As shown on 4x4ph.com
One of the main factors a 4-wheeler needs when going off pavement is traction. Whether you have a heavily modified rig or a stock unit, traction is what makes an offroad trip a success or a failure. You’d need full traction to get to your destination, or if you believe in the saying “the journey is the destination,” well, need I say more?
Going through various topics on the 4×4 Philippines forum and around the internet regarding different traction aids, a new user might be a little bit overwhelmed at the amount of available options out there, ranging from tried-and-tested aftermarket products like the ARB Air Locker to individual offroad modification shop techniques, and even backyard engineering of Do-It-Yourselfers.
After running my 1997 Suzuki Vitara for years without any additional traction aids, subscribing to the mantra of building your rig slowly from stock to know it better, I decided it was high time I get myself something new. As I mentioned above there are a lot of choices out there, like the very basic tire chains (cumbersome to install, and requires manual removal when going back to the pavement) to LSD’s and differential lockers.
Choosing the right traction aid
I didn’t want to permanently weld my differentials to lock it full-time. LSD’s, based on my research, would wear out components on my SUV — not a good option for me as this is also my daily driver. Besides, some have shared their experiences about LSD’s and it didn’t work as expected. Blame it on too high expectations, but I need my expectations to be high so I can get back home after going out on the trails — not to mention get out of the trails with my vehicle.
Last option for me are lockers. As many of you know the best lockers are the ones that let you drive your vehicle in the city like you don’t have ANY lockers at all, but when off-highway and you need maximum traction you get what you need while sitting comfortably in the driver’s seat.
The most trusted name in this category is the original ARB Air Locker, and to my surprise (well, not really) there is the Chinese imitation. No contest, I balked at the idea of using an imitation of something as important as what I need. If you’re not convinced of my decision you might want to watch a comparison between the original ARB Air Locker and the Chinese imitation. Check the video below:
Putting it to the test
Now that I have mine installed it’s time to try it out. Perfect timing, one of clubs I’m a member of, the Suzuki Off-Roaders, Inc. (SORI), just informed me we’ll be having a club trail day.
First obstacle we encountered was an eroded section of a bridge due to Typhoon Pedring (international name Nesat). Upon first looking at it it was a huge gap that would swallow the front end of a vehicle easily. As I inspected it I knew this would be a simple test for my new ARB Air Locker. I need it to “push” the vehicle out of the ditch.
Before I put my SUV into first gear I flipped two switches. One for the air compressor, the next for the rear locking differential. Without moving my rear end off my seat my rear differential is now locked, ready to take on the first obstacle on its maiden voyage. Let’s do this.
Slowly and gently, as instructed and spotted by Joey, a good friend of mine, I start the entry into the ditch in front of me. Adding a little bit of power for the front of the vehicle to get out and bring the rear in and down the ditch. Now that my front end is up and out next goal is to get the rear out and clear the obstacle.
“Give a bit more power than usual,” Joey instructed. I normally would follow his directions, but I wanted to see if I can get out without exerting too much unnecessary throttling. I started feathering the gas and releasing the clutch, depending on the ARB Air Locker to get me out of this hole.
And it did, perfectly. Sure, it wasn’t that deep but I wanted to see how little power I need to give for it to be able to push me out. It passed with flying colors. Looking back I believe I was the one who gave it as little power as needed. I patted the locker on the back, in my mind. Heh.
Next up was a 35-degree deeply rutted, uphill climb, with fist- to head-sized rocks along the trail. I smiled. Now this is a better test, I thought to myself. And a better test, indeed.
After a few attempts of the one in front and opting to winch up the climb, the trail was clear for me. Joey’s 4xForce off-road crew got into position, in anticipation of more spotting and guiding. Again I flicked the switches to engage the ARB Air Locker and waited for the go signal.
As soon as the signal was given off I went, down and across the stream, then I started the climb. For additional testing purposes I decided to feather the accelerator again, only using the necessary amount of power and not relying too much on momentum to get me up this fairly steep climb.
I can hear my guides and my spotters shouting at me, “Power! Power! Power!” telling me to stomp on the gas pedal, to give my rig more juice to get me up, but I was playing with my new ARB lockers, so I didn’t give in.
Whenever I felt the vehicle start to slow down I’d tap on the gas pedal only a bit and smile as I felt the tires bite. Traction, yes sir, no unnecessary tire slippage.
I believe I can proudly say that day, at this specific section of the whole trip, I was the one who was able to climb without a single problem — I didn’t need to stop midway and try to use more power and momentum to finish the climb, I didn’t need to have someone pull me up or winch me out, I didn’t need to be pushed up by the crew to get me over this section. This is one of the perfect examples of a comparison between a 4-wheel-drive with open diffs and one with an ARB Air Locker installed.
The last test for this trip was unintentional: drive through a mud pit on 2-wheel-drive. You see, at this point of the trip I already have a broken front axle.
Approaching the mud pit I spotted Suzuki LJ with a broken crossjoint (also running on 2-wheel-drive now), two vehicles in front of me, stopped in the middle of the curving mud pit. Preparing to be pulled out.
As soon as Coach Rod in a Samurai, the one directly in front of me, was done crossing I decided I won’t wait for the go signal. I can always call on them if I get stuck in the middle, I thought.
Air Locker switch on, check. Mud pit clear of vehicles and people, check. First gear, check. Then I released the clutch. This time I needed to depend on proper momentum to get me through. Will the lockers pass this test?
I kept the rev high enough to keep forward momentum. In a way I felt the mud trying to stop my vehicle from moving forward, I felt the front tires not helping me in any way except to steer me in the direction I wanted to go. I put more pressure on the gas pedal, making sure I don’t lose the forward motion. My engine howled with the high rev, both my rear tires spun simultaneously, digging in the mud, throwing it back out of the way.
The people in Coach Rod’s pickup-type Samurai kept their eyes on my SUV, pumping their fists at me, telling me to go faster, to give it more power, egging me on.
Then I felt the rear tires bite the trail harder, the vehicle lurching forward suddenly, and I knew I was on safer ground. I made it. The ARB Air Locker helping me out, whether 4-wheel-drive or 2-wheel-drive due to a broken front axle — naturally, the latter has some limitations but compare it to the very same conditions but with an open differential. Worlds apart.
Now we set off to lunch by the river.