End rattles and improve handling on Jeep Cherokee with Sway bar bushings

End rattles and improve handling on Jeep Cherokee with Sway bar bushings

The front sway bar performs a very important function on a street Cherokee. It controls the body roll to improve the handling. The later model Jeep Cherokees used a larger diameter bar to further improve on road handling.

The bracket was also modified to help keep the bushings in place during times of extreme articulation. The combination of a larger bar and a larger bracket means there is very little clearance between the bar and the bracket. The bushing is also smaller so it wears faster.

As the bushing wears, the bar can contact the bracket and make a rattling sound on rough roads. Replacement bushings are now available form Crown Automotive as well as the Jeep Dealer.

To replace the bushings, leave the vehicle supported by its axle. If a lift is used for access, the axle needs to be supported in the normal position to avoid having stress on the brackets.

Remove brackets one at a time. To remove the bracket, loosen the two 15mm bolts and slide the bracket off the bushing. Pull down slightly on the sway bar and slip the worn bushing of the bar. Slip the new bushing over the bar and slid it into the proper position. Slip the bracket back over the bar and bushing and reinsert the bolts. Be careful to properly engage the threads before tightening. Repeat the procedure with the other bracket.

The end link bushings may also need to be changed as well. The bushing that attaches to the axle usually does not wear out. However if it does the best way to change it is to replace the entire sway bar end link. It will come with a new bushing already pressed in place.

I like to replace the end link bushings with polyurethane instead of the original rubber. However the procedure is the same using either the stock rubber replacements or the poly upgrade.

Remove the top nuts on both ends of the sway bar. Remove both upper bushings. Raise the sway bar up off the end links. Remove the bottom bushings. Replace both lower bushings. Lower the bar back in place. Now install both upper bushings.

Replace both retaining washer and nuts. Tighten the nuts until the bushing just begins to compress.

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When driving off road when more articulation is needed, disconnecting the front sway bar will greatly improve front traction and handling. To disconnect the front sway bar, remove the retaining nuts at the lower part of the end link where it joins the axle. This bolt has a torx head but is normally pressed into the axle so that it will not turn. Just remove the 18mm nut.

Slip the end links off the bolts and secure the sway bar in its upper most position with an elastic cord.

If you go off road often, you can make removal and reconnection faster by replacing the bolt with a ½” pin available at most farm supply sources. Drive the original bolt out of he axle connection and replace it with the pin. Then you will be able to quickly disconnect and replace the sway bar connection by simply removing a clip and pin rather than having to use a wrench.

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Black Mountain Adventure

Black Mountain Off Road Adventure

The XJlist folks met once again for their Annual Fall Crawl at Black Mountain in Harlan Ky. The trails of Harlan County offer a wide variety of trails and fun. This year however a new varied element was added to the mix: changing weather.

The group began arriving Thursday morning coming from east west and south to meet at camp 3 half way up Black Mountain. Most traveled in rain all morning to reach the park where the skies were clear. But the morning rain had made the step gravel climb to the camp site very slick.

After paying for camping and buying a Harlan County Sticker, I asked the guy about the road. He assured me that it had been graded since I had been there in the spring and if I made it up then I should have no trouble. Note that he drives a Sentra.

I put the Suburban in Low Range and headed up the hill. I noticed a bit too late that it looked like someone had had a hard time getting up and had done a lot of spinning. I got on the throttle to build momentum but it was too little too late and I came to a stop with all four wheels spinning. Then I started moving backward.

I tapped the brakes and the trailer brakes helped hold it in place. However moving backward turned up not to be an option either as I started to slide toward the edge of the road where there is a huge drop off. I did however slide far enough tot the right for Jenny to squeeze past and hook a strop to the front. With a tug from her Jeep, I made it up just fine. I looked back and saw Neal’s Jeep parked on the side and realize that he must have made it to the same spot with similar results and unloaded his Jeep to make it up the hill.

Once at camp, we set up our tent and greeted our friends. The weather was quite warm and then suddenly a breeze popped up. Matt’s tent was set up but not staked. He looked up juts in time to watch it float over the edge of the cliff into the kudzu below. He managed to catch it before it got out of reach unlike a few years ago when he had to don his repelling gear and be winched down and back to get his tent from a similar incident.

