HikerXJ's '96 XJ Country (a family heirloom of sorts) - JeepForum.com
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post #1 of 68 Old 12-10-2010, 07:11 PM Thread Starter
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HikerXJ's '96 XJ Country (a family heirloom of sorts)

Thus begins my own slow and tedious build thread on what Iíve come to refer to the XJ as Ė the family heirloom.

Father and Son Jeeps. Seeing this always makes me smile.

My father bought it new in í96 (I still have the sticker somewhere), and took meticulous care of it until he passed away in í04. I had a capable TJ at the time, but asked my Mom if I could buy the XJ from her when she was ready to part with it. Eventually, she did, under the condition that I keep it as long as I could keep it running, or at least trade it for another Jeep should the need ever arise. Deal. So, for awhile I was the proud owner of 2 Jeeps. My garage was looking pretty cool back thenÖ

It's important for me to point out (so you, the reader, are aware of my intentions) that this XJ is a DD and occasional off-road wanderer. So, the mods will be mild. I prefer more of an "expedition" approach to the mods. A rock hound or a mud bogger this XJ will never be...

Stock specs:
1996 Jeep Cherokee Country w/tow package
4.0L I6
Auto w/trans cooler
NP231 Transfer Case
Dana 30 front (3.73)
Dana 35 rear (3.73 w/LSD)

Planned Mods (generally speaking):

New tires
New/upgraded brakes
2-4Ē lift
JKS Quick Disconnects
Blue Optima battery
Skid plates (lots of them)
Rocker protection
Front D-ring recovery points
Rear D-ring recovery point (on the hitch)
Front traction aid (i.e. lunchbox locker)
And more... There's always more.

I've also done some misc repairs over the last few years which don't really warrant much attention other than what a pain some were:

Rear axle rebuild ($$$)

Dad had installed some 235s on it when he wore out the stock tires, but it only took 1 winter for me to decide those "racing slicks" had to go, and some meaty BFG AT KOs were installed. I had to stick with the 235 size since there was no lift on it yet, and the rear was sagging pretty badly.

Ah, 2 Jeeps.

But, life happened and changes were afoot (kids). So off went my wifeís Civic and the TJ for a new Honda Odyssey minivan, and the XJ modifications began.

Like a lot of XJ owners, it always seemed to me that the Cherokee should have come from the factory with a little more height. Those 235s fit well enough, but any kind of wheeling was likely to result in some rubbing where rubbing should not occur. So, after several months of weighing the options I decided to do a cheap BB just to see what it looked like and how it performed under some mild wheeling. With the TJ I learned the hard way that once you change the driveline angles, itís a never ending battle of adjusting this, changing that, all the while trying not to spend a fortune in the process.

Lucky for me I had some help with the budget boost.

Okay, so he wasn't helping with the lift itself, but in spirit.

Let me jump backwards in time for a moment. I had always wished I could have taken my Dad along on one of my Jeep trips, but timing just never worked out (he was in and out of the hospital a lot). So, I vowed to make sure my kids got a chance to experience life in a Jeep on a trail, with the top off, or just having some fun. Owen has been around Jeeps since before his 2nd birthday, and seems to love everything about them

Shortly before his 3rd birthday:

Later you'll see him as a 7 year old veteran of the Jeep lifestyle.

Anyway, I digress...

Yes, thatís a 2Ē block under that spring (see the XJ pick a ways back up)Ö Not an ideal way to lift the Jeep, but for daily driving and the very occasional trip off road, it worked well.

The BB was a 2Ē spring spacer up front, and the 2Ē block out back. I did not use the existing spring isolator on the front as I knew the back was sagging enough that the extra 1/2" up front might be noticeable.

I ditched the rear swaybar, installed some JKS disconnects up front, and called it a day. Well, it took a couple of days, but you know what I meanÖ

Ah, now that's better.

Next up: Why my wife never wants to drive my XJ again, and prepping for it's first off road outing. Stay tuned...

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post #2 of 68 Old 12-10-2010, 07:59 PM Thread Starter
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I had yet to hit a trail, but my wife borrowed the Jeep while we were getting the van serviced (I rode the motorcycle that day to work), and bumped into a parking pole in her work parking lot while backing out of the space.

