Colorado Daily-Driven Trail Warrior

zachpeakee

The most hated man on the internet
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Dec 31, 2023
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550
Location
Colorado Springs, CO
New to the forums, and decided to start a build thread for my 2000 Sahara TJ.
Always thought build threads were fun to scroll, and also enjoy the idea of having a "log" of my TJ's life.

Lived in South Carolina, spent my whole life around fast cars, and the car/racing scene in general.
Offroading was a "cool" idea, but South East Coast 4x4'ing is generally just slinging mud everywhere, and then sharing "bro" pics of mud-slime on your rig.
Needless to say, I never got interested.
But I moved to Colorado 2 years ago, and have envied the off-road crowd here.
Something about bashing frames down rock slides, and just the technical aspects of "crawling" just caught my attention.
So I pulled my stage-3 GTI out of the garage, sold it, and bought a TJ..

Out with this toy...
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...and welcomed my "NEW" 2000 Jeep Wrangler Sahara.
This is the first pic I took of it, about 2 minutes after driving it home and parking it on the driveway.
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I thought I got a pretty good deal on it.
2000 Sahara (complete with all the leaks/drips)
5-Speed NV3550 Transmission (with super cool grinding noises)
140k Miles
Dana 30 front Axle / Dana 44 Rear Axle
Cheap/Junky 4" budget suspension lift
Every tie-rod, shock, etc felt blown.

BUT, It ran good with no engine-lights, Clean frame, and Clean Title.
I paid $6,000 for it, and took the scariest 15-minute drive home I've ever experienced.

More pics of the day I bought it.
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Welcome to the forum!!! Please also check out the regional area as there is a large group of Colorado Ian's that wheel and sometimes roll over.
 
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man that story sounds familiar.

Had spent most of my adult life in Oklahoma, was more into fast cars. Moved to Colorado Springs, lasted a year before I got interested in wheeling and bought a 99 Sahara, had a terrifying drive home from Amarillo due to a sloppy worn out track bar, plus a drop pitman arm and a drop track bar bracket that was at the wrong end of the track bar and actually made the bump steer DOUBLE what it would have been with just the pitman arm. Got it home, fixed that issue and did a rear axle swap, then spent the entire winter of 2017-2018 wheeling pretty much every weekend with my oldest son (who was 2 and my only son at the time) either west of the zoo or north of Woodland Park. I've since moved back to OK and have to drive 90 minutes minimum and then pay admission to go 4 wheeling. You're in a great area.
 
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I knew before I bought the TJ that it needed some love.
A LOT of love.

It literally drove like the moon rover on the way home.
Steering was all over the place, springs/shocks felt like they were off a horse & buggy.
The TJ HAD 3 DIFFERENT BRANDS OF TIRES ON IT, AND TWO WERENT EVEN THE SAME SIZE.

BUT, I had what I wanted.
A clean slate, and some weird burning desire to have the coolest TJ in my neighborhood.
So I went to work. (or my wallet did... I don't keep score anymore)

First issue I chose to address was the Horse & Buggy Steering.
TJ was owned by a younger guy (I say that, but he was around my same age, and I'm a younger guy - 29)
Point I'm making is everything under the TJ had been neglected.
All tie-rod ends were shot, bushings blown, etc.
It's almost like the 4" slop-shop lift was thrown on, and nothing was touched again.

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I researched a ton of information (Including info on this forum) and decided that The ZJ Steering/Tie-Rod Conversion is what I wanted to push for.
(I believe it was @Chris who made the writeup)

So I headed to Oreilly's, and bought all the stuff.
Also bought a OEM Length Pitman Arm to replace the 3" drop Pitman that was on there.
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Tore the old garbage out...

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Painted the new parts to give them some extra "cool-points" and a little protection against the Colorado snow/salt combo, and then installed it all.
Decided to buy the JKS Adjustable Front Track Bar and replace the stock one while I was underneath.

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The new parts IMMEDIATELY cleaned up most of my front-end issues.
No death-wobble, no weird tracking issues, and the TJ drove straight as an arrow.
Best of all, no shaking & clunking. 1-finger on the wheel @65mph.

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Next I moved to the interior.

