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June 2011 Your Jeep

Posted in How To on June 1, 2011
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Electrac Fixing
I just bought a WJ that has a Detroit Electrac in the swapped-in rear Dana 60. The actuator was broken off when I got the Jeep. Any way of fixing it or finding a replacement part?
Pelle Klein
So Cal

The Electrac was a short-lived product manufactured before Eaton bought the Tractech brands, including Detroit Locker and Truetrac. As you found out, the actuators were externally mounted and vulnerable to trail obstacles. Furthermore, the internal mechanisms didn’t prove very durable. We killed one during our testing of the unit in a TJ Wrangler on 35s. After purchasing Tractech, Eaton did away with the trouble-prone Electrac and replaced it with the more durable, much better E-Locker. I contacted Eaton, who said the Electrac actuator is actually a factory GM part used in the Trailblazers. You can purchase new actuators from your local GM dealership under PN 12471631.

Starting To Lose It
I have an ’86 CJ-7 with a 258 engine, a T-4 transmission, and a Dana 300 T-case. Since I have had the Jeep I have had a starter problem. I did a complete frame-off restoration and had the engine rebuilt. When the starter problem persisted, I replaced the starter ring gear, bellhousing, starter solenoid, all the cables, and countless starters. Every time I put a new starter in, it sounds like awful grinding and the engine kinda turns over and sometimes will start. But after two or three tries like that the starter just fails and starts to whine out. I have spent countless hours and dollars just trying to get my Jeep to start smoothly and am at a point of desperation. Any ideas or solutions that you have would be extremely appreciated.
Via email

A couple of things come to mind, assuming of course you’ve got the proper tooth count on the flywheel and starter. First, you could be missing the starter locating pin/dowel. You need to have the bellhousing locating dowels and starter dowels in place or the bellhousing/starter won’t be in alignment. There’s a chance somebody in the Jeep’s past left them out, and since they weren’t there when you bought the vehicle, you didn’t know to look for them. You can buy the dowels from Performance American Style ( for about $8/pair.

Second, check your ignition circuit wiring. You never know what’s been butchered in the vehicle’s wiring harness. There should be a wire coming from the center terminal on the key switch that runs straight to the starter solenoid. Another wire should go from the IGN/RUN terminal on the side of the switch to the ignition coil. Don’t worry too much about it alljust do a quick test. Take the starter off of the engine, hook the wires back up, ground the starter with a jumper cable from the starter body to the framerail or engine block, and have somebody turn the key while you watch the starter gear engagement. It should shoot out spinning and then withdraw when the key is released. If not, there’s a chance your solenoid or ignition wiring is a little messed up. This isn’t too likely, though, because if the solenoid and ignition wires were swapped the starter would engage when the key is turned to Run.

Third, you may consider adding another ground directly from the starter body to the engine or chassis ground. Sometimes the starter has a poor ground through the bellhousing mounts. I’d visit my local auto parts store and pick up a short negative battery cable. Run one end to the starter mounting bolt and the other to the frame. If the starter isn’t grounding, the gear will have a hard time staying engaged and could bounce on and off the ring gear while it’s spinning.

Fourth, I’ve been told but have never confirmed that there are two different ring gears for the flywheel. One is closer to the starter than the other. If your starter is for the one that’s farther away and you’re using the ring gear with the closer teeth, the starter gear will drag. A quick look at the flywheel and starter teeth should let you know if it’s not fully engaging or is engaging too much.

Fifth and finally, drop the transmission and check the bellhousing index alignment. With a dial indicator, go around the circumference of the bellhousing to make sure it is actually parallel to the flywheel and that the bore is actually centered around the pilot location. If it’s cocked or off at all, the starter gear teeth could be binding on the flywheel teeth when the starter is engaged. You could shim the bellhousing or have it machined, but in the long run it’s just easier to guy a good replacement bellhousing that doesn’t need indexing.

Axle Info
I have a ’97 TJ and it’s really underpowered. I’m from the midwest with big lifts, big tires, and screaming engines. I moved out to San Diego where (lets face it) there is no mud. Getting to the point, I have a ’77 Lincoln 9-inch rear axle with disc brakes that is going in the back of my Jeep, but the bolt pattern is 5x5. I also have a 9-inch out of a ’78 F-100 that I wanted to swap in the front. I have a Dana 44 out of a -ton Chevy from the mid-’80s, but the centersection is busted where the tube goes in from an accident.

I was going to cut down the 9-inch and weld new tubes on with the inner knuckles from the Dana 44. I assumed the factory 4x4 Ford front axles were a 5x5 lug pattern, but then I found out that they are 5x5.5. I would like to run the same bolt pattern front and rear without resorting to conversion spacers.

