Bob's 98 ZJ build thread (K6RTM) -
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post #1 of 32 Old 11-17-2016, 04:05 PM Thread Starter
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Bob's 98 ZJ build thread (K6RTM)

My son convinced me to start a build thread on my "new" Jeep, a 1998 ZJ Limited.

WARNING -- the first few posts in this thread are going to be history, provenance, how I got into the position I'm in today... Skip ahead if you're looking for hard-core Jeep stuff. This one is history, getting to the point where I bought the 98.

This is my second Jeep -- the first was (is) a 96 ZJ that still rolls around, now owned by my son, KG6MOV. As he recounts in his build thread, I bought the green one after seeing a nasty wreck on my way to work one morning -- a Honda CRX Si, just like the one I was driving, crushed between two full sized vehicles. Neither occupant of the CRX survived.

We decided a larger vehicle was in order. More survivable, good for camping with two little kids (they've grown), that kind of stuff. We bought the 96 ZJ and traded in my little roller skate, the CRX Si.

Should I tell the story of how (and why) my son threw up in it about two weeks later? Nah, save that for a while...

We did many camping trips, trips with the whole family, Ham Radio Field Day trips, having a lot of fun in the green Jeep.

Tempus Fugit -- whether we want it to or not. Around 2008, I'm thinking of new wheels, something smaller and zippier. The 96 ZJ is still rolling along, and son needs wheels of his own. The solution was pretty simple -- dad gets a new car and son gets the green Jeep.

Dad got a brand new Mini Cooper S, turbocharged, sports package, a zippy little car. I noticed quickly that it didn't have the clearance of the Jeep... I also noticed that it cornered like it was on rails.

Much fun for many years in the Mini. But there's something about flings -- yeah, they're a lot of fun while they last, but then you wake up one morning with a headache, a bad taste in your mouth, and all your money is gone...

Driving back from LA a few months ago, going up the grade out of San Louis Obispo on Highway 101 in the Mini, I signaled to move into the left lane and applied foot to the floor, accelerating up the grade.

Until... Nasty noises and dropping power! No surprise, check engine light flashing! I'm suddenly reduced to around 2500 RPM, and not a clean, smooth 2500 RPM either.

But it wasn't fatal; the engine still ran. Code reader reports misfires (oh really!)... Limp home and take it to the local Mini dealer. 84K miles on the engine.

Their diagnosis: lost an exhaust valve on cylinder 4, compression is zero. Compression on cylinder 2 isn't too good either. Borescope exam shows cylinder walls are okay, so that exhaust valve stayed more or less where it was, just not working right.

They want $9800 to rebuild the top of the engine, with no guarantee that they won't find more trouble. KBB shows a good value for one of these to be around $3500. So Mini wants around 3 times the blue book value of the car to start fixing it?


Talking to other folks, the independent mechanic we use, independent Mini shops, and more. Yeah, we can try a head job at $3k or so, more if the head is cracked and most of the folks I talked to expected it would be, and the only way to find out is a pressure test after the head is pulled off. And then there's the excitement of pulling off the head to take it in for a rebuild, looking down into the block, and seeing something that makes you use special words...

That engine (the Prince R56 engine) doesn't have a very good record for reliability. It sucks, really.

Shortening an already long tale, I decided that while it had been a fun fling, it was a snake that had bit me more than once. Time to part company. Donated for a tax write-off, and it's somebody else's problem.

Now I'm faced with not having wheels for the first time in decades. Luckily enough, there's usually spare wheels among the family members, so I can get around. But it's a bummer. Really.

Oh, the Mini dies with under 85K on it. The green 96 has around 250K on the original engine? And the Mercedes has over 360K on the original engine and turbo? Hell, my daughter is driving our old 2003 Mazda with 160k on it!

New wheels are out of the question. We start the long process of looking on Craigslist. Hey, filter out everything that doesn't have a clean title, and has "mechanic" in the listing. I want something that more or less runs and isn't going to cost a lot of money to put it into safe driveable condition run for a few years.

