Overland TJ Wrangler Jeep Build, Part 1
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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."
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.
Off Road Warehouse