2004 WJ Build: The Right Place at the Right Time! - JeepForum.com
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post #1 of 28 Old 08-29-2019, 06:38 PM Thread Starter
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2004 WJ Build: The Right Place at the Right Time!

So in the past I've owned an '89 XJ that I daily drove (~2002), and an '87 MJ that I bought as a project (~2012). I got the MJ running reliably, got all the factory stuff working again, and then sold it to a friend of mine who took the build to fruition. It turned out great, but I still didn't have a Jeep. About a year ago I decided to embark on a WJ project and actually see it through! You can read in my bio about how I got this WJ, but the long-and-short of it is I got it off Craigslist in a straight-up trade. Right place at the right time, really! It was a 1-owner vehicle with ~160k miles on it, dealer serviced until about 125k miles, and it's got every option except the Overland package (4.7L H.O., Quadradrive, Nav, 10-disc changer, TPMS, sound package with amp, 17" chrome wheels, etc...). Whether you consider that a plus or a negative is up to you. As a straight-up trade it's a hell of a deal! Beyond that, everything worked too except the AC! Actually, the power windows and locks down the passenger's side didn't work, but I found broken wires in the front driver's and passenger's door jambs and after a quick solder session everything was working again.

I'll lay out here all the work I've done (and will do in the future) as this thing goes from stock, to a moderate trail build. It must remain streetable because I often use it for work, getting to hard-to-reach places. Here are some pictures of the Jeep as I bought it. It was FILTHY from sitting on the side of the road with a "for sale" sign on it for quite a while, but a very rigorous detail job helped clean that up. Mechanically, it's pretty solid!

Before, during, and after the acquisition of this Jeep I did a whooooole lot of research and reading, and I found some good information, but lots of mis-information, as well as lots of foggy information. Anyone looking to build up a WJ can reference this thread because I've established a lot of clear answers, and I'll document them here.

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post #2 of 28 Old 08-29-2019, 06:40 PM Thread Starter
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More pictures of the initial condition...
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post #3 of 28 Old 08-29-2019, 06:41 PM Thread Starter
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Last few...
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post #4 of 28 Old 08-29-2019, 06:55 PM Thread Starter
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One issue I had to settle to get it through MD inspection is the reverse lights didn't work. After a bunch of research it turns out these 545RFE transmissions don't have the typical reverse switch. Instead they use something called a "transmission range switch"...or something similar. When you move the gear lever, there's a solenoid pack above the valve body that tells the transmission computer which gear you've selected. This device also takes care of the duties of the reverse switch, and the park/neutral safety switch. Convenient that it's an all-in-one, but it also means this one piece can present failure modes for all of those typical devices. One way in which this failure presents is with no-start conditions. Essentially, the Jeep doesn't know when it's in Park or Neutral so it won't kick over the engine when you turn the key. Many people who experience this play a game of Twister to get their Jeep started, holding the key in "crank" and their foot on the brake while they rake the shifter from Park to Low and back until eventually contact is made while passing through P or N, and the Jeep fires up. In my case, the solenoid pack wasn't telling the computer that I was selecting Reverse, so the lights weren't kicking on. The Jeep still had reverse though, so it was still functionally effective, just not good enough for Maryland state safety inspection.

In the process of this replacement, I took the liberty of putting on a larger transmission pan, complete with a sensor bung because I also wanted to put a transmission temp sensor in the cabin. The Engineer in me believes more info is better.

One other thing to note, Chryco released an updated part at some point in the past. The original part has a black connector, the update has a white connector. If you need to replace your range selection solenoid, make sure you get one with the white connector. You can see the connector from outside the trans, so you don't have to tear into it to figure out which you've got. If you change to the white connector solenoid, you'll also have to change out the "comb" (the metal device next to the solenoid pack that gives you actual detents).

I also took the liberty of replacing BOTH filters while I was in there. Yes, there are 2 in this transmission...a pick-up filter, and a spin-on filter.
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post #5 of 28 Old 08-29-2019, 07:00 PM Thread Starter
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Unfortunately, you can only upload pictures on here in batches of 10, so here are the rest from the transmission work...

This Mag-Hytec pan was extremely nice! Cast aluminum, reusable gasket, drain plug and sensor port, all hex-head screws, came with 2 allen keys...very nice piece of equipment!

