Clayton Suspension’s Jeep Wrangler JK Long-Arm Upgrade

Aug. 15, 2012 By Pete Bach

We have installed a lot of different suspension systems on Jeep Wrangler JK’s over the years and have found that many of them are excellent products. After experiencing and testing ride quality, off-road handling characteristics and overall performance, we have found that there is one particular stand out in the JK suspension crowd that deserves some special attention. 

At the beginning of 2011, we ditched the factory suspension in our 2009 Rubicon Unlimited in favor of a 3.5-inch Clayton Suspension. We were happy to see such quality components throughout the “kit” in the likes of Currie Enterprise and JKS, not to mention all of Clayton’s original design work. The “short arm” kit was very impressive and we threw the hardest trails at it around the country. When Clayton told us about the Long Arm Upgrade for our standard kit, we jumped at the chance to try it out. 

We hear it all the time: “JKs already have long arms from the factory. They don’t need a long-arm kit.”  This is somewhat true, however, most people are only comparing the length of the lower arms from a JK to the Jeep TJ control arms. Sure, JK arms are longer than a TJ’s old stamped steel arms, but are they really long arms? No. There are many advantages to a true long-arm suspension on a Jeep. Most of us know that the more parallel a Jeep’s control arms are to the ground, the smoother it will ride on road. A true long-arm kit will provide this.

This is a perfect example of axle walking in the rear.

There are also many folks who believe that you will attain more wheel travel with a long-arm kit installed. This is not always true, however, you will net more linear travel with the longer control arms, reducing the axle walking and steering effect. In fact, shocks are usually the limiting factor on a four- or five-link suspension. We’ve also seen long-arm kits that incorporate long lower arms but leave short upper arms, which tend to bind suspension and fight against its own geometry. What Clayton came up with impressed us, as he designed a front and rear suspension that works very well for the JK and can be adapted to an already existing suspension system, saving you time and money.

Clayton’s new Long-Arm Upgrade for the JK is fully bolt on, so most backyard mechanics can knock it out in one day. The front is a no-brainer during installation. A very ridged and well-built front cross member is assembled for the Jeep. It is much easier to install the front Johnny Joints along with the rest of the cross member when it is on the work bench. It all goes together seamlessly. The cross member also doubles as the frame mounting point for the radius arm design. We really like the way our Jeep rides on road with the front radius arms. Handling is crisp and predictable, as well as plush and nimble, when it’s combined with the Bilstein 5100 shocks.

Steep climbs cause the front axle to hop a bit.

Off road, the front suspension is only limited by the shock length. We notice very little bind during articulation and reaction is extremely fast over rough terrain and whoops. We feel there is a trade off, however, to all of the positives that the radius design provides. With the lack of upper control arms that mount to the frame of the Jeep (upper control arms mount to the lower control arms and axle), steep climbs leave the front axle hopping for traction in many situations. While this phenomenon happens frequently during our ascents, it is not really detrimental to the Jeep’s performance. It requires steady throttle without a lot of wheel spin.

The huge square tubing design of the Clayton control arms have taken a beating and have shrugged off all of the punishment. We love the fact that the front arms are mounted inboard of the Jeep enough to keep large tires off of them as well. In the instructions, Clayton makes mention of welding the front cross member to the frame of the Jeep for additional strength. We chose to do this for peace of mind and recommend this to anyone running very difficult trails.  Overall, the front of our Jeep deserves an A grade in all categories of testing.

The rear suspension on our Long-Arm Upgrade kit is different than anything we’ve ever seen.  Brackets are bolted to the frame that capture the new long lower links, as well as the new long upper links. The lower control arms are long square tubing, as is the case with most Clayton links. The upper arms, however, are round DOM links that have multiple bends to allow for correct geometry and movement of the suspension. There is no interference due to the “snake like” bends during full up travel, and bind is kept to a minimum with this five-link design. We like the function of Clayton’s design, but installation was time-consuming and a little frustrating. Drilling through the double-walled frame took its toll on drill bits and was the hardest part of the installation. Using the included “PEM” fasteners was a bit awkward and requires precision holes to be drilled for proper alignment … but once it was all complete, everything bolted up nicely. 

Clayton’s PEM fasteners for the Long-Arm Upgrade kit. 

Make sure you take your time when pre-mounting the brackets for drilling. We also chose to weld these brackets onto our Jeep’s frame rails for added strength. The rear suspension works nicely in combination with our front. Travel is well balanced and neither end is working harder than the other. Balance is near perfect.

Clayton’s Long-Arm Upgrade kit is impressive. The ride quality on road is the best we’ve experienced with any Wrangler JK kit. Off road, we have the confidence to tackle any trail on Earth. The ability to adapt this upgrade to any lift kit on the market makes it very desirable to anyone wanting a true long-arm suspension without having to purchase suspension components twice. While we added it to a Clayton kit, we are sure that it works with all other manufacturers kits as well. If we were to start over from the beginning, we’d likely toss all the bolts for the rear link brackets aside in favor of a fully welded-on mount; however, we do like the fact that Clayton has designed a fully bolt-on kit for consumers that do not have access to a welder.

The Clayton Long Arm Upgrade easily handled Moab’s tough trails.

We took the Bodo Jeep Wrangler JK out to Moab, UT, for some serious testing. One of our favorite trails to really give a work out to a new suspension is on Pritchett Canyon. The Long-Arm system is very noticeable and a must when tackling the large ledges in Moab. Steep accents and downhills are easily negotiated with confidence when running a true long-arm set up. We were fortunate to have wheeled Moab with a short-arm kit installed on the same Jeep. Being able to compare the upgraded Clayton long-arm system to realize the results was a huge plus. We now have a Jeep that can conquer awe-inspiring trails with ease thanks to Clayton’s Long Arm Upgrade for the Jeep Wrangler JK. 

We were able to test the Clayton Long-Arm Upgrade on the same trails we tested it’s 3.5-inch “short arm” kit. It was easy to see the direct comparison and just how much better the Long-Arm Upgrade tackles the trails.

Clayton Suspension Skid Plate System for Jeep JK
We were also lucky enough to test the complete skid plate system from Clayton. The long four-door Unlimited JK has break-over angles that are less than desirable. The factory skid plates on the JK are nearly worthless when it comes to serious wheeling. One good hit to them and they deform like aluminum foil.

CAD rendering of Clayton’s skid plate

Clayton’s new skid plating for the JK is the best of the best. The quarter-inch-thick steel will not bend or dent, keeping the soft side of your JK protected 100 percent. What we were most impressed with during installation of the skid plate kit was fitment. Seams almost disappeared after bolting each piece together! We could not even slide a sheet of paper into the seams – it is that precise. Flathead Allen bolts are used throughout the skids giving it a totally smooth surface for sliding across rocks. 

The skid plates from Clayton install cleanly and offer great protection.

Clayton smartly designed a cutout in the oil pan skid plate to allow for easy oil changes, and mounting positions are strong and ridged, however, this skid plate will only work with Clayton’s three-piece long-arm cross members. The transfer case skid plate from Clayton also bolts to their three-piece cross member only, but we think it would be easily adapted to the factory unit with a little modification. Clayton did inform us that he was about to release a new Heavy-Duty Cross Member and that it would be available by the time you read this and will work with the new skid plates. 

CLAYTON Off Road Inc.
1261 Meriden Rd
Waterbury, CT 06705-3637
Phone: (203) 757-0339
Shop & Office Hours: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday-Friday Newsletter
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