Whether it’s that spare tire you’re carrying around behind your belt buckle or a bunch of unnecessary trinkets and doo dads on, in, or around your Jeep, extra weight kills performance, increases the likelihood of breakage, and requires more energy and effort to move around. Shedding unnecessary poundage from your Jeep will make your engine feel more powerful, help your drivetrain components live longer, and allow your suspension to react more quickly. We came up with fifty things you can do to lighten your Jeep. Some may not be applicable or realistic for everybody. And some may not seem like they’d make a ton of difference. But as we demonstrated in “Skinny-Time!” on page 84 of this issue, the cumulative result of just a few of these mods can really make a difference.
Stock bumpers are light. If you want a bit more beef, you can use some 1/8-inch or even 14- or 16-gauge steel to box your factory channel bumper to better resist twisting and damage.
Rear-end collisions aside, most Wranglers can get by without a rear bumper on the trail. Or, for older Wranglers and CJs, keep the factory bumperettes. They’re much lighter than a full factory or aftermarket rear bumper.
Thanks to its strong presence in motorsports for decades, there are several really cool aftermarket lightweight components for the Ford 9-inch such as aluminum centersections, bearing retainers, and even spools. Adding disc brakes to these parts and using 31-spline alloy axleshafts can get you a really strong rear end that weighs in at only a couple hundred pounds.
Steel wheels are cheap, but aluminum wheels are much lighter. Not only will they decrease the overall weight of your Jeep, but your acceleration and braking performance will increase because it takes less energy to start and stop them spinning.
For its weight, the Ford 9-inch trounces any comparable Dana 35 or Dana 44 axle in strength. And upgrading the 31-spline shafts to aftermarket 35-spline units puts it in the same ilk as the burly (and heavy) Dana 60.
If you have a patch kit and a source of onboard air, leaving the spare tire at home can save up to or over 100 pounds depending on your tire size. If you have beadlocks or rims that can be dismantled in the field, a tire tube is also a great alternative.
Ditching the factory steel full- or half-doors from your Wrangler or CJ saves a lot of weight. If you must have protection from the wind and elements, a set of aftermarket soft doors will get the job done at a fraction of the weight.
Dana 60 and Dana 70 1-ton axles are super strong, but they’re heavy as sin. If your tire size and wheeling style allow it, retaining your stock axles (Dana 30, Dana 35, or Dana 44) can save you several hundred pounds, even if you bolster them with larger, slightly heavier axleshafts.
If you don’t carry rear-seat passengers then why do you need a rear seat? They’re pretty heavy. Even if you’re not wheeling a Wrangler or CJ, full-size, Cherokee, and others can ditch the rear seat and belts for a big bump in weight saving.
Carry only those tools and spares you need. Why bother shedding ounces here and there if you’re just gonna bring along 50 pounds in spare parts and unnecessary tools. If you don’t have any 5⁄8-inch bolts on your vehicle, why bring a 5⁄8-inch socket or wrench? Pack smarter, not heavier.
This is something we suggested in “Skid-Free” (May ’09) where you create laminate armor by welding lighter-gauge material to your existing skid plates. It’s an effective alternative if extreme use is not in your vehicle’s repertoire. In our story, we used two factory 14-gauge Wrangler fuel tank skids to create a lightweight 1⁄8-inch skid that will support the weight of the vehicle.
Who says your bumpers need to be heavy steel. There are several companies making Jeep bumpers in aluminum and even fiberglass. These offer a surprising deal of strength in a bantam-weight package.
A Wrangler or CJ hard top weighs a bunch. Even the factory soft top and the associated hardware isn’t exactly featherweight. What is featherweight is a simple bikini top. It’ll keep the sun off your head and won’t tip the scales against you.
Aluminum armor is roughly half the weight of its steel counterpart with very few drawbacks. If you’re a hardcore basher and don’t want to go full-aluminum armor, consider strategic use of aluminum armor for less-vulnerable places like your rear corner guards or even tube fenders. Or for even lighter protection, HDPE plastic can be utilized in strategic locations.
Glass is heavy and breakable. Polycarbonate is light and flexible. To us it’s a win-win: lighter weight in a pliable package that won’t shatter with any rock hits or tree impact. Higher-end units like this PolyShield windshield (polyshields.com) resists scratching as well as any glass windshield.
Almost all tires for 16-, 17-, and 20-inch rims are Load Range D or E. These higher load capacity tires not only weigh more than Load Range C tires, their heavier sidewalls don’t flex as well or ride as smoothly on a lightweight Jeep. Making sure you’re running a Load Range C tire will not only give you’re a softer on-road ride, but will generally get you a lighter tire in the bargain.
