Iím so excited to get started on my first Jeep build, a 2006 TJ that I just bought 3 months ago. Sheís a sweet little cherry, with 79,000 highway miles when I bought her. Thereís not a spec of rust on the body or the frame, and the condition of the Jeep indicates to me that itís never really been off-road. Perfect, because Iím on a mission to change that.
Here it is on August 8, right before I drove it home from the dealer:
To start off, Iíll share a bit of background about myself: Iím a 23-year-old fresh college grad working as an engineer in central Ohio. I consider myself nothing more than a weekend mechanic, struggling my way through repairs, and usually breaking my vehicle in the process of fixing it. But I love it, and Iíve wanted a Jeep for as long as I can remember. I had a 1973 Wagoneer for about a year in college, which was an eye-opening learning experience at best, a dangerous and often life-threatening heap of junk at worst (http://www.jeepforum.com/forum/f269/rustie-1288515/).
The ultimate prize for me was always a TJ Wrangler, so that brings me to today, and Iím so thrilled to be behind the wheel of this big yellow beauty. For now, itís mostly stock, save for a 2Ē spacer lift and some mild upgrades Iíve done (Iíll catch you up on my last 3 months of ownership in the next few posts). Future upgrades include a lot of typical stuff: body armor, skids, lockers, lift, tires, and axles. I canít wait.
Before following my build, you should be aware: this build will be slow, progressing over the next several years. Also, I try not to pretend to know more than I actually do; that being said, I am quite a novice when it comes to Jeeps and off-roading. With any luck, that will change before this build is complete. All constructive feedback is welcome and encouraged. Enjoy!
When I bought the Jeep, it had a couple minor modifications already. Like I mentioned above, it has a 2-inch spacer lift. Nothing major, but it gives it a nice stance. I suppose it'll do until I save up for a real spring lift. It's wearing 30x9.50-15 Mastercraft Courser AXTs, which is basically an aggressive street tire. If I can find a deal on used 30" mud-terrain tires, I'll probably snag them before I lift it and throw on 33's or 35's. The KC lights on the front are a nice touch, IMO.
It's got a nice Sony head unit with Bluetooth, as well as a Sony amp and sub in the rear. Not bad!
My first tasks after purchasing were to shed a bit of weight off the Jeep. I'm not a huge fan of the grill inserts the PO had on, so I took them out and sold them. I also didn't like the factory side steps, and the interior carpet just gets in the way of cleaning, so it came out too.
My first off-road adventure was on my buddy's family's land in late August. We only had a couple rigs, so we didn't do much more than drive in a couple mud pits and dirt roads. Pretty mild stuff, but still fun.
Went on another club trail ride in early October, and once again, I was that new guy who needed a tow strap thrown his way constantly. There's plenty of mud in these southern Ohio trails, and my tires were not prepared for it!
One section of trail was pretty sketchy, with a slick muddy 2-foot dropoff that would easily put you on your side. My passenger-side wheels were in the air through it, but somehow got back on the ground before rolling me over. The fella behind me wasn't so lucky:
I won't lie here, I was a little shaken up after this, even though it didn't happen to me. Thankfully, nobody was hurt, and his Jeep didn't even show much (if any) damage when we got it back on its wheels, but it was kinda scary!
By the end of the day, I had my first trail dent on my rig. Looks like some rocker guards are in my future!
I had a very special treat last weekend. My girlfriend and I loaded up the Jeep and ventured south to Williamsburg, Kentucky for the 21st Gateway to the Cumberlands Jeep Jamboree. It was our first Jamboree, and we both had an absolute blast! I'm very lucky to have met a woman who enjoys my hobby almost as much as I do. I let her drive the trails for awhile, which had exactly the intended effect of her now understanding why my Jeep needs to be modified.
All jokes aside, I have trouble describing how incredible of a time this Jamboree was for me. A bit on the expensive side, sure, but it truly was one of those rare, priceless experiences you find every once in awhile. The Jeep community is a very special place to be, and I met some great people on this trip. I can't wait to get back to another one. Before that, though, my Jeep will have a few modifications coming this winter.
I'm the little yellow guy near the middle, between the red and silver Wranglers:
I've got a couple new toys that will significantly improve the TJ's off-road capabilities.
