A little help:

Improving the XJ trail performance, #1

[Mengel Pass, Death Valley, Spring 1998]

I notice a great deal of discussion regarding lifts and what is, and is not, a good lift. Most of what is stated is personal opinion.... (Take it with reservations) and here's what I think (?)

I started this web page as a basic introduction to lifting the XJ, and it has grown a bit, with the assistance of the combined knowledge of the XJ-list (and various other Digests and Forums). If you can spare the bandwidth, subscribing to the XJ-list (or one of the other Forums for XJ questions) will give you rapid access to more XJ Cherokee knowledge.

This is a first issue of what I hope will be a continuing aid to XJ owners on various topics. If you think I should add something, or think I missed an important point, e-mail me to communicate your concern.

First, I agree with the people who believe that installing the minimal lift possible with the best articulation is the safest and most effective enhancement to trail performance. As I believe the desired goal is better trail performance you may not need to do too much work.

The stock XJ wheel travel is very good and drivers who migrated from a CJ or Toy are amazed how a well-driven stock XJ trails. Lifts required to fit larger tires, or provide the visual boost desired by an owner, will sometimes reduce articulation performance of the stock XJ. The suspension is a combination of components that need to work as a matched system. The system is more important than just a cool looking shock or control arm and the limits need to be addressed one at a time.

A difficult issue to address is "What will my XJ look like at various lift heights and tire combinations?". For this information, I recommend looking at Chris Susut's web page: Chris's Jeep XJ Page and click on the "Tire & Lift Combination" section (Chris has compiled an excellent FAQ's section too).

Issue number one, the anti sway bar:

[Front anti-sway bar link removed at lower end]

Off road, the stock Cherokee axle articulation (axle travel) is limited by the anti sway bar binding before using the full shock travel or bump stops. The stock front shocks top-out way before the control arms or brake lines bind, ...if the anti-sway bar is disconnected. If you have never disconnected the anti-sway bar (unbolting it, or with a kit,) it makes the greatest single improvement to articulation and should be done as a first step before spending any money on lifts.

The rear bar seems to make little effect and is removed on some year's Up-Country option. Some people feel it provides little effect and leave it installed with soft spring packs. It may be completely removed, again with little effect, if it rubs the tires.

The misalignment of the anti-sway bar links compared to the axle mounts is shown in the proceeding picture. The axle is extended at full droop with the anti-sway bar disconnected. The lower anti-sway bar mount misalignment is about three inches. If the link is attached, the droop will be three to four inches less than shown in the picture (you will loose three to four inches of wheel travel and articulation.)

[Sway bar end link]

How do I disconnect the anti-sway bar?

I unbolt the bottom bolts. You can unbolt the top, or bottom bolts, or both. (There are a number of kits available with replacement links and link nuts that you can purchase to make the process quicker on the trail. I modified my bolts before kits were available and have never upgraded.

[Lower end of link with bolt removed]

In truth I unbolted the bottom bolts and ground down the top of the nuts to allow them to spin off easily. The factory nuts are peened and have an interference fit (very tough to remove the first time.) The nuts now spin off by hand after breaking loose with the tire handle or an 18mm socket.

These bolts require a #55 torx socket and usually need to be knocked out with a hammer or removed with a puller the first time (they also fit very tight and the later model years may be knurled.) Once they are removed they (usually) slip in & out with a light tap. I also drilled the bolts to fit a cotter pin on the outside of the (now easier spinning) nuts to keep them from rattling loose & backing off.

The kits with longer links do work better on radically lifted XJ's. See JKS MANUFACTURING - Quick Disconnects.) I needed to add stud extensions to the top of my factory links (after I increased my lift to 4 inches) to match the needed link length.

[Modified lower link bolt]

You can also replace the nuts & bolts with Grade 8 hardware & nylock nuts.

If you want to duplicate the Tomken disconnect (poor mans version,) replace your sway bar link nuts with Wing Nuts. Then drill & pin the bolts just above the tightened wing nuts to keep them rattling loose. (See CA@Off-Road.com Tomken Review) It is a lot like what I did with my lower bolts with wing nuts instead of reusing bolts. If you cannot remove the bolts do not worry about it, just remove both top and bottom nuts and remove the complete link. Some drivers prefer it this way (less noise.)

I just bungee the anti-sway bar out of the way. Yes, the bushing gap is normal. The nut & bolt crush against an internal sleeve in the bushing.

