Still on Steal-J
Can I get a summary of the suspension parts that were used on the Steal-J project? I know some parts did not work out, so what was the final parts list? I have a ’98 TJ that I want to lift, and each store has its own recommendations, but I want something that has been tried and works.
For Jp’s newer readers, Steal-J was a ’97 TJ project built in Jp magazine several years ago. The buildup series is on our website at jpmagazine.com. I installed the following on my ’97 and was able to cleanly fit both 32x11.50R15 or 265/75R16 tires with absolutely no rubbing. I probably could’ve squeezed in a 33, but it would’ve been a little tight.
•1-inch Currie Enterprises body lift
•Currie Enterprises Currectlync HD steering linkage (drag link, tie rod, tie rod ends)
•Stock pitman arm and stock front and rear track bars (no track bar relocation brackets)
•Pro Comp 2-inch lift with MX-6 adjustable monotube shocks
•JKS adjustable upper and lower adjustable control arms
•Currie AntiRock sway bar in front
•Mopar Performance TJ Rubicon fender flares
It’s been several years since I sold it, but I remember it drove very nicely on the street with zero issues. My wife even drove it frequently and she’s not an enthusiast of any kind. The Jeep had no bump steer or spooky handling quirks. The Pro Comp springs were a bit firm, but not punishing. I could dial the MX-6 shocks for a softer/firmer ride, but I never did. I can’t remember what I put them on, but it was somewhere in the middle of the shocks’ adjustment range.
I installed a TeraFlex extreme short shaft on the NP231 because of the TH700R4 transmission installation. I also had a Tom Wood’s Custom Drive Shafts CV rear driveshaft. The Jeep had absolutely no vibrations on the road, could take off-ramps fast, had no problem on the freeway, and was my daily-driver and commuter for years. It also made a nice off-road vehicle, although I never did any really heavy wheeling with it. Mostly I used it for fun little overnight trips to Ocotillo, California, and Parker, Arizona, and places like that.
It was a really good combo considering the street-oriented nature of the Jeep. For more of an off-road vehicle I probably would’ve done a softer spring, but the Pro Comps were better on-road than some of the springs with a really wallowy, soft rate.
Which is better for off-roading: a manual transition or an automatic? I have only had a manual transmission. The reason I’m asking is if you go to a Jeep dealership almost all of the Jeeps are automatics. You can find one or two manuals. Why is that? Does Jeep send these to its dealerships because most Jeep owners don’t go off-road with their Jeeps?
The manual versus auto debate really comes down to personal preference. It also depends on which auto or manual you’re talking about. For example, if you asked about a Peugeot five-speed manual versus a TH400 auto I’ll say the TH400 is the better transmission. However, if you’re talking an NV3500 or SM420 manual versus a Ford AOD or Chrysler 42RLE auto I’ll say the manual wins all day long.
For me personally, I always prefer a manual—way less to worry about and less potential for things to go wrong. Autos can overheat, get contaminated fluid, starve for fluid, and just make you pull your hair out.
Why so many new Jeeps with autos at the dealerships? Simple, ’cause that’s what the dealerships order from the factory. It comes down to what the customer wants. People are too stupid and/or lazy to shift gears for themselves—plain and simple. If I were buying a new Wrangler JK, I’d go for the manual tranny. It’s way more fun to drive and there are no fluid starvation or pump uncovering issues at angles.
I bought my first Jeep last summer. At the insistence of my son-in-law, I subscribed to Jp magazine and truly enjoy it. My ’01 TJ is totally stock other than some 30-inch Falken tires. However, it is a four-cylinder with an automatic. I have a newly rebuilt 355-cube Chevy V-8 with a TH700R4 transmission and Lokar shifter. I am toying with the idea of putting the 355 in the TJ. Dumb idea or good idea? What will be required to make the swap? Would my current transmission work/holdup?
Ft. Wayne, IN
I’m not completely sure you’ll have enough clearance between the Chevy oil pan/balancer and the front axle unless you add some 2-inch coil spacers. Spacers may be required after the V-8 swap anyway, since the additional weight of the V-8 will cause the nose to sag.