A club member recommended that I go with Aussie lockers to lock my axles, as they're inexpensive and (supposedly) good quality. Without doing any prior research (won't make that mistake again), I bought two, one for my front Dana 30 and one for my rear Dana 35. I installed one in the D35 before I realized that I have a "Trac-Loc" limited-slip rear. Aussies don't work with the limited slip, I learned, so I took the locker back out, got the D35 back together in original stock form, and bought a new open carrier and thrust washers, with the plan of having this all installed professionally instead. This was in mid-September, take note.
Since then, I've read plenty of horror stories of D35s breaking when locked, especially with an automatic locker like the Aussie. I don't yet have a truck to tow this Jeep to my trails, so I'd be SOL if the axle shaft were to break. It's a hard choice since I've already sunk some costs in this, but I'm gonna cut my losses and not install it in the rear.
However, the front Aussie in the D30 is still a go, so stay tuned for that install coming within the next couple weeks!
Over the last couple of weekends, I got around to working on the TJ's front axle.
I started off by disassembling everything:
Then, I installed the Aussie into the carrier, a very straightforward process. I installed a pair of new thrust washers so that my tolerances on the locker would be within spec. Here it is ready to go back into the diff housing:
While I had everything apart, I figured that it wouldn't hurt to put in some new inner axle seals, and then (despite the mixed reviews) I also installed some outer axle tube seals:
My bolt organization system ensured that every bolt was put back exactly where it was taken out of:
After I got the diff filled back up with fluid and the wheels mounted, I did the Aussie-recommended "click test" before lowering the wheels back to the ground, and the locker seemed to be functioning properly. In a short 2WD road test, I couldn't even tell the difference; the clicking was barely perceptible.
I can't wait to put this new upgrade to the test out on the trails!
Lately, my work on the Wrangler has been pretty boring. It's mostly been regular maintenance and simple repairs to the drivetrain.
Back in September, I attempted to install an Aussie locker in my rear Dana 35. I took the whole diff apart, and, as my above posts outline, I ended up putting it all back together in factory stock form. Factory stock, except for one little thing:
Lack of motivation and sleep led me to omit the spider gear backlash washers at the time, and if I want this axle to be effective as a limited-slip unit until I upgrade in a couple years, these needed to go back in. I got everything apart, then set it up with an axle shaft in a vise grip, with some nuts and bolts to separate the side gears.
While reinstalling the diff cover, I sheared one of its top bolts off. Since it was well above the fill hole, and since this isn't my Jeep's "forever" axle, I decided to just leave it. I put some extra RTV around the hole, then gave it an extra day to cure before refilling with fresh fluid.
While I had the Jeep up on the lift, I changed out the transfer case fluid with some fresh ATF-4, and changed the transmission fluid with Pennzoil Synchromesh.
I also had slow leaks in my passenger side tires, and some soapy water determined them to both be leaking from the beads. So, I dismounted the tires, cleaned and resealed the bead surface, then remounted and rebalanced them.
Like I said, it's been pretty boring around here lately. But the Wrangler is running as good as ever!
Although it's been a little quiet this winter, that doesn't mean I haven't been up to some good stuff for the Wrangler! I submitted an order from Rokmen Off-Road, and it's almost completely arrived: I've got steering box, engine/transmission, transfer case, and gas tank skid plates, a 0.5" body lift, and a 1" motor mount lift. Annndddd, the best part, and the piece that I should be getting in the next couple days: Mercenary rock sliders!
The excitement continues, though! I also found a guy on Craigslist about a half hour from me selling a pair of half doors from a 2004 TJ, conveniently also painted with the flattering hue of Solar Yellow Clear Coat. If there's one thing I wish I could change about my Jeep from the start, it was that it had half doors, so I wasn't about to pass these up. The latches were a bit sticky, and they needed a good cleaning, so I removed the door panels, greased everything up with WD-40, and washed and waxed the exterior paint on them. I'd say they turned out pretty good, and after I get some mirrors and upper windows, they'll be ready to splash through the mud!
Stay tuned for some action with the skid and slider installs!
I got the steering box skid plate installed yesterday. It should have been a 20 minute job, but not if your bumper is bent, like mine was! From an off-roading trip back in September, my front bumper had a little wrinkle on its underside, right where the skid was supposed to mount.
I tried jacking up the Jeep and letting it rest there on the wrinkle, but to no avail. Eventually, I was able to get it mostly flattened by alternating heating up the metal with a propane torch and hammering it as hard as I could from underneath. Repeat that process 20 or 30 times, then spray paint over the hammered steel, and I ended up with this:
Good enough, I figured, so I mounted up the skid and let the bolt torque flatten it the rest of the way.