Jeep: finally ready for the trail

The new tires and rims came in today, so I went and picked them up. Here's my rig:


This is a 2015 Wrangler Sport 2Door w/AC (no other upgrades, 3.21 gears). Here's the modifications I've made to date:

  •   drains: drilled in plastic, floor plugs pulled
  •   hitch receiver: like factory, forgot the brand
  •   vacuum pump relo: OR vacuum pump relocation bracket
  •   fenders: trim, remove liner, spray bedliner coating
  •   programming: turn signal, light timeout, acc timeout, speedo
  •   spare-tire mount: teraflex hinged tire-carrier
  •   highlift mount: teraflex accessory mount
  •   headrests: bent back
  •   CB radio: midland CB, Wilson 305-483 Silver Load
  •   Winch: superwinch 9500, synthetic rope
  •   Winch plate: Rough Country, with D rings
  •   Tires: duratrak 285/75R16
  •   wheels: 4.25" backset steel
I still need to do something about the front fender lights for inspection (I could just trim the fenders a bit more), but she's trail ready.

Since my last post I added the tire carrier and jack mount. It basically replaces the factory hinge with something longer that goes all the way to the tire. This is necessary because the stock hinges are too lightweight for heavy tires. My new tires might just barley be okay, but I needed to reinforce it if I wanted to ever use a spare-tire mount bike rack. The carrier went on exactly as the instructions described just bolted on, it hardly took me any time at all so I'll leave out the detail. Anyway, I went from this:

To this:

This also gives a place for the CB radio antenna I added next. I did some reading, and basically if you want to hang out with other folks at all, jeep clubs, etc. you need a CB radio. I always kindof wanted to really install one properly, so I did. The Jeep Wrangler is something of a rediculous vehicle inside, everything just pulls out, so I was able to route the antenna wire trivially, the only hard bit was fishing it through the tailgate, which I did with a little stiff wire, some tape, and little swearing.


I have a habit of doing stupid things, and doing them alone. It's a miracle I never got Jane stuck (the Toyota Tacoma I sold to Jess). A Jeep Wrangler is just more encouragement to do stupid things. Given that I figured I really need a winch. Also, I was dragging trees with this Jeep before it hit 200 miles, and a winch makes a lot of that type of work easier and safer. General advice everyone says is around 2x to 3x the weight of your vehicle. My Jeep is ~3600 lbs (I know, modern cars are HEAVY), and that's before I weight it down with heavy tires and other junk. Given that I got a 9600 lb superwinch.

If you know about winches and ropes you'll know why I got a synthetic winch rope. Steel cable stretches significantly more than synthetic winch rope, and as a result can be extremely dangerous if it breaks, quite capable of killing people. Synthetic winch rope is so non-elastic that it will reportedly drop to the ground safely if it breaks. Additionally sharp kinks in it don't affect it much, and it doesn't rust. It does get damaged by UV over time of course, but oh well. Before the winch I've always kept 16000lb synthetic winch rope in my car, to use for vectored pull and the like (look it up if you are curious, you can move VERY heavy things with just a rope if you know what you are doing, and can capture your progress).

Anyway, THIS was the PITA project. To mount the winch plate

  • Pull the plastic air-dam below the front bumper
  • Pull off the front bumper
  • Strip out the plastic screws on the plastic piece behind the front bumper, try and saw it off, finally pry it off with a giant screw-driver.
  • Disassemble the bumper and swap the tow-hooks for winch-plate mounts
  • Put the bumper back on, drive to the store and buy a dremel
  • Remove the front bumper again
  • Cut off the vacuum pump mount with the dremel, paint over the raw metal, and bolt on the mounting plates
  • Reinstall the bumper, forcing the nuts on, assuming it's because the bolts were crappy (after spending a long time on youtube looking for help)
  • Realize you used the wrong nuts and they gave you new ones (standard instead of metric) and thus stripped some of the threads. Disassemble everything, swap back to the tow hooks and put it mostly back together enough to drive safely
  • Come back, remove the bumper again, swap the tow-hooks for plate mounts again, put it back together with the right nuts.
  • Bolt the winch mounting plates back on again, realize you have no way to tighten the bolts as they are enormous, and one is completely inside a frame member... decide to ignore it for now.
  • Bolt the winch-plate to the winch
  • Open up holes in the winch-plate using a dremel (burning out 2 bits) because the bolts for the aluminum haus are too large, and bolt on the haus
  • Loosen all the nuts on bumper so everythign shifts around loosely. 
  • Bolt the winch-plate to the mounts... except two bolts.
  • Shove on the thing for an hour finally realizing where you can shim to hold it all in place while you get the last 2 bolts in.
  • Tighten the bumper bolts and winch-plate mounting bolts down again
  • To tighten those impossible bolts, buy a socket that's a little too lose, and an extender to match.  Get the stocket up inside the frame member and over the bolt, there's a hole that doesn't quite line up that just barely fits a 1/4" drive, use this for the extender, tighten the bolt
  • Remove a nut from your battery so you can get the right size to bolt down your groundline
  • Drop the nut into the engine bay
  • To get it out without serious electrocution remove the groundline
  • In the process pop the clamp off the groundline... be sure to completely lose this in the engine bay.
  • Look for the clamp for 2 hours in the engine bay and on the ground, give up, go home and fabricate one the best you can from an old license plate.
  • Replace the plastic air-dam
  • Oh yeah, and use that nut to attach the groundline

AAAANYWAY. I got it on, and it works, and it's pretty cool :D.


