Please note this article is YJ specific because I have first-hand knowledge of this install on a YJ. While there is a lot of documentation on this swap online, I found much of it to be false or inexperienced. Therefore, I will not rely on that info to relate this swap to TJ’s and XJ’s. Please feel free to contact me with questions and I will help to the best of my ability if you attempt this swap on any other Jeep model.
For a YJ in stock form, and even with mild lift, stock steering and brakes are adequate on the street and on the trail. Leaf sprung Jeeps obviously aren’t meant to be sports cars, and as such, they don’t handle and brake like them (nor do most SWB rigs.)
With lifts up to 4 inches, many steering issues (such as bump steer, poor road feedback, etc…) can usually be solved with the installation of a drop pitman arm. When it comes to steering your main goal is to minimize the angle of the drag link relative to the ground.
The steeper this angle the more your steering wheel has to turn to compensate for the drag link length as your suspension compresses and unloads. With a mild lift, a drop pitman arm will put this angle near stock.
Your next goal would be to match the angle of the drag link and the angle of the trac bar as equal as possible if you still have one installed. This keeps the drag link and trac bar from fighting each other because of unequal length as your suspension compresses. Your lift kit traction bar brackets should hopefully take care of this issue.
On lifts above 4”, even with a drop pitman arm, the angle of the drag link becomes too severe. There are a few kits online to correct this. Some include a high steer arm that you bolt to your passenger steering knuckle, others include a whole new knuckle, and one company takes a stock knuckle and welds on a high steer arm. I do not recommend the latter, search Google on “Welding Cast” and you probably won’t either.
While those kits do address the issue of a severe drag link angle by raising the attachment point for the drag link, they don’t address the factory brakes. You’re lifting your Jeep to run bigger rubber and you’re going to drive it on the road with the brakes designed for 29” tires?! In a panicked situation, someone is going to get hurt. Another con of the other setups is cost; because of demand and rarity, they can be rather expensive. But don’t fret!
There is another solution; in my honest opinion, a better, cheaper, more fulfilling one. It just so happens that the Jeep WJ’s (1999+ Grand Cherokees) have a knuckle with an attachment point for the tie-rod in the stock location, and an attachment point for the drag-link up higher. WJ’s also have HUGE dual-piston calipers and larger brake rotors to match. The knuckles are a bolt on to YJ, TJ, and XJ Dana 30’s. It’s a win-win situation as far as I’m concerned.
Necessary Parts List
- WJ calipers*
- WJ knuckles with caliper brackets and hardware
- WJ rotors
- 1/4″ hub spacers (buy OGS930 here)
- 1/4″ caliper spacers (easily made with a hole saw and drill press)
- Brake fluid
Tip: The WJ has two caliper styles. Because of some warping problems, there was a recall and the old style has been replaced on a lot of old models. For instance, the 03’+ style came with my parts from a 99 model.
If your calipers look like mine your pad part number is 9454 at AutoZone. Other places will be some version of that be it 945 or 945Z, whatever. It was difficult finding this style in stock. If you open the box and the pad has ears, they are not what you’re looking for. The new caliper style is called “Akibunko.”
If your calipers DON’T look like mine your part number at AutoZone is 7904. Your pads will have ears.
- New brake pads (may as well while you’re doing this)
- Ball Joints (great time to replace them)
- Axle shaft u-joints (great time to replace them)
- Extended stainless brake lines (depending on the lift)
Necessary Specialty Tools
- 36mm socket
- 13mm 12point socket
- 1 ¼” metal hole saw
- ½” metal drill bit
- Pickle fork.
- Ball joint press (only if you’re replacing the ball joints)
- U-joint press (only if you’re replacing the u-joints)
If you try to bolt the YJ hub to the WJ knuckle with the axle shaft in place, you will quickly notice they are about a ¼” shy of actually touching the face of the knuckle. This is because of the differences in ball joint geometry of the CV shafts that WJ’s use. Some sites say you can re-drill the WJ knuckles to the 5 on 4.5” pattern and they will work fine.
THIS IS FALSE!
I found out the hard way that the WJ hubs have the same spacing as the YJ ones. Other sites instruct you to make this distance up with stacked washers between the hub and knuckle.
I cannot begin to illustrate how totally unsafe that practice is. The unit hubs’ ears are not designed to take the load of the vehicle. Catastrophic failure could occur using this method. The only safe way is to order the hub spacers above or have a machine shop make some for you.
- Take your WJ knuckles and ¼” hub spacers to a reputable welder to be welded.