What’s required? You’ll need some motor mounts for your chassis, a new radiator and hoses, probably new lines to mount to the Chevy power steering pump (the stock TJ lines may work, though), exhaust modifications, and you may or may not need little stuff like throttle cable, fuel lines, driveshafts shortened/lengthened, and other minutia of this nature.
As for your stock transmission, it would last about two seconds behind a Chevy V-8 before exploding. Regardless, it is a 60-degree GM bellhousing pattern and not worth the trouble of trying to mate it to your 90-degree V-8. Use the TH700R4 if you have it. You’ll need an adapter to mate the Chevy tranny to your stock Jeep T-case. Your factory NP231 T-case will do perfectly fine behind the Chevy V-8. Depending on the adapter you use you’ll have to crack open the T-case and change the input gear from the Jeep four-cylinder 21-spline gear to a new Chevy 27-spline gear.
For motor mounts, adapters, and so on you can visit either Advance Adapters (advanceadapters.com) or Novak Conversions (novak-adapt.com). Both companies will have a plethora of parts required to make the swap in your TJ. Of the two, Novak’s web site is more informative, with lots of tech and info on making the swap. It’s worth spending some time reading up on its site.
I just read an advertisement in Off-Road Adventures that says your magazine endorses the Smittybilt winches. I was at your site to review this test and could not find it. I recently purchased a ’90 YJ and have never had a winch, so I am trying to do my research before buying. From what I have read, the Smittybilt winches have a slow line pull compared to the Warn, but the price is very good. Any help you can offer will be greatly appreciated.
Egg Harbor, NJ
I wouldn’t exactly say we endorse Smittybilt winches. I mean, there are certainly better winches out there. I’ve seen the ad you’re talking about and they were just pulling a quote from our “Affordable Winch Review” story from the July ’09 issue of Jp magazine. The whole story is on our web site at jpmagazine.com if you want to check it out for yourself.
It’s a great little winch for the money. It’s still not of the quality of a Warn, Ramsey, or even Superwinch, but for under $300, your expectations drop dramatically. For a $300 winch, it’s really good.
I have a ’93 YJ Wrangler with a 2.5L four-cylinder and five-speed manual transmission that is all stock. It mainly gets mild off-road use in the Big Bear Lake area, occasionally gets driven on the streets, and maybe even home down the mountain to the LA area when the roads are particularly snowy. I would like to add some sort of limited slip to the rear, but I don’t want to spend half the value of the Jeep if I don’t have to. Do you have any suggestions? Also, is this something a do-it-yourselfer can take on, or are the chances of screwing up the backlash too great for a non-professional?
Huntington Beach, CA
The Dana 35 in the rear of your Jeep is kind of a turd. It’s a C-clip design with weak axleshafts. That said, if you’re really not thrashing it off-road and keep your tire size close to stock you shouldn’t have any trouble. Your ’93 four-cylinder should have 27-spline shafts and 4.10 gears from the factory. I wouldn’t recommend a locker for your use. I think the best thing for your Jeep would be a Detroit Truetrac by Eaton. It’s a gear-driven limited-slip with no clutches to wear out and that requires no special additives to properly function. It’s my favorite limited slip and I’ve used it in a variety of different personal project vehicles.
DTS Parts Service (800/521-0628, drivetrainspecialists.com) offers a Truetrac for your application under its in-house part number of TT 912A569 for $384.63 (price as of press time).
