OK, let's get started | Page 4 | Ford Explorer Forums - Serious Explorations

  • Register Today It's free!

OK, let's get started

OK, the arrival of a set of those rock-crushing shock/u-bolt skid plates from Brian1 here has my rig up on stands in the garage, and that of course reminds me that I never finished the write-ups from the last round of upgrades.

So, trying to keep it just to the stuff someone might find useful, here's my effort to catch-up.

The last task that was on deck, and I did back this up to within 12 hours of heading out for a weekend of trail driving, was trimming to make room for the Goodyear Duratracs 33x12.5 on 15x10 steelies. Rim and tires fit great in the back, and cleared the larger Sport brake calipers up front. If I had nothing to do but go in a straight line, and maybe turn on a radius measured on 50-yard increments, that would have been fine. Taking the front wheels lock-to-lock, however, was impossible. With a 3-inch body lift and about 1 1/2 inches of total TT action, there was still no way to clear these meats without firing up the sawzall. Driver and passenger side were the same, so here's how I went at the passenger well (always remembering to cut instead of pound, since there a lot of electronic goodies on the other side of that tub).

trim 1.jpg

With the tires on and the suspension loaded a little thanks to two days of trail gear and my daughter in the passenger seat, I turned the rear of the front tire into the back of the wheelwell and traced a line 1/2-inch around where the tire hit. The plastic (both the well and the side trim) will cut with a sharp utility knife, which makes it easy to follow the curve. Dropping that plastic away, however, showed that the cutting wasn't done.

trim 2.jpg

A welded seam for the tub and two more panels from the fender come together right there, and they seem like a perfect tire-shredding accessory. I cracked out the sawzall, used a fine metal blade, and took my time. Using the curve in the plastic as a guide, I cut away the metal within the curve along that plane, and adjusted for the curse of the wheel as well (meaning the lower edge of the cuts had to curve back and get wider, just like the wheel does). Watch that inner tub seam, it's a corner weld point. If you're carefull, you can cut off the bolt in the very corner that attaches the fender bottom and still preserve the weld between the two interior shell pieces. There's another fender bolt a few inches back, so this one can go with no worries.

trim 3.jpg

Here's the end result. I used a ball-peen hammer to gently mushroom the seams a bit and take the cutting edge off them, then coated the heck out of everything with primer and Eastwood rubberized undercoating.

trim 6.jpg

The front of the tire was tight as well, but this one was easier since it's just the Tupperware nose we're talking about.

trim 8a.jpg

Here, a good razor knife and some wrist finesse gets the job done. I took larger and larger arcs out of both the wheelwell and the nose bottom until it was clear even a good stuff wasn't going to bring that 33-inch rubber grinding wheel into contact with the very shreddable plastic. The only thing to note is the cut was deep enough on the bottom that I had to trim away the screw that attaches the two pieces at the corner.

trim 8b.jpg

No worries, A few 3/8 holes and heavy-duty zip ties got things locked together again in less than a few minutes. I does open up the factory bumper light to a little more wheel splash -- especially if you're spinning backwards in the mud -- but there's plenty of places for any slop to just run back out. So far, it's been almost a year, and a few embarrassing mud-pit fails on my part, and there hasn't been a problem.

I will note that the rear cut, where it exposed the inside of the fender and the side body trim, seemed like a bad thing to leave hanging out there catching whatever road and trail flotsam the wheel spins their way. With a few hours left to get out of the garage, I filled both spaces with some of that expanding-foam from the big-box store. By dawn it was kind-of firm, so I trimmer it flush with a drywall saw. It air dried on the drive to Rausch Creek, and I let the tire do the rest of the trimming as it got stuffed on the trails. The wheels carved a stunningly smooth and gentle curve into that yellow foam. After I got home and it dried out, I coated the foam with a good layer of undercoating, and it hasn't come out or shown any deterioration since -- nor have I seen any deterioration in the metal under and behind the area.

Of course, it would be great if I could say the same for the metal that makes up the rest of the body of this Ex, but I think that's too much to ask for a salted-roads rig. Maybe I can just foam up the whole thing?

Join the Elite Explorers for $20 each year.
Elite Explorer members see no advertisements, no banner ads, no double underlined links,.
Add an avatar, upload photo attachments, and more!

The cutting looks pretty good, a lot better than what I was able to pull off with my angle grinder and I didnt cut nearly as much as you did. That wheel and tire combination look really good, how are you liking the wranglers? I'm thinking of switching to those once my bfg's wear out.

Hey Frankcal, great to hear from you. Hope the wheeling is treating you well.

