OldBuzzard's 2005 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited

OldBuzzard

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San Denver, Colofornia
I had a 1974 CJ5 back in the early '80s, used for wheeling in the Colorado mountains. When the family came along, I switched to something a little bigger. In recent years I've had a series of 4WD pickups, most recently a couple of first-generation Tacomas. But I have wanted another "real Jeep" for a long time.

I looked for a TJ Unlimited for several years, but in Denver they always seem to sell to the first person who shows up, which wasn't me. In June 2021 I found this one in Durango Colorado, 6 hours away from home. It was far enough from the big city that there wasn't a crowd trying to buy it. It had all of the exact options I had been looking for (6-speed, cruise, original radio, A/C, hardtop, not lifted, 15" wheels, trailer hitch, low-ish miles). And it had good 31" tires. And it was silver, one of the colors on my "acceptable" list. My wife and I drove there, bought it, and drove back home, 650 miles and 14+ hours in one day. In the dark, on the way home, I chose my first mod: headlights. A pair of cheap flashlights taped to the hood would have been brighter.

Wrangler_01.jpg


It's a 2005 Wrangler Unlimited, with 98K miles on the clock, in excellent shape, completely stock except for 31-inch tires. The body is in great condition, no dents, just a few scuffs and scratches and paint chips on the forward surfaces. The interior is excellent.

I removed the rear seat. Now I call it my 2-seat 6-speed Mercedes sports convertible (well, the tranny and steering box were built by Mercedes).

Wrangler_02.jpg


Wrangler_03.jpg
 
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OldBuzzard

OldBuzzard

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The frame has very minor surface rust, but is absolutely solid (the very first thing I checked). It's been a Texas and Colorado Jeep, no east coast winters, and always garaged. The undercarriage has no visible sign of off-road use.

Frame_01.jpg


Here's a feature I like: a plain old factory radio. Many people replace the radio with a new one with dozens of advanced features. But I've had those, and I hate having multiple functions on every button, with little tiny symbols I can't see while driving. With this one I don't need to read the manual every time I want to change the station.

Radio.jpg
 
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OldBuzzard

OldBuzzard

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My first mod, not only wanted but actually needed, was headlights. I didn't really want LEDs because of the expense, and other pros and cons I read about, so I stuck with incandescents.

I ran a 10-gauge wire from the main fusebox terminal through a 20A inline fuse to just behind the passenger headlight. I made a small aluminum platform for two Bosch relays. I ran 12-gauge wire from the relays to each new headlight socket, with short 14-gauge ground wires (the sockets use 14-gauge). Then I wrapped a piece of rubber inner tube around the relay platform to reduce splash.

Headlights_01.jpg


Headlights_02.jpg


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Headlights_04.jpg


Headlights_05.jpg


I looked at several of the big-name off-road headlights, but many of them had complaints about the reflection/cutoff pattern, poor fit, thin easily cracked materials, etc. So I replaced the OEM sealed beam lamps with Hella H4 halogen lamps (tempered glass, not plastic, won't oxidize and yellow or get milky) with easily replaceable H4 bulbs. They appear well made and fit perfectly.

If you get European-made lamps, be sure you're getting the reflection/cutoff pattern for the country where you live. You don't want to run "wrong side of the road" lamps on your native roads or you'll blind other drivers. Most lamps sold in the USA are going to be the correct ones for here, but it doesn't hurt to verify.

Headlights_06.jpg


Headlights_07.jpg


Headlights_08.jpg


These lamps are much brighter than the factory bulbs, and have excellent reflection and cutoff patterns. In this photo, the driver side lamp is new, the passenger side is OEM:

Headlights_09.jpg


I checked the alignment, which was still exactly right. Driving at night in the boonies is now much more comfortable.

The DieHard battery was 12 years old, and still working fine, but I wasn't going to depend on a battery that old. I replaced it before taking our first towing trip.
 
