Category Archives: How To

Skid Row’s Steering Box Skid

I know the steering box had to go somewhere on the Wrangler, but why did they put it hanging down like bait for a rock to snag, I’m not sure I’ll ever know.  Look at it below, just begging to take a beating from the first rock you see!

Not on my watch!  Below is the Skid Row steering box skid.  It’s a quick and easy mod that will run you around $50 to protect the steering system in your Jeep.

To install, remove the two bolts I’m pointing to below using a 16mm and a T-55 torx bit.

Hold up the skid and finger tighten the bolts so that it’s in position.  There is also a 3rd hole (not pictured) in the skid facing the passenger side that lines up with the stock cross member.  The kit comes with a self tapping screw, but first you’ll need to mark the spot and drill out a 5/16’s (I think that’s the right thickness) hole.

Once you’ve drilled out your pilot hole, install the skid using the front star bolt, the horizontal 16mm bolt, and the self tapping bolt.  Tighten those three bolts and that’s all there is to it.  There you have it.  A nice chunk of metal protecting your steering box from any rocks you might come down on.

All this mod took was a few hand tools and about 5 minutes of labor making this a very worth while and easy improvement.

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What’s that third pedal for?

Things I’ve learned today… Before tossing the keys to your Jeep to anyone, make sure they understand that it’s a manual transmission and how to properly start it.  I tossed my buddy the keys, he put is foot on the brake (the e-brake was on & it was in gear), and proceeded to crank it for all it was worth.  The screeching sound of grinding metal echoed through out my garage.  When everything went silent, she would turn over no more.

My local garage wanted to charge me $400 for parts & labor for a new starter motor.  I sent them to hell and you should too since all it takes to replace the starter on a manual transmission Wrangler TJ is a whopping three bolts and a single clip.  I spent more time repairing the clip (it broke due to corrosion when I attempted to gently remove it) then all the other steps combined.  My local Autozone had a starter in stock for around $100-$120 depending on what coupon you use.  Don’t forget to set the parking brake and leave it in gear before you start working whether you are up on jack stands or sitting on the ground.

First, start by disconnecting the negative terminal on the battery and tuck it aside.  Next, disconnect the power wire from the starter shown in the picture below (it’s a 12 or 13 mm nut I believe) and GENTLY remove the black clip on the right hand side of the starter.  Ignore the other terminal on the starter motor.  The ground is grounded to… well, itself.

Remove the 15mm bolt at the bottom of the starter motor and set it aside (you will reuse this bolt).  I’m pointing to the bolt in the image below.

Next remove the second and final 15mm bolt (set it aside for reuse) holding on the starter. The starter should remove freely.  I’m pointing to the last bolt in the image below.

Here are some glamour shots of an Autozone Durlast starter.  I know, not a very glamorous item, but very necessary.



Ugh, looks like I fished the broken starter from the bottom of a lake!  Makes me wonder what on earth the previous owner did to my poor Jeep.

Re-installation is the exact reverse of removal.  Start by bolting the starter back in place with the two 15 mm bolts you set aside.  Connect the red power wire to the starter motor, and reattach the clip.  This is the part that I dorked up.

The clip (pictured above) is comprised of a plastic housing (top) which contains the metal contacts (center).  I picked up a close enough version (bottom) from Napa & soldered it up.

Unfortunately, that brilliant plan didn’t fit in the plastic clip.  So I stripped it all back apart to start again.  In the end, I took a wire brush to the broken metal clip, soldered the wire to it, popped it back into the original plastic housing and plugged her up.  Finally, finish up by connecting the negative terminal and test your work by turning over the engine.

Autozone Duralast Starter Sound Bite 2006 Wrangler Rubicon

You, rockstar, just saved around $300 vs. going to the shop!  Put that money into some mods instead.  Some armor perhaps?

Tune it Up!

