Jeep Wrangler JK: Off-Road Modifications

Read on to get started in personalizing and improving your Wrangler’s off-road prowess. Let’s get out there.By Scott Phillips – January 13, 2016

This article applies to the Jeep Wrangler JK (2007-Present).

Lifts and diffs, as well as lockers and springs. Wrangler modding information could use up all the data storage on the world-wide-web; leaving none for cat videos. So to give the cats a break, here are the off-road modifications to best benefit the Wrangler’s performance and safety:

  • Larger tires
  • Modified fenders
  • Improved suspension flex
  • Suspension lift
  • Recovery attachment hard-points

A few definitions relating to Wrangler modifications:

  • Sprung Weight: The frame and body of the Wrangler, and everything in it, that is riding on the suspension springs.
  • Unsprung Weight: The parts of the Wrangler suspension that are not supported by the springs. This includes the drive shafts, axles, brakes, wheels and tires. Adding unsprung weight reduces the performance of any vehicle. As a general rule, adding one pound of unsprung weight has the performance effect of adding 10 lbs of load.
  • Tire Size: The stock Wrangler size is 255/75/17. The tread width is 255mm. The sidewall height is 75% of the tread width, or 191mm. The bead diameter is 17″ and fits on a 17″ wheel. Yeah, millimeters, percentage and inches all in one size….it’s the world we live in.
  • Wheel Backspace: The distance from the hub mounting face of the wheel to the back of the rim.
  • Wheel Offset: The distance from the hub mounting face of the wheel to its center-line.

Mod Your JK to Go Almost Anywhere

Figure 1. Wrangler JK; only in a Jeep.

Pizza Cutter 33″ Tires on Stock Wheels

DIY Cost – $880

Professional Cost – $980

Skill Level – Easy; direct bolt-on with no adjustments.

Larger tires improve off-road performance in two ways: they have a greater contact patch, which improves traction, and they raise the ground clearance of both the axles and the chassis. However, larger wheel/tire assemblies also increase unsprung weight and inertia; because the heavier assemblies are, the slower to respond to acceleration, deceleration and directional changes. In addition, the increased ground clearance raises the center of gravity, which makes the Wrangler less stable.

The Wrangler stock 17″ wheel has a 255/75/17 tire, with a 10″ tread width and 32″ diameter. It can be upgraded to 255/80/17, increasing the tire diameter to 33″ with the same tread width. This is the largest tire that can be installed on the stock suspension and is often called a “pizza cutter” because it looks tall and thin (and yes, that’s a Starship Enterprise pizza cutter).

Unsprung Weight: The stock 17″ wheel weighs 25 lbs and the 255/75/17 tire weighs 37 lbs. The 255/80/17 pizza cutter can increase the unsprung weight by 10+ lbs at each wheel.

Oversize Tires and Wheel Upgrades

DIY Cost – Up to $1,880

Professional Cost – Up to $2,020

Skill Level – Easy; direct bolt-on, with minimal adjustments.

The stock 17″ wheel can be further upgraded with a 295/70/17 tire that has an 11.6″ tread width and 33.5″ diameter. This will require 1.5″ wheel spacers to move the wheel outboard enough to prevent rubbing during turning.

Choosing an aftermarket wheel allows you to upgrade to the 18″ size with the correct backspacing, which provides a sturdier alternative to wheel spacers. The stock wheel backspace is 6.25″, so the KMC XD778 with 4.5″ backspace will move the wheel outboard 1.75″, allowing room for the 275/70/18 Wrangler Duratrac tires shown.

Unsprung Weight: The KMC XD778 weighs 27 lbs and the Wrangler Duratrac weighs 55 lbs, increasing unsprung weight by 20 lbs at each wheel.

For a comprehensive review of portable, on-board air compressors, see the related article Portable Air Compressor Reviews.

Fender Cutouts or Fender Flares

DIY Cost – $1,300

Professional Cost – $1,800

Skill Level – Easy to Moderate; no jacking is required and uses basic tools, but does require precise drilling.

During off-road wheeling, full suspension articulation can cause oversize tires to damage the stock fenders. The basic solution is to cut away the excess fender with a dremel tool. However, installing fender flares gives a much more finished, professional appearance.

Fender flares are available from many aftermarket suppliers in steel, aluminum and polymer and in narrow, standard and wide sizes. The Poison Spyder Crusher Flares shown here are a very highly regarded JK flare kit. Installation involves the removal of the stock fenders, carefully measuring and drilling, and then fastening the flares with stainless hardware.

The Poison Spyder Crusher Flares are available in steel or aluminum. The standard width front flare weighs 31.6 lbs in steel, and is extremely sturdy in the off-road environment. For lightweight applications, the standard width aluminum flare weighs only 11.8 lbs, but is less robust and requires more caution off-road. Both must be painted before installing.

(Related Article: The Ultimate Fender Guide – JK-Forum.com)

Anti-Roll Bar Quick Disconnects

DIY Cost – $200

Professional Cost – $350

Skill Level – Moderate; may require precise drilling and cutting.

The anti-roll bar is commonly called a sway bar; although, its purpose is to minimize sway or body roll. The Wrangler JK has front and rear anti-roll bars. The bars connect the left and right wheels together through the frame, in an effort to force each side to remain level with the other side. On pavement, this minimizes body roll in curves and provides more handling stability. However, the anti-roll bar prevents the suspension articulation needed to keep all four wheels on the ground when off-roading.

The Wrangler Rubicon has a standard electronic sway bar disconnect, but on other models the anti-roll bar end-links must be manually disconnected. Some off-roaders will remove the 12mm bolts in the end-links and replace them with smaller 7/16″ clevis pins that can be quickly pulled on the trail. These clevis pins must be monitored closely because they rattle inside the end-link bushings and break. However, there are many great aftermarket kits, such as the JKS Quick Disconnect Link kit shown here.

To prevent tire damage, always zip-tie or bungee the disconnected anti-roll bar in the horizontal position. Do not disconnect the rear anti-roll bar, as it has more flexibility and aids in stabilizing the Wrangler in extreme articulation, as well as protecting the rear brake hoses from over-extension.

Suspension Lift Kits

DIY Cost – $350

Professional Cost – $700

Skill Level – Moderate; jacking is required, and an assistant may be needed.

Suspension lift kits increase the ground clearance of the chassis, at the expense of raising the center of gravity. The Wrangler JK can be lifted a maximum of 2.5″—allowing up to 35″ tires—without significantly affecting the drive-train and suspension geometry. The economy lift kits simply raise the chassis with 2.5″ spacers on the stock springs and 2.5″ extension brackets on the stock shock dampers. However, the medium-priced Rough Country kit shown here, uses dedicated springs and tuned shock dampers for a fully integrated suspension system. Installation involves jacking the Wrangler and placing it on jack stands, replacing the springs and shock dampers and relocating the brake line mounts and rear track bar mount.

Pro Tip

Upgrading tire diameter to 35″ or 37″ reduces tire revolutions and increases unsprung weight to the point that gearing changes are needed to restore engine performance.

Front Base Plates with Hitch Receivers

DIY Cost – $300-500

Professional Cost – $500-800

Skill Level – Moderate; requires minor drilling and bolting the base plates onto the front crash structure.

Recovery is the snatch-pulling of an immobile Wrangler out of the sand or muck and requires a nylon elastic recovery strap, which acts as a shock absorber for the abrupt pulling force. The only safe heavy duty recovery fixture is a frame-mounted hitch receiver, equipped with a D-ring adapter. The Roadmaster base plate kit shown bolts securely to the front frame and provides dual 2″ hitch receivers for aggressive recovery pulling.

D-Ring Hitch Adapters for Recovery

DIY Cost – $30-100

Professional Cost – $80-200

Skill Level – Easy; can be accomplished with hand tools.

