Installing a premium Warn bumper and winch package on a JK Wrangler
Upfitting our JK Wrangler with some premium Warn gear
The whole package: brains, beauty, and brawn. We honestly don’t know what that means, but we hear it a lot. And for some reason stuff like that pops into our heads when we think of the new Warn Elite-Series front and rear bumpers and PowerPlant winch we just installed on our ’07 Wrangler Rubicon project. Stupid TV.
If we can take some editorial license, Warn’s Elite-Series line of bumpers is definitely the whole package. Although an inanimate object can’t have brains, the engineers who designed the stuff surely did. Both the front and rear CNC-formed bumpers hug the bodylines nicely, and the laser-cut brackets fit with no need to bust out the die grinder—just a little nipping of the factory framehorns here and there, but that’s more the fault of Jeep engineers not being forward-thinking enough to realize a winch needs to go there. Honestly. Jeez. And beauty: We’re talking silky black powdercoating, clean lines that don’t make you wanna barf, integrated fog lamp recesses, fairlead provisions up front, and a third brakelight chmsl out back bring the zing. And yes, brawn; we didn’t forget you. Not only is the heavy-gauge steel strong enough to easily withstand a Warn 12,000 pound winch’s full-pull rating, but integrated D-shackle mounts, recessed provisions for Hi-Lift jacking, and beefy mounting and spare tire holder hardware make this stuff some of the best fitting, longest lasting, strongest armor you can bolt to the outside of your Wrangler. So check out how a couple of regular dudes outfit a JK for serious off-road use in an easy weekend.
This is by no means the complete contents of the front and rear Warn Elite-Series JK bumper boxes, but it does give you a nice view of the bones of the system. The Warn PowerPlant 9.5 winch is a godsend to JK owners who actually air down their tires for wheeling. Its super-fast twin-screw compressor blows away most other compressors in terms of performance (pun intended), and as a bonus, it fist cleanly and neatly inside the winch housing up front and out of the way. For heavier builds, the PowerPlant 12 ups pulling power from 9,500 to 12,000 pounds.
All the hardware is Grade 5 or better, and even the fog lamp brackets that go inside the bumper feature the same level of finishing as the bumpers. Warn sandblasts the steel before powdercoating, resulting in the highest level of corrosion resistance down the road.
Much of the mounting hardware becomes inaccessible once the whole thing is bolted together, so we used medium-strength blue threadlock compound on all mounting hardware. That way we know once we get it tight, it’ll stay that way.
We won’t bore you with every step of the instructions, especially since Warn includes them with its product. Sufficed to say, take your time and follow each step in order. There’s nothing worse than getting the whole thing mounted and then realizing you need to take it all apart to install a forgotten component—or so we hear.
The front bumper uses many small angled brackets to tie things together across many planes. It can be frustrating during the install process, but just remember this spreads the force of a hard winch out across the entire mounting area of the Jeep’s thin frame. Ultimately, this level of engineering is what permits a 12,000-pound winch to do a double-line pull to get an overloaded Wrangler out of a sticky situation, so don’t forget to do everything required.
Leave the bolts finger tight until most are installed. Only after it’s all together should you start torqueing the fasteners down. This allows some wiggle room to get all those bolts aligned with the holes. Note the nice, stylized port for the fog lamps. The factory lamps can be used, but for a performance upgrade, Warn offers several types of lamps that fit on or inside the bumper.
Torque wrench? Never heard of them.
We found the factory framerails prohibited the winch from dropping down on the Elite-Series winch mount. A quick nip with a cutoff disc and angle grinder and we were free and clear to mount the PowerPlant. Note the recessed winch mount design, which permits more airflow through the radiator.
As you can see, you don’t need to cut a lot off—just nip the corner. One thing we appreciated about the Warn Elite-Series front bumper was that the winch mounting bolts are accessible from underneath. On some JK bumper systems out there you have to mount the winch first, then try to finagle the whole shebang into place.
The PowerPlant was a perfect fit inside the Warn Elite-Series bumper. It’s almost like they designed it that way. If you’re a flat-tower, there’s also room behind the bumper to drill and snake a trailer plug mount for your wiring.
With the front wrapped up, it was time to install some pizza and adult beverages into the guys spinning wrenches. Never underestimate the power of pizza when it comes to wrenching on Jeeps.
Break time over, it was time to dive into the rear Elite-Series bumper and tire carrier install. Again, we found it necessary to nip just a touch of the factory framerail for clearance. On a beer-related note, the cameraman also seemingly found it necessary to install his finger partially over the camera lens. Even still, note how the tire carrier mounts independently of the tailgate. Even if you mount a 40-inch tire back there, the weight of the tire/wheel assembly now hangs off the heavy-duty frame-mounted brackets, not the flimsy factory tailgate.
The Warn Elite-Series rear bumper fits with the factory JK tow hitch. The bumper sandwiches the rear crossmember and, like the front, ties in at multiple points on several different planes. Make sure to utilize all the mounting bolts for when you’re using the D-shackle brackets.
The lines of the Warn Elite-Series bumpers perfectly mimic the JK’s. Note how the angle of the rear fenderwell and forward edge of the bumper dovetail. Also, the license plate frame is even with the bottom of the bumper.
The really nice feature is there’s no need to fiddle with latches or cams or pull pins to open the tailgate. Note the Third brakelight that adjusts for up to a 40-inch rear tire.
The tubes of the spare tire cradle fit into these adjustable anti-rattle brackets when the tailgate closes. Warn’s instructions say to adjust them so they make contact just before the tailgate is fully closed. Our only gripe on our vehicle is we weren’t able to adjust the lower mount enough to contact right before the tailgate closes, so when the rear is latched there’s the slightest gap at the lower. We haven’t noticed any vibration or movement from the carrier, but it’s worth noting.