Another question I have is what axleshafts do I use? I need the 9-inch centersection, but with Dana 44 outers. Is a 31-spline axleshaft the same thickness as other 31-spline axles? If the Dana 44 is a 31-spline can it fit into the 9-inch carrier, which accepts 31-spline shafts?
Corey C.
San Diego, CA

First, the ’80s Chevy 34-ton should be a Corporate 10-bolt, not a Dana 44. GM stopped using Dana axles in the front of its 12- and 34-ton trucks in ’77. Still, the inner knuckles will accept Dana 44 outers. Regardless, both the Dana and GM Corporate 10-bolt have 30-spline shafts that won’t work with a 31-spline Ford differential. You’ll have to have custom shafts built once your axle tubes are cut and welded to final length.

All Ford 12-ton 4x4s have a 5x5.5-inch bolt pattern. The cars, as you found out, have a 5x5 pattern. I’d suggest doing one of two things: call Currie Enterprises (714/528-6957, and ask if they can redrill your Lincoln axles and brakes to 5x5.5-inch. I know you can drill both 5x4.5 and 5x5.5 on the same shaft, but I’m not certain if there’s enough room to do a 5x5 and 5x5.5. They’ll know.

If not, I’d just buy some new shafts from Currie with a 5x5.5 pattern. The car shafts are a unique length and I don’t think you’ll find a bolt-in junkyard axle set that’ll fit the housing. Just make sure the Lincoln carrier is, indeed a 31-spline unit and not a 28-spline unit before ordering.

Grand Ambitions
My sister is looking to buy a Grand Cherokee (again) and I don’t know enough specifically about Grands to offer much great advice. I think her budget is under $10,000.

She found an ’03 Laredo for $9,000. I believe it has the 4.0L six-cylinder with 70,000 miles. Does that price sound right? What is too many miles for one of these things? I know the 4.0L will run forever, but what about the V-6 that found its way into these things during the WK years?
Jason Gonderman
Los Angeles, CA

Editor Cappa replies:
There was never a V-6 offered in the WJ, but look for a ’99-’04. With 75,000-miles-plus you can expect stupid stuff to start failing. Things like water pumps and electrical gizmos. The I-6 is a good way to go. The 4.7L V-8 is cool for power but sucks on gas mileage.

You should be able to find one for less than $10K pretty easy. Look for low miles and something that didn’t get used as a tow rig. Make sure all the little things like power windows and whatnot work properly. Check everything. There is bound to be stuff that doesn’t work, so beat the price back based on that. Check for exhaust leaks, too.

If it looks like it’s been beat off-road. Walk away. Check for bent skidplates and bent front axlehousing. Also check the steering CV boots in the knuckles and the CV boots found on some front driveshafts.

Tech Editor Hazel replies:
My gut says $9K is too high for a 4.0L Laredo. I prefer the Limited with monochromatic body cladding, leather, dual zone heat, and so on, but those got the guzzler 4.7L V-8.

They’re getting older and it’s hard to find them without a bunch of miles. I see 4.0L WJs for $5K-$6K with great regularity. Mileage at that price is usually in the 90K-110K range. I’m not sure 20K-30K fewer miles is worth $4,000-$5,000 more on price.

Most Laredos will have the grey/black body cladding on the bottom. It can get chalky and old looking if the vehicle was kept in the sun all the time. Make sure it hasn’t been rubbed down with ATF or something to make look good if she’s looking at one with that body style. They do a fluff and buff job on ’em like that and tack on a bunch of extra money to the price. Then in a month it looks like crap again. Check for overly shiny plastic on the exterior.

Check the cooling system, look for rips on the CV driveshafts and front axleshaft boots, clunking from rear suspension when hitting a bump, steering shimmy/wander, and so on.

I like these rigs. They’re a good choice if you find a decent one that’s not hammered. My brother’s 4.0L WJ with the NP242 T-case pulled down 23-25mpg on the freeway before he traded it in on a 5.7L WK.

War Zone Q&A
I’m building an ’00 TJ Sport. The first thing I’m doing is getting a 4-inch Johnny Joint suspension from Currie Enterprises. The kit comes with everything but shocks. I don’t know whether to go short-term with some Rancho 9000s and upgrade later or just invest in some Kings right away. I’ll possibly do body armor and either 37s or 35s. My ultimate goal is to hit up the All for Fun event in Colorado and maybe a bit of the Rubicon if it can take the abuse.
Keith Bessler

First, I’d really recommend rocker protection before the lift. Second, I think 37s are pretty big unless you’re planning on swapping out the stock axles. If you’re popping alloy shafts in the stock axles (or even planning a Ford 8.8 or Currie high-pinion 9-inch rear) I’d go no bigger than 35s with 4.56 or 4.88 gears.

The Currie lift is good system. As for the shocks, unless you’re prerunning, the Kings (’bout $230-$350/ea) are way overkill. The RS9000 (’bout $100/ea) is a great shock, but its price puts it square in the no-man’s land between really sophisticated mono-tube shocks and low-end cellulose shocks. Which should you go with? TJs bounce. Coming down off obstacles, failed ascents, climbing attacksthey bounce and get squirrely. You don’t need a killer race shock, but you do want a shock with good rebound-damping characteristics. The RS9000s don’t let you adjust compression and rebound independently to perfectly dial in your ride. If you’re gonna spend some big coin on shocks, the Walker Evans Racing 16-way adjustable shocks (’bout $300/ea) offer some really nice performance. They’re easy to dial and get working great. Or, for a lot less money I’ve been happy with my Bilstein 5150s (’bout $130/ea). The company recently introduced a slightly higher-end shock called the 5160 (’bout $199/ea), which moves the digressive piston from inside the main can to the remote reservoir. That frees up an additional 1-inch of travel within the shock. Any one of these would work well for you, so pick your price and your poison.