As for installation, it’s not hard at all, but you will need a couple of tools that the average home-hobbyist normally doesn’t own—particularly a dial indicator to check backlash and a bearing puller to access the carrier shims of the old differential. Begin by popping the diff cover and making a reading of the stock carrier’s backlash. Remove the carrier, pop off the ring gear, and remove the carrier bearings making sure to note which side the shim packs belong. Transfer the shim packs to the same side of the Truetrac (you can reuse the bearings if they’re in good shape, but now is a good time to install new ones), install the ring gear on the Truetrac, and bolt the Truetrac in the housing. Take another backlash measurement and compare it with the measurement of the stock carrier. Generally any backlash measurement in the .008-.010 range is good. If it’s too tight, put shims on the appropriate side to space the ring gear closer or farther away from the pinion as needed. That said, every Eaton product (Detroit Locker, E-Locker, Truetrac, or other) that I’ve used has been perfect out of the box using the stock carrier setup shims. I’ve just transferred them over to the new Eaton carrier and I’ve been good to go.
If it’s too daunting, take it to a shop. If you mess it up, you can destroy your ring and pinion fast.
I own an ’03 Rubicon with the five-speed. It’s stock with about 100,000 miles on it. I needed to jump start it last night (don’t know why—lights weren’t on and the alternator works) and now it won’t idle. It keeps stalling out. Is this a symptom of the jump start or vice-versa? Can I just change the idle control valve, or am I just gonna be chasing gremlins?
Unless you crossed terminals or some other major no-no, I can’t see a jump start causing any sensor damage. These vehicles are designed to be able to be jump started. You could have a situation where your charging system isn’t working at low rpm and you have a weak battery. The best way to tell is to grab a $4 multi-meter at Harbor Freight or your local Radio Shack and see what’s going on. You should have about 12 volts at the battery with the engine off and about 14.4 volts at the battery with the engine running. Any less than that and the injection and ignition electronics won’t work properly. It’s not like an old carbureted system that you can fudge along and keep running with less than 10 volts.
Put the voltmeter on and see what’s happening. Another way to check the charging system is to remove the negative battery cable from the battery terminal when the engine is idling. If the engine dies when you pull the cable, the alternator isn’t charging and the engine has been running off the battery. I’d make sure the charging system is okay before running on to other areas like replacing sensors. Our electrical guy, Trasborg, thinks your battery could also be shot. He suggests using a load tester to verify it’s a bad battery—whatever that is. My suggestion is to take your battery to your local auto parts store for testing. They’ll have the equipment—and a new battery if you need it.
I’ve had good luck with you answering my questions in the past, so I thought I’d try you again. A Dana 44 inner-C from a Wagoneer is the same as a full-size Bronco, right? I’ll tell you why I ask. I took the undesirable tubes off a Ford high-pinion Dana 44 from a ’78 or ’79 Bronco. I also have a Wagoneer front Dana 44. I was thinking of cutting up the Waggy axle and putting the tubes on the Ford high-pinion centersection. However, before I do, I want to make sure the Ford 5x5.5 knuckles and outers will fit before I cut it up.
The ball joint-to-ball joint spacing should be the same, but I’m not sure on the axle tube diameter fitting inside the Ford pumpkin. Check that before you cut. If the Waggy tubes are too big you can always have the surface machined down to fit inside the pumpkin bore ID.
As a last resort, if the Ford knuckles don’t fit the Waggy inner Cs (I think they will, though), you can put the Ford 5x5.5 hubs and rotors on the Waggy knuckles. If it’s a ’74-’76, you can put the Ford parts right on the Waggy spindle. If it’s a later ’77-up, you’ll need to swap on a set of small-bearing Spicer spindles (PN 706528X) from a ’74-’76 Waggy/’71-’76 Chevy D44 front axle. You can’t use the Ford spindle on the Waggy knuckles because they’re five-bolt and the Waggy/GM spindles are six-bolt.
I’m in the market for a new project vehicle. I’ve got it in my head that I want a ZJ. Problem is, I really hate automatic transmissions. I found a clean ’97 5.2L ZJ Grand Cherokee with a blown auto transmissions for next-to-nothing. Bolting a manual in place of the auto is the easy part, but what are my options for getting an ECU in one of these things that won’t freak out and call in the black helicopters on me? I don my tinfoil hat in anticipation of your reply.
Chris Squire from Hotwire Auto (749/243-9115, hotwireauto.com) replies:
You will definitely want to get a manual computer. I think you only have two options.