Rockin’ the Four
If you "settled” on a four-cylinder Jeep rather than swapping in a heavy six- or eight-cylinder, consider keeping your lightweight four-popper and gaining performance through gearing and weight shedding. With proper gearing and careful attention paid to weight, a four-cylinder Jeep can give more than adequate performance without dramatically tipping the scales.
Replacing your steel hood or fenders with lighter fiberglass parts will free up a lot of weight over the front tires. Or, if you’re building a more extreme vehicle, consider a high-clearance one-piece fiberglass hood with integrated fenders like this one from Chris Durham Motorsports (chrisdurham.wordpress.com).
For vehicles with manual transmissions, a heavy flywheel can impart a lot of inertia that will keep your engine chugging at low rpms, but with modern computer-controlled injection systems, it’s not always necessary. Going to a lighter flywheel will not only shed 10-30 pounds from your vehicle, but will make your engine rev quicker.
Carpet only gets wet and dirty and if you’re going topless you’re not worried about sound levels. Ditching your factory carpet and sound deadening not only frees up weight, but makes messy mud and dirt cleanup quick and easy. Spray-on liner material is popular, but heavy and impossible to weld on or under. Keep it paint for the minimum in weight and maximum in versatility.
Most aftermarket suspension seats are not only more comfortable than stock seats during severe off-roading, they’re usually much lighter as well. This is especially true when compared with factory power leather seats, but even pedestrian vinyl buckets can be swapped out for a decent weight savings.
Winch Plate Weight
Using a winch plate rather than a full winch bumper will get your recovery gear mounted to your framerails at a fraction of the heft. And if there isn’t a dedicated part number for your application, you can usually modify a universal mount to work in several applications. Or, better yet, use a removable hitch mount and leave the winch behind when you don’t foresee a need for it.
Heat No More
For most dedicated trail rigs, the factory heater/defroster ducting is dead weight that takes up space. This is especially true if you drop down or remove your windshield. Removing your electric blower motor, heater core, ducting, and related components can shed enough to offset the weight of some extra spares and tools.
NP to the NV
Back in the day everybody thought you needed a honkin’ NP205 or other huge iron-case, all-gear T-case to get the job done. But the reality is that most aluminum- or magnesium-case chain-drive T-cases can be built just as strong at a fraction of the weight.
Most older A/C systems work inefficiently or not at all. And what are you anyway; a wuss? Chuck that A/C system in the recycling and you’ll save as much as 100 pounds in compressor, brackets, hoses, condenser, and other related components.
Not those wheels; your steering wheel. It’s a bit compulsive, but in a worst-case scenario, switching to a lightweight aftermarket steering wheel can see a 10 pound-or-better drop in weight compared with the bulky factory offering.
Swapping your steel cable out for a synthetic winch rope and going from a steel roller to an aluminum Hawse fairlead can drop between 20-30 pounds (depending on cable and rope length).
Okay, this is taking things a bit far, but even your headlights can be fodder for weight weenies. If you need new headlights anyway, swapping from factory-type all-glass headlamps to aftermarket units with polycarbonate lenses and plastic bodies will waste some weight away.
Sure, adding a 3/4- or 1-ton cast-iron four-speed or heavy NV4500 five-speed may be tempting, but is it really necessary? Often, the flyweight cast-iron three-speed or a medium-duty aluminum-case five-speed will get the job done at about half the weight of the bigger stuff.
Drilling holes in mounting brackets, framerails, and other components throughout your vehicle can drop a bit of weight, but the holes could possibly affect strength. However, running a dimple die over the hole after it is cut will add a contoured flare that not only looks good, but increases strength and rigidity in the bargain.
Upgrading to aluminum cylinder head(s) on your I-6 or V-8 engine is an all-around great upgrade. Not only will you get better performance, but you’ll cut the weight of your head(s) in half, generally saving between 20-50 pounds.
Factory muffler and exhaust pipe systems are not only restrictive, but are usually insanely heavy. You won’t save a ton of weight in free-flowing aftermarket exhaust pipes, but you will save considerable weight in swapping to an aftermarket crimped-case or fully-welded muffler.
Almost all V-8s and most inline four- and six-cylinder engines came factory-equipped with heavy cast-iron exhaust manifolds. Swapping to aftermarket tubular headers can not only free up power, but sheds a ton of weight from the front of your vehicle.
If you’re wheeling you should have everything strapped down tightly and securely. So, if that’s the case why would you need a heavy tailgate? Wrangler tailgates are kinda heavy, but FSJ SUV and pickup tailgates are downright porky. Either way, ditch it for a big boost in lightness.
Aside from the weight savings to be had by using an all-aluminum radiator over an all-copper/brass radiator, you can lighten other cooling system components. Swapping from a bulky clutch-activated mechanical fan to electric and going from a cast iron to aluminum water pump will shed a few crucial pounds from your equation.
