Rebuild from salvage TJ 2004 Sport


I love my TJ
Supporting Member
Aug 8, 2021
Houston Area
Wanted to share with folks here my build story.
So i bought it from Copart Auction here in Houston. Sport 2004, 4.0 engine, 42RLE transmission, dana 30 and dana 35, 3.73 gearing, 2.72 transfer case.
It was after a rear end accident, that smashed the grill, driver side fender, radiator and AC condenser, fan shroud, headlights, front passenger side brake line and some other small stuff. No damage on the frame, as it seems like it hit something soft.

Also, the brakes were in horrible condition, as the brake fluid was black like a oil. Rear Dana 35 was leaking from wheel seals, so the brake shoe and drum were all covered in stinky oil from inside.

Cooling fixes - Put a new radiator and cap, and replaced the shroud
AC fixes - AC condenser, tested for vacuum the AC lines, filled with coolant.
Brakes - replaced the front brake (the entire metal pipe that goes from the slave cylinder to the soft line near the passenger side front wheel) line with a one from Ebay - there is a kit for TJ brake lines. Replaced the front calipers and pads, replaced the rear drums, shoes and cylinders. Replaced the master cylinder, just because i suspected that the master cylinder is contaminated with completely black brake fluid. Needless to say multiple bleeding with new brake fluid.
Grill - found one locally here in houston, at JackedUpJeeps - this is a small place they have whole bunch of parts for TJ and YJ - highly recommended if you are in Houston area. Grill is blue, while rig is white.
Driver side front fender - new from ebay and painted it with rattle can spray
Got a good deal on Gladiator tires 245/75R17 (facebook marketplace), so got them and from another guy on marketplace 17 inch wheels and adapters for 4.5 to 5.5. Currently running 245/75R17, with adapters. This is basically 31.5 inch tire, however, given that i run it with 28 PSI, it will be like 31 inch max, if not 30.5 inch.
Got some aftermarket hardtop from marketplace (paid 800$ for it - the guy delivered it to me on his truck and gave me rear TJ seat in good condition for free - thank you guy from marketplace).

Now it is in this state:
Main reason i went the path of buying a salvage and rebuilding it was that i wanted to get something cheap, in which i will anyway replace whole bunch of parts, so that it will ride better. In old vehicle, one will want to replace the radiator after 100K miles, brakes etc.

My current problem is that i have 31.5 inch (245/75R17) tires with 4.0, 42RLE and 3.73 gearing. This makes the overdrive completely useless, unless the wind is blowing in my back and i am on flat road. It might sound like this is just an inch from TJ rubicon tire size, however, it still suck on highway. So i went into researching the topic here and took an unorthodox advise on gearing from @Jerry Bransford and other wise (at least TJ wise:) ) people and went with 4.56 gearing for my 31.5 inch tires. Basically it seems like with 4.0 , 42RLE, 4.56 gearing and 31.5 tires i would in ideal combination of RPM, torque etc. Initially when I read the statement made by Jerry that even stock rubicon with 42RLE was undergeared from factory, i disagreed, but then i made the math myself i agreed. Indeed 42RLE has crazy overdrive ratio that needs to be compensated with correct gearing, otherwise you dont get to use the 4th speed.
My next issue was shocks, as my shocks were completely shot. I followed the advice from Jerry and other wise folks, and bought Rancho 5000X shocks, front and rear. I am running 28 PSI in my tires, and with these shocks, it just runs very smooth.
The next item is steering. Dampener is shot as well, seems like it was never replaced in last 16 years. So i read the following statements made my wise folks here (Jerry, Mr Blaine and others) - "if you feel like you need steering dampener while driving on highway, then you have a problem that needs to addressed first, before touching the dampener". So i was test driving it for a week, and figured out that steering is completely ok, driveable, no wobble at all. Then i went and bought Rancho 5000 dampener.
The next item was finding axles, lift and suspension parts.
On axles - I have dana 35 in the rear, on which i have replaced the wheel seals, as they were leaking. I read multiple opinions here, on going with Super35, going with 8.8 swap (will have disc brakes and will be pretty strong) or finding Dana 44 from other TJ. I ended finding on Facebook Marketplace a Dana 44 for TJ, already geared in 4.56, with Auburn ECTED electronically actuated locker. I paid 1500$ for this. I know it is expensive, but Super35 will still cost 1K$+, and then regear it will cost more for sure. It has drum brakes, but based on opinion from Jerry, i believe that properly setting the drum brakes will get proper braking power, especially taking into account that i am running 31.5 inch tire and the fact that rear brakes take only 33% of braking power.

