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How I rebuilt my Jeep’s suspension on the cheap

This summer, I started picking away at my Jeep’s suspension. When I bought my Wrangler this past spring, with a little over 50,000 miles on it, I knew that there was a good chance I’d need to do some work on it before long.

I never thought I’d end up doing so much work on it so soon. I certainly didn’t expect my suspension to be a source of trouble.

Because of the hefty cost of suspension components, I’ve been breaking up the work rather than doing it all at once. Working on your suspension can be a time consuming process, especially if you’ve never done it before.

So, here is my experience so far.

So what needed to be fixed?

The first suspension component I discovered was off was the drag-link which had been bent outward by something.

The first bad suspension component I discovered was the drag-link. It had been bent outward by a rock or something. I still don’t know what would have bent the drag-link without bending the lower tie-rod as well.

I first noticed a few suspension problems after an oil change. The mechanic had noticed my drag link, the long steel bar connecting the steering wheel box to the wheels themselves, was bent.

The bent drag-link would throw off my steering geometry a little, but he assured me, unless the jeep started pulling to one side, I’d probably be fine.

I didn’t think much of it until after a drive up to the Iron Range OHV park with my dad. I noticed the drag-link tie-rod end’s joint was going bad. The grease boot was missing.

After returning home from Duluth, I figured I’d let the dealership take a look. I was due for an oil change anyway. This way I’d know if anything else was wrong.

After picking up my Jeep, I was told the drag-link tie-rod end was bad, the drag-link was bent (I already knew about both of these), my driver-side tie-rod end was bad and last but not least, my front shocks were shot.

I wasn’t at all surprised about the last one. I’d already figured that out on my particularly bouncy ride home.

Assessing the situation

I was shocked by the quote I received from the dealership. The repairs totaled nearly $900, but something didn’t feel right. The shocks alone were quoted at $300. A little research revealed the dealership was inflating their parts prices by as much as 50 percent. A little more research revealed the factory shocks weren’t much good to begin with.

Next, I checked if everything they’d told me was true. Sure enough the driver-side tie-rod end, which is part of the mechanism keeping the wheels pointed in the same direction, was bad. The boot was ripped and a peak inside revealed a whole of grit suspended in grease.

At lease now I had a better idea of what I needed to do.

Parts parts parts

I ended up picking up a set of Monroe Reflex Monotube shocks for about $40 each. These shocks look good and work even better.

I ended up choosing a set of Monroe Reflex Monotube shocks for about $40 each. These shocks look good and work even better.

Finding replacement parts was easy. A search of Amazon yielded exactly what I needed.

Choosing a good set of shocks wasn’t quite as easy. I wanted to get a quality set of monotube shocks, but didn’t want to break the bank on a set of Bilsteins.

Monotube shocks provided better handling on and off-road at the expense of ride comfort.

I ended up settling on a set of Monroe’s Reflex Monotube shocks. After checking out a few off-road and truck forums, I found they had a good reputation for being good off-road, but well mannered on the hard stuff. They were also inexpensive; the pair cost me roughly $80 on Amazon.

Because I was going to have to disassemble most of the front end anyway, I figured I’d shop around and see if I could get a new set of coil springs while I was at it.

My new bumper had caused the front end to sag quite a bit, and I hoped the new springs would level things out.

I found someone on Craigslist selling a set of brand-new coil springs off a Rubicon for $50. His Jeep hadn’t left the dealership before a 4-inch lift was installed.

The Shopping List

Steering:

Shocks:

Springs

Getting it all apart

essentials-wd-40

It took plenty of penetrating fluid and WD-40 to free many of the rust welded components.

Before any of the new parts could go on, the old ones had to come off. This proved far more difficult than you might think.

I found a lot of the bolts were rust-welded together. This made getting things apart a whole lot harder than I’d expected.

Getting them loose took a lot of penetrating fluid and even more elbow grease. If you’re planning any suspension upgrades, I’d suggest investing in a better penetrating fluid. WD-40 didn’t cut it and I ended up using almost an entire bottle of liquid wrench getting things free.

A few rusty nuts; however, weren’t my biggest challenge. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t get the drag-link tie-rod end free from the steering arm.

Despite it's unfortunate name, this Pickle Fork was all it took to get the stuck tie-rod free.

Despite it’s unfortunate name, this Pickle Fork was all it took to get the stuck tie-rod free.

The nut had come loose easily enough, but no matter how hard I hit it with a hammer, it wouldn’t budge.

It ultimately took renting a pickle fork from O’riley Auto Parts to get the thing free.

I’d planned for four or five hours to get everything unbolted and put back together again. Just getting everything apart had taken that long. It dawned on me that this was going to be a two-day job.

Putting Humpty Dumpty back together again.

It didn't take long to put everything back together. By far the hardest part was getting the new coil springs in.

It didn’t take long to put everything back together. By far, the hardest part was getting the new coil springs in.

Finally, after five hours wrestling with rusty bolts, stuck tie-rods and learning to do all of this for the first time, I was ready to start putting everything back together.

The shocks went on easily enough. The hardest part was securing the passenger side shock. The battery box didn’t leave enough room to fit a speed wrench or socket. You just have to tighten it a quarter turn at a time.

