We’ve covered the basic Jeep Wrangler mods in Stage 1 and a few more intermediate upgrades in Stage 2. Now get ready for some more advanced mods in Stage 3. In the immutable words of Kip Dynamite, “I guess you could say things are getting pretty serious.” We’ll start with something important. So important we’re all surprised it didn’t come up sooner. We’d rank it above seat belts and functional brakes: Power.
Okay, no, safety is more important, but only slightly. Power is crucial, especially in this stage. Back in Stage 2, we added bigger wheels and tires. Due to the wonders of physics, bigger wheels and tires can actually slow down your Jeep. This isn’t a huge problem if you’re going off road, because speed can get you in trouble while you’re trying to slog through mud or climb over boulders. But the best thing about a Jeep is that it works everywhere, on-road and off, and the last thing we want is for you to lose highway speed due to an upgrade. That doesn’t make sense. We’re going to reclaim that speed with some top Jeep Wrangler mods for power.
Bigger wheels and tires also screws with your speedometer and odometer. In stock form, your speedometer calculates your speed based on how many times in a given period your stock wheels are spinning. Your odometer is similar. When those wheels get bigger, you cover more ground in a single rotation, so your speedometer communicates a slower speed than you’re actually going. That’s like setting your clock back ten minutes. It’s not a good idea. You’ll get pulled over, and you won’t understand why. But there’s a fix, and it gets you more power.
Your Jeep’s computer, which ALSO controls fuel injection, is programmed with a single tune. A single set of numbers dictates how much fuel gets into your engine. This set of numbers has to provide you with both power and economy, and since those stand at two ends of a spectrum, your fuel output sits somewhere in the middle. And in stock form, it’s not very good at it either. What you need is a switch, so you can get more fuel when you want more power, and less when you want more economy. The Superchips Flashpaq is that switch. The Flashpaq is a tuner that plugs into your Jeep’s OBDII port under the steering column. From there, it will communicate with your computer and tell it that you want more power, and in a matter of moments, you’ll have it. Alot of it. 30 extra horsepower and 30 lb-ft of torque, to be exact. It’s a massive gain for such an easy mod. You just have to plug it in and follow the instructions on screen. There aren’t even any batteries to replace. It’s powered by the port.
The Flashpaq also includes other tunes, like an economy tune you can switch to for long stints of highway driving, and a crawl tune you can use when you’re wheeling at low speeds out on the trail. This little powerhouse will also fix your speedometer and odometer problems. It will let your speedometer and odometer know that you’re now running bigger tires (up to 42″), and it will recalibrate. There’s a host of other features included, too, like a trouble code reader, to let you know why your check engine light is on; TPMS switches, and settings to let the computer know when you’ve added new gearing to your axles or transfer case. (Note: The Flashpaq is only available for JKs up to and including the 2014 model year.)
If you don’t care so much about power, you can opt for the Superchips Flashcal, which lets you make all the adjustments necessary to correct your speedometer and odometer before causing any issues. Available for all JK years, including the 2015, this little programmer has a host of other features you can use to change or modify on your JK.
We’ve got your Jeep thinking right. Now it needs to breathe right. Like your stock computer, your stock exhaust is designed to meet two different parameters, and, as a result, it’s too quiet and too restrictive to your engine. In order to reduce engine noise, the exhaust restricts flow. With that restriction, the engine has to work harder to force the exhaust gasses out, and that hampers your potential power and torque. Even your MPG. An aftermarket exhaust kills two birds with one stone, opening up power, and giving you an awesome, aggressive sound.
This Gibson cat-back, dual-split exhaust system does just that, adding around 5 hp and 5 lb-ft of torque to your setup and giving you a deep, powerful tone. To get an even more aggressive look and sound, go with this Metal Mulisha cat-back system with rear side exits. Rallyist, off-road racer, and motocross legend Brian Deegan and his friends founded the Metal Mulisha, and he worked with Gibson to develop the extreme look and sound of this Jeep exhaust. The result is just awesome.
