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2007 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon Two Door Project - Ready-To- Run, Part II

Posted in Project Vehicles on July 20, 2008
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Photographers: Robin Stover

At first we were painfully reluctant to change much on our '07 two-door Wrangler Rubicon. How could we not be? It's been comfortable and reliable enough to make a daily 60-mile round-trip commute. It's also served as this editor's primary wheeling rig for the last six months. And with a quick wash, wax, and vacuum, it's been out on date night. Although the truth is, it hardly ever gets washed and there is rarely anyone sitting in the passenger seat. Overall, our project JK has been a pretty sweet ride. The T-boning incident in Los Angeles traffic set us back a few months, but since those repairs, we've been spinning wrenches and logging miles, and here's what we've learned. (For the first log entries, check out "Ready-to-Run, Part I," June '07.)

Mile 7,604: On the way home from a desert trip it began to rain. I was behind a fast-moving sports car while climbing up the Banner grade to Julian, California. The car couldn't ditch me without spinning out. The Jeep's ESP kept me on the road. And it surely frustrated the car's driver, whose rearview mirror was full of Wrangler grille despite his best efforts to rail around the corners and through the straights.

Mile 10,073: Plastic interior parts, like the dash and door panels, get nicked, scratched, and dinged easily-even from my fingernails. In a high-pressure car wash, the upper driver-side door seal let a few drops of water through. Everywhere else seems as watertight as a frog's butt.

Mile 10,785: I can't believe it took me this long to figure out that the cupholders in the JK are not big enough for a 7-Eleven Big Gulp or 1-liter soda bottle. Way lame.

Mile 11,037: An excruciatingly annoying rattle has manifested behind the top center of the dash. And for some reason, the satellite radio got shut off. A quick call turned the sat radio back on for the remainder of the free trial period.

Mile 11,140: Dash noise disappears after installing Daystar dashpanel.

Mile 15,238: Added a ShrockWorks front bumper and Warn Powerplant winch. The new front bumper and winch improve the look of our JK but noticeably sag the front suspension.

Mile 15,346: Our project JK got centerpunched by a Honda! The driver-side door won't open. Driver-side door, fender, flares, rocker, rocker guard, front wheel, and rear quarter-panel are damaged. The ESP system is all pissed off because the steering wheel isn't straight. Still manage to drive the JK home 30 miles from the crash site. Two days later I put it on a trailer and towed it to a body shop.

Mile 15,392: More than two months and $6,365.84 later, the Jeep is finally fixed ... kinda. The correct parts are hard to get and take forever. The rocker area is supposed to have a curve to it but doesn't. There is a scratch in the driver-side window and the top was slightly damaged when it was removed before the side of the Jeep was painted. Ultimately, I have to accept the fact that no matter what, a Jeep (or any vehicle, really) will never be like-new after a wreck. Whatever- now I don't feel so bad about modifying it or scratching it off-road. Yee-haw! It's no longer perfect! Time for a desert trip!

Mile 15,425: While the JK was in the shop I spent way too many miles in a rental car. I forgot how well the JK handles the bumps. The ESP in full-on mode is worthless off-road unless you're just cruising. The halfmode setting is perfect for fast trails. For dunes and mud, shut it all the way off and run in high-range 4x4 First and Second gear. This keeps the rpm up where the 3.8L likes to rev. The 4:1 low-range is really too low for anything but rocks and yanking stuck vehicles. I'm seriously thinking about installing a regular NV241 in place of the NV241OR. The rear seat has become pretty much worthless in our two-door. It's not easy to get to and it's difficult to remove when I need to haul stuff. I hardly ever have someone back there, so it has been permanently removed as of now.

Mile 15,995: It finally rained pretty heavy in California. There are some new leaks in the hardtop. They appear to have been caused by the wreck and/or poor installation/removal of the top for bodywork at the shop. The aftermarket rocker guard does not fit well on the crashed/repaired side, but it's perfect on the other. Like I said, a wrecked vehicle will never be the same.

