Just because the JL Wrangler launched and is the shiny new object in the Jeep world, it doesn’t mean that your JK Wrangler has suddenly become irrelevant or less capable than it was yesterday. For those of you with a JK that are contemplating a JL, or for those in the used JK market, you just might find that all your JK needs is some fresh, quality parts to keep it interesting and relevant, especially if you aren’t starting your buildup from scratch.
We decided to take a ’12 Wrangler that was modified back in 2011 and freshen up some parts to give it a look and function that is more in line with today’s builds, while also adding additional capability for carrying our gear in the backcountry. For the first segment of our JK redux, we turned to American Expedition Vehicles and its high-quality and uber-functional parts.
American Expedition Vehicles (AEV) first hit the scene in the mid-’90s, and the company is known for such successful products as the TJ Brute, the JK Brute, and a whole slew of OE-quality upgrades for Jeeps, Rams, and now even Chevy trucks. Perhaps the company’s most complete product line is for the JK Wrangler.
We began the install by removing the existing front and rear bumpers from our Wrangler.
We’ve always admired the uniqueness and design of AEV’s bumpers. Take the rear bumper for example, which is constructed from 3/8-inch plate steel and heavy-wall tube and has room to carry up to a 40-inch tire, radio antenna, backup light, sand flag, Pull-Pal, Hi-Lift jack, fullsize shovel, AEV splash guards, integrated 5-gallon water tanks, and even a 10-gallon fuel caddy. All of this will mount within the footprint of the one-motion swing-out tire carrier that allows the unit to open in sync with the tailgate. Best of all, the accessories and gear quietly integrate with the bumper and carrier and don’t make it look like you are going on expedition on your commute to the office. The AEV rear bumper and tire carrier are designed to be used separately or together, and the tire carrier can even be used on the JK’s stock bumper.
Here are all the parts and pieces of the AEV Rear Bumper/Tire Carrier, as well as the water tanks and optional pump kit.
AEV’s Premium Front Bumper is unique to the industry thanks to stamped-steel construction, and it follows the body lines of a fully fendered JK as if it was intended to come from Jeep that way. Protection comes from a grille and radiator guard, with an optional lower skidplate. Stainless steel mesh grilles add style (and will match the mesh grilles on the AEV Heat Reduction Hood), while an optional winch mount and standard 1/2-inch-thick chassis-mounted recovery points ensure you can get yourself, or a friend, out of trouble. A hoopless version is also available, and all front bumpers have a reinforced area that makes them Hi-Lift jack compatible.
All AEV’s metal parts are designed with OE quality and durability in mind, and they’re proudly made in the USA. Both the front and rear bumpers go through a two-stage paint process that starts with an E-coat process and ends in an attractive and durable textured polyester black powdercoat finish that matches the texture on the non-painted factory flares.
For our install we returned to our local wheeling experts, American Overland Expedition (AOE) in Laguna Niguel, California. AOE has been servicing the Southern California area for more than a decade and is known for supporting wheelers who enjoy self-sufficient exploration of the backcountry. Our kind of shop!
We began the install by shimming the spindle housing to correct for any frame variance and to square the carrier to the Jeep.
Note the high-quality spiral-cut bronze bushings and the design of the tire carrier.
Next, we carefully installed the spiral-cut bronze bushings into the spindle housing.
After test-fitting the tire carrier, the frame was drilled so we could lock the spindle housing in place.
Before installing the bumper and tailgate linkage we removed the tailgate exhauster and trimmed it according to AEV’s detailed instructions.
After securing the spindle bracket to the frame with the supplied hardware, we lifted the rear bumper into place.
In this photo the corner tubes on the rear bumper are visible. These are made from heavy-wall tube and designed to take impacts from dropping off ledges and interaction with other obstacles.
With the rear bumper in place, the 2.4-gallon (each) water tanks were lifted into place and the hardware was loosely installed.
Once the position of the bumper was satisfactory (checking for body gaps, level, and so on), the bumper and water tank hardware were tightened.
The tanks were then plumbed together with barbed fittings and tubing provided by AEV. We’ve seen people cut the long tube that joins the two tanks into two pieces and install a valve in the center, making the draining of the tanks easier.
Before reinstalling the tire carrier, the bronze washer was installed and the carrier was greased.
From the bottom of the spindle, we installed the remaining bronze washer and steel retention disc and then tightened to spec with the supplied hardware. A zerk fitting is used to maintain grease in the spindle.
With the tire carrier in place and secured, we turned our attention to the tailgate by installing the previously trimmed exhauster and tailgate bracket.
Next, the plastic saddle block was installed to the tailgate bracket. The bracket is slotted, allowing for vertical adjustment of the block to dial in the tire carrier fit. The saddle block secures the tire carrier in the closed position and contributes to AEV’s rattle-free design.
With the saddle block in place, the turnbuckle linkage can be installed. Note the bolt in this photo is installed from the top, making it easier to mock up the fitment and adjust the placement of the shims. The correct way to mount the bolt through the turnbuckle is from the bottom, which was how it was installed before finalizing installation.
After the tire carrier turnbuckle was adjusted, we installed the optional 10.2-gallon Fuel Caddy onto the tire carrier and started to route the wiring for our backup camera and brake light.
With the Fuel Caddy in place, we installed the wheel mount to the tire carrier and locked it in place with an anti-vibration screw.
With the rear bumper and carrier installed, we turned our attention to the front of the Jeep where we prepped the AEV Premium Front Bumper for install.
We planned on using bumper-mounted lights, so we installed AEV’s optional Off Road Light Brackets.
Here you can see the mesh screens being installed to the front bumper. These screens add a dose of style and will match the screens if you add AEV’s Heat Reduction Hood.
We also transferred our foglights from the old bumper to the AEV bumper and installed the crush can covers.
These beefy 1/2-inch-thick tow loop brackets are chassis-mounted for ultimate strength.
Underneath the 1/8-inch-thick stamped-steel Premium Front Bumper is this 1/4-inch-thick winch plate and fairlead mount. We already have a Warn 9.5cti winch that we love, so we transferred it to the AEV setup.
Next, we lifted the bumper in place and secured it. Because we had an aftermarket bumper on previously, we didn’t have to worry about relocating the vacuum pump.
The final step was to tighten all the mounting hardware and plug the wiring harness into the foglights.
American Expedition Vehicles
American Overland Expedition