Tony G's '18 Firecracker JLUR DD/Crawler Journal

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*March 30th, 2019

BEFORE:

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AFTER:

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BEFORE:

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AFTER:

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Actually pretty impressed with myself for getting all these before and afters taken from pretty much the same perspective, especially given the fact that there was nearly a month in between them. I had made chalk marks on the driveway for tire locations and where to stand when taking the pictures, but the rain had long since washed them away. :clap:





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*March 30th, 2019

And a handful of AFTERs for good measure...

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fullsizeoutput_4d72.jpeg



fullsizeoutput_4d74.jpeg



fullsizeoutput_4d75.jpeg



fullsizeoutput_4d76.jpeg
 
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*April 5th, 2019

So, overall impressions?

Install: As I mentioned earlier, not for the casual weekend warrior. Granted, most of the problems were due to missing hardware, incomplete instructions, and some minor fitment issues that will likely get taken care of by EVO as time goes on. I suppose this is always the chance you take when you're an early adopter of anything. I still enjoyed doing the work myself (and probably saved a ton of money considering the instructions called for 12-16 hours of shop time). If you're feeling frisky and want to do it yourself, be prepared to not be able to drive your Jeep to work on Monday, and be sure you have a good assortment of tools at your disposal. You'll be proud of yourself when you're done.

Lift Results: I went and measured a Rubicon on the dealer's lot today for comparison. If you're starting with a different model, you'll have to adjust accordingly. I measured from fender to hub center on both stock and mine, and found that I got almost exactly 3 inches of lift. With the coil nuts set at minimum preload all the way around, my front driver side corner rode the highest. The other 3 corners all had 2-2.5 inches of lift and had to be raised a little to match it. I added no other equipment (bumpers, rock sliders, etc.) in the meantime, so I figure this is a pretty good apples to apples comparison of the lift you can expect to get. Overall height of course will also be affected by how much larger you decide to go with your tires.

Speaking of tires... with my particular combination, I was rubbing my front coils at full steering lock in both directions. My temporary solution was to install two washers under each of the steering stops. I'm not happy with losing turning radius, but it will work until I get new wheels. As for stuffing the tires, I haven't had the opportunity to really flex things out. I'll be sure to report back when I do.

Ride Quality: My buddies with the EVO JKU Coilover Kits kept talking about how it was "like riding on a cloud." Needless to say, my expectations were very high. Three months down the road, I'm satisfied with how it rides. Initially however, I was pretty discouraged. The instructions mention that some level of sound is to be expected as "we are stepping into race car parts", but holy cow! With every bump my springs sounded like they were popping and unseating themselves. Very clunky, very chattery, and very harsh feeling. By no means cloud like. As the coil sliders and shock bodies wear into each other, the smoothness continually improves. They still hang up every once in awhile, but after 3 months and approximately 2,500 miles I can finally say that I'm pleased with the ride. At this point in time, it soaks up the big stuff (potholes, curbs, etc.) like a champ, but I feel a lot more of the little stuff (cracks, pavement imperfections, etc.) than I used to. And no, I haven't bombed it through the desert yet. :( Fingers crossed that it just keeps on improving.

fullsizeoutput_4d7b.jpeg

(Shaver Lake, CA - February '19)
 
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That brings us to present day. Well, sort of... My last build thread post was almost exactly a year and a half ago. Mostly because I stopped frequenting the forum that it was originally posted on, but also because I was just kind of burnt out. I tend to get a little wordy, and it takes me a long time to write these posts. I've got the whole picture situation figured out much better now, and I'm kinda in the mood again, so I'm going to try to pick up where I left off. It's really come a long way and I've done a lot of (what I think is) cool stuff.

Oh, and thanks for following along. I'm glad you're still here! :like:

72F68718-7621-43B1-B5E7-30F0FF9929DA.jpeg

(Somewhere between Carmel and Big Sur, CA - October '18)
 
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Didn't take long for trouble to strike. I took a trip to the snow in February 2019, a little over a month after finishing my lift install. I stopped for gas on my way back down the mountain and as I was walking past my Jeep, I noticed my right rear shock reservoir looked a little out of place, and the mounting bracket was bent. I could also see a little shock oil seeping out of one of the elbow connections. Apparently somewhere along the way, my tire had gotten a hold of it. Mind you, I wasn't doing anything crazy in the snow, just driving on plowed streets. I tightened the elbow as best I could without tools, bent the reservoir back up into place to try to prevent further damage, and continued on my way home.

