2012 Jeep Wrangler Sport: Installing a TeraFlex HD Hinged Tire Carrier
December 12, 2014
Yes, it still exists. What used to be the official Edmunds 2012 Jeep Wrangler Sport long-term test vehicle has been my personal vehicle since I seized the opportunity to buy it after the test ended. Functionally it's the same JK Jeep Wrangler that's sold today as the 2015 Jeep Wrangler. We don't expect to see a full redesign for a couple of more years, so most of what we learned (and I continue to learn) still applies.
Just before it left the fleet it developed a couple of cracked spot welds on the tailgate that creaked and popped on rough roads. The culprit was the oversized spare tire, made up of a 285/70R17 BFGoodrich Mud-Terrain KM2 tire and AEV/Mopar aluminum wheel. The largest factory wheel and tire weighs about 20 pounds less than this combination, and the JK's factory tailgate-mounted spare tire carrier has an upper limit that we had crossed.
And that's why Teraflex devised their Heavy Duty Hinged Carrier. It's designed to carry the load of massive oversized spare tires up to 37" in diameter with the optional Spare Tire Mounting Kit. The nice part about the TeraFlex approach is you don't have to buy a new rear bumper, which is a big cost savings. A new bumper costs upwards of $1,000 before you add any swing-away tire carrier option. It can run into big bucks.
So I bought one, brought it home and installed it the very next weekend.
The Jeep's standard design is comprised of a side-opening tailgate with simple hinges. The spare tire carrier mounts to the center of the tailgate and the load of the tire is carried through the tailgate structure. Add a big tire and bounce everything around off road and the tailgate gets more than it bargained for.
The TeraFlex HD Hinged Carrier is essentially a huge cast aluminum hinge that supports the spare tire carrier directly. The tailgate itself just happens to mount to the back of it and go along for the ride. In this way the Jeep's tailgate shoulders almost none of the spare tire burden. It's certainly under far less stress than it was in its original factory configuration.
Best part is the tire and the tailgate still open and lock closed as one unit. There's no need to buy an aftermarket rear bumper unless you want one for other reasons.
How much do they get for one of these? My 33-inch BFG tires are not large enough to need the optional Spare Tire Mounting Kit, so I was able to buy the $499 version and re-use the factory tire carrier and third brake light. I only paid $419 because I found an outfit selling it online at a discount. And my out-of-pocket was about half that because I used some forgotten Amazon gift cards that I found languishing in my nightstand drawer.
Those who want or need the Spare Tire Mounting Kit upgrade for tires larger than 33 inches will pay an MSRP of $729. That's still cheap compared to the new-bumper route.
TeraFlex says it takes one hour to install and the difficulty level is listed as "easy." I agree on both counts. It took me about an hour and ten minutes, but I stopped frequently to take the following pictures. It would have been 45 minutes if I had plowed straight through.
After first removing the spare, the third brake light needs to come off. Four Torx T25 screws are all that stand in the way. And you have to unplug and unclip the power harness and let it hang.
The factory spare tire mount comes off next. There are eight bolts, and they take a 13mm socket. Save every bolt and screw because everything will be reused.
Now it's time to remove the plastic covers that conceal the tailgate hinge bolts. They are easy to unclip. The instructions describe the best place to tug. But it really doesn't matter if one breaks. These will not be used again.
Now we can see everything, including a lot of dirt. I'd like to say it was all concealed by the spare, but that would be a fib. The entire tailgate needs to be cleaned at this point so the new hinge doesn't grind in the dirt as it is tightened in place.
Incidentally, that vent is the cabin air extractor. Your sedan or SUV has one hidden under its rear bumper cover.
This part took the most time, but it's an invaluable step that really pays off. I had to find, cut and stack wood scraps in order to snugly shim the tailgate in position. This saves a lot of time and headache in the coming steps because it preserves the tailgate's alignment when the hinges come off.
The plastic pieces that I used to fine-tune the fit are strips cut off of a promotional dealer license plate I'd saved for...this, apparently.
Here is why the shims need to fit just right. There's another one on the driver side by the latch (which is tightly latched, by the way.) And I'm still saving all of my bolts!
The load-bearing side of the hinge is held on with 6 bolts that have a T-50 Torx head. The kit comes with a bent allen-style T-50, but the socket and ratchet works better. Save the bolts, but these hinges are history.
Now I can hang the TeraFlex HD hinge with the same T-50 Torx bolts I just removed, starting with the outer ones.
The inners go in next after I swing open the hinge. Its motion is stiff without the leverage of a three-foot tailgate and the inertia of a big tire to give it a push. Note that it's not yet time to get serious about tightening these T-50 bolts. Snug only.
First I need to make sure the four 13mm tailgate-side hinge bolts line up correctly. It may be necessary to back off the T-50 bolts on the body side of the hinge in order to coax them into position. I didn't have to do that, though. They went right in.
Once they are in I can go ahead and tighten all four of these and then crank down on the two outer body-side T-50 bolts, the ones that are visible through the notches. Tightening these outmost two beforehand will ensure nothing moves out of alignment when I remove the shims. Once that's done I can open the tailgate to access and tighten the four T-50 bolts that are hidden when it's closed.
Now the factory spare tire carrier bolts can go back in, but only the four on the right-hand side. The original bolts still work even though the HD hinge spaces it out a bit. I'm not going to tighten them down all the way just yet, though.
The left side now has a gap of equal thickness.
That's where these shims come in. They have a rubber gasket that helps protect the paint. Four longer bolts and washers are provided, but the instructions don't mention them. And I would have thought if the thickness mattered there should have been eight because both sides are shimmed out the same. But, like the right side, there seems to be plenty of thread engagement with the standard bolts. *shrug*
Be that as it may, all eight tire carrier bolts can be tightened once the left-side shims and gaskets are wrangled into place.
Done! Here you can better visualize how it all works. Think of the spare tire carrier as an extension of the hinge. The tailgate is merely bolted on to the back of it all. It no longer has much to do with holding up the spare other than housing the nut-plates that all the bolts thread into.
The kit was simple and the instructions were clear. And the HD hinged tire carrier itself has the look of a well-engineered piece. Thing weighs 20 pounds, too.
You may have noticed there are a few unused threaded holes. TeraFlex makes accessories that thread into them. Clamps for a Hi-Lift jack, brackets for fuel canisters, that kind of thing.
The very next day I went out into the desert near the southeast corner of Death Valley. I drove maybe a hundred miles off road on faint trails, washboard tracks and rocky wash bottoms.
Rock solid. Not a sound. And the tire didn't jiggle around like it used to, either.
Dan Edmunds, Director of Vehicle Testing