- You may want to bolt a hub on them to assure proper alignment.
- Support the axle on jack stands and remove the front wheels.
- Break loose and remove the hub nuts with a 36mm socket
- Either use an impact or have someone press on the brakes while you use a breaker bar to loosen them.
- Remove the stock brake calipers from the knuckle (13mm socket)
- Remove the brake hose from the calipers.
- Tie the hose up in the fender to keep fluid leakage to a minimum
- Remove the stock hubs (13mm 12 point socket)
- If they are stubborn use a slide hammer to remove them.
- Another method is to thread the bolts out a few threads, put a junk 13mm socket over them, and hit the socket with a hammer alternating bolt heads hammer down on the flat part at the top of the knuckle. I would replace the bolts after using this method.
- Pull the axle shafts
- Remove the tie rod end castle nut cotter pins, and then remove the nuts.
- Remove the TRE’s by using a pickle fork, or by tapping on the side of the knuckle arm till they fall out.
- Remove the upper and lower ball joint castle nut cotter pins, and then remove the nuts.
- Remove the knuckle by using a pickle fork, or if you’re replacing the ball joints hammer down on the knuckle.
- Replace ball joints if necessary.
- Install the WJ knuckles
- Be sure and use new cotter pins on the castle nuts.
- Replace the axle shaft u-joints, if necessary, and install the shafts into the housing.
- Bolt the caliper bracket to the knuckle, if it’s not already
- Apply some thread locker to the threads.
- Install the stock YJ hubs and hub nuts.
- I always use anti-seize on the hub flange and on the axle shaft splines, this makes the assembly easy to remove next time.
- Don’t forget the dust shields like I always do!
- Use your stock YJ rotor as a template and drill the WJ rotor to the 4 on 4.5” bolt pattern using a 1/2” drill bit.
- If you don’t have a drill press or aren’t comfortable doing this 100% accurately ask your local machine shop to do it for you.
- Install the rotor.
- Make four 1 ¼” x ¼” spacers with your hole saw. Drill a ½” hole in the center. These will space the calipers out to meet the newly spaced out hubs.
- Install the new pads into the calipers.
- Bolt the calipers to the brackets.
- Apply some thread locker to the threads.
- Bolt the rubber brake hoses to the new calipers.
- Because of the design of the WJ calipers, you will lose a little of your brake line length. You may or may not need longer brake lines at this time.
- Bleed the brakes
- Install the wheels and check caliper clearance.
- Depending on wheel size, style, and backspacing you may need to grind a little of the WJ caliper. PROCEED WITH CAUTION. There isn’t A LOT of metal there to safely grind.
- The old-style WJ calipers are slightly smaller than the new ones, you may need to purchase a set of those if light grinding on the new style doesn’t solve the contact issue.
- In EXTREME cases you may need to purchase new wheels to clear.
- I had no issues with my 15×10” American Eagle 054’s with 3 5/8” backspacing. No grinding was needed.
There are TONS of options for steering linkages with this setup, this section is just a general overview of my setup. Search online for more info on your preferred style. Because of personal preference, I chose to use tie rod ends over Heim joints. Because of strength and availability, I chose 1 ton Chevy TRE’s.
If you want to go with a true high steer setup you can order the driver-side knuckle from right-hand drive WJ’s (Europe, Australia, etc…) It is a mirror image of the US passenger one. You would use both higher arms on the knuckle in an inverted “T” setup. Contact your Jeep dealer for part numbers/pricing.
- Passenger knuckle TRE #ES2233L
- Driver knuckle TRE #ES2010R
- Pitman misalignment TRE #ES2027L
- Knuckle/Draglink misalignment TRE #ES2026R
- 2 x 14024806 GM Jam Nuts
- 2 x 14024805 GM Jam Nuts
- *DOM tie rod and drag link (drilled and tapped for the TRE’s)
* You can also purchase threaded inserts that you weld into DOM tubing. I would use this option if you don’t want to drill and tap your own DOM.
- Reamer 1.5″ per foot and 0.715″ x 0.795″ x 0.64″
Part & Tool Sources
- 1.25″x .219 DOM Rock Rods (JCRoffroad) 1.25″ a foot
- 1/4″ hub spacers (JKS Manufacturing) $29 x 2
- Tie Rod Ends (Autozone) ~$25 x 4
- GM Jam Nuts (Triple-X Traction) $5 x 4
- Reamer for tie rod ends (Goodson Online) $59.99