To explain the tires. I wanted something that was reasonable on the road with no too much road noise, something that would be fun offroad, and something that would handle both snow and ice (totally different things), really well. For one, I want to be able to get in the driveway this winter, and I want to be lazy about shoveling :P.

As it happened, on Saturday Jess and I were out hiking in George Washington National Forest. We had decided to go somewhere different, so we were a little ways in on some mostly pretty smooth dirt roads. It was only exciting at any point due to the ice patches, which I was sliding on a bit. In any case, on our way out we blew a tire on some dinky little rock stuck in the dirt. It tore a slash in the tread of my left rear tire, firing the TPMS sensor. I took a shot at patching it, but to no avail given how it tore. If you were in any doubt, the stock wrangler sport tires really are just crappy street tires, just ignore the M+S rating. Happily though, I already had my new tires on the way, ordered almost a week prior.

After much reading I found that 33" tires run really well on the JK. The rest of the components are generally up to snuff so you don't tend to break things too much. 35" tires lead quickly to a long list of modifications such as reinforcing the front Dana 30 axle and things like that. I'm not looking to build a monster here, just something that's a lot of fun on the trails, and at least as capable as Jane was.

I really wanted narrow tires or "pizza cutters". Narrow tires would keep my gas milage up. In shallow snow like VA tends to get they tend to punch through to the bottom giving better traction than wide tires do, similar for mud. They fail hard in bottomless mud and snow, but I figured that's okay.

As it turned out though, I couldn't get 33" pizza cutters (say 235/85R16) in the tread I wanted, that is something with lots of siping but an open almost mud tread. I was also searching for something around 8 ply, but these tires only come in 10 ply in this size, oh well. So, I gave up and got what I could in the tire I liked 285/75/R16 10 ply. Driving home they felt pretty okay. Jeeps are a little flighty at highway speed, and the new tires make it worse than the old ones did, but it's definitely drivable. I'm tempted to fiddle with the toe-in to try and stabilize the new shoes a little. We'll see.

The rims are 4.25" backset. I got paranoid at the last minute, as it turns out I probably could've gotten away with a fair bit more backset (backset is the distance from the inner edge of the rim, to where the wheel bolts to the axle, so more backset moves the wheel more inboard). More backset has the advantage of making your vehicle narrower overall and fitting your wheels under the fenders to make them legal in more states. A lot of folks like the look of less backset, and it's less likely to end up rubbing, and I will say... I'm not even close to rubbing anywhere, especially with the fender trim. I kindof want to try going to full flex just to see if it rubs then, but I doubt it will.


I'm so used to "underpowered" vehicles, I actually like the feel of the engine and transmission a little better with the larger tires and 3.21 gears. It's easier to keep static friction and not overtorque - I know I'm breaking some terrible rule of 4x4's and MORE POWER. Right now I'm thinking rather than re-gear if I feel I need more low-end torque I might consider swapping the transfer case... Not for a while though, that's a lot of money to drop and she's built enough to be pretty darned capable. Besides that I still haven't tried things like pulling my trailer.

I can't wait to get the rig out on the trail. It should be a lot of fun.


Jeep: Vacume pump and Fenders

Now that I got the trivial stuff out of the way, I went on to some still relatively easy but more drastic mods. I drilled my first hole in a metal part of the Jeep actually as part of the fender mod. It had to happen some time ;-).

I moved the vacuum pump up into the engine compartment - so I can install a winch plate (now coming in the mail). And I trimmed my fenders, for full flex once I get 33" tires on there.



It looks almost the same right? Personally, I'm quite happy with that.

I followed (approximately) this guys directions:

I'll note now that after digging through the VA codes, although a LOT of people seem to do this mod and no-one reports having problems, it looks like strictly speaking I'm not currently quite legal. Technically VA requires side-lights to be on the widest part of the permanent body of the vehicle, as high as is practical, and visible from the front. Mine are currently not visible from the front, nor are they all the way out to the side. I have some new lights I need to experiment with, but I think it'll be okay until I get around to it.

With this mod, you remove the entire inner fender from the rear of the vehicle. This exposes the body to all the rocks that get kicked up.


The easiest fix is to cover the area in spray-in bed liner. I got some duplicolor liner at an autoparts store and put on about 6 or so coats. Paint would've sort-of worked, but the rubberized coating should protect a little better against gravel dinging the metal.


All in all it's simple and cheap, and it opens up a lot more space. It's pretty silly for the little 29" tires I have right now. It's not even needed for 33", but without trimming I'd probably rub at full flex and might have to adjust bump-stops and limit my flex more. This way if I put on a high-flex (low COG) lift kit later, (meaning a high quality say 1.5" lift kit), my fenders won't be what limits my flex.

