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Building The Do-All Jeep

Posted in How To on June 1, 2011
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Most of us don’t have the luxury of owning a quiver of Jeeps, each one built specifically for a different kind of terrainbe it mud, snow, rocks, or commuting. So we need the do-all Jeep. That’s what the Jeep was when it was first conceivedand now that there is plenty of aftermarket supportit can be transformed into a do-all even more easily today. The key is moderation. You can’t go over-the-top with your build and then expect your Jeep to perform well everywhere. For example, if you slap on some huge luggy mud tires for the slop, you kill your ice performance and daily-driver fuel economy. And likewise, if you install mild-mannered tiny street meats, you’ll find yourself stuck in the muck or high-centered on some rocks. It doesn’t really matter what Jeep you start with. In fact, pretty much any Jeep can be built into the ultimate do-all vehicle. However, no matter what you start with, your build will require some compromises. The good news is that nearly all of the modifications for you to consider can be done in your own garage using common hand tools.

While most people jump right into a lift kit, the first on our list of nearly any Jeep project is protection. Repairing a smashed body panel or replacing a busted up drivetrain component is almost always more expensive than protecting them right from the start. But because you’re not building for hardcore rock-use where you might plan on dragging the side of your Jeep across a boulder, you can typically forgo the overly heavy 3⁄16-inch-thick 360-degree steel-plate treatment. There’s no point in hauling around all that performance- and mpg-killing weight if you’re not going to use it. Start with some solid rocker guards and skidplates underneath. We prefer rocker protection that attaches to the body and body mounts. Also look for guards that have an added tube or structure on the outside edge. This helps push the Jeep’s body away from any trail obstacles. When choosing a skidplate package, make sure the engine oil pan, tranny, transfer case, fuel tank, exhaust, and emissions system equipment are pro

Add-ons and Wing Dings
Don’t slap a bunch of useless crap onto your Jeep just because you think it looks cool. Light bars with no lights, exo-skeletons, empty racks, or gawdy widgets that aren’t needed can increase the overall weight of your Jeep and hurt performance both on- and off-road. Do you really need a 500-pound front bumper designed to survive a moose strike, or a 12,000-pound winch that could literally tear itself off of your Jeep’s framerails? Consider other lightweight options when choosing a winch, aftermarket bumpers, and other necessary equipment.

You can’t just build for the weekend. Your Jeep likely has to get you to work on weekdays and take the significant other out on Friday night. Remember that word moderation? When assembling the best do-all Jeep don’t get wrapped up in the bigger-is-better tire debacle. Lift kits of 2½ inches or less work best in most cases. This helps keep a low center of gravity, which is better for sidehills and reduces weight-transfer, allowing for better hill-climbing performance. Not to mention that in most cases you’ll save a ton of cash by not having to make significant driveline modifications. Due to increased wind and rolling resistance lifted Jeeps get poorer fuel economy than non-lifted Jeeps, so keep it as low as feasible while still being able to hit the trails you enjoy.

Gearing and Axles
Here is where that moderation really pays off. Because you didn’t go overboard with your tire size, you may find that you don’t need to regear the axles in your Jeep. And since your do-all Jeep may never hit the extreme trails, you can easily get by with only a rear locker or maybe even no locker at all. Most stock Jeeps are versatile enough to handle tires a few sizes larger than original without significant drivetrain modification. That means you get to keep many of the factory powertrain parts that will generally outlive any of the cheap imported aftermarket garbage rolling into our shores. But if you do find that you need to replace or upgrade something, look for quality components. Since your do-all Jeep is likely your daily driver, you don’t want to end up with a busted rig that a few extra dollars spent on quality parts could have avoided.

Tires and Wheels
We’ve always said tires and wheels can make or break the look of a Jeep or 4x4. The wrong wheels and tires can also make or break the performance and fuel economy of your Jeep. You generally want to select the lightest wheels and tires you can find that will withstand the kind of use (abuse) you plan on. As it pertains to power output at the wheels and braking, a common rule of thumb is that 10 pounds of added wheel and tire weight is the equivalent of adding 100 pounds of cargo to the inside of your Jeep. Aluminum wheels mounted to durable quality radial tires with three-ply sidewalls are always a good choice. Tread design is also important though. We typically lean towards more aggressive mud tires. But if lots of street and ice use is in the plans (more so than clay-like mud), you may want to look for a well-siped all-terrain tire. Some beadlocks can significantly increase the overall weight of your wheel and tire package, however there are lightweight beadlock wheels available. The decisi

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