This is the second in a series of articles that will document the search for and customization of a used Wrangler that will be raffled off at Jeep vs. Harley 2018.
So you read “How to Buy a Used Jeep” in the last issue of JCF (January/February 2018, Page 26) and you heeded our advice. You made yourself into an educated consumer. You tested and inspected a bunch of Jeeps and finally hit pay dirt when you found your dream machine.
It may not be 100% perfect, and it may even have some quirks or needed work that you found during your thorough inspection. Maybe you identified some repairs that will be covered by one of your planned upgrades. (The seller didn’t need to know that.) Hopefully, you were able to use those issues as a bargaining tool to negotiate the price and still drive home with some cash left over for upgrades.
Whatever the case is, congratulations on your new-to-you Jeep! Time to get to know it a little better, address any pressing issues, and start to plan your build.
Name That Noise!
Your first task is to get some quality on- and off-road windshield time under your belt. Get to know your Jeep’s specific characteristics. Familiarize yourself with how it handles, brakes, steers and runs.
Wranglers — especially older, used ones — are not known to be the quietest vehicles to begin with. But after the initial “Wow” factor of your purchase wears off, you’ll begin to notice noises, some more alarming than others. If you’re anything like me, you’ll be racking your brain trying to remember whether the noise you are hearing now was there during your test drive, and what could possibly be the cause.
New noises are the bane of every Jeep owner’s existence. But don’t panic — yet. Some noises are benign and inherent to specific models. If you have a leaf-sprung Jeep like my YJ, for example, you will hear a creaking noise from the springs as the suspension flexes. It would worry me more if I didn’t hear it. Noises that you should take note of and thoroughly investigate include any kind of metallic grinding, whines, ticking, knocking or banging.
Older, higher-mileage Jeeps may have stretched transfer-case chains. If you were not able to thoroughly test the four-wheel drive functionality before your purchase, and you encounter a loud bang that you can feel — not just hear — accompanied by a violent lurch and the inability to drive over an obstacle with the front wheels with the 4WD engaged, you may have a problem.
That is a telltale sign that the transfer case chain is stretched to the point that it is slipping on the drive gears. This can cause serious damage inside the transfer case. You may hear the chain rubbing or slapping the inside of the housing while the 4WD is not engaged.
Your case needs immediate attention.
If you do not have experience rebuilding a transfer case, I would recommend that you have a professional shop perform the rebuild, and that you upgrade to the 1¼-inch chain kit; standard chains are 1 inch wide in an NP231J. I also recommend a heavy-duty six-planetary-gear pinion carrier; three planetary gears are standard.
If your Wrangler is not a Rubicon, and you are planning on lifting it by at least 4 inches, and you need to rebuild the transfer case, this is the perfect time to have a slip yoke eliminator and a custom rear driveshaft installed. Just know there are a number of internal “snap”-style retainer rings that require specialized pliers. That tool can’t be found anywhere but the back of a Snap-On, Matco or Mac truck, and even then, it has to be special-ordered.
Even if all your fluids looked good upon initial inspection, it is a good idea to change them all shortly after your purchase. You want to put your Jeep on a regular maintenance schedule.
Make sure you have a reliable and full grease gun, especially if you like to play in the water and mud. I regrease all greaseable fittings right after I have washed and cleaned my Jeep. This pushes any water and sand out of the joints and ensures the longest possible life for each component. This is especially important for U-joints and drive-shaft slip yokes.
Always clean the mud out of the inside of your chassis frame rails. Mud is fun as hell to play in, but any long-term Jeep owner will tell you it is the devil. It will prematurely wear out every joint. And believe it or not, it can be caustic to metal due to the high acidic content from the rotten vegetation that gives Florida’s black mud its wonderfully fragrant bouquet.
If you did your due diligence when inspecting your Jeep prior to purchase, at this stage, major unexpected repairs should be rare. It is a Jeep, and things do break unexpectedly. But with any luck, you won’t have to experience “J(ust) E(mpty) E(very) P(ocket)” repairs in the early stages.
What’s the Plan?
Planning a Jeep build requires extensive research, the reading of many reviews, and good old-fashioned trial-and-error. It’s that simple.
You call the shots and pick the direction, theme and starting point. If your budget is tight, and larger tires and taller gears are not in your immediate future, there are plenty of smaller upgrades that can be done now to improve both the look and the performance of your Jeep. But if you do opt to go with larger tires without regearing to match, be forewarned that you are going to lose some power, top speed and fuel economy.
If you are going to go that route, and your Jeep has an automatic transmission, I strongly recommend installing an aftermarket transmission cooler, especially in the first-gen JK models. Adding bigger tires without matching the gear ratio makes the transmission work harder. Working harder means it’s going to be getting much hotter much more quickly, especially during a Central Florida summer.