After a leisurely time of unloading, airing down and disconnecting sway bars, we headed out to explore some new trails. We began with a new cut off form trail 45 called Pappy’s Bypass. It was a narrow muddy trail with lots of switchbacks and great views of the fall leaves in the valley below.

We reached White Tail camp and the weather shifted. It went from warm and clear to thunder and hail. We sought cover under the shelter and watched as the storm blew over quickly and then shifted to snow. As the snow died down we began to play on the rocks and hill climbs there.

After some play time we headed back along trail 15. This trail is fun when dry and very exciting when wet and slick. The very last section consists of a couple of very steep switchbacks where you just have to make a controlled slide down. Lots of fun to end the first day.

Back at camp Evan had arrived and started a fire. We sat around and caught up with our friends and cooked supper.

The next morning we saw snow on the upper parts of the mountain but none in our camp. We headed up to Middle Fork and considered a run up 15. Several of the group played on the first steep hill. Some made it and some did not. Knowing the second hill is the one that is really a challenge in the wet, we split into two groups – Swampers and other tires.

We met back up where 15 and 12 come together. Surprisingly we arrived at the rendezvous point at exactly the same time. We merged the groups back together and headed to ward the stadium area which has several hill climbs. Along the way Neal noticed a small rock garden so we went back and played on it and posed for photos on the hills there.

Matt noticed his cross member had come loose and his transfer case was dangling. We made a very temporary trail fix and left his Jeep there while we explored further down the trail.

The snow was really coming down at this point. Those of us with out doors were getting our seats soaked as Matt sat in my passenger seat and soaked his pants. Cold and wet we made out way to the Truck Challenge course and the soup bowl.

We quickly found a pile of rocks to play on and Josh and Evan gave a go at swimming in the soup bowl. I started to explore the area a bit when I heard a strange noise. The noise turned out to be my front drive shaft separating from the front yoke. One of the strap bolts had sheared off and I lost a cap in the process. I pulled the shaft and prepared to make my way back to camp in 2wd.

Back at camp, Matt started work on his cross member while I worked on extracting the broken bolt from the yoke. Once it was out, Wayne Sr gave me a spare bolt and a strap. Evan donated a U joint. I pressed in a new joint and waited for daylight to install the shaft.

Matt had no luck fixing his cross member so he elected to leave his Jeep at camp and ride shotgun. We built a huge fire and enjoyed telling stories well into the chilly night.

The next morning it was cold and clear with lots of snow visible o the mountain. The plan was to go back up the twisty trail 15 and then work our way back through the massive park on trail we have not run before.

Trail 15 took most of the morning as Mitch G got scarily sideways near the top and required a strap and assistance from Frosty’s Toyota to get pointed back up the hill.

Josh made a run and his Swampers pulled him up easily. So we staged him with a strap near the top to give a tug to those who needed it. Jenny made a run and had a huge mudslinging fun time making it look easy. I followed her up and made it without assistance as well.

Once we had all the Jeeps to the top, we headed on to White Tail for lunch. We ate lunch under spitting snow and then headed out for a trail ride. Neal and Evan headed to town for fuel while I lead the group toward trail 22. We had planned to run T.R.O.U.B.L.E. but when we got there it was covered in very slick leaves and it looked like no one had run it in a while. The consensus was that it would be more fun to go up than down so we elected to skip it for the time.

I lead the group on to 18 which has two fun climbs back to the main trail. The first had a big log on the side that was impossible to avoid in the slick conditions. I think Jenny’s bumper cap was the only casualty of the otherwise very fun climb. The second climb was fun as well with a big rock that scraped a few wheels as we climbed.

We all collected at the Lower rock garden and played there for a while. Jenny made good use of her new Crusher tires and crawled easily through the lower section while frosty and Josh ran the garden backwards toward her.

After getting our fill of the Rock Garden we headed off to let Jenny redeem herself on rail bed. Last time here, she slipped on the exit and had to be extracted.

This time Rail bed was even more intimidating. The rocks were wet and slick and most of the smaller ones and even some of the big ones had washed down the hill.

Near the three quarter mark of the trail, Mitch popped a tire off the bead and Neal drove backwards down the trail so his onboard air line would reach. After the tire repair, Neal positioned his Jeep to use the winch to help people over the nasty V notch made by two big rocks.