And now, the exciting installation of a Kenwood head unit into my TJ.  To be honest, this install ended up being rather anticlimactic.  I humbly suggest that TJ/LJ owners stop paying to have a new stereo installed since you can DIY pretty easily with a few common hand tools and the step by step instructions below. Start by removing the dash cover closest to the windshield.  It’s just attached with clips and pops right off. 

Next, remove two screws next to the windshield defroster vent that were covered by dash panel you just removed.

Once those screws are remove, gently pull forward on the center dash panel.  It’s held in with clips at this point and will tilt towards you and pull out.  Be firm, but gentle and the end result should like this. 

With the stereo exposed, remove 4 black Phillips head screws at all four corners.  Do not mess with the gold screws, those won’t get you anywhere.  I’m pointing to one of the screws to be removed below.

With the four screws removed, the stock radio will slide out freely.  Disconnect the harness and antenna from the back of the radio and remove the head unit.  Congrats!  You just completed the un-installation portion of this job.

Now, it’s time to get the new stereo ready to install.  Start off by preparing the wiring harness.  To be honest, this is the biggest time suck of the entire project.  In the picture below, you’ll see two sets of connectors with wires.  On the right is a standard Chrysler Jeep wiring harness made by Metra (included for free from Crutchfield).  On the left, the wiring harness that came with the head unit from Kenwood.  All you need to do is connect the wires in the correct order.  In the instruction manual from Kenwood, they tell you what each wire does and on the packaging of the Metra kit, they do the same.  I’ll leave it up to you how you choose to connect them as long as you do so in the correct order.  Here are three good options.

***IMPORTANT***
If you have the four speaker stereo, you can skip this step.  For those with the factory subwoofer, You will need to connect the Blue/White power control wire from the Kenwood harness to the blue antenna wire on the Metra harness in order to active the amp that powers the factory sub.  With out this step, your dash and sound bar speakers will work great, but your “subwoofer” will not produce any sound.

Check out the finished product below, isn’t it pretty?  I prefer to solder, then heat shrink, then zip tie my connections.  Yeah, it takes a little more time but the finished product is OEM quality and should remain problem free as long as you own your jeep.

Set the harness aside for a moment, grab the dash kit and the mounting sleeve that came with the head unit.  If you don’t see it, check if the mounting sleeve is still attached to the head unit.  If it is, simply slide the head unit out.  Insert the mounting sleeve into the dash kit as shown below.

Turn the dash kit/din sleeve combo around and fold up the little tabs to create a nice tight fit between the two pieces.  Don’t forget to do this on the top and on the bottom.  With out this step, prepare to have the head unit rattle around in the dash till the end of time!

Install the dash kit using the same four screws that you used to remove the OEM head unit.  Use a hand screwdriver so you don’t over tighten.  Plug in the wiring harness you just created into the harness and the antenna adapter into the Jeep.  At this point, you can also install any optional accessories for your radio like an XM module or external microphone, or if you want to run external amps, this is the time to do so.  The only piece I added was the included microphone for hands-free calling.  You can see the little 3.5mm jack hanging down near the temperature control below.

If you are following along, your dash should look just like the picture below.

Plug the harness, antenna, and microphone (optional) into back of the new head unit and slide the head unit gently forward into the din sleeve until you hear a click.  Reinstall the center dash panel (pressing firmly but gently), screw the two screws back in at the top of the dash, and replace the top dash trim panel.

That’s all there is to it!  Fire it up and test it out.  I’ve noticed that even my old crappy paper cone speakers sound better with a cleaner signal running to them than they did with the stock head unit.  Stream your favorite playlist through your phone and turn it up! Hope you enjoy your new tunes.

Parts List:
1. Kenwood KMR-D365BT
2. Metra 99-6503 Dash Kit For Chrysler/Jeep
3. Metra Metra 70-6502 Wiring Harness
4. Metra 40-CR10 Chrysler Antenna Adapter

Put the Brakes on repair costs!

