A Simple Jeep XJ Overland Build

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benmmc

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So this thread will document the progression of my 1999 Jeep XJ – ideas, modification, and general thoughts. I suppose some backstory would be appropriate here. I purchased the Jeep in early 2010, with 130k on it.

jeep1.jpg
Here it was when I got it. I paid $3,500 (you'll find I'm fairly cheap and like to find value when I can)

Photo Dec 07, 5 56 00 PM.jpg
In its current state (as of late 2015)

Over the years, I've replaced many parts. I do most of the work myself, unless there is special tooling required, in which case I'll take it to a local mechanic. A brief (and incomplete) list of parts I've replaced:
  • Alternator & battery (a couple times)
  • Radiator, heater core, water pump, thermostat (basically the entire cooling system)
  • Gaskets and o-rings (valve cover, oil filter shaft, etc)
  • Tires (I got about 65k out of a set of 235/76/15 BFG ATs)
  • Various interior parts, stereo, speakers, etc
  • Bushings and other suspension components as they wore out
  • Various sensors here and there
A few months ago, my tires were finally ready to be replaced (took forever :blush:), and the Jeep had just over 210k on it. It was a good time to either start modifying it for overland travel or just get something else. I decided on just modifying it instead of getting something new, since I'm very familiar with the vehicle and I just kind of like it still, I guess. Decent MPG and all the features I need in a relatively small package (I generally dislike driving huge vehicles).

So, with the decision made, here I am. I generally want to build something that looks kinda like those 70 series Landcruisers I see from Australia all the time. Not huge tires, but sitting a little higher, and I know the XJ can be made very capable off road with a few key modifications. Cargo is limited because of the size, but I think I can do a few things to help in that area as well. :wink:

OK, so I'll start adding posts here to document the build and I'll update here and link to the key posts within as I go. I've already done a few mods, so I'll be adding those posts soon. Thanks for reading!
 
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benmmc

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Since my tires were worn out, I decided to start the modifications with a lift and tires. This turned into an epic thing (seems like everything does on a 16 year old car).

I started off reading a whoooole lot about lifts. Brands, heights, styles, etc. I eventually settled on a 3 inch lift to fit 30/9.50-15 AT's. I initially liked how the 30's looked with 3" of lift, so that's what I was planning on.

I ordered a Zone Offroad 3" lift with full leaf packs. I read they were similar to the BDS lifts, but for less money. And they had really good reviews, so I went with it. I started the install in the driveway, and the upper rear shock bolts broke when I tried to remove them. I'd read this would happen, so I was prepared. I was supposed to just drill them out and tap them for new bolts. No problem, right?

Well, after a few hours (and two drill bits), I had them drilled out, and I bought a shiny new tap to get the threads in there. I worked it slowly, quarter turn, then back out, over and over. Worked fine for the first one. About 3/4 of the way through the second one, the tap broke off in the hole. I was tired of laying on my back getting rust in my eyes, so I drove it without rear shocks to my local truck accessories mechanic. I was super annoyed, but they finished the install. Took them a week, but whatever, it was done (or so I thought).

I picked up the Jeep to go get the tires put on and the lift was way bigger than 3" (closer to 4" really). OK that's cool, I guess I can go up to 31's then! :grimacing: On the way over to the tire shop, the Jeep rode crazy stiff (like, knock your molars out stiff). I got the tires put on (five total for a full size spare), and it looked amazing. I ended up with 31/10.50-15 Cooper Discoverer AT3's and they are awesome.

IMG_4068.jpg
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Gratuitous lift photos

Awesome! But, back to the stiff ride. I mean this thing was horrible. I called Zone a couple times, asking what I did to deserve this (seriously it was bad). They said since I upgraded to the nitro shocks that the ride would be a little firmer. So, since they didn't offer much help, I went ahead and purchased a set of OME shocks.

IMG_4099.jpg
Noooice

I went to install the shocks and the bolts were too big for the holes in the shocks. :cry: Nothing a file won't fix!