Vacuum Pump

The other project was moving the vacuum pump. The newer JKs have the vacuum pump just behind the front bumper. It's a really dumb place for it for several reasons. For example, the exhaust for the pump has to run back up and into the engine-compartment so it doesn't fill with mud. Also, it's directly in the way of basically anything you might put on the front, either a winch-plate for the factory bumper, or any aftermarket bumper. Heck, it even makes it hard to get the factory bumper *off*.

Sadly, I didn't take any pictures of it in the original position, but here it is in the new position:


I purchased an OR-fab vacuum pump relocation bracket. It comes with stupid low-quality crimp connectors. I couldn't find good ones, so instead I opted to do a modified lineman's splice and solder it. The wire is milti-fiber copper core, so it was very easy to do.


Here's what it looks like all wired up, you can see the wires running down to where the pump used to be, behind the front bumper.


Besides simply following the directions, there were 2 other things I needed to do.

First, Apparently older JKs had removable nuts on the factory vacuum pump mount... mine did not. When I went to purchase some at the local hardware store I couldn't find ones that fit, so I got a new set of bolts, nuts, washers, and lockwashers... but although they seemed like they were close enough, these didn't fit through the sleeve. I pulled the sleeves and that got everything working. That's what the first picture is from. Later I found the right nut and put it together properly, you may notice the rubber looks less "squashed" in the last photo than it does in the first.

Second, you remove about 3 feet of the vacuum hose, and the entire of the exhaust hose, but you extend the wires to the pump by 3-4 feet. The kit didn't come with any wire loom for those wires. So, I picked some up at the auto parts store. Here's what it looks like all finished up:


The new location seems better in every way. The vacuum tubes are shorter, the pump is better protected, the exhaust pipe doesn't need to exist at all. I don't know why they don't put it there in the first place. I'm pretty happy with the mod though.

More coming down the pipe. I'm not planning anything too crazy (yet), but there's a few more things I want to do that I feel like I'll really use. I was skidding logs with this vehicle, and had offroaded it, before it hit 200 miles. Given that, I decided I should spend the energy to make it nice for how I want to use it.


Trivial Jeep "mods"

Well, I got a Jeep. You don't get a Jeep so you can keep it stock. I'm starting easy.

Part of why I got a Jeep is so I would learn more about cars. The stuff here is the super-easy not-too-educational stuff, but you gotta start somewhere.

I didn't buy a hitch on my jeep when I got it. At the time I thought I'd get a bumper with one built in. Anyway, this was $55 on amazon, including wiring harness.


To mount it you just pull the bumper and bolt it on. The wiring harness (like most) is just a jumper that takes off from the plug on the left-side tail light. I've been spraying more undercoating whenever I expose a new part of the Jeep and this was no exception.


The well known mirror drain mod turns out to be unnecessary on the 2015 Wrangler. I drilled it first. Later I removed the mirror to use to look up our chimney (we didn't have any other mirror in the house, I guess I don't touch up my makeup enough). Apon inspection they've added a notch to the gasket and set it up so it seems to drain properly. It's been raining a lot and there was no water in it when I drilled it, or when I pulled it off.


Chrysler, in their infinite wisdom, didn't put drain holes in virtually anything but the main tub. I went through and added them to the plastic tray in the back:


I unplugged the doors a while ago to so it doesn't "ding" when they are open. I hate that feature in all cars, and carefully broke it in the Tacoma as well.

Lastly, I have no pictures for this, but I purchased a flash-cal. This lets you tweak the computer in a number of interesting ways. Some are only relevent to automatics, but a bunch are useful. I adjusted the front lights so I can use highbeams and fog-lights at the same time (I mean, why would you interlock those in the first place?) I tweaked the front-light timeout which for some reason applies when you turn the car off and then turn the lights off (ANNOYING!). I set it to one second so this doesn't matter. I tweaked the one-touch turn-signal, which again drove me nuts. I hate things with timeouts like that, let me flip a switch on, and then off.

Annoyingly it wouldn't let me adjust the stereo timeout. The stereo keeps playing after I turn the ACC off and then turns itself off about a minute later. I find this rather annoying. I'd much rather it just switched off instantly. Oh well. I suspect there's an update that would let me do it, but I haven't gotten the update software to run under wine yet (windows installer DLL hell).

The original impetus for purchasing the flashcal was so I could fix the TPMS and speedo when I upsize my tires (current plan is 33"). I already tweaked the TPMS so it won't complain until I'm below 20 PSI. I'd rather go on handling and watching the tires carefully than a light anyway. You may notice the tire guage in the last picture.

I've got lots more planned. I'm just doing the super-easy stuff first. I already have a kit for relocating the vacuum pump, but haven't gotten up the gumption and a couple consecutive days where I'm willing to break my daily driver.

I learned several things today:
  1. blogger's comment system is still totally hosed, after several attempts I've been unable to reply to the comment on this post. I've been intending to migrate the blog elsewhere at some point.
  2. Indeed, said comment is 100% correct for VA.  I found the regulation:
    http://leg1.state.va.us/cgi-bin/legp504.exe?000+reg+19VAC30-70-160. It's  I-11-G-1. So, I'll probably be undoing that particular mod. Thank you very much for the comment!