There are three exits to rail bed. One requires a lot of clearance to get over a huge boulder. The other is the one that Jenny slipped off of last time and is now even more narrow and dangerous. The only viable option for most of us was a steep muddy climb. We positioned a winch at the top and another Jeep with a strap to assist.

Jenny made it over the V notch fine and was almost up the muddy hill when she hung her diff on a rock and had to have a strap to help her get the rest of the way out. I got hung on the same rock and had to have a bit of a tug as well.

Once every one was up and out, we gathered some fire wood and made a dash back to camp. The sunset on the snow covered mountains made for a beautiful drive back to camp.

The crew made dinner in record time and we enjoyed our huge steaks and potato boats as darkness settled in. Me enjoyed looking up at the bright stars and enjoyed another evening of fellowship around the camp fire. For desert, we warmed up some apple and pumpkin turnovers that my mother made for the trip.

Sunday morning dawned crisp and cold and we all fought ice as we packed up our tents and gear. A heavy layer of frost covered out trailers and everything left outside. We took our time loading up and the remaining group made a final stop at the Harlan Huddle House before parting ways.

This trip was one of the most adventurous yet for me even if we did not conquer as many obstacles. The cold wet weather made simply driving the trails a challenge. Three days of sliding and sliding has defiantly given me a better feel for driving my Jeep and improved my confidence. Black Mountain Adventure area sure lived up to its name this trip!

Replacing a Jeep axle U joint

Replacing a Jeep axle U joint

The front axle of a 4wd Jeep is fitted with a universal joint to allow the wheels to be turned and still have torque applied to them. These joints do a lot of flexing and will wear out in normal use.

To repair the U joint first remove the axle shaft from the Jeep. See my other articles for this procedure.

There are many different methods used to change the axle U joints. Your experience may vary depending on what tools you have available. The method described here is the one that works best for me.

I begin by cleaning the yokes with a wire brush and applying penetrating oil to the outside of the caps. Next, I clamp the shaft in a vise and remove the inner C clips. I use a hammer and a screwdriver to tap the clips out. Sometimes a clip will be stuck in the groove and I will have to wait until I move the cap slightly to get it out.

To remove the first cap, I clamp my ball joint press in my vise. Then I use the press to put pressure on the cap. I like to remove the cap from the main shaft first because the stub shaft is easier to handle later.

I tighten the press just enough to put pressure on the cap and then I use a hammer to strike the end of the press. The hammer blow is what actually moves the cap. Putting too much pressure on the press can damage the yoke or the press, so I use the press to apply pressure and then hit it to move the cap. Once the caps are moving, I turn the press to force the cap the rest of the way out.

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The cap will not come all the way out before the cross hits the yoke however. Be sure to stop turning the press before it hits so the yoke is not damaged. I use a pair of vise grip pliers to remove the cap the rest of the way from the yoke.

Next, I press the cross back the other way to remove the second cap. Be sure to use care lining up the other cap for its trip back through the yoke as it is easy for it to twist and damage the yoke.

With both caps out, the cross can be removed from the yoke. I then repeat the procedure with the stub shaft caps.

To put the new joint in, you first have to remove two of the caps. Be sure to keep every thing clean and make sure the needle bearings stay in place.

I begin by setting one of the caps down on the anvil part of my vise. I set the cross section in place in the yoke and then carefully lower the hole in the yoke over the cap and align the cross into the cap. Then, I use a hammer to hit the opposite side of the yoke and drive the cap into place. This method keeps the needle bearings in place and gets the cap in most of the way. Flip it over and do the same with the other cap. However, do not pull the cross all the way out of the first cap. Keep it part way in to hold the needle bearings in place.

With both caps in the yoke, I use the press to center them up and then I install the C clips. Once the clips are in place, I tap the assembly with a hammer to relieve any tension set in by the press.

Next I repeat the process with the other two caps in the other yoke. If working with a long side shaft it is sometimes helpful to have an assistant to help align the yoke with the cap as you are preparing to tap it in place.

Once all the C clips are installed, test the joint to make sure it operates freely in all directions. If there is any binding, tap the yoke with a hammer to see if there is any residual pressure binding the caps. If a C clip will not go in place, do not force it. It may be that a needle bearing has fallen down while handling the cap and is preventing the cap from seating. Remove the caps from that yoke and inspect them. Put the needles back in place and reassemble.