Most sanctioned trail rides prohibit tow straps with metal hooks, which can become dangerous missiles. Additionally, the stock front “bulldog teeth” bumper hooks are only meant for light pulling. Safe recovery is conducted with nylon loop recovery straps attached to D-ring hitch adapters as shown.

For more information on recovery straps see the related article Off-Roading 101 Guide.

Related Discussions

Jeep Wrangler JK: How to Perform After Off-Roading Maintenance

With good after off-roading maintenance, you can be sure your Wrangler is ready for the next trip into the wild, or even just to the mall. Read on to see how to check and maintain your Wrangler at the trail’s end.By Scott Phillips – December 30, 2015

This article applies to the Jeep Wrangler JK (2007-Present).

The harsh off-road environment stresses fluids and subjects undercarriage components to rock strikes and immersion damage. After off-roading, dirt and mud must be removed so you can check for fluid leaks and damage. Hose down the wheels, wheel wells and undercarriage to remove the mud. It’s also critically important to clean the suspension and chassis in the winter, as frozen mud and muck can act like a rock; jamming up springs and breaking moving parts. Use caution with a pressure washer, as the high pressure can damage cooling fins, force water past seals and wash grease from the brake pads. Many owners find that running a lawn sprinkler under the Wrangler for a few hours does an effective job of loosening and clearing mud.

Materials Needed

  • Garden hose with sprayer
  • Tire repair plug kit
  • Socket wrench set
  • Engine air filter
  • Flashlight
  • Mechanic’s gloves

Step 1 – Inspect the tires

All-terrain tires are equipped with steel belts that protect the tread face, but the sidewalls are constructed only of polyester radial plys. When crossing rocky terrain, always attempt to center your tires on rocks so that the steel belts take the deformation. When not centered on a rock, tire sidewall damage can result because the sidewall is pinched or compressed between the rock and the wheel rim. This can cause cracks and weak spots that result in blisters. Sidewall blisters will grow progressively larger as the plys weaken.

Hose the Wrangler’s tires clean and look for torn tread blocks, punctures and sidewall damage. Make sure to check the inner sidewalls as well. You can repair tread punctures with a tire plug kit, but a sidewall damaged tire should be replaced with the spare. Then re-inflate the tires to your on-road pressure. For a comprehensive review of on-board air compressors, see the related article Portable Air Compressor Reviews.

Figure 1. All-terrain tire construction.

Figure 2. Tire sidewall damage.

Pro Tip

All sidewall damage is dangerous because the tire can suddenly delaminate or blow-out on the highway, causing sudden loss of control and very often a rollover crash.

Step 2 – Inspect the brakes

  • Avoid high pressure spray on the brake calipers, as it can wash the grease off the brake pad channels.
  • Clean the calipers and check the hose connections for leaks.
  • Insure that both sides of the brake rotors are cleaned as well as the rotor cooling vents.
  • Check that no stones are jammed between the rotors and heat shields.
  • Check the rubber brake hoses for cracks and leaks.

Figure 3. Brake cleaning and inspection.

Step 3 – Reconnect and check suspension components

  • Reconnect the front anti-roll bar links.
  • Look for oil leaks on the lower bodies of the shock dampers.
  • Check for broken suspension springs.
  • Check that the white nylon bump stops are in place and not deformed.
  • Look for loose, bent, or broken suspension parts.

Figure 4. Suspension components.

Step 4 – Check for leaks and damage in driveline components

  • Check the engine oil pan for scrapes, dents, and oil leaks.
  • Check the transfer case for damage and leaks.
  • Check the differentials for damage and leaks.
  • Check the drive shafts for damage and drive shaft seals for leaks.

Figure 5. Driveline inspection.

Step 5 – General condition of undercarriage

  • Look for loose or bent suspension control arms.
  • Check the catalytic converters for security.
  • Check for damage to the EVAP canister.
  • Look for scrapes and dents in the skid plates.
  • Check for holes in the muffler.
  • Check the rear shock dampers for leaks and rear springs for breakage.
  • Check the rear track bar for security.

Figure 6. General condition.

Step 6 – Rinse mud from the A/C condenser and radiator

Mud clogging the fine cooling fins of the condenser and radiator can lead to rapid overheating. The condenser is mounted in front of the radiator, but dirt will pass through to both. Avoid using a pressure washer, as it will bend the delicate cooling fins.

  • Allow the Wrangler to cool.
  • Rinse the condenser and radiator from both sides with a low pressure hose until the water runs clear.

Figure 7. Rinse mud from the condenser and radiator.

Step 7 – Check or replace the engine air filter

Trail dust and dirt can quickly clog the Wrangler’s engine air filter. To check and change the filter, see the related article How to Replace Air Filter.

Step 8 – Check electronic throttle control plug (3.8L engine)

After rough off-roading, the electronic throttle control (lightning bolt light) may illuminate or flash and the engine may stop or enter limp mode. This is often because the ETC connector plug, underneath the throttle body, has worked loose and simply needs to be reconnected.

Figure 8. 3.8L electronic throttle control plug.

Related Discussion

Jeep Wrangler JK: Off-Roading 101 Guide

Rocks, mud, snow and sand are the Wrangler’s natural habitat. Read on for the basic equipment and knowledge you need to get out – and stay out.By Scott Phillips – December 23, 2015

This article applies to the Jeep Wrangler JK (2007-present).

The Wrangler isn’t a machine; it’s a culture. A culture of can-do, competence and self-sufficiency. The principal attributes you need to off-road your Wrangler are a disposition towards learning and plenty of common sense. Sanctioned trail runs are a safe learning environment but can be slow-going, with a lot of traffic. Otherwise, you can be quite successful off-roading with a small group of new Jeepers, who are reasonably prepared for the challenge. Here’s everything you need to know about off-roading in your Jeep Wrangler JK.

Rocks and Mud:

  • Think the trail ahead of you.
  • Go slow, and when in doubt, walk the section first.
  • Use 4-Low for more wheel torque.
  • Always protect your undercarriage. Place the wheels on obstacles. Don’t straddle rocks.
  • Be aware that 4-High tends to overheat in the rocks and muddy environments.

Sand and Snow:

  • Use 4-High for less wheel torque and faster travel.
  • Accelerate slowly. Don’t spin and dig in.
  • Keep moving.
  • Brake slowly to prevent plowing sand or snow in front of the wheels.

Off-Road Protocol:

  • Don’t be a sparkle pony.
  • While skilled Jeepers are always willing to help, don’t expect to count on others.
  • Bring your own equipment.

Beginning Off-Road Equipment

Tow Strap and Recovery Strap: Differences and Uses

Towing and Recovery are two very different operations that require specific straps.

Figure 1. Off Road-101 Guide: Tow strap vs recovery strap.

  • Towing is the slow and steady pulling of a disabled Wrangler along the trail; and requires an unyielding polyester tow strap. When towing, take up slack slowly and pull gently. Never attempt recovery with a tow strap! The unyielding polyester strap can break hooks and yank off parts.
  • Recovery is the snatch-pulling of an immobile Wrangler out of the sand or muck and requires an elastic recovery strap. The nylon elastic recovery strap acts as a shock absorber for the abrupt pulling force. Secure the recovery strap to the frame of the stuck Wrangler without using metal hooks. Try to avoid towing with a recovery strap, as the rubber band effect can bang the vehicles together.

The only safe, heavy-duty pulling fixture on your Wrangler is the frame-mounted hitch receiver, equipped with a D-ring adapter.

Figure 2. Off Road-101 Guide; Wrangler D-ring hitch adapter.

Put the D-ring through the recovery strap loop and assemble the adapter as shown.

  • Only pull with a D-ring hitch adapter.
  • Only pull in forward gears. Pulling in reverse can damage the differential gear teeth.