999CC2E5-3EBB-498C-AD02-619EAE0591E9.jpeg



Shortly after parking in my driveway, I found this on the ground.

8E7AC237-FB75-467F-ACDC-151800B5CD58.jpeg



And then a little further investigation quickly verified my fear, my shock had leaked what looked to be a whole bunch of oil.

2DACA95A-43A4-4059-812D-F75EDDF27CA3.jpeg



Now the worry sets in. How much oil did I lose? Did I also lose my nitrogen charge? Can I drive on an uncharged coilover without damaging it? How much is this going to cost to fix? How am I going to drive while my coilover is getting repaired? :crying:

Well, looks like my upgrade priorities just changed and any thoughts of wheeling in the meantime just flew out the window. Time to get new wheels, my beloved stockers with wheel spacers just aren't going to cut it...
 
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Didn't take long for trouble to strike. I took a trip to the snow in February 2019, a little over a month after finishing my lift install. I stopped for gas on my way back down the mountain and as I was walking past my Jeep, I noticed my right rear shock reservoir looked a little out of place, and the mounting bracket was bent. I could also see a little shock oil seeping out of one of the elbow connections. Apparently somewhere along the way, my tire had gotten a hold of it. Mind you, I wasn't doing anything crazy in the snow, just driving on plowed streets. I tightened the elbow as best I could without tools, bent the reservoir back up into place to try to prevent further damage, and continued on my way home.

999CC2E5-3EBB-498C-AD02-619EAE0591E9.jpeg



Shortly after parking in my driveway, I found this on the ground.

8E7AC237-FB75-467F-ACDC-151800B5CD58.jpeg



And then a little further investigation quickly verified my fear, my shock had leaked what looked to be a whole bunch of oil.

2DACA95A-43A4-4059-812D-F75EDDF27CA3.jpeg



Now the worry sets in. How much oil did I lose? Did I also lose my nitrogen charge? Can I drive on an uncharged coilover without damaging it? How much is this going to cost to fix? How am I going to drive while my coilover is getting repaired? :crying:

Well, looks like my upgrade priorities just changed and any thoughts of wheeling in the meantime just flew out the window. Time to get new wheels, my beloved stockers with wheel spacers just aren't going to cut it...
Good luck sorting the shock out. What wheel and offset are you looking at, something around 3.5" BS so you can take advantage of the travel you must have with the coilovers?

Keep the details and pics coming. My first Jeep was a 99' XJ (which is still in the family), loved seeing what you did with yours!


-Steven
 
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The next day started with a call to Andrew at EVO to get his take on my situation. He assured me that a little oil leak spreads a long way, and that I was probably OK so long as I had tightened up the fittings. He suggested that I take a pressure reading of the nitrogen charge on the shock to determine how significant of a leak I may have had.

That sent me down a deep rabbit hole, researching what was involved with properly checking the pressure on a shock. There's not much nitrogen volume, so each time you put a gauge on it, you lower your pressure even further. And what if my pressure was low, then what? How was I going to fill it back up? I had future plans of acquiring the equipment needed to service my shocks, but definitely wasn't prepared to do it so soon after installation. I began calling motor-sports shops that I figured would have the proper equipment, starting locally, and working my way out about as far as I was comfortable driving. I called motorcycle shops, off-road shops, custom truck shops, and even some industry type shops that I thought might have the proper equipment. I struck out pretty much everywhere. Only one motorcycle shop said that they could check the nitrogen level in my shocks for me, and they wanted $50 per shock to do so if I wanted to leave it installed on the vehicle. :(

I hung a left at the bottom of the rabbit hole and started down a new tunnel. What tools did I need to get to do this myself? How much was I going to need to spend for a fill device / gauge, hose, regulator, and nitrogen tank? I weighed my options and finally decided that I was better off buying my own fill rig than paying the $50 for a single check. It cost more up front, but will save me money down the road, and will allow me to help out other fellow wheelers in my situation. After much research, I finally decided upon this setup from Schmidty Racing Suspensions:

Screenshot 2020-10-08 150240.jpg



Definitely not the cheapest out there, but it seemed like a high quality set-up at a reasonable price. Keep in mind you also need to purchase / lease a nitrogen tank. I've also been using it to fill my motorcycle tires with nitrogen for the supposed benefits there. Could use it for your Jeep tires as well, but it quickly becomes a waste the first time you air down and refill on the trail as it requires a lot of nitrogen to properly purge and refill once you get back home.

