Suspension Upgrades: Round 1 – JKS Manufacturing 2″ Jspec Lift kit

As previously mentioned the OEM suspension on the ECOA Wrangler left a lot to be desired.  At 12 years old and just over 150,000 miles it was played out.  I had a nasty case of butt-sag in the rear and the front was soft and squishy giving me a “floaty” feeling while driving.

Brown Santa made a delivery!

Last year I bumped into a JKS rep at the All Breeds Jeep Show in York, PA.  Great show if you’re ever in the area.  Anyway, he mentioned they were developing a new dual-rate spring kit for the ’97-’06 Wranglers which included TJ’s and the ’04-’06 LJ’s.  He told me they had overlanding in mind while they developed this kit.  Needless to say, I was intrigued.

Read on for more detail about JKS and the install of their 2″ Jspec kit.

First of let me give you a little backstory about my interest in JKS as a company.  Back in 2005 I trail guided for Camp Jeep and during a work session leading up to the event I blew apart a stock sway bar end-link on my ’96 ZJ.  After limping home I opted for to upgrade to a set of disconnects rather than replace the link with another weak OEM link.  The first set I got were cheap basic disconnects that were frustrating to use.  After a year of frustration someone recommended the JKS “Quicker” disconnects to me.  I’ve been running them (the same set actually) ever since.  For ten years I swapped my JKS discos from my ’97 ZJ then to my ’96 ZJ and finally to the ’04 LJ.  The fact that the disconnects lasted that long put JKS at the top of my list for suspension components.

10 year old JKS disconnects on the left vs. new ones from the Jspec kit on the right
To be honest, the old ones are still good.  They’ll probably get reinstalled on my ’97 ZJ.

One of the other things I like about JKS is that they are American owned and do all their manufacturing here in the U.S..  There are far too many companies out there ripping off designs and off-shoring production just so they can throw cheap parts into the market.  I’ll be honest, JKS parts aren’t cheap.  However, with a budget minded perspective, they are an investment.  Like I said, one set of their sway bar disconnects has lasted me 10 years.  Also, all things considered, I’d still be running them on the LJ if this Jspec kit didn’t come with a new set.   Making the investment into quality gear means you only have to “buy once; cry once” and it will last you the life of your vehicle.  Cheaper components (springs, shocks, control arms, etc) will fade quickly and often lead to a rougher than OEM ride quality.

You can tell a lot about how much a company care about it’s product and its customers by how they ship stuff.
Made in the USA with pride!  I like that.

Speaking on JKS quality, one thing that impressed me when the Jspec kit arrived was the packaging.  Everything was nestled in custom cut foam which not only kept everything protected but also kept everything organized.  Each bag of hardware was appropriately labeled which made finding the bolts needed for each phase of the install really easy.  Lastly the instructions were well written, had nice clear photos, and were easy to follow.

Couldn’t help but take a peek at the new front springs.
Look at that dual-rate goodness.
(You can tell it’s dual-rate by the tighter wraps at the top compared to the bottom)

Before I move to installation let me first talk about why I went with a 2″ kit over something taller.  To start with, my plan has always been to go with 33″ tall tires.  Having already done a 1″ body lift to clear my 31’s, I only need a minimum of 2″ more to clear 33’s.  Also, my personal preference is to go with a lower built rig since it’s a triple purpose daily driver, trail rig, and overland adventure rig.  I also like the challenge of a modestly built rig.  I’ve wheeled 12 years on 31″ tall tires. I enjoy keeping up with guys on 35’s in my “little” rig and showing off my driving skills.  I honestly don’t see the need for me to go much bigger than 33’s.  That’s not to say there’s nothing wrong with bigger lifts and tires, it’s just not my thing right now.