To have a body shop try and straighten it would have been about $200. To replace the fender and parts of the flare, they quoted me almost $900.


I decided the dent adds a little character to the XJ. I installed a new bumper endcap after cleaning up the area really well and called it a day. Iíd like to add the other endcap but to get it off seems to require removing the bumper. Iím thinking about painting the whole bumper black just to match the black endcaps. See how easy it is to let a little thing spin out of control?!?

In fairness to my wife, Iíve since hit a tree hard enough to have dented the fender anyway, had the dent not already been there. So, in the grand scheme of things Iím not complaining.

Having done a few Jeep Jamborees in the past, I decided to prep the XJ for the 2008 French Lick JJUSA in southern Indiana coming in October. First step: Rusty's engine/transmission skid:

Sorry, that's about the best pic I have of the skid right now. As you can see, it's come in handy more than once.

Also upgraded to an Optima Blue top:

Installed some front recovery points ordered from Hi Country Offroad. I preferred d-rings to upside down hooks, and so far these have been great:

(Another bad pic taken well after the install)

And of course the rear:

Trail communication is a must. In the TJ I used a portable setup, and never really liked it all that well. So, I decided on a cheap Cobra and radio shack mag-mount.

With that, we were ready for the 2008 French Lick JJUSA.

Next up: A few pictures from the event, and yet more mods.

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post #3 of 68 Old 12-10-2010, 08:29 PM Thread Starter
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Below are a few pics from the 2008 French Lick (Indiana) Jeep Jamboree. This was Owen's 1st Jamboree, my 3rd (but first in this Jeep). We opted for the stock group that was somewhat family friendly (several kids were in our group, which gave Owen kids to play with during the inevitable downtime). I'm glad we did - we had a great time with no damage.

That wouldn't always be the case...

We have mud!

The following are the only 3 pictures I have of me "in action". A future goal of mine would be to teach Owen how to take pictures.

Not sure why the quality of the following video has gotten bad, but it's on an old, unused YT account that I no longer maintain.

YouTube - 2008 French Lick Jeep Jamboree

We had a great time and met a lot of really nice people.

I have many more pics and vids from that event here, if you're curious.

I have to admit I was extremely impressed with how well the XJ performed. It's not that I doubted it, but all my wheeling experience comes from CJs, YJs, and TJs. There may be something to this XJ thing after all!

Next up: My lift "experiment" worked well, so let's invest in a "real" lift: OME 2". Stay tuned.

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post #4 of 68 Old 12-10-2010, 09:18 PM
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I like how organized everything is. You have a very nice looking/capable Jeep. Keep the updates coming!

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post #5 of 68 Old 12-10-2010, 11:08 PM
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post #6 of 68 Old 12-11-2010, 05:46 AM Thread Starter
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Originally Posted by MCObray View Post
I like how organized everything is. You have a very nice looking/capable Jeep. Keep the updates coming!
Thanks! I've been mentally putting this thread together for the last couple of years, but never seem to get around to finally writing it all down. It's funny how you look back and wonder why you didn't take more pictures of this install or that upgrade. Oh well... It's a fun process.

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post #7 of 68 Old 12-11-2010, 06:29 AM Thread Starter
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On tap: Old Man Emu (OME) 2Ē lift.

I contemplated buying it and installing it myself, since I lifted my TJ on my own. But, given the amount of rust under the Jeep and this being my daily driver (motorcycle is now gone), I couldn't afford to be without it for more than a day or so.

I ended up ordering it from 4WheelParts in Indy. What I didnít realize then, but now know, is that the lift comes in multiple levels Ė light duty, medium duty, and heavy duty. By default the shop ordered the light duty. Had I known the different options available, I would have probably gone with at least the medium duty. Light duty is meant to replace whatever you had with a little lift, but itís supposed to ride really well. It does.

The night before the install my wife, kids, and I headed down to Indy in 2 separate vehicles and dropped off the Jeep. The next day a buddy of mine and I went mountain biking in nearby New Castle (Westwood MTB trail, for those familiar with the area), and then had him drop me off that afternoon to pick it up. A bit of a hassle, but it worked.

After the install, I netted about 1.75Ē over stock.

From what I understand the install went pretty well, save for some issues with getting the old rear shocks out.