So I hooked up my fancy new fill tool to each of my rear shocks for comparison and scribbled down some numbers.

8DF3A66A-A0F2-42A3-AD19-57CDFC7CA032.jpeg



And then I went way deep down another rabbit hole, researching and calculating the volume of oil / nitrogen in my shocks, the density of nitrogen gas at different pressures, and the displacement caused by the shock's shaft during compression. Once I finished my calculations, I came to the conclusion that I had lost no more than an ounce or two of oil. I called Andrew back up again and he confirmed that I could just top off my nitrogen and I would be just fine with the minimal loss of oil. I also asked about running lower pressure in my shocks to help take the edge off the harshness. He said the shocks only need to have 150psi at full extension, which in my situation (since I'm running limit straps) meant I could actually let some pressure out of each shock. I drooped each corner to its strap limited length, and then reduced the pressure to 150psi. Didn't make a huge difference in ride quality, but maybe a little.

So as a reward for having followed along for this long, I'll invite any jlwranglerforums.com member that happens to be passing through the CA central valley to stop by my place if they need their coilovers checked and / or topped off. Maybe you had a leak, or maybe its just been a long time and you could use the peace of mind of knowing they're still properly charged? Feel free to hit me up. I have the equipment, and nitrogen doesn't cost much beer... :beer:
 
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So, I was back in business, and the dirt was calling my name. I knew I couldn't do any real wheeling, but figured a fire road or two would be OK, you know, just to get out there...

96770A92-CB44-4E9A-857D-12A119686D25.jpeg

(South Fork of the Tuolumne River, somewhere outside of Groveland, CA - April '19)


In the meantime, I had also gotten a JTopsUSA sun shade, as I have to keep this balding head (and the rest of my fair skinned family) from getting sunburned somewhow. I went with the Dense Titanium fabric for it's extra UV protection. I also chose to go with the "soft top version" (no access holes) despite the fact that I have a hard top. My top is usually either on or off for long periods of time, not a lot of switching around for me. I figured I'd rather have the durability and seamless look of the solid shade rather than the added convenience of being able to remove / install my Freedom Tops with the sun shade on. I really have no interest in having both the shade and the top on at the same time anyway. The quality is top notch. Install is easy and since it has straps instead of bungees, you can really crank it down and keep it from flapping in the wind.

587AD670-2B99-429C-87AF-9216300807DB.jpeg



If I had anything negative to say about my JTop, it's that the Dense Titanium is pretty dense. This is nothing against JTop, it was my choice to get the added sun protection. I ordered the fabric samples and considered the red, black, and gray as well. I just find myself wishing that it was a little more transparent at times, especially when driving near tall trees and rock faces where I'd like to be able to enjoy the scenery above me.

CEF2FE83-55B3-4F30-A1D9-E55966AAB119.jpeg



After some exploring and a picnic lunch, we were headed back home.

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The kids were having a great time as we climbed the fire road back out of the river valley. It had some tight turns and little water crossings every now and then. They were laughing and talking about how it was like the Indiana Jones ride at Disneyland. I really wanted them to enjoy this first Jeeping adventure, so I picked up the pace a little. Yep, you guessed it...

11D1842A-77D0-46BC-A239-8A76F407EE95.jpeg



Really bent the crap out of my reservoir this time. This picture is after straightening the elbow as best I could, it was bent up next to the reservoir initially. You also may notice my reservoir is now mounted above the L brackets. Later install instructions show it this way, and it seems to hold the reservoir more securely. A good reminder I still needed new wheels. :facepalm:
 
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One of my co-workers had a little Photoshop fun when I left my Jeep parked out next to the training tower one afternoon.