#SorryNotSorry for the terrible braking puns lately.  What can I say?  They make me chuckle!  For the longest time, I’ve had mechanic friends of mine ask me why I pay someone else to do my brakes.  I don’t really remember what excuse I gave them, but after doing my own pads & rotors one time, I started wondering the very same thing.  Jeep brakes are very simple to do yourself with just a few basic hand tools.  Full disclaimer, the pictures are going to jump around a little bit in this post (pads in my garage, rotors in a parking lot) since the pads were done before I installed the rotors, so apologies if that creates any confusion.

Since my recent report that all 4 of my rotors are glazed over, I picked up a new pair of Carquest Wearever Brake Rotors.  They were in stock, got great reviews, and the price didn’t break the bank.  I also snagged a set of front & rear Carquest Wearever Platinum Professional Ceramic Brake Pads (previously) on recommendation of a fellow Jeeper who drives a rig much heavier than mine.  And if they can stop his Jeep, they can sure as hell stop mine.

I’ll go over the steps for my rear driver side wheel, but they are pretty much the same at all four corners.  The only small caveat is the lack of parking brake adjustment on the front axle.  Get started by jacking up the axle you’ll be working on.  You can either lift up one wheel at a time, or one axle at a time, or if you have the space & jack stands get the vehicle up off the ground completely (easiest way to work!).  Please, please make sure to use jack stands.  Having  a Jeep fall on you with nothing but a rotor as a contact point could be very unpleasant.  If you are going to adjust the parking brake, do NOT have the parking brake engaged.  With the Jeep safely supported and chocked, remove the tire and set it aside.

Now look on the back side of the rotor/caliper to find two 18mm bolts that hold the caliper in place and a pair of 15mm disc brake pin bolts. Since we are doing pads and rotors, I like to separate the caliper bracket from the caliper body to grease the disc brake pins and make it easier to install the caliper onto new thicker pads.  BEFORE you remove any bolts, have a bungee cord or zip tie or some rope on hand.  Basically, you’ll want to hang your caliper body on the frame to keep it from pulling on the brake or ABS lines.  Using either a very skinny combination wrench or a set of needle nose pliers, remove the 15mm (I think they are 15mm, see pic below) bolts from the disc brake pin to separate the caliper bracket from the caliper body.

BrakeJob-1

To remove the 18mm bolts, use whatever tools you’d like but If you have a ratcheting combination wrench, it will make your life much, much easier as these bolts can be a little tricky to reach with an impact or large socket.  Since you already removed the disc caliper pins, the caliper body should slide right off leaving the pads and caliper bracket sitting on the rotor.

BrakeJob-2

BrakeJob-3

Remove the caliper bracket and old pads and set them off to the side while you work on your rotor.  The rotor is pretty much unsecured from your Jeep at this point.  I say pretty much because if this is your Jeeps first time getting a rotor change, you may have a couple internal tooth washers on the bolt studs.  They look like little metal washers and they are on there from the assembly line to hold the rotor in place before the calipers are bolted on.  If you can simply unscrew them, go for it.  If you’ve got a few more miles on your rig, then I suggest a screw driver and hammer.  Just try to pry them up a little, then take a pair of pliers to rip them off.  You won’t be reusing these pieces, so rip away.  Next try to gently pull the rotor towards you.  If it doesn’t pull off (it probably won’t) it may need a little motivation.

BrakeJob-5

ParkingBrakeAdjusterWith the rotor off, you can get a good look at the parking brake mechanism.  Go ahead and spray everything with a nice dousing of brake cleaner.  Get all that gunk outta there!  While you’ve got the brake cleaner in your hand, spray off your new rotor too.  There will be oils to keep it from rusting in the packaging and you want to remove those before installing.  But before you put the new rotor on, let’s adjust the parking brake tension.  To adjust, simply turn the metal star gear (pictured to the right) that’s next to the brake shoe return spring.  It should be fairly easy to find since it’s the only spring in the assembly.