The other reason to stick with 33’s for me was a budget.  Now the MSRP on the JKS 2″ Jspec kit is around $950.  I also opted for one of their adjustable rear track bars as well which retails for just over $200.  I know what you’re thinking, “Dean, there is no way $1,200 is ‘budget minded’.”  Hear me out. First, look what’s included for the money:

      • New Dual rate 2″ tall springs
      • New shocks front and rear
      • Front bump-stop extensions
      • New HD adjustable track bar front and rear
      • Rear track bar relocation bracket
      • Brake line relocation brackets for the front (if you need them)
      • Eccentric Control arm bolts for the front (if you need them)
      • New “Quicker” sway bar disconnects for the front sway bar
That’s a pretty tall order compared to similarly priced 2″-3″ lift kits on the market.  Most 2″ kits don’t include track bars or sway bar disconnects.  Second, remember this is an investment.  This is going to be the first, last, and only lift kit I’ll need for my overland Wrangler.  Buy once; cry once.
So many parts I had to opt for a panoramic photo.
The other thing to consider is what extra purchases won’t be needed with a 2″ kit.  The ’97-’06 Wrangler has a breakpoint at 3″ over stock.  Under 3″ of lift and you can reuse stock control arms, stock track bars, stock drive shafts, and you don’t need to worry about things like a transfer case drop or a slip yoke eliminator.  Between 3″ and 4″ of lift you’re pushing the max for stock control arms and track bars and you’ll start running into issues with the rear drive shaft.  Beyond 4″ of lift you’re looking at a long arm suspension which is a lot of money.  “But Dean,” you say, “A long arm suspension isn’t much more than this JKS kit.”  Kit-for-kit yes.  However it’s all the additional stuff like drive shafts, SYE, new brake lines, etc that are needed to switch to long arms, plus additional modifications to the frame (some kits are weld-on and require frame and/or cross member modifications or trusses to the rear axle) add up.

The nice thing about this 2″ kit by JKS is it keeps me under that 3″ grey area and saves me from going down a much deeper and much more expensive rabbit hole.  There are also costs associated with going to bigger lift/tire combinations like gearing, axle shafts, hubs, etc when you get into the 35″+ range.  So there is a little method to my madness with sticking to a 2″ suspension lift, a 1″ body lift, and 33″ tires.

Getting ready for the disassemble.
You don’t need a lift to do this kind of kit, but they sure are nice.
The nice thing about a 2″ kit like this is it’s a “bolt on” kit you can do with basic hand tools.
Installation wise, 2″ kits are pretty easy to do yourself which is another reason to consider them over bigger kits.  I’ve done more than a few 2″ kits in the garage and driveway at home.  All you need are a floor jack and a set of jack stands.  You can pretty much bank on an hour or two for the front and an hour or two for the rear – if all goes well.  Being a Jeep, factor in a few more hours.  JKS says to allot 6 hours for this job which is pretty spot on.  That said, if you have a friend with a lift (like I do), use it.  Makes life a lot easier and you’d call me a fool if I didn’t use it.  Plus I’ve done my time doing driveway installs.
The sad state of the OEM front suspension

The rear isn’t much better.
The disassemble is straight forward.  If you’ve never done one it helps to have a service manual of some kind on hand.  The JKS instructions are good for the JKS specific stuff, but assume you have a service manual.
Head’s up, front shocks are a P.I.T.A to remove.
When-in-doubt, break out the power tools.
Comparison of the rear track bars.

Comparison of the rear springs.

Comparison of the shocks.
Although they look basic, a lot of R&D has gone into the valving to pair these shocks with the dual-rate springs.

Comparison of the front springs.
Notice the tighter wrap at the top.
Assembly is also pretty straight forward.  Once the old components are out (shocks, springs, track bars) you can get the suspension to droop pretty far which helps put the taller 2″ springs in.  I highly suggest disconnecting the axle end of the drive shafts.  You don’t need to do it to get the old springs out, but it helps give you a little extra droop to get the new ones in.  If you are working in your driveway, you can opt for a set of spring compressors.  Just be careful using them since you’re loading a lot of energy into the spring.