Getting the coil springs on presented another difficulty.

The coils I’d picked up were either longer or stiffer than the ones that came with my Jeep. Even with the axle at full droop, I had to struggle to get the springs in.

That, thankfully, was the most trouble I had getting everything back together. Everything else just bolted back together.

The Verdict

After a few weeks of driving on the new springs and shocks, there was a notable improvement going over bumps or uneven ground and the Jeep didn’t seem to bounce and wobble anymore.

The new shocks had made a huge difference.

Back that thing up

After having an opportunity to test out the Monroe Reflexes, I decided to replace the rear shocks.

After having an opportunity to test out the Monroe Reflexes, I decided to replace the rear shocks.

A few weeks after finishing the front end, I decided to start working on the back.

I planned to replace the rear shocks with matching Monroes. Since I didn’t have a floor-jack, I was going to have to wait on the new springs.

I; however, didn’t need a jack to replace the shocks. After work one Friday, I backed the Jeep on to a set of Rhino Ramps and chocked the front wheels.

All it took was getting a few bolts loose and out dropped the old shocks.

They didn’t seem to be damaged, but by putting one end on the ground it took next to no effort to compress it. As I’d suspected, they were shot.

With Niecie’s help, I compressed the new shocks — I had to put almost my entire weight on them to get them to compress — then handed them to her to position under the Jeep.

What’s next?

Sometime in September, I plan to install the rear coil springs in the back.

When I installed the new coils in the front, the front end was raised about 2-inches, leveling the Jeep. I’d like my Jeep to have a slight rake (where the front end is lower than the rear, typically about an inch or so).

Hopefully, the new springs in the rear will raise the back end an inch or two to give it a more aggressive stance.

If, after installing the rear springs, the rake is too aggressive, I have a set of 3/4-inch coil spacers which I can use to raise the front end a little.

I also plan to replace my control arm bushings. How I plan to do this is a little unorthodox.

Instead of purchasing new control arm bushings and having to press them, I picked up a set of like-new control arms (bushing’s included) for less than half the cost.

The benefit of picking up a set of control arms was that I could not only improve the ride of my Jeep with new bushings, but have replacement control arms available should one get bent.

Finding Help

If you are working on your Wrangler’s suspension, I highly recommend checking out this do-it-your self alignment guide on wayalife.com . Note that’s just for the 2007-2016 model year Wranglers.

What about you?

What are your plans for your vehicle? Working on suspension? Have something else planned, tell me about it in the comments section below.

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4 Comments

  • Steve

    If you’ve been used to living with a bouncy/swaying ride, a shock upgrade is like a revelation.

    On our XJ, I’ve been working mostly on getting it back to factory specs and doing TONS of deferred and preventative maintenance over the last year or so. It was pretty tired out when we bought it 5 years ago. Thankfully, it’s a very simple vehicle to wrench on, so I’ve been able to do most of the work myself:

    https://mtdrift.com/the-jeep/

    I have upgraded the headlights to H4s (a weak spot on Cherokees), and replaced the old, worn out front seats with much better thrones from the WJ Grand Cherokee (a direct bolt in!)

    On the list for future mods are, in no particular order:

    – Full length rook rack
    – A very mild lift (no more than 2″) with heavier duty springs and shocks, slightly larger tires
    – Some under-body protection (oil pan/trans)
    – Upgraded interior lighting
    – Some sort of built-in modular storage system for the cargo area
    – Fridge

    We’re trying to keep things simple and reliable since we’re planning on doing some much more extended trips in the long term.

    September 15, 2016 - 10:18 am Reply
    • tobiasmann

      I bought my JK this spring and have had lots of fun and spent way more money than I probably should have fixing it. It’s a 2013 but the previous owner wasn’t kind to it.

      I absolutely love the look of the XJs and have considered on numerous occasions getting one to clean up as a daily driver / beater to save on the high miles I’d been putting on my JK until recently.

      You have quite the wish list for that little Cherokee, but I think I’ll save my comments and share them on your blog. 🙂

      September 15, 2016 - 10:54 am Reply
  • Steve

    Also, how do you like those Nittos?

    September 15, 2016 - 10:18 am Reply
    • tobiasmann

      To be honest after almost 20,000 miles on them the jury is still out. I love how they look, they are bullet proof to a fault, and have been good performers off-road, but their on-road manners leaves something to be desired. They are load range E tires (10 ply construction) making them very very tough off-road but harsh on-road. I have tamed them somewhat, recently, by dropping the air pressure in them to 34 PSI (I had been running them 10 PSI higher). Nittos have a reputation for being stiff walled (not always a good thing) and tough as nails (generally a good thing). If I had to recommend for or against them I would say they are good inexpensive tires that offer fantastic on/off road performance and tread life if you are wiling to give up a little comfort. Seriously after 20,000 miles I have 11/32s (of 15/32s originally) of tread left. I would probably recommend BFG KO2s in a lower load-range over these. I am considering a set of 33-inch Toyo Open Country Mud Terrains for my next set.

      September 15, 2016 - 11:06 am Reply

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