Sunday, 15 December 2013

Playing Dirty, Staying Clean

There's ordinary dirty, and there's Ba'kelalan dirty.
Does your car wash kit include a spade? Ah Ngiu's does.
This is a black truck. Pic courtesy of Vance Lee.

When you take a 4X4 out to play in the mud, it's going to get muddy. That's kind of obvious, don't you think? So, we've established that 4X4 people don't mind getting their cars dirty.
But there's dirty, and there's really dirty, really very dirty and then there's outright filthy. Ordinary dirty is fine, that's no worse than driving on any city road in Malaysia after it rains, and especially just after you've washed your beloved ride.
But out on the trail, things get really messy. There are many kinds of mud, of varying viscosity and consistency and colour. Some will stick to your door handles, and windscreen, and side windows, and side mirrors, and cling o your shoes when you step out. All this is OK, all part and parcel of offroading.
Then there's the mud that gets shoved into every nook and crevice underneath the car, coating the suspension, steering, propshafts, gearbox ... in short, everything. And there's mud that clogs up the wheels (or rims, if you prefer) which is great for taking photos of that tell your friends how tough the trip was and, by extension, how tough you are. They are also okay, until you get back on the tarmac and begin to drive at normal road speeds, at which point they may cause enough imbalance in your front wheels to cause varying degrees of vibration.
One of the most important factors that determine how well your4X4 vehicle progresses in rough terrain is the tyres. Generally speaking, the bigger the tyres, and the more aggressive the treads, the better your progress will be.
To fit bigger-than-standard tyres, you'd probably need a new set of wheels that have a more negative offset than standard, i.e., they place the tyres further from the car's body. Without this extra offset, chances are high that the front tyres will foul parts of the wheel arch or suspension components or other parts of the body work.
But the negative offset (relative to standard wheels) will likely push the outer edge of the tyres beyond the car's fenders or mudguards. If aftermarket fenders are not added to ensure the tyres are shielded, then they will throw up mud with every turn, and this mud will end up all over the sides of the car. If the tyres protrude enough, it does not take much dirty driving to have the entire sides, including the windows, completely caked with mud.
The problem then is you won't be able to see. The front windscreen will also get dirt but at least the wipers and washer jets can help keep it clean enough that there is visibility directly to the front but you may have zero visibility to either side. It's safe to say that this is not a safe situation to be in when negotiating difficult terrain.
Furthermore, it is also illegal to have tyres protrude beyond the car's bodywork so, while it may make your truck look mucho macho, it will also attract the unwelcome attention of the JPJ and possibly the police.
To avoid all these problems, the solution is to add wider fenders that sufficiently cover the tyres.
There are two main types available - the rigid or semi-rigid types that are specifically made for a particular vehicle. For example, a Land Cruiser owner will have to find the specific model of fender made for his particular model car, and it will be different from those for Ford Rangers, which are different from the type for Mitsubishi Tritons, and so on. These would usually be the best option if looks are important but they tend to be fairly expensive. Try checking the various accessory reatilers on the web to find out just how much.
A cheaper solution is generic flexible flares that are one type, suits all makes. I came across a Facebook post by Billy Chan advertising this type for sale, and followed up with the advertiser, Ambassador Industrial (M) Sdn Bhd, a Malaysian subsidiary of an Australian company. For further information on the product, shipping and pricing call Billy on 0193250187 or message him through Facebook.
Now, let's get technical. Their product is flexible fenders extensions made from EPDM rubber (ethylene propylene diene monomer). I have forgotten most of my high school chemistry so this is what wikipedia has to say about EPDM: a type of synthetic rubber, is an elastomer which is characterized by a wide range of applications.
The E refers to ethylene, P to propylene, D to diene and M refers to its classification in ASTM standard D-1418. The M class includes rubbers having a saturated chain of the polymethylene type. Dienes currently used in the manufacture of EPDM rubbers are dicyclopentadiene (DCPD), ethylidene norbornene (ENB), and vinyl norbornene (VNB).
The main advantage is that it is cheap and cheerful. An average 4X4 needs 6 metres of the material, and this costs less than RM200, inclusive of courier delivery (to Kuching, in my case). This sum is to cover all four corners.
Moving along, I placed an order and within a couple of days, had the product in my hands. They had several profiles available and I asked for two types because of my peculiar needs.
My Land Rover 110 Defender High Capacity Pick-up (HCPU) is different from most other vehicles in the fender department because it has cargo tub that's wider than the cabin, so it comes from the factory with front fender flares as standard, but none for the rear. If it had been left well alone to run on standard tyres and wheels, this arrangement would have been fine because the every part of all four tyres would be completely covered. But, as mentioned above ...
Pneumatic riveter, broad head rivets ...
Fitting was relatively straightforward, requiring basic DIY skills, a power drill and a riveter with some 35 to 36 rivets. I chose to get professional help because there's this friend who has all kinds of nifty tools, like a pneumatic (compressed air-powered) rivet gun which makes everything so much more effortless, and also a supply of special rivets with extra wide heads that mean washers are not needed.
Only when we had gone more than half way through did we realise something was not quite right, and the flares looked wrinkly. So, we got a couple of strips of 1.3mm aluminium plate and riveted them as support, and it worked a treat.
A bit crooked ... but sorted eventually.
Later, I found out from Ambassador that the fender flare type I was using, WF 100, had a small hole running along the outer edge that I was supposed to thread a steel wire through to stiffen it. Ah so. But it was already installed and shoving a wire through is definitely easier done before the rubber is bent to fit the flare. So if you are inspired by this post to try the flares, take note.
The finished fenders look good, and the last couple of rainy days have confirmed that they work well in their intended roles.
That is, they will stop your car getting dirty from mud and other gunk thrown up by your own tyres. They are not guaranteed to keep your car shiny clean because there are so many other sources and causes out there that can dirty your pride and joy.
How well they hold up to abuse in the rough stuff, we will know only by putting it to more tests, including the tests of time. Stay tuned for updates.

Photos here

Before ... wheel sticks out.

After ... all covered up.

There are several profiles and widths available, to suit various needs.