When recovering a stuck Wrangler, keep in mind that the front “bulldog teeth” tow hooks are only meant for light pulling and tie-down, as they are bolted to the front bumper horns rather than the main frame. Additionally, Jeep does not recommend attaching D-ring tow hooks to the stock front bumper, as it is not sturdy enough to endure the stress of pulling the 4000+ lb. Wrangler. For the serious work of towing and recovery, the Wrangler needs towing base plates securely bolted to the front frame. These have 2″ Class 3 hitch receivers that will accept D-ring adapters for recovery straps.

Pro Tip

Never attach any pull strap to a hitch ball. The ball can break off and become a high-speed missile.

Anti-roll Bar Quick Disconnect

The anti-roll bar is commonly called a sway bar, although its purpose is to minimize sway or body roll.

Figure 3. Off Road-101 Guide; Wrangler JK body roll and suspension articulation.

The Wrangler JK has front and rear anti-roll bars. The bars connect the left and right wheels together through the frame in an effort to force each side to remain level with the other side. On pavement, this minimizes body roll in curves and provides more handling stability. However, the anti-roll bars prevent the suspension articulation needed to keep all four wheels on the ground when off-roading.

Some off-roaders will remove the 12mm bolts in the front anti-roll end-links and replace them with smaller 7/16″ clevis pins that can be quickly pulled to disconnect the front anti-roll bar on the trail. However, there are many great aftermarket end-links with quick-disconnects that are easy to install and use.

On Board, Portable Air Compressor

Experienced Wrangler rock-crawlers and trail riders know that trail tires need to be partially deflated for traction in the rough and then re-inflated to about 30psi for the drive home.

As one example, this Smittybilt 2780 has a duty cycle with long run time, high cubic-feet per minute air flow and adequate hose reach for most inflation jobs on the trail. However, there are many good compressors to choose from. Click here for a comprehensive review of portable air compressors.

Figure 4. Off Road-101 Guide; portable air compressor, Smittybilt 2780.

Jack Base Booster

This Mopar jack booster fits into the rear tool bin of the Wrangler and provides a sturdy platform for the OEM scissor jack.

Figure 5. Off Road-101 Guide; Wrangler JK, jack base booster.

Jacking a Wrangler in the dirt, rocks and mud is always a demanding operation. With its slow-acting screw mechanism, the OEM scissor jack is one of the safer options for basic tire changes, and the Mopar base booster provides it with a wide, stable platform. Adding 3.5″ provides enough height to change 37″ tires. A second base booster can also be used as a wheel chock.

Pro Tip

Although the high lifting, extreme recovery jacks look cool and purposeful mounted to your Wrangler, they are best used by highly experienced off-roaders. One misjudgement or slip with an extreme recovery jack can suddenly turn a temporarily immobilized Wrangler into a dire medical crisis while far from help.

Recovery Tools: Shovel and Axe

The most effective tools for extricating an immobilized Wrangler are often just a strong, high quality shovel and axe. The collapsible and modular shovels and axes are convenient but not always sturdy enough for demanding recovery work. The best recovery tool is a rigid tool dedicated to one task.

Both the Cess C740G shovel and Fiskars X25 axe are sized to be stowable aboard the Wrangler, yet rugged, durable and sharp. The Cess is welded stainless steel and the Fiskars axe head is permanently molded in the handle. These tools and a recovery strap should extricate a recreational off-roader from most situations, without the hazard of the Wrangler falling off a tall, unstable recovery jack.

Figure 6. Off Road-101 Guide; Recovery shovel and axe.

Off-Roading Maintenance

In addition to the standard Wrangler Service Schedule, off-road maintenance requires checking fluids and components that are stressed by extreme service and subject to undercarriage damage. When coming off the trail, spray the wheels, wheel wells and undercarriage clean of dirt and mud, so that you can see leaks or damage. It’s also critically important to clean the suspension and chassis in the winter, as frozen mud and muck can act like a rock; jamming up springs and breaking moving parts.

  • Check the tires for gouges and punctures.
  • Inspect the brake hoses for cuts and cracks.
  • Check that the brakes are not jammed with stones, mud or sand.
  • Check the shock dampers for leakage.
  • Look for bent control arms and broken springs.
  • Look for fluid leaks in the oil pan, transmission and differentials.
  • Insure that the air filter and radiator fins are not clogged with dust or mud.

Common Questions

How much deflation is right?

Stock Wrangler tire pressures run about 35 psi to 37 psi. Off road, the tires must be deflated to improve ride quality and increase traction. The appropriate pressure is a factor of vehicle weight, tire size and the softness of the surface. While lower pressure increases the tire footprint and traction, it also limits speed. For instance, low pressure will improve your “float” on sand, but low pressure will limit your speed on an unimproved road. Additionally, on rocks you must have enough pressure to keep the sidewall secure so the tire doesn’t deform and break the bead. Below are some general pressures to safely begin:

  • Unimproved road: 20 psi
  • Rocks: 15 psi
  • Mud: 12 psi
  • Sand: 10 psi
  • Snow: 15 psi, reducible to 10 psi

CB, FRS or GMRS radio for two-way communication?

Today, of course, your mobile phone is primary for communication. However, if you are off-roading outside of cellular coverage, there are several choices for two-way radio between vehicles. All of these radios are limited by line-of-sight transmission; meaning that their range will be longer across a wide open space and shorter in wooded, hilly areas.

  • Citizen’s Band Radio: Crowded channels and large unit, but good range with vehicle whip antenna and no license required.
  • Family Radio Service: Low power and short range, but handheld and less interference than CB. No license required.
  • General Mobile Radio Service: Handheld with more channels and range than FRS, but FCC license required.
Citizen’s Band RadioFamily Radio ServiceGeneral Mobile Radio Service
Power4 watts, 12 watts on Single Side Band1/2 watt1 to 5 watts
Channels40 on the HF band14 on the UHF band22 on the UHF band
Frequencies26.965 to 27.405 MHz462 to 467 MHz462 to 467 MHz
Antennavehicle mounted whiphand heldhand held
Range5 to 10 miles1 mile5 miles
Licensenonenone5 year FCC license and $65 fee

Figure 7. Off Road-101 Guide; Two-way radio.

Common Issues

Wrangler Rubicon Electronic Sway Bar Disconnect Fails to Reconnect

Once disconnected, and often after getting wet, the sway bar will not reconnect and the Sway Bar light flashes continuously.

  1. Have the electronic sway bar assembly replaced under warranty.
  2. Replace the electronic sway bar disconnect motor with the EVO Mfg. No-Limits Manual Disconnect

3.8L Engine Electronic Throttle Control Plug Loose

After rough off-roading, the Electronic Throttle Control (lightning bolt light) illuminates or flashes and the engine stops or enters limp mode.

  • The ETC connector plug underneath the throttle body has worked loose and simply needs to be reconnected.

Related Discussion

Jeep Wrangler JK: How to Tow Your Jeep

Read on to learn about the five components you must have to safely tow the Wrangler JK, and how to set up your Toad to be legal in all 50 states.By Scott Phillips – December 22, 2015

This article applies to the Jeep Wrangler JK (2007-Present).

Trailer-ing and towing are our two options for transporting the Wrangler over the road. Trailer-ing requires no mods to the Jeep. However, the trailer is expensive, the additional 1,500 lbs reduces fuel economy, and the trailer must be stored at the destination. Flat towing requires just a few mods to the Wrangler JK. Note that the “bulldog teeth” tow hooks are only meant for light recovery and tie-down, as they are bolted to the bumper horns rather than the main frame. Additionally, Jeep does not recommend attaching D-ring tow hooks to the stock front bumper, as it is not sturdy enough to endure the stress of pulling the 4,000+ lb Wrangler.
For the serious work of safe on-road towing, the Wrangler requires five components:

  1. Base plates bolted securely to the front frame member. These base plates are equipped with standard 2″ hitch receivers to provide for a wide range of towing and aggressive recovery options.
  2. A tow bar with a minimum rating of Class 3 for pulling 5,000 lbs.
  3. Safety cables to prevent separation if the hitch fails.
  4. A tail light wiring harness to provide tail, brake and turn signal lights on the towed vehicle.
  5. A supplemental braking system to aid in stopping the extra 4,000 lbs, which is required in many states.