I've had the Duratracs on for about a year now, but for a lot of reasons that have noting to do with the truck, that's been only about 3,000 miles so far. I can say they handled mixed terrain during a weekend at Rausch Creek Offroad Park pretty well, including some steep rocky climbs and descents that I wasn't sure the rig would tackle. I had them aired down to 15 psi, and they stuck on the rims well. I've heard people criticize them for thinner sidewalls -- and I can see what they mean; the sidewalls don't have that MTR bullet-proof feel -- but so far no issues there.

They've also run through some pretty rough logging trails and some heavy snow on trails (a few that were even too icy to walk) and pulled me through on all counts. On-road performance has been very good as well. Not too much noise (and I love windows-down country road touring) and very solid in even heavy rain.

Here's the one quirk I found, and this could be true of all AT tires, but ...

rock eaters 1.jpg

rock eaters 2.jpg

These things eat rocks. Every time I hit any kind of trail, even if I drive 100-plus miles on asphalt to get home, these things hit the garage loaded with rocks. I used to pick them out, and even weighed them once (each wheel had 2-3 ounces) but now I just ignore it. I was afraid the rocks would throw off the balance and make them misbehave on the highway, but I haven't seen that yet so I stopped worrying.

The last thing I'll note is that with the steel wheels thse things are heavy, about 70 pounds in each corner and up from about 30 pounds for the stock aluminum wheels and my old 29-inch General Grabber AT2s. The Sport brakes seem to have no problem with it, but the RS5000 shocks I have feel a little overwhelmed when you hit washboard asphalt at highway speeds. They feel pretty hoppy at times. I've learned to slow down, but I'm trhinking of upping to the 9000 series down the line.


I removed 1/3 (back sections) of the plastic liners on both of my rigs for larger tires. I also cut the metal fenders (cutting wheel) from half way up to the furthest bolt on the lower rocker. Discarded those plastic ends too. Then, the pinch folds were carefully hammered flat using a block of wood to form while tapping it.. You will discover that the more you trail, the more you will be trimming. Compression while turning, jams those tires into areas you swore they cleared the day before. LOL!

Again, catching up a bit here.

As noted at the top of this page of the thread, this summer I jumped on the chance to grab a few of those shock/u-bolt skidplates that Brian1 sells through this forum. After coming back from some waterlogged woods trails this spring -- the kind where its hard to see the rocks through the black flies and silt until they smack something hard -- I spent way too much time trying to bend the front of the factory shock mounts back into shape, not to mention repainting the bottom of my relatively new Ranchos to cover a few scars.

Brian's plates looked rock solid and promised to raise that bottom shock mount almost 2 inches (putting it back closer to the distance from the upper mount it was before the shackle and add-a-leaf). Short of going SOA and really clearing things up, this thing needs some armor down there, and Brian1's plates were reputed to be up to the job.

They absolutely live up to the reputation.


Brian was a piece of cake to deal with. He had the plates on hand, and they were at my door two days after we closed the deal. I took his advice and took the opportnity to up the u-bolts to zinc-coated 5/8 x 8-inch monsters, and he even pointed me to the exact set to order from WFO concepts. The plates will fit the stock bolts, but are made for the larger bolts, nuts and washers -- and since the entire rear end of the truck is essentially suspended by these eight attachment points, I figured why not go big. The bigger u-bolts make it a tight squeeze to use the factory hole alignment and still get around the sides of the leaf packs, but a few nudges with a hammer lined it all up. Rock solid.

One thing I did notice right away is these things are not stealthy. In addition to being serious steel and welded better than most nuclear plant cooling systems, the bottom skid plate is 2 inches below the upper surface that mates to the axle. And that's 2 inches all round, square and even, across the entire plate.


The stock mounting plates are thinner, much thinner on the tire side. They do, however, drop down 2 1/4 inches at their lowest point -- and that lowest point happens to be the mounts for the shocks. The stockers also have no meaningful skid plating, and leave the u-bolt ends and the shock to bear all the beating the earth and trail hacks like me feel like handing them.


So, these heavy skid-covered shock/u-bolt plates add a few pounds to unsprung weight and are probably a little more likely to hit something -- but when they do, they'll be hitting it with a full-on 1/4-inch steel skid plate that covers even the bigger u-bolts ends and has the lower shock mounts tucked way out of harm's way. All in all, I recommend taking that trade any day.

I made before-and-after pics so you can see how they hang and how they protect things, especially those shock ends.