Factory-spec wet-cell batteries are inexpensive and can offer an attractive life span. However, most aren’t exactly compact and almost none are lightweight. Upgrading to a dry-cell race battery like an Odyssey (odysseybattery.com) can get you more power in a smaller, lighter package. Lithium-ion batteries are even smaller, lighter, and more powerful, but at this point in time they are cost prohibitive for all but the deepest pockets.
This is most true for YJs, but applies to some FSJ Wagoneers and other models as well. If you have a properly set up leaf-spring suspension and don’t drive like a total moron, there’s really no need for front or rear track bars. Ditch ’em, along with their mounting brackets. Factory track bars aren’t exactly light.
Using HREW (hot rolled electrically welded) tubing may be cost-effective, but chromoly tubing has a much higher tensile strength. That means you can run thinner, lighter chromoly tubing with no penalty in weight. Chromoly does present some special issues when working with it, though. Careful attention must be paid to heat-affecting during welding, and ideally the cage should be heat treated after construction.
We’ve already mentioned using fiberglass hoods and fenders, but a complete replacement fiberglass body tub will shed some weight over an all-steel stock tub. Considering most vintage tubs are full of Bondo, which gets really heavy, ditching a poorly-patched stock steel tub can make the weight savings even more dramatic.
It’s something the monster truck and mud bogging community has long known about, but cutting and grooving heavy mud tires not only increases bite in certain off-road terrain, but can offer a massive weight savings. As an added bonus, the lightened tires will spin up to speed faster and flex better at lower pressures.
We mentioned the weight savings in going with aluminum cylinder heads, but if you’re doing a whole engine swap, using an all-aluminum V-8 engine such as the GM 5.7L LS1, 6.0L LS2, 6.2L LS3, or even 5.3L LC9 can save you around 100 pounds compared with an iron block/aluminum head engine. Other contenders are all-aluminum V-6 or even old-school Rover or Buick 215 V-8 engines.
Ever held a box of bolts in your hand? Not exactly light, is it? You can order special hollow chromoly or titanium bolts through McMaster-Carr (mcmastercarr.com) and other racing-specific vendors you can find on the Internet. They may not shed a lot of pounds from your vehicle, but they certainly will shed dollars from your wallet!
Take the Intake
Got an AMC or other brand V-8 in your Jeep? Still got that boat anchor cast-iron intake? Swapping to an aftermarket aluminum intake manifold will not only free up horsepower and torque, but can improve mileage and shed 25-30 pounds from the front of your vehicle.
Again, with careful driving there’s not much reason to retain the factory sway bar(s) on a leaf-sprung vehicle. And even if you’re running coils or coilovers, you can probably get by with only one sway bar in the front or rear of your vehicle.
Most hardcore off-road rigs spend most of the time on the trail and little, if any, on the street. Going to a full-hydro steering system will replace the heavy steering box with a relatively light orbital valve and will do away the need for a heavy drag link and track bar. Be warned, on-road steering may be twitchy and even scary, so keep it in the dirt.
Brake the Bank
When looking for performance from weight savings, any pound dropped off your rotating components, especially at the wheels, will have a much more dramatic effect than elsewhere. Lightweight aluminum calipers are svelter than cast-iron factory parts and almost always weight less. The drilled and vented rotor with lightweight aluminum hat will not only run cooler, but have much less rotational weight than the stock parts.
Bump the Booster
We see a lot of people adding complicated hydroboost setups or converting to power brake applications. For Jeeps running automatic transmissions with low-stall converters and extreme low-range gearsets it’s sometimes necessary. But for most other applications, a properly set up manual brake system will perform more than adequately. Even running twin 7⁄8-inch bore master cylinders, this Wilwood braking system (wilwood.com) is lighter than a single factory cast-iron master cylinder.
From our drag racing days, we remember a certain factory alloy diff cover all the GM 12-bolt guys were clamoring for ‘cause it was a couple ounces lighter than the factory cover. So, it shouldn’t be surprising that you can buy highly lightened gearsets, such as this circle-track Ford 9-inch. We’ve beaten these Richmond gears off-road for years with no failure.
Building a custom axle assembly for a lightweight Jeep? Using Ford unitbearing knuckles and hubs can net you a considerable weight savings over a standard Dana-style hub/spindle setup without giving up the ability to run locking hubs. You can take it a step further by replacing the factory F-350/F-450 Dana 60 knuckle with an all-aluminum version from Currie Enterprises (currieenterprises.com).
Most factory Jeep frames are constructed from 1⁄8-inch channel steel. If left open cracks can form, so most builders tend to go straight to a thick 3⁄16-inch custom-built or aftermarket frame. For some cost and weight savings at the expense of a lot of work, you can plate in your stock frame with 1⁄8-inch steel to really bump the strength and survivability. Adding dimple-died holes to the plate will lighten it even more.