Overland TJ Wrangler Jeep Build, Part 1

Aug. 12, 2011 By Josh Burns

This 4-inch Skyjacker kit (TJ401K-SVX-H) would give our TJ Wrangler plenty of clearance on the trail and room for our 33-inch BFGoodrich tires. Even if we move up to a larger tire in the future, such as 35s, we can still have enough clearance while retaining a low center of gravity for trail stability.

In the world of Jeepers, it’s pretty hard to miss the JK Wrangler. It literally is everywhere – trails, streets, supermarkets, you name it. And it’s all with good reason. The vehicle has been a homerun for the Jeep brand, and the four-door option made the Wrangler a realistic family vehicle. It’s also probably the most capable off-road vehicle out of the box you can buy, especially if you purchase the Rubicon version.

With all that said, the JK also carries a steeper price tag that put it out of our price range for budget-minded project vehicle. For an off-roader looking for a more cost-effective option, a previous-generation Wrangler might be a safer bet. There are great deals to be had on older YJ models (1987-95), but we wanted something a little more modern in terms of suspension design and decided to search for a TJ Wrangler instead (’97-’06).

The previous owner did perform some upgrades on the Wrangler, but the Pro Comp ES3000 (as the rusted mounts can attest) put in their time and are ready for replacement.

Beginning a build is always an adventure, and it often starts with the purchase of the vehicle. We hunted for a Wrangler for a few weeks. We even downloaded an app on our Android-powered phone for Craig’s List that sent updates on new vehicles posted. Low and behold, we actually found a promising Wrangler on AutoTrader.com, which was a little surprising considering we had listed personal vehicles for sale on the site in recent years only to sell it with no listing cost on Craig’s List. Go figure.

If nothing else, the Auto Trader angle bought us a little time since Craig’s List seems to be more universally used. We drove to check out the vehicle on a Friday afternoon, with cash in hand, hoping it was as good as advertised. The 2000 Wrangler was manual (which we wanted), had under 50,000 miles on the motor (big plus), but it also had a salvage on the title (bummer). The low miles on the motor were enticing, however, so we had to see it. After a close inspection, test drive, and a little discussion on the price, we came away with the Wrangler.

After a few weeks of searching, we found a good deal on a 2000 Wrangler with low miles on the motor.

From what information we could gather, the salvage came from it being stolen nearly 10 years prior. It was in a front-end crash (more on that later) but drove and ran great. The previous owner and his wife really didn’t run the vehicle much the last year, and the owner before that was a friend of the previous owner who had actually done some work to it – Magnaflow exhaust, Pro Comp shocks, and a few body tweaks like different fender flares, a different bumper, and more.

For the project, we wanted to build an overland-style Wrangler – an adventure vehicle that could hold its own on the trail but isn’t a full-blown rock-crawler. It’s an off-road Jeep that is trail-worthy, capable of tackling serious obstacles just maybe no scaling the side of a mountain. We want something to drive to the trails instead of needing to trailer it there.

Off-Road Warehouse helped us with the first part of our Overland TJ Build. ORW has four different shops in San Diego County, including El Cajon, Temecula, San Diego and Escondido.

For the first step in the build we are installing a 4-inch Skyjacker suspension lift (part # TJ401K-SVX-N). This kit includes Skyjacker’s Nitro shocks, new springs, lower links, sway bar links, rear track bar relocating bracket and front skid plate. The Skyjacker kit includes Nitro 8000 shocks, which are twin-tube shocks that are nitrogen-gas pressurized up to 150 psi. The kit includes the lower control arms, but we also decided to replace the uppers as well. The 4-inch kit will give us great trail clearance and also easily accommodate the 33-inch BFGoodrich Mud Terrain KM2 tires we will run.

ORW’s Lenny De Taranto gets the Wrangler ready by removing the stock 15-inch Jeep wheels and 31-inch BFGoodrich AT KO tires.

For tires, we are using 33-inch BFGoodrich KM2s, and we went with the 10.5-inch width versus 12.5-inch. Although the wider tires will provide a little better traction in sand and other super soft conditions, the smaller tire footprint will help get us through tight trails and rocky sections a little easier. The all-season KM2 tire is the updated version of the original BFG Mud-Terrain. The KM2 has a three-ply sidewall for rock protection on the trail. Although the All-Terrain TA KO is tough to beat, the KM2 offers a more aggressive tread for serious off-roading.

