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Low-Lifting A Jeep JK

Posted in How To: Suspension Brakes on September 27, 2016
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Photographers: Steven Rupp

Trends are a funny thing. They come; they go. However, some things never really change, and the desire to build the best Jeep you can for your type of wheeling is one of those trends that doesn’t seem to fade. Aftermarket suspension systems have often fit into that “trending” category. For a while it seemed as if “more is better” was the mantra.

American Expedition Vehicles (AEV) is one of the companies that figured out how to provide Jeep enthusiasts with a moderate-hike suspension lift kit that allowed for taller-than-stock tires and delivered a ride quality that provided well-controlled on-road and well-articulating off-road performance, without the customer having to pull out the tin snips and molest the body or fenders.

The AEV DualSport 2 1/2-inch XT Suspension System (the company also offers a 3 1/2- and 4 1/2-inch kit) for the Jeep JK Wrangler features coils and shocks specifically designed and tuned for that kit and vehicle. Rather than boxing up standard part numbers from spring maker A and shock manufacturer B, AEV gives you custom triple-rate coils and tuned Bilstein shocks matched to the coils. In addition to a geometry-corrected rear track-arm tower that keeps the Jeep’s handling from becoming savage, the AEV kit includes a rear track-arm, front stabilizer end-link relocation brackets, bumpstop extensions, and brake line relocation brackets.

We also ordered the optional (standard in the 3 1/2- and 4 1/2-inch kit) AEV front control arm drop brackets. These help to improve ride quality, control dive for improved braking performance, decrease the operating angle range of the front driveshaft, and eliminate the need for adjustable control arms or cam bolts for caster correction. These brackets just might have been the best $105 we’ve spent on suspension parts.

We spent a day installing the AEV DualSport 2 1/2-inch XT Suspension System on a ’13 Jeep JK Wrangler and found the assembly straightforward, and everything fit just like it should. It was well-manufactured kit, and in five non-rushed hours, the Jeep off the jacks and driving. The AEV 2 1/2-inch kit delivered a great street ride and is a good off-road setup for those not looking to do extreme off-roading or rockcrawling. For this JK, we wanted something that didn’t suck to drive around town, made the rig look great, and could handle moderate off-road trails. We scored.

