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  • JP Magazine
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Meats the Challenge - 2001 Jeep XJ Cherokee 35-inch Tires

Posted in Vehicle Reviews on November 19, 2004
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We upsized our ProComp Xterrain 33x12.50R15 to the 35x12.50R15 offering. By running the identical wheel size and backspacing (15x8 with 4.5-inch backspacing), the basic gains include a 1 inch ground clearance boost and a lengthier amount of tread contact. Although the gains are basic, they will allow you to roll over terrain that your diffs and transfer case would normally scrape through.

When you envision the potential of your truck, many images come to mind--lots of traction, monster-truck ground clearance, and adequate stability. While only a small step toward that image, going from 33s to 35s helps to improve dragging-axle syndrome and gives you drive-through-gaping-hole capabilities. Our '01 four-door Cherokee (XJ) already had a 5 1/2-inch lift and 4.56 gears so the limiting factor was basic--sheetmetal.

Our learning curve went something like this: remove flares and ask L&G Enterprises to cut, trim, and fold the metal to clear the new rubber. The goal was to cut just enough tin to cycle the suspension with the new tires. Then we threw on the new tread and took the truck to our secret testing facility to check for contact points while in action.

Your level of off-road commitment, bodywork competence, or wallet capital--the three Cs--will determine if this tire trend is for you. Here are a few ways to fit more meat by getting rid of fender.

Project Clear-Cut
There's always something to be said about simplicity. Luckily Bushwacker makes a newly designed Cut-Out flare for the XJ with injection-molded high-impact thermoplastic. The thermoplastic material provides flexibility in twisting. Additional advantages to running flares include body and glass protection from road debris, they help legalize oversized tires, and they will be the first to tag unseen rock formations.

Bushwacker's Cut-Out flare instructions take you through a detailed six-step process. In a few short hours you will have trimmed away the excess sheetmetal (about 2 1/2-3 inches on either side of the wheelwell opening) and give your XJ that oh-so-legal look. The flares are reminiscent of late-model Nissan Frontier flares with their pocket-style design. They extend out from the body about 5 inches.

Our hunch is that the 35s will rub at full tuck in the front on the inside of the fender flare, because unlike the stock flare, the Cut-Out laps from the outside edge of the flare back to the body.
Out of Pocket: $400 flares, plus labor

Reuse, Recycle, Rebuild
There's no better time like the present to start working on your project. Remove the stock flares. Feel around the fender opening to make certain you won't be cutting into coolant reserves, hoses, or wiper-fluid containers. Because we had the luxury of looking at the Bushwacker instructions before starting the project, we were able to utilize their cutting pattern and modify it to suit a more custom project.

On the front, begin marking the cut line at the front of the wheelwell opening. Make a mark 5 inches in from the bottom of the marker light towards the opening of the wheelwell. At the bottom rear of the wheelwell, measure from the back of the fender towards the well opening 7 inches, and mark this point too. Connect the dots with a line from the rear 7-inch mark, following the curve of the body lip (used to attach the stock flare) to the 5-inch mark at the front. Using masking tape, make a straight-cut guide.

Use a cutting tool like very forgiving pneumatic nibblers, a die grinder with cutting wheel, or a reciprocating saw (like the Sawzall). Carefully and patiently trim off the marked edge. File or grind the raw edge to remove metal burrs, then finish the edges with primer and paint. Attach the stock flare by stretching, cutting tabs, trimming, and otherwise manipulating the flare. You can use a rivet gun or design your own bracket system with the stock supplies. By doing so the fender retains a little of its original look.

Read the "Structure" sidebar before you begin trimming the rear. The plan here is to cut as much as needed, while maintaining the wheelwell and quarter-panel structure. Use a cutting wheel to trim the rear flap of the wheelwell. Trim the front edge to allow 1/2 inch of metal for you to fold back onto the wheelwell. Working with the remaining front edge, gently fold the front edge back to overlap over the wheelwell.

We've seen this done with patient and concise hammering, but by using a piece of wood such as a wooden baseball bat, you can use a backward motion to push the front lip over the well. If you are reusing your stock rear flares, remember to leave a mounting point for the flare. We chose to cut only up to the body line so that we could attach the stock flare once we shortened it.
Out of Pocket: Labor

Good Things, Bad Things, and 35s
To avoid these sounds on the trail, we tested what the tires came in contact with. One thing you should think about before preparing your rig for the rigors of larger tires is its extreme articulation. After trimming, you'll need to clear the inside of the wheelwells of any tire-unfriendly components. In the front, the brake-line brackets need to be relocated close to the shock, and the body seams that like to mince the meats can be carefully coerced flat away from the outside of the wheelwell. If you see too much flex in the rear, you can run a larger bumpstop. Keep in mind that inevitably you'll have to legalize the project by attaching flares if you plan on any street driving, so check your state regulations.

Overall, here are the improvements and compromises we've had to come to terms with:

Front at full stuff

Advantages: 1 inch of ground clearance. Larger-diameter tires will fit in larger-diameter spaces. With the right wheel backspacing the 35s won't rub on control arms while under general off-road steering conditions, except when close to steering lock on both sides.

Rear at full stuff

Compromises: Fender clearance issues. Larger cost for tires. Component wear (especially on brakes and steering). Less uptravel (you'll sacrifice 1-2 inches depending on your particular suspension system). No going back to stock.

Fender Finale
This is the part of the story where we have to tell you that after trimming the fenders, testing suspension cycle, moving brake lines, cutting the front bumper, and receiving more advice from people who have already done it, we wanted to try something a little more detailed. This is a little more time consuming, but hopefully worth it.

We hear that the best way to finish off the front fender is to stretch the wheelwell opening and wrap the edge around a back support. The back support will function not only as a structure to strengthen the front fender, but it will also be used to coerce the metal into a neatly folded edge. You'll definitely need a gentle hand, welding finesse, more body tools, and some technical bodywork expertise. Or a trip to the body shop.

At the rear, have a body expert trim at the quarter-panel's seam, then relocate the wheelwell inner up, then weld and seal the body panel to the wheelwell. Primer and paint to make it look like new.
Out of Pocket: Around $800-$1,000

Cherokee chassis structure is formed from pseudo framerails made of sheetmetal under the vehicle. Rear quarter-panels are uniquely designed for dual duty to provide added structural integrity to the body. When cutting past the wheelwell/body panel seam, this intentional structure is weakened. Cutting past the wheelwell/body panel seam should only occur when a reinforced re-seaming can replace the original seam.


Portlandville, OR 97203
L&G Enterprises
San Dimas, CA 91773

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