The next mod isn’t mostly designed to give you more power, unless you’re fording a river and suck a bunch of water into your intake, at which point you’ll have no power at all. But it could offer a boost anyway. A snorkel, like this XHD from Rugged Ridge, is designed to prevent that. Very simply, a snorkel routes the air intake out from under the hood and along the right side of your windshield. You get much higher clearance so your Jeep can still safely cross the water, even when your engine compartment is submerged. But beyond that, it gets the intake up out of the hot engine compartment, so you’re getting the coldest air possible heading into your engine. Cold air is denser, which means you get more air per cubic foot. The more air you can shove into that engine, the more power you’ll make.
The XHD is extremely versatile. You can fold the windshield flat and still mount it. For a more subtle look, you can take out the A pillar tube and mount it low on the hood, retaining the cold air benefits. Or you can mount it high and keep it out of the water and a good majority of the dust. Under the hood, it mounts up to the top of your airbox, so you can hang onto your filter, but it also includes a pre-filter, with adds extra filtration at the top of the snorkel.
Pro tip: If you’re planning to submerge your Jeep, you’ll need to extend your axle breather tubes. These little rubber tubes extend vertically from your axles, letting out the heat. You don’t want your axles filling up with water, so you’ll need longer tubes, and it’s a pretty easy DIY project. Find out more over at Project-JK.com.
Now that we have the power back up to snuff, let’s talk about even getting to your obstacles on the trail. In Stage 2, we mentioned bigger wheels and tires, and that some of the biggest that fit on a stock JK might still rub the body in off-road situations. We can’t have that anymore, now that we’re trying some trails. So we’re adding some Jeep JK lift kits. They’re not just great for making sure your tires don’t rub, either. A good suspension lift will give you incredible ground clearance for more access to more obstacles. It looks plain awesome. And you even get a better view of the road ahead, since you’re seated higher. You have options, here. Many of them. So we narrowed it down to two examples for you.
This 2.5″ coil lift kit from Rubicon Express keeps it simple. It includes a spring for each wheel, taller bump stops, extended sway bar end links, a track bar relocation bracket, and all the hardware you’ll need. You will also need to get some longer shocks, these for the front and these for the rear. With this kit you can add up to 35″ tires with no rubbing, and you’ll reduce the risk of bottoming out. In general, lift kits can be pretty intensive to install. But this kit keeps it simple, relying on the taller springs to create the lift.
Once you get taller, however, things start to get a bit more complex. This 4″ lift kit from TeraFlex has many more parts, because more things need to be modified. You need to modify things like brake lines and exhaust. You’ll also need to do some cutting and welding for a new track bar bracket. It’s a pretty advanced installation. But it’s worth it. A 4″ lift will get you enough clearance for massive 37″ tires and get over just about everything. This kit includes the springs, all four shocks, long arm bracketry (to be welded), an adjustable trackbar, long adjustable flexarms, front swaybar disconnects, rear swaybar links, brake lines, bump stops, a rear trackbar bracket, and hardware. This kit only fits 4-door models, and it’s one of the most effective Jeep Wrangler Unlimited mods you can get.
Now that we’re getting out on the trail, we may need to use that winch we added in Stage 2. That’s a good thing. Winching is actually a great time. There’s a whole sport behind it, and whole anthologies of advanced winching techniques. But to do any winching at all, you need a winch kit. This is pretty much what it sounds like. It’s a tough, durable bag full of the things you’ll need to go winching. If you have a winch at all, you should carry a basic winch kit, or recovery kit. If you’re planning to get stuck just to get yourself out again, you’ll need a more advanced kit.
Here are a few things you’ll find in a winch kit:
D-Shackles: You’ve seen these before. They look like the letter D and are used to hook on to straps, cables, ropes, and bumpers. They tend to be stronger than open hooks, since they’re a closed ring.
Gloves: Winch cable can fray and hurt your hands. Just put on some heavy duty gloves.
Snatch block: This is a pulley that cuts your winch’s workload in half. Instead of hooking onto a tree, you hook the snatch block onto the tree using a tree strap, and run your winch cable through it. Then you hook back up to your bumper. This gives your winch more leverage and you have an easier time pulling yourself out.
