Project Jeep Grand Cherokee WJ: Cladding and Trim Cleanup

Apr. 04, 2014 By Josh Burns
After scouring the Internet to explore different options, we decided to give Krylon Fusion a shot to paint our side cladding on the Grand Cherokee WJ. The paint is designed to adhere to plastic.

Things have been progressing with our Jeep Grand Cherokee WJ Project. After finding a relatively inexpensive WJ on Craigslist with very little off-road mileage, we went to work building it into a more capable off-roader.

Although WJ is the last solid-axle Grand Cherokee by Jeep, it still has some inherent limitations for off-roading. One of the biggest obstacles is its lack of ground clearance and space for fitting larger, off-road tires. We addressed that issue with Bushwacker’s Cut-Out Fender Flares, and we then found a reasonably priced paint job from a local MAACO in Southern California.

With paint completed and the Bushwacker flares installed, we headed over to SoCal SuperTrucks in San Bernardino to install our BDS Suspension 4-inch lift kit. With the added ground clearance of the lift, along with the added space gained in the wheel wells during the Bushwacker fender flare installation, we would be able to fit a 33-inch off-road tire on our WJ; without the fender flares, BDS says a 31-inch tire can fit with its 4-inch lift. Although it’s not as easy to fit larger tires on the WJ as it would be with, say, a Wrangler, considering the stock tire size is only about 29 inches, the larger tires will help get the WJ off the ground and provide much better clearance for rocks and uneven terrain on the trail.

Previous Project WJ Stories
Bushwacker Fender Flare Installation and MAACO Paint

BDS 4-Inch Lift Install at SoCal SuperTrucks 

Our test pieces came out mixed the first time. We ended up stripping the paint after our first attempt with mineral spirits and tried again. We found success in multiple light, even coats. 

Before we install our Mickey Thompson tires and wheels, we wanted to get a few small, but important, details in order. If you’ve followed the build, you may remember seeing a few shots of the WJ minus some of the side cladding. We originally had to trim the cladding on the rear doors to accommodate the new Bushwacker flares. Since we had recently painted the Jeep, we wanted to wait to reinstall the cladding until we were certain of our next move. We considered trying to purchase black cladding direct from the dealer that would replace the grey pieces we have and also match the Bushwacker flares, but we quickly realized this route is unrealistic due to the cost of the pieces (don’t event ask). The next option was to find a donor vehicle at a junkyard, and we did find a few but the pieces were faded or the same grey we already had. 

Since the grille has seen so much mileage, instead of buying a replacement piece we decided to sand it. The Krylon Fusion is purported to stick well to most surfaces, so we decided to paint it black to match it with the cladding and Bushwacher fender flares. First, a light sanding helps rough up the surface to accept the paint. 

Much like the cladding, multiple coats helped give the grille the a nice clean look.

After some digging around, we came across a few different forum topics on the subject where owners had painted the cladding themselves. Closer inspection revealed a number of positive experiences with Krylon Fusion spray paint. Designed as a no-prep paint that adheres to plastic, the Krylon Fusion option looked like a realistic, and cost-effective, route assuming it wouldn’t easy flake off or look poorly painted like the few examples we’ve seen over the years.

So we went ahead and picked up a few cans of Black Gloss Krylon Fusion. The key to success with any type of painting lies in the prep work, and we learned the hard way at first that poorly prepped plastic won’t accept paint well. We tested our cut cladding pieces first before going any further. We cleaned both well with a degreaser, dried them and applied three coats on each piece. Although one came out nicely, the other, which we tried unsuccessfully to sand between coats, looked messy and lumpy. 

Meguiar’s PlastX helps revive cloudy headlamps, and our WJ’s lights were in need of some cleanup.  

PlastX is like fine-grade liquid sandpaper, and application can be done with a rag or sponge.

With one of our sample pieces looking horrible and the other good until an accident that happened before the coat dried, we set out cleaning the cladding and starting over. We discovered the key to cleaning the plastic best is to do so with mineral spirits (or something comparable). Applying light, even coats, of paint also important as opposed to trying to apply a heavy coat or two. Multiple light coats provided a finish that looks natural and doesn’t look like it is painted with a rattle-can. The Fusion paint certainly adheres well to the plastic. If prepped properly and painted with multiple coats, the finish and appearance looks great.

We cleaned the surface with degreaser and some light sanding to make sure the grease and road grime from years of use was off the cladding so as to properly accept the paint. Mineral spirits also work very well to clean the surface, but since we didn’t remove the cladding pieces on the driver and passenger door we stayed away from using such a strong product at first in fear of damaging our new paintjob.

Once clean, we taped off our side cladding.

We set aside a good part of the day for all of the work, allowing plenty of time to clean all the pieces, allow the cladding to fully dry, and then leave plenty of time for prep. We’d apply a coat on all of the pieces and then give it plenty of time to dry before applying another coat. Most pieces received at least four coats of paint.

So, we set off tape off the Jeep to paint the rest of the cladding. Although we plan to replace it in the future, we went ahead and painted the front fender as well to match. The chrome grill was starting to show signs of wear, so instead of buying a new replacement piece, we decided to pull it off, sand it down, and paint it black to match the rest of the cladding, flares and bumper (it’ll also match the Mickey Thompson Sidebiter II wheels we will be installing shortly) .

Although we do plan to replace the front bumper in the future with an off-road-style piece that has recovery points, for now a matching paintjob will help give the WJ a cleaner look. We also wanted to see how well the paint would take on the bumper for those who don’t plan to replace the bumper.

Although we haven’t yet hit the trail, after over a month and a few washes, the paint on the bumper, cladding and grille still looks great.

With so many miles on our WJ, the headlights have gotten cloudy over the years, so we grabbed a bottle of Meguiar’s PlastX to help clear it up. Comparable to extremely fine sand paper, Plastx is designed to clear up light oxidation, light scratches, grime and chemical contamination. Application of Plastx is simple enough with a rag or polish sponge. We taped off the edges to avoid contact with our new paint and went to work. The PlastX made an improvement with the cloudiness after one application, but we do need a little more help and will need to try the more in-depth Heavy Duty Headlight Restoration Kit down the road.

Once everything was fully dry we reinstalled the grille on our Jeep. The Meguiar’s PlastX also helped clean up the cloudiness on our WJ’s headlamps.

After applying multiple coats of paint to our WJ’s fender flares, bumper and grill, we came away impressed with the look and finish of changes. The Krylon Fusion does in fact work very well for painting plastic pieces, and with the proper prep work it appears durable as well. We’ve had the paint on our Jeep for over a month, and in that time we’ve washed the vehicle a few times and have yet to notice any signs of wear on the paint. We’re looking forward to seeing how it holds up to nicks and scraping on the trail, but for now we’re pleased with the simple solution.

The side cladding looks much better, and so far we’re impressed by the durability and overall appearance of the Krylon Fusion paint.

Previous Project WJ Stories
Bushwacker Fender Flare Installation and MAACO Paint

BDS 4-Inch Lift Install at SoCal SuperTrucks

Our Project WJ is finally starting to come together. Getting those worn-out road tires swapped out for our new Mickey Thompson Baja Claws and Sidebiter II wheels will really get this Jeep out of its suburban existence and more ready for its new home on the trail. Newsletter
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