Making LemonadeI recently messed up and got into an accident with my 2012 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited. It was my fault (it happens), but it was an honest mistake. Fortunately no one was hurt. The body of the Jeep really didn’t get damaged at all with the exception of a cracked fender flare. However, the front axle and suspension took one heck of a hit on the passenger side and are pretty messed up. A cursory inspection shows that the front axle is bent badly along with the control arms, steering, and track bar. Rather than just replace it all with stock stuff, I figured I would try and make the best of a bad situation and use the opportunity to make some upgrades. My insurance agency is being surprisingly cool about it. They are willing to cut me a check for the value of stock replacement parts and are even letting me do the work rather than requiring that it get repaired at a professional shop. Most of the stuff that is damaged would be replaced with an axle or suspension upgrade, so with that in mind, what would you do? I really don’t want to spend much more than the $5,500 estimate that the insurance adjuster quoted, but I don’t mind spending a little extra if I end up with a much better Jeep. I have 33s on the Jeep now with aspirations to run 35s, and at the most 37s.
Sorry to hear about the Jeep, and we certainly understand you wanting to make some lemonade out of the lemons you’ve been handed. As a JK owner, you probably know that if it can be bolted onto a vehicle, someone makes it for a JK. There is no shortage of axle and suspension upgrades out there, so it really boils down to what you want to do with the Jeep and how much you want to spend.
The Dana 30 front axle under your Jeep is pretty weak, and since it is junk anyway, we would recommend upgrading to a Dana 44. Dynatrac (dynatrac.com), Currie Enterprises (currieenterprises.com), G2 (g2axle.com), Teraflex (teraflex.com), and Dana (crateaxle.com) all offer bolt-in Dana 44 axle assemblies for your JK that are available with your choice of axle ratio and differential. Most can be ordered as bare housings or complete, but all of them reuse the stock knuckles, brakes, and wheel bearings. This might be a problem for you, because if the axle was hit hard enough to bend the housing and suspension, the knuckle and unit bearing on the side that took the hit may need to be replaced. This will add to the overall repair cost. Prices vary for these aftermarket assemblies, but you can count on spending anywhere from $3,500 to $4,000 depending on the options you choose.
If those numbers are outside the budget, then you might consider buying a factory Dana 44 axle for a Rubicon right from a dealer, especially since take-off JK Rubicon axles are very hard to find. Inexplicably, a while back Chrysler lowered the price of Rubicon axles significantly. Part number P5153825AH is a complete Rubicon Dana 44 from hub to hub, and it comes with an everyday price tag of just $2,395, which means you can probably score it for even less. You could regear and lock the stock Dana 44 rear assuming it wasn’t damaged in the accident, or for a little more you could add a matching Rubicon rear axle (PN P5153826AE, MSRP $2,100). Plus, you could offset the cost of the rear axle by selling your Jeep’s stock one. Both of these are preloaded with 4.10s and the factory Rubicon lockers, and the axle assemblies have been subjected to the same quality control standards as the ones in brand-new Jeeps, not to mention being brand new themselves. The Rubicon lockers need just switched power to activate. The factory Dana 44 front housing has similar strength concerns to the Dana 30, but adding a gusset kit alleviates this problem and we have really only seen them bend with hard use and big tires. If hardcore four-wheeling isn’t part of your plans, it would be hard to beat just walking into a dealer and ordering a Rubicon axle, then adding a gusset kit.
As for the suspension, any good adjustable control arms and track bar from a name-brand suspension company will fix the bent stock stuff. You didn’t mention whether the Jeep is lifted already or not, but you can order complete lift kits with everything you need to replace, or you can order individual components à la carte in most cases. A wide variety of steering upgrades from Currie, Synergy (synergymfg.com), Rusty’s Off-Road (rustysoffroad.com), and many other companies offer a variety of features and price points to match. Before diving too deep, however, it might be worth spending a couple hundred dollars having the frame checked out. If the Jeep was hit hard enough to bend virtually all of the suspension, it stands to reason that the frame might need a little straightening as well.