Home Brew Budget Boost for Cherokee

by Martin Verburgt

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*NOTE* - Be sure to read the updated information throughout the article and at the bottom of this article for valuable information on how to make this kit an even better quality ride with a solid 2.25" of lift.  All updates are annotated in red.

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So, I finally talked a friend of mine into adding a little lift to his stock 1998 Cherokee Sport.  He told me that he just wanted 2" of lift and he wanted the ride to be better than stock.  I told him about the Old Man Emu (OME) 2" kit, but it was way out of his price range.  He told me to do what ever I had to but my budget was $350.  More than enough for a 2" budget boost.  But, being very impressed with the ride quality of the OME kit, I set out to put together my own kit.  My challenge to myself was to put together a kit that had the ride quality similar to that of the OME kit, and to do it for as little money as possible.  Over the period of 2 weeks, I came up with an idea and started gathering the parts.

The standard 2" Budget Boost kits that most companies have put together are nothing more than a 2" polyurethane spacer for the front and either 2" blocks, which aren't very good for the weak stock Cherokee packs and increase spring wrap, extended shackles, which also aren't the greatest for stock packs and cause them to invert prematurely, and last, the add a leaf (AAL) which helps beef up the stock pack, but most AAL's give a very harsh ride.

Since he wanted the ride better than stock, then the spacer in the front wouldn't work for me because that still uses the stock coils springs, which doesn't make the ride better than stock, obviously.  So, I searched many of the jeep forums and even EBay, and came up with a set of 1998 Jeep Grand Cherokee (ZJ) coils springs rated for the V8 with only 65,000 miles on them.  I knew from research that these coils should give about 1" of lift over stock Cherokee coil springs and due to the higher spring rate, would give a firm but pleasant ride and would give more stability during cornering.

There's an estimated 1" for the front, but we need a little more.  I looked around the shop and found some stock rubber coil spring isolators that would give another 5/8" of lift.  That's a total of 1 5/8" of lift for the front, which is a good start.  I planned to put these items onto the Cherokee, measure the true amount of lift, and add more from there if needed.

For the rear, I decided to try something a little different.  The stock Cherokee packs ride pretty nice, however, they need a little more beef.  Looking around the shop some more, I found my old 1998 Cherokee leaf packs that had 85,000 miles on them when taken off.  With these, I decided to take them apart, cut off the bushings from the main leaf, and use it as an AAL.  Adding the main leaf from a spare set of stock leaf springs would beef up the stock pack currently on my buddy's jeep, and since the pack that this AAL came from had the same spring rate as the pack that it would be going into, I figured it would firm up the ride without being harsh like most aftermarket AAL's.  I wasn't sure how much lift to expect from doing this, so I just planned to add the leaf and just go from there.

Other things I knew that I needed were two new center pins, four leaf spring clamps, and four new UBolts for a D35 rear axle.  These items were very easy to come up with.  I found the 5/16" diameter center pins at the local All Pro Auto Parts store, a box of brand new D35 UBolts that I had left over from an earlier project that required 8.25 axle UBolts, and fabbed up the leaf spring clamps myself.

Here is a picture of the parts I came up with to put this Budget Boost together:

Here, you can see the difference between the Grand Cherokee V8 coils (top) and the stock Cherokee coils (bottom).  Notice the difference in the thickness of the coils and the distance between each coil on each of the springs:

To make the leaf spring clamps, I needed to make a trip to the local hardware store, where I picked up four 3.5" x 5/16" Grade 8 bolts, four 5/16" nuts, eight 5/16" washers, and a 4' long piece of flat steel bar 3/16" thick and 1" wide.  To make the spring clamps, I cut four 7" long pieces, found the center of each piece and made a line 1.25" to the left and right of the center (totaling 2.5" for the width of the leaf springs).  I marked a spot 3/16" from each end of each of the 7" long pieces in the center, where I drilled 5/16" holes for the bolts.  After drilling the holes, I made a 90* bend at the two lines that I marked 1.25" from the center of the pieces.  After finishing this, I painted the clamps to prevent rust, and here is the finished product:

Now, time for the install.  Here is a before picture of his Cherokee:

I started out by taking measurements of his jeep to see where it sat before the lift.  Stock Cherokee measurements are 17.5" for the front and 17" for the rear when measured from the center of the wheel hub to the bottom of the stock fender flare.  Here are his measurements, front and rear.  Notice the front is still sitting at stock height, however the rear has already started to sag.

 

Front Install

Starting in the front, I jacked up the jeep and placed jack stands under the frame just behind the lower control arm (LCA) mounts.  Then, I removed the wheels/tires, unbolted the sway bar, lower shock mounts, coil spring retainer clips, and the trackbar at the axle mount.  I also loosened the front and rear bolts of the LCA's.  The reason for loosening these bolts is due to the pressure on the rubber bushings in the LCA's.  The rubber does not allow very much give when tightened down, so loosening this pressure allowed the LCA's to flex on the bolt instead of on the bushing, allowing more flex to work with the axle, making it easier to remove and install the front coil springs.