Shot of the rear suspension with new JKS springs and shocks.
Also notice the rear track bar relocation bracket used with the new adjustable track bar.
Front suspension showing the new Jspec shocks, springs, and new sway bar disconnects in place.
Also notice the bump-stop extensions.  Helps keep the suspension from cycling the tire up into the body.
Couldn’t help a shameless artistic shot.
Better do it while everything was clean.
Once springs and shocks are in you can work on the track bars.  This is when it pays to have a friend or two helping you.  Wresting the axle into alignment after it’s at full droop and everything’s been removed and new stuff installed is a pain.  Since the JKS kit comes with an adjustable front track bar you might find yourself having to jack it up again and tweak it a little to get things to line up right.  I found with the rear I just set the adjustable JKS track bar to match the OEM track bar.  The track bar bracket from the kit took care of the side-to-side alignment of the rear axle.  With the front we were close but had to make one minor adjustment to kick it back to the passenger side a little.  So no worries if you don’t get it on the first try.
Shot across the axle with a peek at the front adjustable track bar.
All-in-all I’m really pleased with the kit and how it went together.  It had almost all the parts I needed.  My only gripe was wishing it came with two additional bolts for the frame end of the rear track bar and the axle end of the front track bar.  I was able to reuse the rear OEM track bar bolt, but the front was pretty toasted and required a run to the local hardware store for a replacement bolt and nut since the threads were pretty mauled during removal/reinstallation.  To me it would just make sense for a kit like this to include two more bolts — but that’s me being picky.  Everything else about the kit was top notch and came with everything you’d need.
Sitting pretty, but still on 31″ tall tires (for now).
If I could I’d probably leave it like this for this year’s trip…
… but my LJ doesn’t like towing the trailer with 3.73 gears.
Conclusion: 
My initial feedback is “HOLY %#@& WHY DIDN’T I DO THIS LAST YEAR! THIS IS AMAZING  Oh, wait, the kit wasn’t out last year.  I still wish I had this lift on for the 2015 No Highways Tour.  I can only imagine how much better it will be on this year’s trip.
Obviously the suspension works so much better than fatigued 12 year old 150,000 mile stock suspension.  The rear actually soaks up bumps rather than bottoming out.  The front is a lot more firm and I feel more comfortable driving it.  On pavement I was able to carve corners up a mountain road at 50 mph and the Jeep felt level and stable.  The firmer springs are a nice upgrade.  Even around town with all the potholes and bumps the Jeep felt a lot better and rides much smoother than other 2″ kits I’ve done in the past.   Off pavement the suspension soaked up bumps with east.  It’s no pre-runner by any means, but It’s nice to smile when I hit a bump now rather than cringe.
I will say the piece of mind of having the rear track bar in is nice too considering I will be towing a trailer on this year’s trip. Although I probably didn’t need it I figured I’d be in there anyway doing the rear track bar relocation bracket so it would make sense to do the track bar while I was at it.  Also, given the OEM track bar was just as old as the rest of the suspension and had seen just as many miles, it was a smart addition to the kit.  Plus it would give me tune-ablilty to adjust the track of the rear axle if needed.
Now, you might be asking yourself, “Dean, you’ve overlooked your control arms.  Why go through all that trouble to do new springs, shocks, and track bars and leave your factory control arms?”  To that I say, “One thing at a time.”  I’m sure at some point I will upgrade my control arms.  JKS Manufacturing has a lot of nice control arms that work really well with the Jspec springs.  There is also a budget element. This kit, with the added  rear track bar, is already nearly $1,200.  It’d be another $1,200-ish to do arms as well.  Although I’ve had my fair-share of bad experiences with OEM control arms, the ones on the LJ are fine <knocks on wood> for now.  Currently the LJ does not suffer from either bump steer or death wobble.  I checked the control arms over and didn’t see any need to upgrade them immediately.  Chances are I’ll run on the stock arms for another year and worry about them later (Phase 3 perhaps).  Until then, stay tuned for ongoing reviews of this kit as I try it out during my cross-country No Highways Tour this year.
In the meantime, check out JKS Manufacturing for their complete line of lift kits and other suspension components.  Not only do they make stuff for the ’97-’06 Wrangler, but they also make a lot of stuff for the ’07+ JK’s as well as older Jeep models like Cherokees and Grand Cherokees.  I’ve known a lot of people over the years that run JKS components and have yet to ever hear a complaint.

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Special note: Huge things to my friends Jim and Tim for helping out with the install and for use of the lift! 

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