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Spare Parts: Death Valley & The Rubicon Spare Parts: Death Valley & The Rubicon
Editor’s Note: A special addition from Tom Severin On my way to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, my vehicle just plain died... Spare Parts: Death Valley & The Rubicon

Editor’s Note: A special addition from Tom Severin

On my way to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, my vehicle just plain died as I bottomed out from the entrance ramp to I-15. I had just fueled up in Vegas. As I coasted to the shoulder, I contemplated my options – see if I could find the problem and fix it or walk back up the entrance ramp for help (no cell phone at the time).

After a quick fuel and spark analysis indicated no spark, I opened the distributor cap (old school). The metal contact that is pop riveted on the top of the rotor was lying in the bottom of the distributor. I had the solution with me – a used rotor from a previous tune up. When I pulled into St. George, Utah, I purchased a new rotor and for good measure a second one. I figured the used one was already on its second life.

This is a follow-up to last month’s column, Common Breakdowns. Successfully fixing a breakdown requires the parts or equipment to do so. In the lists that follow we review the most important spare parts to carry.

I chose two destinations for this article. A client asked about spare parts for a trip to Death Valley National Park and asked to contrast that for a trip on the Rubicon Trail. I have tried to highlight the difference, but I have a problem. I prefer to take every spare part every time.

Death Valley’s challenge is miles and miles of extreme washboard road. The back country is a long way from help in extreme temperatures with no cell service and no ham radio repeaters. Death Valley will find the vibration weakness of everything. It can vibrate a nut off a shock and the Schrader valve out of a valve stem.

The Rubicon Trail is miles of hardcore rock crawling in an extremely remote location with no services (fuel, parts, lodging, food) and no cell service. However, there is now a ham radio repeater accessible on the trail. It is not uncommon to break a front axle, mash a tail pipe, damage a drive shaft and break U-joints. The trail will find any weakness in your vehicle. The remoteness of the Rubicon adds to its challenge. If parts are needed, it could take two days – one day each way – to buy replacements.

Whenever you travel to such a location, make sure you’re fully stocked in important parts and gear. If you travel frequently by yourself, lean toward the “Rubicon Model” of taking all the parts to be self-sufficient.

Critical parts

Critical parts are those for which there are no work-arounds. If that part fails, you’re stuck.

Critical parts for the Rubicon include manifold absolute pressure (MAP) sensor, throttle position sensor, crankshaft position sensor, fuel pump, and coil/coil pack. If you drive an automatic transmission vehicle, include a starter motor.

For Death Valley, you might consider taking the starter motor. It is possible to be towed out or have someone run into town for parts. But a round trip to the store could take two to three hours. Do you want to lose that much valuable drive time?

It really goes back to maintenance. If you have an older vehicle, and the crankshaft position senor hasn’t been replaced in a long time, have a new one installed before departing. You also might want to pack some of the items listed for the Rubicon.


Tires are the number one problem in Death Valley. Probably for the Rubicon, too. The following applies to both locations.

You need a full-size spare. If your vehicle doesn’t come equipped with one, buy it.

As for parts, you’ll need:

– Plug kit with extra valve stems and valve caps. A good alternative, though more expensive, is a package of Colby valve stems.

– Tire gauge and tire deflator

– Air compressor with hose

– Extra lug nuts. Get rid of the original lug nut key, or pack two of them. You cannot afford to lose that key.

– Lug wrench, 4-way valve tool

– Extra wheel studs. Three or four is enough.

– Rags for clean up

Fasteners and sealants

Fasteners and ties are all-purpose gear. They have so many uses while off road. Carry these whenever you’re four-wheeling, not just Death Valley and Rubicon.

– Zip ties, rope, ratchet straps, baling wire, cable ties, duct tape and bag of bolts (metric and SAE, includes washers and nuts)

– Muffler clamps

– Epoxy (J-B Weld, for example)

–  Rescue tape


Fluids are essential for all 4WD trips. Make sure you have these in your vehicle.

– Motor oil, gear oil, brake fluid, ATF, power steering fluid, WD-40 (preferred over silicone spray) and waterless hand cleaner (such as Fast Orange or Goop). Buy the tube variety to save space. I don’t recommend hand sanitizer for greasy hands. It doesn’t work and just makes a mess.

