Have you ever pulled an all-nighter before a big race or off-road event? Well, I haven’t, but it looks like I’m headed down that path, as my old $600 Craigslist Jeep Cherokee still needs tons of work before it can conquer Moab.

I bought this 1995 Jeep last fall with the goal of sprucing it up to take it to Moab’s 50th Easter Jeep Safari, a huge off-roading Jeep festival in Utah and one of the biggest four-wheeling events in the country.

Advertisement

Reality hit me hard the other day; I’ve got to drive my old Cherokee 1,600 miles from Michigan to Utah, beat the crap out of it on some of the world’s most treacherous terrain, and then drive it back.

Now, driving a rusty $600 car 25 hours is already a tall order. But to drive it 25 hours, smash it up on some rocks and then drive it another 25 hours? Pshh. Borderline impossible.

But I’m all for pushing boundaries, so I’m more excited than I am intimidated.

That might change in a few weeks, because I’m behind. Oh boy am I behind. I plan to leave sometime around the 18th of March, meaning I’ve got about five weeks to go. That probably sounds like plenty of time, but I’ve still got tons of work to do, and I’ll be freezing my Arsch off in an unheated garage here in southeast Michigan.

What’s Done

I’ll admit: I haven’t done much to my XJ since taking it on a mud-packed adventure with the new Cherokee KL.

Advertisement

I’ve cobbled together a $120 lift kit, which I’ve already shown you, and I’ve even started installing that kit. But I’d say I’m at about 10% complete right now.

I Got Some Spare Parts

The chances of making it to Moab are probably not too bad. But the chances of getting to Moab and not breaking any parts while off-roading are slim to none. Stuff will break. And if it doesn’t, I’m not wheeling hard enough.

In anticipation of the carnage, I’ve gathered some spare parts. And by “some spare parts,” I mean “basically an entire drivetrain.” Here’s what I’ve got:

A Chrysler 8.25 rear axle: $85

A spare rear Chrysler 8.25 axle sits in my front yard. It cost me only $85 off Craigslist.

There’s a good chance that I’ll decide to weld my rear diff. That means more stress on rear axles shafts, and while the 8.25 axle is a strong one, I’m bringing spare shafts just in case.

Advertisement

I haven’t decided yet if I want to bring the entire housing, as they do sometimes bend.

Front and rear driveshafts

A front spare driveshaft (top) and a rear spare driveshaft (bottom).

Driveshafts can be a weak spot, though usually the yoke and/or U-joint will break before the driveshaft twists off. Still, I had these lying around, so I’ll bring them along and maybe just steal U-joints off them if needed.

A Dana 30 front axle

There’s a Dana 30 front axle sitting in my backyard. My landlord must hate me.

My front differential will remain open, as I don’t want to pay for a ratcheting locker. Still, axles don’t need to be locked for them to shear axle shafts. In fact, in some instances, the uncontrolled wheelspin caused by an open diff can put axle shafts in jeopardy.

Advertisement

So I’ll be pulling the shafts out of this $75 Dana 30 that’s sitting in my backyard just to have as backup.

New Process 231 Command Trac Transfer Case

A spare NP 231 transfer case sits in my back yard gathering icicles.

I bought this transfer case from the same guy who sold me the front axle. I met him through Craigslist, and like many people I’ve met through the second greatest website ever, he was quite a character.

Advertisement

The Craigslister was about my age, working in this dark, tiny garage with a propane torpedo heater blaring in the corner. He was in way over his head. He had three transmissions and a couple of four-liter engines sitting in the corner. In the center of the small garage was a four-liter hanging from the chains of an engine hoist. He had just pulled it from one of his many Jeeps sitting outside.

“I’ll sell you this engine for $150. I really could just use the money. You know what? Let’s make it $100.”

Man, was that a tough deal to turn down. A 4.0 inline-six for 100 bucks. But, alas, my garage is chock full of projects, so I settled for this $50 transfer case. The chain in the $600 XJ’s T-case is skipping, so if I can’t fix that easily, I’ll just swap it out for this case and hope it all works.

Universal Joints

Spare U-Joints are a must for any hard-core off-road adventure. The Yoke on the left is also a weak point on XJ front driveshafts.

Many off-roaders call U-joints “fuses,” because they’re often the weakest link in the driveline. They’re found in the front axles and in both front and rear driveshafts, and they act as a coupling that allows for a “bend” between two connected shafts.

