The Jeep JK is surely one of the most adaptable four-wheelers on or off the road. In its current form it still has the soul of the original military utilitarian, go-anywhere vehicle. Thanks to the aftermarket engineers, there are many ways to enhance the JK, depending on your imagination and your pocketbook.
We recently had an opportunity to add some very cool accessories to a 2011 JK. We knew we were probably not going to tackle the Dusy-Ershim Trail, but setting up a weekend camp at the famed Rubicon Springs was certainly on the list of destinations.
Knowing what kinds of rocks were lurking out there in the backcountry, we first wanted to gain a little more clearance. The Rancho three-inch lift kit for the JK was just the ticket. The instructions were very complete. While some mechanical expertise is helpful along with a good set of tools, the installation was straightforward. We enlisted the help of Bill George, owner of Billy’s Chop Shop in Grass Valley, California. Bill had installed several Rancho lift kits and knew a few shortcuts. There was something in the installation manual about dropping the driveshaft, for example, but Bill saw no reason to.
Disconnecting the sway bar and drag link allowed the axle to drop down far enough to remove the shocks and springs. Then it was just a matter of replacing factory brackets with the Rancho matching components. A little squirt of WD40’s new Specialist Rust Release Penetrating spray made the pitman arm easier to remove from the sector shaft. Using a puller, it slipped off without a big fight.
Upper and lower suspension arms were removed. Getting the upper passenger side off was the most difficult part of the whole install, requiring a bolt to be cut (the Rancho kit supplies a replacement bolt). An air chisel, a Sawzall, and a grinder were helpful tools. This was still an easier option than removing the exhaust. The Rancho drop down brackets for the suspension arms could now be attached. Longer bolts were supplied where needed.
A hole was drilled in the coil spring axle pad to attach the new bump stop spacer. With the new springs installed, the axle was raised back up and Rancho RS9000XL shocks were bolted in place. Final tightening of the bolts on the suspension arms was not done until the vehicle was back on the ground. This prevents the rubber bushings from binding up.
Attaching the replacement track bar bracket, Bill added a small weld on both sides. This was optional but recommended by Rancho. A ratchet strap was helpful to pull the axle over and line up the mounting holes for the track bar. Little parts like brake line extensions were all included in the kit.
With all steering components connected, we moved to the rear. Sway bar drop brackets were bolted to the frame using a spacer and longer bolts and the track bar extender was attached. A spring compression tool was needed to install the longer rear Rancho coils. Brake line extension brackets were installed and Rancho 9000XL shocks were the final touch for the rear. The JK was ready to get back on the road.
Rancho Differential Covers
We weren't done. For some added protection and cool looks, both front and rear differential covers were upgraded to Rancho covers. The cover kits come with all new hardware and a tube of Hi-Temp Silicone Instant Gasket. After thoroughly cleaning the surface of the differential housing flange, a healthy bead of the Instant Gasket was applied to both the new cover and the housing. The covers were carefully slipped into place and tightened with the new bolts.
A Rancho Oil Pan Armor kit will give us some insurance against misjudged rocks. This was surprisingly easy to install. Using the supplied tube of Hi-Temp Silicone Instant Gasket, we applied a generous bead on the inside of the cover. It was not necessary to remove the factory pan. The Rancho Armor fits like a glove over and around all bolts and is pressed into place. We used a floor jack to get a good tight fit. Small holes were drilled at the lip corners of the factory cover to allow the installation of optional security wires.
Rancho Tube Doors
Finally, just for the fun of tooling down our favorite back road, wind in our face, and feeling part of the great outdoors, we added a set of Rancho Tube Doors. Bill disconnected the electrical plug on the front of the door pillars and the retaining straps from their loops. We thought about removing the mirrors from the hard side doors that can be installed on the tube doors, but on the trail, we thought we'd be better off without them. Door latches were installed. Then it was simply a matter of lifting the hard doors out of their pin-style hinge sockets and slipping in the neat tube door pins in for a perfect fit.
We had greatly improved ground clearance, added some important underside protection, and modified the feel and look of our Jeep with some cool tube doors, but we weren't finished. Check out Part II of "Ten Ways To Trick Out Your Jeep" when we tackle bumpers, winch, driving lights, dual high-performance batteries, and the best rooftop cargo rack we've ever seen. Rubicon, here we come.