Once the new joint is in place and moving freely, you are ready to reinstall it in the axle housing. See my other articles for this procedure. If the new U joint has a grease fitting, fill it with grease before installing the axle shaft in the Jeep to make the fitting easier to access.

NP 231 Jeep Transfer case rear seal replacement.

NP 231 Jeep Transfer case rear seal replacement.

The stock Jeep transfer case uses a slip yoke at the rear of the transfer case. As the drive shaft slides in and out of the case the seal wears away. This effect is magnified by running in dirty muddy environments. When the seal wears it allows transfer case fluid to leak and is usually evidenced by an oily mark in the tunnel around the front of the drive shaft.

The seal is simple to change even if finding the correct seal is not. Many national discount parts chains like Autozone have started stocking a seal that looks different and in my experience makes an inferior seal to the stock replacement.

I got my seal from Crown Automotive. It is a duplicate of the stock seal. If your local parts stores don’t have the right one try the Jeep dealer or JCW.

I began by removing the rear drive shaft. I removed the U joint strap bolts using my six point 8mm wrench. I inspected the U joints while I had it in my hand.

After removing the drive shaft form the transfer case, I used a screwdriver and a hammer to fold back part of the metal shell of the seal. I drove the screwdriver between the tail shaft housing and the seal bending the seal out and being careful not to damage the aluminum housing.

Because my transfer case skid plate limited access, I simply crushed the seal until I could grip it with a pair of vise grip pliers and pull it out. If I was working on a Jeep with out a skid plate I would have worked the seal out more before using the vise grips.

With the old seal out of the way, I used a rag to clean up the surface and inspected it for damage. Then, I compared the seal to the opening to make sure it was correct before removing it from the plastic bag.

I set the seal in place and tapped it lightly with a hammer to set it in place. I find it difficult to drive these seals in using just a hammer as they tend to twist. I did not have a seal driver handy so I used a sleeve from my ball joint service kit that fit around the flange. A few taps of the hammer seated the seal squarely in the opening. I then used my hammer to tap around the perimeter of the seal to make sure it seated fully.

I applied a bit of fluid to the slip yoke and slipped it back in place. Then I reinstalled the rear of the shaft and the U joint retaining straps.

If you are not sure how much fluid has leaked out, take time to check the fluid level while you are under there. Simply remove the upper plug in the back of the transfer case and make sure the fluid is level with the hole. If not, add the proper fluid for your transfer case to bring it up.

A quick test drive showed no more leaks. I should be leak free for a few more years of off road use.

Preparing for an off road adventure

Preparing for an off road adventure

The excitement of a big off road trip like our annual XJ List Fall Crawl begins well before the event. The planning and preparation are a big part of the adventure.

This year my Jeep was pretty much ready to go. I just had a seal to fix in the transfer case. I would have dug into tan exhaust leak and put longer studs in the rear axle flange but I spent my time on other things.

Jenny’s Jeep got a lot of attention this year. Her Maxxis Buckshots were looking more like racing slicks than mudders so she went shopping for new tires. The time constraint of the event limited her choices as did her budget. She ended up choosing Dick Cepek tires from Tire Rack.

She decided to takes this time to upgrade in size as well. Moving up to 33” tires meant some modification as well.

Trimming the fenders was the first order of business. In the rear she first removed the stock flares and then used a hammer to fold over the flange. The front flares had already been removed and the fenders trimmed but more material need to be removed to clear the 33” tires.

Next, the bump stops need to be extended. A search for hockey pucks at a local store proved futile as hockey is not a common sport in Tennessee. So as a temporary measure, she made spacers out of wood. She cut a piece of 2×4 pine and shaped it to fit inside the spring. Then with the spring fully extended, slipped the block between the coil windings and worked it to the bottom. This will keep the suspension 1.5 inches further away on full compression.

One maintenance item was replacing a worn axle shaft U joint. See the article on swapping axle shafts for how this was done. Another minor maintenance item was tightening up a loose nut in the steering section and installing a new cotter key.

A quick test drive on the trails on my farm showed the advantages of the larger tires right away and the deep lugs got excellent traction in the muddy creek crossings.