The Sahara model has TAN carpet.
If you don't already know this, tan shows EVERYTHING, and just the minimal amount of work I did under the front was enough to dirty it up inside.
I decided to tackle this issue head on, because I like wrenching/driving/wheeling, and I hate cleaning.

Some of you are going to call me crazy for this, but I decided to swap the tan out for a front BedRug kit, that I came across on marketplace for $70.

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Ended up dropping a screw through the floor of the jeep while I was messing around.
Crawled underneath to look for it, and happened to notice something while I was there.
At the time I had no idea what it was, so I took a picture and posted it to a facebook group...

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SYE Already installed.
The first Win I had in the build, that I didn't have to pay extra for.
 
Some of you are going to call me crazy for this, but I decided to swap the tan out for a front BedRug kit, that I came across on marketplace for $70.

not crazy at all...I actually prefer the contrast of the tan seats and panels with black carpet. My two favorite interiors of cars I've owned were the same.

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would have done the same thing if I'd kept my Sahara. Now I have all black in my Unlimited and every now and then I start daydreaming about swapping tan dash, seats, and console into it.
 
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Spent a few days after just going around the jeep, buying random little knick-knacks that either needed to be fixed, or bothered me.
Starting with this little door-seal step piece.

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Also found out that my heater/fan switch wasn't working.
Crawled under the dash to find that the plug had melted at the resistor, due to some hack-job plug that seemed to be retro-fitted.
Bought the correct plug, wired the pigtail, and fixed my fan switch!

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Old door handles squeeked & creaked every-time I went to open them, and the passenger side didn't work at all due to the little plastic clip being powderized. So I bought some new handles Inside & Out. Installed those as well.

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And here's how the TJ sat on day 9.

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man that story sounds familiar.

Had spent most of my adult life in Oklahoma, was more into fast cars. Moved to Colorado Springs, lasted a year before I got interested in wheeling and bought a 99 Sahara, had a terrifying drive home from Amarillo due to a sloppy worn out track bar, plus a drop pitman arm and a drop track bar bracket that was at the wrong end of the track bar and actually made the bump steer DOUBLE what it would have been with just the pitman arm. Got it home, fixed that issue and did a rear axle swap, then spent the entire winter of 2017-2018 wheeling pretty much every weekend with my oldest son (who was 2 and my only son at the time) either west of the zoo or north of Woodland Park. I've since moved back to OK and have to drive 90 minutes minimum and then pay admission to go 4 wheeling. You're in a great area.

I had a thing for older Euro/Japanese stuff, and my grandpa has always been a Corvette collector. So I was around all kinds of cool cars/toys.
Had a few retro ones myself, Nissan Z31, BMW E30, 92 Camaro Iroc, etc.

Moved out here with my now wife, and we love it here.
We're in Colorado Springs, so pretty close to everything, and only about 6 hours out of MOAB.

I was actually wheeling on NYE around Woodland Park!
But there's a 4x4 offroad complex about 5 minutes down the road I've been wanting to check out as well, called RAM Offroad Park.
 
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On day 14, I decided it was time to start tearing apart whatever the no-name box store suspension was, and making it something worth talking about.

Pulled out whatever these no-brand red shocks were, and ultimately decided to go with a set of Rancho RS5000X shocks in their place.

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Also... my new wheels arrived on the same day.
Tactik D-Window Steel Wheels.
15x10.

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One thing that constantly bugged me on this TJ in specific is the window hinge had what I thought was a rust issue underneath.

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I knew the hinges were rusted, and chose to ignore it.
But the more I looked at it, the more worried I was that there would be rust under them, on the main pillar.
So I fired up the flame torch, and went to work on getting the bolts out to remove the hinges.

I would have bet $1,000 I was going to find a rust problem. Somehow, it was JUST the hinges that were rusting.
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So I went to Oreilly's, bought some Stone White Duplicolor paint, and Clear coat.
Grinded the rust off the hinges, sanded them smooth, and painted them to match!
(bash my painting skills. I had no idea what I was doing. lol)

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It wasn't a perfect match.
Not even close if we're being honest.
But from 10ft away, she's a 7, and it looks 10x better than rusted.
 
Day 15 of owning the TJ, I decided to strip my rear drums apart, and replace them with new.
I got tired of chocking the rear tire with a rock, because my E-brake was seized.
Also the passenger side drum was dragging.
SO, I pulled it all off, and started installing my PowerStop TJ kit.

