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TJ Suspension Selection
Q: I am 16 years old and I have a '97 Jeep Wrangler Sport. I was wondering what short-arm suspension kits are on the market that will successfully clear 35-inch tires with little or no rubbing. It doesn't matter to me if I have to run a SYE and CV driveshaft. I'm considering the Rough Country X-Series 6-inch lift, but I have several concerns. Is the lift going to ride well on-road? This will be my daily driver. Also, will the control-arm angles be too severe and will the lift cause other parts to break? Are there any other kits that have been proven not to fail and have good on-road manners that will be able to run 35s? Thanks for any suggestions you can offer.
A: Evan, you have good timing. Check out the Jeep TJ Suspension Overview article in this issue to get an idea about what suspension systems are available for your rig. You can also check out the long-arm versus short-arm article, also in this issue, to help you decide which is the best route to take in lifting your TJ. As for the Rough Country X-Series 6-inch system, the company indicates that 35-inch tires are a possibility with this kit, though we've yet to test this particular system so we can't provide any first-hand impressions. We have installed Rough Country kits on other vehicles to good success, however, so rest assured that the company is competent at designing and building lift systems.
Q: I am 17 years old and I want to get more serious about 'wheeling. I have a '91 Jeep Cherokee XJ with 174,000 miles on it. It's my first car, so obviously I don't want to pour a bunch of money into it unless I get the engine rebuilt. How much do rebuilds usually cost? I don't plan on serious rockcrawling in the future, and I like the practicality of the Cherokee. What would you guys recommend I do to it? Which lift kit should I install? What are some common problems with these Jeeps? Is there anything else I should address? Also, what are lockers and limited-slip differentials, and what are bead locks used for? Anything you can tell me would be great.
A: Kevin, that's a lot to chew on. Here's the quick skinny to get you started. You didn't mention which engine your Cherokee is equipped with, so that will affect price. A rebuilt six-cylinder will run you a bit more than a rebuilt four-cylinder. If your budget is slim, find a good salvage yard and start scavenging. A yard that specializes is Jeeps and 4x4s is a bonus. Though you may not find the cream of the crop, you may luck out and locate an engine that's at least in better shape than the high-mileage mill you're running. For a rebuilt engine, you're looking at $1,000 or more, and that's if you do the work yourself. Although a straight swap isn't entirely difficult, it can be a bit overwhelming to a newbie mechanic and is often best left to a professional.
Concerning lift kits, a number of systems are available for the Cherokee. Full-Traction Suspension has one of the latest and greatest in its 6-inch long-arm system, which accommodates tires as large as 35 inches, but considering your budget, a more mild (and cheaper) lift may be a better bet. The best advice we can offer in deciphering which kit is best for your needs is to get on the phone and make some calls to the lift manufacturers that offer systems for your XJ and ask each a few predetermined questions that will supply the answers you're looking for. Attending events is also a great way of examining the performance of different suspension systems by meeting other Cherokee owners and asking their impressions of the lift they selected.
Finally, bead locks and limited-slip/locking differentials are key elements of a well-built rig. Bead locks are modified wheels built to accept a separate bead ring that bolts in place over the lip of the tire and locks it in place on the rim. This allows a 4x4 to run lower air pressure in the tires without the possibility of the tire slipping off the rim. Lower air pressure widens the tire's footprint and allows it to conform to rocks and other obstacles so it can pass over more easily. Lockers and limited-slip differentials are gear or clutch units that can be installed in the front or rear axle to improve traction. A locker "locks" the axleshafts together so both wheels will turn at the same rate for positive traction to both wheels. A limited-slip functions similarly, but it acts as a standard differential until a loss of traction is sensed. If one wheel loses traction, the limited-slip automatically sends more torque to the wheel that still has traction. Lockers are usually recommended for more demanding trails, while limited-slip differentials are best suited to mild trail rigs and daily drivers. For more information about lockers and limited-slips, contact Randy's Ring & Pinion [(800) 298-9541, www.ringpinion.com