Since we were swapping out the tires we also wanted to replace the wheels at the same time, so we turned to ATX Wheels for its newest Jeep wheel the Slot. We stayed with a 15-inch wheel, and the 15x7 Slot had the proper 3.75-inch backspace Skyjacker recommends for the 4-inch kit, so everything matched up well.

The rear track bar is loosened for removal.

For the installation of the kit, we headed to Off-Road Warehouse (ORW) in Temecula. ORW actually has four locations in San Diego County: Temecula, Escondido, El Cajon and San Diego. We’ve worked with the Temecula store in the past and the shop does great work. Each location has a little more of a specific clientele but they all cater to every type of off-roader. The Temecula store is open every day but Sunday and has four lifts that stay pretty busy.

“We have a big racing clientele, but each store is different,” said ORW Temecula store manager “Dez” Knight. The stores do everything from simple work such as changing tires to more complex builds such, “Long-arm JK kits where there’s a lot of cutting and welding and fabricating.”

The rear links are removed to prep the rear end for the Skyjacker components.

Each Off-Road Warehouse also offers off-roaders a great free resource.

“One of the things that Off Road Warehouse does is free suspension and steering inspections,” Knight explained. "We can put your vehicle on a lift and do a free suspension inspection with no obligations to have work done. This helps a lot of people know if they have a small problem or a big problem."

Comparing the stock and Skyjacker control arms.

The man overseeing all of the wrench turning at Temecula is Lenny De Taranto, who worked with us on a Tacoma Tuneup last year and would help us again on this build. First thing we did is remove the lift kit from the packaging, set it out and double-check that everything was there. We did a brief rundown of the gameplan and got to work.

The Wrangler was then put on the lift and the installation got underway. For more detailed information, follow along with the photos below. Be sure to check back for the next step of our TJ build, and as focus on driveline upgrades and changes on the Wrangler with Mechanically Inclined Technicians (M.I.T.) in El Cajon, California.

ATX Wheels

BFGoodrich Tires

Off Road Warehouse


The stock rear links compared to the Skyjacker links. Aside from being longer, the Skyjacker links are also sturdier than the stock plastic composite units.

The 4-inch Skyjacker kit also includes new springs for both front and rear. Along with the rear springs, extension bump stops are also installed.

The rear suspension with the new Skyjacker components installed.

With the control arms, springs and links installed, De Taranto installed the new Nitro 8000 shocks. Skyjacker actually plans to soon introduce a new monotube shock line that we will test, so it will be a good comparison to try the twin-tube Nitros first.

To accommodate the track bar relocating bracket, a few new holes need to be drilled to accommodate it.

The track bar relocating bracket raises the mounting point for the track bar to accommodate the lift and to help control roll centers (decrease body roll).

The front springs are installed.

A new hole needs to be drilled to shift over the front track bar mount.

A new dropped pitman arm is included in the Skyjacker kit to reduce the draglink angle.

 Sway-bar disconnects that come with our 4-inch Skyjacker kit are installed.

The front suspension starts to come together with the installations of the front shocks after the springs and controls arms are in place.

Skyjacker includes a steering box skid plate for added trail protection.

The transfer case drop kit helps re-angle the transmission properly since the geometry changed with the lift kit. We also needed to remove the center console to slightly modify the metal base for the shifter boot to get fully into second gear, which Skyjacker notes this may need to be modified in the instructions.

Our 33-inch BFGoodrich KM2 Mud-Terrain tires are mounted on the new 15x7 ATX Slot wheel.

The new BFGoodrich KM2 tires (left) feature a more aggressive tread design than the AT KO tires previously on the TJ. They are certainly more aggressive for the trails, but they still drive just fine on the street.

The new ATX Slot wheels provide an updated look to our Wrangler, but most important the 15x7 wheels feature the same 5 on 4 1/2 bolt pattern as the stock wheel, as well as the proper back spacing for the Skyjacker kit.

When we reinstalled the new tire-and-wheel combo, we also used new locking lug nuts for a little added security.

Two things we wanted to change is the aftermarket rear bumper, and the chrome tip on the Magnaflow exhaust just had to go. We removed the bumper, which will later be replaced by a new Bestop high-clearance bumper, and we cut off the chrome tip of the exhaust.

One down, a few to go. With the lift, tire and wheels installed, the Wrangler definitely has a more aggressive profile and much better trail clearance. Our next move is to change out the stock 3.73 gearing. We also noticed the front axle has a slight leak, which likely is the result of the front-end accident it was in years ago. Our next move is to repair the front axle, replace gears and make a few other drivetrain changes.


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