I think everyone can agree that 2020 was a bust. Depending on where you reside, there was very little racing, shows, events, etc., for Mopar enthusiasts to enjoy. On the flip side, it gave a lot of us some extra time for our projects and hopefully get ready for the 2021 season. Although we worked on our fair share of projects during 2020, we also became bored and starting searching for something new. We started searching our local sale sites.
We were looking for a daily driver that we could enjoy driving in all four seasons. With some of us being in the Northern states, we would experience everything from 90+ degree days in the summer to subzero temperatures and snow in the winter. Moving out of our comfort zone, we thought it would be a great idea to tackle a whole new kind of project build. A Jeep Wrangler would fit the mold perfect; it offered 4WD, fun to drive in any season, a slew of aftermarket parts to make it our own and most importantly a Mopar.
Above: This is exactly how it drove off the car hauler and into our shop.
Above Left: We found out that a tree had fallen on the Jeep which crunched hood and the hardtop which is gone. Above Center: The tree seem to damage some of the front fender and flare too. Above Right: The driver side of the Jeep looks like nothing ever happened.
There are many models of Jeep Wranglers and like anything else, they have their good and bad. We started doing some research to see what Jeep Wrangler would suit our needs best. We wanted something to haul the family around, a fun color, some convenience options and did not want to break the bank with something brand new. It was quickly narrowed down to the four door Jeep Wrangler Unlimited. The four door Wrangler Unlimited (JKU) started production in 2007 and ended in first half of 2018.
Although the JKU was produced for little over a decade, there were some differences within the 11 years of production. The biggest being in 2012 when Jeep switched out the old 3.8 V6 engine for the new Pentastar 3.6 V6. In 2012 Jeep also updated some interior features but the rest was basically the same as the other years. Jump on any Jeep forum and you will quickly learn the 3.8 V6 is a very underpowered engine especially once you start putting on bigger tires. The Pentastar 3.6 V6 on the other hand, produces plenty of power and can turn any size tire fairly easy with proper gearing.
Above Left: The worst damage was the rear passenger door. It broke out the vent glass and bent the door frame. Above Right: There were some dents around the windshield and front passenger door but nothing we were going to worry about.
Above Left: There were some small things we needed for the Jeep here and there but nothing major. Above Right: For some reason all of the roll bar padding covers were missing. We ended up finding some on eBay at a good price.
This made our decision fairly easy and knew we wanted the Pentastar engine. The updated interior was a bonus. The other major features lied between the Sport, Sahara and Rubicon packages. There are a few other special edition Wranglers that were offered in different years but these were the main three packages. The Sport is normally very basic features. The Sahara is more feature rich with options like heated seats, leather, touch screen, painted fender flares, and more. The Rubicon is the king as it has all the features of a Sahara but takes an extra step for more off road capability. The Rubicon’s come with 4:1 transfer case, Dana 44 front axle instead of Dana 30, 4:10 gear ratio option, bigger tires, electronic lockers and more.
Our decision was made, we wanted a 2012+ with either a Rubicon or Sahara package. After searching the web, we quickly became depressed as the prices of Wranglers are crazy. You start looking at moderate mileage Rubicon Wrangler and they can be upwards of 30k. It was just too far out of our budget. We started thinking maybe we would have to find a Sport but they were still a lot of money given the features or lack there of.
Above Left: The interior at first glance looked great and no major issues. Above Right: Once we stepped inside we realized that the Jeep was water logged and had no idea for how long.
Above Left: The back of the Jeep was a dumpster. The good news is we found a few parts, bolts and clips that we needed. Above Right: Make sure to wear some sort of rubber or latex gloves when cleaning out. You never know what the previous owner left behind.
Talking with some Wrangler owners, they steered us towards trying to find a wrecked one and fix it up. We were not super familiar with the Wranglers but we were told they are fairly easy to work on and fix most damage. We started at our normal sites but were coming up short. Someone told us about 74 Auto salvage cars. You did not have to be a dealer to buy and they help you set up shipping from their facility. They seem to have a lot of Jeep Wranglers but waited too long to pull the trigger on a couple and missed out. Good news, their inventory seemed to change quite often and decided we would wait for the perfect candidate to come up.
Each state is different when it comes to salvage and rebuilt vehicles and advise you to check your states BMV website and look up the process and procedures for repairing a wrecked vehicle and making it legal to drive again. We have been through the process a few times in our state and it is not too difficult. It takes a little time but the end result will save us a chunk of change.
Above Left: With the big items removed we started sweeping the carpet with our shop vac. Above Center: It took us a couple of days to get our Jeep cleaned out. Above Right: You can see our parts box and pile of parts we removed from the Jeep.
After about a month for looking at their inventory daily, a 2012 Wrangler Sahara Unlimited popped up for sale one day. The description said it ran and drove, did not have any air bags deployed and the damage did not seem to be that bad. The Jeep also had heated seats, power mirrors, power windows, upgraded cloth seats and the Pentastar 3.6 V6. The 99k mile JKU was also supporting one of our favorite colors, orange. The price was in budget and we pulled the trigger. Project Trail ‘N Thrash (TNT) was born.