– Coolant (though water can be used in an emergency)

I also recommend you pack Loctite ViperLube (a synthetic grease) and RTV silicone adhesive (black 598). Both are available in convenient tube size.

You might need a little dab of grease for something; say, around bushings or joints.

The silicone comes in handy if you need to remove the differential cover. Scrape off the old gasket and apply a bead of RTV silicone. It’s so durable, you won’t need to install a gasket later.

Hoses and hose clamps

Carry a selection of different size hoses and hose clamps. Important for both destinations.

– Hoses (fuel, heater, vacuum, brake). 1’ to 2’ long each is sufficient.

– Splices: short metal tubes that fit inside a hose; fastened with hose clamps

– Vacuum hose tees

– ARB relay, if vehicle is equipped with ARB locker

– ARB blue line: extra piece to splice in; splicing kit. ARB converted from the blue hose (5mm) to the black hose (6mm) a while back. The old splice kit does not work with the new diameter hose.

– An easy way to pack hose clamps is on the new lengths of hose. They pack better and take up less space. Another alternative is to double clamp all the hoses under the hood. Then you have extra clamps when needed.


These should be carried on every trip:

– 5 gallons of extra gas (minimum), along with a siphon and/or filler spout.

Consider packing an extra gas cap if the tether for yours is broken. There’s always a possibility of leaving the cap at a gas station. Along with check engine warnings, fuel will leak out when off-camber. No locking gas caps on the trail! Out of gas and no key is a problem.

If your vehicle insists on having premium fuel and you have not weaned it off, carry a few bottles of octane booster. Many rural stations carry only 87 octane and diesel.

Cooling system

This list is short, because some parts are in other categories. These parts should be packed for both destinations.

– Alum-a-Seal and idler pulley (inexpensive and easy to pack)

– Water pump: Take one along for the Rubicon Trail, especially for an older vehicle.

– The Rubicon is ideal place to have a spare serpentine belt, spare V belts for other accessories, and both upper and lower radiator hoses. They do not need to be new. Save the ones from the last maintenance project. However, there is at least the probability that you can save a radiator hose with use of the rescue tape.


All of these parts are small and useful. Pack for both locations.

-Electrical tape, fuses (mini and maxi; regular blade), some wire in 14 gauge and 16-gauge, crimp-style splices, and two or three used spark plugs.

Spark plugs are handy in case you break one while on the trail. Recall that if a vehicle rolls over, you must blow the oil out of the pistons. There’s a chance that a spark plug could be damaged or broken if in a rush to remove it or you have  incompetent help.

If your plugs are being changed on any schedule, keep two or three used ones in a box.

On an older vehicle that still has a distributor and spark plug wire, save two or three of the longest wires and the used rotor next time you tune it up.  It is up to you if you want / have space for a rotor cap – perhaps only on the Rubicon.

Hard parts

What’s left is a bit of a catch-all. These are most important for the Rubicon and any punishing trail.

– U-joints, axles, tie rods, and drive shaft (used ones are ok to take along).


Storage of spare parts is always a challenge. You might find places in the engine compartment. If so, consider the impact of heat on the life of the spare part.  The engine bay is not a good spot for spare fan belts, coils and fluids. Fluids are best stored in plastic boxes to keep unplanned spills contained. I tape the tops of brand-new bottles and put them in a zip lock bags before putting them in a plastic box. The rigors of off-road have opened more than one bottle. Bottles opened on the trail, even if only partially used, are replaced and do not go again.

Tie rods, spare axles, and drive shafts can be zip tied to roll bars and bumpers for the duration of the Rubicon trip. Make sure they are protected from dust, dirt, and being smashed.

It is helpful if you make a list of spare parts and where you stored them. It can be a paper in the glove box or a list on the box pack in.

Packing spare parts is time well spent. You literally can save time by having the part(s) with you should you encounter a breakdown while four-wheeling. In addition, you can drive more comfortably knowing you’re carrying replacement parts should one be needed.


I hope to see you on the trails!
Tom Severin, President Badlands Off Road Adventures, Inc.
4-Wheel Drive School

Tom Severin

Tom Severin is an International 4-Wheel Drive Trainers Association© certified professional 4WD Trainer and a Wilderness First Responder (WFR), and President, Badlands Off Road Adventures.