Suspension Upgrades: Round 2 – JKS Manufacturing control arms

Back in March, before the 2016 No Highways Tour, I shared a writeup about installation of the JKS Manufacturing J-Spec lift kit on my LJ.  The highlights of the kit were 2″ dual-rate springs and shocks along with new adjustable track-bars front and rear.  This was all done because my stock springs and shocks had finally given up the ghost after 12 years and 140,000 miles.

A good way to spend a Saturday afternoon.

In that writeup I mentioned how I was content doing springs and shocks because (at the time) my control arms were still pretty solid and I was going to wait till next year.  Well… time to eat my words.  While in Moab I nosed down off a ledge and bent a control arm.  I also dropped off a ledge and blew out both rear shocks… but that’s a different story for a different time.  For now, let’s focus on the control arms.

After taking a little time to do a much needed oil change and replace a pesky MAP sensor I turned my attention to the control arms.  First up was the bent passenger side lower control arm.

While not as bad as the arms on my 1997 Grand Cherokee, this one was pretty bad.
Stay tuned for a more detailed writeup about control arms.

A comparison of the OEM stamped steel control arm
with the new JKS J-Link fixed lower control arm.

A comparison of the OEM stamped steel upper control arm
with the new JKS J-Flex adjustable upper control arm.

Umm… yeah. I guess I was a little overdue for new control arms.
The other body-end bushing on the drive-side arm was worse.
The rear bushings were also pretty nasty, although not blown out.
If you have a pesky case of death-wobble, this can cause it.

A shot of the front suspension with a good view of both the new upper and lower arms in place.

A shot of the rear suspension with a good view of the upper and lower arms.
A little tight with the exhaust, rear sway bar, and the gas tank.

Conclusion:

The installation as a whole went well all things considered.  It’s not an overly complex swap.  There are only a handful of bolts.  Although I used a lift you can in fact do control arms in the driveway on jack-stands.  That’s how I did the ones on my Grand Cherokee a few years ago.  A little tweaking of the axle with a crowbar for leverage was needed to get bolt holes to line up, but nothing major. That’s why it’s nice having a friend of two to help you out.  The rear’s were a little trickier than I expected because the parking-brake cables attach to them. It’s also a little more snug back there with the muffler and gas tank to work around.  In total it took about 4 hours working at a leisurely ADD inspired pace.  I’m sure with a little more focus and few distractions (SQUIRREL!) it would have been a three, or maybe even two, hour job.  I still say the one thing we figured out after the fact was taking off the rear wheels.  You can leave the fronts on (at least on a lift).  Just remember to leave a key in the ignition so the steering doesn’t lock up on you.  If you do the arms in your driveway on a set of jack-stands just go ahead and take the fronts off.  It will make access easier as well as wresting the axle into position a  little easier.  Especially if you’re working solo.

My only regret is not doing these control arms when I did the J-Spec lift.  I’m pretty sure the bushings were well on their way out long before this trip.  Obviously with the upgrade I wouldn’t have bent the arm while in Moab.  I had hoped to make it through the 2016 year with just the springs and shocks and save the arms for next year, but the terrain forced my hand.  This is what’s hard about having a triple purpose rig.  It needs to have street and highway manners for daily driver duty, obviously it needs to be overland capable, but it also needs to handle technical terrain.  I think I’m finally there.

In Moab the jeep took everything thrown at it.  Truthfully it far exceeded my expectations.  The JKS J-Spec kit rode amazing both on road and off.  On the more technical trails like ‘Top of the World’ and ‘Elephant Hill’ the suspension flexed out nicely.  Blowing out the rear shocks had more to do with me having an overloaded Jeep. I’m also going to lighten the load a little, but I’m also weighing my options for “Round 3” suspension upgrades for the LJ which will most likely include upgraded rear shocks and a pair of air-bumps.  I think upgraded shocks will also help while towing.  Until then then replacement shocks are holding up nicely.  I can’t wait to test out the full suspension system at Rausch Creek ORP in a few weeks.

Bonus Photos:

Replacing the blown shocks with the replacement JKS J-Spec ones.
And yes, that is in the field and Overland Expo West
And yes, that is right next to the JKS booth in the vendor area.
After a long afternoon of wrenching it was time for a trip to the local wing joint for some food and beer.
Thanks to Tim (red WJ) and Phoenix  (silver Taco) for their help.
Also thanks to Jim for letting me use the lift (again).

A test drive on Ridge Road.
Suspension feels so solid now!

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