Q: I am ready to take my Wrangler off-road. I have a number of upgrades in mind. What’s the best way to start that process?
A: Whenever you want to make a change or modification, there are several things you need to think about to ensure you buy the correct equipment and you’re happy with the final product. Let’s review and discuss six of those things:
1. Know Before You Buy.
Are you a “mall crawler” who drives on light trails a few times a year, or will you drive moderate to hard trails several times a year? Do you have a “beat-it-’til-it-breaks” mentality? Manufacturers put different levels of engineering into their products. Some lift kits are designed for daily drivability and comfort. Others are built for rock crawling in Moab. Buy the one that suits your Jeep and your lifestyle.
2. Be Budget-Conscious.
If money were no object, we would all be running monster rigs. Don’t be afraid to shop around. Insist on quality parts. Cheap lockers and gears might be fine on the road, but you rely on them to get you home, so get the best you can afford.
3. Know the Cause and Effect.
A lift kit, bigger tires, heavy bumpers, winches and LEDs are probably all on your list. But remember, everything comes at a price: Extra weight reduces load and towing capacity, bigger tires can stress drivetrain components, and aftermarket components increase the electrical load on the system. Adding several hundred pounds of weight could require suspension modifications. Extra electrical loads may require heavier gauge wire, remote buss bars for safer and more convenient connections, and extra grounding straps to keep the wires from melting.
4. Prepare to Maintain.
Jeepin’ is not a gas-and-go hobby. You can’t go trail-riding all day in the sand and mud and not expect to spend a good amount of time cleaning the undercarriage, washing out the brakes, regressing U-joints and suspension parts, and checking for loose or damaged parts, leaks and slinging grease. A slightly different design from another manufacturer might cost more, but it may require less costly maintenance.
5. Research the Brand.
Brand names are only as good as the people who design and build the equipment. Even the best-known manufacturers occasionally have to change the way something is made, assembled or installed. There is no way to design a part that will work in every situation and for every driving style. You need to know you are getting a quality product for your hard-earned money. Be sure the manufacturer has a technical support system you can rely on in case you encounter a defect or overstress the equipment.
6. Find a Reputable Shop.
Even do-it-yourselfers need somewhere to go to order parts and get certain items installed or repaired. There are times when it is cheaper to pay someone with the knowledge, experience and tools to do the job correctly and ensure your safety and that of your family.