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Project TJ Reboot 1.0

Posted in Project Vehicles on September 8, 2016
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So let’s say you are looking for a Jeep or maybe shopping for another Jeep, as is the case for many enthusiasts and quite a few of the editors here. A new JK would be great, but that price tag just about sends you into a cost coma. You stumble across a ’01 TJ on Craigslist and the price makes it look comfortably attainable. It has a lot of miles on it (after all, the rig is a hair more than 15 years old), but back in the day, it was built up to be a real, live qualified trail Jeep.

Said TJ has a 4-inch lift suspension, the stock axles have been replaced with some seriously beefy logs, the engine has a handful of mild mods (but the internals have never been molested), and the rig has a dozen or so upgrades including tube bumpers, swing-out spare-tire carrier, a winch, and on-board air with a compressor that’s driven off of the engine’s serpentine belt. It also stands on 35-inch rubber. Not too shabby. You take the plunge and write the check.

However, even though the motor runs just fine, it has a bit of a knock under certain driving conditions, so you know that has to get some attention soon. It’s out of registration, so you’re going to have to get it smog’d (this is California) right away, and when you crawl underneath it once you’re home for a second and longer look at the guts, you notice that one lower rear shock mount is almost completely severed from the axle and the other has a crack that’s nearly through the mount. To boot, the rig is caked with old, dried mud in places you can only see when you’re lying on your back underneath it; the interior is filled with so much debris that it looks like the previous owner parked it outside and topless during a hurricane; and the engine compartment is coated so thick with mud that you’re surprised the engine could breath.

You got a screaming deal, so you’re not pissed, but you know there’s a lot of work ahead. The first task is going to be getting it ready to take out again. That won’t be too difficult. However, down the road a bit as your budget allows, you’ll decide which of the upgrades already done to the Jeep can stay and which need to be replaced because they are outdated and surpassed by newer and better equipment.

This is the predicament we recently found ourselves in, and although this rig was not a Craiglist find, it is a ’01 Jeep TJ Wrangler that was a project vehicle more than a decade ago. It saw many very hard miles and then sat parked for unknown years. We invite you to follow along as we, with the help of Off Road Evolution, do what you might do in order to breathe life back into a tired, but still running, rig. Stay tuned! We will have some surprises in store for you.

The first thing we did was to take the ’01 Jeep TJ Wrangler to a car wash. After about $40 worth of quarter—and lots of soap and degreaser—we could see what the heck was under the hood. Cleaning the interior nearly overheated the shop vac. Luckily, the TJ started on the first turn after having the engine degreased and thoroughly washed.
We drove it home and only then discovered the cracked lower rear shock mounts after it was cleaned. That should tell you how much caked-on hard-as-cement dried mud covered the underside and engine of this Jeep ’01 TJ Wrangler. The shock mounts are welded up now, but we’re not sure this is a great place for lower rear shock mounts (food for thought). Tip: Bring along something to clean or knock off any crusted mud or gunky oil when you’re inspecting a potential used-Jeep purchase. Our TJ had no oil leaks, so we’re good there.
It turned out that the aftermarket cold-air intake was not CARB-approved. In order to pass inspection in California and get a smog certification on the TJ so we could get it registered again, we had to first replace the old with a new and CARB-approved K&N Engineering cold-air intake. The 50 State Legal K&N kit for the Jeep TJ offers better flow and cleaner air than the factory air-intake system.
Installation of the K&N Engineering cold-air intake system was easy as turning a screwdriver. However, we did discover some limitations due to the placement of the rather large belt-driven onboard air compressor. Not wanting to lose the compressor (which took up some of the space that would have been occupied by the air box), we decided to not use the air box included in the K&N kit.
The K&N Engineering cold-air intake’s air box was part of the physical support system that held the filter and tube in place and steady under vibration. Our solution was to marry some of the existing cold-air intake tube’s mounting hardware with the new, along with a hose clamp of proper size, and create a Z-shaped bracket that went between the inner fenderwell and the K&N cold-air intake tube. We also zip-tied the tube to the engine compartment brace that ran just above the new K&N filter.
We also plopped a brand-new Optima YellowTop battery into the engine compartment to ensure quick starts. The Optima YellowTop D34 AGM battery we strapped into the TJ offers excellent deep-cycle and cranking power characteristics, vibration-resistance, and can deliver 750 CCA (cold cranking amps).
One of the things we discovered when we washed and scraped the 2 inches of dried mud away from the TJ’s undercarriage was the intelligent placement of this air chuck. An air hose is routed all the way from the compressor in the engine compartment, along the top of the passenger side frame rail, then across the body pan just in front of the fuel tank, to a well-protected (except from mud) spot just inside and slightly above the rear bumper. That’s a keeper!
A hint at some of what lies ahead for our evolving ’01 Jeep TJ Wrangler can be seen on the computer screen of one of the Off Road Evolution product designers. Looks to us like it might be a bumper! Like we said, stay tuned. We’ve got some great new stuff to show you for the Jeep TJ.


K&N Engineering
Riverside, CA 92507
Off Road Evolution
Fullerton, CA 92833
Optima Batteries
Milwaukee, WI 53209

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