Project Comanche - Fitting the Tires
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By: Harry Wagner

To date several products have been installed on the Project Comanche to make it more reliable and capable. Yet at this point there is a critical issue that still has not been addressed. Namely, the tires do not fit! Although Tuff Country recommends 31" tires with their 3 " lift kit, my lust for ground clearance got the best of me and bolted up some 33x10.5R15 BFGoodrich Mud Terrains. Although the tires fit when the vehicle is static, any compression of the suspension or turning of the steering wheel results in severe rubbing.

This is what you can remove from your Cherokee or Comanche when adding Rusty's flares.
These are the reason so much material needed to be removed.

So what to do? I could add more suspension lift, but that would mean that I had wasted the money on the Tuff Country kit, and likely have to purchase a dramatically more expensive kit with longer control arms and steering corrections. The next option was to run smaller tires, but anyone who has been four wheeling for any length of time know that smaller tires are never the solution to any problem. Comaches and Cherokees feature unibody construction, so a body lift was not an option. The best solution to my tire rubbing problems was to cut the offending sheetmetal out of the way.

Jeep Comanches already have larger rear wheel openings than Cherokees, so I had to find something even larger to cover the sheetmetal I planned to remove. Fortunately, Rusty's Off Road offers cut-out fender flares, as well as fiberglass fenders. Even you have ever seen magazine coverage of a Jeepspeed race, you have probably seen Rusty's fender flares. And even though I have no ambitions to race the Project Comanche, I can still appreciate the additional clearance that is possible with these flares. Unlike the stock flares, which are sandwiched to the body, Rusty's flares attach with pop rivets, ensuring that they will still be firmly affixed at the end of the trail. The flares showed up promptly and well packaged, including all necessary hardware but lacking instructions.

In order to install the fender flares, I removed the stock pieces and placed the new flares up to the sheetmetal, tracing around them. While the Rusty's flares are similar in appearance to the stock flares, they affix from the outside of the flare instead of the inside, allowing a large amount of material to be removed. I was able to remove approximately 2 inches of sheetmetal from the wheelwells. This provides plenty of clearance for the 33" tall tires, without expensive suspension or steering modifications. I left the top of the raised portion of the sheetmetal in order to retain some structural integrity of the body and keep the inner and outer fenders from separating. The flares were easily installed in my driveway in an afternoon, using an air saw, hand drill and pop rivet gun. I find that the air saw makes for a cleaner cut than a Sawzall, but the latter should work just fine for this task. Whichever you use, make sure to wear proper eye protection.

The largest difference between the flares is how they attach to the body.

This was all the material that could be removed before the fenders started to seperate.
The front fenders look good, although a small dip is visible in the middle.

The flares come undrilled, so you can affix the rivets wherever you want. I found that the included rivets where slightly too short to go through two walls of sheetmetal, but they worked fine where the sheetmetal was thinner. I ended up using seven rivets per flare to attach them to the Comanche. The front flares fit perfectly, but the rear flares offered some trouble, likely due to the differences between the Cherokee and Comanche. Removing the entire fender lip may have remedied these issues, but I decided against that since the outer fenders were already seperating from the inner fenders. To maintain the integrity of the body I spot welded the fenders together where they were seperating and applied a coat of primer over the bare metal.

Unfortunately sheetmetal was not the only thing that the tires were rubbing on. Since I was using 10.5 wide tires, I reasoned that the backspacing on the stock Jeep Canyon wheels I was using would sufficiently clear the body and suspension components at full lock. A quick look at the Tuff Country stickers on the lower control arms revealed that this was not the case. Fortunately I got a good deal on the wheels and I am pleased with the way they look, so I decided to add wheel spacers instead of changing to different wheels with less backspacing. 1 aluminum wheel spacers were added to each side, enough to cure the rubbing without creating other issues related to balljoints or legality on the street.

Marks are visible where the tires were rubbing.

After thoroughly researching the internet, I came to the conclusion that most aluminum wheel spacers are essentially the same. An aluminum ring is bolted to the stock wheel studs and an offset set of wheel studs connect the spacer to the wheel. With such a simple product, price became the main criteria when comparing various vendors. Performance Wheel and Tire had the widest selection and best price, at $100 per pair of wheel spacers.

Adding the wheel spacers is quite possibly the easiest modification ever.
Don't forget to retighten the lugs after the first 300 miles.

Although it took nearly two weeks for the spacers to arrive, they were well packaged and easy to install. I simply jacked up one end of the vehicle, removed the tires and wheels, and bolted on the wheel spacers before remounting the wheels. Lower the vehicle and proceed to the other end, it is that easy. My only complaint is that the spacers do not center on the hub, which would make them easier to center. This is likely due to the same spacer being offered for a variety of applications.

While the addition of locking differentials and lower gears greatly improves off road prowess, they mean nothing if you cannot even make it to the trail. For a few hundred dollars and a day's labor, the Project Comanche now has all of the necessary clearance to travel down the road or down the trail. For a vehicle that is used on a daily basis for everything from commuting to parts running to trail scouting, minimized down time and proper clearance are essential.

Contacts Related Links
  • Rusty's Off-Road
    Department 4x4Wire
    7161 Steele Station Rd.
    Rainbow City, AL 35906
    (256) 442-0607
  • Performance Wheel & Tire
    Department 4x4Wire
    4095 S. Santa Fe Drive
    Sheridan, CO 80110
    (303) 934-2929

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