With the Wrangler’s popularity, towing component choices are abundant. The components shown below represent sturdy, proven gear with convenient features in the mid-price range.

Materials Needed

  • Towing base plates
  • Tow bar
  • Safety cables
  • Tail light wiring harness
  • Supplemental braking system
  • Socket wrench set
  • Drill
  • Screwdriver set
  • Pliers

Step 1 – Install towing base plates

  • Base plates can be used with the stock Wrangler bumper.
  • The removable draw bar extensions are pinned into standard 2″, Class 3 receivers.
  • With the draw bars removed, the dual receivers are mostly hidden under the front bumper.
  • The dual receivers also serve as strong recovery points for D-ring hitch adapters.

For detailed information and instructions see eTrailer.com’s base plate for tow bar.

Figure 1. Roadmaster base plates.

Pro Tip

Base plate installation difficulty is Moderate. It requires removing the front bumper, drilling holes in the frame and cutting the plastic splash pan. May require two people.

Step 2 – Tow bar

The Wrangler JK line weighs 3,800 to 4,500 lbs and requires a Class 3 tow bar rated to pull 5,000 lbs. The Roadmaster Falcon 2 is rated for 6,000 lbs and mates to the Roadmaster base plates. It can be hooked to the Wrangler in minutes by one person. The Autowlok telescoping arms allow variable reach to the Jeep bumper and the quick disconnect bar pins into place. When the tow vehicle begins moving, the arms lock rigidly.

For details, see eTrailers.com’s two bars.

Figure 2. Roadmaster Falcon 2 tow bar.

Step 3 – Safety cables

The safety cables prevent separation if the hitch fails. The quick link is connected to the frame mounted base plate on the Wrangler and the spring hook is connected to the slot in the tow vehicle’s receiver. The coils keep the cables from dragging and the vinyl sheath won’t scratch the tow bar. The cables are crossed to help limit the Wrangler’s lateral motion if the hitch breaks. The Roadmaster RM-643 galvanized cables are rated to 6,000 lbs and extend to 68″.

For details, see eTrailer.com’s accessories and parts.

Figure 3. Roadmaster safety cables.

Step 4 – Tail light wiring harness

For occasional towing, temporary magnetic lights can be attached to the rear of the Wrangler and the wiring routed up to tow vehicle. However, the best solution for regular towing is to operate the Wrangler’s own lighting system by connecting it to the tow vehicle’s lights. The Cool Tech JK Tow Harness is an easily installed and well regarded choice; which plugs into the the left tail light connector and is routed to the front, where the umbilical connector plug is mounted near the base plate hitch receivers. The Cool Tech harness will illuminate tail lights, brake lights, turn signals and side markers.

For more information, see CoolTechllc.com’s parts and accessories.

Figure 4. Cool Tech tow harness kit.

Pro Tip

Some towing setups may use the Wrangler battery for component power and require that a fuse is pulled to avoid interference with the turn signals operation. Study your setup to see if this is necessary.

Step 5 – Supplemental braking system

Towing requirements vary by state with some mandating supplemental braking on all towed vehicles, and others graduating the requirement by towed vehicle weight. However, it is always wise and prudent to tow a 4,000 lb Wrangler with a supplemental braking system, including an emergency breakaway detector. As with all things Wrangler, there are scores of choices with different means of operation.

The BrakeBuddy Digital Classic is a portable unit that can be quickly switched between vehicles. When it detects forward inertia from the tow vehicle slowing, it uses compressed air to modulate an arm that acts directly on the Wrangler’s brake pedal. It uses power from the Wrangler’s battery operated power outlet and it will activate the Wrangler’s own brake lights during braking. It does not, however, operate the tail lights or turn signals. The BrakeBuddy comes with a breakaway system that will stop a loose Wrangler and a wireless receiver in the tow vehicle to let you monitor its operation.

For detailed instructions, see BrakeBuddy.com

Figure 5. BrakeBuddy Digital Classic.

Pro Tip

BrakeBuddy is designed to work with zero brake vacuum pressure and the ABS off.

Step 6 – Towing procedure

  1. Always comply with the instructions in your owner’s manual and the component instructions.
  2. Always tow the Wrangler with all four wheels on the ground.
  3. Tow with the transfer case in neutral and the manual transmission in gear. This is to keep the transmission lubricated and prevent overheating.
  4. Tow with the steering wheel unlocked.
  5. The Wrangler battery may be connected or disconnected as needed by the components you are using.
  6. If you are towing with the battery connected, consider using a battery tender to keep it charged.

Step 7 – State towing laws

For a comprehensive guide to state towing laws, see OnlineTowingGuide.com

Minimum Towed Vehicle WeightStates Requiring Towed Vehicle Brakes Above That Weight
zero lbsKansas, North Dakota, Wyoming
1,000 lbsNew York, North Carolina
1,500 lbsCalifornia, Idaho, Nevada, New Hampshire, Tennessee
2,000 lbsMississippi, Ohio
3,000 lbsAlabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, DC, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin
4,000 lbsDelaware, Rhode Island, North Carolina
4,500 lbsTexas
5,000 lbsAlaska
10,000 lbsMassachusetts

Related Discussion

Jeep Wrangler JK: How to Off-Road in Sand Dunes

Driving in sand dunes almost feels like you’re on another planet. Here are some tips to help prepare you for this unique experience, so you can have a successful trip.By Jeff White – December 8, 2015

This article applies to the Jeep Wrangler JK (2007-Present).

Sand dunes is one of the most unique terrains to go off-roading in your Jeep. It almost feels like you are on another planet, or in some far off land. There are a few places in the United States where you can go driving in sand dunes similar to the Middle East and the Sahara Desert. A number of them are in California, such as Glamis or Pismo Beach.

Driving in sand dunes requires a different set of skills and vehicle setup than driving on most other off-road terrains. Sand is very soft and in most places, where dunes are present, it can be extremely deep. The dunes also create a landscape that nothing else can compare to.

Most of the tips here in this article will pretty much apply to any vehicle, not just Jeep Wranglers, and are good things to think about before going off into the dunes for the first time. You will be amazed at some of the things that work in the dunes that don’t necessarily fall into line with most other off-road terrains.

Material Needed

  • Tire pressure gauge

Step 1 – Check vehicle

Before going on your off-road adventure, you will first need to make sure your vehicle is in peak mechanical condition. In sand dunes, you are going to need all the power that your vehicle has to offer. This means making sure that it is in the condition to provide you with this needed power. Dune driving will also usually require your engine to operate at higher RPMs for a longer duration, so making sure that it is ready to do this is extremely important. A fresh oil change and filter, spark plugs, and a fresh air filter is where you should start. If you have any check engine lights on, it would be a good idea to get those taken care of also.

Figure 1. Check your fluid and replace as necessary.

Step 2 – Tires

Tires are a very important part to sand dune driving. Other than your driving technique, this might be the most important thing to focus on. With dune driving, it’s not all about an aggressive tread pattern like with other off-road driving. It’s about having a large footprint and keeping the tire from digging into the sand. To make sure that we have the largest footprint available from the tires on our vehicle, we need to air down. This will make the tire widen where it contacts the terrain, proving it with a much larger footprint than normal. How much do we air down? Well, that actually depends on the tire, but you should be safe with 12 to 15psi on most street tires. What you don’t want to do is air down too much and cause the bead to roll off the wheel. If you have deadlocks, then you can air down much farther.

As far as tread goes, sometimes the balder or more compact the tread, the better. I had an F150 FX4 one time with SUV tires on it, which were the farthest from an aggressive tread design you could get, and it would go anywhere in the sand even without airing down. I used to have to pull people out all day. It dominated in the sand compared to the lifted Tahoe Z71 that I had prior to that with 35″ tires with an aggressive tread design and being aired down.

