Trimming Your Fenders

by Martin Verburgt

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First thing you need to ask yourself is, "Am I sure that I want to do this?", because once you start cutting, it becomes somewhat permanent, especially for the rear fenders.  You can cut the front fenders all you want, and they can be replaced with new fenders if you decide to go back to stock or don't like how the trimming turned out, but the rear is a completely different story.  If you have any reservations about trimming, maybe it is time to reconsider the size of lift and tires you wish to run, or even the type of hobby/sport you are getting into.  It is perfectly normal to worry about trimming your fenders because of the irreversible outcome, but once you start cutting, you will get into it and even possibly enjoy it.

So, now that you have decided that it is time to trim your fenders to make room for those bigger tires, you are probably asking yourself, where do I start?  Well, you might start out by taking one last look at your stock fenders because you will only see them again on other Cherokees.  Next, you need to gather the tools needed to take on this job.  You don't need a lot.  This is what we used.  A 4.5" Angle Grinder with a cutoff wheel and a 60 Grit Flap Disc, 2" Masking Tape, Black Marker, Box Cutter with sharp blade, Safety Glasses, and Protective Gloves such as Leather Work Gloves (not shown).

Our project vehicle for this write up is a 1999 Jeep Cherokee.  Here is a picture of the XJ in stock form:

OK, now that we have all the tools, let's get started on the front.  First thing to do here is to remove the stock fender flares and the inner wheel well liner.  To remove the stock fender flare brackets, you will need a 10mm wrench or deep socket. Once these are removed, you should be looking at this:

Now, the amount of trimming will depend on what size tires and lift you plan to run.  On our project XJ, we will be running 35" GoodYear MT/R's on 15x8" Rims with 3.25" Backspacing with the Rubicon Express Extreme Duty 5.5" Kit, so we need to do a lot of cutting.  Your next step from here is to take your masking tape and cover the area to be cut as shown here:

The tape will help protect the paint from the sparks that will occur from cutting with the angle grinder.  Also, you can use your marker to draw a guide line for cutting if needed.  We didn't draw a line at this particular point because we will be cutting along the bend of the fender that the stock fender flare brackets were mounted to.  OK, now it's time to cut, but before we cut, look behind your fenders for any obstructions or anything, such as wires or washer fluid bottles, that you do not want to cut.  More than likely the only things that may get in the way are the washer bottle (1997-01 Cherokee driver's side) and the fender reinforcement bracket.  They look like this:

Now, before you start hacking away with the grinder, you may want to cut your bumper cap (1997-01 XJ) so that is does not get in the way of the grinder.  Following the line that you intend to cut on the fender, follow that on the bumper cap.  Using your box cutter with the new blade, push the blade into the plastic and then slice downward following your line.  This works best if the bumper cap has been sitting in the sun to warm.  The blade will cut through the warm plastic like butter.  WARNING!!!  This is when you should be wearing your gloves!  This is our bumper cap after the cut:

Using your angle grinder with the cutoff wheel, make your cut.  This will go very quickly due to the sheet metal being very thin.  Be sure to have a firm grip on the grinder so that it does not catch and get away from you.  

WARNING!!!  This is when you should be wearing your safety glasses and gloves!    

Don't worry about edges not being entirely perfect, just try to cut as straight as possible.  The rough edges will be ground down to a nice edge with the 60 Grit Flap Disc.  Here is what it will look like after you cut:

After cutting off the unwanted section of the fender, attach your 60 Grit Flap Disc to your grinder and clean up the edges.  You will notice that you still have those fender reinforcement brackets that are just sitting there being unused.  Just grab onto it, bend it up and down and it will snap right off.  Takes care of that problem.

Here is a picture of the front after trimming the bumper cap and cutting the fender, however the edges were not cleaned up with the 60 Grit Flap Disc at this point:

Now, onto the rear fenders.  Remove stock fender flares and for 1997-01 Cherokees, remove the rear bumper cap.  To remove the bumper cap on newer XJ's, you will need a 10mm wrench and 10mm socket to remove the bolt at the bumper and a 1/4" deep socket to remove the sheet metal screw in the quarter panel.  Once you have removed the bolt and screw, give the bumper cap a tap in a rearward motion toward the bumper and it will slide off.  DO NOT TRY TO LIFT THE CAP OFF OR TRY TO REMOVE IT IN ANY OTHER FASHION OR YOU MAY DAMAGE THE PLASTIC RETAINERS ON THE BUMPER CAP!  OK, now that the flares and bumper caps are removed, you will see this:

Looking closely at the fender where the holes are located for the stock fender flare brackets, you will see multiple round dimples in the sheet metal.  These are pinch welds that hold the sheet metal for the outer fender/quarter panel to the sheet metal for the wheel well.  You DO NOT want to cut past these pinch welds or the panels will separate and will leave a large gap that will allow dirt, rocks, mud, and other debris into the cab.  Here is a close up of the pinch welds (notice the round dimples that follow the curve of the fender):

Keeping the pinch welds in mind, mask the area, draw your guide line, cut and grind the rear just like the front.  Once you have finished cutting the rear, replace the rear bumper cap and using your box cutter, trim the bumper cap to follow the trimming of the fender.

After you have finished all trimming and grinding, use some touch up paint or mask the fenders and paint the bare metal edges to prevent rusting.  To finish it all off, we used a 5/8" wide black trim to cover the edge of the fenders to give a nice, clean finished look.  The trim we use is called Protekto-Trim.  It is a 5/8" black band molding that comes in a 30 foot kit (takes about 22 feet to do all four corners).  We carry the trim kits in our Gecko Accessories.  This is a shot of the rear after adding the finishing touches:

A couple before and after pictures of my XJ once upon a time to show the difference the Protekto-Trim makes in appearance.

DCP_0008.JPG (71239 bytes) DCP_0323.JPG (63814 bytes)

After your trimming is complete, add your oversized tires to compliment you lift and behold, your finished product.

(This XJ ended up with 6.5" lift front and 7.5" lift rear from the RE XD 5.5" kit)

 

If you have any questions about this write up, or any suggestions to add, please send me an email at

info@rocklizardfabrications.com