If your Jeep has a front locker, you’ve likely experienced the following scenario: You are in the process of conquering an obstacle, and you realize that you need to turn sharp to avoid (insert rock, tree, cliff, ex-girlfriend (editor’s note: Why would you want to avoid the “Ex”?), etc.). Suddenly, you find that the Jeep’s steering has gone stiff. No matter how much input you muster into the steering wheel, it won’t budge. Usually, there isn’t anything wrong with your steering, but rather you have found the limits of what it can handle with the front locker engaged.
We are running a selectable Air Locker from ARB, which makes most trail navigation a breeze in the open position, but once it is locked, it’s a different story. Since the ARB becomes an ultra-strong spool when engaged, it doesn’t allow any speed differentiation between the tires. This is great for traction but can easily overwhelm your steering system (often at the most inconvenient times).
Fortunately, steering off-road with the locker engaged doesn’t have to been a never-ending struggle. In fact, there are a few steps you can take to greatly improve your Jeep’s steering system. Since we’ve already ditched the factory y-link steering system for a more durable crossover setup when we installed the G2 Core 44 JK front axle, we were already moving in the right direction. The next logical step at this point was to install a hydraulic-assist steering system.
PSC Motorsports Stage 4 cylinder assist kit includes everything you need to easily convert your XJ’s steering system. With the exception of the cylinder mounting tabs, the kit is designed as a complete bolt-on upgrade. At a little over a grand, you are getting a lot for your money.
By adding hydro-assist, the majority of the stress and steering load is removed from your steering gear box and transferred to the steering knuckles. This is accomplished by mounting a hydraulic cylinder between the axle and tie rod. While the stock steering gear box is fine for running around town, the load forces encountered off-road (especially with a front locker and oversized tires) can become too much. The result for many is a broken sector shaft, which can be a real recovery challenge on the trail.
To get our Jeep navigating with ease, we opted to install a Stage 4 hydro-assist kit from PSC Motorsports. When it comes to steering system upgrades, PSC Motorsports is one the most well versed companies. Offering a wide array of vehicle-specific and custom steering solutions, PSC can fine-tune a steering system to match your specific driving and vehicle needs. In our case, the company’s XJ-specific kit was all we needed.
Still wrenching alongside the Jeep nuts at Low Range 4x4 in Wilmington, North Carolina, we finally got the XJ moving in a big way. We’re in the short rows at this point and look forward to getting dirt between the lugs very soon. To check out the previous installments of the build, head over to our supersite fourwheeler.com.
The pump provided with the Stage 4 kit uses an integrated fluid reservoir. This is a major bonus as we didn’t have to create a custom fluid reservoir mount in the already cramped engine bay. The new pump also comes with an aluminum pulley instead of the cheap plastic ones that are known to crack over time.
Step By Step
We were able to reuse the original pressure and return line for the pump. Some PSC setups will require a new serpentine belt as well. We picked up a new one from our local auto parts store.
PSC Motorsports typically sends a 1.5x6-inch steering ram with the XJ kit. Since we are using a G2 Core 44 JK front housing, we needed a slightly longer steering cylinder. While the company does offer a bolt-on cylinder bracket system for the JK front axle, we opted to use the weld-on tabs.
Once you have the cylinder mounted, you can measure for your hoses. PSC sends field-serviceable hydraulic fittings, which you can easily assemble in your home garage. The first step is to clamp the hose in a vise, then thread the shell on counterclockwise.
With the shell installed, clamp it in a vise. Using some assembly oil (or steering fluid), thread the fitting into the shell. Depending on your application, the end fittings you need will vary. Normally, the ram-side uses 90-deggree fittings. The fittings at the steering gearbox will often depend on your hose routing and gearbox mount.
Routing the houses is a bit of a trick in itself. We like to build them with the axle at full droop so there is no doubt that they are long enough. Post assembly, we will fully cycle the suspension to make sure they don’t interfere or get caught on any of the suspension or steering components. A few zip ties and some clever routing later, the hoses were in the clear.
PSC sends detailed bleeding instructions with its kit, which are easy to follow. Also included is Swepco 715 steering fluid. Swepco uses Lubium, which is a friction modifier designed to reduce steering pump noise. The 715 fluid is also engineered to operate at a wide range of fluid temperatures.
Once we were able to get the Jeep moving on its own, we realized the rear driveline was bent and the front double-Cardan joint was shot. We opted to replace the damaged ’shafts with a more durable set from Tom Wood’s Custom Drive Shafts. The polished and clearcoated 0.120-wall drivelines are not just for looks but are substantially stronger.
The fact that the ’shafts are within an inch of each other also means we only need to carry one spare for long distance trips. Our Tom Wood’s drivelines are fitted with Wood’s gold-series 1310 U-joints throughout, which receive an easy-to-access grease fitting at the head of the joint. We decided to keep the 1310 double-Cardan joints at the transfer case since the operating angles made them a necessity. At the axle, the 1310 U-joint is plenty strong for our G2 Core 44 axle.
We were not happy with the rear springs in the XJ, so we decided to swap them out with a better pack from BDS Suspension. The XJ-specific 41⁄2-inch lift springs are a full-pack replacement, which includes new rear shackles and U-bolts. The BDS springs are a touch on the firm side, which is actually a benefit in our case. Given we won’t have much room for up travel, nor do we have a front sway bar, the springs will work great to keep the Jeep stable and axle under control. If we do happen to deform the springs, we can always swap them out for a new set under BDS’s no-fine-print warranty. With the way we beat on stuff, the company might need to revise that policy!
Last month, we installed Daystar replacement bumpstops up front. Since we knew we could cut them down, we decided to see how much up travel we could cycle. As they sit, they are almost perfect. The fenders on the other hand, not so much.
With the 65-inch axle width, the tires stick outside of the body quite a bit. This means they intercept the outside of the front fenders more easily. Using the body line as a guide, we took an angle grinder with a cut-off wheel and increased the wheel arch. Our 37-inch Maxxis Trepadors no longer come close to rubbing.
The previous owner did a great job of trimming and tucking the sheetmetal in the rear fenderwells. Unless we want to do some significant sheetmetal relocation, we’ll need to bump the rear more so not to chew the tire to pieces.
Now that the XJ is more mobile, we have had more time to use the Truck-Lite LED headlights. One thing we kept having an issue with was the fact that the lights would get stuck on high-beam. It turns out that pulling the stock fog light relay fixed that issue.