Looked at a couple of promising vehicles -- except when I call Terry, our independent mechanic, and tell him what I'm looking at and ask his opinion, he says "Run away!" Looking at another vehicle the same day, I mention the one I'd looked at earlier, and that guy's opinion is the same -- run away, it's going to cost you a LOT of money around 200K miles (it had 192K on it). Okay, I get it.

Tempus Fugit -- time passes -- whether we like it or not.

Then it pops up in Craigslist -- 98 ZJ, 187K miles, running, clean title, $2000. Pictures look good -- white Grand Cherokee Limited with the 5.2 V8.

I talk to son about it. He's encouraged. Hey, we know what goes wrong with those, we know how to fix them, and have plenty of spare parts! Let's look at it!

Talked to the current owner and arranged to look at it on a Saturday morning. He's about a 15 minute drive away. Let's do this -- son will go over it from tip to tail, and if it has major problems, we leave.

But it felt good -- and the thought of driving a Jeep again? Yeah, I could do that. I knew how they handled. I liked how they handled. Yeah, it's not gonna get the mileage the Mini did (21 - 28 depending on how lead-footed I was and how much of the time I left it in Sport mode, which was most of the time), and it won't corner as well, but hey... Like going home again.

Let's go look at this thing!

--bob k6rtm

Last edited by k6rtm; 11-19-2016 at 02:53 PM.
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post #2 of 32 Old 11-17-2016, 04:23 PM
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Welcome to the forum Bob!
I saw a small portion of your new ZJ in an earlier thread by KG6mov. If he approves of the rig, my guess is that it's going to be fine.


PS Tempus Fugit = Time Flies (sorry, but it is one of a couple of Latin phrases that I recognize)

"The Dude Abides"
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post #3 of 32 Old 11-17-2016, 04:31 PM Thread Starter
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In areas such as antiques, provenance is the all the stuff around the find -- who found it, the circumstances, all those details and history that give character to the find.

We drove out to look at the 98 ZJ. We see it on the street and park across from it. As we're looking it over, the owner, Ray, comes out of the house. We introduce ourselves and shake hands.

Ray is a cool dude. Quality sleeves (tattoos) on both arms down to the wrists. Smooth talker. Hands me the key and key fob on a lanyard. Lanyard is from Bad Boys Bail Bonds...
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This is Provenance!

We talk about it -- why are you selling this thing, and how did you get it? He has the paperwork, clean title, registration, recent smog certificate. Wait -- that registration -- $609 to register a Jeep? 187k miles or thereabouts, not bad for a 98.

Ray tells us a story about having a niece who needed wheels so he bought this since it was safe and ran and a few months later another relative gives her a new Honda, so he doesn't need it anymore.

Fascinating heartwarming story. Spread it on the flowers and they're gonna grow... Might be true, but I'm not betting on it.

Son is over and under it. Tires are not in good shape, but we just happen to have a set of four good tires on Jeep rims ready to go. He doesn't like the power steering pulley (read his build thread -- he has mucho experience with power steering pulleys on ZJs). But other than that, it looks good. He takes it for a test drive.

Son takes off with it as Ray and I talk. I would not play poker with this man... Tell him we have a 96 Grand that's still rolling along, and son is truly fearless about ripping into it.

Son comes back. Is of the opinion that the viscous coupler is locked up, but that happens (and we have one on the floor of the garage). Brakes are good, handles well. We look around the body. Right headlight is clearer than the left one; might have something to do with the dent in the right side of the hood immediately above the headlight. Rear speakers are for ****, but they're history, as is the radio. Leather interior looks to be in damn good shape for the age of the vehicle.

A quick side trip and we give Ray $2K cash. He signs the pink slip. I check that the VIN on the pink matches the one on the vehicle. Shake hands. Done deal.

The plan is to drive it to the shop where the new(er) tires are so they can be put on. Son drives the Mercedes, I follow in my new Jeep! Like going back in time 20 years! It feels good sitting in the driver's seat. Definitely more acceleration than the old diesel Mercedes! That stock radio has got to go!

We drive to the shop and trade vehicles. We've got a theatre performace coming up; I take the Mercedes and he'll meet me at the theatre with the Jeep.

I'm smiling. I have wheels again! I have wheels I'm familiar with. And my son thinks it's in good shape, and a good deal. I'm confident that whatever we find, we'll be able to take care of it.