3BF40BBA-7AE1-4A25-8955-D5F72C803460.jpeg



Doesn't look half bad, he may be on to something. However, I prefer my usual ride. :rock:

FE8800A0-A280-493E-8C23-B0F1193DF8A8.jpeg
 
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Good luck sorting the shock out. What wheel and offset are you looking at, something around 3.5" BS so you can take advantage of the travel you must have with the coilovers?

Keep the details and pics coming. My first Jeep was a 99' XJ (which is still in the family), loved seeing what you did with yours!


-Steven
Well, you may have realized by now that this story is still taking place in the past. Shock was sorted out (and then damaged / repaired again). I then spent a lot of time mulling over wheel selection as the backspacing requirements for coilovers really narrows down your options. (As I mentioned earlier in the thread, EVO recommends a maximum of 3.75" of backspacing). I really loved my stock Rubicon wheels. The iconic 5-spoke styling, the contrast cut black on machined look, and even the little Willy's logo all made for what I thought was a great looking wheel. My goal was to find something that resembled them. I also wanted to give beadlocks a try, both for their offroading benefits, as well as the fact that they would allow me to install my own tires. I was looking at KMC, Raceline, and Dirty Life. I ultimately settled on the KMC Machetes as Off Road Evolution (the retail side of EVO) was running them on many of their coilover rigs without issue.

The Machetes are a 17x9 wheel with a -38mm offset, or in other words, they have 3.5" of backspacing. I really like the stout aluminum lock rings, the recessed lock ring hardware, the dual valve stems, and the fact the rings are designed to be able to drain water. The Machetes are very solid wheels, but fell way short of my goal of maintaining that factory look. They are available in either machined (too 80s-90s American Racing looking for my taste) or black with a machined ring (kind of the opposite of the look I was going for). They are also a 6-spoke design. I came up with a plan to make myself feel at least a little more satisfied. I bought the machined variety during a great sale that Northridge 4x4 had, and after receiving them, I took the rings and center caps to the local powder coater. I also painted one of the engraved KMC logos on each ring red to pay tribute to the stock wheels.

0595C465-3126-480B-BA1A-D6C32831602D.jpeg



I bought the necessary tire tools and new valve stems, reused my TPMS sensors, and decided to try using Counteract balancing beads since most tire shops are unwilling to balance beadlocks for you. I spent pretty much an entire day mounting up my tires. That's a lot of bolts to torque over, and over, and over again until they're finally all equalized and clamping down on the tire bead with the proper force. It's not horribly difficult, just time consuming and tedious.

853ED530-C0DB-4927-A9C9-761FA9A7C897.jpeg



Not 100% the look I was hoping for, but overall I think they're pretty sharp looking.

F9065707-AA80-42DC-A9F0-ED9B92D90E2D.jpeg



They stick out a little more than I was hoping for too, but I guess that's the price you pay to run coilovers...

BEFORE (Stock wheels with spacers):

IMG-0079.jpg



AFTER (Beadlocks with no spacers):

IMG-0102.jpg
 
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Summer came and went. I had amassed a solid list of upgrades I wanted to do, but found myself short on funds. Don't get me wrong, I was loving my Jeep (and my motorcycle was quickly gathering dust). I now had the suspension and wheels I wanted, but still needed some armor so I could finally take my shiny new Jeep off-road without inflicting any damage that I would later live to regret.

My beloved XJ was also still sitting out in front of the house. Aside from an occasional trip around the neighborhood, it had hardly moved over the course of the past year. The plan had been to save it for my son, but he was only 10. I was still paying registration and insurance to keep it parked out on the street, the constant exposure to the elements was doing it no favors, and the battery finally died due to neglect. I decided if my JL build was ever going to get off the ground, I was going to have to sell the XJ. It was a sad day when I finally made the decision. It's hard to let a vehicle go that you've spent 20 years and gone on countless adventures with, but it had to be done... :crying:

4FBFF361-F6E0-4DFA-890F-FCEB959954F7.jpeg


7CCBD595-76AA-4EC7-9785-F01A5BD57092.jpeg



With the old girl gone (and some extra cash in hand) it was time to really start cranking on the JL build...
 
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The next day started with a call to Andrew at EVO to get his take on my situation. He assured me that a little oil leak spreads a long way, and that I was probably OK so long as I had tightened up the fittings. He suggested that I take a pressure reading of the nitrogen charge on the shock to determine how significant of a leak I may have had.