Advertisement

The item on the left is a centering ball yoke: the weak link on an XJ front driveshaft.

Rear Brake Line

Opponaut Santiago bending a brake line LIKE A BOSS

My rear brake line was toast. I mean, I barely touched it and it sprung a leak.

Lucky for me, reader and Sno*Drift rally stud Santiago came over and schooled me in the art of brake line bending and flaring. I bought him food for his valiant service. I figure it’s the least I can do, seeing as he’s greatly reduced my chances of losing brakes and driving off a cliff. Thanks Santiago!

This brake line could have sent me careening off a cliff

Front Lift Kit

Opponaut Santiago dealt with borderline inhumane working conditions to help me install my front lift spring

I somehow managed to wrangle Santiago into helping me install my front lift kit. The Jeep is still muddy from the XJ vs KL comparison, so the poor guy had to deal with a cold garage and lots of mud and rust falling all over him.

Advertisement

Still, we used a rented spring compressor, extracted the old spring, and threw in the new one. Net height gain: 3.25 inches. Pretty good!

What’s Not Done

There’s still a ton of stuff that needs to be taken care of before I can start torture testing this thing. The rear lift needs to go on, brakes need to be inspected further, I need to bolt on a tow hitch, fix my radiator, swap my water pump, and probably a lot more that I haven’t figured out yet.

Rear Lift

The saggy rear leaf springs need to be swapped for a Chevy S10 leaf pack, netting hopefully about 3.5-inches of lift.

The rear springs on my XJ are sagging harder than a suburban kid who watched too many rap videos in the ‘90s. But I plan to remove all the leaves sans the main leaf, and bolt the Chevy S10 leaf pack underneath for a net gain of, hopefully, about 3.5 inches.

Advertisement

The Bastard Pack seems pretty straightforward to put together, but nothing is straightforward on a rust-bucket like this.

Brakes

New brake pads

I’ve done the brake lines (well, Santiago has), but I still need to swap the pads and shoes, and check my calipers and wheel cylinders for leaks or other signs of wear or damage.

Advertisement

When you’re descending a 45 degree grade, you can’t afford to take chances with brakes.

Tow Hitch

This hitch will be removed from my other vehicle and bolted to my $600 XJ.

Right now, I have no rear tow point. Meaning if I get stuck, and nobody can pull me from the front, I’m hosed six ways from Sunday. So I’m removing this rusty hitch from my white XJ and bolting it onto my $600 heap Cherokee.

Advertisement

Taking it off will be no easy task, though, as I’ll have to unbolt and remove the rear bumper to access the nuts on the inside of the unibody rail. Hopefully the bolts aren’t too rusty.

Radiator Leaks

My radiator is leaking near the fill tube.

I’ve got a radiator leak somewhere near the radiator cap. I’m not sure if the cap is leaking, or if there’s a crack in the plastic end tank. Either way, I have to get this fixed, as not only will it be warm in Moab, but crawling on rocks means my radiator isn’t going to be getting much ram air.

Water Pump

I’ll install this lightly used water pump just in case.

My water pump is probably fine, but I’m not risking it. I have to drive 1,600 miles one way and off-road at very low speeds. I need my cooling system to be in tip-top shape, so I’ll throw in this lightly used, but very nice water pump.

Shims, New Driveshaft And/Or Slip Yoke Eliminator

You can’t just put new springs under a Jeep and expect it to drive fine down the road. There’s always some sort of odd vibration you weren’t expecting.

Advertisement

What often happens is the driveshaft angle becomes too steep for the U-joint, so it binds on itself. This leads to horrible noises and tons of vibration at highway speeds.

The solution is a driveshaft with a double-cardan joint that can handle the higher articulation angles. This requires a slight modification to the transfer case that allows the driveshaft to bolt to the T-case’s output shaft, rather than sliding along its splines. This modification is called a slip-yoke eliminator, and it’s a fairly expensive endeavor (about $100+ a front XJ driveshaft from a junkyard).

In some cases, simply rotating the pinion angle via a set of degree shims can do the trick, but usually shims and a new driveshaft are the ticket to vibration-free driving. Who knows, maybe I’ll get lucky and I’ll finish up my lift and the XJ will glide down the road like a magic carpet!

For some reason, I doubt that.