Mile 16,016: Today, the guys at work make fun of the JK's droopy front suspension. I measured it next to a stock Rubicon and found ours to be sagging nearly 2 inches from the extra weight of the front bumper and winch. I just happened to have a Daystar spacer kit in my office, so I went home and installed the 13.4-inch front spacers the next morning.

Mile 16,038: Now that the Jeep sits level, the hood has started buffeting at wind speeds exceeding 85 mph. A slightly lower front suspension (like stock) would help prevent this from happening. Engineers and Christian Hazel will tell you your Jeep will get slightly better gas mileage with the nose down.

Mile 16,500: Christian and the engineers are right! But by only about a half-mile per gallon. The tires are chunking pretty badly after a particularly rough desert trip in sandy terrain with hidden rocks. I suspect that Jeep specifies a different tread compound than what BFG would normally offer. The rear locker seems kinda fussy; it won't lock anymore and makes clunking noises when I try to use it. I also found out that the engine doesn't like climbing extremely steep inclines of 35 or more degrees. It began to knock like it was starving for oil. After miles and miles of bumps off-road, the shocks got pretty hot but didn't seem to fade too badly. Impressive.

Mile 17,038: Really heavy rains reveal leaks in the door that got hit. When I look closely I see daylight between the door seal and the top. There is also a leak between the two top panels and another on the rear window. The rear-window leak is clearly from a damaged seal. Looks like the body shop hit it with something sharp, which cut it. I'd rather deal with it than risk them "fixing" it worse than it is.

Mile 19,210: For some reason, the battery warning light came on. It was only 37 degrees. The light stayed on during the entire 30-mile commute, then went out when I restarted. The factory battery has looked kinda leaky since 10,000 miles. I'll be keeping an eye on it, but it seems to be starting the Jeep just fine.

Mile 20,000: I run the stock Rubicon tires at 25-30 psi on the street for the best ride and proper tire wear. Off-road, 15 psi helps protect the 17-inch wheels and has provided pretty good traction in just about every terrain. The JK got its first flat tire-I hit a good-size pointy rock at about 50 mph in the desert and cut the sidewall. The tires are chunking pretty badly now. What I found out is that Jeep specifies a different (harder) tread compound to improve handling and fuel economy. The harder compound is not as good for off-road use.

Mile 20,515: The ABS is a pain in my ass. A less-aggressive brake system kicks in when you shift into low-range. Unfortunately, I use high-range most of the time while wheeling in sand, snow, and mud-yep, the places where you want as little ABS as possible for quick stopping. I found myself nearly launching off a razorback in the dunes due to the ABS not wanting to lock-up the wheels in the sand. I wish ABS were on a switch for just such a wheeling situation.

Mile 20,634: I got a chance to take the JK through some snow up to 2 feet deep. Plowing through drifts is a blast in high-range First gear at about 4,000 rpm. Once again, the 4:1 low-range was pretty much worthless, meaning I couldn't use the lockers either,although I did use low-range Second gear to pull out a stuckSuburban. It doesn't matter; the rear locker is still broken anyway.I'll be taking it in to get that fixed real soon. The good news is, the engineers tell me I can simply bolt in the standard NV241 and all the electrical plugs should fit right up. The lockers will be way more useful to me combined with standard 2.72 low-range in mud, sand, and snow.

In the first 4,200 miles, we figured out that the mpg gauge in our Wrangler Rubicon was generous by about 2 mpg. After a total of nearly 21,000 miles, it was still inaccurate by about 2 mpg. So we calculated it to get correct numbers: Our actual average fuel economy, including highway, city, and off-road, was 15.9 mpg. Our best tank netted us 18.2 mpg on a long stretch of flat highway. Our worst tank was 6.6 mpg. This was what resulted while snow wheeling with the 3.8L at 4,000 rpm most of the day. It's totally possible to get better numbers, but these are realistic for a fairly aggressive driver. If you're looking for the best fuel mileage from your Rubicon's factory 4.10 gears and 32-inch tires, keep it below 65 mph on the highway.

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