Tree strap: For years winchers wrapped their steel lines directly around tree trunks, which ultimately stripped the bark. But when you strip the bark off of a tree trunk, it dies. Then there’s nothing else to hook onto, and that’s lame. Trees don’t mind the weight, just the shave. So now you can just wrap a strap around the trunk and winch yourself out without hurting the tree. Most off-road parks require tree straps.
Recovery strap/rope: This isn’t technically for winching in the strictest sense, but it’s a good thing to have in your kit. A recovery strap goes from Jeep to Jeep and has an elasticity that allows your friend to safely yank you out of the mud at slow speeds.
Tow rope: Not to be confused with a recovery rope, a tow rope does not have any elasticity, and is designed just for towing a vehicle that’s already free of the mud or snow.
Chain: You never know when you’ll need a good old fashioned steel chain.
Our most basic winch kit, from Warn, includes gloves, a 9,000 lb snatch block, a 1/2,” 4,500 lb D shackle, two 1″x8′ tree protectors, and a sturdy bag for all. The medium duty kit includes a 20,000 lb snatch block, gloves, 2 3/4″ D-shackles, a 2″x8′ tree strap, a 2″x30′ recovery strap, and a large bag with outer pockets and a shoulder strap. That should be plenty to get you started on your winching adventures.
If you’re winching in the dark, you’ll need to be able to see what you’re doing, which is why auxiliary lighting is always a good idea. We got into auxiliary lights in Stage 2, but now it’s time to add more. Our KC Hilites LED light bar and halogen driving lights are great, but they’re not the only lights you can get, and they don’t create a complete lighting package. A light bar is perfect for wide, short range lighting to increase your peripherals, and driving lights are equivalent to high-beams.
Let’s run through a quick primer on bulb types:
- Halogen lights are reliable, cost-effective, and use the same basic tech we’ve seen in light bulbs since Edison. They get their name from the Halogen gasses in the glass. These gasses keep the tungsten filament young, reattaching tungsten atoms that burn away from the filament while it’s on, helping it stay strong and last longer.
- HID stands for High Intensity Discharge, and uses an electrical arc in a glass tube to produce the light. HIDs are extremely bright, offering a cold light and a long lifespan, but can be a higher-budget item.
- LED stands for Light Emitting Diode. These tiny bulbs use a semiconductor to produce light. They’re extremely durable, use very little power, and are very compact. They tend to have a more limited range than HID or Halogen bulbs in general.
Auxiliary lighting experts recommend that your lighting profile cover alot of ground. You’ll want lights that can give you a good peripheral view, a great distant view, and everything in between. This can’t all be accomplished with a single light, so varying your lighting setup is always a good idea. LEDs, for example, can produce extremely bright light, but they’re range can be limited, so they’re great for general lighting and peripherals. Halogens and HIDs tend to have a much longer range.
We recommend completing you package with more good stuff from KC Hilites. These halogen spot lights are even more focused and long-range than your driving lights, using reflectors that keep the beams thin, so you can angle them precisely for the greatest reach, letting the driving lights cover the mid-range field. This is great for wilderness and desert driving when you need to see obstacles coming from a long way off.
There are other times, when you’re on the highway or rolling through town, that you don’t want to blind oncoming cars with your auxiliary lighting but still want a cool, clear, crisp light field ahead of you. That’s why KC Hilites makes JK replacement headlights with LEDs. With a 1,100 lumen low beam and a 1,600 lumen high beam, they vastly outperform the stock halogen headlights. They’re easy to install, too, since they’re designed specifically for your JK. Best of all, they’re made of tough polycarbonate so you don’t have to worry about damaging them out on the trail.
Well, friends, that’s Stage 3 of Jeep JK mods. We’ve gone from a stock JK with no mods and decent capability to a hardcore, trail-ready fun rig you’d be hard pressed to get stuck anywhere. Now get out there and enjoy it.
Andy Sheehan is a blogger, aspiring novelist, and relentless hoon. He plans to will his 2002 Subaru WRX Wagon to his firstborn, plans his daily commute around the swoop of its roads, and doesn’t plan to ever buy an automatic. A cool-car omnipath, he loves the common Mustang or Chevelle, but hunts for the weird and wonderful Velorexes and Cosmos of the autoverse. And when he can afford a garage, he’s going to turn an MX-5 into a race car.