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Jeep Cherokee XJ Budget Build

Posted in How To: Suspension Brakes on July 1, 2011
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If you drive an older 4x4 and you wheel on a budget, this story is for you. We set out to improve a well-worn, 204,000-mile, 1996 Jeep Cherokee to show how its trailability can be enhanced without parting with a lot of cash. This particular vehicle is owned by a college-age, budget-minded wheeler and was purchased for $1,500. Previous to this install, he had made a few modifications to the rig, including a home-fabbed rear bumper and roof rack. The XJ also sports an eBay-sourced front bumper, forward-facing aftermarket lighting, and a Warn XD9000i winch. Like some rigs with this mileage and age, the rig had a few problems. The list included a broken front sway bar link and an out-of-whack alignment that had wasted the front tires.

Our goals were to keep our parts tally under $1,000 for this build, make the vehicle more capable off-highway, and repair some of its broken and worn components.

We chose to use a 3-inch lift from Zone Offroad Products. Zone also offers a 2-inch lift and a 4½-inch lift for the XJ. We were tempted to install the 4½-inch lift, but then we knew we’d want larger tires, which would increase costs. Larger tires would also have an effect on the axle gearing, potentially requiring more costly upgrades in the form of new axle gears. The 4½-inch kit also would’ve pushed us over our parts budget. By sticking with the 3-inch kit we had the budget to take advantage of the optional shock upgrade and it replaces the twin-tube hydraulic shocks with twin-tube gas Nitro shocks. Well within our budget were a few other upgrades as well. We ordered the transfer-case drop kit to help eliminate driveline vibration caused by the lift; we installed sway bar disconnects to improve frontend flex; and we added a steering stabilizer kit to replace the used up OE unit. You can see the pricing for all of the items we installed in the sidebar.

The install was handled by the team at Attitude Performance in Arlington Heights, Illinois. Not only are they well-versed in XJ upgrades, they also know what to expect, and do, with the challenges posed by the vast amount of corrosion found under older rigs like this one.

Follow along as we show you the highlights of this low-buck install.

The Bottom Line
We replaced the well-worn P235/75R15 (28.9x9.30-15) Goodyear Wrangler RT/S tires and factory wheels with a set of used 30x9.50R15 Goodyear Wrangler GS/A tires on factory TJ wheels. We chose this wheel/tire combination because it’s typical of what you’ll find for sale on Craigslist or in your local newspaper at far lower cost than new tires and wheels. All five tires are in great shape with very little wear, and the wheels are in excellent condition. The tires are slightly larger in diameter than the ones they replaced and they offer significantly improved traction.

When we RTI’d the XJ stock (with its broken front sway bar link) it traveled 49.5 inches up our 20-degree ramp to earn a score of 490. After the install (with both sway bar links actually connected), it traveled 38.5 inches up the ramp to earn a score of 381. The big flex came when we disconnected the sway bar and the XJ climbed 63 inches up the ramp to earn a score of 624.

Before the install, we measured an approach angle of 32.7 degrees and a departure angle of 31.3 degrees. After the install, those numbers improved to 38 degrees at each end. This is an improvement of 16 percent and 21 percent respectively. The front bumper-to-ground height climbed from 16½ inches to 21 inches and the rear bumper-to-ground height improved to 21¾ inches from 16½ inches. This is a 27 percent and 32 percent increase respectively.

The owner of this XJ reports that the ride is “pretty smooth for a lifted Jeep.” And he notes that the SUV was used extensively during the winter of 2010-11 and it got through the snow with ease. As a bonus, the rig definitely looks better with the added lift and the new wheel/tire combination. Overall, we’re pretty happy with the return on our budget-minded investment

Kit Specs
This Zone Offroad 3-inch kit for the XJ allows fitment of up to a 31x10.50 tire on a 15x8 wheel with 3½ to 4 inches of backspacing.

The Cost
All total, parts for this XJ had a street price of $834.65 at time of print. The list included the Zone Offroad 3-inch suspension lift ($290.66), gas shock upgrade ($21.08), 1-inch transfer case drop ($33.46), sway bar disconnects ($99.95), and steering stabilizer kit ($39.50). The used Wrangler TJ wheels and tires cost $350. An alignment is mandatory after this install and cost the owner approximately $100 at a local new car dealership. Not comfortable with an install like this? Matt Dinelli at Attitude Performance says that his labor cost typically starts at approximately $420 and increases depending on how much corrosion or other surprises he encounters.

PhotosView Slideshow


Attitude Performance
Arlington Heights, IL
Zone Offroad Products

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