Installing a Mopar Stage 3 Lift Kit With Fox Racing Shox, Front - 2012 Jeep Wrangler Long-Term Road Test

2012 Jeep Wrangler Long Term Road Test

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2012 Jeep Wrangler: Installing a Mopar Stage 3 Lift Kit With Fox Racing Shox, Front

March 18, 2012


Parts and tools strewn everywhere. At one point -- check that, at pretty much every point -- this was the scene as I stripped the factory suspension from our 2012 Jeep Wrangler and systematically replaced it with a Mopar Stage 3 Lift Kit with Fox Racing Shox.

This new kit was introduced at last October's SEMA show. It comes in two flavors that you can order from your local dealer.

Part Number P5156141 is for the 2-door JK Wrangler and P5156140 fits the 4-door. Each one costs $2,400, not including installation. Whether you intend to do it yourself or pay someone else depends on how you feel about the following images.

But the following photos are worth looking at even if you don't have a Jeep or are not considering a lift kit. It's the ultimate Jeep Wrangler suspension teardown walkaround.    

Mopar figures the job will take six hours for a seasoned dealer mechanic with a complete set of tools. For us the job spread over parts of three days as trusty photographer Scott Jacobs and I made frequent runs for certain tools and automotive ointments like RTV and Loc-Tite that our new shop has not yet accumulated. Also burritos.

Everything is harder the first time you do it, and installing a 3-inch lift kit is no exception. So I read the instructions early and often and spent long periods playing with the new parts while staring blankly at the old ones. Imagine that scene in Top Gun where Cruise is dog fighting with a toy airplane in the classroom then remove the A-list celeb, the model jet and the cleanliness. 

This Stage 3 kit is just now making the transition from dealer-only sales to public catalog sales, so the accompanying instruction sheet I had was still in the revision stage. There's a companion DVD video walkthrough too, that makes it look oh so easy.

For the most part, it is -- if you have the right tools and experience. That said, on the DIY difficulty scale this is no mere oil change or brake pad swap; it's a 7.5 or 8 level job.

The dealer flyer for the kit says "no welding" and that's certainly true, but my first read-through of the instructions revealed a certain amount of drilling and cutting. Yee-haw.

What follows is not meant to be a step-by-step substitute for the instructions, but you will get a glimpse of all the major steps.


In order to do this you must first support the entire Jeep and then cradle the axle you're working on with separate stands. All told that's six points of support.

Depending on what you have, it can be a stand-up job (lift and tall 6-foot adjustable axle stands), a sit-down job (lift and 30-inch jack stands) tall or a bit of a crawl (tall jack stands for the frame and near-ground supports like wood blocks for the axle.)

I'm going with option two. Our Rotary lift easily supports the Jeep at any elevation, and these 30-inch (maximum) 12-ton stands from Harbor Freight hold the axle at a working height that suits me.

The 2-post Rotary lift really helps here because I can raise the Jeep and leave the axle on the stands when it's finally time to remove the springs.

Now that the tires are off and everything is properly supported the real work can begin. And yes, I'm starting up front.


The first order of business is to loosen, but not remove, all of the bolts associated with all five links that hold the axle in place. There are two upper trailing links, two lower trailing links and a track bar (a.k.a. Panhard rod). Each has a bolt on each end, so that makes ten in all.

But I'm only loosening eight of them because the rear bolts on the upper links are too hard to get at. This decision won't cause trouble later on. Also, I'm staying away from all the steering components: the tie rods and drag link bolts can and should remain tight.


The front stabilizer bar links are next to go. These get removed and tossed in the scrap pile because the kit includes new ones that are about three inches longer. But I'll save and reuse the nuts and bolts later.


Now it is time to remove the shock absorbers. The lower bolts are destined to be re-used but the upper ones can go in the trash can along with the shocks.


Next up is the front driveshaft. I've removed four bolts and suspended it with a daisy chain of tie-wraps. I can always zip them up tighter if I need to hike it further up out of the way later on.

Incidentally, I like to mark the driveshaft and flange before I separate them so they go back together indexed to the same holes. It's probably overkill in this case, but it's not a bad habit.


Here it is, the first swearworthy step of the entire process. I struggled for some time with a tool that wasn't quite right before I gave up and headed out to locate and buy a better one.

The little silver bracket I'm looking at has to go. The thin ABS sensor wire is easy; that'll clip free from it's tie-wrap moorings in two seconds. But the rubber brake hose itself is another matter because it is completely enveloped by the silver-anodized steel bracket.

Employing a technique I learned by watching LOST, I'm going to skip around in time to make better sense of things. Do not concern yourself with the magical reappearance of the shock I removed two steps ago.


This is what the end game looks like. To get here I need to unbend some fairly thick steel in order to squeeze the hose through the gap. But there's precious little edge to grab onto, especially since I must prevent the sharp end from digging into the hose. Worse yet, that small bolt was never intended to hold the bracket in place while someone attempts to bend raw steel.

My pry bar kept slipping off; nothing built for demo work with a nail removal slot will do. I needed something more solid with with a more distinct and unbroken edge. I found just the tool at my local Sears, a Craftsman Locking Flex Pry Bar with 11 head-angle positions. But I got cheap and bought the small 8-inch one; I should have spent 10 bucks more and bought the 16-inch version.