One thing to remember is that if you are going to air down, you will need a way to air back up again when you want to get back on the road. So you will either need to bring a compressor that you can operate from the vehicle or know a place close to the dunes where you can air back up again. I know in Glamis this is common, but I am not sure about other places.

Figure 2. Footprint versus tire pressure.

(Related Article: Portable Air compressor Reviews – JK-Forum.com)

Step 3 – Transfer case selection

I will assume that since this is an article on Jeep Wranglers that yours is equipped with 4WD. It is possible to drive in sand with 2WD, but that requires different equipment and a different approach to your driving style. With 4WD, what you want to remember is if the sand is on the soft side, keep it in 4HI. If the sand is wet or on the harder side, then you can go to 4LO. The reason for this is because you want to keep up momentum when in the sand, especially in soft sand, and 4LO will cause the gearing to be too short and not allow you to maintain the speed you need. You also don’t want to apply too much torque at such a slow speed, as this will cause the tires to dig in and we don’t want that. Of course, if you do find yourself in some sand that is wet and is starting to become thick and muddy, then switching to 4LO will be the way to go.

Step 4 – Momentum

This is where your driving style will play an importance. You only get stuck in the sand at slow speeds. Nobody ever gets stuck in the sand going fast. So after you have all of your mechanical variables covered to help you keep your speed up, now it’s up to you. This will require you to shift at the correct time if you have a manual, or shifting your automatic into the right gear at the right time to keep yourself moving at a good enough speed so you don’t dig in.

Figure 3. This is what happens when you lose momentum cresting a dune.

Step 5 – Drive smooth and pick your lines

Keeping the momentum that you need to keep yourself from getting stuck will require you to operate your vehicle with smooth inputs and picking your driving line far ahead of where you are headed. If you turn too abruptly, it could cause the front tires to dig in, which will lose you momentum. If you don’t pick the proper driving line, you could drive in sand that is much deeper and softer, causing you to lose momentum. Try driving in other people’s tracks as long as you see that their tracks keep going and don’t come to a stop. This means that they probably got stuck there. If you are going to drive where you don’t see tracks, aim straight and pick up even more momentum. It’s going to seem counter-intuitive, but try and stay off the brake pedal. You shouldn’t need the brakes too much, as sand will slow you down pretty effectively, so try and keep the wheels from slowing down unnecessarily. Last but not least, you are going to have to stop eventually. Before stopping, try and find a spot that looks firm and higher than the other areas around you. This will help when it’s time to get going again.

Figure 4. Follow the path of those who came before you.

Step 6 – Recovery equipment

Now comes the part nobody wants to talk about. Getting stuck. It’s going to happen, and when it does, you want to be prepared. In the sand, I would say there are three things that you can equip yourself with at a minimum to make getting stuck not so bad. A tow strap, preferably one rated to the weight of your vehicle. Ensure you also have good, solid tow points at the front and rear of your vehicle. A shovel; this will come in handy to dig your tires out if they get too deep in the sand. Finally, sand ramps. Sand ramps are actually a product that is offered so that if you get stuck, you place these in front of your tires and use them to drive on, which will lift you out of the sand. You can make your own sand ramps out of wood or metal. I’ve also seen some people use a roll of carpet, or their floor mats if they failed to bring their own.

Figure 5. Traction strips.

Related Discussion

Jeep Wrangler JK: Portable Air Compressor Reviews

All Wrangler rock-crawlers and trail-riders know that over-size trail tires need to be deflated to less than 15psi for traction and then re-inflated to about 30psi for the drive home.By Scott Phillips – December 8, 2015

This article applies to the Jeep Wrangler JK (2007-Present).

If you have ever watched a cheap tire inflator jump and dance like a Jack Russell Terrier hopped up on glucosamine when the doorbell rings, then you’ll appreciate the quality of the air compressors reviewed here.

Primary factors to consider:

  • Amperage draw: Higher amp draw will inflate faster, but it’s important to have a good battery and run the engine to prevent the compressor from exhausting the battery.
  • Duty cycle: Compressors run hot and they must have time to cool off. The duty cycle shows how much ON and OFF time the compressor needs. Note that only the ExtremeAire is rated to run continuously, which is quite beneficial when airing up several Wranglers on a trail ride.
  • CFM: Cubic feet per minute of airflow can be deceptive as it is sometimes reported with no restriction. To see a compressor’s true airflow, always check CFM ratings at a given pressure.
  • PSI: Pounds per square inch of air pressure show how hard a compressor is able to work. Keep in mind, however, that most tire inflation is done at about 30psi, not 150psi.
  • Wire and hose length: Consider how far you will need to reach when using your compressor.

Keep in mind that each manufacturer makes portable compressors in all of the price categories below. The unit reviewed is well regarded in that price point, but has competitors from the other companies. The Superflow HV-55 is included as a trail back-up to the more capable units and as good road-side inflator for your family’s daily drivers.

Portable, 12 Volt, On-board Air Compressors

ExtremeAire 007-001ARB CKMP12Viair 300PSmittybilt 2780Tuff Stuff TS-AC-150Superflow HV-35 (Emergency back-up)
Price$570$335$130$80$60$35
Amp Draw30A at 35psi
49A at 100psi
25A at 29psi24A at 30psi30A maximum33A maximum14A maximum
Duty CycleContinuous ON30 minutes ON, 30 minutes OFF33% ON, 67% OFF40 minutes ON, 20 minutes OFF40% ON
60% OFF
20 minutes ON,
30 minutes OFF
CFM3.2cfm at 30psi; 1.5cfm at 100psi2.3cfm at 29psi1.6cfm at 30psi;
0.9cfm at 100psi
2.5cfm at 30psi1.3cfm at 40psi;
0.9 cfm at 90psi
0.8cfm at 29psi
PSI150psi continuous
200psi maximum
100psi maximum150psi maximum40psi for 40 minutes,
150psi maximum
150psi maximum140psi maximum
Electrical ConnectionBattery clampsBattery clampsBattery clampsBattery clampsBattery clampsCigarette type power outlet
Power Wire Length10ft of 10ga cable7ft8ft8ft10ft10ft
Air Hose Length30ft of polyurethane hose20ft25ft16ft25ft3ft
Carry ContainerWeatherproof steel boxSturdy plastic boxNylon bagNylon bagNylon bagNylon bag

Best Quality: ExtremeAire 007-001

Best Value: Smittybilt 2780

ExtremeAire 007-001

Price – $570

Size – 20″ long, 8″ wide, 9″ tall

Weight – 34 lbs

Inflation Performance – 37″ tire in 3 minutes

Reported Lifespan – Over 5 years

Warranty – 1 year

The ExtremeAire 007-01 could inflate the Goodyear blimp, and raise it over Daytona Motor Speedway before Nascar fans could finish singing the Star Spangled Banner. That’s only a slight exaggeration. The ExtremeAire will inflate the largest trail tires in minutes. It has a replaceable metal air filter, sealed bearings and solid brass fittings for operation in the rough. With no run-time limit and plenty of hose reach, the ExtremeAire will fill pressure tanks, run air tools, and reset tire beads. It Includes a flashlight and tire gauge tool; both made of stainless steel, and it all comes in a steel, weatherproof box. It is, however, more than twice as heavy as any portable reviewed here and it may be more capable than the recreational off-roader needs. But if you can afford it, the ExtremeAir 007-001 is an excellent tool that will always be in demand on the trail. Goodyear blimp not included.

Recommended for those who want the end all, be all air compressor solution for their trail rigs.