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Awesome. After wrestling with the other week-old shocks, I got the new ones installed, and the ride was like night and day. So, why the harsh ride with the others? Well, after removing them, I realized one of the rears would collapse, but wouldn't rebound. I told Zone and they refunded me for that one.

After driving on the road for a few days with a taller vehicle, a couple of things nagged at me. One was the steering was all wonky. The other was that once in a while if I'd hit a big bump, I'd get the beginnings of a wobble. It would fix itself quickly, but it didn't feel good. So, I ordered an adjustable track bar (Rough Country), a drop pitman arm (Rusty's), and extended sway bar end links (quick disconnects also from Rusty's). After messing with the pitman arm for a few hours and breaking two pitman arm pullers :rage:, I took it back to the truck shop and they used the impact wrench with a puller and had it replaced in about 10 min.

So, now we are good. Rides well, steers well, handles bumps well. Geez, that was a journey. Now to get the full-size spare out of the rear cargo area. :grimacing:
 
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Mike W

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Great so far! Not only are you telling the story, but giving us details about problems and how it was fixed. Great stuff, especially for a forum with all types of vehicles.
 

benmmc

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Great so far! Not only are you telling the story, but giving us details about problems and how it was fixed. Great stuff, especially for a forum with all types of vehicles.
Yeah, I'm sorry my posts are so detailed, but I want this thread to be an archive for myself as well, so I can remember all the frustration I've felt along the way! :smiley:

This will be good.....
I hope so!

Looking forward to it!!!
Thanks, I am too!
 

jdunk

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Yeah, I'm sorry my posts are so detailed, but I want this thread to be an archive for myself as well, so I can remember all the frustration I've felt along the way! :smiley:
Don't be sorry for detailed posts. We've all felt the frustration of dealing what should be a nice afternoon project that goes sideways. (the sliders on my KL come to mind...)

The detailed posts are great, they really help explain what you did, and brings a sense of what it's actually going to take for someone else to do the same thing.

I'm looking forward to more!
 
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benmmc

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I have no idea why I drove it for 5.5 years without doing this, but when I bought the Jeep, it didn't have a remote. I knew it came with it from the build sheet, so I got a replacement one online and took it to the dealership to get it programmed. They didn't believe me that it could be done, but I got a mechanic to come out and show them. Took him like 5 min, and bam, I had keyless entry! Entire mod cost like $55 (I guess it wasn't really a mod, but it makes a big difference to me). :grimacing:

Photo Nov 25, 1 15 25 PM.jpg
 

benmmc

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I have always thought the headlights were too dim, so I started looking into upgrades. What popped up again and again was that the combination of the thin gauge wiring and a limited sealed beam made for not-so-bright headlights. So, after reading this article and speaking with Daniel about my situation, I decided to install relays, thicker wiring, H4 conversion housings, and brighter bulbs.

I found that the main options for XJ's were a cheaper harness made with some weird, non-standard relays (prone to failing and hard to replace) and a more expensive ARB harness. I wanted to do it right, and I wanted to know exactly how it worked, so I bought a kit that Daniel sells (RIK-2), which provides you with the relays, connectors, sockets, and basically everything except the wiring itself. His instructions were pretty clear, so it was just up to me to figure out where I wanted to run wires, mount relays and grounds, and pull power from.

I ended up pulling power from the terminal on the fuse box. It had well over 14 volts running to it, and it was close enough to where I wanted to mount the relays for the short inline fuses that Daniel sends in the kit.

So here are a couple before and afters.

relay_before_after.jpg

h4_before_after.jpg

That's the best I could do for before and after on the road, but I'd say it's a big difference.

IMG_5186.jpg

Can't really tell a difference from the outside during the day, but I'm glad I did this mod. I ended up going with 12 AWG primary wire, Philips ExtremeVision H4 bulbs, and AutoPal H4 conversion housings. The housings weren't incredible quality (one of the internal shades rattled a bit and I ended up soldering it to make it stop). But they work fine now, and they were pretty cheap. Total cost was around $180.
 
