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Jeep Wrangler TJ Destructive Testing

Posted in Project Vehicles on October 1, 2012
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Photographers: JP Staff

Just in case you haven’t noticed we here on the editorial staff of Jp magazine are Jeep enthusiasts just like you. We’re just lucky enough to have pretty cool jobs that allow us to play for work. The fact is all three of us have wasted time spinning wrenches and wheeling Jeeps even if we were not paid to do so. We all are very passionate about what we do and care about the product we deliver to you. Sure we have other interests too. Trasborg can brew up some wicked home brew better than Anheuser Busch, or Samuel Adams all while re-building the motherboard of a cell phone. Hazel is a devoted father of three strapping lads and can sling a guitar like a mutant spawn of Stevie Ray Vaughan, Eric Clapton, and Jimmy Page. New old guy, Simons (who is new—again—but used to work full time for Jp before either Trasborg or Hazel),can make up an answer to almost any question (although it’s probably not correct) and also has amazing skills as a destructive testing specialist. That’s right, wanna see if something can be used to failure? Simons is your guy. This guy can get dust into the best sealed electronics, and can dull even the sharpest hardened tools. Why do you care, and how can you benefit from Simons’ ham-fisted caveman ways? Well, recently Simons has been beating upon a poor and pathetic ’97 TJ. This TJ was first introduced to the Jp reader in the feature “3 Day TJ for $3K” and has since seen lots of road miles and been beaten off-road all over southern Arizona, the Truckhaven Hills of Southern California, and Moab, Utah. The poor little TJ has been pushed to and beyond its limits. Follow along to see the weak links we found in our relatively stock TJ and how we addressed the issues cheaply and effectively to keep road miles and trails passing under the Wrangler’s tires.

Front Failure
We drove the little TJ nearly 600 miles out and back to the Truckhaven Hills for the 50th anniversary of The TDS Desert Safari and wheeled it hard every day when we were not manning a camera. Somewhere along the line we slightly bent the tie rod. At a different time, while trying to climb a near vertical dirt bank with speed, we bent the driver-side upper control arm and passenger-side upper control arm mount. Here is how we fixed these issues.

Problem: Bent tie rod
Fix: Straighten the tie rod and sleeve it with 11⁄4-inch, 0.120-wall chromoly tubing, rosette welded and welded around the ends.

PhotosView Slideshow

Problem: Bent upper control arm and upper control arm mount
Fix: Replace bent control arm and bent control arm mount and box control arm mount to prevent future bending.

PhotosView Slideshow

Moab Carnage
A couple of weeks after the 2012 Desert Safari and after fixing the other issues with the front suspension we loaded up the TJ and hit the highway to Moab, Utah, for a round trip of about 920 miles not including wheeling miles. The little TJ did pretty well despite being overloaded and having intermittent front locker issues. The weight caused one problem where the rear shocks bottomed several times as the rear bumpstops were not long enough for the heavily loaded Jeep. Other issues were caused by user error in Mickey’s Hot Tub and assaulting the Escalator on Hell’s Revenge.

Problem: No front Locker
Fix: Tap the solenoid with a large boxed-end wrench, which worked temporarily. Then wheel without the front locker.

Early in our Moab wheeling adventures it became clear that the front ARB Air Locker was only working intermittently. Our pal Trent McGee showed us a nifty trick to get a sticky ARB solenoid to actuate. Just take a boxed-end wrench and tap (don’t hammer) the offending solenoid. This worked for a while, but eventually it gave up the ghost for the remainder of our trip. The true fix involved disassembling the solenoid once back at home long after the end of EJS and cleaning it with compressed air. We still wheeled the pee pee out of the TJ in Moab, made it up Escalator with only a rear locker, but still wonder if we could have made it out of Mickey’s Hot Tub with all four tires turning.

Problem: Lower rear shock mount tearing off the axle
Fix: Scrounge up some shorter used shocks, add a used spacer puck, and weld the shock mounts back on.

PhotosView Slideshow

Problem: Hot tub flop = hydrolocked engine
Fix: Winch Jeep back on its tires and out of the hot tub. Pull throttle-body and sop oil out of intake. Pull plugs and turn engine over with the starter to clear oil from cylinders. Shower buddies’ rigs with fine mist of lightly used 10W-30.

PhotosView Slideshow

Stuff You Did Not See That Failed
Blown bead: We blew a bead in a wash at Desert Safari while pretending the TJ was a pre-runner. No worries, we just cleared out the sand, jacked the tire off the ground, poured some water on the tire bead, and used the ARB compressor to air the tire back up.

Bent bumpers, dented front fenders (losing the signal lens in the process), dented top of windshield, and massaged rear corners: After lots of off-road miles in the TJ we dented the driver-side front fender on a rock, bent up the stock front bumper, dragged the rear bumper so much that the “boxing gloves” on the ends practically fell off, and we dented both sides of the rear corners of the tub and the driver-side top corner of the windshield. Fixes for these items involved pulling off the basically useless bumpers, collecting bits of broken lenses and gluing them back together, and leaving dents where they are if they don’t impact the vehicles drivability. If so, massage with hammer as needed.

Problem: Hot tub and escalator body damage
Fix: Laugh. Pick up pieces of broken taillight lens. Replace bulb. Glue lens back together and keep wheeling. Pound, pry, and hang on bent rear tailgate till it opens and closes with some reliability.

So our little flop in Mickey’s Hot Tub and a slight further massaging of the tailgate and rear corner in the Escalator on Hell’s Revenge had some repercussions, but were all in good fun. Tailgates are optional on military flatties and later CJ-5s, so we can live without them. It was less than ideal when the gap below the tailgate allowed stuff to fall out the back though. Hanging on the tailgate like a gorilla fixed the issue, although it could have ended with the tailgate torn off and a broken tailbone. Caution!

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