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OldBuzzard

OldBuzzard

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I tow a camper trailer several times a year (a converted cargo trailer, but that's a whole 'nother project). The previous owner installed a 2-inch Draw-Tite receiver, but only used it for a bike carrier. I installed a Tekonsha T-One #118409 trailer wiring harness.

With the trailer hitched, the rear of the Jeep sagged quite a bit, so I installed an Air Lift 1000 #60811 kit.

AirLift_60811_Kit.jpg


You have to pull the rear springs, and drill holes, and remove your bump stops to install this. The balloons now act as a bump stop.

AirLift_Installed.jpg


The Air Lift works nicely. I run it at the recommended minimum of 5 PSI when not towing, which lifts the rear end about 1/4 inch, and gives a nice ride. With the maximum of 35 PSI, it levels the rear end with the trailer hitched, and still rides well. This system holds a tiny amount of air, so it only takes a few strokes of a tire pump to lift the rear. It's not even worth the time to get the compressor out.

We have taken two vacations pulling the trailer, and it works great.

Ouray_Trailer_01.jpg


I have seen reports from other people showing that the Air Lift does not impair articulation of the rear end, but I have not actually checked it myself. The balloons are pretty soft at 5 PSI, so that is probably correct. But I worry about how well they will hold up as bump stops on a hard thump. It seems like you could split a balloon that way. And pointy sticks or sharp rocks could be a problem, too.

I don't fully trust the AirLift balloons. They hold air nicely for months (I check weekly), and then one day they don't. And then they do again. That only happened once, but...
 
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OldBuzzard

OldBuzzard

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We do a lot of light wheeling in the San Juan Mountains near Ouray and Silverton.

Ophir_Pass_01.jpg


Here's some more light wheeling on the Yankee Hill Trails between St. Mary's and Central City, Colorado.

Yankee_Hill_01.jpg


The Wrangler has less clearance than I'm used to with my previous Tacomas. I'll be wanting to lift it a couple of inches, and install some skids. It will be a fairly mild build. It's my daily driver on pavement, and I'm not much of a rock crawler, more of an "explorer" (yes, Chris, I stole that from you). So it has to keep good road manners, especially since I tow a trailer. But living in Colorado, I spend a lot of time on the mountain trails.

I've already started the lift, which will show up further along in this thread. But first, I'll show a few more things I've already done.
 
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OldBuzzard

OldBuzzard

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I'm somewhat of a map junkie. I made a customized map of the state of Colorado using the free Open Street Map (OSM) data. https://www.openstreetmap.org/ OSM maps are great for cities, but stink in the boonies. My mods include different street colors and widths and patterns, added hillshade background, and topo lines, which makes these maps much more usable offroad.

An Open Street Map far from a city, in Yankee Boy Basin in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado:
OSM_Original.jpg


My custom map of the same location:
OSM_Custom.jpg


I use the custom map on a Windows laptop running my own custom GPS map software, and on an Android tablet using US Topo Maps Pro. So I made a tablet holder for my dash which can hold either machine. First, it needed something to attach to, so I made this aluminum mounting bar. It's just a 2" x 7.5" bar of 1/4" aluminum, and a couple of pieces of 1.375" round, 0.7" tall, turned on a lathe and tapped to 1/4-20. There is a flathead 1/4-20 screw coming up from the bottom into the cylinders about half way.
Tablet_Holder_01.jpg


I used fender washers under the dash panel to spread the force and keep the plastic from cracking.
Tablet_Holder_02.jpg


Mounted in the Jeep.
Tablet_Holder_03.jpg


First, I made a cell phone mount. It's 1" wide by 1/8" thick aluminum bar, bent gently around a socket in a padded vice. One end gets thumbscrewed to the dash mount, and the other end gets an angled rubber foot.
Tablet_Holder_04.jpg


Tablet_Holder_05.jpg


Tablet_Holder_06.jpg


The angled foot is made from a piece of PVC pipe, with various sizes of rubber and plastic tubing inside to keep it centered around the screw, and some rubber feet.
Tablet_Holder_07.jpg


For the tablet and laptop, I made this holder. The dark bars are steel, because it needs to be a little stiffer and stronger for the extra weight. The steel and aluminum bars were bent around a socket in a padded vice. I cut the slots with a mill bit in a drill press and an X-Y table.