Not sure which way to turn it?  Look at the spacing on the bolt it’s attached to.  The gap between the star bolt and the head of the screw should be getting larger and the brake shoes should be moving out.  If it’s not, then stop and turn the other way.   Since you can only move it one or two clicks at a time, this may take a minute.  After you’ve adjusted it a few turns, test fit the new rotor in place.  If it won’t go on, then you’ve over adjusted the parking brake and will need to back it off.  If the rotor slips right on, then you might need to push out a few more clicks.  Ideally, you’ll want to adjust the tension until the rotor doesn’t spin at all around the parking brake and fits very snug, then back the star gear off about 2 clicks.  With the parking brake adjusted, slide the rotor in place once again.  Nothing to bolt on at the moment, just press the rotor firmly in place using your hands.

BrakeJob-4

Congrats!  You just changed a brake rotor AND adjusted your parking brake cable!  Go take a breather and come back refreshed to swap a set of brake pads.

BrakeJob-6

BrakeJob-7

The next step, you can do many different ways.  You can have the brake assembly as one unit, or you can take it apart completely.  If you are following along with my pictures, it’s has been taken apart.  Get started by removing your old brake pads from the caliper bracket and attaching it to the to the Jeep using the 18mm bolts you removed earlier.  In the bracket, you’ll see 4 little metal clips (I’m pointing to one of them in the pic below).  Remove the clips and replace them with the new set that came with your new brake pads.  I like to put a little grease in the clips after they are inserted to help keep the pads moving nicely and prevent any unnecessary brake noise.

BrakeJob-8BrakeJob-9

With the clips inserted, grab your new brake pad (trying NOT to make contact with the pad surface) and put a generous glob of grease on the “ears” of the pad that will fit into the clips.

BrakeJob-10

With both ears greased, insert the pad into the caliper bracket and then repeat for the other pad on the other side of the rotor.

BrakeJob-11BrakeJob-12

Now that the pads have been fitted into the caliper bracket, it’s time to put the the caliper body back together.  By now, the piston in the caliper body has probably decided to decompress and stick out so you’ll need to correct that using a 4″ C-Clamp.  Yeah, you can get by with a 3″ as seen in my picture below, but it’s a VERY tight fit.  Go ahead and drop the $8 on a bigger clamp to make your life easier.  Gently tighten the clamp to push the piston back in.

BrakeJob-13

Now that the piston has been compressed, remove the C-Clamp and slip the caliper body onto the new brake pads and caliper bracket.  Re-insert the 15mm bolts into the disc brake pins and tighten everything off.  Give those 18mm bolts a double check as well and you are all done!

BrakeJob-14

And now shown here with a new rotor and new pads:

BrakeJob-15

Is everything clear as mud?  If you are confused with the read through, please post up questions in the comments section and I’ll be happy to answer them the best I can.  Trust me, once you change a set of pads or rotors once, you’ll ask yourself why you’ve been paying hundreds of dollars to someone else all these years.

AFE’s Silver Bullet Throttle Body Spacer, Fact or Fiction?

A few weeks ago I got a comment from a reader asking my opinion on Throttle Body Spacers (TBS).  Quite frankly, despite a lot of reading over many years I’ve never used a TBS myself.  If you search for dyno results, the folks doing the testing always lump in the TBS with a bunch of other mods so it’s hard to tell which mod produces which result.  Well, I had a little time on my hands and I’ve always been curious about the TBS’.  Does that little piece of metal actually do anything?  Let’s find out!

Opening up the box and looking at the parts… My initial reaction is Hell-to-tha-no!  Think about it, if this little chunk of metal made a noticeable difference, wouldn’t OEM engineers put them in all our engines to sell us more power from the factory?  AFE claims up to 10 HP & 14 lb-ft of torque for this little gizmo, so let’s see what all the excitement is about.AFE-SilverBullet-TBS

I consider myself a man of science, so I’ve hunted down a dyno and booked some time to get to the bottom of this.  First things first, let’s get a base run with my existing set up: 3.6L Pentastar V6, AFE 49-46218 Hi-Tuck Exhaust, Volant’s 17636 PowerCore® Intake System, & SuperChips Flashpaq 3872 set to the 87 tune program.