With the JK in the air, and the rear supported by pole jacks (this can be done with jack stands and floor jack if you don’t have a lift), we started by loosening, but not removing all eight of the rear control arm bolts. We then removed the stock track bar.
Next we disconnected the brake line bracket from the frame. If you forget to do this, and lower the rear too far, you can break the brake line, resulting in tear-sheading and a mess all over your floor.
The stock shocks were then removed.
After removing the shock shocks, we disconnecting the lower sway bar end links.
We also disconnected the rear axle housing vent tube. This wasn’t mentioned in the instructions, but when were we done with the installation, we extending the hose to accommodate the lift.
With everything disconnected we slowly lowered the axle until we could remove the stock springs. We also made sure we didn’t overextend the wheels speed sensor wiring (or locker wiring if so equipped).
Here you can see the stock rear spring next to the new triple rate spring from AEV. There’s a difference in appearance and an even bigger difference in performance. AEV created these new springs specifically for this 2 1/2-inch suspension lift kit and vehicle.
It was then time to install the new rear track bar tower that will help fix all the geometry problems associated with lifting the JK. We made sure to tighten the U-bolt to no more than 40 ft-lbs since any tighter could deform the axletube. The bottom bolt was tightened to 80 ft-lbs.
The kit came with an AEV rear track bar to replace the stock unit. The new rear track bar meets all OE specs but has been bent to create clearance for the Jeep’s exhaust system.
The new track bar was then installed, making sure to reverse the direction of the factory bolt holding the track bar to the bracket.
The new springs were slid into place, and we made sure to index them correctly on the axle spring seat.
We installed the bump stop spacers on the axle using the supplied hardware. Keep in mind they need the wider side towards the wheel and having them in backwards will cause interference problems.
The AEV 2 1/2-inch kit comes with a set of Bilstein 5100 shocks that have been custom-valved for this specific kit and the Jeep JK Wrangler.
The new rear AEV/Bilstein shocks were then installed using the factory hardware. The lower shock nuts were torqued to 56 ft-lbs, while the sway bar end links were reattached and torqued to 60 ft-lbs.
Lastly the new brake line brackets were put in place, and we retightened all of the control arm and other bolts.
With the new brake lines in place, the rear part of the kit was done and we could move onto the front.
Just like in the rear, the first step was to loosen, but not remove, all eight of the control arm bolts. We did the same to the frame-side track bar bolt.
After making an indexing mark, we disconnected the driveshaft and supported the loose end with a bungee so it wouldn’t hang down, which could cause damage.
The stock shocks were removed and the hardware was saved. The upper fasteners were tough to access, but we eventually got a wrench in there. We also disconnected the lower end of the sway bar end links.
The stock springs were removed, but we left the factory isolator in place.
For ’11-current JK Wranglers (ours is a ’13), you have to remove the brake line bracket from the line. The metal is pretty thick, and we couldn’t bend it open far enough to get the rubber line out, so we used a cutoff wheel to weaken it a bit. Of course, the trick here was not to damage the brake line.
To secure the new axle bumpstop pad, we first drilled a 3/8-inch hole in the center of the metal base.
The new spacer went into the spring, and then the spring was put into place under the Jeep. Once in position and indexed properly, the provided bumpstop spacer hardware was tightened up.
The new front AEV/Bilstein shocks were then assembled and installed under the JK.
To accommodate for the 2 1/2-inch lift, the kit comes with sway bar end-link brackets. The left and right brackets are identical, and the curved ends of both brackets point left. They were secured to 80 ft-lbs, and then the end links were attached and tightend to 75 ft-lbs.
Jeep JK Wranglers from ’07-’10 use a new drop bracket to secure the brake line, but our ’13 used a couple of the provided zip ties as shown.
We decided to also run the optional JK front control arm drop bracket kit from AEV. The kit fixes some of the frontend geometry that’s compromised by a lift and makes for a better-driving Jeep. The kit works with AEV’s 2 1/2-, 3 1/2-, and 4 1/2-inch lift kits.
Going by the instructions, we assembled the right- and left-side brackets. The key is to work on one side at a time.
Here’s the passenger side installed. The upper control arm was bolted to the top hole since we have the 2 1/2-inch lift kit. Red Loctite was used on the M14 bolts on the lower control arms.
Here’s the driver side secured in place. As on the passenger side, the upper control arm was bolted to the top hole. And just like the passenger side, the M14 bolts were torqued to 125 ft-lbs and dabbed with red Loctite. The torque spec for the upper M12 bolts is 75 ft-lbs. With that, the relocation kit was done.
While having nothing to do with the lift, we decided to replace the rear diff cover with this slick piece from AEV. The drain hole is nice, but what we really liked was the extra-large fill port, which also doubled an inspection port for the gears.
With the 2 1/2-inch lift, there’s now plenty of clearance, even without going to flat fenders. If you’re not running monster sized tires, then this 2 1/2-inch lift is perfect for most off-roading and still easy to live with as a daily driver. Plus, our Moab Edition Jeep now looks like a Jeep and not a boxy SUV.
We also picked up an AEV ProCal module to reset the factory computer to the new tire diameter we were able to run with the 2 1/2-inch AEV lift kit we installed earlier. Using just nine dip switches on the AEV ProCal, we were able to set the tire size, recalibrate the tire pressure monitoring system, activate daytime running lights, add “one touch” turn signals, and enable a temporarily increased engine idle speed for winching. The AEV ProCal can also read and clear engine codes and help alignment techs align for optimal ESP performance. Just flip the switches in the right order and plug it into the OBDII port. The Jeep beeps twice, and it’s done.

Put It To The Test

For a real-world test, we drove drive it to Moab and put it work. On the 800-mile drive to Moab, the JK had excellent road manners and the handling felt comparable to stock, but the lifted ride was even better than it was at stock height. The Nitto LT285/75R17 Terra Grappler G2 tires wrapped around a set of 17-inch AEV Pintler wheels (in the new Black Onyx color) were surprisingly quiet on the highway and rode nicely when aired to 44 psi. It was the JK’s first outing off-road, so we stuck to the moderate trails, but when aired down to 25 psi, the Nitto G2s had excellent grip over the slickrock and through the sand. This package seems like a good-looking and well-handling combination for those who want a nice balance between daily driving manners and off-road capability.


Nitto Tire
Cypress, CA 90630
American Expedition Vehicles
Commerce Twp, MI 48390

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