That sent me down a deep rabbit hole, researching what was involved with properly checking the pressure on a shock. There's not much nitrogen volume, so each time you put a gauge on it, you lower your pressure even further. And what if my pressure was low, then what? How was I going to fill it back up? I had future plans of acquiring the equipment needed to service my shocks, but definitely wasn't prepared to do it so soon after installation. I began calling motor-sports shops that I figured would have the proper equipment, starting locally, and working my way out about as far as I was comfortable driving. I called motorcycle shops, off-road shops, custom truck shops, and even some industry type shops that I thought might have the proper equipment. I struck out pretty much everywhere. Only one motorcycle shop said that they could check the nitrogen level in my shocks for me, and they wanted $50 per shock to do so if I wanted to leave it installed on the vehicle. :(

I hung a left at the bottom of the rabbit hole and started down a new tunnel. What tools did I need to get to do this myself? How much was I going to need to spend for a fill device / gauge, hose, regulator, and nitrogen tank? I weighed my options and finally decided that I was better off buying my own fill rig than paying the $50 for a single check. It cost more up front, but will save me money down the road, and will allow me to help out other fellow wheelers in my situation. After much research, I finally decided upon this setup from Schmidty Racing Suspensions:

Screenshot 2020-10-08 150240.jpg



Definitely not the cheapest out there, but it seemed like a high quality set-up at a reasonable price. Keep in mind you also need to purchase / lease a nitrogen tank. I've also been using it to fill my motorcycle tires with nitrogen for the supposed benefits there. Could use it for your Jeep tires as well, but it quickly becomes a waste the first time you air down and refill on the trail as it requires a lot of nitrogen to properly purge and refill once you get back home.

So I hooked up my fancy new fill tool to each of my rear shocks for comparison and scribbled down some numbers.

8DF3A66A-A0F2-42A3-AD19-57CDFC7CA032.jpeg



And then I went way deep down another rabbit hole, researching and calculating the volume of oil / nitrogen in my shocks, the density of nitrogen gas at different pressures, and the displacement caused by the shock's shaft during compression. Once I finished my calculations, I came to the conclusion that I had lost no more than an ounce or two of oil. I called Andrew back up again and he confirmed that I could just top off my nitrogen and I would be just fine with the minimal loss of oil. I also asked about running lower pressure in my shocks to help take the edge off the harshness. He said the shocks only need to have 150psi at full extension, which in my situation (since I'm running limit straps) meant I could actually let some pressure out of each shock. I drooped each corner to its strap limited length, and then reduced the pressure to 150psi. Didn't make a huge difference in ride quality, but maybe a little.

So as a reward for having followed along for this long, I'll invite any jlwranglerforums.com member that happens to be passing through the CA central valley to stop by my place if they need their coilovers checked and / or topped off. Maybe you had a leak, or maybe its just been a long time and you could use the peace of mind of knowing they're still properly charged? Feel free to hit me up. I have the equipment, and nitrogen doesn't cost much beer... :beer:
Wow, I applaud you for your tenacity regarding this! I have to say, that is way more involvement with my shocks than I would ever want.

Keep the great posts coming!


-Steven
 
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Still not happy with my tire carrier situation, especially now with the added weight of the beadlocks, I decided a rear bumper / tire carrier solution should be the next upgrade. Each of my fully assembled new wheels weighs about 119lb, and due to the the minimal backspacing, the spare mounts pretty far off the tailgate. I was inviting trouble, it would only be a matter of time before I started having some sort of tailgate issues.

I looked at lots of options for rear bumpers, with my final 3 being Poison Spyder, LOD, and Hauk. It was important to me that I could also get a matching front bumper from the same manufacturer that met my needs. The spare tire carrier had to be frame or bumper mounted, and I preferred something linked to the tailgate for single handed operation. My XJ's tire carrier had a separate hasp, and it was just inconvenient enough that I often found myself tossing stuff in the backseat instead of the cargo area, especially after the hasp got smashed on some rocks. I also wanted mounting locations for lights, heavy-duty (preferably welded) D-ring tabs, an integrated hitch, and NO sensor holes. A manageable license plate / camera mounting solution would also be a plus. I eventually decided that Poison Spyder checked off all the boxes for me.

