My History with Wranglers
Since I was a little kid I always thought Wranglers were cool, and though I’ve owned over 60 cars in my 18 years of driving, for some reason I’ve never owned a Wrangler… until last summer. I knew the new JL Wrangler was going to be coming out soon, so I didn’t want to “settle” and buy a JK just yet. Information about the new JL was scarce but insiders knew that it was going to be something great, and that holding out would be worth it. Still, I got the itch and decided to pick up an older Wrangler to play with for the summer. A 2004 Wrangler Sport. It’d been much loved, set up for mudding with a 3.5″ lift and 33″ Wrangler Duratracs, but it lived in Alabama until 2015 which meant it wasn’t like a Michigan Jeep – it wasn’t rusty. It was a 4.0L with a 5 speed manual – one of the sloppiest transmissions I’ve ever owned, but it got the job done.
To play around with the Jeep was fun. I could take the top off, like the Mazda MX-5 I’d owned for years, but unlike the MX-5, I didn’t have to worry about curbs or pot holes. To use every day, the Jeep was a little less fun. It would easily do 60 mph, but any higher than that felt dangerous. The old TJ was “floaty” to say the least. To top it off, someone had installed Detroit lockers in the front and rear end. This meant that when the Jeep was in 4WD, the front axle was locked. This meant that you couldn’t have it on 4WD unless you were on very slippery surfaces like snow, sand, or mud. Being in 4WD on dry pavement and turning could ruin the front end since the wheels wanted to travel at the same speed and instead of turning. Being on a slippery surface with the front end locked resulted in the Jeep only wanting to drive straight, not turn. This meant it was useless on ice and snow when in 4WD, which is the whole point. Every once in a while, the locker would decide to engage on its own around a corner, so you’d get pulled toward the outside of the corner randomly and sometimes violently. This wasn’t fun at 55 mph, and scared the Hell out of me the 2 or 3 times it happened.
In addition to the lockers, commuting in it wasn’t fun if you have rear seat passengers and/or anything to take with you. In a 2 door Wrangler, when the rear seat is installed and not folded down, there is almost no room between the closed tailgate and the rear seat. You may be able to fit 2 bags of groceries or a single backpack, but that’s it. Want to take family of 4 on a beach day? Not going to happen. I liked that Jeep. I didn’t love it. Because I live in Michigan, and because the old TJ wasn’t rusty, I was able to sell it within 10 hours of putting it in my side yard for sale — for a cash offer of full asking price. I informed the new owners about the lockers and the associated downsides, but they were going to mud the Jeep anyway, so they didn’t care. I got a text from them a couple days ago with a picture of it covered in mud, so it looks like they’re enjoying it.
This past February the new 2018 Jeep JL Wranglers started to show up at local dealers. I didn’t want to buy a first year vehicle, but I also didn’t want to wait. I’d done first year vehicles before without issues from a myriad of manufacturers. 2005 Scion tC, 2012 Acura TL, 2016 Mazda MX-5, 2017 Mazda CX-9 – granted all of those manufacturers are Japanese and this is Chrysler we’re talking about, but hey – they’re owned by the Italians now so it’s basically a Ferrari right? Oh wait, those aren’t reliable either? Well damn. Anyway, I couldn’t wait, so I decided to start looking around for one with the options I wanted – which was all of them.
If I was going to go whole-hog on a new Wrangler I wanted to do it right. Buying it in the winter wasn’t a great experience, since I had to help brush snow off it to look at it, but I was still excited. I was getting the Jeep I’d waited so long to own.
It wasn’t log until the modding began. I joined a Jeep forum (big mistake) and kept seeing all of these great, modified new Wranglers and they looked so good. Level of want was high. I don’t need a crazy rock crawler or anything, so 40″ tires and 7″ lifts are out of the question – and out of the budget, but even smaller mods helped the new Wrangler’s look a lot. I went from 33″ tires to 35″ tires. Of course they wouldn’t fit on the factory wheels, so those had to be upgraded too. While I was upgrading the wheels I might as well go wider right? And poke them out just a little. After that was done the Jeep rode a little low, so on went the 3.5″ lift kit. The lift greatly increased the look of the Jeep by removing the “Jeep rake” that Chrysler puts on from the factory. I don’t know why the Wranglers all angle down toward the front, but it looks odd. The lift kit not only gave me lift, but it did away with the weird rake, so it sits level now. On the JL Rubicon the kit looks like it lifts the truck even more, since the Rubicon’s fenders are a couple inches higher than those on the Sport and Sahara models from the factory.
