posted by JayceMV10
I am a new member to Wrangler Forum, a new resident of San Diego and a new Wrangler owner. I am new to it all and excited to learn the ropes, make some mods to my Jeep and have some fun.
I was hoping some of you seasoned vets may be able to give me some general advice on the following:
1. Any good Jeep Clubs in the San Diego area? Which would you recommend and why?
2. What first mods should I make to my Wrangler? I know this will depend on what I want to use my jeep for and being as I am new to owning a jeep my initial thought is for trail riding that would be moderate to intense. Im not thinking serious rock climbing just yet, but eventually I would like to be able to hit some good trails. I am an adrenaline junky at heart. However, the Jeep is also my daily driver so not sure if that effects things.
3. Any good beginner trails to recommend? I will be going camping at Big Bear in the next three weeks so if there is anything good for a beginner there that would be perfect.
4. Anyone have any good parts for sale a beginner could use?
5. Im new to the area and looking to meet some people and make some friends. Im a 30 year old male and my wife and I dont really know anyone around. We moved here from Boston.
Thanks again everyone for the help and sorry for all the questions. Im just excited to get going and get learning.
I was new to this jeep stuff in 2011 but by now feel like an expert. So if you stick to it and try to get out once a month, you’ll be the same in 2015 or sooner. Before buying my jeep I was a tech executive in North County with three kids and a pretty wife but after two years I look a bit more like the guy who spends his weekend outdoors. So I was in your shoes two years ago.
Anyway, what to do to your jeep depends on your budget. Also, you need to grow into what you put on the jeep. Up here in SD North County there is nothing more pretentious-looking than an incredibly souped-up Unlimited (4" lift, enormous tires, expensive off-market rack, extra fuel cans, off-market macho bumpers, a hi-lift jack, perfect wax job, rims so shiny your wife could fix her hair); you know that the only time those rigs go "offroad" is when they turn into their driveway.
Also, and this will not make me popular here on this forum, I am not a fan of jeep clubs. I learned about offroading from a single friend who had been doing this for 10+ years. I find it a bit pointless to go on a run with 10 other vehicles, and all the scenery I get is the dust from the previous 9 cars. As that old Alaskan saying goes, "the scenery only changes for the lead dog." But to each their own.
First, about upgrading your vehicle. You can do anything a newbie would want to do with your stock vehicle. You won't look as cool but a stock jeep can climb 20-30% rocky grades with ease. [Note: you must do your first runs with someone experienced. You will be terrified the first time you see a wall of rock ahead of you, or feel the jeep pitch 20% to the outside, but an experienced jeeper will talk you through it and soothe your nerves.] So if you're budget-conscious I wouldn't worry too much as of yet.
Upgrades and purchases that you can consider over the next few years, depending on how obsessed you get with offroading, are provided below. See the below picture of my rig, which was 100% stock and had never been offroad in 2011. I think it looks cool enough.
1. A tire compressor that runs off the car battery – you will want to air down when you go offroad. Don’t get a cheap one because you will regret it. I purchased a VIAR 400 for $180 and it’s great.
2. CB radio for communicating with fellow jeepers while you’re on a run. I bought the one from Cobra that has all the electronics built into the handset, so you don’t waste space in your vehicle mounting a box. $130 for the device, $50 for an antenna, and maybe $100 to mount it and run the wires.
3. Bikini top if your vehicle came with a hard top. I take the hard top off late April, store it in the garage, and use the bikini top until late October. Costs $150. I love having our San Diego air come in from three directions, but the sun can be pretty brutal.
4. Lift the vehicle, to accommodate larger and more beefy tires. A 2” lift will get you to a 33” tire. I purchased the Terraflex 2” leveling lift kit for $150 and my mechanic installed it for $200. The lift kits you read about on the forums will cost thousands of dollars. If you want a 35” tire you will have no choice but the expensive lift kits.
5. Larger tires look cool and also provide more surface area when you climb grades; also, mud tires do better on rock. After a huge amount of research I settled on 33” Goodrich Mud Terrain KM2s which are very reasonably priced, look incredibly cool, and I have no regrets. You will have more road noise but it’s not too bad. [Note that I do some serious although straightforward offroading so I didn’t want the hybrid tires.] KM2s cost $230 each when on sale, not much more than the standard tire. I also had to buy new rims (the jeep guys call them “wheels” – it took me hours to figure out that “wheels” were “rims”) that cost about $100 each, to accommodate the wider tire.
