The Jeep JK is one of the most adaptable four-wheelers on or off the road. In its current incarnation, it still has the soul of the original military utilitarian go-anywhere vehicle. Thanks to aftermarket engineers, there are many ways to enhance the JK, depending on your imagination and your pocketbook. We recently had an opportunity to add some very cool accessories to a 2011 JK. We knew we were probably not going to tackle the Dusy-Ershim Trail, one of the toughest out there, but we wanted to be able to explore a few back roads and do some overnight camping. By the time we were done, we had a JK that was ready for all the back roads we love to follow. We're ready to take full advantage of our tricked-out Jeep.
1: Lift Kit
Knowing what kinds of rocks are lurking in the back country, we began by gaining a little more clearance. The Rancho 3-inch Lift Kit for the JK ($800) was just the ticket. The installation was straightforward, though some mechanical expertise is helpful, along with a good set of tools.
We removed the shocks and springs, and replaced the factory brackets with Rancho components. We then installed Rancho drop-down brackets for the suspension arms, and added new springs. Next, we raised the axle back up, bolted Rancho RS9000XL shocks ($111 each) in place, bolted anti-roll bar drop brackets to the frame using a spacer and longer bolts, and attached the track bar extender.
2: Diff Covers
For added protection and cool looks, the front differential cover was upgraded to a Rancho unit ($170). The cover kits come with all-new hardware and a tube of Hi-Temp Silicone Instant Gasket. The evil bandit eyes appear to be scanning the trail for trouble.
3: Oil Pan Armor
A Rancho Oil Pan Armor Kit gave us some insurance against rocks ($124). The steel cover fit like a glove over and around all bolts, and was pressed into place with the supplied tube of Hi-Temp Silicone Instant Gasket. We used a floor jack to get a good, tight fit. We drilled small holes at the lip corners of the factory cover to allow the installation of optional security wires.
4: Tube Doors
Finally, just for the fun of tooling down our favorite back road with the wind in our face, we added a set of Rancho Tube Doors ($330 each). We considered removing the mirrors from the hard side doors that can be installed on the new units, but on the trail, we thought we'd be better off without them.
5: Rear Bumper
The mostly plastic factory rear bumper wasn't something you could use a jack on, and the spare tire mount on the rear door didn't welcome much bigger tires than stock. A Rancho Rear Bumper ($500) addressed these problems and added a mount for a Hi-Lift jack. The Rancho bumper is bolted directly to the frame using factory and Rancho bolts and should be strong enough to use a Hi-Lift on. The design allows a Hi-Lift jack to be securely mounted on the rear of the tire rack. We added a Jack Mate that greatly increases the many functions of this indispensable back-road tool for lifting, winching, prying, clamping, and more.
6: Gear Storage
For serious camping, we needed a rack strong enough to load up with a couple hundred pounds of gear and whip back and forth on a few whoop-dees. The Kargo Master Congo Cage, along with its companion Safari Basket ($430 and $390), will carry anything you'd dare to load it with, over just about any Jeep trail you'd dare to drive. It mounts to the rear frame and the front body windshield pillars, so it can be used with a hard- or soft top. In addition, by releasing the front mounts, you can pivot it back and remove the hardtop without taking the rack off.
Having a good winch on your four-wheeler is like a first-aid kit. You hope you never need it, but when you do, it pays for itself very quickly. For the weight of our 2011 JK, the Warn VR8000 electric winch was the perfect choice ($480). With a full 8000-pound pulling capacity, a series-wound motor, quick line speed, and an exclusive brake design for superior winching control, it had all the features we were seeking. It also has a smooth three-stage planetary gear train and durable construction.
The VR8000's low profile matched well with Warn's Rock Crawler Bumper ($1080 with winch bracket). Constructed from heavy 3/16- and 1/4-inch steel, it features tapered ends for an increased approach angle, welded eyelets to mount D-shackles for increased recovery options, and round light ports that fit the factory foglights.
To dramatically reduce weight and add a significant level of safety, we installed 100 feet of Viking Dyneema synthetic winch line, which is up to 15 times stronger than quality steel ($362-$375).
8. Auxiliary Lights
The Rock Crawler Bumper was an easy bolt-on, once we removed the plastic factory components. The VR8000 mounted securely to a Warn winch mounting plate that bolted directly to the frame for superior strength. Auxiliary mounting holes were used for a pair of PIAA 510 Series Xtreme White SMR Fog Lights with the upgraded 110-watt XTRA Xtreme White Plus bulb ($272). Their 60-degree spread will light up the sides of those dark Baja back roads.
9. Battery System
To operate a winch and auxiliary driving lights, or to provide extra amps for cellphones, GPS, computers, air pumps, and everything else that can be run on 12 volts or an inverter when you're camping, it's prudent to install a dual-battery system. Rugged Ridge offers a Dual Battery Tray specifically for the JK ($137) that fits in the extra space under the hood. It was a perfect fit for two Group 34 Odyssey Extreme Batteries ($278 each).
Odyssey makes many sizes, but only one type. Deep Cycle, Marine, Starting, Military -- they're all the same Extreme technology. They offer extreme durability on rough terrain, more cycles, and faster recharge times. To isolate the big Odysseys, Extreme Outback supplied us with Intelligent Battery System Isolator ($380). The IBS uses an RISC microcomputer to manage dual-battery applications.
During normal driving, the IBS links both batteries using a 500-amp-capable/12-volt relay. When the engine is off, the system isolates the batteries. If you've left your lights on and your starting battery is dead, the IBS also allows the main battery to be jump-started from the auxiliary.
10. Hood Lift
Before we tackled the battery install, we took out the cumbersome hood-prop rod and replaced it with a HoodLift ($74). This uses twin gas shocks to automatically raise the hood out of the way. It took all of 20 minutes to install. What a great idea!