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2006 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited LJ - Universal Mudder

Driveway Tech: Installing a Rancho Short-Arm Suspension Kit on a Jeep

Chris HamiltonPhotographer, Writer

Building a capable weekend mudder and adventure vehicle that's reliable and comfortable enough to get someone to and from work all week long is easier than everyone thinks. In most cases it's not necessary to have an expensive shop engineer a custom suspension to get a daily driver off-road capable and out in the field. With years of research and experience, companies such as Rancho Suspension have already done the hard work of engineering, building, and testing—now all anyone has to do is jack up their rig, bolt-on the suspension system, slap on some new tires, and go. Rancho has been around since the 1950s, and in 1988 Rancho launched what would later become one of the bestselling shock absorbers ever produced, the RS5000. Rancho offers bolt-in, reliable suspension systems and an array of shock absorbers for most trucks, Jeeps, and SUVs.

We took our recently purchased bone-stock '06 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited LJ (sic) and started building it into a rig that could be driven to and from the office daily, wheeled around mud events, and taken into the field hunting. It is going to be our universal mud Jeep. We didn't want to go too big and tall because we want to drive to and from our adventures. We also wanted to maintain reasonable fuel economy. We jumped on Rancho's website and did a little research into this particular vehicle. We ended up ordering a 3½-inch short-arm suspension that's designed to allow the use of 35-inch tires. We also picked up Rancho's RS7000MT shocks and upgraded to a heavy-duty steering stabilizer.

Rancho also offers a full line of technical support, which includes recommendations on wheel size and tires sizes, wheel offsets and backspacing, and alignment specs. Our Jeeps factory 15-inch wheels were great for the stock 33-inch tires, but we wanted to kick it up in tire size and also install some great-looking rugged wheels. The tech folks at Rancho let us know that in order to fit a 35-inch tire we would need a rim with a different backspacing than the factory wheels have. This will ensure that we have full clearance during a hard turn so the tires would not rub on the lower control arms. We also picked up five 17x8 Teflon-coated Mojave wheels from American Racing with a +0 offset. To wrap around the wheels, we found a great deal on a set of Nitto Trail Grapplers, which are high-quality mud-terrain tires. The Trail Grapplers are designed for exceptional traction in wet, muddy conditions yet offer a highway-friendly ride. The look screams off-road, and we have had excellent luck and performance with ATX/American Racing on other vehicles.

We've found that our universal mud Jeep is already a big hit amongst our readership. We know our major focus is mega trucks, race trucks, swamp buggies, and custom rigs, so we had to throw in a project that most four-wheelers own or can relate to. We know that everyone can't afford a $50K-$100K rig and we need to make do with the vehicles we have—so here we go!