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?

Here comes the Vroom!

img_0929I knew that some day, I would upgrade the exhaust in the TJ, but I didn’t expect to do so almost immediately!  Courtesy of the sheer amount of rust on the stock exhaust and consequently the failing of my state inspection, I took to the internet to find the cheapest exhaust kit money could buy so I could pass and get tags on my Jeep asap.  I didn’t find much in the way of reviews or videos of the PaceSetter kit, but for around $130 shipped, it checked the boxes I needed. So I figured what the hell and clicked to buy.  Thanks Amazon!

The parts unboxed look decent, all the bends are in the right places and the welds look good.  The only thing that’s a little odd to me is the exhaust hangers are straight pieces of metal and don’t have any type of catch to help the kit stay in the hangers.

img_0938Install is fairly straight forward, drop the skid plate (make sure to support the transmission with a jack or jack stand), remove the OEM kit and bolt the new one in place.  Removing my OEM kit wasn’t too hard since the hangers had rusted off completely!  Reinstallation proved to be a little annoying since the kit included a pair of screws that were just a bit too short to bolt up the muffler up to the converter pipe.  But a trip to Home Depot remedied that issue.  The only other thing I needed to “customize” was the pipe length coming out the back of the Jeep.  Due to conflicts with the trailer hitch on my TJ, I had to chop off about a foot of pipe.  As a result, the exhaust dumps out just behind the rear passenger side tire.  Not a biggie, but if you planned to use the shiny chrome tip, I think you might be SOL.  Even if it did fit, the tip would have been positioned in such a way that it would get crushed the very first time you came down on a rock on the trail.  It’s kind of a blessing in disguise.  To make it fit, I cut it back to such a spot where it won’t hit on a rock.  img_0942It might not be a high tuck design, but it sure is out of the way.

The sound isn’t much louder than stock to me, about 2.4 dB louder in the cabin at idle, but the pitch is much throatier and has more of a growl to it.  The butt dyno says the Jeep is a little peppier with this kit installed, but I don’t have any measurable metrics to support that claim.  All in all, I’m satisfied with this kit.  I needed a bare bones exhaust system at a rock bottom price, and this kit delivered with a nice throaty little growl to boot.

PaceSetter TFX 86-2875 Exhaust vs. No Exhaust vs. Stock

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

Let the Good Tunes Roll!

One of the best parts about a new rig is that it’s a clean slate, primed and ready for you to make it your own.  That also means there are a lot of low budget mods that can offer you a huge bang for your buck.  Pictured above is my new Kenwood marine grade head unit replacing the 11ish year old Chrysler cd changer (blasted volume knob stopped working!) with all the modern day connectivity you could ask for for at around a $100 depending on your retailer.  Personally, I ❤ the good folks at Crutchfield.  They always take good care of me with quality customer service, techs that know mobile audio, competitive prices, and if that wasn’t enough… All the install gear (harnesses, connectors, dash kits) is generally included at no charge when you buy a head unit. #WINNING

The item on the right is SmittyBilt’s vaulted glove box.  It bolts into your dash and is made out of 16 gauge steel to discourage the few things in your Jeep from mysteriously walking away. A great purchase for peace of mind for fellow soft top owners at around $65 bucks.  This one is crazy easy to install and is another one of those items that I’m buying again b/c it was so good the first time I owned it.

In case you can’t tell, I’m incredibly excited to get these two mods in the Jeep so I can rake off the half upper doors and go for a nice drive while streaming some great tunes!  Hoping for a big install day this weekend to get everything done.

Denied!

Damn.  I’m convinced I have more trouble with state inspections than ANYONE I’ve ever met.  I thought certainly a bone stock Jeep could pass with flying colors, but the state ain’t having it!  The TJ failed due to a worn drive belt, rusty exhaust hangers, & readiness sensors not being set.

The drive belt is an easy fix despite the shop wanting $200 (that’s two HUNDRED bloody dollars!) for a $20 part & 5 minutes worth of work.  I sprung for the $30 belt from Autozone (3 year warranty on the belt thank you very much!) and popped it on.

The exhaust I knew was rusted out and was on my ‘to replace list’ anyways, I just didn’t expect to replace it immediately.  I’ve got an exhaust kit shipping to me now that I plan to write about when I swap out later this week.  The only downside is that since this is kind of an emergency (can’t title the Jeep if I can’t pass inspection), I picked up the cheapest kit I could find instead of taking my time to do a bit of research.  I watched a YouTube clip or two of the exhaust note and it didn’t sound bad at all.  Especially for this price point.

As far as the readiness sensors are concerned, I just need to drive it a bit to get those things to set themselves.  Luckily, I already have a Veepeak bluetooth OBD II scan tool & combined with the OBD Fusion app to check the readiness status.  Hopefully this three pronged approach will have me up and running legally by the weekend.  Fingers crossed!