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2004 Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited - Grand Score: Part 2

Posted in Project Vehicles on October 20, 2014 Comment (0)
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Ever sat staring at a trailhead with an 80-90 percent confidence level in your rig’s ability to make it from Point A to Point B without incident, but with a 100 percent “you’re pretty screwed” rate if you didn’t? Sure, there’s always a little bit of a thrill in rolling the dice, but in our opinion, venturing into the backcountry without the required protective and extraction gear is akin to hunting a brown bear with a subcompact pistol—it’s just not a good idea.

Last issue, we covered the install of an Iron Rock Offroad 4-inch Critical Path long-arm suspension system, which opened the door to measurably improved off-road performance, better on-road comfort, and paved the way for larger tires. With a mindset of backcountry self-sufficiency continuing to steer our direction, we set out to prep the rest of our ’04 Grand Cherokee for the work-and-play adventures we knew we’d be tasking it with. Stay tuned for Part 3 where we’ll be putting all of the following efforts to the test.

Our WJ’s transformation from soccer-mom-mobile to capable backcountry rig was well on its way after the IRO Critical Path suspension was slung underneath in Part 1.

Recovery
If funds were limited and we had to start somewhere, a winch would be priority numero uno. For this project, we wanted to try out one of the new Gen 2 X2O wireless-control winches from Smittybilt. These completely sealed and fully waterproof winches are available in line-pull capacities of 10,000 to 17,500 pounds, feature an “amphibious” 6.6 hp motor, rugged construction, and multiple solenoid mounting and motor/gearcase clocking positions. And best of all, they’re priced affordably. Mud and water are part of the game on the eastern side of the U.S., so a winch that doesn’t mind being repeatedly dunked is a huge benefit.

The X2O model that made the most sense for our build was the 10,000-pound unit, which should prove to have plenty of grunt to get our Grand out of trouble. If you’re looking to shave a little weight, Smittybilt also offers the X2O Comp, which comes equipped with synthetic line and an aluminum hawse fairlead.

In the end, we went from a 29-inch tire size to a 32-inch and gained a valuable 5 inches of clearance under the rockers, not to mention that it doesn’t look like a soccer-mom-mobile anymore.

Protection
Since this was a pretty cherry Jeep to start with—only 30k miles on the ticker—we wanted to take measures to ensure it stayed that way for the foreseeable future. Two of the most susceptible areas to trail damage on most any vehicle are the front end and rocker panels, and accordingly, these are the areas we focused our attention on.

Due to an outstanding track record of giving us a warm ‘n fuzzy feeling, there are certain go-to products we gravitate toward for certain vehicles; the ARB Deluxe Bull Bar is one of ‘em. We’ve run these winch-ready bumpers on everything from Land Rovers to Wranglers and later-model Chevy pickups, and ARB’s front-end protection flat works. Not only does it fulfill our winch mounting requirement, but since this is a daily driver—with a kiddo frequently riding shotgun—the fact that the mounting brackets of the Bull Bar are engineered to be airbag-compatible was a huge plus in the safety department.

Speaking of safety, nighttime escapades with crappy lighting can get downright dangerous in moose country. So in order to make sure we had the upper hand after dark, we mounted a pair of ARB’s Intensity 8,200-lumen LED lights. These things are outrageously bright (no, seriously, like nuclear-explosion bright), and thanks to their LEDs, finned cast-aluminum bodies, and polycarbonate lens covers, they’re also virtually indestructible.

To address our naked rocker panels and save them from getting mashed, we went back to the WJ experts at Iron Rock Offroad to get our hands on a set of its WJ Premium Rock Sliders. These sliders get our vote for the best-looking rocker protection available for the WJ; they don’t hang down or stick out cartoonishly far, and they have clean, simple lines that match the contours of the body. With three frame spars making the connection to the Unitbody and seven mounting points on each rocker pinch-seam, they should take a pretty good beatin’ too. We’ll find out and report back in Part 3.

Steering
Like most coil-sprung Jeeps, the WJ platform is not immune to death wobble or bumpsteer when you go messing with the front suspension. Diagnosing the problems can sometimes make you feel like a monkey trying to solve a calculus equation, but being armed with the knowledge of their root causes will go a long way in helping you make it go away. When it comes to pairing steering solutions with their suspension systems, however, Iron Rock Offroad (IRO) has the component list pretty well dialed in.

The ace up IRO’s sleeve with this is its WJ Steering Equalizer, which is essentially a two-in-one track-bar mount/frame brace. The Steering Equalizer is a bolt-on proposition (two holes need to be drilled) and spans the width of the Unitbody channels to reinforce the Unitbody structure, and lower the track-bar mounting location to compensate for added lift-height. It’s simple, easy to install, and with the included drop pitman arm we installed in Part 1, steering angles are now in check. So far there’s been no bumpsteer and no death wobble. Also, to make sure the larger tires were matched with the proper amount of damping, we replaced the OEM 11⁄4-inch-diameter stabilizer with Teneco’s 17⁄8-inch Heavy Duty Steering Stabilizer, also sourced through IRO.

