Don’t Cheap On Your Jeep!
LifestyleTech Tips August 1, 2020 Kurt Schneider
I bought my first brand new vehicle when I was in college nearly 30 years ago. In keeping with my family’s tradition of loyalty to the Jeep brand, it was a 1993 Jeep Wrangler YJ. Buying that rig at that point of my life was not the best decision. I was attending college full-time, playing college football, and was only making money working part-time. I had to scrape money together every month to make the payments, and embarrassingly enough, I also had to lean on my parents many times to help me out.
My old YJ, many years ago on the Rubicon
But hey! I was in college! And college kids make mistakes and bad decisions! So in keeping with that theme, I made yet another bad call. What is the first thing everyone wants as soon as they get a new Jeep? Yep. A lift and bigger tires. Armed with my new Sears credit card, I walked into the Sears automotive center that the store near my house had to peruse wheels and tires. I had just enough credit on that card to pay for a set of American Racing wheels wrapped in 33 inch BF Goodrich all-terrains. Problem was, I could not buy them until I had gained at least three inches of lift.
Back in those days before the internet, they had these things called magazines. They were these paper things with pictures and words in them. I picked up a few Jeep and 4×4 magazines to do some research on lifting a leaf-sprung YJ, and found my solution: a three inch shackle lift. For around a mere sixty bucks, I would be set!
The local 4×4 shop nearest me was called Archer Brothers Jeep Parts. At the time I did not know it, but that (now-closed) shop was legendary in the annuals of Jeep and Rubicon lore. I confidently strode in and told the old guy, Art Archer, behind the counter that I needed a three inch shackle lift for my new Jeep. Art sighed, hung his head, stared at the counter for second, looked back up, and replied, “Kid, you don’t want a shackle lift” while shaking his head. He then went on to explain all the reasons why I did not want lift shackles, much of which I don’t think I really listened to because in that instant all my hopes and dreams of a lifted Jeep by the weekend were crushed.
Jeep print Ad from 1972 featuring Art Archer
Art then went on to explain to me the “correct” way to lift my Jeep. He started talking about new leaf springs, a new drive-line, possibly new gears, re-welding perches on the axle housings. With each item he listed, in my head a cash register “ka-ching!” went off. Then to add insult to injury, he added, “But if you REALLY want to do it right….” and then proceeded to take me outside to show me some axles he had in front of the shop and began talking about things that at that time were way over my head: springs over the axles, putting these old, grimy looking axles under my brand-new Jeep, new brake lines, etc. etc. Being young and dumb, I did not realize at the time that Art Archer was giving me a serious first-class education in Jeeps. Thinking everything that he listed was unobtainable for me, his words flew past me and I didn’t really listen. Walking back into the shop, I said meekly, “Mr Archer, there is no way I can afford all that.”
Mr Archer then said to me, “Kid, there is no shame in driving a bone stock Jeep. That is how we all started. Drive it and wheel it that way for now, save your money and lift it the right way.”
I drove away depressed, thinking (unfortunately) in my head, “stupid old man”. Then it occurred to me that there was another 4×4 shop a couple of towns north. I got on the highway and made my way there for a second opinion.
Years of experience both racing and on the trail made Archer Brothers a Jeep legend
Compared to Archer Brothers, this shop was glitzy and glamorous. Instead of a yard filled with old Willys and CJ’s in the front, it had flashy lifted, brand new Jeeps like mine in a showroom. All the employees had matching button-down shirts, and the place did not reek of gear fluid like Archer Brothers. I meandered up to the polished counter and right away a younger guy smiled and asked what I needed. After explaining that I was on a budget and needed about three inches of lift on my YJ, he smiled and said, “I have EXACTLY what you need! A three inch shackle lift!”
I was surrounded by hot chicks, until they found out I had a 3 inch body lift. Then they left.
Here’s when things got weird, and I have no explanation for. While I did not listen to a single word Mr. Archer said about the correct way to do things, I must have listened to him when it came to a shackle lift. I told the guy at the counter that I absolutely did not want a shackle lift, and then maybe to sound like I knew what I was talking about, parroted a couple of the reasons that Mr. Archer had given me. Without his plastic smile even flinching, the sales person responded, “Well, then you need a three inch body lift! It is easy to put on, you can do it yourself, and it is only $80!” He then went on to explain that I would not have to mess with the steering, the gears, and the ride and handling would all be the same! SCORE! I passed over the cash and drove home with a smile on face and my body-lift kit on my passenger seat.
If you look closely, you can see the three inch pucks of the body lift under my rocker panel.
