Custom 2006 Jeep Wrangler TJ with Off-Road Trailer
Aaron Meyer’s 2006 Jeep TJ works well at both four-wheeling and overlanding, but you might be surprised to learn it also tows
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Aaron Meyer has dealt with the remote life since he was a kid. We mean that in the sense of his life has always been about getting over the covered road: snow, mud, rocks, and you name it that has only remote access. He grew up in the West with his family and Jeep CJs, which were used for rolling into town or to those remote places. It was also the mode of transportation for camping trips or to the hunters camps his dad liked to find. "That gave me my passion to explore and see where those two-track dirt trails go," Aaron said. After seeing what the mostly stock CJs could do, he was certain of one thing: He'd one day own a Jeep. And that he did. What you see here took 10 years to build: a 2006 Jeep Wrangler, which was on our Overland Adventure.
Aaron was 14 when he learned to drive a 4x4—but it wasn't a Jeep. It was his grandfather's '70 GMC pickup. "I remember looking down a two-track dirt trail that I was driving on and wondering where it went as it disappeared into a grove of aspen trees," Aaron recalled. "My dad warned me about getting the old ranch truck stuck, so I took his advice and turned around. That experience has been my motivation to find out what is down that next dirt road and to plan for it."
So he built this TJ over the course of a decade with that simple idea in mind: having a plan. In terms of modifications, "I've done the basics, but I've also utilized Scott Morris at SunFire Off-Road, who I found as a result of him being in Four Wheeler's 2008 Top Truck Challenge." You might also recognize Scott's name from the Ultra4 Racing world. "It's been peace of mind to have him do the harder installs." Perhaps our favorite subtlety has to do with the estimated value of his Wrangler at this point, "unknown to wife."
What tends to create the most buzz surrounding this TJ is the trailer. "People are usually surprised that I'm towing with a TJ, but the trailer isn't a boat anchor at just 1,100 pounds loaded," Aaron said. "It honestly tows great off-road and easily follows my TJ at 70 mph. The trailer had to be reasonable in order for a TJ to pull."
There's a nugget in his words that truly and simply sums up this TJ/trailer package that Aaron has mindfully and purposefully curated over the years: "great off-road."
Building this 2006 Jeep Wrangler
Aaron Meyer has done some pretty interesting exploring, including camping on the shores of Lake Powell and among bison at Badlands National Park, plus tackling sandy trails in the Michigan Upper Peninsula, with lighthouses found along the way. During the course of the Jeep's buildup, "I read a lot," Aaron said. "My TJ came out just as I planned. It's stable, has enough lift, is lightweight, and can tow my trailer about anywhere reasonable."
"I ordered my '06 TJ new, being the last year for the 4.0L," Aaron said. "I've only had to replace the stock oil pump drive assembly due to a design flaw. I love the 4.0L as is!" In addition to the replacement Crown oil pump drive assembly, there are two Odyssey Extreme Series batteries with a National Luna split-charge system for charging the batteries and monitoring. The stock transmission gets assistance from a Derale cooler, located behind the T-case and benefiting from some skidplate protection. The controller for the Warn M8000 winch is mounted under the hood.
"I really like having front and rear Detroit Truetracs, as with plenty of flex and always being engaged, they're great traction solutions, especially for those closer-to-home trails," Aaron said. The Jeep has a Dana 30 front axle and Dana 44 rear, with 3.73 gearing. Aaron also added a Spicer CV rear driveshaft with a JB Conversions Super Short SYE kit. To stop, he relies on Savvy Off-Road Black Magic brakes.
"Our very first trip with the stock TJ to Colorado was with only an oil pan skidplate that I bolted on the weekend before," Aaron recalled. "I promptly dragged it across a boulder near Ouray. Eventually, a 3 1/2-inch lift was installed in stages." The Jeep has Old Man Emu heavy-duty springs, a 3/4-inch spacer in front, MetalCloak Duroflex aluminum control arms, JKS track bars, and Bilstein 5100 shocks. There's also a Currie Antirock sway bar in front and BDS Suspension steering stabilizer.
Goodyear Tires and Mickey Thompson Wheels
"I wanted to keep it close to looking stock but be more capable and comfortable, to where I could drive it across multiple states," Aaron said. Part of that equation was 33-inch Goodyear Wrangler MT/Rs with 16x8 Mickey Thompson Classic III wheels. However, the future might bring 35s—and Aaron's retirement might bring a Ram 2500 with an Alaskan Camper unit and the TJ being towed to destinations. He doesn't use the TJ for daily driving duties. "Indiana's winter road salt is tough on TJs. Mine has no rust, which is unheard of here for a TJ." His regular ride is a Toyota Tacoma TRD.
