Project Everyday Jeep: My 2001 TJ Build Thread
Although this is my first post here at jeepforum.com, I have been around Jeeps and other 4x4s for years. This thread will serve as a build thread for Project Everyday Jeep. My 2001 Jeep Wrangler will serve as the base for this project. My intent is to share my experience, my successes, my failures, and to seek guidance from the jeepforum community. So how did I get here?
It’s been a long journey filled with lots of trial and error. My first Jeep was a 1984 CJ-7. On a college student’s budget, I traded my Ford Ranger for the CJ and immediately bought the cheapest 2 ½ inch lift and 31x10.5s I could find. On my first ever trail ride, I remember thinking lockers were “cheating” and “no one should ever need a 35 inch tire”. I kept the Jeep for about 7 years and went on numerous progressively difficult trails while swapping transmissions, building axles, swapping axles, rear locker, building engines, swapping engines, body lift, 33’s, Dana 44s, more lift, 35’s… well, you get the picture. It was a great Jeep and a great project, but I was driving it daily, and even on my short commute it was becoming less and less comfortable. By now I was married with one child and another on the way. I hadn’t wheeled in a while, so I decided to sell. I bought a Cherokee.
At Superlift ORV in Hot Springs, AR
The 2000 Cherokee Sport was a nice change of pace. It had air-conditioning (and heat), and I quickly installed an OME 2 inch lift and 30x9.5 MT/Rs, and I was done. The Cherokee wheeled pretty good, and it was nice to get back to a more basic and highway friendly Jeep. It served me very well on Northwest Arkansas back roads and during the occasional ice or snow storm. As with the CJ, it carried me to and from work every day. By the time our third child was born in 2010, the Cherokee had moved to smaller, cheaper, all-terrains, and TJs started catching my eyes again. For two years, I looked and watched, all the while, telling myself, “The Cherokee is more family friendly.” By late summer 2012, I realized I could count on one hand the times my family of 5 had been in the Cherokee. It was time for a change…
After my dad passed away in October 2012, I realized I could engage my family and especially, my two young sons by getting out more, exploring, and building. I began seriously looking for my next project. I knew what I needed. I knew what I wanted. I looked at the local lots and scoured Craigslist and eBay. In January 2013, I finally found a 2001 Wrangler Sahara with a rear D44 with no reserve. After a Carfax check, I started bidding. I bid low, and who cares if it’s 1,400 miles away in New Haven, CT! The Jeep had low miles, it was clean, and it wasn’t like I would win the auction… Until I did. So I flew to New Haven, bought a Jeep sight unseen, and drove home to Arkansas. I’m still on a budget, but from my previous experience, I know it’s much cheaper to do it right the first time. Despite my hasty and not so well thought out purchase, I’m going to have to be patient and deliberate with each step.
My 1,400 mile road trip was mostly uneventful. I saw a number of places I’d never seen before, and became quite intimate with my new Jeep. A few things I noticed very early on became my highest priorities, flapping canvas and cold New England air proved that I needed a new soft top. I was about 30 miles outside of New York city when, in a parking lot, I tried 4 wheel drive for the first time. Four High? Check! Four Low? Check! Neutral? Check! Two High?... Two High? I’d been driving in 2H all day! After closer inspection, in the rain I might add, I found the transfer case linkage had disconnected. “That’s easy, I’ll just pop it into 2H with the rod and move along.” Three days later, I got home and on schedule. Would I recommend doing what I did? Absolutely not! It’s not wise to buy a Jeep sight unseen from the Northeast and drive it half way across the country! Did I have fun? Yup!
Me in NYC!
On the weekend I brought it home, I began a more thorough inspection of my new project. The previous owner had installed a nice stereo system and gutted and modified the center console for a 10” subwoofer. Twenty years ago, the JL Audio sub and 5 channel Alpine amp would have been a gem of a find, but honestly, I wanted a usable console, and having had experience with a Tuffy console in my CJ, it was an easy choice. The Tuffy products are always more than I want to pay, but you won’t find a better product.
While inspecting the frame, I found some evidence of rust near the front control arm mounts. I began scraping the flaking paint and ultimately stabbed a screwdriver completely through the frame. The eBay ad said “No Rust” or was that “No BODY RUST”? I was angry to say the least! How do you fix something like that?
Would you weld a patch over this? Would you do a frame swap? Or would you take a loss and sell the darn thing? I considered all of the above until I found the perfect solution, the Safe-T-Cap by Auto Rust Technicians. This product is a life saver! I am no welder, and due to the nature and location of the rust, I took the Jeep to Siloam Springs Collision who did the paint and body work on my CJ twelve years ago. After telling me the Jeep was unsafe to drive, I explained that I had just driven 1,400 miles! They agreed to put the Safe-T-Caps on. The fit was great with only very minor grinding being needed for a perfect fit. I could not find the Safe-T-Caps deeply discounted, but I did find them with free shipping from Morris 4x4 Center in Florida. My experience with them was first rate. They have great customer service, fast shipping, and personally, I found the Gospel message unique and encouraging. Regardless of faith, I’d recommend them. I’ll be shopping there again.
So where am I going with Project Everyday Jeep? First, it’s my daily driver, so it must handle well on and off road. Second, I need a rig that can handle the terrain I prefer to drive over, around and through and get me back to work on Monday without breaking my Jeep or my bank! While big, built Jeeps and dedicated rock crawlers are super cool, my CJ-7 was really more Jeep than I needed. I’m looking to split the difference between my CJ and my Cherokee. I want to have a Jeep that will tackle many of the great trails found in the Ozarks and Ouachitas and go places my family will enjoy. Please feel free to weigh in, but for now, here’s what I’m thinking;
· The Vortec 350 and T-18 from my CJ were a lot of fun, but I think I’ll stick with the 4.0 and NV3550.