Dyno-1

Dyno-2

Dyno-3

Dyno-4

Dyno Results Before

As you can see in the image above, the Dyno shows 231.0 max HP at 6,400 rpm & 210.0 max torque at 2,600 rpm.  Not to shabby for this fat bottomed girl to scoot around on.  Now, let’s toss on the TBS.

To install the TBS, all you do is pop off the engine cover, remove the intake tube and pull 4 8mm screws holding on the throttle body, slip the TBS & gasket in place, then reassemble using the factory hardware.

Silver Bullet before and after

Just in case you blinked and missed it, here’s another picture of the TBS installed.

Silver Bullet Installed
With the engine cooled off and all the parts bolted up, let’s go for another run.

Dyno-5

Dyno Results After
After installing the TBS, the new max torque is 210.7 (gain of 0.7 ft-lbs) and 236.8 hp (gain of 5.8 hp).  The torque gain, less than 1 ft-lb at the wheels, is pretty negligible and the new peak power, at the very tippy top of the red line, isn’t something I’ll use, but let’s overlay the before/after runs to see if there’s more to this story.

Dyno Results Combined

Looking at the overlay, the excitement is actually in the difference in the before/after torque curves.  Like I said earlier, 0.7 ft-lb isn’t all that exciting, but having close to your max torque earlier in the tach, well that’s a difference you can feel using the Butt Dyno.  I have no intention of taching out my Jeep for that extra 5 hp at the top end, however look back at the rest of the graph.  Just like the torque curve, you can see that you have access to more HP through out the entire power band.  Not a lot, but every little bit helps scooting around all that armor and tire weight.

I went into this test thinking I was going to send the TBS back because It doesn’t do crap.  Well, here’s scientific evidence that proved me wrong.  Sure it doesn’t make the 10 hp/14 ft-lbs it claims to on the box, but access to more of your engine torque earlier in the power band helps get the most out of this engine.  And between you and me, I still can’t believe that little part actually does anything at all.

Dual SS (…with tha navigation!)

As promised, I pulled off the Teraflex kit and threw even more parts at my rig!  Say hello to Fortec’s Exclusive (their words) FOX Dual Stabilizer Kit.  The unboxing reveals some really nice welds, good quality bolts/hardware and beautiful powder coating on all the custom made pieces.

DualSS-1

There are really only about 3 steps to the entire install process.  First, attach the center bracket to your axle using the larger U-bolts and nuts.  Do NOT tighten all the way since you’ll be doing some adjustments.

DualSS-2

Before you bolt on the tie-rod brackets, insert a long bolt pointing up into each bracket, and then attach the bracket to each end of your tie rod.  Once again don’t fully tighten b/c you will be doing some fine tuning.

DualSS-3

Unlike me, please insert the blots you see pictured below BEFORE attaching the center bracket on to the axle.

DualSS-4

Slip on the shocks onto the center bolts first, then compress each shock by hand to attach them onto the tie-rod bracket.  As you can see, everything is still a little loose while I check for fitment or clearance issues.

DualSS-5

Once all the bolts are tightened, the shocks line up nicely with one another.
DualSS-6

First Impressions – This kit takes a lot of the play out of the steering wheel and makes those turns feel very nice.  Not even a glimmer of bump steer on a pothole ridden turn at speeds and for that I am happy.  And two Fox shocks up front sure do look pretty!

The Bad – In all the pictures on the fortec site, they have this kit installed on a JK with a high steer set up so clearance isn’t an issue.  If you don’t have a high steer kit, you’ll want to rotate all three brackets back about 18 degrees on the axle/tie rod plane to make sure nothing hits and you still have full lock to lock steering.  The clamps on the tie rod are just begging to get snagged on road debris or a tree stump on the trail.  At this price point, I really expected a proper tie-rod clamp like this one from Rockhard4x4 instead of two u-bolts.  The $100ish kits can get away with that sort of solution, but when you get up to the $300 range the parts need to be a bit nicer to justify the extra cost imho.