ARB CKMP12

Price – $335

Size – 17.3″ long, 9.4″ wide, 8.2″ tall

Weight – 14.5 lbs

Inflation Performance – 35″ tire in 3 minutes

Reported Lifespan – 4 to 5 years

Warranty – 2 years

The ARB CKMP12 Teflon is well made. With its teflon impregnated, carbon fiber piston seal and washable, sintered-bronze air filter element, it runs powerfully and quietly. However, the clip-on valve stem connector requires attention to attach correctly and the pressure gauge may need to be cross-checked with a back-up pocket gauge. Although the overall reach is a bit short, the ARB CKMP12 is a well-regarded unit that will give long service and has twice the warranty of the ExtremeAire.

Recommended for those who require a physically durable unit that won’t fail on the trail.

Viair 300P

Price – $130

Size – 10″ long, 5″ wide, 7.5″ tall

Weight – 8.7 lbs

Inflation Performance – 33″ tire in 3.5 minutes

Reported Lifespan – 2 to 3 years

Warranty – 1 year

The oil-less direct drive motor, PTFE piston ring, stainless steel valves and vibration isolators are quality components that run the Viair 300P smoothly and quietly. Its quick-connect valve stem fitting helps fill tires fast. That’s important because the duty cycle rest time is twice as long as the run time. The 33 foot reach is restricted by the tightly coiled hose that makes stretching it out difficult and the additional $20 extension hose is recommended. Viair states plainly that the 300P is only meant for tires up to 33″, but don’t be deterred—the Viair 300P will fill a 37″ tire in about 6 minutes.

Recommended for those who want to keep their compressors mounted to their trail rigs and use the long air hose.

Smittybilt 2780

Price – $80

Size – 13″ long, 9″ wide, 10″ tall

Weight – 13 lbs

Inflation Performance – 33″ tire in 2.5 minutes

Reported Lifespan – 2 to 3 years

Warranty – 1 year

With its oil-less direct drive motor, the Smittybilt 2780 is remarkably quiet for its price point and comes with a competitive one year warranty. The brass EZ-twist valve stem connector is the best of this group, but the overall hose reach is the shortest of the main units reviewed. The gauge is not very accurate, so cross-check it with a good one. While the 2780 serves best on tires up to 33″, its long duty cycle run time will get the larger tires done and its short rest time will get you back in action faster. Because it is powerful, quiet and reliable, with a good duty cycle and is highly regarded by users, the Smittybilt 2780 is the best dollar value of this group.

Recommended for someone who wants the middle of the road option with quiet, consistent performance.

Tuff Stuff TS-AC-150

Price – $60

Size – 15.5″ long, 7″ wide, 9.5″ tall

Weight – 12 lbs

Inflation Performance – 33″ tire in 3 minutes

Reported Lifespan – 1 to 2 years

Warranty – 90 days

The Tuff Stuff TS-AC-150 has the second longest reach of this group and reaches 11 feet farther than the Smittybilt, which can be an important advantage on the trail. Its a very affordable choice for servicing tires up to 33″. On larger tires, the duty cycle may slow things down and if the overheat shutoff is tripped, it takes a while to cool and reset. Also, note that it has the shortest warranty of the group. The Tuff Stuff TS-AC-150 is an economical choice for the occasional off-roader.

Recommended for those who need the extra hose length, and don’t mind the budget minded compressor performance.

Superflow HV-35

Price – $35

Size – 9″ long, 7.5″ wide, 4.5″ tall

Weight – 4.6 lbs

Inflation Performance – 33″ tire in 8 to 10 minutes

Reported Lifespan – 1 to 2 years

Warranty – 3 years

The best compressor you can carry is subject to Murphy’s Law: if a single piece of it gets broken, you could be stuck in the lunar boonies. The Superflow HV-35 is an affordable back-up to ensure you always have air. It plugs into the cigarette-lighter outlet and the valve stem connector screws on for leak-free simplicity. Because the power outlet is in the passenger compartment, current is limited to 14 amps and the flow is lower, but the high PSI rating will get the job done. With the longest warranty in this group (3 years), the Superflow HV-35 is a good back-up compressor for off-roading and an economical choice for each of your family’s daily drivers.

Note: Before storing the Superflow in any vehicle, test that it will reach and inflate all four tires without blowing the power outlet fuse. The Wrangler JK has a 20A power outlet fuse, but some cars may have only 10A protecting the power outlet.

Recommended as a back-up, easily portable unit, and as the most budget-conscious solution.

Related Discussions

Jeep Wrangler JK: How to Prepare for Off-Roading

A well prepared vehicle can be the difference between a successful off-road excursion and a not so successful off-road excursion. Here are some helpful tips to make sure your trip goes as successful as possible.By Jeff White – December 2, 2015

This article applies to the Jeep Wrangler JK (2007-Present).

Off-roading is abusive and brutal no matter what vehicle you’re in. Even vehicles designed and purposely built for off-road duty, such as the Jeep Wrangler, take a beating when leaving the pavement. That is why preparation before any off-road trip is extremely crucial to the success of your trip. It’s not so much a question as will something go wrong, but rather it’s a question as to when. I would say that nine out of 10 times you go off-road, there will be some situation that you get yourself into that being well prepared will get you out of with as little damage as possible. Rocks, sand, mud, trees and many other earthly things you encounter off-road will show you just how vulnerable your vehicle is.

Many of the tips I list here are not going to be vehicle specific and can be applied to any type of vehicle you decide to take off the beaten path. All of them will apply to the vehicle, but remember that there is a lot more to a successful off-road trip than the vehicle. Proper preparation for yourself and every other person that will be coming along is also extremely important and another how-to could be written just on that subject. It’s also always a good idea to bring along or at least consult with someone who is experienced in going off-road and also might have some experience in the area you will off-roading in.

Materials Needed

  • Jack and jack stands
  • Millimeter sockets sizes 10mm-21mm
  • Standard sockets sizes 3/8″-1″
  • Ratchet
  • Flat head screwdriver
  • Phillips head screwdriver
  • Needle nose pliers

Before beginning your preparation, it is a good idea to become completely familiar with your Jeep and its trim level as well as equipment. Obviously a Jeep Wrangler Sport is not going to be as capable off-road as a Jeep Wrangler Rubicon out of the box. Obviously you could have a Jeep Wrangler Sport with some off-road focused modifications, but again, this is why it would be a good idea to know exactly what you’re dealing with.

Step 1 – Check the vehicle’s fluids

First things first. Let’s start with the easiest and most basic of vehicle maintenance practices, which is checking the fluids. All of them. This means engine oil, automatic trans fluid or manual trans gear oil, brake fluid, coolant, washer fluid, diff fluid, anything that fluid is used for on your vehicle you will want to make sure you have it topped off and as fresh as it possibly can be. It would even be a good idea to perform an oil change or other fluid changes before going off-road. Remember, you are going to be putting your vehicle through very different stresses while driving off-road and most of the time you will be operating it in much different parameters than when you are driving around normally. An off-road environment is a hell of a time to realize that you don’t have adequate coolant in your radiator and due to the added strain on your engine’s cooling system is beginning to overheat.

Figure 1. An oil change and coolant flush may be a good idea.

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Step 2 – Check the vehicle for leaks

While checking all the vehicle’s fluids, it is always a good idea to have a look around and check out if there are any leaks that are noticeable. Any fluid that is coming from somewhere that it is not supposed to is either a sign that some fasteners need to be tightened, a seal is going bad, or there is some damage in the location of the leak. You will have to use your better judgement to decide how severe the leak might be. Keep in mind that while a leak might not be too bad at first, taking the vehicle off-road can worsen the condition of the leak and make the situation much more critical than it started out to be.

Figure 2. Inspect for oil leaks.

Figure 3. Check the auto transmission pan and seal.

Figure 4. Inspect the diff cover and pinion seals for seepage.

  • Figure 5. Another angle on the pinion and diff.

