What has a factory-installed V-8, solid axles, coil suspension, and four doors to take us plus all of our stuff just about anywhere? Well, for us this describes our ’01 WJ Grand Cherokee Laredo. A couple of months back, you may remember that we spent some time tuning the suspension on our Grand. Despite nearly constant improvement over the past few years that we have owned the WJ, there are still things that we need and want. One thing that our WJ has always lacked is ample rocker protection. Sure, there are several rocker guards available for WJs, but we were in search of some slim, stout rockers that would add style and protection. Well, we think we found some that fit tightly to the body, provide protection, and they are brand new to the market.
Also, our WJ came from the factory with a spare tire under the rear-most storage compartment. It did its job back when we were running near-stock size tires, but now that our Jeep is now wearing a set of 33s, our fullsize spare won’t fit in its home. We could toss the spare in the back, but storage is also an issue, so that’s not really much of an option. The answer is a custom swing-out tire carrier built to fit under our stock WJ bumper cover with parts from Synergy Manufacturing.
As we said, our last problem to address in this issue is our WJ’s lack of storage space. We frequently use the Jeep to carry lots of camping gear, coolers, tents, camp stoves, and other stuff. We also use the Grand to tote a canoe, and occasionally, mountain bikes. These things take up space and are delicate enough that we need to be sure that they are attached to the Jeep properly for transport. We looked no further than Yakima for a rack with a gadget or two in hopes that we can carry all that and more no matter where we head. So check out how we make our Grand a bit more useful.
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Digging through the available aftermarket rocker guards for WJs left us wanting for something different. Eventually we came across 4xGuard’s website that seemed to be hinting at a new product. Based on what we saw as available for WKs and WK2s we were very interested: a slim, steel rail that fits up against the body of the Jeep. Fast-forward a few months and 4xGuard’s WJ Rocker Sliders ($549.95) are available to the Jeeping public, including us.
Installation of the 4xGuard WJ rockers is pretty simple. Our WJ has larger-than-stock wheelwells that required us to cut off the ends of the 4xGuard rockers and re-cap them. If your WJ is closer to stock and has unmodified wheelwells, the stock 4xGuard rockers will take just a couple of hours to install. Also, the 4xGuard rockers come coated in a nice grippy black powdercoating that is pretty non-slip. Because we had to cut and weld on ours, we coated them with Rustoleum Hammered Dark Bronze.
These are rocker guards,and so we intentionally took them out to the desert and rubbed them on some rocks. The result is that our rockers and doors are still in good shape despite what Mother Nature tossed in our way. We’ll keep beating on these units for a full durability report in the future. So far, we are not sure we are in love with the blocky step-like looks, but as they say, beauty is in the eye of the beholder and the parts from 4xGuard sure make getting up to that Yakima rack easy. Also, the size helps keep the bulging WJ doors out of the rocks or trees.
Trail-Testing Yakima Gear Up Top
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Yakima has been building racks for bikes, skis, canoes, and kayaks for a long time. The durability of its products is second to none, and installation is a snap requiring only an Allen wrench at most or at least your hands. Our rack used towers called RailGrab 4s (PN 8000138) that attached to the factory roof rack bars. It turns out these factory parts are the weak link in our new rack system, but more on that later.
To hold our mountain bike on top of our WJ we went with the Yakima FrontLoader (PN 8002103) bike rack. This rack does not require that you remove the front wheel from the bike. Our Kona 5.0 bike is heavy but was securely attached to the Jeep using the Yakima system. All this is also lockable with Yakima’s key systems. Only problem with our setup is that the handlebars of the bike are nearly 11 feet off the ground, so you have to be careful of overhead clearance.
Once the Yakima towers and crossbars are all in place, we added a MegaWarrior basket (PN 8007080). This basket is not only a great place to toss all that weatherproof camping equipment (and then tie it down), but also can be used like the Yakima crossbars to hold a bike rack, ski racks, and even a canoe. We also got brackets to hold a shovel or ax (PN 8007078), as well as brackets to hold a Hi-Lift Jack (PN 8007077) to our MegaWarior basket.
We’ve said it before and we will say it again, Feature Editor Simons has an uncanny ability to find and exceed various items’ mechanical limits. With our canoe mounted on the Yakima MegaWarrior with Yakima’s KeelOver system (PN 8004069), a shovel, and Hi-Lift, a little off-roading found the weak link. The Jeep factory roof rack bars started to flex at their mounting points on the roof, and our load loosened up. The fix was to use one of the KeelOver straps to pull the factory bars back into place. The lesson? Maybe pull the MegaWarrior basket, jack, and shovel before going boating. And, um yeah, don’t go wheeling with a canoe on the roof.
Fabricating a Swing-out Tire Carrier for a WJ
We spent some time researching rear bumpers with tire carriers for WJs, but in the end we decided to make our own swing-out tire carrier. Why? Well, most of the aftermarket bumpers for WJ that have a tire carrier are porky at best. Some top the scales at over 200 lbs. Why? Well there is a lot of area to cover up on the back of a WJ and bent tubing just won’t cover it up. The answer is a ton of steel plate. Our plan was to use tubing and a few fab parts from Synergy Manufacturing to build a tire carrier that would mostly tuck under the factory plastic bumper-cover. Here are the results—and we only screwed up a little!
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One of the must-have parts that we got from Synergy Manufacturing was this brick poop-house of a swing-out tire carrier hinge (PN PPM-4501, $135). It’s greasable with a zerk fitting and has two big races and bearings to carry the load. Here we tied it to two lengths of 13⁄4-inch, 0.120-wall chromoly tubing bent to match the contour of our rear bumper cover.
Our tire carrier bolts to the rear bumper crumple zone and ties into the factory tow receiver with both tubing and several pieces of plate. To make two of the plates we cut up an old beer, er, soda box to make a template. Then we used a plasma cutter to rough cut some 1⁄4-inch plate for the carrier. We then cleaned each bracket up with a 41⁄2-inch angle grinder with a flap wheel. The last step before welding the plates on was to drill several 1⁄2-inch holes for rosette-welds.
Synergy also provided us with two “taco” gussets and a few corner gussets that we used in the tire rack. We also got a few tubing ends to cap any open ends and light tabs. We’ll also have to figure out a new location for our license plate.
Synergy also supplied us with a Universal Swing-out Latch Assembly (PN PPM-4013, $125.00). This assembly uses an ingenious mechanism to retain a swing-out gate made of 13⁄4-inch tubing. We drilled the base with a holesaw, cut the base, and then tacked it in place.
The last step was trimming the factory bumper cover to fit over the tube work, hinge, and latch mechanism. We then hit all the steel with Rustoelum Hammered Dark Bronze paint. This paint matches the plastic of our Laredo trim level plastic bits pretty well.