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Rubicon Express Lift

What the lift kit REALLY looks like!

PHASE 1

In my goal to achieve more ground clearance, a better ride, and a more trail-worthy Jeep, I had finally settled on a three-phased plan.  The first phase of this plan is to install a taller suspension lift.  Since part of my goal is to have [at least] 33" tires on my Jeep, and another part is to have a smoother ride, I've settled on the Rubicon Express Extreme Duty Lift Kit.  After what seemed like months of research, time and time again the completeness of the Rubicon Express kit won the praises of others.  Phase 2 of the plan includes new gearing, one-piece axles, and lockers.  Finally, Phase 3, is simply the new tires and wheels. 

RUBICON EXPRESS EXTREME DUTY LIFT

The Preparations

Before getting started, it is a good idea to anticipate all the tools you'll need to complete the job.  There's nothing more annoying then having to make a quick trip to the auto parts store in the middle of your project just so you can find a tool to get through the next step.  Also, it is a good idea to have a friend on hand to help you.  This may involve collecting bribes (beer, chips, soda, pizza, etc.) before getting started. 

The Process

I was slightly annoyed that my Rubicon Express Extreme Duty Lift Kit did not include any basic instructions or even a parts list!  But I discovered (after installing my second RE kit on a friend's CJ) that this was the fault of the shop that I bought the kit from, they must have kept it!   So, in case you don't get one, this is how it is done...

Jackstands set for front. It was recommended to me to start from the front end and work my way back, so that's what I did.  First, place blocks behind the rear wheels and with a floor jack, lift the front end up as high as you can.  Once the Jeep is lifted, place a jack stand on each frame rail behind the spring mount.  Make sure you leave enough room to easily work on the spring mount!  Then remove the front wheels and the old front shock absorbers.
You'll need one of these tools for the pressed ends on the swaybar tie rods and the steering link end (attached to the pitman arm). Step two is removal of the anti-swaybar tie rods, the U-bolts, and the spring tie plates.  First, remove from the anti-swaybar link (for step by step instructions on this task, from the spring tie plate.  It will be much easier to remove the tie rod while the tie plate is still attached to the axle.  Next, remove the tie plate by loosening the U-bolts.  To do so, place a floor jack under the leaf springs to hold them up while you remove the nuts on the bottom of the U-bolts.  If you don't place the jack beneath the spring, you might get a BIG SURPRISE waiting for you once that last nut is removed. 
Step 3 After the spring tie plate is removed, loosen the bolt holding the spring to the frame mount.  This bolt may be really tough to extract due to rust or wear!  Fortunately, the RE kit comes with new hardware, so you're free to be creative and use a hammer to drive the old bolt out.   A 3/8th extension also works well to drive the bolt through the spring hanger eyelets.   Then remove the shackle on the front (don't forget the old bushings on the shackle hanger bracket!) and the spring will be free to be pulled out of the hanger.  Before pulling the spring out, prop the end of the axle up on something (ice chest).  Then repeat these steps for the other side.
New stainless steel front brake line. About this time, you'll notice that the brake lines and the steering drag link are all that is holding the axle up.  With everything out of the way, this is a good time to replace the old brake lines with the new longer stainless steel lines provided in the kit.  The two new front brake lines also come with a new hanger bracket.  However, I found that the stock brackets worked fine, and don't necessitate any modifications.  Before attempting to disconnect the old brake line retaining nut (behind the stock hanger), pry out the C-clip (outside face of the hanger bracket) and the spring clip on the backside of the hanger bracket.  This will take tension off the retaining nut and make it easier to remove.
Brake line wrench and creeper stool. Here's a plug for some special tools that will make life easier.  For loosening those nuts on the brake lines, a flare wrench will save the day if the nuts are really tight!  A flare wrench has two small extra sides - making it a cross between an open-end wrench and a box-wrench.  Otherwise, a standard open-end wrench may just round the corners of the nut if it's too tight.  If that happens, get the vice grips! 

Also, your knees will thank you if you have a creeper seat.  This little device is worth its weight in gold!  The tool tray beneath the seat comes in handy, too.