They installed the transfer case drop, but for what I got out of the lift, I didn't think there was much need for it. So, I tried it with no spacers.

Crap, vibes.

So, I found some old brackets I had laying around, cut and drilled them, then put them in place of the previous spacers.

There, that's better. No vibes.

My experience with 4 Wheel Parts in Indy was a pretty good one, save for them assuming which level of the lift I wanted. It bugs me a little that they wouldn't ask which level I was interested in when they had to choose which one to order. However, it was my ignorance to blame in the end, not theirs.

So, the moral of the story is - DO YOUR RESEARCH!

With the new lift we were basically ready for the 2009 French Lick Jeep Jamboree, which was still a ways away. I didnít change much beyond the suspension between the 2 Jamborees, other than some minor stuff (the short CB antenna, for example).

I don't remember where I got it, but it was pretty inexpensive (again, the old adage applies), and while it serves the purpose of short range trail communication (without getting knocked off by every low hanging branch) it's no distance winner either.

It didn't come with any instructions on tuning either. Turns out there are 2 washer-like things that you adjust and tighten together after you get a reasonable SWR. I was able to get it down to about 1.5 or so. Not bad.

I should also mention that the CB I have is probably the most budget one you'll ever find. It came from Walmart, and was maybe $30. You know the saying "you get what you pay for"? Yeah, that's true here too.

I forgot to mention that at the '08 French Lick JJUSA my mic failed on me, so pretty much no one could hear what I was saying (garbled). Ever the boy scout, I had my handheld backup from my old TJ and hooked it up to the antenna, then used it for the weekend. A bit cumbersome, but it worked.

I ended up replacing the mic and the Cobra seemed to work fine afterward, but I'm planning to upgrade it one of these days to a higher quality radio. I've also thought about figuring out a way to use my old 3' Firestik antenna I have left over from my CJ and TJ. Honestly the coax running from the mag mount into the Jeep gets in the way a lot, especially loading and unloading kids. A future project...

Next up: 2009 French Lick Jeep Jamboree.

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post #8 of 68 Old 12-11-2010, 07:30 AM
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Looks like a project your father can be very proud of. I love stock-looking XJ's (unless they're chopped ). I hope I can get my '90 up to par with this some day. But it's certainly got a ways to go!

How many miles did it have when you picked it up and now has?

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post #9 of 68 Old 12-11-2010, 11:14 AM Thread Starter
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Time for the 2009 French Lick Jeep Jamboree! The previous year was dry and sunny. This year (2009) we had record rains leading up to the event, and I had planned to camp on the property. At the last minute I made some reservations to stay at a local motel. Glad I did - it was VERY rainy and muddy!!!

As always, my Jeep adventures are a family affair:

Owen would end up being the official "mud remover". He spent a lot of time picking the mud off piece by piece. Hey, it made him happy.

Owen's getting a little better with taking pictures, but unfortunately I didn't have any of me "in action". A few here and there when we stopped.

Seems like I'm always the shortest one around:

That very capable yellow TJ would be Zakman, who we ended up following around for most of the event (check out his build). Great guy and I look forward to wheeling with him again in '11.

I have trip report here, including more pictures and videos.

There was an obstacle Iíd been wanting to try (Randyís Ravine), but just didnít feel like I had the right protection underneath to attempt, so I decided that for our next Jamboree (1st Badlands Jeep Jamboree in Attica, Indiana) Iíd armor up a little more. That didnít stop one brave soul in a STOCK Grand Cherokee from trying it in í08:

He made it down just fine (gravity being what it is), but got stuck while trying to go back up. "A+" for effort though.

Up next: The XJ starts showing her age...

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post #10 of 68 Old 12-11-2010, 11:21 AM Thread Starter
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Originally Posted by uRabbit View Post
Looks like a project your father can be very proud of. I love stock-looking XJ's (unless they're chopped ). I hope I can get my '90 up to par with this some day. But it's certainly got a ways to go!

How many miles did it have when you picked it up and now has?
Thanks, I appreciate that. I'd like to think he'd approve (other than the scratches).

I think it had less than 100k on the odo when I got it. Not sure - I'll have to look at the title to be sure. Almost 140k now. By far, the last 40k have been the roughest... I take good care of it, but a couple of times a year we hit the trails and I end up banging it around a little. Mostly this past year at the Badlands JJUSA.

