Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Wilco Off-Road's Hitchgate solves spare-tire, fuel issues; but presents installation hurdles

There is no law of physics, nature or probability that assures only one flat tire will occur in a day when traveling wildland roads.
Idaho, with two spare tires and extra gas.

That's why we carry two all-terrain spare tires, and recommend that our clients do so as well. Since we typically wander much farther than planned when inspecting new routing, we also carry several extra gallons of gasoline.

Getting one flat tire leaves you without a spare, unless the flat can be plugged in a roadside repair. If not, well, get a second flat and you're in trouble. And it does happen. Worse yet is that in rugged terrain, tires often are ruined by roadbed objects that leave unrepairable holes and sidewall cuts.

Over the years of doing both, however, a way to do so safely, conveniently and affordably (in relative terms) was elusive. We tried the roof rack, but you're talking about a 70-lb. tire and wheel. We put it in the cargo area, which devoured space where we needed it most. But we did not want to spend thousands of dollars on a permanently mounted, heavy-duty aftermarket rear bumper/wheel carrier suited to the purpose.

Then, as the 2017 backcountry-travel season got under way, we learned of the high-clearance version of Wilco Off-Road's Hitchgate SoloThe heavy-duty swing-out spare-tire carrier mounts conveniently into a rear trailer-hitch receiver. An internal wedge tightened inside the receiver keeps the carrier secure and wobble-free.

We purchased a Hitchgate Solo (retail is nearly $600 for the tire carrier alone, with options additional), assembled it and mounted it onto one of our three 4Runners, a 2005. (Central to the Hitchgate's appeal was the ability to move it between trucks if necessary.) We got a good-enough used tire at a local Big O; and a refurbished matching wheel on eBay.

As the season progressed, we tested it over hundreds of miles of often-rough backcountry use in the mountains of Idaho and Wyoming, and the canyons of southern Utah. We camped with it, accessed the cargo area repeatedly each day, and never found it awkward or cumbersome. It has not loosened, and it remains wobble-free.

The carrier's swingout arm allows easy access to the 4Runner's cargo area. A FuelpaX 3.5-gallon spare-fuel can (not prone to leaking, as are Rotopax cans) stays securely attached to the wheel carrier. (We don't carry a Hi-Lift jack, but a mount for one comes with the fuel-can attachment).

Extra fuel, spare tire, Trasharoo
It is necessary to relocate the license plate, as the extra spare tire conceals the plate in its stock placement. Wilco's optional license-plate mount, made of thick steel, was wounded but did survive contact with rocks and ledges.

Most who travel off-highway on four wheels will need a rear-mounted spare-tire carrier if their vehicle is equipped with oversize wheels and tires that will not fit in the stock spare-tire position. Our tires are close to stock size, so we retain a spare in the stock position. That was the source of one installation speed bump.

The long bolt that tightens the wedge inside the hitch receiver protruded into the stock-mounted spare tire. With oversize wheels and tires, there wouldn't be a tire there. In our case, there is. That required substantially shortening the bolt.

Wedge-tightening bolt had to be shortened.
The second installation issue occurred when we tightened the wedge that utilizes that same long bolt. Doing so nudged the hitch just enough inside the 4Runner's receiver to force the hitch-pin holes out of alignment. No matter what, we could not tighten the wedge as required, keep the holes aligned and slide in the hitch pin.
The swingarm keeps cargo access easy.

The solution (suggested by Wilco's helpful staff): a long threaded bolt that was slightly smaller in diameter than the hitch pin. Secured with lock nuts and thread locker, the setup has remained tight and secure since installation.

With a full season of continual and often hard use behind us, the Hitchgate Solo has impressed us. Its build quality, powder coating, easy of use and reliability make it the solution we've needed.

Oh yes ... So far we've needed neither the second spare nor the extra gasoline. Knock on wood ...

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