I sold the Jeep! The size, comfort, and capability of a 4cyl Wrangler finally got to me and I’ve replaced it with a pickup. More info on that purchase to follow. Before it left I treated it to full doors and took it on a road trip to Vermont. The doors helped with the noise significantly, though the real payoff was in visibility. Trying clean ice and salt from fading vinyl isn’t an experience I’d like repeat.
All in all the road trip was tolerable, but sleeping in the front seats left me wanting a truck I can stretch out in. So it’s goodbye to the TJ 🙂
About 50 years ago, a T-33A trainer crashed in the mountains of Colorado. The wreckage was left in the woods and can still be visited by a short hike at the end of a 4×4 trail. It’s tucked away behind the Bunce School road between Lyons and Allenspark, CO. There are a number of trails in the area suitable for a stock-ish SUV, so this past weekend we finally went to check them out.
The trail itself can be seen in the video below. This is the first time I’ve tried a timelapse and I can’t claim its particularly watchable.
There were a few sections of rocks that were fun, but nothing particularly difficult. The trail ended at the hike, and maybe a 100 yards in we started seeing wreckage.
It’s surprisingly well preserved, though some of the wreckage did show signs of being used for target practice. Overall it was a great drive, only marred by the dozens of rental UTVs passing through. Chances are we’ll be going back soon, Coney Flats is nearby and includes an elusive Colorado water crossing.
As much as I like the TJ around town, it is completely miserable on long distance drives. The combination of a noisy soft top, gutless engine, and terrible gas mileage makes for exhausting trips. I had been debating selling it and buying something more comfortable, but in the end a truck with more luxury features just means a truck with more things to break. And if nothing else, the Jeep is simple to fix. So I’m left with trying to make it more comfortable.
Starting in ’03, TJs came with a much thicker soft top material that is supposed to be as quiet as a hard top. Unfortunately my soft top was an aftermarket design, so I couldn’t just swap out the skin with a newer one. Luckily I was able to snag a stock soft top frame and a nearly new replacement skin off of craigslist.
It’s spice colored instead of the orignal black, but so far I’m liking the contrast. I haven’t had it out on the highway yet, but just having windows that aren’t hazed over is already an upgrade. The next step is going to be replacing the front upper doors. The windows are either all the way open or all the way closed, and the windblast from fully open windows is exhausting after a few hours on the highway. The solution is either hard doors with roll up windows, or soft upper doors with glass sliders. The first would be quieter, but the second would make it easier to run just the lower half doors when the weather’s nice. It will probably come down to whatever turns up cheap on craigslist.
Another problem with the Jeep is the lack of secure storage. I usually travel with my laptop, which means either dragging it around or taking the risk of losing it if someone breaks in. I had been thinking of bolting in a locking tool box, but thanks to a freebie thrown in by the soft top seller, I ended up with a more elegant solution.
The trunk is made of sheet metal and bolts directly to the tub, so with the tailgate locked it should be reasonably secure. It’s not perfect since it’s awkwardly positioned when the rear seat is removed, but you can’t beat the price.
I finally got around to freshening up a few parts on the Jeep. My airbag light had been on for six months or so and was accompanied with a complete failure of the horn. A new clockspring fixed that and now I’m back to blaring the horn and driving in safety. The second was a little more interesting. The front end had been making a clunking noise during turns and braking. I assumed it was due to bad sway bar links…and it was, sort of. The passenger side lower bolt had been replaced with a bolt that was too small in diameter, so there was slop in the sway bar. Since a torx T55 head 12 mm bolt was going to be impossible to find on a Sunday, I figured this would be a good time to replace it with a diy quick disconnect.
Looks great, right? Turns out all the online DIY guides suggest a 7/16 clevis pin that’s smaller than the inner diameter of the bushing. So while it’s quiet at the moment, I’m expecting the clunk to come back. I’ll need to source a 12mm pin to get the fit right.
The last fix was to the rear speakers. I had been hearing a rattling noise from the passenger side speaker, which I assumed was blown. Ended up replacing both speakers with a pair of Polk 6.5s. The good news is they sound much better than the old Walmart speakers I pulled, the bad is that the rattle is still there. Something in the soundbar is resonating. Eventually I’ll need to address that, but for now I can at least crank the stereo without worrying about anything falling apart.
Went through Pennsylvania Gulch a second time last weekend, it was a bit easier without the snow. This time John was in the lead, which you can see in the video below.
Afterwards we had hoped to find a campsite in Gordon’s Gulch. It was full…and not all that interesting, so we headed further down Switzerland trail. We ended up at this gorgeous spot just next to Sugarloaf mountain.
On my way to spending the 4th of July in Nebraska, the Jeep’s alternator failed. On the way back, the throwout bearing grenaded. Things always come in threes, so I lost my favorite hat out the window while I was at it. The alternator I swapped in an Autozone parking lot, but on the way back I limped home and put off the bearing until I had a weekend for the job. Since it meant dropping the transmission I replaced the clutch while I had it apart. Here’s a shot of the throwout bearing, not much left to it:
The rest of the clutch job went as expected, including the usual PITA process of pulling the pilot bearing.
The Jeep’s now back on the road, but probably not for long. The string of failures combined with terrible gas mileage on the highway trip to Nebraska has me looking at more entertaining options. Something with factory lockers maybe?
I have some parts waiting to go on the Jeep, but lately I’ve just been enjoying it. Last weekend I headed out with John to check out Rollins Pass in Gilpin. We car camped on Saturday and then set out for what supposed to be an easy drive to a hiking trail head. Turns out that a late May snow storm left the last section of the road impassable. We ended up driving through a few snow drifts to get as far up the trail as possible.
The snow pack was still entirely covering the road above Yankee Doodle lake. We might have tried it anyway, but the the steep dropoff into the lake convinced to go the rest of the way on foot. We ended up hiking to the old Needles Eye tunnel at the top of the pass.
The way back turned into a more entertaining drive. The sun had softened the snow and each drift now included a truck buried to its axles in snow. I got to use the snatch strap for the first time and yanked a TJ out of the first drift. John got his turn on the second drift and snatched out a Yukon. I didn’t take any pictures of the recovery, but the video below includes some footage of us getting through the drifts. With a bit of momentum we both made it through fine.
I bought the TJ last Summer to replace my daily driver WRX. Since I’m broke, I had to find one for about what I could sell the Subaru for. That meant if I wanted a TJ, I would have to settle for the 2.5l 4 cylinder and most likely one with high miles. I lucked out on the second and found one with a reasonable 138k on the clock, but it had a few issues that needed sorting.
I’ve now worked my way through most of those and so I’m on to the first upgrade…sort of. ’97 through ’02 TJs came with a thin, open sided, fuel tank skid plate. This skid has a bad habit of rusting out and even when new doesn’t provide great protection.
You can see in the picture that the skid has been dented and is actually deforming the gas tank. The exposed corner of the tank is also showing some gouges from impacts. Fortunately the ’03+ TJs came with a much sturdier, closed skid pate that’s a bolt on replacement and should hold up better. Here they are side by side.
The new skid is a MOPAR part and other than the general PITA process of dropping the fuel tank, went on like you’d expect for a factory part. I’ve also left off the tow hitch after running it into just about every rock in Moab. I’ll need to add some rear recovery points…or just keep my eye on craigslist for a bumper with an integrated hitch.