I finally broke down and bought a Jeep. Not that I have anything against Jeeps per se, I just love my Tundra to bits.
I’d spent a few years working on building my 2013 Toyota Tundra (See Clifford build thread) but now I’m starting to want to do some more off-roading than just overlanding. I find that I love the truck for long distances and camping. Especially with the family. When we all go, I need the space. But for just me to explore some trails the truck can be a little… Large.
I bit the bullet and started planning on something smaller. Something a little older that I won’t feel too bad dragging through the trees. Something with a shorter, narrower wheel base that can get me through tough spots and is as off-road capable as I can get without sacrificing the on road too much. In this country, it takes a few hours of driving just to get close to where I want to explore.
In my research, I looked at 4runners, Land Cruisers, and even land cruisers but the price or availability was prohibitive. Finally, I looked for Jeeps. I love a Jeep Cherokee XJ, but the options around here appeared limited. I watched ads for a while without a suitable one popping up. My interests were in the sub 200,000km market and as stock as possible.
I also wanted the aftermarket support that the Wranglers have. I think the XJ has good support, but the Wrangler has far more. After watching the ads for a few months figuring out what I wanted, the unicorn I was after was a 04 to 06 TJ Unlimited Rubicon (LJ)… As I saw the odd Rubicon come and go, the pricing was to me anyways, high and none of them were an LJ…
To make a long story short (if that boat hasn’t sailed). Eventually this baby came up. A 2005 Jeep TJ Unlimited. Not a Rubicon, but at 165,000km (102,000 miles give or take), 6spd manual, good condition, stock (mostly), it checked the most boxes so I jumped on it.
Quick trip south to Torrington, AB to wheel a private deal… Also, if you’ve never been to Torrington, they have a world famous museum. The Torrington Gopher Museum. It’s worth the trip for sure. Lol
The goal is a somewhat moderate off-roading machine without sacrificing too much in the way of on-roading. I want to drive it to some fun. Have some fun, then drive it home. To obtain that goal, I want to do everything I can myself. I’m not overly mechanically inclined, but I muddle through, so this oughta be interesting.
Job 1 is catch up on some maintenance. I took it into a local Jeep specialty shop for the once over. They suggested ball joints, a brake job, and a u-joint be replaced. I let them do the ball joints and the U-joint. I figure that I’ve never done a brake job, but how hard can it be?
Pads & rotors were pretty easy to replace. One rotor looked like someone had taken a ballpeen hammer to it so I’m glad to replace it.
Tires and wheels. The problem with job 2 is that I wanted more clearance Clarence. I need height. Job 1.5, a lift.
After some research, I settled on a Terraflex 3” lift with Bilstein 5100 shocks. I’ve never done a lift before. How hard can it be?
Apparently not that hard. I found a Youtube video of someone doing it, and it took him 12 minutes. It took me 2 weeks mind you, but I took time to go rice farming in the middle.
And got stuck in the same mud hole over and over again… I needed a jeep.
But I digress.
Ok, so the lift is finally done and looking silly with mostly stock tire size.
Watching for tire sales I see some good deals on Mickey Thompson 33X12.50R15LT ATZP3 wheels and tires so I buy 5.
I pick up 4. One goes back due to being excessive weight to balance. I’m pretty excited until I turn one around and see this:
That… Seems like a ton of weight.
Tire 1 – 28oz
Tire 2 – 13oz
Tire 3 – 7oz
Tire 4 – 4.5oz
I return tire 1, and they gladly order a replacement. Which comes back worse. Tire 5 eventually comes in and won’t balance either. EVENTUALLY I get the tires sorted and after 3 weeks on blocks I’m good to go!
Next I needed bumpers! And a winch. Can’t not have a winch. I’m too lazy to push when I get stuck.
One thing I’m not a huge fan of is the fuel range in a Jeep. With the 19gallon tank my range is about 300km to 350km if I’m lucky. I took a 3-day trip in Clifford the other day to Kakwa falls and stopped for fuel twice. One stretch was upwards of 600km with NO fuel around. In the jeep I would have been boned for that 600km stretch. Not to mention the 5-other fuel stops I would have had to take just to get there and home. I’ll have to work on that.
Solution one in the meantime is that I need to carry extra fuel. I didn’t like the look of carrying fuel beside the spare. To me it seems like an after thought. I prefer carrying the cans between the spare tire and the tailgate of the Jeep… Unfortunately, those bumpers are EXPENSIVE! And I’m oddly cheap at weird times.
Smittybilt Atlas was exactly what I want… Which they don’t make for a TJ. A couple of other manufactures had similar designs, but again, it was pricey.
At any rate I watched the sales for a while until the Smittybilt XRC front and rear bumpers (with SRC tire swingout) came up 20% off. A nice simple cheap little bumper. As did the winch, so I snapped them all up at once. I had planned to mount a “rock hard” fuel can carrier beside the tire like this:
But when I did… I couldn’t open the tire swing out. Not enough clearance Clarence. The glass would hit the fuel can carrier. Thankfully the local 4wheelparts takes stuff back easily when my plans go awry.
But I still need to carry fuel. So I hacked the brand new shiny bumper to pieces to make it do what I wanted.
Here is before:
And after I cut off the “a” frame for the tire carrier
Then I had a piece of steel bent to my specifications
So I can put it together like this
I had planned to creatively bolt it all together since I’m not much of a welder, but I ran into a few hurdles there so my kindly neighbour agreed to weld it together for me.
I bolted some Princess auto fuel can holders to it, and voila.
As he put it, “This is the most custom cheap little bumper in the country”.
Now that I can drive more than 300km without stopping at a gas station… I really need a larger fuel tank.
But anyway. Time for another sale item.
In my humble opinion, lockers make a HUGE difference off-road. For my money, it’s kind of a must have. I am leery about locking the front Dana 30 of the Jeep, but the rear Dana 44 I’m not worried about. I’m not an overly aggressive driver, and I tend to try to pick my way in and around things so it should be fine… Ask me in a couple years and we’ll see how it works out.
First the compressor location. No idea why, but there’s a nice little plate that’s empty and waiting for a compressor right under the brake booster. So I’ll cram it in there.
Wiring was not too bad. Easy access through an existing firewall entry and the dash came apart easily.
Switch location wasn’t too bad either. 2 good spots near the cigarette lighters for the locker switches and the compressor switch fit nicely near the steering column. I had wanted to replace the ARB compressor switch for a switch that fit in one of the factory blanks but… I couldn’t sort out how the wiring should be to replace a complex switch with a simple dry contact. The schematic I have is just connections, I didn’t know what each pin in the switch does… That’s a long way to say that just because I work in an engineering company putting together complex control systems doesn’t mean I can put together a switch wiring scheme. Lol. At least not without the right schematics.
Locker install is above my pay grade. Alberta Driveline in Edmonton did it & re-geared to 4.56 gears at the same time. MUCH better. I’m only running 33” tires, but the re-gear helped give the Jeep some more pep and get the RPM where it should be while on the highway. I’ll get it off-road soon, once I wear in the new gears & I’ll be a growing concern!