Towing, Tow Straps and Your Rear Member
By Ken Bond

Well, it's been a while since I've done a newsletter article, since my Virginia club in '95 to be exact, but here goes some quick and easy tips. For my first trick, it's time to hook up a tow strap. Most four wheeler have added a receiver type hitch to the back of their rigs, and this makes a great attachment point for a strap, just slide the strap in the receiver, insert the pin and your good to go, but it does have it's drawbacks.

The first is easy to fix with a little elbow grease. The steel used to make the receiver usually has some pretty sharp edges which can cut a strap in nothing flat. Simply taking a flat file and chamfering the inside edges can do wonders for strap longevity, don't forget to use a round file and take care of the inside corners as well. A quick shot of spray paint and your done, approximately 30 minutes total, and your strap will thank you.

What is the other drawback you ask? Well, a hitch is only as strong as its mounting points. On most jeeps, the rear bumper is just bolted to the rear cross member where the factory bumperettes were. At best, this is pretty flimsy, at worst, it's downright dangerous. I've seen Smittybuilt's finest ripped right off the back end. The rear cross member is only 1/8" thick, so it could use some beefing up. The easiest way to do this is to spread the load of the mounting points so that the bolts don't pull through which is the most common failure. Go get yourself some 1/4"x2" steel from your local hardware store. You don't need a whole lot, about 16" should do.

Now comes the hard part. If you don't have the proper power tools, grab a hacksaw and chop that steel up into pieces about 2 1/2" or 3" long, what ever will fit vertically in your cross member. Then using your cross member as a template, mark where to drill the mounting holes in your new plates. If I remember right, it is about a 1/2" hole, you might have to borrow a buddy's drill. When you have all the holes drilled, slap some paint on everything and start assembly. Bolt your rear bumper on and install your new plates on the inside of the cross member so that the cross member is sandwiched between the bumper and plates. This spreads out the load from and area the size of a bolt head to an area a couple inches square and is much stronger. This job could take a while, depending on how much time you spend cussing at the hack saw. While your back there, take a good look at your cross member to see if the bolt holes have already started to crack. If they have, it's time to find a buddy with a welder to repair the damage. While the welder is fired up, you might as well go ahead and replate the entire cross member with 1/4" steel for a bulletproof rear end.

What? you don't have a receiver hitch yet? Can't figure out how to mount tow hooks on the back of your jeep? Well, I've got a cheap and easy solution. Yes, you can build a bulletproof rear bumper with simple hand tools. Go back to the hardware store and get a chunk of 1/4"x4"x4" angle iron about 5' long. If the hardware guy says he doesn't have it, ask for some "brick lintel" (I think I spelled it right, it's used to support bricks over windows, doors, etc., when building walls).

When you get back home, clamp this hunk of steel to your rear cross member with some vice grips so you can mark where to drill the mounting holes. I prefer to mount the lip up, so that you have a flat surface at the top of the cross member. An easy way to mark the holes by the gas tank that you can't reach, is to use spray paint. Take the spray button and straw off of a WD-40 can and transplant it onto the paint can snake the straw into that tight spot and give it a squirt. Drill all eight holes, and bolt that sucker up, it will make it easier to do the rest later. Now you've got to take a trip to the auto parts store or Wal-mart, to buy a bolt on receiver hitch, for $20-$30. You'll need to trim the receiver to fit the inside of the angle iron, just don't trim off any of the mounting holes, and bolt on the hitch. You can also bolt on tow hooks etc. It's a good idea to trim off any corners at a 45 degree angle to make everything look good. I used a bumper like this for about 3 years until I built a new one and never managed to hurt it.

Send me an e-mail to let me know if these tips did you any good, if so, I've got more to come. Till next time, keep the shiny side up.