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toxicity_27

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I will always have a soft spot for the XJ. I've owned two over the years and love how yours is turning out.
 

benmmc

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OK, so I went ahead and bought one of those cheap Amazon LED light bars, and it's freaking bright! It's a 31.5" 180W (around 11,000 lumens). I thought it would just bolt to the bumper, but it was too deep, so I made some nasty looking mounts out of aluminum and trimmed the bumper end caps to fit around them. It's ugly, but it's fine with me.

I wired it to an OEM-style switch from eBay that says "Light Bar" on it and then through a relay (used the same power terminal from the headlight relay/H4 conversion).

IMG_5352.jpg
I had to get a new bezel from a local parts XJ that had factory fog lights, because I needed the blank spot for the new switch (my blank was like molded in there without the tabs for the switch to slide into). I wish the letters/icon lit up on the new switch, but only the indicator lights up when it's on. Oh well. I might switch it back out for the factory fog switch still. I like that it says "Light Bar" but I wish it lit up like the factory fog light switch. Decisions...

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I used the factory bumper bolt to mount the aluminum piece to the bumper. It's really sturdy.

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About 0.5" of clearance behind the light.

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Done! It's bright.

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Glamour shots!

I'll probably have to ditch it if I ever get an aftermarket front bumper, as there are only a few designs I've seen that would allow this wide of a light bar to fit, but I really like the factory bumper. We'll see. For now, it should light up the trail nicely!
 

murps

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Solid build thread @benmmc Sometimes i wish i had gone with an old school jeep and modded up instead of a brand new jeep with little to no aftermarket parts.
 

benmmc

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Solid build thread @benmmc Sometimes i wish i had gone with an old school jeep and modded up instead of a brand new jeep with little to no aftermarket parts.
Oh man, you made the right decision. Every time I start a new task on this thing I wish I had a newer vehicle. Rusty bolts, old plastic, leaky seals... It is nice not having too much integrated technology to mess with, but that's kind of a drawback as well. And my wife wishes I drove something safer. Oh well, one day I'll upgrade, I suppose. For now, it's on with the upgrades!
 

murps

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Oh man, you made the right decision. Every time I start a new task on this thing I wish I had a newer vehicle. Rusty bolts, old plastic, leaky seals... It is nice not having too much integrated technology to mess with, but that's kind of a drawback as well. And my wife wishes I drove something safer. Oh well, one day I'll upgrade, I suppose. For now, it's on with the upgrades!
Yeah you are right, one reason i went new as opposed to used/old,I wanted that warranty. There just aren't a lot of aftermarket parts (lifts kits, body kits, bumpers etc. for the Patriot.

Keep doing what you're doing, I'm gonna live vicariously though your build
 
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benmmc

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OK, so this is a big one. I wanted to get the spare tire out of the cargo area to accommodate more stuff, and because I'd like to build a drawer system back there eventually. So, I began researching rear bumpers/tire carriers, and found many people speaking highly of Custom 4x4 Fabrication, so I went for it.

IMG_5386.jpg
Not too hard to remove. Had to ditch the mud flaps too, though, since the rocker guards don't have holes for them. I would've probably removed them eventually anyway.

IMG_5394.jpg
Bit of a gap, but not really noticeable once it's all together. These rocker guards are super-hefty.

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Done! It was pretty straight-forward. Mike's directions were clear, and this thing is bullet-proof.

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Awesome, but it blocks the license plate. :anguished:

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Drilling holes in the hatch, oh my! :openmouth: Ended up drilling four. I tried using these bolts that have LEDs in them. It's a cool idea, but the ones I got were junk, and broke with hardly any tightening. Ended up having to get a nasty LED strip to light the plate. I wired it to the existing license plate light, soldered and heat-shrink. Looks fine and I'm legal.

IMG_5426.jpg Photo Dec 01, 12 37 59 PM.jpg
Finished product!
 

Iubootgater

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Started a similar journey with a 01' about 18 months ago, it's actually what led me to this community. I unfortunatly had to change my plans for various reasons but glad to see others saw the potential in the platform, carry on and I will look forward to watching the progress.
Guess I should change my picture but I kind of like it....
 
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