Another adventure has begun!
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bob k6rtm

Last edited by k6rtm; 11-21-2016 at 05:49 PM. Reason: add images
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post #4 of 32 Old 11-17-2016, 05:17 PM Thread Starter
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Keys of Mystery...

A little out of sequence, but it's part of the story that more or less stands alone.

Ray gave me one key and a key fob (on the Bad Boys Bail Bonds lanyard, which I kept). The key fob was a new one, generic Daimler Chrysler, not the little black rectangular Jeep ones we got with the 96.

But the key fob locks and unlocks the doors, and the key starts it up so we can drive away.


It turns out the rear passenger lock actuator doesn't work. Not sure if the actuator is dead or the rods have come loose, something like that.

And that key? It operates the ignition, and that's all. Does not open any of the doors, or the glove box (glove box is unlocked and contains the original owner's manual, which is a treasure trove we'll get to later).

Oh, the key comes out of the ignition in any position. This points to the cylinder being replaced, and not correctly.

Time passes and I'm successful in doing battle with the California DMV. Actually, it wasn't too bad. I had an appointment, all the paperwork, and dealt with a clerk who was helpful. She even recognized ham radio license plates. I left the DMV with registration in my name, and my ham plates (K6RTM) on the vehicle. Easy!

And now with registration in hand, I could go to a Jeep dealer and have them cut me a key to the VIN.

Did that. Talking to the parts counter guy telling him the story about my "new" Jeep, and the key I have only running the ignition. He tells me, warns me -- hey, we cut you a key and it doesn't work, it's not our problem! I understand -- it's a cheap diagnostic; let's do it!

We fill out the paperwork required by California Penal Code 466.66, he retrieves the key code, cuts me a key, and presents me with the key and the code.

I walked out through the showroom. $86K for a loaded (overloaded) Grand? $68K for a Rubicon with a lot of 3rd party stuff including a 3 inch lift? Too damn pricey for me!

Back to my white wonder. Looks great with my plates on it!

I have a key, cut to the VIN.

The Grand has 5 places to put that key: Front doors, rear hatch, glove box, and ignition.

Visually, the VIN key is different from the key Ray gave me that runs the ignition.

What does the VIN key operate? Place your bets...

Passenger door -- yes

Rear hatch -- yes

Driver's door -- NO!

Ignition -- no (no surprise)

Glove box -- yes!

WTF? How do you get here?

Clues -- it cost Ray $609 to register the vehicle in his name in August of 2016 because the registration expired in 2014. He had to pay back fees and penalties.

Hypothesis: Ray got this vehicle for a song, but with a catch. "Ray, you can have it -- here's the pink, but we don't have the keys and we don't know where they are."

Okay, Ray can't get a VIN cut key without registration in his name (unless he's got a good friend somewhere who is willing to run afoul of CPC 466.66). He can't get registration without a smog certificate. And to get a smog certificate you have to run the engine. Can't get a VIN key but need to run the engine.

Step one is to punch out the driver's door lock to open the vehicle.

Step two is to punch out the ignition cylinder and replace it with one (with a key) from your favourite local yard. Grab a random door cylinder to replace the one you punched out. (At least one of the plastic clips holding the driver's door interior in place is broken -- someone has been in there.)

Get a new key fob and have it coded to the vehicle.

Get it smogged.

Get it registered and get new pink slip.

Have it detailed (someone used a quart or so of Armorall on the interior).

Flip the sucker on Craiglist.

Making the assumption he got it for free or close to it, he put $609 into registration, $100 or so for smog, another $100 for detailing, for $800 to $1k and sells it for $2k.

That's our hypothesis. It's clean. It fits. Is it accurate? Don't know. Don't care, really.

Terry, our mechanic, knows this guy... A great locksmith across from the junkyard on 13th street -- go to him to get things rekeyed, and think about replacing that ignition switch, as who knows how f'd up it is. Oh, Terry agrees with son's diagnosis, and suggests that it needs new rear brakes (Terry has to spot something son missed).

Yeah, in the next few weeks, after we've taken the doors apart to do other things, will probably wander down and look into having the driver's door and the ignition rekeyed to the VIN.