6. Tow hooks for the front bumper, if not already provided.
7. Tow hook for the back bumper. A standard hitch with a tow kit will work here. Probably cost around $100.
8. Hi-lift jack and a jack mount. Learn how to use this with an expert. I have needed the jack once in my two years, and unfortunately I hadn’t bought it yet. The jack is $80 but the mount will be a bit of a challenge, especially if your stock Wrangler has plastic bumpers.
9. Lockers for the front. This will help you on sand and gravel, especially when climbing. The stock Wrangler has a limited slip differential in the rear but nothing in the front. Note: I’ve been offroading a lot and only needed front lockers once. But many times I felt my front tires spinning. If you’re on a budget consider one of the “lunch box” lockers for the front like the Aussie locker. It costs $250 and might cost your mechanic $150 to install. Jeep forums will be filled with 1,000 opinions on what to do but most will recommend that you purchase new front and rear lockers for $4,000 or more. Sheesh.
10. Eventually, if you stay with this avocation, you will want a steel bumpers and a winch. I have not gone this far yet but I know it will eventually be needed. [As the head of a family of five I just can’t spend money that easily.] The winch will cost you $500 or more and the bumpers will cost another $1,000-1250. I have been winched once (that time when I didn’t yet have the hi-lift jack). I drive alone a lot and if I slip into a rut and get high-centered, especially alone, the best way to get out is with a winch; the second best way is to call a friend with a winch; the third best way is to call an offroad tow service and use his, after paying him $500 or more.
Finally, regarding trails. The best trails in the county are in the east and south. You will have to be very careful as a newbie on those that aren’t maintained, unless you go out with a buddy who can teach you.
There is no shortage of trail information in the forums, and you can buy the books online or at Offroad Warehouse. These have great descriptions, many of them you can do alone (meaning, with your gal at your side but without a second jeep). But, like you, I need adrenaline so I tired of these easy runs after about 12 months and had to look harder to find routes.
Some easy routes to get you started; find trail info online or in the books. You should be able to do all these alone.
- Palomar Mountain, Nate Harrison Grade – just rough enough near the top to make it fun. Now is a perfect time of year to do it.
- McCain Valley in the east county. You can hike to the overlook over those incredible canyons.
- Pamo Valley, north of Ramona. I think the Pamo Valley is the best-kept secret in SD County for offroaders. The Santa Ysabel Truck Trail will be fun and easy for you. You will learn a lot about shelf roads if it’s your first time. Also, you can take the Black Mountain truck trail to the top. It’s very doable in your stock vehicle but if it’s your first time out you will have a few nervous moments because you’re not accustomed to steep grades. But never fear, it’s very doable. Also the Lusardi Truck Trail. Rough enough to be fun but nothing technical.
I have a blog where I post my most significant runs. Check it out at sdoffroad.blogspot.com
. Ask questions about some of them if you want.
Finally, some maxims that I put together after learning on the fly:
- Never rush – if you’re in a hurry, stay home. Always alot more time than you expect.
- 20% off-camber is more dangerous than a 20% grade – be careful
- Downhill combined with off-camber is more dangerous than uphill because the weight of the car is in the front.
- Don’t be afraid to check wheel placement too often – I’ve done it at 60-second intervals at times.
- Don’t be embarrassed to turn around
- Always take a lot of water, a backpack, hiking shoes, and protective clothing. Each time, plan as if you’re going to have a vehicle breakdown and have to hike out 10 miles. That goes for your passengers as well. SD county has some mighty rough county, and flip-flops and a t-shirt will not get you out safely. Our nights are always cold as well.
Lastly, I’ve always told my wife where I’m going and given her emergency numbers if I don’t check in by nightfall. [Sometimes it’s Anza Borrego park rangers, sometimes it’s BLM offices, sometimes Border Patrol.] There was a fellow who went out in a stock Wrangler last year and went off the road into a canyon. He did not die from the crash but died from exposure, because no one knew where to look for him. His upturned vehicle was found two weeks later. I’ve imagined that poor fellow, lying upside down with a punctured lung and broken ribs, crying for help in futility for a couple of days, 150 feet down a brushy canyon. Breaks my heart for him and his family.
This turned into a thesis but it was fun to write! Best of luck --