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1997 Jeep Wrangler SE TJ - Test Mule

Posted in Project Vehicles on April 28, 2014
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It’s a tough life being a test mule. Parked in the side yard for two weeks, or maybe two months, only to be called back into service at the drop of a hat and taken down gnarly trails, a multi-day road trip, or run on a chassis dyno. Bought for a steal and as a rule rode hard and put away wet -- that is the life of a Jp magazine test vehicle. Hey, we are trying to push these things to failure so that when your Jeep fails we have already been there. One such vehicle that has had a tougher-than-average life is our beater ’97 Jeep Wraangler SE TJ. This Jeep, bought from a salvage yard, was had cheaply and has been beaten like a whipping post over the past few years. All in all, the little TJ has held up remarkably well and has been incredibly reliable, appearing to thrive even when truly abused. But as with almost any machine, maintenance must occasionally be performed.

You can’t hear it, but the “little engine that can” is shown here tick-tick-ticking away. When we bought the Jeep we were not convinced that it needed a timing chain. Sure it ticked, and it was coming from the front of the engine in the area of the timing cover, but the 2.5L ran strong. On a buddy’s advice, we tossed a new harmonic balancer at it, but it still ticked. Finally, after a year or two of our abusive ways, the engine started running like it needed a timing chain. Time to bite the bullet.

When we bought the Jeep Wrangler TJ a few years back we got a deal because the seller was about to put a timing chain in the engine. At the time, we were not convinced that it needed it, but we used it as leverage to haggle on the price. Being the cheapskates that we are, we talked them down on price if they would let us handle the timing chain repair, saving them the money that they would have paid a mechanic (plus they tossed in the timing chain kit). Fast forward a few years and the timing chain in the 2.5L AMC four-cylinder was still ticking away, but when the engine started having hard start issues and other timing chain related problems, we knew it was time to bite the bullet and toss a timing chain at the Jeep. Also, since we are admittedly hard on Jeeps, over the past few years the TJ’s factory oil pan somehow got beaten against rocks -- more than once -- and dented. Since we were gonna be venturing into the front of the little mill, we figured it would be a good time to toss in a new oil pan and to fabricate an oil pan skidplate to prevent a repeat performance. Follow along as we show you some tips and tricks to help you maintain Jeep’s engine, build a stout oil pan skidplate, and prep it for several more years of use.

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Auburn Hills, MI 48321
Crown Automotive Sales
Marshfield, MA 02050
Synergy Manufacturing
San Luis Obispo, CA 93401

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