Not only does the JL look great, it drives great too. I can do 80 on the highway with no issues. The JL tracks straight and it doesn’t wobble or shake. It’s definitely not a sports car, and wind is an issue, but it’s much better than the TJ. The 8 speed transmission is smooth and shifting is hardly even perceptible. Gas mileage isn’t great, but I’m averaging about 17 MPG combined normal driving and 15.4 MPG if I pull my quad on a trailer. My boss’ wife just got a JL Sahara, which is stock still, and he can get 22 MPG combined in that (somehow).
No Roof, No Doors,
With the 4-door model I now have room to put kids, and stuff at the same time. The best part is that the roof and doors still come off, which makes for some fun driving in the summer. Driving with the doors and roof off feels illegal, and in some states driving with the doors off is illegal. Taking the doors and the roof off poses a problem though. Where do you put them? The hard top isn’t necessarily heavy, but it’s huge. It’s also made of very thin fiberglass and damages easily when not on the Jeep. The back window of the hard top has nothing to keep it closed, so it flops open easily when removed from the Jeep, which can cause damage. Removing the top is two-man job, and is made even more difficult by the fact that my Jeep is lifted, so I’m too short and my wife isn’t strong enough or tall enough either to remove the top. And what if I don’t have someone to help me and wanted to get it off by myself anyway? Top problems.
On the JL, the doors are made of aluminum, so they’re much lighter than the doors of previous Wranglers. This helps, but you’ve still got four large doors that you need to put somewhere to keep safe. My garage isn’t particularly large, so a door cart won’t work for me. I needed a better solution.
Thankfully, the above problems can be solved by a little DIY and some Internet research. The first area of business was being able to remove the top by myself. For this I chose an electric hoist. I picked this up for around $120 at Harbor Freight. It has an 880 lb capacity and the hard top only weighs about 150 lbs, so it lifts it with ease. Installation was fairly simple – I bought an 8′ piece of steel square bar and laid it across the rafters above the garage. The hoist mounts to that so that all of the load is spread across many rafters. You then brace the bar with 2x4s so it can’t move around and you’re good to go.
This provided an elegant solution that I can remove and reinstall the Jeep’s top by myself, plus I can use it for other things like hoisting the front of the lawn mower up to sharpen the blades.
Hard Top Dolly
There are many plans available online for a hard top dolly. This design is one of the most common and one of the easiest to make. You can buy an almost identical dolly on Quadratech for $220, or you can build this one yourself for about $25. I chose to go the $25 route. The cart is very simple and construction only took me around an hour from start to finish.
All of the weight of the hard top is on the back with the glass, so the hard top sits on the cart nicely and is very stable. One person can easily push the cart around, even with the small 2″ casters. This works great because I don’t have to suspend the hard stop from the ceiling to store it, which somewhat freaks me out even though I’m sure it’d be fine, as a lot of people store it that way. Instead, I can just roll it behind my ATV in the bump-out and it’s safe and out of the way.
Storing Four Large Doors
I’m thankful that Jeep made the doors on the new JL out of aluminum. I remember taking the doors off of my TJ and they were extremely heavy. They were hard to take off while being stable since that Jeep was lifted as well, and once you got them off they were unwieldy to move and handle. Luckily the JL doors are much lighter, and the designers at Jeep even put a little handle under the arm rest of each door that you can reach through the open window and use to take the door off the Jeep and carry it around. It’s a nice touch.
For mounting the doors, I decided to hang them with bike hooks. I got two 8′ long 2x4s and screwed them to the back wall of the garage. I screwed them into every stud I could with 3.5″ screws. I then measured where the doors would go and measured how far apart the hooks needed to be to hold the doors securely. Each hook is rated to hold about 80 lbs, and I used two per door. If you wanted to be paranoid you could run 3 per door. If I remember correctly the hooks were around $4 each, but I can’t seem to find them on Home Depot’s site anymore.
For anyone who is curious, the front doors weigh 47 lbs, and the rear doors weigh 34 lbs. The glass and window regulator are probably the heaviest parts. To compare that to the steel doors on a JK, the front doors of a JK are 63 lbs, and the rear doors are 47 lbs. Aluminum wins.
The solution works well though, and the doors are up and out of the way. I park my motorcycle in front of the doors and my wife is still able to park her car on that side of the garage, so it works out well for everyone. With the top in the bump-out behind the ATV, I can also put the topless / doorless Jeep in the garage, so I don’t have to constantly uninstall and reinstall the doors and top. Luckily my Jeep isn’t my only vehicle, so for the summer it’s going to be treated like a motorcycle. If I feel like top-off/door-off fun, and it’s not going to rain, I’ll take the Jeep. If it’s too hot or it is going to rain, I’ll drive my Golf.
I know none of these solutions are new, but they’re very cheap and they do work well for making your life a whole lot easier when it comes to removing and storing different parts of your Wrangler. I hope someone finds this helpful. If you have a Wrangler, give me a shout out in the comments below.