Sunday, December 18, 2011

'Tis the season..for helping others

Well, the holiday season is upon us, and I wanted to take this opportunity to stray from the usual off-road related topics to mention another important subject - helping others. Most folks are spending these days finalizing their holiday shopping, visiting with friends and relatives, and attending holiday parties. But there are many people out there who are not as fortunate as the rest of us, and the holiday spirit helps many of us spread the generosity and good-will we receive, to those who are less fortunate.

Dirty Parts was honored to be a sponsoring vendor for the 5th annual Toys 4 Tots event, which was held on December 11th and 12th,  at Camp Pendleton this year. Thanks to the involvement of several Marines on base with various off-road groups, we received permission to hold the event at Lake O'Neill on the base.This beautiful area is usually reserved for the families of troops stationed on the base, so the opportunity to camp overnight was a real treat. There were about 100 off-road equipped vehicles in attendance - from Pinzgauers, Jeeps, Landcruisers, and Sportmobiles, all gathering to help out under-privileged children celebrate the holidays in style.

The off-road community came together, in force, for the benefit of these kids , collecting an amazing 1,003 toys to distribute to those in need. Congratulations to Dave Druck, from the Adventure Duo, for putting together this successful event, and to all the other sponsors for their participation and contributions. A job well done, for a great cause.

I'm looking forward to seeing many more of my friends, customers, and off-road fanatics at next year's Toys 4 Tots event - you'll be glad you were there to help.

This weekend I had the opportunity to participate in another fantastic event, put on by another selfless organization - Operation Gratitude. This group was formed to provide care packages for all U.S. Troops overseas, and since it's origin, over 750,000 care packages have been packed and shipped to our men and women in the armed forces stationed all over the world. The folks at Operation Gratitude do an unbelievable job organizing the hundreds (actually thousands this weekend) of volunteers to pack up all sorts of donated goods into boxes, ready to ship out to our brave soldiers all over, in order to make them feel a little more of the holiday spirit we all celebrate at home. A very worthy cause, and an awesome event to attend and assist. Like most good causes, Operation Gratitude can always use more help, and more money. While the weekend volunteer packing sessions are on hiatus until next April, funds are desperately needed to cover the cost of postage to ship these good will care packages to military bases nationwide, for transfer overseas. It costs $15 per package to ship, so Operation Gratitude can use your help to cover this expense. For more information, go to OPERATION GRATITUDE . It's the least we can to for those who dedicate their lives to protecting our freedom here in the U.S.

Thank you for allowing me to divert from the usual off-road related topics to talk about these two terrific events.  I wish everyone a fantastic holiday season, and hope everyone gets the chance to spread the holiday spirit to someone less fortunate.

For updates on future off-road events, check out
on the Dirty Parts website (

Tuesday, November 29, 2011


Last run of the season on Miller Jeep Trail
Well, the summer season is over. It finally hit me at Thanksgiving. With the time change, is gets dark much earlier, and the temperature is heading down the scale day by day (well, it was in the 80s here in Southern California for the turkey weekend, but in general, it's getting colder). With fall in full force, holidays coming up, and winter quickly approaching, for many of us our off-road adventure focus changes. Instead of heading out almost every weekend, we have to work in trips around family events and weather extremes.

Replacing a drive axle after a failure on the trail
 With the change of seasons, we should remember to do all the maintenance on our rigs we might have been putting off during the busy summer months. Winter weather is much tougher on a vehicle, and and early darkness makes the thrill of trail repairs less enticing - so now is a great time to take inventory of your vehicle, and fix what needs to be fixed. Hoses, belts, lights, brakes, and tires are even more important to be in good working order when the ground gets wet and sunlight fades. If you keep spare parts stored in your rig, this is a good time to rotate them into use, and replace them with fresh stock for the next summer season.