Tires ‘n Wheels
You can drive yourself nuts looking for the “perfect” wheel for a later-model Grand Cherokee. With the factory wheels having an extremely positive 6.25-inch offset, finding the perfect combination of diameter, width, and offset (not to mention style, color, and strength) in an aftermarket wheel is nearly impossible. We say “nearly” because one company had exactly what we were looking for—American Expedition Vehicles (AEV).

AEV offers three different style wheels: the Pintler, Pintler-Beadlock, and the Savegre. You’re looking at the latter. While marketed for the JK Wrangler, these cast-aluminum 17x8.5 wheels, with 5.20-inch backspacing are also a spot-on-perfect fit for WJ and WK Grand Cherokees. We dig the simplistic styling, low-bling finish options (ours are matte-black), and recessed valve stem holes that ensure trail junk isn’t swiping our valve stems when we’re not looking.

For tires, we went in a little different direction than we normally do and slapped on a set of LT265/70R17 General Grabber AT2s. Mud terrains are par for the course around here for serious off-roading, but to our thinking, what we’d sacrifice in mud traction will be made up for in spades with better on-road characteristics and better traction on snow-covered roads in the winter. So far, we’re pretty impressed with the Grabbers, but you’ll have to wait until Part 3 to see if that still holds true after we get some trail miles under our belts.

PhotosView Slideshow

Grunt
In an attempt to gain back a little of the power we lost from the larger tires and a notable weight gain, we bolted up a stainless steel Gibson performance exhaust system. Where uncoated steel exhaust can start to look ratty after one winter, the Gibson’s stainless construction means that this should be the last muffler and tailpipe we ever buy for this WJ. The Gibson system is touted as increasing low to midrange power for off-roading and towing, but we slapped the system on just before press-time, and without enough seat time on the butt-dyno to substantiate those claims, it’s too early to tell. You can look for a full report in Part 3 next month, but until then, we’ll definitely be enjoying the killer new exhaust note.

