The Extra-Needed Parts Your Lift Kit Won't Come With
You've probably been eyeballing the ads and looking for the best lift kit for your Jeep at the lowest price. But when you finally get enough coin to stop window shopping and actually purchase the kit, your salesman likely pulls the "And you're going to need this part too" maneuver. In the slimy world of sales, it's what's called an up-sell (kinda like the candy bars and lighters at the front counter of your local Quickie Mart). And unlike the People and National Enquirer magazines with Paris Hilton on the cover at the grocery checkstand that your significant other can't resist, you actually need these extra add-on parts to properly lift your Jeep. Some kits don't even include shocks! Here's a breakdown of the parts that will come in your lift kit and the parts you need or should consider that probably won't be included in the kit.
A typical lift for an older CJ is incredibly simple. It usually comes with four new leaf springs, spring bushings, and a set of shocks. However, actually lifting your older Jeep is usually made more difficult because of something that new Jeeps don't have: rust. Rusty, corroded hardware and U-bolts can easily quadruple installation time if you don't have the right tools. Right off the bat, you'll need all-new U-bolts. Don't even try and reuse the old ones. In some cases, you may have to torch or cut the old ones off to install your new springs.
Really early CJs have the C-style shackles; these will not work with your lift springs, so you'll need to purchase new shackles and new frame bushings as well. If the spring pivot bolts are in bad shape, you may also want to replace them. In most cases, the U-bolt kits for your early Jeep will come with caster wedges. To keep the rear driveshaft of an early flatfender from binding, you need to install these in the rear to tilt the pinion up. It's not the ideal setup, but it will get you by. If you can find them, use steel ones; they're less likely to crush and crack like the aluminum units. If possible, trade the included front shocks in for some small-bodied (2 inches in diameter) shocks to avoid contact with the steering knuckles at full lock. Lifts taller than 2 1/2 inches will require new brake lines, or at the very least, some brake-line relocation work.
The later CJs also usually come with four new leaf springs, spring bushings, and new shocks. Rust can be a problem with these Jeeps too, so you'll want new U-bolts all around. Inspect the factory spring plates for cracks and missing shock and sway-bar pins. You may need to replace them. We've also never been fond of the factory's wimpy two-piece shackles and stamped-steel shackle mounts on these Jeeps. It'll cost a little more, but we recommend replacing them with a solid set of shackles and some beefy aftermarket bolt-on shackle mounts to avoid failure in the future.
While you're at it, install urethane bushings in the new shackle mounts. You'll usually need to install caster wedges in the rear for 3-inch lifts or bigger to keep the driveshaft from binding, but some companies include spacers to drop the transfer case. For lifts larger than 2 1/2 inches, plan on purchasing a drop pitman arm to correct the steering angles. These are typically not included with your lift. A power-steering box requires a different arm than a manual-steering box. Longer brake lines or drop brackets should be used on CJs with lifts taller than 2 1/2 inches.
Many lift manufacturers leave you on your own for longer sway-bar links. We usually just remove the sway bar entirely because the new springs and shocks are often firm enough that you don't need it anyway. This will depend on your road-feel preference.
'84-'02 XJ Cherokees and '86-'92 MJ Comanches
Most XJ/MJ lifts include new front coils, shocks, lower control arms, longer sway-bar links, a track-bar drop bracket, and some sort of rear lift-either replacement spring packs, a shackle lift, or add-a-leaves. If you're lifting your Cherokee more than an inch, we recommend new control arms on the front. With lifts bigger than 3 inches, you should seriously consider an adjustable track bar to keep the front axle in line with the chassis. With anything bigger than a 3-inch lift, you'll also want to look into a slip-yoke eliminator kit and CV rear driveshaft to eliminate driveshaft vibrations. Don't forget the tapered shims to tilt the rear axle up in line with the CV shaft. You can skip on the drop pitman arm. It will only increase bumpsteer unless the kit offers provisions to lower the upper track-bar mount. Lifts taller than 1-2 inches will require brake-line relocation or longer lines.
'87-'96 YJ Wrangler
YJ lifts generally include four new leaf springs, shocks, and a box kit that comes with spring bushings, sway-bar extensions, transfer-case drop hardware, brake-line relocators, bumpstop extensions, front and rear track-bar relocators, and sometimes front and rear U-bolts. YJ lift kits are frequently more complete than their CJ counterparts, but you still need to make sure you get a few of the important pieces if your kit doesn't come with them.
We usually dump the front and rear track bars, so for us, the relocator brackets are a nonissue. In some cases, we also just remove the sway bar if we're comfortable with the stability of the new springs on the road. Even though most kits include brake-line relocators, we opt for longer stainless brake lines for lifts in the 3-inch-and-taller range. For lifts larger than 2 1/2 inches, you'll need to purchase a drop pitman arm. With the track bar removed, the new arm will reduce bumpsteer. If you keep the track bar on and install a drop pitman arm, you'll probably get noticeable bumpsteer.
Consider a fixed-yoke kit and CV driveshaft mandatory for all YJ lifts. These Jeeps come from the factory with driveline vibration and any amount of lift accentuates it. We recommend new U-bolts, and you'll need some degree shims to rotate the rear axle in line with the new driveshaft. If you decide to pass on the fixed-yoke kit, expect noticeable vibrations and even some binding at full droop.