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Busty Crusty Drums, that I have NO IDEA how long they sat for before I tore them down.

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I'm noting this as well, for anyone who reads it.
The install went smoothly. UNTIL It was time to put the drums back on, and I ran into issues.
I'm not sure if it was a mis-ship, or if the parts just simply aren't QC'd well.
BUT, on the PowerStop Drum Kit for our TJ's, once I installed the new pads, they were too thick for the drum to fit back onto.

Here's a few pictures of PowerStop pads, compared to Bosch pads.
You can see the PowerStop is a few mm thicker, and because of that, wouldn't allow the drum to slide over.
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Needless to say, I just bought a set of BOSCH shoes, and everything went back together like it was supposed to.

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Also in the midst of all this, I went and bought a toolbox that was on sale at Home Depot.
I hadn't bought a new Toolbox since moving to Colorado, and it matched the TJ.
So I impulsively bought one. Here's a pic.

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I had a thing for older Euro/Japanese stuff, and my grandpa has always been a Corvette collector. So I was around all kinds of cool cars/toys.
Had a few retro ones myself, Nissan Z31, BMW E30, 92 Camaro Iroc, etc.

same...particularly the Nissan and BMW. Had a 280Z followed by a Z31 and a Z32 (neither turbo, unfortunately) as well as a 6 spd G35 coupe which as you probably know is basically a Z33 with a back seat. Had an E24 somewhere in there and more recently an E90 but haven't really dabbled in that game since I got into Jeeps.

My dad had a string of BMWs through my middle and high school and college years that included a couple of E30 M3's and an E28 M5, back when they were not really much less rare but not particularly well recognized and therefore probably around bottoming out in value before going back up.

Moved out here with my now wife, and we love it here.
We're in Colorado Springs, so pretty close to everything, and only about 6 hours out of MOAB.

I was down by the airport for a while, and then moved up to Monument. There's great wheeling around Lake City, Silverton, and Ouray as well...I still go up there every August to wheel with some friends. It's a long drive in a soft top LJ on 35s but worth it. It's more scenic, and really only about 1 trail technical enough to call for a spotter but it's tons of fun.

I was actually wheeling on NYE around Woodland Park!
But there's a 4x4 offroad complex about 5 minutes down the road I've been wanting to check out as well, called RAM Offroad Park.

Every time I thought about going to RAM I ended up deciding to go to the mountains, but I guess if they can stay in business that close to miles and miles of free forest road then it must have something to offer.
 
Week 3, and I decided it was finally time to fix my absolutely JANKY wheel/tire combo.
I'm not sure what kind of knock-off chrome wheels were on it, or what was up with the 3 different tire brands I had, but my OCD wouldn't allow it anymore.

I wanted something that would drive well on the streets/trails, but something that would also look a bit more aggressive, and perform better.
Took my Tactik 15x10's and wrapped them in a set of 33x12.50 Cooper STT Pro's.

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Old Wheel Stickout versus New Wheels.

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After the wheels were on, I decided it was time.
The TJ had LIVED in the garage for almost 3 weeks.
I felt I had somewhat resurrected it from the graveyard, and it was ready to spread it's wings.
It was time to take it on the maiden voyage.
(and take a few pics of course)

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And not to brag or anything
(okay maybe a little)
But here she is riding 60mph with no-hands, after 100 people told me "It's not meant to drive good. It's not a sports car, It's a TJ. Stop whining and just get used to it"

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The VERY FIRST thing I noticed with the new Wheel/Tire Setup, and the first real time on the road, was that the front brakes needed some maintenance.
They were squeeling, one wheel was locking harder than the other, and overall just performing somewhat poorly.
The pedal was also super spongy, and didn't feel reliable.

So she went back for more surgery.
PowerStop front Rotors, Calipers, and Pads.

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Then spent the rest of the day trying to clean up the paint.
Medium Buffing pad, paired with some compound.
Started on the passenger door, and realized my TJ was a completely different shade of white than what it was supposed to be.

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So I spent a few hours and buffed the rest of it.
It is literally a completely different shade of "Stone White" now..

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Since the TJ was road-worthy, and it happened to be warm weather at the time, I decided to upgrade the sound system a bit.
The Factory system was blown out, and sounded like a child digging in a doritos bag.

