How to Install a Jeep CJ-7 Lift Kit from Rusty’s Off-Road

    Tips and tricks to quickly get 2.5 inches of suspension and 33-inch tires under a CJ-7

    One of the easiest bolt-on modifications you can make to any Jeep CJ-7 is a suspension lift kit, and Rusty's Off-Road can help out here. The benefits of a Jeep suspension lift kit include increased ground clearance and the ability to mount larger tires, and a suspension lift kit dramatically improves the already classic Jeep CJ-7 look. Follow along as we install a Rusty's Off-Road CJ 2.5" 2.5 Spring Pak Kit on this Jeep CJ-7 so we can bolt up some 33-inch Nitto tires. The entire installation was done in our home shop over the course of a couple evenings. We'll walk you through the major steps and provide a few helpful installation tips on the Rusty's Off-Road suspension lift kit for a leaf-spring Jeep CJ-7.

    We started with a fairly pristine 1986 CJ-7 with under 100,000 miles on it. It actually belongs to the author's Uncle and has been in the family for many years. Sporting just 86,000 original miles and arrow-straight sheetmetal, it was a prime candidate for some mild and tasteful upgrades that will enhance its off-road capability as well as its appearance.

    The lift made some room for bigger tires, so we opted for a set of 33x12.50-15 Nitto Trail Grapplers on the original wheels that came with the Jeep. While we could have installed new wheels with the new tires, we just couldn't bring ourselves to change the nostalgic look of the Jeep. In our eyes it remains period-correct while breathing new life into a tired old suspension system.

    We turned to Rusty's Off-Road for a complete 2.5-inch lift kit. It's one of the most complete kits you can buy for a classic Jeep, consisting of four military-wrapped springs, shocks, U-bolts, degree shims, and bushings. Rusty's even includes front upper shackle bushings with its kit because any CJ-7 with the original bushings is going to need new ones. In addition to military wraps, the springs include Teflon wear pads between the leaves and bolt-style retaining clamps for optimum ride quality.
    It's always a good idea to hit all of the suspension fasteners with penetrating oil several times starting a few days before the installation. Even though our Jeep has spent its entire life in Arizona, half of the U-bolt nuts seized when we tried to loosen them up. We cut the seized U-bolts with a Sawzall. It's also a good idea to inspect everything that is going to be re-used to ensure it's in good shape. If you look closely at this U-bolt plate, you'll notice the shock mount it bent. We ordered a replacement plate.
    The Rusty's kit includes steel degree shims for the rear springs to correct rear driveline angle, but not all applications will need them. Since we weren't making any driveshaft modifications, we installed them using the supplied centering pins. Note that the shim should be installed on the inside curve of the spring with the thick end toward the front spring eye.
    We recommend doing the installation on one end at a time, and we started at the rear of the vehicle. Remove the U-bolts on one side and loosen them on the other, then remove both shocks. Then raise the rear axle to remove the stock spring. Install the new spring loosely in the hangers and then lower the axle down to loosely secure it with the new U-bolts. Once secure, repeat the spring replacement procedure on the other side. Doing it this way keeps the axle fairly secure on the jack and eliminates the need to unbolt the driveshaft, disconnect the brake line, or disconnect the parking brake cables.
    You'll noticed several differences when comparing the new springs with the old ones. Though they have the same number of leaves, the new springs have a much thicker main leaf that is more resistant to trail damage. The Rusty's springs have a slightly higher spring rate than stock to accommodate the common heavy accessories that people add, such as a fullsize spare tire and a winch. A good aftermarket spring will add some load carrying capacity without reducing ride quality too much.
    It's a good idea to lubricate the supplied polyurethane bushings. If installed dry, they tend to squeak. Most poly manufacturers recommend a silicone-based grease because it repels water and silicone doesn't degrade the poly over time. We were fresh out, so we used a light film of synthetic wheel bearing grease.
    Once the U-bolts were torqued and the shocks were installed, we temporarily re-installed the tires and set the vehicle on the ground before tightening the spring eye bolts. You should always tighten the spring bolts with the vehicle weight on the suspension and don't overtighten the shackle ends. The shackle bolts only need to be tightened to around 30 lb-ft, and always install new lock nuts.
    Moving to the front, the procedure is basically the same, only with more stuff in the way. Replacing the springs one side at a time and using the jack to raise and lower the axle is a lot easier than unhooking the steering and brake lines. You may find it's easier to remove the sway bar links, but we were able to get away without it. If this Jeep was being used primarily off-road, we'd probably just remove the sway bar entirely, but since this one sees mostly street use and a variety of different drivers, we opted to leave it in place. At this lift height the stock steering and brake lines can be retained, though taller lifts will require new brake lines. Some suspension manufacturers recommend a drop pitman arm over 2.5 inches of lift on a CJ-7, while others don't. We've found pitman arms necessary above 4 inches of lift.
    It's a good idea to closely inspect the front and rear shackle hangers on the frame. They bolt in place, and it's very common for them to be cracked due to age or hard use. The hangers were fine in this case, but the bushings were another story.
    The front shackle bushings on CJ-5s and CJ-7s are absurdly small and are almost always heavily worn, if not destroyed. The bushings on this Jeep weren't the worst they've seen, but they were toast. Bad front shackle bushings create all kinds of bad handling characteristics, including wandering, poor steering input, and steering slack. Always replace the upper and lower bushings when doing suspension work on a CJ-7; it's cheap insurance against future problems. Upgrading the shackles themselves is also not a bad idea.
    On an off-road Jeep we'd do a little fender trimming to clear the tires we plan to run, but they sheetmetal on this Jeep was far too pristine to attack with a body saw. Further, we knew the owner wouldn't want the tires rubbing on the fender flares during his occasional off-road forays. Extended polyurethane bumpstops are readily available, but they're firmer than the original rubber and degrade ride quality. Since the original bumpstops were in good shape, we opted to whip up some simple 2-inch extensions using some 2-inch 0.120-wall square tubing. This should keep the tires out of the sheetmetal and the cost was practically nothing.
    After installing the shock absorbers, the front suspension was complete. Again, we opted to keep the sway bar installed because this Jeep will see far more street time and we wanted the stability that a sway bar offers. The finished product is clean and simple and took just a few hours.
    We looked for new wheels for our project, but honestly, we couldn't find anything that was more perfect than the aftermarket wheels that were already there. There's simply nothing more period-correct than these gems, which were sold by the thousands back in the day. We opted to clean them up using some Mother's Mag Wheel Polish and then waxed them to protect the finish.
    The finished wheels cleaned up very nicely. The minor pitting in the chrome is gone along with the dull finish, and even the gold center brightened up significantly. A $10 jar of polish and a little elbow grease made the old wheels perfectly presentable if not showroom-new.
    We topped off the installation with a set of 33x12.50-15 Nitto Trail Grappler M/Ts. We've had past experience with these tires and found them to have excellent manners on the street while being astonishingly capable off-road. We dig the look of the tread pattern, and Nitto quality is hard to beat.
    The test-drive revealed a solid suspension that handled and rode really well, and we suspect the ride will get even better as the new springs break in. We took the Jeep over to our little urban test location to flex out the suspension and see if the tires rubbed. We were impressed with the articulation even with the front sway bar hooked up, and the tires just barely made contact with the flares enough to be audible when flexed all the way out. We're happy with the results overall, and the Jeep is now a real head-turner.
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