Other areas to check for leaks are:

  • Power Steering Lines
  • Wheel Seals
  • Automatic Transmission Cooler Lines
  • Brake Hoses and Lines
  • Valve Covers
  • Fuel Injectors and Fuel Filter

Step 3 – Check tires for wear and serviceability

Tires are extremely important when it comes to your vehicles’ proper handling on the road. They are the only part of your vehicle that contacts the road. Off-road driving is no exception. In order to ensure that your vehicle is going to be able to maintain its traction when the terrain changes and gets tougher is to make sure that the tires that your rig is equipped with are (1) capable of handling this type of duty and (2) are in the right condition to handle this type of duty. A proper off-road tire is made specifically to handle abuse. They usually have reinforced sidewalls and specifically designed tread that allows them to cut through many different types of surfaces, so that they can come in contact and make traction with varying surfaces. A common practice when off-roading is to air down your tires to a lower PSI so that it keeps the footprint of the tire as large as possible. In order for this to occur and still keep the tire in a working condition, it must have a sidewall designed for this. It is one of the reasons off-road focused tires are much more expensive than regular tires. That being said, a severely worn off-road tire is just as bad as having normal street tires. This is why you will want to check the tires very thoroughly, making sure there are:

  1. No cuts in the sidewall of the tire.
  2. Plenty of usable tread left.
  3. Able to hold air pressure correctly.
  4. No dry rot or other tire defects that could cause the tire to fail under extreme use.
Figure 6. Extreme cracking, dry-rotting.

Figure 7. Cut sidewall.

(Related Article: Off-Road Tire General Information – JK-Forum.com)

Step 4 – Check suspension for wear and serviceability

Other than your vehicle’s tires, the suspension is going to take the most abuse while driving off-road. It will be put in positions where it will have to articulate past where it normally does while driving over speed bumps at the grocery store. This will put a tremendous amount of strain on its joints and bushings. Make sure that these items are not excessively worn and all the mounting point fasteners are tight to factory specs. There are many ways to go about checking the suspension, but if it’s your first time, start by just visually inspecting all suspension joints, bushings, mounting points, rubber boots, and fasteners. Make sure that nothing looks damaged or visually worn. After this, take a jack and raise and lower each corner of the vehicle independently. Throughout doing this, try and apply force to certain parts of the suspension to see if anything is loose.

Here are some areas of the suspension to focus on:

Figure 8. JK front suspension.

Step 5 – Equip vehicle with recovery equipment

I know you don’t want to hear it, but if you are going off-road, you are going to get stuck. You can be in denial about it all you want, but the truth is, it’s going to happen. If for some reason you go off-roading and you don’t get stuck, then that means that you are not really going off-roading. Not only are you going to to get stuck, but other people you are with are going to get stuck also. It’s just one of those things that comes along with the activity. That and breaking things. So when this does occur, you must make sure that you are prepared to get yourself unstuck. This means having all the necessary recovery gear that will make getting unstuck as smooth as possible.

Here are some basic items that might come in handy for your off-road trip:

Figure 9. Common recovery tools.

Going off-road can be a great activity. It’s a fun way to enjoy everything a vehicle like a Jeep Wrangler has to offer and can be a nice way to experience the outdoors. But remember that it can also be dangerous and that being prepared is one of the best ways to minimize the dangers. This is a short list of ideas that will help in that, but it is not everything. Common sense and experience play a huge role in taking this further to make sure that your off-road trip is successful and makes you want to keep going out for more.

Related Articles

Related Discussions

Jeep Wrangler JK: How to Connect Tow Straps

Effective towing and recovery comes down to the equipment being used. Towing and recovery puts high stress onto the vehicle. Not using factory approved tow points, such as an axle, can cause significant damage. Knowing your options in these situations will help you make safe, effective decisions for a successful tow/recovery.By Weston Chadwick – November 24, 2015
Contributors: el_campede, scotty6336, hesh, sin52, Until2004, berg

This article applies to the Jeep Wrangler JK (2007-Present).

Towing and recovery can be a dangerous procedure if performed without the proper knowledge. Many people have been hurt or injured by using equipment improperly. Factors like gross vehicle weight, equipment tensile strength, and surrounding obstacles can make a successful recovery much more difficult. Your Jeep JK may not include front and rear towing points from the factory. This complicates the towing and recovery process, but you do have options. Read through this article to discover your alternatives and the equipment you’ll need to make them work.

Materials Needed

  • Recovery strap (20′-40’+)
  • Towing strap (towing only)
  • Tree strap (anchoring to tree)
  • D-rings (to connect to factory tow points)

This is an excerpt regarding the use of tow straps from the 2009 Jeep Wrangler owner’s manual:

Your JK may or may not be equipped with tow hooks. If so, they can be mounted in the front and rear. For off-road recovery, it’s recommended to use both front hooks to minimize the risk of damage. Chains are not recommended for freeing a stuck vehicle. Chains may break, causing serious injury or death. Stand clear of vehicles when pulling with tow hooks. Tow straps and chains may break, causing serious injury. Do not use chains! Do not use metal tow hooks!

Step 1 – Analyze the situation

What tow/recovery equipment you choose to use will depend on the situation. Whether you are recovering a stuck vehicle, recovering yourself using an anchor point, or towing another vehicle, the proper technique to complete the job safely will be different.

To start, you need the correct recovery/towing equipment. Tow straps differ from recovery straps. Tow straps are designed not to stretch to increase safety as the towed vehicle is traveling behind you. Recovery straps use elasticity to stretch than shrink. This force helps propel the vehicle from its stuck, stationary position. Tree straps are used to safely anchor to a tree. These straps distribute the force evenly around the tree to lessen the chance of damage to the tree and strap.

Chains and metal hooks are not recommended for towing/recovery use. When metal objects break under tension, the sudden release may allow the chain or hooks to act as a slingshot, causing serious injury or death.

The smartest ways to tow/recover another vehicle are by using factory tow hooks or tow points. Another way is using a recovery hitch mounted to the rear of the vehicle. Another method (although not very safe) is using a short length of chain with a set of hooks. These hooks can be attached to the frame. Make sure your equipment is rated above the capacities of the vehicle being towed.

If you need to increase the length of your strap during a recovery, you can slide one strap through the eye loop of the strap connected to the tow vehicle. Attach the two eye loops from the other strap to the vehicle being towed.

Figure 1. A recovery strap.

Figure 2. A recovery hitch.

  • Figure 3. Attaching D-rings to front tow points for easy strap connection.

Step 2 – Successfully connect tow/recovery straps to vehicle

This list was written by JK-Forum.com member hesh. It serves as a good guide to use while performing a recovery:

  1. Never use a tow strap for recovery.
  2. Never use a strap with metal hooks on the end.
  3. Never use a strap with chain ends.
  4. Never use a damaged strap.
  5. Never use a chain.
  6. Never use a strap, hitch, or D-ring not rated for the given loads/stresses.
  7. Never place a D-ring in the middle of the two straps.
  8. When closing in a D-ring, once threaded all the way in, back it out a quarter turn for easy de-latching when complete.

If you are faced with the decision to hook to the frame with metal hooks, cover the chain section with a heavy blanket or similarly weighted object. This will damped the snapping force that will occur if the hooks separate from the frame.

Make sure your straps are in good condition before use. Inspect the straps for tears. Some straps contain red nylon bands. If you see these red bands, the strap needs to be replaced.

Slowly put tension on the strap. If your towing, the strap should NOT stretch. Keep in mind that once the slack is removed from the strap, all the vehicle’s weight plus the force required to move the vehicle from its position will be placed on the strap. Recovery straps will stretch until its maximum stretch limit is reached. The strap will then spring back, creating a pull against the stuck vehicle.

Related Discussions

Jeep Wrangler JK: Why is My ESP Light On?

The ESP or Electronic Stability Program is a standard feature released in 2007 for the Jeep JK. The program uses a number of sensors to detect driving conditions that may lead to an accident. It detects those conditions and acts for you to maintain control. Unfortunately, when a component breaks or a modification is made, serious problems can occur.By Weston Chadwick – November 24, 2015
Contributors: 07Ruby, Cole Quineell, 14Sport, Afmcronnie, daggo66,

This article applies to the Jeep Wrangler JK (2007-Present).