It’s on there, it’s working, but you better believe a pair of new tie-rod clamps are on my short short list before I can call this mod completely finished.  And now for the obligatory black & white artsy close up.  Enjoy!

DualSS-7

When in doubt, Throw more parts at it!

I’ve found a pot hole to run over at high speed and am sad to report that tightening up the front suspension bolts did not fix the problem.  My death wobble remains and it’s just as scary as ever.  After many discussions and a little research, I’ve decided to throw more parts at the problem.  A visual inspection revealed that my stock steering stabilizer has taken a bit of a beating, so I’ve decided to upgrade it with a Fox Racing 2.0 Evolution Steering Stabilizer.  And while I was swapping the steering stabilizer, I picked up TeraFlex‘s Steering Stabilizer Relocation Bracket to rotate the new shock up about 90 degrees to help keep it out of harms way.

SteeringStabilizer1
But why stop there?  To continue my shopping spree, I ordered the f911 hardware kit from Synergy Suspension.  There’s quite a bit of back and forth online and amongst my Jeep group as to whether there’s any value to the grade 8 bolt upgrade, but if there’s even a little play in the steering components that I can tighten up, then I’ll call this kit worth the cost.

SteeringStabilizer2
Replacing a steering stabilizer is a whopping two bolts and install of the shock relocation bracket is pretty straight forward as well.  You want to start by removing the old steering stabilizer bolts, there’s one on each end.  At that point you should have the steering stabilizer off and a loose bracket on your tie rod that you can’t quite pull off.  It looks something like this guy below…

SteeringStabilizer3
The Teraflex instructions tell you to use a larger pry bar and pray it apart.  I spent quite a few minutes prying and swearing at that damn bracket with little to no progress.  In the end, I grabbed two adjustable wrenches and clamped them on to the ends.  The small wrench (attached to one end) pressed against the frame while I was able to easily pry open the other end using the larger wrench applying more force using leverage.  Trust me on this one, just use the wrenches and skip the pry bar for this step.

SteeringStabilizer4
Just in case you can’t figure out what to do with the long bolt that came with the kit, it replaces your stock track bar bolt using the OEM nut.  If you are on level ground and the axle is in jack stands, you can probably pull your old bolt and squeeze in the new one with out the need to realign anything.  Make sure to tighten that bolt down pretty snug since it’s holding both your steering stabilizer and the track bar in place.

SteeringStabilizer5
All that’s left to do is measure the distance of the shock extended and compressed.  There’s a 7.125″ travel to the shock, so you’ll want to mount the clamp on the tie rod at the midpoint when the wheels are straight which is 3.5625″.  Just like the instructions say, don’t fully attach the shock to the track bar bolt until the very end as you need to compress the shock a bit to get it to attach.  It’s much easier to do with the clamp already attached on the tie rod.  Tighten down both ends and stand back to admire your handy work!

SteeringStabilizer6
The shock looks very nice and it’s really eating up a ton of bumps to smooth out my steering wheel.  That’s good since that’s what I bought it to do.  The bad… this Fox shock is pressurized which means it’s natural state is that it wants to stay extended.  That’s a fantastic trait for a shock that you’d use for your suspension because the weight of the vehicle will center it.  That same trait is terrible for a steering stabilizer since the shock is constantly trying to extend itself.  This over correction manifests as a steady pull on the steering wheel to the left no matter how dead on your alignment is.  This shock would be great in a dual steering stabilizer set up so that they can push against each other, but as a single shock… I’m afraid this guy is coming off the rig and back to the store.  The folks at Teraflex actually confirmed that they used to have this issue with Fox shocks but it has since been cleared up if I use Fox’s 980-986 steering stabilizer.  While tempting, if I’m gonna pull parts off of a fresh install and to redo it, I think I’m gonna pony up the extra coin and go for a dual steering stabilizer kit.  Stay tuned sports fans!