The materials are all scrap I had laying around. My wife tells me to throw stuff away, but I don't. Every once in a while I tell her "remember that <whatever> I saved 30 years ago? I finally found a use for it, and it saved us a whole 27¢". She is rarely impressed by this.
Tablet_Holder_08.jpg


Tablet_Holder_09.jpg


Tablet_Holder_10.jpg


Here it is, installed. The A/C blows out from under it just fine, and the radio is fully visible. I added thin rubber pads into the bottom and top half-pipes to grip the tablet tighter, after this photo.
Tablet_Holder_11.jpg


With the tablet in it, the windshield is completely clear. With the small laptop, only about an inch of the bottom of the windshield is obscured, and that's mostly a view of the hood. If I was making it just for the tablet, I would have made the slotted arms shorter, so they wouldn't stick up like rabbit ears. But with the larger laptop, the top bar has to slide all the way up.
Tablet_Holder_12.jpg


One of these days I'll get around to painting it.
 
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OldBuzzard

OldBuzzard

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The seats seemed a little low, and there is plenty of headroom. So I made some seat lifters. I cut aluminum pucks from a 1-5/8" round shaft, 1" long, and drilled them. Actually, I started with 1-1/4" length, but decided that made the seats just a little too high, so I turned them down to 1" on a lathe. The one on the seatbelt corner gets a bigger hole for the bigger bolt. I bought some grade 8 bolts, and double washers. Later, when the washers on the big bolt cupped, I made some crude square washers from 1/8" x 1" steel bar (not shown).
Seat_Lifters_01.jpg


Seat_Lifters_02.jpg


The seats feel better now, and there is still plenty of headroom. At this height, the passenger seat just clears the glovebox and sun visor when it slides forward.
 
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OldBuzzard

OldBuzzard

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We don't need a back seat (nobody wants to ride with us when I'm driving. 😲 I made a 54" x 31" storage platform using 1x6 lumber, so it's 5.5" tall inside, plus top. It sits down in between the seat rails, with cutouts over the crossbars. The top is half-inch OSB. Everything got primed (KILZ3) and two heavy coats of enamel (Rust-Oleum). The underside of the top got water-based polyurethane.

Storage_01.jpg


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I added a fence across the front so stuff could not slide off. It has built-in aluminum spacers to hold it away from the edge so it doesn't interfere with raising the top. Two large-knob thumbscrews hold it in place.

Storage_06.jpg


Storage_07.jpg


Storage_08.jpg


I added clips of 1/8" steel to keep the frame from bouncing around on the trails. They hook in the seat rails under the crossbars.

Storage_09.jpg


Storage_10.jpg


A wooden donut under the top keeps the prop stick in place. A lot of gear can be packed in there, including a 48" Hi-Lift jack.

Storage_11.jpg


Storage_12.jpg


I bought a piece of carpet for the top and had the edges bound.

Storage_13.jpg
 
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OldBuzzard

OldBuzzard

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And that storage platform is useful above the top, too. I added a small platform to turn it into a sleeper. The foot platform attaches with the same large-knob thumbscrews from the fence, and rests on the passenger seat rails.

Sleeping_01.jpg


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There is about 82" of space diagonally, plenty of room for my 5'11 frame (on a wedge).

Sleeping_05.jpg


Sleeping_06.jpg


I plan to do an occasional overnight excursion for sunset and sunrise photography when my wife can't come along.
 