It was not quite as easy to put on as I had been told. Essentially a body lift is plastic pucks (spacers) that go between the body and the frame, lifting the body up for more clearance. I had to mess with my brake-lines and even cut the bottom part of my fan shroud out so the fan would not hit it. The very next morning, with my Jeep looking like a gangly baby-giraffe with a lift and stock tires, I drove to Sears to get my new wheels and tires put on.
I was ecstatic. My Jeep did not just look great, it looked bad-ass. (33 inch tires were considered big back in 1993) Fairly soon however, things started going south. One inch body lift spacers are fine, maybe even two inch spacers are OK, but three inch spacers with bolts about four and a half inches long just is not ideal. Not long afterwards, I flopped my rig on it’s side on Deer Valley trail and snapped a couple of the bolts, which I had to replace. The threads on several of the welded in nuts in the body ended up getting stripped over time, and the body would occasionally shift on the frame. After a few years of having the body lift on, the actual tub of the Jeep developed rips in the sheet metal where the pucks met the body. Several of body lift pucks even punched through the body. In every corner and on every rock, the tub in my Jeep would creak loudly. In essence, the body-lift had completely ruined the tub of my Jeep to the point where I would have to entirely take it off the frame and weld everything back up. That was a job I never really wanted to tackle, so I ended up selling my beloved YJ after many years instead.
Does this body lift make my frame look fat?
I should have listened to Art Archer all those years ago.
There are many lessons to this story. The old adage, “You get what you pay for” is especially fitting when it comes to Jeeps. Nearly every day on Jeep Facebook groups, I see penny-pinching people trying to save a dime by buying cheaper stuff. Especially when it comes to lifting their rigs. Not learning my lesson with my body-lift debacle, a few years later I purchased cheap leaf lift-springs, which did not last me more than a one season on the trail before they fell flat. There is MUCH more to a lift than bigger springs and tires. It is expensive to do it correctly. You need to worry about steering, extended brake lines, the angle of your driveshafts, the length of your driveshafts, and most importantly, new gears if you are going with bigger tires. It is just ludicrous how many people are driving around with 37+ inch tires that never did a gear swap. Do not try to go the cheap route, it may cost you more money in the long run, create more issues like a death-wobble, make your vehicle less road-worthy, and in some instances, can even be dangerous. Be patient, save your money, buy quality products and do it the right way.
Sometimes we tease Derik about the amount of money he has spent on his rig, but it is done right and almost never breaks down.
It seems that on social media, especially in Facebook Jeep groups, that EVERYONE is a Jeep expert. Even worse, is when someone shoots down advice from someone who is really involved in the industry and knows exactly what they are talking about. Much like what I did with Art Archer’s solid advice. (I would not be surprised if the Archer Brothers will one day be inducted into the Off Road Motorsports Hall of Fame. They are that big of a deal) What I have found out with many of these groups where people ask for advice, is that there is a lot of psychological stuff going on. On one hand, you have people that only listen to the advice that they WANT to hear, “Oh yeah! That product sounds awesome! It is cheap!” Then you also have people giving advice on products and upgrades, not necessarily because it is the best product or upgrade, but because it is what they have done to their own vehicle, and they want vindication. They do not want to be seen as someone with inferior stuff, or want to think that they did the wrong thing. This is actually very common and almost comical to a point. No one wants to hear or think that they did the WRONG thing. (The older crowd will remember the folks with revolver shackles defending those things for hours on end).
These are the BEST tires ever! Bubba from Arkansas told me so on Facebook!
Seek advice from people that actually wrench on vehicles and see wheeling as lifestyle, not a hobby. Listen to the old guys. Just because Joe-Blow Facebook ran the Rubicon in his JK a couple of times, does not make him an expert. Admittedly finding these people is difficult, but it is MUCH easier with businesses. Find businesses that are owned by people that wheel. Do they have trail rides with customers? Do they offer 4×4 clinics? Are the employees and owners all driving Jeeps? Is the company involved in rock-sports competitions? That is the type of company you want to seek out.
Finally, be careful doing an upgrade on your own, especially with stuff like a lift. I do a lot of work on my Jeeps, but I am man enough to admit when someone who has more knowledge than myself would be much better. Whenever I am in over my head, there is a shop local to me called Extreme Motorsports that I take my Jeep to. It is going to cost me a pretty penny, (Hey! They need to make money!) but I can drive away knowing the job was done right and by a professional that really knows what he is doing. Again, this is especially important with things like suspension and roll cages. If you roll your Jeep hard on the trail, would you rather trust your life to your Uncle billy who bugger-welded the cage together, or a professional like a Dan Trout or Jesse Haines?
King of the Hammers Randy Slawson is the kind of fabricator you want if you want it done right
You ALWAYS end up getting what you paid for. Don’t cheap your Jeep!