Getting in the off-road hobby doesn’t have to be expensive. Some of the most fun we’ve had off-road happened behind the wheel of a low-buck wheeler. Our friend recently picked up a 1993 Jeep Wrangler YJ. It was a dirt-cheap purchase, mostly due to the fact that it wasn’t running and had a few rust issues here and there. With a few replacement parts and a little elbow grease, he got the weathered Jeep back in action.
Since this would be a secondary vehicle, our friend didn’t want to drop a lot of money into the Jeep. Of course, who ever really wants to spend a lot of money on anything? After consulting his local off-road shop, he made the decision to raise the Jeep modestly with a 2 1/2-inch lift from Rough Country Suspension. While it was suggested to run a 31-inch-tall tire, he was looking for more meat on the ground, so he opted for a set of 33-inch-tall Patagonia M/Ts from Milestar. The entire upgrade cost less than $1,500 (tires, lift, and wheels). Not bad for a low-budget wheeler.
To check the transformation, we stopped by the shop hammering out the install and followed the small Wrangler out to the trail.
Since the YJ’s original leaf springs had seen better days, the Jeep needed a kit that would replace them. Rough Country’s 2 1/2-inch lift includes front and rear lift springs, which are double-tapered with Teflon pad inserts to increase ride quality.
We will be the first to say that this kit is should be extremely easy to install in the driveway. However, the owner of this Jeep had a feeling that some of the rusty bolts might be an issue. Turns out he was right. Almost all of the leaf-spring bolts were seized and had to be cut off. Thankfully, that was the worst of the install.
New U-bolts secure the lift springs under the axletubes. While a spring-over conversion used to be a popular lift method for the YJ, there are numerous advantages to running the springs under the axle. Aside from reducing the likelihood of axlewrap, it is also much easier to retain a small amount of the lift with the springs mounted under the tubes.
From the factory, YJs used front and rear track bars to help increase on-road stability. We normally ditch the track bars, but if you plan on retaining them the 2 1/2-inch suspension is low enough to work with the factory mounts. Either way, both track bars will need to be unbolted from the axle end for the install but can be reattached post-lift.
Working with the new spring set are Rough Country’s N2.0 series shocks. These are valved specifically for the light YJ platform, which equates to a tight on-road feel with plenty of resistance to bottoming out in the dirt.
The springs attach to the YJ’s stock shackles. Since it is only being lifted 2 1/2 inches, you won’t need a dropped pitman arm or a track-bar bracket, which is often standard with taller YJ lifts.
Stripped to the bare minim (i.e., no rear seat, aftermarket bumpers, or top), we found the springs gave the Jeep true 2 1/2 inches of lift, if not slightly more. One thing the owner noticed was a slight rear driveline vibration post-lift. This can be fixed a few ways, but we typically recommended installing a slip-yoke eliminator kit with a new rear driveline if your budget can handle it. A less expensive alternative is to install a T-case crossmember drop, which will help get the stock rear driveline angle in check.
For tires and wheels, a set of 33x12.50R15 Milestar Patagonia M/Ts was mounted on a set of Craigslist special 15x8 black steel wheels. The Jeep’s fenders needed a little trimming to allow the knobby mud terrains to travel freely, but it is worth it to have the extra footprint.
In the Dirt
On its shakedown run, the Jeep worked excellent. The aggressive mud-terrains hooked incredibly in the muddy and sandy soil. Disconnecting the front sway bar gave the YJ a better opportunity to flex and airing down the tires to 15 psi helped the Wrangler get where it needed to go. Overall, the Jeeps springs and shocks did a good job of improving the suspension and adding lift without being overly stiff. We are sure this budget beater will have more upgrades in its future, but for now, it’s ready to enjoy.
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