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OldBuzzard

OldBuzzard

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For my previous Tacomas, I carried a metric tool set, packing a very small toolbox tightly. But for the Jeep with its mix of metric and SAE and Torx and bigger bolts and nuts, I needed to double the number of tools. A new toolbox needed to fit in the 5.5" deep storage space. I looked at dozens of toolboxes before finding this one for about $30 (13.3 L x 11.35" W x 5.15" H):

Flambeau Outdoors Range Locker HD Pistol Case - 13", Black (model 1312SN)

Sorry, I see that the price has doubled in the last couple of months since I bought it.

Everything shown here goes in the case except for the saw, crowbar, breaker bar, and iron pipe.

Toolset_01.jpg


Toolset_02.jpg


Stacked carefully (looks like a mess), there is still room for several more tools as I discover all the ways Jeep put this machine together.
 
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OldBuzzard

OldBuzzard

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I wanted a louder horn, so I replaced the original one with a pair from Harbor Freight. Boy, was that a mistake. They were so quiet that I could barely hear my own horns in traffic noise. Neither could the other fella (don't ask me how I know).

So I tossed out the HF junk and installed a set of FIAMM 74100 El Grande horns ($24 when I bought them):

Amazon FIAMM 74100 El Grande

Horns_01.jpg


I ran a 14-gauge wire from the main fusebox terminal through a 15A inline fuse across the firewall and forward to a 30A relay. I mounted one of the horns where the original horn had been, ahead of the washer fluid jug. The other one went on a homemade bracket just behind the washer fluid jug, along with the relay. To tap into the original horn connector, I made a little metal spur, filed to fit into the connector. It presses in snugly, and electrical tape keeps everything together and sealed up.

Horns_02.jpg


Horns_03.jpg


Horns_04.jpg


Horns_05.jpg


These horns are louder than the original horn, and have a nice two-tone sound. Now that other fella will hear me!
 
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OldBuzzard

OldBuzzard

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Apparently, the Jeep still had the original shocks. It still had a nice ride, but speed bumps said "thump-Clunk". A hundred thousand miles is enough.

Shocks_01.jpg


The plan, at this point, is to stick with 31" tires, and to lift the Jeep about 1.5" to 2" at the most. I read a lot of other threads here, in particular Irun's A lesson learned - keep it light and nimble!

I decided to use the same H&R #52107 Sport Springs (from TireRack) for a 1" lift, and add some spacers to take it up the rest of the way.

And I'll use the Skyjacker Black MAX shocks (bought from Summit Racing). I chose the B8516 for the front (good for 0" to 3" lift), and the B8508 for the rear (good for 0" lift only). That rear shock will work with the stock springs, for now. But later, when I lift it, I plan to add bar pin eliminators in the rear, bringing the shock down 1 inch. That makes the B8508 have almost exactly the same compressed and extended dimensions as the Rancho RS55240 (0" to 2" lift).

This old Jeep has very little rust, but shock bolts will often resist removal to the point of death. I sprayed Liquid Wrench on the bolts a few days before receiving the new shocks, several times, and the old bolts complained but came out and cleaned up nicely.

The new shocks went in easily.

Shocks_02.jpg


The ride is better, a little firmer, but not harsh at all. All bumps are handled better, especially speed bumps. I haven't tried them offroad yet.

Later (below), I will discover that the H&R springs are not going to work on this LJ, and I'll have to use taller springs. Then I will wish I had bought the B8518 rear shocks for the longer travel (8.78" instead of 7.0" on the B8508). But those would not have done very well with my stock springs, which I have to live with for a while.
 
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OldBuzzard

OldBuzzard

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Spring Problem

Originally, I wanted a 1.5" to 2" lift, nothing taller. That's what led me to try the H&R #52107 Sport Springs (from TireRack) for a 1" lift, and planning to add some spacers to take it up the rest of the way. Quite a few people have liked these springs on TJs. Both H&R and TireRack say they're good for the short TJ and the TJ Unlimited, and claim that the typical lift is about 1", including the Unlimited.