There are LINE-X-coated Detours Drop-Kick Slyders, plus a Savvy Off-Road stubby, aluminum front bumper and AtoZ Fabrication rear bumper with a built-in 2-inch tow receiver, Prodigy P2 electric brake controller, and Mopar seven-way wiring harness. Underbody protection comes from a Rusty's radiator skidplate, Warn oil pan skidplate, and Bad Apple Fabrication differential guards. If you're inspired to do a similar build with your own Wrangler, Aaron suggested, "I'd first say to watch the weight. Lots of armor, a slide-out kitchen, and all the accessories are nice, but they just add weight. For example, my Savvy front bumper is lighter than the Warn winch that sits on it." Those are Jeep Wrangler Rubicon flares, which are 1 inch wider than stock and painted. Lights are from KC Lights.
Look around the interior, and you just might find handheld Rugged Radios, a Uniden Pro510X CB, and/or an iPad mini with Gaia GPS. Everything else stayed factory. Head to the back, and you'll find the rear seats have been removed in favor of a Bestop rack, and there's a Tembo Tusk slide.
Once Aaron gets to these far-off places, "I want to have great food and cold beverages. I've had the best meals at what I'd call a 'million-dollar campsite. '" Among his overlanding musts: the dual-battery system and Snomaster fridge.
All about the trailer: "My dad gave me the idea to have camping boxes that were always packed and ready to go. After one trip, you'd clean them out and restock for the next trip. When I bought my TJ, I had the idea to have an off-road trailer that I could tow across multiple states and drive off-road and back home. It would be my camping box that was always ready to go." Aaron used to travel with whatever could fit into the back of his TJ, then he upped the ante with a hitch rack, but come 2013, he had Scott Morris, owner of SunFire Off-Road in Indiana, build a trailer to his designated specs.
The '13 custom-built trailer is a 3x5x2-foot LINE-X-coated off-road box riding on 32-inch Goodyear Wrangler MT/Rs with 15x8 American Eagle aluminum-alloy wheels and a 3,500-pound axle with ultra-lube hubs, leaf springs, and shocks. There are also electric brakes, an Ark XO750 trailer jack (built in Australia), and a folding tailgate.
The trailer sports a Tepui rooftop tent that's mounted on the hydraulically assisted lid, which is "super comfortable to sleep in, and I can open and close the tent within 5 minutes—try that with a ground tent! I can easily move from one picturesque location to another being that it's so quick to set up camp. I tend to drive a lot of miles to see as much as possible."
Vehicle: '06 Jeep Wrangler Sport
Owner: Aaron Meyer
Stomping grounds: Zionsville, Indiana
Build time: 10 years
Engine: 4.0L Chrysler I-6
Transmission: 42RLE 4-spd
Transfer case: NP231
Low range ratio: 2.72:1
Crawl ratio: 28:8:1
Front axle/differential: Dana 30, 3.73 gears/Detroit Truetrac
Rear axle/differential: Dana 44, 3.73 gears/Detroit Truetrac
Front: MetalCloak Duroflex control arms, Old Man Emu heavy-duty springs w/ 3/4-inch spacers, JKS track bar, Currie Antirock sway bar, Bilstein shocks, BDS Suspension steering stabilizer
Rear: MetalCloak Duroflex control arms, Old Man Emu heavy-duty springs, JKS track bar, Bilstein shocks
Tires: 285/75R16LT Goodyear Wrangler MT/R
Wheels: 16x8 Mickey Thompson Classic III
Armor: Savvy Off-Road/AtoZ Fabrication bumpers, Detours Drop-Kick Slyders, Rusty's Off-Road Products/Warn skidplates, Bad Apple Fabrication differential guards, Jeep Wrangler Rubicon fender flares
Cool stuff: Crown oil pump, Odyssey batteries, Derale transmission cooler, National Luna split-charge system, Prodigy P2 brake controller, Mopar wiring harness and iPod kit, Spicer driveshaft, JB Conversions Super Short SYE kit, Savvy Off-Road brakes, KC lights, handheld Rugged Radios two-way radios, Warn winch with Viking synthetic line, Maxtrax recovery bag, propane tank, RotopaX fuel containers, Tembo Tusk rear slide, Bestop cargo rack, Snomaster fridge
'13 custom-built trailer: LINE-X-sprayed box, electric brakes, 3,500-lb axle, leaf springs/shocks, American Eagle wheels, Goodyear Wrangler MT/R tires, Ark trailer jack, Tepui rooftop tent