The ECOA Wrangler – Phase 1 Summary

When I penned my piece on “First mods and planning a build” one of the things I talked about was having a picture in your head of what you wanted your rig to be when you were done and then work backwards from there.  In Part 2 of that piece I went through some of the basic first mods I made to the LJ in preparation for the 2015 No Highways Tour.  The entire 28 day, 5000 mile trip was done in a mostly stock Jeep.  My goal was to showcase what could be accomplished with a budget approach and that you don’t need to build a crazy rig to go overlanding.

The ECOA Wrangler: Phase 1
AKA ~ “Camp Humble”
You can go pretty far in a stock Jeep and a tent

Now, a year later, the time has come to make a few upgrades in preparation for the 2016 tour.  Don’t worry, I haven’t lost site of the budget minded approach.  Before I get started talking about Phase 2, let’s look back at Phase 1 of the build and some of the reasoning behind it.

First off let me remind you that the words “budget” and “cheap” are not the same thing.  I’m all for saving money.  I love the DIY route when I can save money and build something myself (like my rear storage unit).  That said, being on a budget means when you do spend money it should be spent wisely.  Don’t cut corners and settle for some cheap crappy piece of junk just to say you have something.  Some things (like a suspension, bumpers, or a winch) are more of an investment that you want to install once and be able to enjoy for the longterm.  The goal is to “buy once; cry once” and not have to go back and redo something later on.

The ECOA Wrangler: Phase 1 highlights
Powertrain = Stock
Suspension = Stock
1″ Body Lift & 1″ HD Motor Mounts
Slightly used 31″ All-Terrains
Made in the USA bumpers and rocker armor by AtoZ Fabrication

A while back I shared my thoughts on my longterm goal to run 33″ tires on the Wrangler.  My plan was to combine a 2″ suspension lift with a 1″ body lift.  In the interim I had a set of practically new 31’s off an old Jeep I could run.  That meant I only needed to do one of the lifts.  I opted for the 1″ body lift because it would be cheaper and quicker to install.  While I was at it I opted for heavy duty motor mounts since they are a common failure point on Jeeps.

Rocker Guards are essential body armor for Wranglers…
… especially the longer wheelbase LJ’s.
These rocker guards by AtoZ Fabrication also function as a step and a hi-lift jacking point.

Beyond the desire to run the 31’s I had, Phase 1 priorities were protection and recovery as evident by the AtoZ Fabrication bumpers and rocker guards.  This would insure the Jeep’s vulnerable body would be protected front and rear as well as under the doors where the longer wheelbase made for a shallow break-over angle.  The D-rings front and rear and 2″ receiver in the rear also made for excellent recovery points in addition to the factory hooks.

Buying a used vehicle may save money, but it doesn’t save on headaches.
Radiator, ECU, blown trans line, and exhaust were all things that caused the LJ to end up on a rollback in 2015

The other priority for Phase 1 was fixing all the little things wrong with the LJ.  Some where known about when the Jeep was purchased, others proved to be a bit more annoying.  To be honest it was expected when buying a ten year old 4×4 with over 140,000 miles on it.  Especially at the steal of a deal we got it for.  Luckily I’m a bit of a masochist to enjoys working on his own vehicle.

Upgrading the wiring on the LJ due to a bad ground cable.
Full writeup here.

All things considered, I’m really pleased with how the Jeep did in 2015.  It got me all the way to Maine and FL and back again.  It got me to NC and VT and most of the way back.  She honestly did really well.  The only thing I wasn’t prepared for was how bad the OEM suspension was.

All that gear on a fatigued suspension wasn’t the best idea.

If I had my way I’d be putting Phase 2 off for another year, but the factory suspension has gotten so bad it was making the Jeep almost un-drivable.  Even last fall I found myself opting to leave it parked at events like MAOF, AA:AR, Expo, and VOR due to it being a little overloaded and not very pleasant to drive on the trails.  Now, at 14 years old with over 150,000 miles, the factory springs were sagging front and rear.  With pulling a trailer as part of the plan for 2016 I knew I needed to move up the timetable and look into upgrading the springs and shocks on the Wrangler sooner rather than later.

Hopefully this quick summary of Phase 1 of the ECOA Wrangler build gives you an idea of what a budget approach looks like when it comes to a near-stock 4×4.  Hopefully it also illustrates the decision making process and the different pros and cons that come up with different options.

Case in point: Do I regret installing the 1″ body lift on the Wrangler? No.  Knowing what I know now about the syspension would I have done things differently? To be honest, no.  I hate second guessing myself.  If I opted to do the suspension first and attempted the trip who’s to say I wouldn’t have had issues with the motor mounts?  I’ve blown my fair share of those up over the years.  All I know now is it’s time to do a suspension… and that’s the start of Phase 2 of the build.