By my measurements, the OEM rear springs are 0.608" thick, and the H&Rs are 0.598" thick. The H&R springs are a little over 3/16" longer than OEM, and are wound similarly (OEM almost 7 turns, H&R 6-1/4 turns). The H&R springs are the same diameter wire everywhere, while the OEM springs taper down to a smaller diameter at each end.

HRsprings_01.jpg


So I replaced the OEM rear springs in my Unlimited with the purple H&R springs. I set the rear end down, intending to do the front springs. But it didn't look like the rear end had come up very much, so I measured it. The H&R springs had given me a 3/32" lift. Technically it's a lift, but realistically it's not discernible by eye. So of course I didn't install the front ones, because I don't really care whether the front ones give a lift, since the rear ones are not going to work. Evidently these springs should no be advertised for the heavier rear end of the Unlimited.

HRsprings_02.jpg


I called TireRack and asked about a return. I've talked with five different people (so far), several times, over two weeks, all very nice whenever I call. They are always going to check with their "Hardware Support" people and get right back with me. And then I have to call again a couple of days later. Still waiting for their answer...

So the H&R springs are back in their box for a possible return, or maybe for sale to someone with a short TJ, where they should actually work as expected.
 
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OldBuzzard

OldBuzzard

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Choosing Different Springs

I still want 1.5" to 2" of lift, max. There are several springs out there in the 2-inch range, some with better reputations than others. The often-recommended Pro Comp 2-inchers seem to have been discontinued in the last year. Some manufacturers offer a single 2-inch spring set with no data, some provide data, and some offer several springs in the 2-inch range. Some prices are much higher than others for no discernible reason.

Old Man Emu has a pretty good reputation, with some complaints that they have too many 2-inchers to choose from. That sounds okay to me. Each Wrangler is different, and having choices is a good thing. At least they give data about the springs, so calculations can be done. And I can look at other people's reports about which springs do what on various TJ models. Prices are okay, and parts are in stock.

OME makes 2 springs for the front (for 2.0" lift):

DescriptionP/NRateFree Length
1997-06 Front (6 cyl) Stock/Light Load (0-90 lbs) 2.0"293214018.9
1997-06 Front (6 cyl) Heavy Load (90-180 lbs) 2.0"293314019.49

And 3 springs for the rear (for 2.0" to 2.5" lift):

DescriptionP/NRateFree Length
1997-06 Rear Light Load/Soft Top 2.5"294114015.53
1997-06 Rear Medium Load/Hard Top 2.0"294114015.53
1997-06 Rear Heavy Constant Load (220 to GVW) 2.0"294216014.96
1997-06 Rear UNLIMITED Heavy Constant Load (220 to GVW) 2.0"294921614.57

Rate = how much weight required to compress spring one inch.

I looked up the data on these and other springs here:
TJ Shock & Spring Specification Resource Thread
at the top, and down on page 3 where there is some more information.
And here:
https://4wheelonline.com/jeep/images/ome/ome-application-guide.pdf

With the Stock Load front = 719 lb per spring, rear = 653 lb per spring from the Moog data, I ran the calculations for each of those springs. Those weights are probably for the standard TJ, not the LJ. So the results won't be very accurate for my Unlimited, at least not on the rear springs. But it did give me a general picture of how those springs might react. I knew I needed a stronger spring than the 2941 at the rear. I had been trying to decide between the 2942 "Heavy" and the 2949 "UNLIMITED Heavy". The calculations showed that the 2949, while short, is still stiff enough to hold the rear end quite high if it isn't under a heavy load. The 2942 seemed to be the correct spring for my needs.

And in this thread https://wranglertjforum.com/threads/2-lift-for-lj-yet-another-spring-discussion.56220/ MountaineerTom talks about using the 2942 springs on his LJ, a somewhat similar setup to mine. I have very little extra weight in the rear (except when it's pulling a trailer), and no extra weight in the front (no big bumpers, no winch, no giant spare tires). And most of the extra weight on the LJ is at the rear with that 15 inch stretch, and the hard top. So I decided to use the Stock/Light Load 2932 front springs, and the Heavy Constant Load 2942 rear springs.
 
