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Grand Cherokee ZJ Economy 3" Lift
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Getting a lift from the springs you already have Short Cuts
by: Randy Halvorsen

Front-to-Back Spring Swap

If you are serious about taking your ZJ off-road, a lift is one of the first items that you will be considering. There are a number of lift kits to choose from. They range from simple spring spacers to full-blown spring lifts with new controls arms and track bars. Off course, the more radical the lift, the more it will cost. A number of Grand Cherokee owners have opted for an inexpensive alternative, the front-to-back spring swap, which will net about 3" of lift.

The idea of this lift is to replace the rear springs with the front, and then put a higher rate spring with a poly spacer in the front.  If you do not have the Up-Country option on your ZJ, the Up-Country springs will give the front of your ZJ about 1" of lift. These can be purchased through a Jeep dealer.  That, together with a new 2" spacer will give you 2.5" to 3" of lift, depending on whether you re-use the stock spring spacer or not.  Swapping the original front springs to the rear, will provide 3+ inches of lift.



I opted to purchase used springs from a local salvage yard for my 1994 Grand Cherokee Laredo.  They were taken from a rear-ended '95 Grand Cherokee with the V-8.  There were only 2 ZJ's to pick from, and neither one of them had the Up-Country springs.  My Grand Cherokee has the 4.0 liter I-6, so with the 200 lb weight difference of the two engines, I knew that I would still get some lift.

The day before I planned to perform the lift, I stopped by my local auto parts store to rent a spring compressor.  They informed me that as of the previous week, they were no longer renting equipment. But, they would sell me their one and only used spring compressor.   After exchanging $15.00 for a well used compressor, I was out the door and on my way.

I gathered together the following tools and equipment.

Placement of front jack stand.

 

First order of business was to jack my Jeep up and support it adequately with the jack stands.  The ZJ has some reinforced support points on the unibody, just aft of the front tires and in front of the rear tires.   After jacking the vehicle up, I placed the jack stands under these points and lowered it down onto the stands. After removing the wheels, I finished lowering the axles and removed the jack.  The Jeep was now supported completely by the jack stands under the body.  

Rear jack stand.

Beginning at the front, I removed the sway bars.  You will need the T55 Torx to do this.  If you have not already installed quick disconnects, you may want to consider installing them during this lift.  I then disconnected the lower bolts of the shocks.  It may be helpful to stick the jack under the axles and lift them a little while unbolting the shock bolts, as the shocks will probably be fully extended, with the weight of the axle on them.  My axle dropped a couple more inches after removing the shock bolts.  You will now need to unbolt the ABS line bracket from the axle, being careful with the line.  You can now access the single bolt for the spring clamp.  Remove it.

Lower front shock mount.

After you have accomplished the above, on both sides of the front axle, it is time to compress those springs and remove them.  There are a couple different ways that this can be done.  For me, the easiest way was to jack one end of the axle up, mount the spring compressors good and tight, compress a few turns, then lower the jack.  The spring should then be short enough to be taken out with care.  

Slip the old spring out towards the front, lay it on the ground or workbench, and carefully release the compressor.  Place the coil spring compressors onto the new spring, and compress it back to about the same length that the previous spring had been when it was removed.  If you are installing a poly spacer and extended length shocks, you will need to install the longer bump stop.  To remove the old rubber spacer, first remove the old bump stop by prying it out with a screw driver.  It is just pressed into the metal cup.  Then, remove the cup with a socket.  The old spacer will now slide right off.  I found that if I put a little grease on the inside surface of the new poly spacer, it slid onto the bump stop tower much easier.  Then I slid the old spacer onto the tower, after the new spacer.  This way the spring will seat against the softer, more pliant, rubber of the original spacer.  

Front spring clamp.

I found it very difficult to reinstall the spring with the new bump stop already installed.  It was much easier to leave it off and to use some tape to hold it on the inside of the spring as I reinstalled the spring.  Once I had the spring into place and compressors removed, I was able to install the bump stop cup by reaching through the spring with a socket and ratchet to bolt the cup back on.  I then used a small crow bar to squeeze the bump stop back into the cup.

Now you can reverse the order of disassembly.  Bolt the spring retainer back in place, re-install the ABS hose bracket and hose, and bolt the shocks back on.  If you elected to go with the quick disconnects, now is the time to install them on the sway bar.  Otherwise, bolt the sway bar back onto the axle.

$5.00 front sway bar quick-disconnect.

  

The rear is essentially the same process, except it is a little easier to maneuver the spring in and out of place because there are fewer obstacles.  One common off-road enhancer, is the removal of the rear sway bar.  This is a good time to take it out and hang it in the garage.  For me, road handling was virtually unchanged with the rear bar removed.  Some people have reported problems with the top coils of the spring rubbing the body pinch-weld, which is right alongside the spring.  This may be due to the top of the coil being a little larger than the original rear coil.  I have not had this problem, but if you do, a few light taps with a hammer should bend the pinch-weld out of the way so as to avoid the rubbing.

I did not experience any objectionable axle shift.  As you raise the vehicle, the track bar will pull the axle to one side.  This can be corrected by installing an adjustable track bar or drilling a new mounting hole in the track bar bracket on the axle.  You will likely need to have your alignment checked, as this lift will change your caster.

 Rear coil and shock.

The net result of this lift was a full 2.75" in the front, and 3.5" in the rear.  To level the vehicle out, you may want to add an additional stock spacer up front or go with the Up-Country springs.  I found that when I loaded the ZJ up, with my family and camping supplies, the vehicle sits nice and level.  

I blocked out a whole day to perform the lift, so that I would not feel rushed and could do it properly.  The lift took a total of 4 hours to do.  I would consider myself a medium-level shade tree mechanic.  Adjust your projected time accordingly.

Driving impressions?  The ride was definitely stiffer, which was a welcome improvement in my case.  Now the ZJ doesn't wallow around as much as it did before the lift.

  Flexing the new lift.

I took the ZJ for a test drive with the Flatlanders Jeep Club.  We visited Randolph ORV Park, just north of Manhattan, Kansas.  Randolph has tons of mud, and a number of steep hills with rock ledges scattered around for good measure.  Drive Shaft Hill is one such hill.  After a very steep, rocky climb, there is a turn to the right and a rock ledge just at the top.  I was able to take the steepest part of the ledge without scraping my underbelly.  Before, I would have scraped the transfer case skid plate pretty good.  

    

 
Contacts:
Flatlanders Jeep Club
Dept. ORN
PO Box 75
Ogden, KS  66517
(785) 776-9279
Grand Cherokee Connection
Dept. ORN
7829 Folkstone Drive
Pensacola, FL  32514
(850) 475-8198
Budget Boost spacers
Rusty's Off Road
Dept. ORN
213 Oak Street
Trussville, AL 35173
(205) 655-8714
Spring spacers

 

 





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