--bob k6rtm

Last edited by k6rtm; 11-19-2016 at 03:00 PM.
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post #5 of 32 Old 11-17-2016, 05:33 PM Thread Starter
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Never Look Behind You -- They May Be a Gainin On Ya...

A minor irritation...

I go to adjust the rear view mirror and the whole thing comes off in my hand, mounting puck and all. While driving, of course. Let it hang until I'm at a stop light and have the time to unplug it. Special words.

Interesting -- the windshield on a 98 with 180K plus miles should look like a random teenage boy's face, right? This one is practically virginal.

Oh, it's also missing the OEM logos. Son looks at it and says it's not only a replacement, but not one of the better ones.

Read up on the WWWeb and get the Permatex kit. Put on gloves. Use defroster to warm up the glass. Clean the snot out of the glass and the back of the puck. Follow instructions. Let it sit for an hour. Put on mirror and the whole thing comes off in my hand again.

More special words.

Put on gloves. Clean the glass again. Clean and polish the puck. Clean the glass with denatured alcohol. Use defroster to heat up the glass. Use some of my high viscosity CA. Hold in place for five minutes, then let the puck sit on the glass otherwise untouched for 24 hours.

Hang the mirror, most gingerly. Still there, a week later.

Oh, tagged the DPO Ray about it -- he didn't know when the windshield was replaced, and blamed the detailers on the mirror, had to take it back twice because it kept coming off.

The only thing I've got on that mirror is one of my prize possessions. When my daughter was a brownie, their troop made little plastic and pipecleaner things. She made her daddy a chili pepper, red body with green stem and tip. I had it in the 96 Jeep, then the Mini, and now the 98. It was one of the first things I put into it. And after I did, I took a picture of it hanging from the mirror and sent it to my daughter -- now the Jeep feels like mine!
--bob k6rtm

Last edited by k6rtm; 11-21-2016 at 05:23 PM. Reason: try and add images
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post #6 of 32 Old 11-17-2016, 05:46 PM Thread Starter
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Thanks. My son is my ace in the hole on this one. He's fearless when it comes to vehicle repair. We've still to tear into some things, but so far so good. We took it from the SF Bay down to LA and back last weekend, 6+ hours each way, and the only issue is the idler starts making noise when it's warmed up, but he wasn't surprised at that. We'll do the idler, belt, and redo the power steering pulley, probably next weekend.

--bob k6rtm
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post #7 of 32 Old 11-18-2016, 12:01 PM Thread Starter
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The Fix-It List

Here's the list of issues we've spotted from initial inspection (2016/11/08) and possibly fixed to now (2017/01/26).
This will probably turn into a go-to page, checking things off as we take care of them
(and adding new things as they pop up and bite me in the ***).

So far we haven't popped any covers or otherwise dug into things -- simple tools such as eyes, ears, nose, fingers, ODB II scanner,

tires are bald -- done, put on wheels/tires at the shop, eventually put new ones on these wheels
code P1391 -- check for MOPAR part, installation (intermittent)
Terry says to do the rear brakes
viscous coupler in transfer case locked up (spare in the garage)
oil in breather -- replace PCV, look at intake seals
coolant sensor bad -- VIC bad solder joint?
power steering pulley not installed properly -- idler, belt, pulley -- done
More than cosmetic but not serious: (famous last words)
ignition lock cylinder -- key comes out any time, not keyed to VIN
driver's door lock -- FU or not keyed to VIN
speakers and radio are for s*** -- replaced rears 11/23
rear passenger door lock actuator doesn't work -- replaced 11/30
rear hatch switch/release doesn't work -- diagnosed, waiting for trip to jy
rear hatch spray nozzle and wiper support missing
burned out interior lamps -- the light bulb dwarves already replaced a couple -- LEDs 11/29.
missing and loose interior trim screws, broken clips -- replacing as I go
wtf -- broken window glass under rear passenger seats? Vacuumed up while doing rear speakers
driver's door interior handle about to come off -- replaced 11/30
headlight cataracts -- E-code conversion kit ordered from Kolak
cigar lighter no power fuse is ok? -- replaced *correct* fuse, have power but need to do the light (PITA)
seat warmer's don't - console lights come on but that's it
driver's side mirror LCD is FU, doesn't remember position -- replaced LCD mirror with heat only mirror, wrote it up 2017/01/22 or so
headliner messed up near windshield
leather in front seats worn (no surprise)
leather wrap on steering wheel is shot, missing in parts
So far, not bad for $2k...