Regardless of what a Salesman will tell you, most 0-3 inch lifts (as sold in a package) do not improve the wheel travel and articulation over that possible with a stock Cherokee. The upper limit of compressive wheel travel is the bump stop and the lower limit of extension is the open shock length. The stock springs will allow the axle to droop until the shock is fully extended, before control arms or brake lines bind. The only potential drawback of the stock form is you have considerably more extension travel than that available in compression, and the spring rate is soft. A loaded XJ will spend a lot of time on the bump stops.

For a better look at results due to disconnecting a stock XJ, link up to Joe Hinsons' article on Cherokee America: Homemade Swaybar Quick Disconnects (great info regarding ramp improvement and quick disconnects.)

If you have access to a stock XJ and a ramp, you can Wow the crowd during the next club meeting by removing the anti-sway bar(s) (and shocks) and testing the vehicle. It will ramp extremely well (A lightweight vehicle works better, and just take care as the brake lines will bind before anything hits and the slip yoke u-joint will bind if both sides of the rear axle are unloaded.) To get an idea of what ramp test numbers mean with your Cherokee link up to Rocky Road Outfitters: Jeep Cherokee RTI Calculations .

Anyone who exploits the articulation of a vehicle should always check and compensate for proper brake line slack. The above exercise is good to try on any vehicle as you never know when a shock mount will break on the trail, resulting in a snapped brake line or dropped drive line (100 miles from help.)

[Chrysler/Jeep Factory Service Manual Set for 1989]

Buy a good Service manual. Yes, the manuals you find in the parts store are good (I have three of them for the XJ) but the Chrysler manuals are really worth the expense. If you have experience with the old (poor) AMC Jeep books the Chrysler literature is a huge benefit. Buy the book for the year following your XJ's model year to get all the updates that appeared mid-model-year.

By The Way, the Cherokee in the pictures is my 88 with 31's, a three inch Rancho lift, & stock length RS9000 shocks -- that as a system, has been well tuned by the topics covered in these web pages. I installed the lift in 1990, well before the various lift options available today.

I try not to sell you on this kit, or any other manufacture's product. I am not a web designer and have never received monetary compensation from an XJ parts manufacturer (or anything for free either.) My intent is to educate so you can make your own decisions.

No kit is perfect and the industry is designing new improvements everyday. I plan more improvements myself (I recently increased the lift height to 4 inches and installed long travel shocks) and will add what is of topical interest if possible. If you have questions or recommend an improvement, drop me an E-mail.

[Tin Mountain and the Last Chance Range, Death Valley, Spring 1989]

Happy Trails!
Ed A. Stevens

"But I now leave this issue (sic.) standing thus unfinished, even as the great Cathedral of Cologne was left, with a crane still standing upon the top of the uncompleted tower. For small erections may be completed by their first Architects; grand ones, true ones, leave the capstone to posterity. God keep me from ever completing anything. Oh, Time, Strength, Cash, and Patience!" --
Herman Melville


Your are visitor number: since January 7th, 1999.

Go To:

Stvns's XJ Hints & Help #2, (Tire Clearance, Bumpstops, Shock Mounts, & Shock Lengths)

Stvns's XJ Hints & Help #3 , (Springs, Control Arm Bind, Slip Yokes, Brakelines, & Gears)

Stvns's XJ Hints & Help #4 , (Factory tire rack, Headliner, & Misc.)

An early version of these pages has been translated into French (Les pages Jeep Cherokee) and can be viewed by visiting "
L'amélioration des capacités tout-terrain d'une Jeep Cherokee.

" Le site information des passionnés de Jeep". The Les pages Jeep Cherokee links can also be found leading to this page from the general JeepList France site. I thank Gérald Capella - <gegecap@geocities.com> for the Français translation.

A version of these pages has been translated into Spanish (Mejorando el XJ) and can be viewed by visiting "La Casa del Indio". I thank Manuel Alvarez - <manu.ad@teleline.es> por está traducidos al Español. This site is an excellent source for XJ Cherokee information (with some shots of beautiful European wheeling).

View Stvns's Racing Page, (Baja racing pictures of past off-road efforts).

Let me know what you think about my page. Send mail by clicking here.

[Holcomb Creek Trail, entry climb, 1999]

The following links are helpful to XJ owners:

NAXJA North American XJ Owners Association


Blue Ribbon Coalition (Get Involved in Preserving Your Choice of Recreation!)

United Four Wheel Drive Association (Get Active, Go Wheeling, and support your friends around the World!)