In 2004, my wife and I purchased a new KJ jeep liberty 4x4 for camping vacations. I discovered the internet jeep discussion forums and I began to modify the KJ in the limited ways that were available for that model. We went to a jeep jamboree and then out to Moab, Utah. As I learned more about the hobby, I decided I would rather drive a TJ model, so I switched.
This is a picture essay of my '98 TJ build-up. I'm reluctant to post because it's more pictures than is appropriate for the tech forum....the moderators may not let it continue. The modifications to my jeep aren't anything that thousands of others haven't already done. This post isn't intended as a "hey look at me" thing. I'm attempting this because I think I can present it as a technical lesson for fellows like me who just got involved in working on a jeep. It's also more pictures than many will have patience for. So I'm going to limit the content to stages and add chapters every couple weeks to tell the complete story. The complete story is up to where I ran out of money for more parts.
My advice is you can't believe anything you read on the internet. From time to time there is incorrect information on these jeep forums. You should verify with your own efforts. I don't claim to know very much more than what you will see in the following....and goodness knows if you can say that any of this will be correct or useful....
how I drove around town for the first 18 months....
I picked up a very clean, stock condition, never used, everything worked....'98 sport model with a dana 35 rear axle assembly, 3.07 gears, manual 5 speed transmission, hardtop, 28 inch tires. I knew about the preferable rear dana 44 axle assembly option and I looked for that. But I also considered the condition and mileage and other intangibles as priorities. After looking around for awhile, I found one I liked. I knew I was going to modify the jeep and I wanted to do the work myself if possible. Like many others, I'm on a budget and it was going to require that I enjoy this hobby over a extended period of time.
My opinion is that a useful and interesting education doesn't usually come without some expense....whether through effort or dollars. I didn't want to buy a jeep already built by a previous owner. I didn't want to be stuck with tires or bumpers I didn't like. And I wanted to do by myself all the installations that I would be capable of. That might sound like I'm just trying to justify how I ended up spending money that others would choose to save, but I wanted to have hands on experience with even the most basic stuff that gets discussed on the internet and beside the trail. Six guys standing around kicking the dust with their boots and talking jeeps....and only two know what they're talking about. I wanted to be one of the two.
So meanwhile, I've been reading this forum and others, collecting parts, and stacking them in my garage. I joined the local jeep club and met some folks who taught me a few things. Through that network, I found an '03 TJ rubicon rear dana 44 axle assembly, complete with air-actuated locking differential, limited slip/posi when unlocked, 4.10 gear ratio, and factory disc brakes....and it bolts right into my TJ without modification.
I was also looking for (and found) a front axle from a late '90s XJ with a four cylinder motor. A funny thing about the internet....it seems everyone knows about a $100 axle assembly at their local salvage yard. Well I never found that kind of great dollar deal in my limited search around central florida. I paid a little more than most report and I had to drive about 100 miles for a '99 XJ front dana 30 high-pinion axle assembly from a four-cylinder cherokee. With four cylinders I get factory 4.10 gear ratio. Still, it was less than it would cost me to regear my TJ dana 30 (but quite a bit more than $100). Of course, I run a risk of bent tubes, bent steering, bad gears, bad bearings, etc. If I'm lucky, I get a gear ratio I can live with, a high pinion (high driveshaft location), spare axle shafts, maybe some reusuable steering and brakes. I'll have more detail on this axle later on.
I pulled the front passenger seat and the rear seat and went to pick this axle up. The fella at the salvage yard didn't think it would fit in the tub, but it worked out okay. It came complete with all the control arms, coil springs and steering.
I think the YJ wranglers were high pinion front dana 30. I guess there could be some discussion as to why jeep engineers switched when they redesigned and gave us the TJ with a low pinion front. Most everything I decided to do, I based on reading the internet or talking to jeep guys I hardly knew. Swapping in a rear dana 44 and a XJ front dana 30 is frequently suggested.
I had a growing stack of parts in my garage for about a year as I researched this new hobby.
The following pictures are "part one" of a ten day vacation in my garage. I'm presently driving the jeep with 33 inch tires after installing/modifying the jeep in the frequently suggested methods....I'm 53 years old, reasonably educated, with a box of tools. I'm not a mechanic by trade but I did all the following by myself with hand tools and budweiser....
First, I have to clean up my replacement axle assemblies....this is the rear dana 44....it came out of a TJ rubicon. It came from a reliable source and besides a little surface rust on the brake rotors, it wasn't going to require much preparation.
People frequently ask what a rear dana 44 cover looks like. I've seen it described as an apple on its side, or as a stop sign. The shape is polygonal as opposed to the more oval shape of the dana 35. And the fill plug is a threaded pipe plug. Mine is also magnetic and you can see how it sticks to the metal cover.
The air locker diaphram is behind the fill plug in the cover....you have to be careful not to thread the fill plug too deeply into the cover or you will contact the locker.
(continued in follow-up post)