After unbolting these items, I placed the jack under the passenger side of the axle, jacked that end up, causing the driver's side to move down, making it easy to remove the driver's side coil spring with very little effort.  Then I did the same for the passenger side.  After the stock Cherokee coils were removed, I added the extra stock isolators to the bumpstop posts, then put in the Grand Cherokee coils, passenger's side first with the opposite end of the axle jacked up, then did the same for the driver's side.  After doing numerous lift's on Cherokee's, I have found that this procedure of unbolting the listed items and removing/installing the coils in this order made things a lot easier without much if any use at all of spring compressors.

Here is the front end after adding the new parts:

 

Rear Install

Now, onto the rear.  The rear takes a little more work.  I jacked up the rear end and placed jack stands under the frame near the front of the leaf springs.  I removed the wheels/tires and unbolted the shocks at the bottom mounts, and unbolted/removed the UBolts and plate.  This is a good opportunity to remove the rear swaybar if you want more flex in the rear, but we did not do this to this jeep.  I used a second jack to jack up one end of the axle to lower the opposite end to give more room to work.  Here are pictures of this procedure and with the components unbolted as described:

OK, we need to take the spare set of stock Cherokee leaf packs apart to get our AAL.  Using two C-Clamps, clamp the leaf pack near the center to hole the leafs together, and using an angle grinder or similar tool, cut off the three leaf clamps on each pack, and the center pin.  Please remember to wear gloves and proper eye protection.  The center pin is under a lot of pressure and will become a projectile once it is cut.

Using a large screw driver or similar tool, pry off the leaf spring clamps and pull out the remaining center pin, then separate the top leaf from the rest of the pack.

Using a band saw or a grinder, cut off the bushings from each end of the main leaf and you will have your AAL's ready for install.

Returning to the leaf packs currently on the jeep, repeat the process of clamping the spring packs, and cutting off the clamps and the center pin.  If your rear swaybar is still attached, prop it up out of the way.  

Remove the bottom leafs, set them on the ground, place your AAL on top of these leafs (hole is offset, so be sure to put the shorter side toward the front), and put in the center pin.  With the pin in place, put the leafs back under the main leaf and bolt the center pin to hold the leafs in place.

Tighten the center pin down, making sure the leafs are lined up under each other properly, add your spring clamps and UBolts, mount your shocks, and you are finished with the rear.

After putting the wheels/tires back on and setting the jeep back on the ground, we needed to measure to find out where we sat as far as lift height to determine what else would need to be added to get the lift height of 2" we were shooting for.  My measurements were actually very surprising.  Here are my measurements front and rear:

Comparing our initial measurements to the final measurements, you can see that I gained a full 2" in the front and 2.5" in the rear.  After a little drive to let things settle in, the front stayed at the same height, and the rear settled to 2.25", which was actually 1.5" over stock.  My little test drive also provided the opportunity to see how the jeep handled, and I have to say, even with the stock shocks that really needed to be replaced, the ride and handling were incredible.  The Cherokee stayed level while cornering without swaying, and the bumps were absorbed very well without being harsh.  

Here is a picture of the Cherokee after the lift was complete, and the picture of it before the install for comparison.  It is difficult to tell from these pictures, but before the AAL, the stock packs were flat, whereas after the installation of the AAL, the leaf packs actually had an arch to them.

Total install time including fabrication of leaf spring clamps was just under 5 hours.  I had a budget of $350.  Here is the run down of the total cost of this project not including shocks.

Grand Cherokee V8 Coil Springs:        $ 15.20

Steel and hardware for clamps:         $ 18.05

Leaf Spring Center Pins:                   $  2.18

Stock 5/8" Coil Spring Isolators:            FREE

D35 UBolts:                                       FREE

Used Stock Cherokee Leaf Packs:          FREE

Grand Total                                          $ 35.43

If purchased, expect the UBolts to run about $25-30, $5-10 for the stock isolators, and under $50 for used stock leaf packs in good condition, which would bring the total to less than $125 for a 2" Budget Boost that rides much better than a $100 manufacturer made kit consisting of spacers and shackles, blocks or AAL.  For new shocks, expect to pay $120-250 depending on the manufacturer.

 

Shock Install

For shocks, we decided to go with the Monroe Sensatracs from our local Advance Auto Parts.  Since adding two inches of lift to the Cherokee, I decided it best to go with some longer shocks front and rear.  I picked up some 1994 Jeep Wrangler YJ front shocks and Jeep Grand Cherokee ZJ shocks.  I laid the new Monroes next to the stock Cherokee shocks for comparison.