The next thing was a choice of front axle. So, i could go and regear my Dana 30LP that i already have on my TJ to 4.56, but this would cost with parts and labor at least 800$. 300$ for parts and 500$ for labor. I have considered regearing it myself, as well, but, i decided that there will be 2 things in my rig that i will not do myself - regearing and rebuilding 42RLE. I do not have the time and expertise for neither one. So i ended up paying 2K$ for a combo deal of:

Dana 30 HP (from XJ), regeared to 4.56, with:
1. Chromoly shafts -
2. Yukon Grizzly locker
3. Brakes and knuckles in a good shape

Metalcloack control arms -

CE-9103SA – Savvy JJs Aluminum Adjustable Rear Upper Control Arms TJ/LJ -
Metalcloak front adjustable track bar -
Metalcloak rear adjustable track bar -

Winch mount plate for stock TJ bumper
Rancho 5000 shocks for 2.5 inch lift (front and rear).

Adams driveshaft for TJ rear
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Now, with regards to choice of lockers - i read very carefully @Jerry Bransford statements on having selectable rear and autolocker in front (as John Currie does), and decided to follow them. I live in Texas, so driving in 4x4 will happen only offroad, and as a result Autolocker in front will not have an impact on my highway driving, that it is expected to be 2WD only. I did read the statement from Jerry on Dana 30 being too soft for full size locker like Detroit or Grizzly, so i am planning to add a truss/gussets (maybe sleeves as well) on Dana 30, do make it strong enough for anything that can happen. However, this will be done only after i will start more heavy wheeling. At this point, given the light trails only, i think that Dana 30HP as it now (Grizzly, 4.56, Chromoly with large joints) will work. Also, my plan is to rely mainly on Grizzly in my front, and activate ECTED only when I really need it.

Couple of things that will need to be added on top of these - Black Magic brake pads for front, to compensate for larger tires (i know that this is not must with 31.5 inch, but larger tires with larger rolling means harder to break), chromoly shafts for Dana 44, Winch, dual battery setup, larger alternator, and most importantly a transmission cooler for 42RLE.
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Got finally the the headlights figured out. With the help of an article in this forum: decided to go with some quality headlights. I found somebody on marketplace selling pair of


for 240$, when these costs like almost 600$ new. My thought is that since it is LED, it will work just fine used, so no point in paying big bucks for new ones.
So, 240$ dollars on a headlights.
I decided to buy a winch, and found on Marketplace somebody selling Warn Zeon 10S Platinum, used.
Seems like they were in rush to sell, and ended up selling it to me for 500$, in non-operational state. I brought it home, and found that it was a wire that got disconnected, and after reconnecting it, it worked just fine.
Now, i need to work on installing on it.
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I used SeaFoam spray on the engine.
Then used BG EPR for oil flush. Then added BG MOA into crankcase. Also poured BG 44K into gas tank.
Replaced the IAC, to address trouble code P1294 (unable to maintain idle RPM).
Finally finished installing TJ Dana 44 (ECTED Auburn Elocker) in the rear and the High Pinion Dana 30 (Yucon Grizzly) in the front with 4.56 gears. With my 31.5 inch tires (245/75/R17), it feels pretty good. However, it is still kind of undergeared, i wish I would go for 4.88 gears, and not 4.56.