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OldBuzzard

OldBuzzard

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Rear Suspension Cycling

While waiting for a few more parts, I have been cycling the rear suspension and measuring things for bump stop adjustment and shock absorber fitment.

First, the track bar bracket on the axle. I bought a Rough Country rear track bar relocation bracket, and temporarily set it in place on the OEM bracket. Jacking up the rear axle shows that it misses the fuel lines, but it will happily smash into the tub and cut a cable before anything else touches. With the relo bracket 1 inch below the tub, touching the cable sheath, it would apparently need 3 inches of added bump stop — on a 2 inch lift! Ok, I could have lifted it another half inch, but that relo bracket is just way too big. Out it goes.

Bump_Stop_01.jpg


Bump_Stop_02.jpg


With the relocation bracket removed, the OEM track bar bracket goes up much farther. Jacking it up to a half inch from the tub, where it begins to mash the cable sheath, there is 5/8 inch of space between the axle pad and the bump stop cup and the spring perches are 4-1/8" apart. Hey, that's more like it. OME doesn't give a spec for a fully compressed spring, but counting turns and measuring spring thickness shows it should not be fully compressed at this spacing. So the bump stop limiting factor is the original track bar bracket at this point (but I haven't done the shocks yet).

Bump_Stop_03.jpg


Bump_Stop_04.jpg


Notice that Jeep designed this with the track bar bracket cutting the cable and denting the tub before the bump stop would hit metal-to-metal. Maybe they don't consider "full bump stop" to be metal-to-metal. The jounce bumper is going to depress and slow down the axle, and may mash completely or split apart. But did the Jeep engineers count on it to stop an extremely hard bump? Or maybe the shocks bottom out first? Or did they make a boo-boo? Things that make you go "hmmmm".
 
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OldBuzzard

OldBuzzard

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Rear Shocks

I reinstalled the Skyjacker Black MAX B8508 shocks (the ones for 0" lift). I knew they were going to be short, but I was still surprised at just how short. At the new ride height, they have less than an inch of down travel! I had planned to add bar pin eliminators for another inch, but that's still way too short. Now that I have some measurements I see that even with the factory springs, the down stroke would be around 2-3/4" and the up stroke would be 4-1/4". The shocks still have an inch to go where I would put the bump stop for the factory track bar bracket. Those shocks are short! I should have cycled the suspension and measured everything first, before buying them, even for the shorter springs I was previously going to use.

I bought a pair of the next longer shocks, the Skyjacker Black MAX B8518. These start out about 1-7/8" longer at full compression, and have almost 2" more travel. Cycling the suspension with these shocks shows that it will need exactly 1.5" of bump stop extension, and ride height is near the middle of the stroke. It should give about 4-1/8" down travel and 4-5/8" up travel, but that depends on what the final ride height turns out to be.

With shock fully compressed:

Bump_Stop_05.jpg


The spring will not be completely collapsed:
Bump_Stop_06.jpg
 
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OldBuzzard

OldBuzzard

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Rear Tires Tucked

Just for fun while the springs were out, I put the tires on and jacked the axle up to where the stock bump stops should be (with the track bar bracket lightly pressing the cable under the tub). The axle would never get quite this high if the factory bump stops were a smidge lower, and it will be lower still after adding 1.5" bump stop extenders.

The 31x10.50-15 tires on stock "Ravine" rims with 5.5" of backspacing are just inside the fender flares by a small amount. There is 1/2" of space from the sidewall to the fender flare, and 3" above the tire to the metal fender, and about 3" sideways to the tub for tilt. The control arms and plastic fender liner clear easily, too. I didn't tilt the axle, and probably should have.

Rear_Tuck_01.jpg


Rear_Tuck_02.jpg


Rear_Tuck_03.jpg


Rear_Tuck_04.jpg