This solenoid replacement wasn't a difficult job. It makes a hell of a mess, but if you're careful and don't rush you can do it without issue. It can be a little intimidating pulling down your valve body, but it's relatively straight-forward. Also, looking back I wish I'd installed a mild shift kit since this is all you really need to remove in order to do that. I didn't think about it prior to pulling it apart, but I should've.
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post #6 of 28 Old 08-30-2019, 03:43 PM Thread Starter
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Another issue I ran into for MD inspection was that the muffler was rusted to the point that there was a pretty sizeable hole along the top length of it. Since the Jeep has the high output V8 I thought it would be cool to go with a performance exhaust to see what the engine sounds like when it's opened up a bit. Iron Rock Offroad had a pretty cheap 2.5" cat-back so I figured it couldn't hurt to try that out! Well, fitting it together was pretty challenging. If I'd had an exhaust tubing expander I would've been much better off, but as-is the pipes were a real pain to fit together and clamp. Despite how tightly I clamped the muffler on to the rear of the factory cat, I just couldn't get the thing to stay together. Eventually I just asked a friend of mine to weld everything together and then it was set. Beyond that, it actually has a really nice sound to it also! IRO sells both 2.5" and 3" cat-back kits, available with a Flowmaster muffler, a Dynomax muffler, or a muffler that they make that more-or-less mimics the sound of the Flowmaster. I went with their in-house muffler and now that it's all together and welded, I'm pretty happy with it! Trying to clamp it all together though, I was cursing their name.
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post #7 of 28 Old 08-30-2019, 03:56 PM Thread Starter
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Another MD inspection issue, the steel brake lines on the vehicle were absolutely toast. The point where the lines come down just below the driver's side firewall was badly rusted, and the rear line right where it transitions to the rubber line that leads to the rear axle was rusted so badly I honestly can't believe it hadn't burst yet. I bought a set of stainless steel lines (pre-formed), as well as new soft lines for the front left-and-right. The soft line in the rear was in pretty good shape, so I left that as-is. The pre-formed line pack came with every hard line on the vehicle (master cylinder - to - rear line and master cylinder - to - front - right line came in 2 pieces each). The line running from the master cylinder to the front passenger's side caliper was absolutely MISERABLE to replace. I've been working on cars for about 20 years (both professionally and as a hobby), and replacing that line was probably the most horrible job I've ever undertaken. In the end though, these new lines should out-live the vehicle! (it was tough to focus some of these pictures...sorry bouts that)
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post #8 of 28 Old 08-30-2019, 04:12 PM Thread Starter
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Not an inspection issue, but since this WJ is a Limited it has the dual-zone climate control...and since it has the dual-zone climate control, IT DOESN'T WORK. This was a very frustrating thing once I read about why this failure occurs. It's an incredibly poor design that no other manufacturer seems to fall victim to, but I wanted to fix it, and I wanted to fix it RIGHT. Anyone who's spent time researching options on how to fix this mess has no-doubt come across the trick where you drop the glove box and cut a big hole in your heater box in order to reach in and remove the broken blend doors. Having spent time wrenching in dealerships, I was immediately against this idea. I wanted to do it "right", and that doesn't involve mangling your heater box. If you do this quick-fix, you not only destroy your heater box, but you eliminate the dual-zone function of your HVAC system.

I searched around online for write-ups and how-to's for removing the dash, and decided to go for it. I had to do something because sooner or later I'd need hot air, and the way things were, that wasn't possible. I found an excellent tutorial on Youtube and decided to follow that. A few points to note: 1) This is a tedious project, but it's not a difficult one! You only need 5 or 6 readily available tools to complete it. 2) That being said, you WILL have to open both your cooling and AC systems to complete this project. I'm going to bet at this point in time, most WJ's (like mine) have an empty AC system, so blowing the AC charge wasn't a big deal. If your AC works, this'll have to be something you'll have to deal with should you decide to fix your blend doors the right way. If your AC is already empty, just dig in. You've got nothing to lose!

Once I started working through the removal I realized that some idiot had already done the half-a$$ed fix on this Jeep, and guess what...it didn't fix anything! Upon fully removing the dash, I found out why. The way the blend doors work is they rotate around an axis that they're mounted to. There are electric motors (one for driver's side, one for passenger's side) that operate their respective blend doors. Typically what happens is the blend door breaks off it's axis and then when the motor tries to move the door, it spins the axle, but the door is no longer connected, so it doesn't move. Well, upon fully removing the heater box I found out that the doors actually WERE still connected to their axles! This time the socket on the motor was stripped so it just rotated AROUND the axle. Doing the easy fix will never reveal this failure. Beyond that, you've destroyed your heater box for nothing. In this case the thing was held back together with a damn deck screw.

Before cracking into this project I went ahead and ordered aluminum blend doors, an aluminum recirc door, and 2 new motors. I also figured it would be a good idea to replace the heater core and evaporator while it was apart. I hope to never do this again, so I might as well put it back in as "new" as possible! Once it was all apart I wound up having to buy a new upper half of the heater box, a 3rd motor (for the recirc door, which was making all sorts of miserable groaning noises), as well as some weather stripping to re-seal the box. Once all back together, it was good as new!

While I had the dash out I figured it would be a good time to run a wire from my new transmission pan to my new trans temp gauge. This was extremely easy with everything out of the Jeep. The only good place I could find for the gauge was the A-pillar, so I went with that!
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post #9 of 28 Old 08-30-2019, 04:14 PM Thread Starter
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More dash pics...
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post #10 of 28 Old 08-30-2019, 04:24 PM Thread Starter
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Some shots of my temp gauge install...

I took the illumination feed from the PRNDL switch. Power for the gauge came from a piggy back fuse that I put in the main fuse block under the driver's dash.
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post #11 of 28 Old 08-30-2019, 04:59 PM Thread Starter
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Once I had the Jeep back together I drove it pretty regularly for a few weeks and it was great! I hadn't yet charged the AC, but figured I'd get around to it at some point. When I acquired the Jeep the AC didn't work so I still wasn't sure if it was just because the system had leaked empty, or if there was some kind of actual electronic failure. I figured I'd worry about it later. I had much more fun things planned...a lift!!