Overheating won’t just ruin the fluid and damage the tranny. JKs require a synthetic transmission fluid with a relatively low boil and flashpoint. Boiling fluid can spew out of the transmission’s vent and fill tube and come into contact with the very hot (up to 600 degrees) catalytic converter, typically resulting in an oil fire that is extremely difficult if not impossible to extinguish. This risk is most prevalent at top speeds. I have personally seen two JKUs burn to the ground on Florida highways.
Curiously, the factory decided to locate the stock JK automatic transmission cooler in the A/C condenser, not in the radiator, as with older vehicles. Since most aftermarket transmission coolers for the JK have much larger diameter tubes for the fluid to flow through than the factory cooler, the fluid will likely flow faster through your aftermarket cooler. A standalone cooler can actually increase transmission temperatures because the fluid is flowing too fast to be adequately cooled.
I installed a Flex-A-Lite aftermarket transmission cooler in my wife’s JKU. Contrary to instructions, I did not bypass the factory cooler. Instead, I cut the aluminum section of the stock transmission cooler return line to the transmission with a tubing cutter and ran the output side — the side still attached to the A/C condenser — into the input of the aftermarket cooler. I then ran the output of the aftermarket cooler to the return line, which is the side still attached to the transmission.
My objective was to slow the flow of fluid down enough to ensure adequate time in the coolers to significantly reduce the temperature of the fluid. Please note that, while I personally believe this to be the best approach, manufacturer specs exist for a reason, and we assume some level of risk whenever we ignore them. Govern yourself accordingly.
Welcome to the Club
Now that you’re the proud owner of a mechanically sound Jeep, you have the opportunity to join an ever-growing family of likeminded enthusiasts. Jeep clubs are made up of some of the most loyal, generous and charitable people I have ever met. I personally owe our Jeeps a debt of gratitude for introducing me to some of my closest and most trusted friends.
I truly hope that you find yourself with the same level of love and passion for your Jeep and the Jeep community that I have for mine, but your involvement and depth of commitment to this family is completely up to you. There is never too much or too little.
Whether you just wanted an open-top SUV that never leaves the pavement or you can’t wait to get your Jeep off the road and into the woods, there is a niche in this community for every Jeep owner. Hope to see you out on the trails, and don’t forget to wave!
The Sum of Its Parts
After consulting Robert Rose and other experts, the publishers of JCF finalized the parts list for the 2005 Wrangler Rubicon to be raffled off at Jeep vs. Harley. Working with Mike Hughes and Ferman Chrysler Jeep Dodge Ram of New Port Richey, the following parts were purchased:
- ARB 7-inch LED floodlight
- ARB 7-inch LED spot beam
- Bartact flashlight holder
- Bartact Mil-Spec front seat covers
- Bartact Mil-Spec rear bench seat covers
- Bartact rollbar fire extinguisher holder
- BF Goodrich M/T 37×12.50R17 tires
- Currie front antirock sway bar
- Currie rear antirock sway bar
- Fabtech 8-inch coilover
- Fabtech lift component box
- Fabtech rear shocks
- G2 front and rear gear and bearing set
- H3R MX100C fire extinguisher
- Hi-Lift 48-inch Jack X-Treme with hood mount
- JW Speaker 279 LED taillights
- JW Speaker 8700 Evo 2 dual burn headlights
- Maglite LED flashlight
- Metalcloak 4-inch front flares and mounting base plates
- Metalcloak 4-inch rear flares and mounting base plates
- Metalcloak aluminum
- Metalcloak gas tank
- Metalcloak oil pan skid plate
- Metalcloak Rocker Rails
- Metalcloak dual-function LED marker and blinker light
- Poison Spyder Dana 44 Bombshell differential covers
- Poison Spyder lower
- Rigid brow mount kit
- Rigid D-series PRO spotlights
- Rigid E-series PRO 50-inch lightbar
- Rigid rock lights
- Rubicon Express 5.5-inch long arm lift kit with
- RVC front axles Ultimate Dana 44
- Spicer Lifetime upper and lower ball joint kit
- sPOD and custom
- TeraFlex high steer system
- Tom Woods drive shafts
- TrailReady beadlock
- Tuffy underseat drawer and mounting brackets
- Warn Heavy Duty Epic recovery kit plus Warn receiver shackle
- Warn Rock Crawler
- Warn Rock Crawler stubby front bumper
- Warn Rock Crawler
- Warn ZEON 10-S winch with Spydura synthetic rope
- WeatherTech floormats
The experts at Ferman Chrysler Jeep Dodge Ram of New Port Richey have generously agreed to perform the following services!
- Air filter
- Differential service and
- Front and rear brake pads and rotors
- Gas pedal bushing assembly
- Lube, oil and filter change
- Radiator hoses and flush
- Serpentine belt
- Transmission service
- Two additional keys
- Wiper blades
The JCF team will have over $30,850 in parts, and the labor will be donated by Bear Offroad Alliance, Blackwater Jeepers, Trail Monkeys 4×4, Tri County Jeepers, and supported by Ferman CJD NPR. Each group will have their own Jeep build, and we think you will be very impressed with the final product.