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post #11 of 68 Old 12-11-2010, 11:47 AM Thread Starter
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Last December I started to get a horrible sound from my rear axle, and had a local mechanic take a look at it. Needed new bearings all around.


Couldnít have picked a worse time to fail so I had them go ahead and replace them all. They also did some brake work on the rear as well.

A few months later, my passenger side front steering knuckle u-joint failed.

Replaced that too.

Not a fan of spending money on things that aren't mods. Something tells me I need to get used to that...

By now I had decided to sign up for the 1st Badlands Jeep Jamboree. I'd been to the Badlands many years ago in my CJ, but not recently (or in the TJ). I figured it was time to armor up a little more based on pics and stories from others.

Since my transfer case was pretty exposed, I ordered an Appalachian Armor transfer case skid. Iím not sure you can beat the value of this skid Ė price vs. coverage. Iíd have loved to get the full width coverage JCR skid but it was a bit beyond my budget (realizing I had several other things I wanted to install, not to mention having to do some fairly costly maintenance lately).

Continuing with the "family affair" theme, Owen decided to help with the paint and install.

First we prep:

Then we spray the base coat:

Then I hit it with a couple of final coats. Looks good - but not for long.

And installed:

I really like the coverage it gives. I had to be a little creative given that it's not exactly designed to work perfectly with the Rusty's engine/trans skid, but it works.

Iíd been thinking hard about adding a front locker, knowing that eventually Iím going to need some extra help as I get into more complicated trails. However, Iíd seen pictures of XJs and WJs at the Badlands and saw how often they relied on their rocker protection, especially with as little lift as I had. So, I called AJís Offroad Armor and ordered a set of his Super RockRails.

Unfortunately, complications in his schedule kept me from getting them in time for the Jamboree, so I didn't get them until after the event. Oh well...

Next up: 2010 Badlands Jeep Jamboree. Also, how a $200 skid plate ends up costing over $1000.

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post #12 of 68 Old 12-11-2010, 03:12 PM
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Looks like a fun family ride, I like where this is headed.

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post #13 of 68 Old 12-11-2010, 07:34 PM Thread Starter
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Ready for the 2010 Badlands Jeep Jamboree!

In the months leading up to the event, several locals questioned why anyone would sign up and pay a premium to attend the 1st Badlands Jeep Jamboree when 1) you could tour the park for much less than the JJUSA price, and 2) the park was still open to the public. Well, I admit I was a little curious, so I emailed the organization and learned that much, if not most of it, was going to be held on nearby private land. Alrighty then.

Here we are with what would end up being the shortest (height) Jeep on the trip - my '96 XJ with barely 2" of lift and BFG AT KOs (235s). I have engine, transmission, and transfer case skids. I had rocker protection on order and was hoping to have them by the jamboree, but conflicting schedules meant that the rocker protection wouldn't arrive until sometime the week after. Only missing one thing - a gas tank skid. That would come back to haunt me...

What seems to be a recurring theme, I still don't have any shots of me "in action", but I have several when we stopped. Maybe when Owen's 12 I might get some good action shots (though he really enjoys riding).

They say the third time's a charm, and sometimes that isn't a good thing... This would be the 3rd Jamboree for the XJ, and it's the one I incurred the most damage, serious and superficial.

Because the conditions were so muddy, some of the easy downhills became near treacherous. As you can see, I tweaked my lower left front a little.

I also got stuck and pulled out more this time than all of my previous Jamborees combined. Oh well, it had to happen.

Below are some videos of the fun we had.

This first one was one of the most frustrating. If given the chance I think I might have been able to climb out of it, but we had so many Jeeps in our group that it was pretty much try, fail, get pulled. Rinse and repeat.

You'll also notice a point where my right rear came down on a rock. Got a nice dent with that one.

YouTube - 2010 Badlands Jeep Jamboree - XJ Stuck

This one seems tame, but you have to remember how muddy and slick it was. Still, the BFG AT KOs did great for what they are.

YouTube - 2010 Badlands Jeep Jamboree - XJ up a muddy hill

I've got more pictures and videos at the trip report I typed up shortly afterward.

Needless to say, I was again impressed with how well the XJ did compared to all the other Jeeps there. Not that I did better than anyone, but for the most part I kept up. I could really use that front locker...