Security Chain Company
For those who like to adventure out into the snow or mud, make sure you have tire chains on board, and that they are the proper size for you tires. I've seen many folks who had chains at the ready, only to realize that they up-sized their tires since last winter, and their current set won't work. Also make sure you have chains that are not just the right size, but the right style. Newer rigs, with independent suspensions, usually can't accommodate full chains - cable chains are necessary to clear mechanical parts and avoid a disaster. Here's a link to help you make sure you get the right size, and the right style for your vehicle - TIRE CHAINS

PIAA Wiper Blades
Another part often ignored until you need them are you windshield wipers.This is especially true in southern California, where the long dry season leaves the wipers unused. PIAA WIPERS tend to hold up better in the long hot desert-like environments, as their silicone construction is resistant to dry rot and deterioration from smog. They work well dry, to get the dust off the windshield, and even better in rain, where they are streak-free and quiet. Available for virtually every vehicle, I recommend installing PIAA Wiper blades before the next rainy "streak" 

Night runs in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park
Of course, those who know me, know one of my favorite topics is vehicle lighting - and the longer nights, and more dangerous conditions that winter brings makes your rig's lighting system even more important - both on the trail, and on the road.  I'll discuss lighting in more detail in my next blog post,. From upgrading your headlights, to adding auxiliary lighting for all types of road and trail situations, there are many choices in price ranges that should work in any budget.- so stay tuned for a detailed overview of vehicle lighting. For those who can't wait, you can check out all the major brands of lighting products - including PIAA, Hella, Rigid, KC Hilites, Acro, Eagle Eye, and Warn - on the DIRTY PARTS website.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

2011 OAUSA Borregofest, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, CA
The Anza-Borrego State Park is the largest state park in California. It encompasses an amazing expanse of desert wilderness, with many varieties of terrain, and it is one of my favorite areas to explore. No matter how many times I go, there is always a new area to explore, or an opportunity to re-explore  the changes to previously visited areas due to wind, rain, heat, erosion, and earthquake activity.

I recently attended the third annual Outdoor Adventure USA Borregofest, an event held in the Anza-Borrego State Park October 21-23 this year. Dirty Parts has been a sponsor of this event since its inception, and the OAUSA Borregofest is always a fantastic weekend for all who attend. There were trail runs throughout the Anza-Borrego desert wilderness, a soon-to-be world famous pot-luck feast, and demonstrations of the usefulness of ham radio as a means of trail and disaster communications.

Ricardo Beceda's "Ode to Off-Roaders" Jeep sculpture
Thanks to the work of the OAUSA staff, Diana and Lowell Lindsay, authors of the preeminent book on the Anza-Borrego area, gave a presentation telling the story of the amazing sheet metal sculptures of Ricardo Breceda, a series of unique art works found throughout the nearby Borrego Springs area. After a weekend exploring the trails throughout the park and wilderness areas, it was relaxing change to tour Borrego Springs checking out the sculptures before finally heading home.

On the dusty trail towards Diablo Drop-Off

Preparation for trails in the desert is important – the weather can be unforgiving, and it is easy to become disoriented in the miles of dusty trails. Plenty of water is important, as well as a means of communication in case of emergency. CB radios have been the norm for off-road enthusiasts for many years, but the short range and dubious clarity of CB transmissions prevent it from helping other than vehicle to vehicle communications. Amateur radio (ham) is fast becoming the go-to means of communications on the trail, as it has far greater range, and substantially better sound quality than CB. Many off road clubs are now using ham radio, and groups like Outdoor Adventure USA are offering testing sessions for those looking to acquire or upgrade their amateur radio license.

Trailhead Deflators
It is also important to minimize damage to your tires and vehicle when traveling over desert terrain. Airing down the tire pressure can make for a softer ride, give you a larger tire footprint for traction in loose sand, and reduce damage to tires and suspension from the moguls and rutted sandy washes when going faster than a crawl. I suggest carrying a set of tire deflators, such as those made by Trailhead Deflators or Staun Products. The deflators allow you to decrease tire pressure to a preset pressure quickly, and let you deflate all 4 tires at the same time while continuing on your way. This method is much easier, and less time-consuming, than trying to deflate each tire by hand. 