1. I believe the Dakota came with a 5.2L/manual in 1996-1999 but they can be tough to find.
2. The Ram trucks came with a manual transmission but I think they only came with a 5.9L/manual setup. I’m not sure how well the 5.2L will run on a 5.9L computer but at worst there are people (DC Performance and BG Chrysler) that can re-map the ECU.
In any event, you would have to send the factory engine harness in for us to verify the connectors and the ZJ fuse block harness for us to integrate it. The ’97 ZJ uses the older CCD computer bus. As a result, you’ll need to stick with ’96-’99 Dakotas and ’96-’01 Ram pickups for your computer.
More Rubi Ramblings
I just got done reading “Rubicon vs. Regular” in the May ’11 issue of Jp magazine. That question has been bugging me for months now. I’ve made my choice; a Sport model will do just fine. I’m getting a two-door with a manual transmission. I will do a 3-inch lift with 35s. My question is, will I hate life with 35s and 3.73 gears?
I’d say yes—you’ll hate it. Ideally, for 35s and a manual five-speed I’d prefer 4.56 or 4.88 gears on a 4.0L TJ. You didn’t specify if you’re talking about a JK or TJ, but if you’re thinking of going to a JK, bump that up to 5.13 gears because of the 3.8L’s gutless feel. That’s not to say that you can’t have the Wrangler’s axles regeared eventually.
The Rubicon 4.10 gears are pretty good with 35s and almost ideal with 33s. As long as the Sport model you buy has a Dana 44 rear axle, I’d say it’s worth the expense of regearing the factory rear diff. If you’re talking about a TJ Wrangler, I’d try to find a high-pinion XJ front axle and have that regeared instead of the factory TJ low-pinion Dana 30. The high-pinion Dana 30 ring and pinion will be much stronger than the low-pinion counterpart. When used in a front application, a low-pinion differential has the gear contact on the coast side of the teeth. High-pinion in a front application has gear contact on the drive side of the teeth. If you’re talking about a JK, go ahead and regear the stock Dana 30 front axle.
I have an ’04 Wrangler X. Recently I was T-boned. Unfortunately she hit me directly on my left rear tire and the entire Dana 35 was rocked to pieces. This gave me an opportunity to throw a Dana 44 in the rear. After the axle was installed, I noticed that the entire assembly seemed to be sitting off to the right. I could see more of the right rear tire sticking out than the left rear tire. I looked closer and noticed that rear track bar mount was knocked out of place in the accident, which is the cause of the off-centered axle. The place that did the work didn’t bother to mention the problem until after everything was installed. I guess at this point I’m not sure what to do. Is this a very detrimental problem and is the bracket/mount compromised, or can it still hold up to daily driving and weekend wheeling? Does this make the vehicle very unsafe? Or can I put in an adjustable track bar and not worry about the alignment or collateral damage of the bent mount? If this is not a reason to sell the Jeep all together, what is the best fix for this problem? Thanks.
That track bar bracket is pretty important. If the rear track bar snaps the axle can walk side-to-side under the vehicle, especially when cornering. I don’t think the axle will “fall out of the vehicle” if the worst happens, but it could potentially cause the vehicle to go out of control and crash.
Long story short: Your Jeep isn’t completely fixed. If the insurance case isn’t closed, I’d strongly recommend bringing the matter to the attention of the adjuster and demand that they fix the Jeep properly and completely.
If for some reason the books are closed, I’d look into having a new track bar mount welded to the frame and installing a new adjustable track bar (or an undamaged used or new stock track bar) to replace your damaged components. It shouldn’t be a huge job for a fabrication or welding shop to reinforce your factory track mount bar mount or (if necessary) cut off your factory bracket and weld on a new bracket. I’d also insist (or have it done yourself) on having a proper four-wheel alignment done to determine if the front-to-rear track is in line and to ensure that the frame isn’t bent.
Got a tech question you’re just itching to get answered? Send it on in to Jp magazine, Your Jeep, 831 S. Douglas St., El Segundo, CA 90245, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.