On day 2, in the afternoon, probably less than an hour or so from the end of the event, guess what comes back to haunt me? No gas tank skid plkate.

While headed down a short creek section, I somehow slipped off a rock during the climb out of the creek and hit the gas tank "cover" just hard enough to put a small, yet catastrophic hole in the tank.

Well, crap.

I'd actually considered a gas tank skid prior to the event but figured I could put it off a little while longer. I mean, jeez, $200+ is a lot of money when you're on a budget.

Man, that came back to haunt me in a big way...

Given the concern by the trail guides that the leaking gas might hit the exhaust (or worse), I got a tow out of the woods and back to the park office area.

Owen's exact words: "Yeah, it's leaking pretty bad."

So, I left it with the capable guys at the Badlands shop and had them order a new gas tank, sending unit, etc etc etc. I also had them pull off the hitch since I knew those bolts would be rusted and a pain to get off. Why? So I could put on that stinking gas tank skid I now needed to buy. Not going through this again...

So, between the parts, work, and new Skid Row gas tank skid, trying to put off spending $200 ended up costing me over a grand. Yeah:

So, let's get that gas tank skid on!

Next up: Installing the gas tank skid. And a reminder that "1 step forward, 2 steps back" is a really annoying saying.

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post #14 of 68 Old 12-11-2010, 08:25 PM Thread Starter
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Gas tank skid install!

I purchased a Skid Row gas tank skid plate from Jeepin Outfitters, along with a few other things mentioned below.

So, in theory removing the rear bumper is a lot easier than it is in real life. Man what a pain! I needed to remove it so I could get the old nut strips out (what the hitch and skid bolt to), and then slip the new ones in (purchased from JCR).

Successful bumper removal:

Take a look at the old nut strips:

And the new ones:

Old one slips out, new one slips in. Who knew this would be the easiest part? Okay, probably obvious that it was.

Now time to assemble the skid. Oh Owen!!! Where are you?!?!?

"Hey Daddy? Can I help?" One of these days you can...

Finally, Owen comes in from playing. And he wants to help. He's actially pretty good with a socket wrench, but not so good at reading instructions.

Okay, really it was me that put the bolts on in the wrong direction. Here he is fixing it for me (for those of you with sharp eyes you'll see that the ones he's working on should have the nuts on the outside).

Once bolted together, we put the skid up into place with jack stands, then lined up the hitch. Then bolt it up, right? Ha! It's never that easy.


The bumper was only slightly easier to reinstall than it was to remove, but I was happy when it was done. Figures I'd forget to take any pictures of that process.

So, about that "1 step forward. 2 steps back" thing...

The exhaust hanger had obviously seen better days, and had rusted to the point where I wasn't able to reuse it. So, I decided to make one up with some old brackets I had laying around.

It seemed like a good idea at the time, but the exhaust hung just in the wrong place to rattle against the skid. Or the leaf spring. It just depended on the day... Wow, what an annoying rattle.

So I bent it back and forth until I got it just right. Just right for a week or so, then it would rattle again. Time to get the real hanger. So I did. That seemed to take care of it. Until...

So, what's the second step back?

Remember way back when I said I ended up with the light duty OME kit? Weeeeeelllllll, apparently the skid is pretty heavy, enough to cause the rear to noticeably sag. Here we go again - I just got rid of the sagging rear!

When I got the skid I also ordered a set of OME add-a-leaves. This is really starting to add up. I figured while I'm at it, let's replace the shackles too. They're pretty rusted, but still seem to hold the right angle. Added to the order a set of JKS 1" shackles.

I drove around with the rear end sagging just a bit until I could find the time to install the AALs.

So, next up: the AALs. But in this case, it was 1 step forward, another one back. Only 1.

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post #15 of 68 Old 12-13-2010, 02:13 PM Thread Starter
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As mentioned before, I needed to give the rear end a little boost now that I have the gas tank skid installed.

I really wanted to add the AAL, the shackles, and then re-use the 2" front spring spacers to level it all out, which would have given me about 3.5-4" total lift. However, once I started looking closer at the shackle bolts, I basically chickened out. Might have to leave that to someone who has the right tools and experience. Since this is a DD, I hate to break something on Sunday and not have a way to fix it.