From the front:
Before and after from front.jpg

And from the rear:
Before and after from rear.jpg

One more thing ... some of the earlier threads about these shock/u-bolt plates mentions some problems with the raised shocks clearing the axle sway bar mounts. I'm not sure if Brian modified the design or my Rancho 5000s are just thinner than some (they don't look it), but my shocks clear everything with room to spare. I've had it stuffed and flexed pretty good, and never heard or seen any evidence of banging around back there.


They've been on a few months now, and have been smacked by rocks and treestumps as well as dragged through mud and snow, and they hardly look like they've been touched. Definitely worth the small investment and the easy afternoon in the garage to take that whole Achilles heel off the things-to-worry-about list.


Amen to that. I've been lucky so far, but I don't want to push it.

After that, I'll be finishing the IFS upgrades, and you can guess who I'll be following there.

Thanks for the Ruffstuff tip. Hope the winter is treating you well.

Heads up on this ...

I drive my rig nearly every day, and I accept that in the Northeast (and less than 5 miles from a massive salt mine) that comes with hazards. Everything on the undercarriage not stripped and painted every year gets a fine brown crust by spring, every year I watch ferris oxide eat away at that assinine joint between the front fender and nose tupperware that seems designed to trap water again sheet metal, and if it wasn't for the plastic covers the world would know I have nothing left that even resembles a rocker (a degeneration I suspect began when some previous owner confused factory nerf bars for rock sliders).

But, aside from these givens, I was happy with the way the body held up over its first 12 winters. But, starting last winter, I seemed to lose a battle with a rapidly spreading cancer over the driver's side rear wheel, and now I think I found out why (and might be able to help someone else avoid this). I suspect it all began, as all good things do, with me being an idiot.

rust 1.jpg

Last November, on a solo drive through a local wildlife management area, I decided to jump just a few pointless feet off the well-established trail and drive through what used to be a huge mud puddle. I was curious how it was filled in, and for some reason thought to best way to find out was to put a 5,000 pound truck on it. It turns out the state filled the 2-foot puddle, and brought the area another 2 feet up to grade with the trail, by dumping loose dirt and debris they scooped off a few new logging trails nearby. The truck sank until it was balanced nicely on the skid plates, cross member and rear axle, and then sat there motionless, kicking up chunks of anything my Duratracs could grab and spit out. No winch, no strap, no Hi-Lift, no shovel, no cell service and nobody else around, meant a well-deserved afternoon and evening shoving rocks and logs under each wheel until the tires pulled them under, and eventually the truck over and out. A humiliated trip home, some power washing and wheel cleaning later, and the winter road/trail season moved forward without another hitch.

By spring, however, what had been a few faint rust dimples exploded into a rash of rust from underneath the driver's side quarterpanel, eating right through the rubberized undercoating I sprayed along the rim of the panel above the wheel as part of a quick treatment when I first saw it coming. This was only on one side, only at the top of the quarterpanel over the wheel well, and was clearly busting out from inside.

rust 2.jpg

It reminded me of what happens to the bottom of a tailgate or door when an upper seal just starts letting water in from the top, so I hit the car wash again, yanked the rear wheels, and got in there for a close look. Here's what was looking back:

rust 3.jpg

Apparently, at the top of each rear wheel well, there's a factory-made hole in the sheet metal. On the passenger side of my car, this hole was covered on the inside with an adhesive rubber/plastic piece that looks like it's designed to deaden sound or something. On the driver's side, however, that plastic was punched in and pushed open -- my guess is from a lucky shot by some random wood chunk or rock I must have kicked up while flailing to get out of that mudhole. Since the hole punched open, the salty snow melt and rain that the tire spun up as I drove on the road just shot through, making a nice salt-and-mud stalagmite inside the quarterpanel and filling the seam along the top of the wheel well with a steady pool of water.

rust 4.jpg

When I finally tracked this down and got inside for a look, you could see mud, dry salt, rust and sunlight. The passenger side, where the plastic was still in place, was dry and clean, and that quarterpanel shows no rust at all.

My low-tech (read cheap) solution was a stainless bolt (with a pan head in case the tire stuffs up there and hits it), a stainless fender washer and a rubber washer as a seal. I bolted it up from the bottom with another washer and wing nut on the inside to keep things tight.

rust 5.jpg

Of course, inside and out everything got scraped, sanded, rust-converted and sealed with some good Eastwood rubberized undercoating. Just for good measure, I did the passenger side as well. Had to dril through the plastic on that side, bless its still-watertight heart.

rust 7.jpg

Now into the next winter (and the salt season here in Upstate NY started with the snow a good six or eight weeks ago), neither side is showing new rust. Inside the quarterpanels remains clean and dry. That driver's side quarterpanel is, of course, now ugly as hell, but I'm trying to keep a good coat of mud on it until I can find a few of those fender flares that Sogssnakebite made look so good -- as soon as I can track a set down somewhere. Since a few weeks after he posted his pics, they've been impossible to find. I should have pulled that trigger a little earlier.