I did a ton of research on lifts, read reviews, watched videos, and in the end decided to go with an Iron Rock Offroad, 3" Rock-Link Long-Arm kit, and I'm pretty happy I did! I bought the thing on Black Friday which got me 15% off and free shipping! This turned out to be a reduction of like $320, which made the shock upgrade to Bilstein 5100's essentially free. I also decided to add an OME 10mm lift spacer at each corner just in case there were any tire clearance issues. All the research I did led me to the 3" kit because at 4" of lift you have to start worrying about drive angles, vibration is much harder to avoid, you're pushing the length of the stock brake hoses (which I'd just replaced), and a few other reasons. The 3"+10mm lift seemed like a pretty safe bet.

My friend who welded up my exhaust offered to help with the install. He's a very avid off-roader (wheeling a HIGHLY modified 1982 Ford Bronco) and also a pretty talented fabricator. Luckily, we didn't need that skill much! The IRO lift kit was extremely complete, and my friend was highly impressed with the over-all build quality! I got through about 1/3rd of the install before he had to go, but it helped a whole lot because we focused on the parts that are much easier with 2 people. A testament to the surprisingly good condition of this old Jeep, not a single bolt broke or had to be torched! When does that ever happen in the Mid-Atlantic?

Some notes on the lift:
1. Based on research and lift constraints, I decided to go with 265/70/17 (~31.6" tall) tires. If you use tires this size you WILL have to trim the front bumper. Also, the fit in the rear wheel wells when stuffed, but they do rub on the 9 o'clock and 3 o'clock points of the wheel well (if you look at the side of the Jeep and picture a clock where the wheel is). The well opening seems to be right about 31" wide.
2. Stock brake hoses appear to be fine for this level of lift
3. You will need to lengthen your rear diff breather hose
4. You will need a spring compressor for the rear springs. The front ones will fit in place with some bad words.
5. If you live in a salt-use state, expect the spring perches on the front axle to be fully rotted away. Mine were. You can buy replacements, and you should before you break it all down. I bought mine after and will have to remove the front springs again for the repair.
6. I bought new upper and lower spring isolators for each corner. This is a pretty good idea, and they're not expensive (like 12 bucks each off Rock Auto)
7. I bought bar-pin eliminators for the front lower shock mounting. I highly suggest this. You can read about why anywhere so I won't put it here.
8. I installed a Rancho RS5000 steering stabilizer
9. With stock wheels, front tires didn't rub anywhere but the lower front bumper when turning. Rear tires, however, rubbed against the shock body when turning at speed. I installed 3/4" wheel spacers in the rear and this rubbing was eliminated. I didn't really want to use wheel spacers anywhere if I could avoid it, but 3/4" spacers in the back are barely noticeable visually.

I think that's all I got for the lift...
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post #12 of 28 Old 08-30-2019, 06:14 PM
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Nice work. Given your background Iím sure you know this, but since you opened up the AC system make sure to replace the accumulator before purging and recharging the system.

Keep up the updates!

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post #13 of 28 Old 08-31-2019, 06:47 AM Thread Starter
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Thanks for the love! I actually just charged the AC about a month ago. I didn't replace anything yet because I wanted to see why my R134 leaked out in the first place. I pulled the system into a vacuum for about 15 minutes and then turned the pump off and it held for an hour or so, and then I charged it with dye/system sealer, and 27 oz's of R134. I've been driving it once or twice a week for about a month now and it's still holding the charge, and I can't seem to find any spots where the dye is leaking out so I'm going to let it be for now. If I do find the leak I'll evacuate, replace the accumulator + whatever's leaking, and then charge it back up for keepsies.
post #14 of 28 Old 08-31-2019, 06:55 AM Thread Starter
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Some additional lift images. I was having trouble adding them to the previous post...
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post #15 of 28 Old 08-31-2019, 07:03 AM Thread Starter
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Some of the gettin dirty part...

I wish I could caption these pictures, but I guess they're pretty straight-forward. Just pictures of the various parts going in. There's a close-up a few pictures down of the new isolators and springs in place with the OME spacers. There was some debate online as to whether the spacers go between the spring and the isolator, or between the isolator and the body. The answer is between the isolator and the body, as shown here. I also threw in a pic of the JKS bar pin eliminators installed. These don't cost much, and make quite a difference. In the second picture down you can see my spring perches are almost completely rotted away. Like I said above, if you know yours look like mine (or lack there-of), plan to replace them in this step. I bought new ones from Iron Rock Offroad, but not until after this was all complete. The kit IRO has is about 50 bucks and the perches come in 3 pieces that you'll have to weld together, and then weld to your axle. My friend welded mine up and we're hoping to get them welded in in the next few weeks. The danger of these being missing is that when you're fully flexed out, the spring on the fully extended side could kick out of place. There's no real danger if your Jeep is a fully road-going vehicle, or I suppose if you never disconnect your sway bar links.
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