The ESP uses a number of sensors to detect conditions such as wheel spin, high g-forces, and extreme braking. The computer network interprets the readings and calculates the precise amount of brake and engine power reduction to maintain control of your vehicle. For example, if your JK is understeering in a sharp right turn, the computer can apply the brake to the left front wheel. This is advantageous because the driver does not have independent control of the brakes. Sophisticated computer controls can become problematic however, causing unusual problems. You may be driving down the highway when suddenly your JK begins to brake by itself. This condition can be caused by a faulty wheel speed sensor and the ESP warning light may illuminate. In this article you’ll learn about the ESP to better understand why your ESP light is illuminated.

Materials Needed

  • Scan tool or engine tuner capable of reading P, B, and U codes
  • Flashlight
  • 1/2″ ratchet with sockets to adjust drag link (14mm-19mm)
  • 3/8″ socket with Allen head bits to remove wheel speed sensors
  • 1/2″ ratchet with 3/4″ or 19mm socket to remove lug nuts
  • Floor jack
  • Jack stand

To understand why your ESP light is on, it’s beneficial to understand the systems involved in the ESP and how they work.

These descriptions were taken from the 2009 Jeep Wrangler owner’s manual: A copy of the manual can be downloaded here.

  1. ABS (Anti-Lock Braking): Aids the driver in maintaining vehicle control under adverse braking conditions. The system controls hydraulic brake pressure to prevent wheel lockup and help avoid skidding on slippery surfaces during braking. During off-road use, loss of traction can temporarily defeat the system and cause the warning light to illuminate. Turn ignition to LOCK and ON again to restore ABS function. The systems effectiveness may be hampered by unequal tire sizes and improper tire inflation. Improperly installed radios or telephones can cause electrical interference with the system.
  2. TCS (Traction Control System): Monitors the amount of wheel spin of each of the driven wheels. If wheel spin is detected, brake pressure is applied to the slipping wheels to provide enhanced acceleration and stability. An included feature controls wheel spin across across a driven axle similar to a limited slip differential. If one wheel is spinning faster, the brake will be applied to the spinning wheel. More engine torque can be applied to the non-spinning wheel. This feature is known as BLD (Brake Limited Differential). The BLD is always on.
  3. BAS (Brake Assist System): Optimizes the vehicle’s braking capability during emergency braking maneuvers. The system detects an emergency braking situation by sensing the rate and amount of brake application, then applies optimum pressure to the brakes.
  4. HSA (Hill Start Assist): Assists drivers when starting a vehicle from a stop on a hill. The HSA will maintain the level of brake pressure the driver applies for a short period of time after the driver takes their foot off the brake pedal.
  5. ERM (Electronic Rollover Mitigation): Anticipates the potential for wheel lift by monitoring the driver’s steering wheel input and the speed of the vehicle. When the ERM determines that the rate of change of the steering wheel angle and vehicle’s speed are sufficient to potentially cause wheel lift, it applies the appropriate brake and may reduce engine power to lessen the chance of wheel lift.
  6. ESP (Electronic Stability Program): Enhances directional control and stability of the vehicle under various driving conditions. ESP corrects for over and understeer by applying the appropriate wheels brake to assist in counteracting the over/under steering condition. Engine power may also be reduced. The ESP/TCS light starts to flash when a tire or tires loose traction indicating the system is active. Vehicles modified with larger tires and/or suspension lifts may experience early ESP activations.
  7. TSC (Trailer Sway Control): This system uses sensors to recognize an excessively swaying trailer. The system may reduce engine power and apply the brake of the appropriate wheel(s) to counteract the trailers sway. If the TSC activates while driving, stop the vehicle at the nearest safe place and adjust the trailer load to eliminate trailer sway.

Next is a description of the ESP modes and what’s turned on and off when you press the ESP button.

  1. Full on in 2 High and 4 High: This is the preset setting. ESP, ERM, TCS, and, BAS/ABS are fully active.
  2. Partial off in 2 High and 4 High: Move to this setting by pressing the ESP button once. All systems are fully active other than TCS.
  3. Full off in 2 High and 4 High: Press and hold the ESP button for five seconds. All systems are off other than BLD. The ERM and ESP activate above 40 MPH.
  4. Full off in 4 Lo: The system automatically switches into and out of ESP when the transfer case is switched to 4 Lo. The ABS is still functional.

You also have the option to permanently disable the ESP. This may be the only option for modified JKs to eliminate problems associated with the ESP system. This can be done with some handheld programmers such as Diablosport and Superchips. Another option is to follow a procedure outlined by Chrysler; although, some JKs after year 2012 have been known to “not respond” to this procedure.

  1. Shift the transfer case into the 4 High position.
  2. Turn the steering wheel until centered with the steering wheels pointed straight ahead.
  3. Cycle the ignition key to OFF and then ON.
  4. Wait approximately five seconds for the system bulb check.
  5. Turn and hold the steering wheel one half turn to the right.
  6. Press and hold the ESP off button for seven seconds.
  7. Turn the steering wheel back to center, then turn and hold the wheel one half turn to the left.
  8. Press and hold the ESP off button for seven seconds.
  9. Turn the steering wheel back to center.
  10. Press and hold the steering wheel off button for seven seconds.
  11. Cycle the ignition key to off.

Once the procedure has been performed correctly, the “ESP OFF” will display in the odometer for approximately twelve seconds each time the ignition is moved to on. Repeating the procedure will restore normal ESP operation.

Step 1 – Check for diagnostic trouble codes

The ESP light illuminates on the gauge cluster when a problem is present with the wheel speed sensors, steering wheel angle sensor, yaw sensor (measures the vehicles acceleration about its vertical axis), lateral acceleration sensor, and the automatic brake actuator. To display a trouble code on your odometer readout, perform this sequence:

  1. Turn the ignition on
  2. Turn the ignition off
  3. Turn the ignition on
  4. Turn the ignition off
  5. Turn the ignition on

A code with five alpha-numeric digits should display. This code will start with B, P, or U. “B” stands for body. “P” stands for powertrain. “U” stands for communication network.

Not all scan tools will display these codes. You will need a high end scan tool such as a Snap-On Solus etc. Some computer tuners will display codes as well. Once you have the code, perform an internet search or call your dealer for more information. The code may point you right to a faulty component. If you decide to replace a module or sensor, talk with your dealer before operating your vehicle. The new component may require programming.

Figure 1. Gauge cluster warning lights.

Figure 2. Using a Superchips handheld tuner to read a trouble code.

Step 2 – Reset the ESP Light

After a skid or traction loss occurs, the ESP warning light may stay illuminated. To reset the light, turn the engine on. Now turn the steering wheel full lock to the left, then full lock to the right. Return the steering wheel back to center. Turn the engine off and restart. Drive the vehicle. The light may go off once you enter second gear, indicating a successful reset.

Step 3 – Perform a visual inspection

Often times dirt and debris can get caught in and around wheel speed sensors. This can alter the signal received by the computer, making it think your Jeep is moving at speeds much higher or lower than the speed your seeing. Locate the wheel speed sensors. They are on the wheel hub between the spindle and wheel studs. You may need to remove your wheels to inspect them. If the wiring appears okay, remove the Allen head bolt and wiggle the sensor out of the wheel hub. Clean the sensor with soap and water.

Figure 3. The wheel speed sensor.

A misaligned steering wheel can cause the ESP warning light to illuminate also. You steering wheel should be centered when the wheels are straight ahead. To adjust your steering wheel, loosen the two nuts on the drag link and rotate the turn buckle by hand. You’ll need to rotate, stop, and check the steering wheels alignment until corrected.

Figure 4. The drag link and turn buckle.

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