The lesson here -- aside from pay attention to what every off-road book, article and driver tells you about not driving solo with no recovery gear into a new mud pit -- a $3 makeshift wheel well plug can save you from a whole lot of ugly rust and quarterpanel cancer. Now that I've shared that, it was all worth it ... no, I'm not buying that either.


Wish I had seen your thread earlier! I was up in Ithaca last weekend. I drove my stock 01 sport that occasionally sees trail use.

I'm always leery to go down dirt roads and stuff up there because driving a big SUV isn't really considered 'eco-friendly' by many of the locals. Are there actual places to wheel?

The salt in the NE is a killer. The best thing you can do is rinse often with freshwater and seal often like you did. Aside from cutting and welding in new panels that is the best way to prolong the life of your truck.

I wouldn't worry too much about the locals in Ithaca. There's a small circle of very loud folks who live in their own world of organic tofu and meditation, but the rest of the folks around here are living in reality with everyone else. Get 5 miles from downtown and you're in Upstate, much the same from Buffalo to Albany, Hudson Valley to North Country.

That said, there are not a lot of great wheeling areas around here that are open to the public. The best you can do around here is hit a state forest, state wildlife area or national forest and look for the older roads that no one uses anymore. At the right time of year, the loggers open up some new paths, adding some access and some adventure. I'm still exploring the area myself, but that's all there seems to be here that's not private land. I typically head up to the Adirondacks or down to PA to enjoy any remotely serious trail driving.

As for salt, man that stuff is a killer. I'm in the habit now of investing $8 every paycheck in the winter at the car wash hitting the complete underbody with soap and water. I may have the world's cleanest muffler, but I'm hoping I can slow down the road cancer. Of course, every spring means another scrape, sand, treat and paint festival; but it's a ritual now, like catching the first fluke out of Captree. It's how you know you made it through another winter.

If you find any more of those flares let me know too! I bought what looks like the last pair from ebay, still sitting in the box. If I can't find a matching pair in a timely fashion I could probably hook you up with the ones I bought.

If you find any more of those flares let me know too! I bought what looks like the last pair from ebay, still sitting in the box. If I can't find a matching pair in a timely fashion I could probably hook you up with the ones I bought.

Rather than have you lose two, let's find six. I just wrote to EGR to see to find out the status of the product, and I'll keep scouring online for what I can find. If I can find them, I'll grab'em and plan on sending a pair your way.


It's been a while since I've seen this, but still just as impressive!

As a Chicagoan, I understand your pain with rust. The rust on my truck is surprisingly not too bad considering it's a 15 year old Sport. My drivers side rocker is nonexistent, but my passenger one is hardly touched. The "doglegs" aren't terrible, but could be better too. I've finally accepted the fact that I'm never really gonna beat the battle with rust so I just touch it up when I can and wash often.

And you seem to have some decent wheeling spots for being NY. Kinda jealous!

Rather than have you lose two, let's find six. I just wrote to EGR to see to find out the status of the product, and I'll keep scouring online for what I can find. If I can find them, I'll grab'em and plan on sending a pair your way.


right on... that would be awesome. maybe they can hook it up!

Just got off the phone with the EGR customer service rep. These flares have "been retired." They are not making anymore, and as off December they are out of stock.

So, Jen, you may actually have the final pair. I'll keep scouring, but it may be time to look for an alternate brand. I'll update here if I find anything more out.

Just got off the phone with the EGR customer service rep. These flares have "been retired." They are not making anymore, and as off December they are out of stock.

So, Jen, you may actually have the final pair. I'll keep scouring, but it may be time to look for an alternate brand. I'll update here if I find anything more out.

dang that figures, we were too slow to find them! maybe there is something else that will look ok.

OK. In the spirit of New Year's resolutions -- where you say out loud stuff you want to do but are afraid you'll wimp out of so you're too embarrassed to walk away when the time comes -- here's my to-do list for the truck this year.

If I don't have pictures of all of this by Thanksgiving, feel free, in fact feel invited, to give me endless grief.