I took a few weeks to read up on the best way to add the AAL. I added one on an old '93 Chevy K1500 a looooong time ago, but I had help back then. This project would be me doing it solo.

So, one of the tips I read suggested a method which required you to remove the u-bolts and spring clamps, drop most of the leaves down, add the AAL, then re-clamp them all back together, and redo the u-bolts.

Easy, right?

Step 1: jack up and secure the Jeep, remove the wheel, then check to make sure the Jeep is REALLY secure. I ended up using several jack stands, a floor jack, a bottle jack, and wheel chocks to keep it from rolling away.

By far, the hardest part of this whole project was getting the stinking u-bolt nuts off. I tried cleaning and oiling the threads, but removing them was incredibly labor intensive, not to mention LOUD. Fingers on the chalkboard amplified to 100db loud.

Finally, I got the bolts off and undid the clamps.

Now to remove the center pin nut. But wait! Get those clamps and clamp it down, just in case.

Then I loosened the clamps little by little until I could make sure all the tension was off the spring. Then it was a matter of jacking the Jeep up a little higher to clear the pin and pull out the leaves.

The AAL became leaf #2.

If you can get ahold of them, get yourself some Teflon pads to go between the springs. I had none, so I used a little bit of grease. Don't ask how many times I've had to add grease between the leaves to keep them from squeaking. But, anyway....

With the leaf pack back up and in place, it's basically a matter of doing everything you did before, but in reverse.

Geez, I sound like one of those poorly written instruction manuals.

I took me about 7-8 hours to do, but I was slow (er, I mean methodical), and took several sanity breaks along the way. Not to mention I have no air compressor, so it was just me doing the one-handed-rowing of the ratchet wrench.

And done!

Repeat on the other side.

Oh, and about that "1 step back" part I mentioned in my last post...

It turns out that lifting the rear up a little over an inch played serious havoc with how my exhaust threads between the rear spring and the gas tank skid. Just when I thought I had it figured out too...

After spending another hour trying to bend, adjust, and twist the hangers in a way that would help the pipe clear, I gave in and cut the pipe short.

So far, so good. I'll be replacing the muffler next spring (if it lasts that long) and will have whoever does the work figure out a way to route the pipe without hitting either the skid or the spring. Or maybe I'll keep it the way it is.

Not sure what my deal is - no "after" picture, at least none that I can find right now. I did gain about 1.5" with the AALs, though I suspect it may go down a bit once they settle.

There's a definite rake to the Jeep, but once the snow starts flying I'll have about 120 lbs in the back for traction, and that should level it out a little.

I don't really want to go much higher anyway until I have some new tires lined up. 31s have been my goal from the start, and the addition of the shackles and spacers up front ought to make them look and perform just right. I think.

That "I think" part got me to thinking... Maybe I could find some used tires and try out the size? New BFGs are going to set me back $700+, and I want to see if that's the best size (assuming I'll have a tad more lift than I do now), or if I'll need to step up or down from 31s.

Hello Craigslist!

I ended up finding some 31" ProComp ATs with not so much tread on them for really cheap. Picked them up and got them mounted, all for about $100.


Hang on a second... At first glance, it looks like a regular Cherokee - no lift, AT tires. Maybe this is what it should have looked like from the factory?!?

The proof is when you park next to a stocker. Wow, what a difference. No pic of that, since my iPhone takes lousy pics inside a parking garage. But, I think we're on the right track.

By the way, in case you're wondering, I *am* missing a front tow point. I should have mentioned this a few posts back when I talked about doing the Badlands Jeep Jamboree. We got stuck on a steep exit from a creek section and had to be yanked out almost at a 60 degree angle from the exit. Bent the bracket up pretty bad:

I need to order a replacement, just haven't gotten around to it yet.

Here's a video of that same spot. Watch near the end and you'll see SGT_Jeep's XJ get yanked HARD out. In hindsight we should have figured a better way to get people out of the creek.

YouTube - 2010 Badlands Jeep Jamboree - Trouble climbing out of the creek

Next up: Hey, who peed on the garage floor???

'14 WK2 Limited
Previous Jeeps
'11 JKU - '96 XJ Country - '04 TJ - '86 CJ7
HikerX is offline  

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