I read through the install instructions for the Poison Spyder bumper and found that the back-up lights needed to be added to the bumper prior to install. Now my priority became picking lights. The lights however were going to require switches, so then that became my priority. But, those switches would have to be wired up, so my priority then became figuring out the wiring. Well, you can see where this was headed...

Time for an overall game plan. As I said in my introduction, one step at a time, easy does it. I'm doing this right, not right now. Suddenly I was researching everything. Lights, winches, air compressors, refrigerators, switching solutions, battery isolators, etc. The list was pretty much endless and quickly became overwhelming. Being somewhat of an electrical geek, I refuse to have an engine compartment full of spaghetti due to cobbled on electrical upgrades. It's unsafe, hard to trouble shoot, and just plain tacky. I needed to create an accessory wiring harness that would accommodate my current (and future) electrical needs. Whenever I tackle any somewhat complex project, I find it easiest to start with a sketch.

IMG-2051.jpg



I start with a rough outline of the vehicle, and then add the individual components where I think they might go. I then connect the components with lines representing the wires, along with schematic symbols for relays, grounds, switches, etc. Once I have the rough sketch done, I start mocking up components by printing out full scale pictures of the various components from the manufacturer's CAD drawings. This allows me to see if things are going to fit where I'd like them to. Once I settle into a fairly solid plan, I move to a more refined drawing. I do it in pencil so I can make changes as needed.

IMG-2052.jpg



Now that I can see where everything is going to go, I decide which components can share power, which need their own, where switches, relays, and fuses need to be in relation to the rest of the circuit, etc. I then research the max amperage draw of each of the components and the resulting voltage drop based on the lengths of wire I need to run. I take all of this information, and plan out each individual piece of wire. Gauge, color, and terminal type are identified so I can put together a shopping list. Notice this is really the only place the ground side of each circuit is laid out. I prefer not to draw them into my schematics as it clutters up the drawing, and isn't really necessary anyway as so many of them share common ground locations.

IMG-2053.jpg



I then take this information and use it to make a harness assembly version of my schematic, color coded by wire gauge and with small numbers drawn in indicating switch positions and fuse requirements for each circuit in each PDC.

IMG-2054.jpg



Overkill? Maybe, but it allows me to build clean wiring harnesses with everything loomed together. I only need to remove my interior panels once, install all the wiring, and then just connect the components as I buy them and add them to my build. It also gives me a wiring schematic to look at in the future so I can remember where each of the wires are run and how they are hooked up for troubleshooting purposes. Admittedly, neither of the above schematics are 100% accurate as to how my wiring ended up. I really need to go back and change the master drawing to reflect the last-minute changes I made during install. I've just been too lazy.

Oddly enough, I really enjoy this part of the build! I love the planning, research, and problem solving that goes into making my Jeep more functional for my intended use, while also maintaining an OEM feel. I mean, who doesn't like the cool factor of a few extra switches and gizmos and whatnot, especially when fellow Jeepers look at it and start wondering if it was a factory option they somehow failed to order? And you thought this post was going to be about installing a rear bumper... lol
 
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Endless Summer

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JD
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after reading the wiring schematic post I was going to respond with "you should get a hobby" and then I realized this is your hobby.. Awesome build! Perhaps you could consider reversing your powercoating to appease your wheel angst? Wheels black and rings silver? great looking rig!
 
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tonygiotta

tonygiotta

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'18 Firecracker Red JLUR
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after reading the wiring schematic post I was going to respond with "you should get a hobby" and then I realized this is your hobby.. Awesome build! Perhaps you could consider reversing your powercoating to appease your wheel angst? Wheels black and rings silver? great looking rig!
Thanks, I think... :) This truly is my favorite hobby. I seem to switch between motorcycles and Jeeps every 5 years or so, but the bikes get similar treatment too. Just not nearly as many options when it comes to adding electronics to a motorcycle.

As for the wheels, black wheels with silver rings would have been much simpler as you can buy them that way. I think however that my combination more closely resembles the JL Rubicon wheel that I was trying to re-create.

rubicon-jl-wheels-and-tires-close-up.jpg


853ED530-C0DB-4927-A9C9-761FA9A7C897.jpeg


Not a perfect match, but close enough. Wish they still looked that pretty though... :(
 

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