Went to a local Audio shop near me that had a Kenwood radio on sale for $100.
Turns out, they didn't have it in stock, so the guy offered to give me the next model up from that, at same price.
They didn't have the next model up either.
He STILL held his deal, and ultimately gave me this $190 Marine-Grade head unit for only $119 after tax.
I consider that a win.

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Initially bought some Pioneer speakers.
Installed them, and everything about them was sub-par.
They sounded terrible and volume was terrible.

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So I returned the Pioneers, and snagged some Kicker Speakers that were on Sale at BestBuy..

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Fit was perfect, and they EASILY sounded 5x the quality, for only a few $$ more.
The TJ system SUCKS in regards to what a "good" sound system should sound like.
But then again, it's literally a cage with an interior, only so much you can expect.
But this was a MAJOR improvement, and overall I'm satisfied.

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[ !!! PICTURE HEAVY!!! ]

Remember that Grinding Transmission issue I talked about it Post #1?
I drove the TJ for 1-week before deciding that wasn't an issue I was willing to "live with".

It was time for the NV3550 to go down for surgery.

I called around to different transmission shops to quote a rebuild.
I learned that the company who manufactured the NV3550 was no longer in business, and parts were scarce.
This translated into a higher cost for rebuild, than most other transmissions.
Quotes I got for rebuild IF I pulled the transmission were anywhere from $1800-2300.

I figured If I was pulling the transmission anyways, why not just save some cash, and swap it with something that IS still in business.

Queue this Facebook Marketplace AX-15.
Pulled from an 80k mile 99 TJ that was totaled.
Paid $300, loaded it up, and hauled it home.

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Bought an Oreilly Power Torque Clutch kit to swap in as well.

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My wife has never been around the "mechanic" stuff, until she met me 5 years ago.
Until this day, she probably couldn't tell you what a transmission looked like.
But she got in the middle of it, and honestly the extra hands were a huge help.
We threw the jeep on ramps, and had the Old Transmission out by sunset.

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The old NV3550 was in poor shape.
It was grinding, and leaking from every orifice.

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Pulled it apart, ripped the Transfer Case off, and swapped everything onto the AX-15

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Installed the Clutch Kit before bolting the transmission up.

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...Then had our first main issue..

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Front driveshaft was contacting the Skid-Plate at free-weight.
There's only two things that generally cause this issue.

Incorrect install, or incorrect transfer case clock.
In my case, it was an incorrect clocking of the transfer case.

From my understanding, there are TWO types of AX-15 clockings.
I'll throw some pics below.
Note the 6 "mounting holes" on the rear of the Transmission, and how they're clocked differently to allow the Transfer Case to sit at different angles.

Type A Clocking (TJ Specific NV3550)
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Type B Clocking (New to Me AX15)
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Type A is clocked for TJ applications, Type B is clocked a few degrees differently for XJ/Durango applications.
It's my understanding that the TJ application pushes the Transfer Case higher into the belly, to allow more ground clearance & front shaft play.
I just happened to NOT know this at the time I bought the transmission, and ended up on the short end of the stick.

But all was well.
Bought a Clocking Jig from IronRockOffroad
(identical to the one below)
And drilled a new clock pattern into the back of my newly-installed AX-15.

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^^^ Note the difference in the clocking angles.
The new holes will allow an extra range of rotation for the Transfer case to rotate higher into the belly of the TJ.
Which in turn, will set the driveshaft at a higher angle, and eliminate the contact issue I was having.

Cleaned up the frame rails, and installed new Nutserts as well while I was there.

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Transmission & Transfer Case now properly clocked.
Topped off with some Redline Fluids.
A bit more of a headache than I initially thought, but it was due to my lack of research.
Either way the Install was complete, and the TJ had a SMOOTH & NOISE FREE AX-15!
 
A little over a month after buying my TJ, and I decided it was time to play.
All that work was fun, but what was it for?
I needed to go out and find more weak links.
So we took it up into the 10,000ft elevation, and played around a bit in the Rocky Mountains beside Colorado Springs.
Had to get it dirty again, right?



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Overall, It performed GREAT.
Granted, these were just some simple trails.
I just wanted enough sightseeing & wheel time to figure out what it needed next.
At this point, it's a full blown Jeep addiction.