Son recommends:
replace PCV (spare somewhere in garage) -- done 11/21
replace idler pulley, tensioner pulley, belt, re-mount power steering pulley -- done 11/21
replace viscous coupler (spare in the garage)
replace wheel studs and lug nuts
get 5 new tires for wheels that came with it -- Grabber HTS 245/70R16?
do oil change and watch like a hawk
do fluid changes all around
Bilstein's all around (Santa?)
Kolak's E-conversion headlights -- shipped 11/30
Look more closely at front end
Harmonic balancer (job for Terry some day, added 11/21)
Dad wants to do:
replace radio and speakers -- radio done, rear speakers done
mount and wire in Valentine One + remote display + savvy -- something funky w OBD-II connector, try contact cleaner
mount and wire in Garmin -- done
mount antenna, mount and wire in 2m/440 ham radio -- done, using mag mount antennas, still need to do holes in roof for NMOs
add ham radio speakers under driver's headrest -- done, works a treat with 3 speakers, so one left for who knows what.
add subwoofer
Aquapel windshield (moon roof?) -- done
swap out interior (some exterior) lamps with LEDs - first batch 11/29
ECM pod? -- have X and K band sources, need Ka band source
horns loud enough to make bystanders wet themselves -- Santa delivered PIAA 85115, need dry/warm place for install
added 2 more roof rack members (sanded, primed, painted)
Last updated: 2017/01/26

Last edited by k6rtm; 01-26-2017 at 03:45 PM. Reason: update what's fixed 2017/01/26
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post #8 of 32 Old 11-20-2016, 03:16 PM Thread Starter
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So much to do...

So much to do on my "new" Jeep--

I've got the goodies to mount/wire the Garmin GPS and the Valentine One.
Need to make up a new cable for the Icom 2m/440 ham radio
Figure out which firewall grommet to use for the 2m/440 antenna
Replace the rear speakers with the news ones I have
Replace the driver's inside door handle with the replacement part
Dig into rear passenger door to diagnose/replace lock actuator

...for a start...

But Thanksgiving week should be good for that, right? Not much going on?

Theatre work -- matinee today (Sunday), our last performance of this run, plus strike, hauling everything back to the shop (well, except for the stuff we set on fire in the parking lot -- just kidding).

Monday is recovery.

Well, recovery and prep -- as Tuesday and Wednesday are rehearsal days for another gig. Thanksgiving is Thursday with a crowd at the house (no rest that day).

Friday, Saturday, Sunday are two shows a day, plus strike after the second Sunday performance.

And I don't have a garage to work in, there's lumber and construction supplies in the driveway, and it's raining.

I think this week is pretty chewed up! I ought to have a word with the clown who signed me up for that Thanksgiving gig... Oh wait -- that was me... At least it pays, although part of that $$ is going to go to Kolak for the E-conversion.

Happy Thanksgiving -- watch some football for me next weekend, I'll be working!

bob k6rtm
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post #9 of 32 Old 11-20-2016, 03:38 PM Thread Starter
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And one more...

Ordered the new headlights from Kolak -- probably will take more than a week to get here, which is fine, as I'm busy this week!

bob k6rtm
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post #10 of 32 Old 11-21-2016, 03:30 AM
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I wish you well on your new project! Looks like you have your work cut out for you, but you have an excellent protege at your side! The phrase, "do me a solid" comes to mind.

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Originally Posted by HighLonesome
lol...if life is as a simple as a 5.9 making you happy, I'd say go ahead and buy it on impulse. ZJs are the way of Zen. Wax on, wax off
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post #11 of 32 Old 11-21-2016, 12:08 PM Thread Starter
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Originally Posted by coralman View Post
I wish you well on your new project! Looks like you have your work cut out for you, but you have an excellent protege at your side! The phrase, "do me a solid" comes to mind.
When it comes to electronics, I'm the lead. But when it comes to vehicles, I don't have any problem taking advice (and all the help I can get) from my son!