Front YJ shocks about 3" longer than stock

UPDATE:  Use ZJ UpCountry Monroe Sensatrac front shocks instead of the YJ shocks. They bolt right in and are exactly 3" longer. Front ZJ UpCountry Sensatrac shock part #37193, 13.375" compressed and 24.250" extended.  For comparison, stock front XJ Sensatrac shock part #37083, is 13.250" compressed and 21.125" extended.  Having used YJ front Monroe Sensatracs (#37120, 14.5" C/24.375" E), they have a sleeve in the bottom bushing instead of a barpin, so you have to press the sleeve out and put in a barpin or BPE to get them to work. Too much work for the same extended length of the ZJ shock, and you lose 1" compressed length using the YJ instead of the ZJ UC shock.

Rear ZJ shocks about 1.5" longer than stock

UPDATE:  Use 1986-92 Jeep Comanche Monroe Sensatrac part #37029, which is 14.375" compressed and 23.000" extended.  For comparison, stock rear XJ Sensatrac shock part #37027, is 12.750" compressed and 20.000" extended.  The rear ZJ Monroe Sensatracs have a sleeve in the bottom and top bushings and no barpin for the top, so you have to press the sleeves out and put in a barpin or BPE in the top bushing to get them to work and the bottom bushing after removing the sleeve is an extremely tight fit installing onto the axle shock mount stud.  The 37029 doesn't have the sleeves to press out, which saves a lot of time, and the bottom bushing fits right onto the axle mount just like the stock shock bushing, but you would still need to use a barpin or BPE for the top bushing.

As you can see in the pictures, the new shocks do not have the bar pins and the bottom bushings have a metal sleeve.  I had to press the sleeves out using a vice and two deep sockets.  The diameter of one of the sockets was the same size as the sleeve so it could push the sleeve into the larger diameter socket.  Once the sleeves are removed, throw them away.  Now I had to install bar pins.  Installing the standard hour glass bar pins it a big pain and should be avoided at all costs.  I was not about to attempt installing hour glass bar pins, so luckily, I found some Old Man Emu (OME) front shock bar pins laying around that I could use.  OME shock bar pins are nice because they are round bar with holes drilled for the mounting bolts and are very simple to press into the bushings.  For the rear shocks, I was unable to bind any of the OME bar pins, so I went with the JKS Bar Pin Eliminators, which add about 1/4" of height to the length of the shocks.

Now that the new shocks are ready for install, the old shocks needed to come out.  The old front shocks came out very easily and I installed the new shocks in less than  20 minutes.  In this picture, you can see the new shocks sit at a nice level that will allow plenty of compression and extension with the 2" of lift without bottoming out or over-extending. 

Removing the rear shocks was a real pain.  They came out easily, but unfortunately, the factory upper shock bolts are cheap and break easily, and I just happened to break all four of them.  For removing broken upper shock bolts, please refer to my other tech article, Broken Shock Mount Fix.  After fixing the upper shock mounts, I installed the new ZJ rear shocks.  Like the front shocks, the length of the ZJ shocks was perfect for the lift height of 2".

   Driver's Side                                                                       Passenger's Side

Upper mounts with JKS Bar Pin Eliminators after broken bolt fix.

 

The Final Test Drive

With the new shocks installed, it was time to take it for the final test drive to see how this home brew budget boost actually felt on the road.  The Cherokee had already been to the alignment shop and was sporting some new 30" BFGoodRich A/T KO's that my buddy had installed prior to the new shock install.  So, how did it ride?  Wow!  I was very impressed and extremely pleased with the end result.  The ride was already impressive even with the stock shocks, but the new shocks were the icing on the cake.  

Of course, this Home Brew Budget Boost isn't better than the OME kit, but when comparing the ride quality to that of any other Budget Boost on the market for the same price with shocks, they just don't hold a candle.  

The End Result

1998 Jeep Cherokee Sport with 2" Home Brew Budget Boost with 30x9.50 BFG AT KO's on 15x8" Jeep Wranger TJ Gamblers with 5.5" Back Spacing

100_0245.jpg (69431 bytes)

Conclusion

If a person has the money to put into the OME kit, then it is definitely worth it.  If the funds aren't available, before spending that $100 on a 2" spacer for the front and a block, shackle, or add a leaf for the rear, and another $120 on some poor quality hydro shocks, one should seriously consider looking into building a 2" kit similar to the one in my article.  Install of this Home Brew Budget Boost isn't much more difficult than any other budget boost.  Although I had quite a few power tools at my disposal for cutting up the leaf packs to make my AAL, it can still be done with simple hand tools.  A set of vice grips and a socket wrench will remove the center pin, a hammer and large screw driver can pry apart the leaf clamps, and a hack saw can easily cut through the soft metal of the leaf to remove the bushings. 

If you have any questions, comments or suggestions, please email me at 

 info@rocklizardfabrications.com

 

Update Information

Since I haven't done the actual update to my article yet, here is a cut and paste I have been using with basically all the info that needs to be added to this article. It's a lot of reading, but read through it and see if anything may help you out. Some of it will not apply if you are just doing the 2" budget lift, so you can ignore using extended shackles, but definitely read through the info and shoot me an email if you need more clarification.

http://www.jeepforum.com/forum/show...oject+jeep+week

Latest Update Information - October 10, 2005