The Ugly Duck (becoming the Bad Duck)


TJ Enthusiast
Supporting Member
Dec 10, 2021
Goodyear AZ

So here it is, I finally decided to put down some notes on the build.
6 months into ownership, and the ugly duck has come a long way, with more to come as well.
I’ll add pics throughout the post, best I can.

Started with an 02 wrangler sport, 4.0 5spd, Dana 44

Aside from a 3 inch teraflex set of springs and shocks, the Jeep was mostly stock. It had the transfer case lowered, 33x12.5 tires on some pretty beat up and non matching 15 inch rims. Tires were worn; top was kinda ratty, windshield full of cracks, and the inside was DIRTY. Dog hair galore as well.
Her steering was all over the place, very unstable and 55mph felt like 80. Brakes barely stopped. No death wobble though.
Frame has zero rust being an Arizona native, never in an accident and the body was straight, aside from normal rock chips on the front, even the Solar Yellow paint is pretty good overall. (I fell in love with the yellow at first sight)

She ran hot on the temp, but didn’t leak much oil, just the usual rear main and valve cover gasket as I’ve come to learn many so. The AC compressor was dripping oil regularly which explained why no air conditioning.
Oh and of course Check engine light was on- codes for evap canister and coolant temp sensor.
Nonetheless a straight body and solid frame, motor and trans felt healthy, I figured the potential was there.
So I asked her out on a first date and we ended up going home together.
Here are some pics from day one:



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So needless to say we had some work to do, and I got right to it.
First and foremost, (not knowing these vehicles at all), I went for the basics, fluids and general maintenance.
Changed the oil, replaced the coolant sensor, fixed the evap leak etc.

From there started an extensive cleaning- not that I mind dirt, I just prefer my own. So when I say extensive cleaning I mean like take all the seats out, take all the easy stuff apart, steam cleaned the carpets and upholstery multiple times, cleaned the grime out of every nook and cranny, and vacuumed enough dog hair to build a new dog.
It was a long a drawn out experience but the reward was worth the effort.
Additionally the seatbelts functioned very poorly so they were also removed, mechanisms / webbing soaked, rinsed and serviced to return proper function - I felt this was a safety issue, because if they didn’t lock in a rollover or worse, what’s the point of having them.
At this point I also noticed the shift boot was loose, and when i looked inside I found a bunch of rags stuffed inside to cover the torn inner boot.
I removed the tags and replaced the torn boot, which was pouring hot air inside the cabin.

Now the cooling system, being in Arizona, I felt that this was the next priority. Replaced the temp sensor since that was throwing a code, also pulled the thermostat and flushed the old coolant, which was basically rusty looking water at this point, even thought the radiator looked fairly new. The Tstat housing was in poor shape with lots of erosion from years of service. There was a ton of RTV covering the gasket and the Tstat itself was a 180 vs the required 195 degree as required.
New housing and high quality Tstat and gasket, skipped the rtv.
Flushed the system best I could and added coolant with a quart of rust remover for such applications. Ran that a few days and then drained/filled with fresh coolant.
Viola coolant issues gone, runs perfect temp now.
On to bigger and better things;
Next up- front end steering and alignment.
Oh and time to order wheels/tires…






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For the steering I went with the Crown Automotive HD steering kit, also called RT off road HD steering kit. This gave me new tie rod ends with 1inch diameter shaft instead of the smaller OEM set up.
At this time I also replaced the stock track bar for a JKS adjustable, along with JKS sway bar links, as there were none on the Jeep at all.

Somewhere around this time the new wheels and tires showed up.
So while I was waiting for the new wheels / tires to show up, I decided to perform a front end alignment- having replaced all the steering components.
Turned out instead of the 1/8inch toe in, it was 5/8 toe out!
No wonder it drove so bad!
So finally the Mammoth Boulder 15x8s showed up and we’re complimented by a set of BFG AT KOs in 33x12.5x15.

Now we’re getting somewhere.

Time to start going through other systems to increase reliability, seeing how she has 204,xxx miles and I want to keep her going strong.



Next was under the hood and other vitals.
Fuel rail heat shield upgrade
Serpentine belt
Spark plugs
Air filter
Battery cables
Valve cover gasket
Diff fluid front/rear
Windshield replaced / tinted (50%)
Stripped / tinted side windows (15%)

Of course I had no intention of messing with fender flares but I was talking a lot of flack over them being faded… so it ultimately ended up with a set of Rugged Ridge Hurricane flares too. (After installing a cheap set of OEM style flares that fit so bad I couldn’t help spending money for good ones).




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Time to address the brakes:

Brake booster was hissing bad, very poor overall braking ability also.

List of new parts;

Mopar brake booster
Master cylinder
Black Magic brake pads
Brake lines front/rear (extended)
Hardware kit for drums

Brakes were overall pretty easy but while replacing the rear, I noticed one drum was full of grease/residue.
Turns out my rear axle seal was leaking…….. time to pull the axles and replace seals/bearing.






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Next on the chopping block was the front bumper. Bye bye stock, hello quadratec winch bull bumper and Warn Evo VR 10s
Along with that the front headlights were replaced with Truck Lite LEDs, and the bumper got the LED JK style fog light treatment.
Of course with new fog lights meant fixing the multifunction switch so they didn’t turn on randomly. Pretty easy repair btw.

Somewhere during all that I swapped out my ragged top for a low time used soft top in much better shape.






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Recently it started warming up out here in the Arizona desert, so time to overhaul the AC system that was dead.
Bought the complete kit from rock auto, I.e. compressor, condenser, evaporator and o rings. Install wasn’t too bad, nice n cold now.

So aside from small stuff like light bulbs and things I can’t remember, that’s about where it is now. But I’m not sitting still ….
Time to address the squish
Current items on order:
SYE kit (teraflex)
Adams Extreme Duty driveshaft (solid u joint/non greasable).
Metalcloak 3.5 suspension with rocksport shocks.

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Woot woot, grab handles arrived today. Steinjager.

Also metalcloak order shipped. It’s getting real!