· I plan to keep my D44 rear and swap a reverse cut/high pinion D30 from a Cherokee and for a slight improvement in strength with 4.88s.
· I’m looking for tires in the 33”-35” range with special interest in the 305/70R17 that weighs in at 34”.
· I’m looking at Savvy/Currie/Fox for lift.
· I’m considering ARBs or Eaton E-Lockers, but I’m also very interested in the Detroit Truetrac and may go that direction for cost, ease of installation, and simplicity (and yes, I know the Truetrac is a LSD).
· I’m also looking into products from Poison Spyder Customs, other Savvy products, Under Cover Fabworks, ATX wheels
· Maybe a TeraLow, but it’s way down the list.
With a wife and three kids, it’s always hard to find the time or money to work on Jeep projects or other hobbies. It appears that this project will be no different. On May 8, 2013, my wife and I found out she has breast cancer. Why am I writing about this, you may ask? Well, it’s like this, my wife is 36 years old. She had a mammogram eighteen months ago, but started feeling a little pain in one of her breasts a few weeks ago. She was concerned but not overly concerned, because “Cancer never presents itself as pain” we were told. So, after a few weeks, she made an appointment with her OB/GYN for her annual checkup. After an examination, he ordered an ultrasound for her. When she arrived at the radiology clinic, they informed her that a mammogram is their protocol, so that’s where they started. THE MAMMOGRAM SHOWED NOTHING, yet everyone in the room could feel the knot. An ultrasound revealed a 2 inch mass, that upon subsequent biopsy, was determined to be cancer. Her diagnosis is DCIS, which is the least invasive form of breast cancer; however, after a double mastectomy, the lab found a small (6mm) invasive grade III/her2+ tumor, and even though the prognosis is good and the cancer has been removed, we will begin chemo treatments on August 9th.
Again, why am I telling you?
1) Mammograms, while great, are not 100% effective!
2) Take care of the people you love.
3) If you’re like me, you’ve avoided the dreaded prostate exam. Get checked.
Now, back to Jeepin’
Okay, so as an "Everyday Jeep", regular maintenance gets in the way of the "Project" aspect.
I've been slowly losing coolant to the tune of about a quart per week for a couple of months now, and as the Arkansas temps keep rising, I quickly realized this was an issue I wasn't going to be able to ignore for long. I wanted to ignore it, because there was no evidence of leaking in the driveway, causing paranoia of a head gasket leak. Not having the energy to make the diagnosis myself, I took her to my favorite local mechanic for diagnosis.
As it turns out, and $60 later, I don't have a head gasket leak. My mechanic suggested I look into the water pump as they tend to drain and follow the oil pan to the back or even pool into the skid plate. Indeed it was the water pump! After replacing it and inspecting it, it sounded like it was full of gravel.
So I will continue paying medical bills, and planning the next step, until the next routine maintenance issue...
First off, best wishes to your wife and a speedy recovery from whatever is needed.
Second, I look forward to when you get back to your build. I'm in a somewhat similar situation.
Best of luck to you and your wife.
Best wishes for you and your wife and kids. The jeep can serve as an excellent temporary escape from all the harshness we have to deal with in life. Wheeling and working on mine has become one of the only ways I can get away from it all for a few moments. Buying sight unseen and traveling cross country sounds like something I'd do, haha sounds like fun!
Grayson (my 8 year old) and I changed the oil, filter, and plugs last weekend. It was nice spending time with him and teaching him a few things. I've been researching extended oil drain intervals, so I'm sending a sample to Blackstone Labs for a full analysis. I also think it will be nice to get a better understanding on the life my engine has had so far.
I've got something else in the works, so the next post will be more interesting...
I mentioned last time that I had something in the works. Well, I went to the local auto salvage and bought a Dana 30R from a Cherokee.
So I brought it home and immediately...
Oh wait, the phone's ringing... It was Blackstone Labs to tell me I had "issues" in my oil sample. What kind of issues you may ask? 12% of the sample was coolant or water! 3.8% was fuel! There was abnormally high levels of Aluminum (pistons?), Lead (bearings?), and Iron (rods?, crank?). So, I was diverted from my build, yet again...
My immediate thoughts went to a worst case scenario involving a full rebuild, but then... What if I build a stroker?
Don't use casting number 0331?
What's wrong with 0331?
They crack, huh?
Hmmm, maybe that explains my previously unexplained coolant loss...
Maybe next time I'll get to the axle!
Sorry for the bad news. So what's your plan for moving forward?
A buddy of mine and I changed the head on Saturday, and so far, the Jeep seems to be running fine. The piston tops and cylinder walls looked really good for 110,000 miles, so I felt a little relief. I am concerned about the lower end, but hopefully the new head and gasket will prevent coolant and fuel from getting down there. Knowing that coolant and fuel do not make for great lubrication, I am hoping I won't see much more wear. I plan to do a couple of quick oil changes to flush out any remaining contaminants, and later on down the road, I will send another sample to Blackstone Labs for analysis.
I do not intend to announce every routine maintenance event, but one of my original objectives with this thread was to share experiences. I know there has been some debate on the use of anything other than Mopar Synchromesh in the NV3550. Again, not knowing the service history of my TJ, I decided to change out the fluid in my transmission. I bought three quarts of Amsoil Synchromesh and changed my fluid last night. I can't speak to the longevity of the Amsoil, but the shifting was SIGNIFICANTLY smoother on my commute to work this morning! Would it have been the same with the Mopar fluid? Maybe...
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