Note: I was tempted to use my cutoff wheel to score the back side of the area to thin the metal I was trying to bend, but I was concerned about cutting through and nicking the hose. That would be bad.


My floor jack's hollow handle works well enough as a cheater to make up for the leverage I lost by buying the smaller version of the tool. Still, the steel is stubborn and the lip is small. The process involves numerous incremental "bites" all along the edge to gradually open the gap.


The brake hose and ABS wire (black) are now free from the bracket, which extends their effective length for the three-inch lift to come. This also allows them to grow long enough as I raise the Jeep in relation to the axle to get the springs out. 

But first I have to temporarily disconnect the front diff breather hose so it doesn't get taut during the process.

With the Jeep finally raised a few inches the spring can be lifted up off its axle seat, shifted to one side and pulled out from below. The rubber spring isolator that had been atop the spring needs to be pulled down and removed, too.


Burrito break!


Now we install the new limit strap. This is a Nutsert, a sort of slow-motion extra-large pop rivet that uses the tightening-action of a bolt to crush and expand the barrel inside a properly sized hole, leaving an embedded nut behind. In this case it goes in an existing hole in the frame rail.


It takes quite a few turns to slog through the crushing process, and a torque wrench is needed when things start to firm up in order to make sure it's tight enough to be fully seated but not so tight that it strips out.


Finito! The Nutsert has landed. Now I can hang the limit straps.


The straps are in place, but they won't be attached to anything until much later. Meanwhile, the yellow arrow is pointing out the breather hose I unfastened a couple of steps ago.


The time has come to break out the power tools. I'm punching a hole in the side of the lower spring perch that will eventually be used to attach the lower end of the limit strap. I won't install the bolt until later, but with all of the parts removed the time to drill is now.

This drilling job -- and many others to come -- requires a heavy-duty center punch, preferably a spring-loaded one, to make sure the drill starts in the right place and doesn't walk. In large part that's because it's crowded down here and I'm not able to square the bit up with the flange. That's doubly true on the driver side version of this hole.


Our Mopar Pre-Runner kit includes Teraflex SpeedBump bump stops, so the original urethane ones and some of the structure that supports them must be cut off.

Here I'm using a steel rule and spring-loaded center punch to mark out a cut line some 3.5 inches below the upper surface of the spring pocket. Once I get a decent line of dots I'll connect them with blue painter's masking tape to mark a clear cut line.


Are you sure about this? Very sure. Measure four or five times, cut once. I've chosen to use an air-powered cutoff wheel. The noises it makes are cool. So are the sparks. And I can accurately follow my tape line and make a controlled cut.

But the round cutting disc can't get to the back 20 percent of the tube because the frame is too close. To finish the cut I'm forced to break out the efficient but less accurate...


...Sawzall. The cut it makes wanders a bit, but the reciprocating blade chews through the last remaining bits of steel in short order.


With the internal baffle cut away, the remaining hollow tube is almost ready for the SpeedBump to slip into place.


This hat-shaped reinforcement slips over the remaining section of tube to double the thickness. This, after all, is where the new bump stops will transfer their impact energy into the frame. The flat edge goes up against the frame and, yes, I pinched this particular image from the Mopar installation DVD.   



With the reinforcing tube clamped in position I can use my transfer punch to mark the center of the three holes I must drill. Deep punch marks make the next steps easier because the drill is less apt to walk off-target.


A stepped drill bit works quite well here. The hat can be bolted into place for good once the drilling is complete and the holes are de-burred.


The fractionally longer inner tube, the one I cut to length earlier, must be filed or ground down to match the length of the added hat. This is why an accurate initial cut can save time.


A thin coating of RTV helps keeps moisture from getting inside the tube. It also prevents the bump stops from making rattling noises. Yeah, this is a borrowed DVD frame, too. I used blue RTV. 


It is finally time to push the bump stop firmly into position until it seats. About an inch of it will protrude out the top. 


And that's where I install the retaining clamp (orange) to keep the bump stop in the desired position. The SpeedBump installation is complete once the original rubber spring isolator is put back where it came from.


Now I can hang the Fox Racing Shox using the new hardware that came with them.


Two small holes need to be drilled in the frame itself. They'll hold the bracket that holds the remote reservoir in place. Keep telling yourself that Jeep said it was OK!


Two simple hose clamps hold the remote reservoir to the new bracket.


What's this? Another new hole? Yep. This one will eventually accommodate a spring retainer clip.

Meanwhile, it's important to make sure the brake hose (orange) runs between the spring and the shock.


The spring clip (yellow) is staged and ready for the spring, but first I need to replace the lower trailing links with the new longer ones from the kit. Their extra length compensates for the 3-inch lift to keep the front suspension's caster angle the same as it was when I started.


Almost there! This is starting to look like something.


Now I can position the spring clip over the lowermost coil and torque it down.


It's finally time to connect the lower end of the limit strap. Once that's done I'll tie-wrap the brake hose to the convenient slot in its gold-colored fitting to keep it from running afoul of the shock or the coil spring.


New front stabilizer bar links go on next.


Can it be? Yes, the front is done -- for the moment. I won't torque the control arms until the rear is finished and I can finally put the Jeep back on the ground. Why? Suspension bushings need to be in their neutral curb-weight state when they're tightened so they're not pre-loaded.

Time for a five minute break before I start working on the rear axle.

Dan Edmunds, Director of Vehicle Testing

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