Tight money; salt, sand and snow; and my wife's trailblazer needing work will keep me from getting too crazy this winter, but there are a few things I hope to tackle if I can sneak into the garage:

  • Design and build a storage and sleeping platform for the back. My early design has two halves -- each with a drawer deep enough to fit extra front axles and driveshafts and plenty of tools and recovery gear, as well as a pop-top compartment good for storing survival and first aid gear -- that can anchor to the factory tie-downs or fold up together and lock for easy removal and storage. An extra panel, which will store as a lid inside one of the drawers, can extend the front of the platform over the center console and tight up against the folded-forward front seats. That should give me enough room to sleep in the short-box Sport.
  • Design and build a center console extension between the factory short console and the dash. I'm hoping to have some space for a few round gauges, a 4 or 6 switch panel, and dual battery monitor. In my mind, I can make part of the top lift so the space underneath can be used for hidden storage. I might need Kleenex sometimes.
  • Way easier but annoying me -- replace some burned-out bulbs in the dash (now that I know the headlight switch is supposed to have a light) and the steering wheel cruise switch.
  • Lastly, I'm hoping to pick up a basic-but-solid used MIG welder and figure out what the heck to do with it. There's just too many things that need to get done, so it's time for an old carpenter to finally learn to work with metal. Advice here is very welcome.


Keep your fingers crossed for no big surprises and a nice refund from Uncle Sam.

First, some routine and a little more maintenance ...

  • Tranny oil and filter; may switch to synthetic. No flare and no problems so far. Like to keep it that way.
  • Engine oil and filter; definitely stay snythetic.
  • Front diff oil change; definitely going to snythetic.
  • Rear diff oil change; after finding the vent hose missing after I dug out of some mud, I figure this is a must-do (also, add a new vent hose that's clamped on). I'll likely listen to the good advice I got from a friend and add a trail-ready rear diff cover while I'm at it.
  • Transfer case oil change; added this to the list, since I have no idea if it's ever been done to a truck now at 103K.
  • Complete scraping, trimming, converting, priming and underbody painting; an annual tradition. Welcome to snow country.
  • Replace driver's door latch mechaism; won't unlock for the outside of with the electric button.
  • Repair rear door lock (stopped working, won't turn) and figure out why the bottom of the rear hatch door is rusting out.

Then some projects for fun ...

  • Rock sliders; hope these will put that MIG welder and me to the test. They will anchor to custom bolt-on brackets around frame, with 2x4 sliders and tube outers. I'll be copying a lot of way smarter people than me around here, no doubt.
  • Rear bumper tire mount; welder justification No. 2. Going to copy a lot of good work here and shoot for a swing out carrier to hold the spare 33, the Hi-Lift, a CB antenna and either two Jerry cans or a backup battery (not sure which right now).
  • Engine and tranny skidplate. Took a good dent in the tranny pan last year on the trail, so I'm going to see if I can figure out a way to get some flat steel between the front crossmember and the middle member where the tranny and t-bars anchor. Not sure how. Hopefully I can get creative. Might try to get an added crossmber in there to help (see below).
  • Front winch. Since I've already gotten myself stuck more than once, and plan on doing a good bit of solo wheeling, I'm not going to play around here. I'm planning on a Warn VR8000-s, bolted onto a Warn universal foot-down mount that I somehow tie between the frame rails in the front. I accept that there will be some cutting of the Tupperware nose. Hopefully I can be creative and clean about it.
  • Onboard air. I'm thinking of the VIAIR heavy duty onboard setup with the 2.5 gallon tank. Hoping I can fit them somewhere up underneath where there body lift and no spare tire offer some extra room. When the time comes, I'll be scouting ideas from everyone here, of course.
  • Front floodlight. Likely Rigid duallies mounter to the middle crossmember on the brush guard. (roof bar will have to wait for another round)
  • Decent gap guards. Just seems smart, especially if I can find a way to keep them away from the tires.
  • Tire repair kit for the trail. Likely the basic ARB kit
  • And some gmanpaint-inspired IFS upgrades:
    [*]Added from crossmember from Vegas Desert Fab; both for stiffening up the front and to help mount that plating I mentioned earlier.
    [*]Raybestos pro-grade inner and outer tie rods
    [*]Raybestos pro-grade upper control arms
    [*]Raybestos pro-grade lower ball joints

Toss in another half-inch of TT (by my calculation I still have about 3/4" left to use) and an alignment, and that should get it done for the year. Hopefully there'll be a little cash left over for some camping gear, and a little time to actually get some camping done, before that Thanksgiving deadline rolls around.

And yes, I'm laughing at me too. What the hell, might as well give it a shot.


Sounds like an ambitious list of mods. Looking forward to updates:chug:

Join the Elite Explorers for $20 each year.
Elite Explorer members see no advertisements, no banner ads, no double underlined links,.
Add an avatar, upload photo attachments, and more!