RE - brake line retention spring.jpg (37316 bytes) Once the new brake lines are installed, take note of the extra length of these lines.  They will later need to be carefully secured back from the tire (to prevent wear and damage), but they'll have to be able to flex when the spring droops.  A spring (not included with the kit) seems to be the best alternative.  Click here to see the Brake Line Retention Spring project.
Adjusting spring mounts. Now the new springs are almost ready to be installed.  First, insert the new bushings into both ends of the springs (use lots of grease).  Once the bushings are pressed into the springs, then the center sleeve can be inserted.  This sleeve will have a small hole in its side near the center.  MAKE SURE THE NEW BOLT CAN PASS THROUGH THIS SLEEVE NOW!  On mine, where the small grease hole was drilled, there were burrs on the insides.  I used a round file to clean the center of the sleeves out.  Insert the sleeve and check the overall width of the spring, two bushings, and sleeve.  Now compare that width with the width on the spring mounting bracket on the frame and make adjustments as needed.  (A crescent wrench or rubber mallet works well for this adjustment!)
RE - tapping the grease bolt.jpg (39795 bytes) Install the new springs on the spring mounting bracket and slide the new bolt through to hold them up.  Make sure the grease fitting is on the outside!   If the new bolt won't slide through with your fingers, put a small deep socket over the grease fitting (to protect it) and tap the socket (and bolt) through the mount.   Loosely install the nut (don't tighten it just yet).  Here's where a friend (or an ice chest) can assist you by holding the other end of the spring up for you so you're not fighting the weight.
RE - set front shims.jpg (52723 bytes) Now, here is where I ran into some problems on the 4.5" springs (but not when I did the 2.5" lift).  The centering pin was too tall on the springs and would not seat all the way inside the bottom of the axle.  I placed a large C-clamp on the spring (to hold it together) and removed one of the washer shims on the centering pin.  The lower height of the pin would then fit into the center of the plate on the bottom of the axle tube.
New front shackle. Now the shackle can be LOOSELY attached.  Again, grease fittings go on the outside.  Since the new Extreme Duty springs are wider (2.5") than the stock CJ-7 springs (2"), the front shackles are tapered.  (Note, the shackle side plates in these photos are mounted backwards and upside down!  I had to do this because the center bar was too short.  I have since used washers to extend the length of the center support bar and flipped the side plates over.)   The new front shock absorbers can now be installed.  (By the way, the new Deutsch Tech shocks do not come with any dust boots.)
Changing centering pin heigth while axle is on the Jeep. Drop the new U-bolts over the top of the axle and through the new tie plates (provided with the kit).  Add the washers and nuts to the U-bolts, while making sure the centering holes and pins are in alignment!  Carefully tighten the nuts in pairs, crossing back and forth and side by side several times throughout the tightening sequence.  You'll then note how long those new U-bolts are!  These can be shortened by almost a full inch.  If you cut them down (and this is highly recommended) use a 1/2" x 20 die to clean the threads.
New U-bolts and spring tie plate. Now the mounting bolt for the lower quick-disconnect can be attached to the tie plate, along with the two ends of the quick-disconnects.  There is an extra set of mounting bolts, and they can be used for the upper ends of the quick-disconnect link on the anti-swaybar.  The tires can be temporarily installed afterwards.  You will later need to bleed the brakes (one of the last steps in the install process), so all the lug nuts do not have to be attached.
Installing new dropped pitman arm. Another fun step...  Do you have a pitman arm puller?  You will definitely need one along with a large socket.  (A 32mm socket fit the nut on my pitman arm.)  Before removing the arm, however, remove the end of the steering arm tie rod from the pitman arm.  You will need the tie rod separator tool again.   Make sure the wheels are straight, and then remove the pitman arm nut.  Once the nut is off, place the puller on the pitman arm and have at it (you may need to tap - or beat - the side of the pitman arm with a hammer near the splines to allow it to pop off).  Once it is removed, install the new arm, nut, and steering tie rod end.
Half-way there... About half-way finished!  Drop the front end down and let the springs, shackles, and bushings all get acquainted with one another.  (Jumping on the front bumper helps a little!)  Look at all that clearance!!!
Step 15 Moving to the rear, remove the blocks behind the rear wheels and place them on the front wheels.  Jack up the rear of the Jeep as high as you can with the floor jack and place the jack stands on the frame rails this time in front of the rear spring mounting brackets.  The removal of the rear springs is much the same as the front.
Installing the rear axle shims. Installing the rear springs is also much the same as the front.  This time, use one of the degree shims provided (the wider ones) and mount the thicker end facing toward the front.  Again, make sure not to over-tighten the shackles, install the nuts loosely for now!
New rear stainless steel brake line. The rear brake also needs to be extended, for the same reasons as with the front.  However, with the rear axle, there is only one main line that is extended between the frame and the axle tube.  From there, the brake line splits and runs along the axle to each wheel (so the existing hardware on the axle will still be used).   This sounds easy in concept, but space is very limited.  Good thing you only need to do this task once!  Also, while you're down there, check to make sure your breather hose (the rubber one in this photo) will be long enough to extend!  Mine wasn't and later broke off at the axle tube!
Step 18 After the new springs are on, and the axles, U-bolts, and spring tie plates are all secured.  Attach the new rear shock absorbers to the frame and spring tie plates (again, using the new hardware provided with the spring tie plates).