We ended up with the Jeep for about half the market price. 74 Auto was wonderful to work with and made the transaction very easy and simple. We assumed shipping a smashed Jeep might be difficult but it was not and only cost us $500 to have it dropped off at our door step. Not bad for shipping it from a few states away.
Above Left: With all the water laying in the Jeep we decided to pull out the interior. We also found a ton of glass from the hard top that was crunched and with interior out we could make sure we thoroughly clean everything. Above Left: We had a pile of carpet that needed to dry.
Above Left: We uncovered a little rust under the drivers carpet and wanted to address the issue now. Above Right: We used DEI Boom Mat Surface Prep to help seal and convert our rust so it would not spread any more.
Once the Jeep made its way home, we jumped right into tearing it apart with hopes of not finding too much else damaged. Buying a vehicle without seeing it in person can be tough, especially a wrecked one. Pictures do not always tell the whole story and we were not well versed in Jeep Wranglers.
Starting out, we cleaned out everything from the Jeep. We have rebuilt other cars before and the first thing we always do is assess the damages and make a list of what parts we need. To get an idea of what parts might be in the vehicle and a better look at everything inside and out, a thorough cleaning is the first step. We threw away any garbage we found but any broken pieces, clips, bolts or anything that resembled something that could go to the Jeep went into a separate box.
Above Left: Tearing apart the rear passenger door of the Jeep was fairly easy and saved us some money since the body shop did not have to do it. Above Right: There was a hole that we had to cut out to gain access to the release clip for the window.
Above Left: We were able to bend most of the passenger fender back out. We did have another fender painted but decided to keep the original. Above Right: The grille fit a little funky around the passenger headlight and had to adjust the headlight and the fender to fit better.
A little advice, never throw anything away that could potentially be a part because you never know when you might need that one bolt or one clip. Even broken pieces we keep until the vehicle we are working on is complete. Never know when you need a piece of broken plastic to glue to your grill or something to finish the vehicle. We ended up saving a hundred bucks in mounts and hardware for our hardtop that we purchased because it was all inside the Jeep from the old top that was smashed. We also ended up needing some other bolts and clips that was found inside the Jeep too.
Once the Jeep was cleaned and swept out, it was better condition than we expected. The major damage that needed fixed to pass inspection would be the front passenger fender, hood, passenger rear door and passenger mirror. We also would need to find a front bumper. We immediately started searching the web and making calls to find the parts we needed. The JK/JKU platform was produced from 2007-2018 (early) and assumed there would be a plethora of used parts for them.
Above Left: The previous owner must have owned a dog. Above Right: Using a hair stone, shop vac and some carpet cleaner we were able to get the carpet looking new.
Above Left: With all the interior dry and parts all clean, it was time to reassemble. Above Right: The seats took some time to get clean. Good news is there were no rips or tears in the seats.
Well, we were wrong about a plethora of parts. There are many JKU parts for sale but trying to find good body parts is a chore. All the junk yards around us did not have a single JK/JKU in the yard. We jumped on the phone and called our local LKQ used parts dealer and they did have the parts we needed but way out of budget. They wanted almost $900 for a rear passenger door, $500 for hood and $400 for a fender, all which would still need painted.
Still striking out we started searching our local selling walls for used parts. Long story short, we ended up finding all the parts used besides a door. We found a few but they were either too pricey or too far away. We took the damaged door off our Project TNT, stripped it down and took it to our local collision shop. This would save the collision shop time and us money. They said the way it was damaged would be tough fix but still doable. To fix it and paint the door with our other parts would be around $800. Although more than what we were hoping for, it was our best option and left the parts to be fixed and painted.
Above Left: With the interior back in, we strapped the hood down and took it for a ride around the block. Above Right: We were really happy that we picked up the premium interior.
A little over a week later we got our parts back and installed them on our Project TNT. The parts went on fairly well but were a little disappointed that the orange color did not match perfectly. This is somewhat expected with painting individual parts. There is a lot of factors that can change the tint of paint, especially orange. For our sake it was close enough, we are not building a show queen, this Jeep is going to see off road trails, mud, rocks and more.
With the Project TNT back together, our next step was our inspection appointment with he state highway patrol. Once we had the Jeep inspected, we could go and have our title switched to Rebuilt status and be legal for the road. Once we had our title and tags, we called our insurance company and had comprehensive insurance added for the Project TNT and was ready to hit the road.
Above: We picked up a hardtop and threw on a black front flare for the inspection. Project Trail ‘N Thrash would not look like this much longer, stay tuned.
Now that we had the Jeep street legal, it was time for the fun to start. We were overwhelmed with the amount of parts they offer for the Jeep Wranglers. We started searching Extreme Terrain’s website for days trying to figure out where to start. With all the money we saved on the Jeep, it would allow us to buy a lot for the Jeep to get it ready for the trails. As you can see it did not take long for us to get started customizing it. We will dive into all the parts and pieces soon enough.