You want a cheap TJ combo that’ll work killer on just about any trail out there? Rocker armor, fuel tank skid, upgraded front and rear bumpers, 8000 or 9500lb winch for armor (costs varies too much to guesstimate). Currie Currectlync HD steering setup ($400). Currie 1-inch body lift ($100), MORE or Brown Dog Off Road 1-inch lift motor mounts ($90), JKS lower adjustable control arms ($700 for front and rear), Daystar 2-inch coil spacer lift w/ shocks & bumpstops ($289), slip yoke eliminator for the NP231 (’bout $300), and a CV rear driveshaft (’bout $300). Add your gearing/locker/axle upgrades of choice. The cheap way is to upgrade your stock axles. If you’ve got the Dana 35 rear, grab four-cylinder TJ axles to get the 4.10 gears and just replace shafts when they break. Or, do aftermarket axles. The above combo will swing a 33x12.50R15 tire (or more cleanly a 285/75R16 on factory Rubicon rims), will surprise you with its off-road capability, and will drive straight and true down the road with no buzzes or shimmies. It’ll also be pretty maintenance-free, with no bushings to wear and clunk or hardware to go back and retighten. It’s just another option to consider if moderation is in your vocabulary. You can always go with something like Gen Right high-clearance front fenders and cut the rear of the tub if you ever do upgrade axles and step up to 37s.

Hillbilly Hijinks
My ’99 Wrangler’s old four-cylinder is getting tired. I would like to do an engine swap and I’ve narrowed it down to a 4.3L Vortec Chevy, with an automatic transmission. What would you suggest as a donor vehicle and what year? Is there a wiring harness to connect to the Jeep’s harness so the factory gauges work and would the factory fuel pump work with this engine? (Hill) Billy Isom
Via email

I’m not sure the stock in-tank pump will fuel the Vortec 4.3L V-6. The TJ in-tank pump delivers just shy of the 55-58 lbs fuel pressure required by the Vortec engines. Novak Conversions ( offers a Vortec fuel pump that will work with your factory tank. Use PN FSK-9704 if you need an external regulator or PN FSK-9704NR if your engine has a regulator built into the fuel rail.

As for wiring harnesses, you can remove your factory TJ harness and sent it to Hotwire Auto ( Hotwire can splice the Vortec connectors into your factory TJ harness so it’s all plug-and-play. I don’t think your tach will work, however. The GM and Mopar tach signals are different and won’t talk to each other. You’ll need an aftermarket tach.

You could also contact Novak. The company offers turnkey 4.3L packages with or without transmissions. The price is not cheap, but it includes an integrated harness and genuine GM PCM with a simple five-wire hook up. The company may also sell the harness and PCM separately, but I’m not sure.

As for donor vehicles, most Astro vans came with 4.3L engines and 4L60 transmissions. Since they’re so ugly they tend to be less-expensive than S-10 Blazers or GM cars, so I’d look for a van first and expand the search into cars and SUVs if necessary. The Vortec engines began in ’96 with a multi-port injection setup. The ’87-’95 models were a lower-performance TBI injection. Any ’86-earlier Chevy V-6 will have a 2bbl Rochester carb setup. I’d look for the Vortec since it offered a good 195hp/260lb-ft output.

Fuel Liberation
I have an ’06 Liberty Renegade. It’s a 2x4 with the 3.7L engine, 3.73 axle gears, and an automatic transmission. I am thinking about changing the rear gear ratio to 3.21:1. I would like to know if this would help or hurt my gas mileage.
Allen W
Via email

I don’t think the gear swap will exactly help. In fact, you may wind up lugging the engine more than you realize and that would hurt the fuel economy. It seems counter-intuitive, but often you’ll achieve better mileage spinning the engine at a higher rpm with less throttle than if you’re spinning the engine at lower rpms but need to be heavy in the throttle to maintain your momentum. Instead, I’d focus on stuff like a free-flowing air intake system and perhaps an after-cat exhaust for starters. It’s been my experience with the inline 4.0L HO engines simply replacing the factory air box ducting with a high-flowing air intake system (like K&N, Airaid, and so on) is worth a solid 1mpg and good seat-of-the-pants feel. Personally, I haven’t done any testing with the 3.7L, but I would think it would realize similar gains with similar modifications. Then you can add stuff like a programmer, synthetic fluids, optimize your tire pressure, and all the other mileage-gaining tricks. I think focusing on modifications of this nature will reap better rewards than regearing, and it will shorten the time to recoup your initial investment.

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