Not too much, not too little. The AEV and General wheel/tire combination provided exactly what we were looking for in wheel backspacing/width and tire diameter. The new combo just barely breaks fender coverage, which not only looks right but should also keep the local fuzz off our behinds. There may be room to squeeze a 285-section-width tire in here if that’s your plan, but be prepared to break out the fender-trimming tools. Not too much, not too little. The AEV and General wheel/tire combination provided exactly what we were looking for in wheel backspacing/width and tire diameter. The new combo just barely breaks fender coverage, which not only looks right but should also keep the local fuzz off our behinds. There may be room to squeeze a 285-section-width tire in here if that’s your plan, but be prepared to break out the fender-trimming tools.
All the armor in the world and a set of gnarly mud tires won’t do you a lick of good if they’re just making you sink quicker, and the fully sealed and waterproof Smittybilt X2O 10,000-pound winch should be the ticket for extracting us from the inevitable bottomless Northeast mudhole. Available in up to a monstrous 17,500-pound pull weight and with steel or synthetic line, all are finished in a good-looking, UV-resistant matte-black coating. We’re keeping our fingers crossed that it stands up to salty New England roads in the winter. All the armor in the world and a set of gnarly mud tires won’t do you a lick of good if they’re just making you sink quicker, and the fully sealed and waterproof Smittybilt X2O 10,000-pound winch should be the ticket for extracting us from the inevitable bottomless Northeast mudhole. Available in up to a monstrous 17,500-pound pull weight and with steel or synthetic line, all are finished in a good-looking, UV-resistant matte-black coating. We’re keeping our fingers crossed that it stands up to salty New England roads in the winter.
ARB has a penchant for going above and beyond in the engineering department with everything it produces, even right down to the mounting brackets for its Bull Bar. To our knowledge, ARB offers the only airbag-compatible mounting system for the WJ, which gives us a little peace of mind when carting the kiddos around. Other than two small holes that need to be drilled, the brackets use existing holes in the Unitbody for installation. ARB has a penchant for going above and beyond in the engineering department with everything it produces, even right down to the mounting brackets for its Bull Bar. To our knowledge, ARB offers the only airbag-compatible mounting system for the WJ, which gives us a little peace of mind when carting the kiddos around. Other than two small holes that need to be drilled, the brackets use existing holes in the Unitbody for installation.
The Bull Bar’s stout construction gives simplistic lines, a pretty decent approach angle, and importantly, doesn’t peg the pork-o-meter in the weight department. Unlike most aftermarket WJ winch bumpers, an integral grilleguard is standard equipment. We bolted the winch to the bumper prior to installation, and other than having to re-index the gearbox in order to reach the winch’s engagement lever and mount the winch’s solenoid box remotely to clear the front frame crossmember, we hoisted the combination into place with zero drama. The Bull Bar’s stout construction gives simplistic lines, a pretty decent approach angle, and importantly, doesn’t peg the pork-o-meter in the weight department. Unlike most aftermarket WJ winch bumpers, an integral grilleguard is standard equipment. We bolted the winch to the bumper prior to installation, and other than having to re-index the gearbox in order to reach the winch’s engagement lever and mount the winch’s solenoid box remotely to clear the front frame crossmember, we hoisted the combination into place with zero drama.
We don’t like driving blind in the Northwoods, where Clydesdale-size animals with antlers (moose) cross your path without warning. Thanks to ARB’s Intensity LED lights, providing 8,200 lumens of retina-searing brightness (no-kidding, there’s a warning right on the lights), we don’t have to. They’re also waterproof to a depth of 3 meters. Regardless of the fact that you’ve got bigger problems if your lights are almost 10 feet underwater, we thought it warranted a mention. You’ll have to wait until Part 3 to see just how bright these things are, though. We don’t like driving blind in the Northwoods, where Clydesdale-size animals with antlers (moose) cross your path without warning. Thanks to ARB’s Intensity LED lights, providing 8,200 lumens of retina-searing brightness (no-kidding, there’s a warning right on the lights), we don’t have to. They’re also waterproof to a depth of 3 meters. Regardless of the fact that you’ve got bigger problems if your lights are almost 10 feet underwater, we thought it warranted a mention. You’ll have to wait until Part 3 to see just how bright these things are, though.
With a considerable amount of additional weight now hanging off the front end of our WJ, we compensated for spring-sag with a pair of Rough Country 3⁄4-inch coil spacers. Thanks to the impressive amount of axle droop that the IRO long-arm suspension offers, we were able to yank the coil springs out by hand and install the spacers in a matter of minutes. The Jeep still has a noticeable front-end rake, but the spacers did the trick for now; higher-rate coils may be in our future, however. With a considerable amount of additional weight now hanging off the front end of our WJ, we compensated for spring-sag with a pair of Rough Country 3⁄4-inch coil spacers. Thanks to the impressive amount of axle droop that the IRO long-arm suspension offers, we were able to yank the coil springs out by hand and install the spacers in a matter of minutes. The Jeep still has a noticeable front-end rake, but the spacers did the trick for now; higher-rate coils may be in our future, however.
Depending on the vehicle, the old adage “If duct tape don’t fix ‘er, yer not usin’ enough duct tape” can be applied to broken grilles, plastic-fascia panels and the like, but caved-in rocker panels are an entirely different story. The IRO Premium Rock Sliders gave us the protection we needed and the looks we were after. After witnessing the strength of the sliders and their mounting points in person, we have zero reservations about resting the entire weight of the WJ on one of ‘em. Depending on the vehicle, the old adage “If duct tape don’t fix ‘er, yer not usin’ enough duct tape” can be applied to broken grilles, plastic-fascia panels and the like, but caved-in rocker panels are an entirely different story. The IRO Premium Rock Sliders gave us the protection we needed and the looks we were after. After witnessing the strength of the sliders and their mounting points in person, we have zero reservations about resting the entire weight of the WJ on one of ‘em.
Of course, the condition of your suspension, steering, and tires are huge factors in figuring out the root causes of handling quirks like bumpsteer and death wobble, but assuming your junk is in good working order, the IRO Steering Equalizer should provide the solution you’re after for your lifted WJ. The Equalizer is a two-fold fix: It works to brace the front Unitbody structure, but most importantly, lowers the operating angles of both the drag link and track bar. It works. Of course, the condition of your suspension, steering, and tires are huge factors in figuring out the root causes of handling quirks like bumpsteer and death wobble, but assuming your junk is in good working order, the IRO Steering Equalizer should provide the solution you’re after for your lifted WJ. The Equalizer is a two-fold fix: It works to brace the front Unitbody structure, but most importantly, lowers the operating angles of both the drag link and track bar. It works.
We took the opportunity to replace our aging, 10-year-old factory exhaust system with a killer-looking/sounding Gibson Performance stainless steel system. Included in the kit are a 2.5-inch-diameter stainless mandrel-bent tailpipe, stainless chambered/baffled (no packing to burn out) muffler, a T304 3-inch polished tip, and all the necessary clamps and hardware. So long as we don’t mash it on a rock, it might just outlast the Jeep. We took the opportunity to replace our aging, 10-year-old factory exhaust system with a killer-looking/sounding Gibson Performance stainless steel system. Included in the kit are a 2.5-inch-diameter stainless mandrel-bent tailpipe, stainless chambered/baffled (no packing to burn out) muffler, a T304 3-inch polished tip, and all the necessary clamps and hardware. So long as we don’t mash it on a rock, it might just outlast the Jeep.

Sources

General Tire
Charlotte, NC 28288
800-847-3349
www.generaltire.com
Smittybilt
Compton, CA 90220
888-717-5797
www.smittybilt.com
American Expedition Vehicles
Wixom, MI 48393
248-926-0256
www.aev-conversions.com
ARB USA
Renton, WA 98057
866-293-9078
http://www.arbusa.com
Gibson Exhaust
Corona, CA 92879
gibsonexhaust.com
Iron Rock Offroad
877-919-5337
www.ironrockoffroad.com

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