Power Tank CO2 System
Of course, it is equally important to re-inflate your tires before hitting the pavement.  Having an air compressor or liquid CO2 tank to re-inflate your tires is a must – driving on pavement with underinflated tires can cause permanent damage to your tires, and possible blowouts on the road.  Many styles of air compressors, from companies including ARB, Viair, and Superflow, are available – portable units than clamp to your battery and can be moved from vehicle to vehicle, as well as permanent mount models that are always ready to go.  CO2 tanks, such as the Power Tank systems, generally offer faster inflation times, and the ability to run air tools for repairs. They run cooler, and require no electricity, but do need to be refilled regularly if you hit the trails often. 

ARB Air Compressor
Most popular electric air compressors are always ready to use, but tend to have longer fill times, and can overheat from constant use, requiring a “rest” period before continuing.  A third alternative, although it is the most expensive, and most complex to install, is an engine-driven air compressor system. These units give you the best of both worlds, but at a premium price, and due to their space requirements, cannot be fitted in all vehicles.

Heading down the Diablo Drop Off
Whichever method you choose, your desert off-road experience will be better when prepared with plenty of water, a means of emergency communication, and with time and equipment-saving devices at hand. Tire deflators, and a compressor or CO2 tank system, should be among the equipment on your vehicle before you hit the trails…(Of course, all of these components are available from Dirty Parts –

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Welcome to "Down and Dirty", with Larry Bernstein

Hello !!!

Lockwood Valley Trail, Los Padres National Forest
I’m Larry, the owner of  Dirty Parts, and an avid off-roader for over 25 years.   It was suggested that I start this blog as a way to open an informal conversation about off-road vehicles, parts, services, and adventures.  Those who know me will know I like to talk, so I thought “why not?”.

I still work full-time at Dirty Parts (actually more than that), and enjoy spending time with my family, as well as off-roading, so this blog probably won’t be monitored or revised on daily basis. My initial plan is to post at least weekly, and to answer your questions and comments to the best of my ability, as quickly as possible. (If you have an urgent question, call Dirty Parts at (310) 390-9086 during store hours, or email us at

Cleghorn Trail, San Bernadino Forest
My current vehicle is a 2007 FJ Cruiser, modified to accommodate my interest in expedition-style off-road adventures. I’ve owned several Landcruisers, and other 4WD vehicles over the years, and have spent time on all different types of trails and terrain; but I prefer a more leisurely off-road experience now, where the road is a means to an end, instead of the entire journey. Maybe it’s age, experience, or just the desire to come home in one piece (having kids can do that to you), but my focus now is about the amazing areas you can see with the help of a well-equipped rig. Don’t get me wrong - I still enjoy a challenging trail, and I’m not immune to damaging or breaking stuff when off the beaten path, but it’s no longer the only reason I wheel. I seem to appreciate the history and the beauty of the areas I transverse more than I did when I was much younger, and I look forward to revisiting many areas I took for granted in the past.

The FJ "Hilton" in the East Mojave Desert
Buck Rock Trail, Sequoia National Forest
Being based in Southern California, much of the area we see is desert; although we do  have a great diversity of terrain and weather seen in few other places on earth. Recently, I went on a trip with a few good friends to the Sequoia National Forest, home of some of the tallest trees on the planet, as well as stunning mountain views that stretched out for nearly 100 miles in every direction. It was absolutely awe-inspiring, and a complete change from the usual barren desert regions. Our roster included a 4th Gen 4Runner, a pair of  Hummer H2s, and a trio of FJ Cruisers, including one pulling an Adventure Trailer. We camped in an area called Buck Rock, and the trail leading to our chosen campsite was a black-diamond rated trail, making the 10+ mile run to camp one that kept you awake. Once there, we settled in to some fabulous meals, great conversation, and a good night’s sleep (despite the bear cub’s visit late at night). We checked out some of the local sites, played around with HF radios during the night (we are all avid Ham Radio operators –more on that in later posts), and felt invigorated by the crisp, clean air at 9000 feet. After four days in the mountains of Central California, I had a new appreciation for the mountains, and the different challenges it presents to the off-road enthusiast. Navigating through trees, off-camber slick-rock, and moist mulchy ground requires using a skill set distinctive from that speeding over desert sand moguls and sharp brush. 

All in all a great trip, and I look forward to returning to that area again soon. (Oh, and my wife will kill me if I don't mention ).