Note:   Check out the U-Bolt Flip Kitproject for a "higher clearance" alteration of this component!

Installing transfer case lowering kit. Before dropping the rear end down, the next step is to install the transfer case lowering kit.  This kit contains six spacers and six new bolts and washers.  Start by loosening the three bolts on one side (any one) but DO NOT REMOVE THEM ALL THE WAY.  Then switch to the other side and completely remove these bolts and insert the spacers and new hardware.  Once this side is installed, go back to the first side and complete the process there.  A floor jack will help assist you.  WARNING:   If your Jeep has a serpentine fan belt,
Hand vacuum pump. Now, it is time to bleed the brakes.  Start with the rear passenger side, then the rear driver's side, then the front passenger side, and finish with the front driver's side.  The concept is to work from the furthest point (from the brake master cylinder) to the closest point.  Using a hand vacuum pump makes this job really quick - but have a friend watch the fluid level of the master cylinder.  It will probably look empty when you first open it, since you will have removed a large section of the front line system.  Add brake fluid to your list of tools and supplies you'll need before you start.
Needs bigger wheels now! With the brakes bled, the Jeep can stand on its own.  Now, make sure all those nuts and bolts are tightened - not too tight (about 25 - 35 foot pounds).   You may want to assist the springs in their settling process some.  Then, it will be time for the first test ride!

Results?

My first impression is that the new springs ride considerably better than the old Rancho Replacement Spring lift.  Most noticeable is the softer ride!   Now, after having these springs installed, I really enjoy the ride and added articulation of the lift - and highly recommend it.  The added height does feel a little odd in those off-camber trail situations and takes a little getting used to!

After 10 months of having the lift, and after installing 33" tires on the Jeep, I have found the rear tires will occasionally rub on the rear portion of the rear fender flares.  Normally, this would only happen when the tires were aired down and when the Jeep was flexing (with the front anti-swaybar disconnected).  I attempted to solve the problem by adding a one-inch body lift/body mount to my Jeep.  However, it didn't work and the rear tires still contacted the stock CJ fender flares.  I guess I may have to resort to the YJ or TJ flares...

As for driveline vibrations, I was getting a very slight vibration with the Rubicon Express lift.  It wasn't too bad initially.  However, when I removed the transfer case lowering kit it got MUCH worse.  I eventually solved this problem by installing the ultimate solution: a Constant Velocity rear drive shaft.  

New and old drive shafts.

View of new yoke mounted on the transfer case.

This requires both a new drive shaft and yoke for the transfer case.  The new CV style drive shaft is shown next to the old shaft in the upper photo.

Below, the new yoke is attached to the transfer case.  The new yoke allows the new CV style shaft to be mounted to the yoke using bolts (from the back side).  

New CVshaft installed. This photo shows the installed CV style drive shaft.  An important point to remember is the rear pinion angle (an imaginary line though the pinion shaft) needs to be perfectly in line with the drive shaft (the portion behind the CV joint).  However, the pinion angle will rise upwards about 1 degree when the axle is powered.  So when setting the angles, factor this 1 degree pinion shift when setting the pinion angle (via the degree shims). 

I have started by using a 4 degree axle shims rather than the 2 degree shims originally provided by the Rubicon Express kit.

Tale of the tape... 

23-1/8th inches. Photo 1 - The red Jeep is a 1985 CJ-7 with a completely-stock suspension.  In this photo, the Jeep has a hard top on and has 31" tires.   (23 1/8th inches)
23 7/8ths inches. Photo 2 - The (dirty) brown Jeep is a 1984 CJ-7 with the Rancho Replacement suspension (1").  In this photo, the Jeep has a hard top on and has 31" tires.  (23 7/8ths inches)
23-13/16ths inches.

Photo 3 - The red Jeep is now without its hardtop.  Still has the stock suspension and 31" tires.  Without the hardtop, the Jeep gained 11/16ths of an inch.  (23 13/16ths inches)

28-3/8ths inches. Photo 4 - The brown Jeep is now without its hardtop.  It still has its 31" tires, but is now with the Rubicon Express Extreme Duty (4 1/2") lift kit (actually 4 7/16ths inches over stock!).  (28 3/8ths inches)

Is 4.5" too tall?

If you don't think you'll ever plan on going with a taller tire than 31", the Rubicon Express 2.5" Extreme Duty lift kit is also a great kit.   We installed the 2.5" Extreme Duty lift kit on the red CJ (after the photos above were taken) and it really came out nice with the 31" tires.  Lots of room for flexing!  The installation is identical in both kits except for the dropped pitman arm (Step 13).  Here are some before and after shots of the 2.5" Extreme Duty Lift Kit...

Before view of a stock-sprung CJ and 31" tires.  After installation of the 2.5" lift kit!