Throwing those 1st mods on your new Jeep is an exciting right of passage, so soak it up. But – this is also the best time to be honest with yourself in the beginning, and make a game plan.
How do you want this thing to look?
Where & how are you really gonna be using it??
And what’s the ballpark budget??
Try to center your goals around TIRE SIZE.
Are you gonna build a Jeep on 35s??
Are you gonna build a Jeep on 37s??
Are you gonna build a Jeep on 40s?? Etc
…And realize the true expenses, AND real-world benefits/drawbacks at each size.
Is your Jeep going to be driven on the street, or on the trail, or both… and how regularly??
Do you have to conquer every obstacle at any cost??
Or can your Jeep-ego handle taking the bypass-route sometimes??
Be honest with yourself. Talk to your wife & Jesus about it… but watch out because Jesus will tell you to get 40s. Record your rationale into your phone… so you can play it back later as evidence. Because as you get deeper into the off-road/adventure culture, your original plans will probably turn into foggy, nonsensical hallucinations that laugh back at you while stealing your wallet for more parts. And going from a 35-inch tire to a 37, or a 40… is NEVER as easy as just ‘buying bigger tires’. It’s a domino effect that necessitates bigger lifts, longer-travel shocks, appropriate gearing, and further upgraded/strengthened axles. You really don’t wanna buy all that stuff 2 or 3 times if you can help it. It’ll end up costing more money… AND you’ll inevitably end up with a hodgepodge of make-shift parts along the way.
MOD-PATH FOR YOUR NEW JEEP
Molded Heavy-Duty Floor Mats – Yeah I know… boring. But you’re going to want them… and soon. Check out Rugged Ridge to knock that one off the list.
Wheels & Tires – This is almost everyone’s first major mod. But having said that, if you plan to wheel the Jeep, you really should take it out first on the stock tires to set a baseline, and to appreciate how surprisingly capable a Jeep is… even in stock form.
The common wisdom is that a regular JK can handle 35in tires, and the Rubicon can handle 37s… without having to build/replace axles and re-gear. That’s because – the Ruby has a larger Dana 44 front axle versus the Sport/Sahara’s Dana 30, and it also has 4.10 gears. Most non-Rubicon Jeeps run 3.73 gears, but watch out, because some run 3.21s. What this means is: 35s & 37s are at the top-range of your sweet spots… before you have to pull that wallet out & make things so complicated like Avril Lavigne. Because you can’t want it all, with no sacrifice…… like Sum 41.
Lift / Suspension – In most cases, this needs to happen at the same time, or shortly after the wheels/tires. A lot of people out there want to have as much lift as possible… but the game is to have as much lift as needed. That’s because you want to keep your overall center-of-gravity as low as possible (so you don’t roll over), while getting as much ground clearance & flex clearance as possible underneath you. Rule of thumb: about 2.5in lift for 35s, and 3.5-4in lift for 37s? And that’s because you can also be smart in your fender & bumper choices (see next mods).
But in short – this is why you want to maybe push the limit/budget on your tire size when you buy ‘em… because you want to buy the proper amount of lift for the tires, and you really don’t want to have to buy springs & shocks & all that TWICE. Plus here’s a hint: No one really ever wishes they bought SMALLER tires, or LESS lift.
The end goal for serious off-road suspension is a long-arm kit. But you can go a whole lot of places without one. So when/if/when you get to that level, yeah you’re gonna be buying stuff twice. But don’t let that stall you too much at the beginning.
Quick Sway Bar disconnects – To be honest, you don’t really need these if you don’t mind unscrewing 2 bolts trailside. But they are convenient. And once you’re lifted, buying the correct set/size for your new amount of lift, will correctly reposition the sway bar for the ideal ride quality on pavement.
Fenders – If you’re not actually wheeling the Jeep much, you really don’t need fenders right away, as the stock ones look pretty good honestly. But if you’re hitting the trails, you’re gonna quickly find that you want/need a set of flat fenders to give you more tire clearance under flex. Flat fenders will give you another 2-inches of tire clearance, when compared to the OEM design. Combine that with the lift, and you’re adding it up!
Bumpers – From stubby to full-width bumpers, there’s something for everyone & every style. Choose the ones that suit your style/tastes/needs. But keep an eye on high-strength & high-quality options with slim, narrow-profile designs that will offer more ground clearance & approach-angle. Also look for winch mounts (front), and recovery points. On the rear, consider the spare tire carrier.
Spare Tire Carrier – The addition of larger & heavier wheels/tires will likely deem the factory spare tire carrier obsolete. Aftermarket rear bumpers will often include a mounting point for the carrier… and the actual tire carrier will be sold separately as an add-on option. There are also some great aftermarket ‘hinge’ carriers (like Rugged Ridge’s Spartacus HD) that make toting a giant spare much more feasible.
Rock Sliders – These are good insurance for peace-of-mind on the trail, because those rocks seem exponentially bigger when they’re right under you, and you’re unprotected. Look for designs that stay high & tight to the body.
Tuner – An plug-in tuner (like the Superchips’ TrailCal or FlashCal), will allow you to correct your speedometer for larger tires, change shift points, get gauge readings, turn TPMS off, perhaps get a little more power & MPGs, and correct the ECU for new gearing when the time comes.
Summer Tops – While the open-air experience of driving a topless Jeep is outstanding, the blaring summer rays of the sun can be relentless in traffic. A quality bikini top OR a mesh sunshade/screen is a great way to make the top-down experience more enjoyable & relaxing in the hottest summer months. The Rugged Ridge mesh sunshade, for example, is only $60. It comes in cool colors, and installs/uninstalls in only a few minutes… so you can get back to enjoying the direct sun after August when it’s not trying to melt you anymore. It can be left in place even when you put the top up. And it can also be used with the hardtop, providing protection when the Freedom panels are removed.
Diff Covers – This is important. The factory diff covers are soup-can thin, and a misplaced rock can jab through them pretty easily (even just bumping against a rock bent mine & caused it to leak at the seam).
Winch / Recovery Gear – You can put the recovery gear up at the top with the floor mats, as it’s a good idea to carry some tow straps & a snatch-block with you when you go out. But the more expensive winch, understandably, might come a little later. And as long as you’re wheeling with ‘a friend with a winch’, that’s fine.
Bonus!! CB Radio – C’mon America, you know you want one! And it’s easily justified, because staying in touch is crucial for anybody who plans to travel the road less travelled. You don’t have to leave the pavement far behind, before cell-service becomes sketchy at best. A CB is a lifeline in case of emergency, AND – it’s a convenient means of 2-way/group communication back & forth on the trail. Channel 4 for Jeeps.