--bob k6rtm
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post #12 of 32 Old 11-21-2016, 05:20 PM Thread Starter
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First adventure -- a success!

Met my new best friend today -- the manager of the nearby O'Reilly Auto Parts.

At the direction of my mechanic (my son), picked up a new idler pulley, new tensioner pulley, new belt, PCV valve, and the power steering pulley tool -- $95

Oh, before I did that, replaced the rubber bumpers on the rear hatch. New ones work much better. Freebies from the garage.
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O'Reilly had everything. Good start.
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Got home and did the PCV valve while son was finishing lunch.

After pulling the belt, once I knew what to look for, yeah, the power steering pulley needs to go back on the shaft 3/16 of an inch or so, and that (mis)alignment issue is going to cause problems, like complaining idlers.

We replaced the idler pulley and the tensioner pulley. Time to torque things to spec. Mumble mumble -- adapter for torque wrench to sockets is at the shop. Son takes off to get another one.

I turn to the rear driver's side door and its noisy not-quite-a-speaker. As I pull the panel, yes, someone has been here before as some of the white clips aren't seated. None of them are broken, which is somewhat surprising.

I think I know where the rattling noise is coming from:
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Something about the lack of surround material for the OEM speaker cone. And a bonus! Looking down into the bottom of the door...
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Broken glass! My oh my! I should vacuum that out before I seal things up again.
Decisions decisions -- what do I do with the factory speaker connector? First impulse is to cut the sucker off and solder the wires to the speaker terminals. But what are the chances the red(-ish) wire is the + one? Got to dig into the book and see if it gives a clue, or maybe there's one on the defunct speaker.

Son returns. Torque things to spec. Count tools, make sure fan blades still turn free, nothing left in the engine bay that shouldn't be there. Check again. Start the engine -- it runs! Squeak free! Son suggests a job for Terry in the future is the harmonic balancer. One item added to list and some marked done.

Off to O'Reilly to return the power steering pulley tool. Declaring this adventure a success, even though I don't have the rear driver's side door reinstalled. At least I'm not listening to that not-a-speaker rattle.

--bob k6rtm
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post #13 of 32 Old 11-23-2016, 03:55 PM Thread Starter
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Rear speakers--

Replaced both rear speakers. Left rear door had broken glass in the door. Right rear, no broken glass.
Decided to get a pair of Metra adapters for the Jeep speaker connectors -- Amazon overnight. Made life easier.
While cleaning things up and vacuuming carpet under the rear seats, a lot of mildew smell... Something got wet and stayed wet for a while.
Installed the speaker in the right rear door but didn't replace the interior door trim -- need two white fasteners, and I need to read the book about the lock actuator and fix that before I replace the trim; no time before I have to head off to work.

The right rear speaker had some surround left around the cone, enough so it wasn't rattling. Yet.
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Here's the new one on the left side
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Tomorrow is going to be another day of labour -- around the house, as we have a bunch of folks coming over for Thanksgiving dinner, so it will be a day of honeydo's. Next shot at Jeep stuff will be Monday. Or Tuesday depending on how late we go at the theatre Sunday night.

But the rear speakers work -- things sound a lot better!

--bob k6rtm
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post #14 of 32 Old 11-23-2016, 04:52 PM
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I need to do my tensioners and belt too- might take a shot at it today. If you don't mind me asking, how much were the E-Code headlights from Kolak? Thinking about replacing my old yellowed ones.

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3.5" IRO lift, 31" Treadwright Wardens
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post #15 of 32 Old 11-28-2016, 11:07 PM Thread Starter
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Originally Posted by mslevin View Post
I need to do my tensioners and belt too- might take a shot at it today. If you don't mind me asking, how much were the E-Code headlights from Kolak? Thinking about replacing my old yellowed ones.
For me, the whole package with shipping etc and the discount for forum members was around $360. My son, on this forum as KG6MOV has had his for a few years and really likes them. Driving at night with him one evening last week, I've got to agree -- the light from the E-codes is a lot better than stock on my 98.

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