Enhancing my JK with an aftermarket suspension system was always the plan. But with so many great options available, and with so many factors to consider, how do you choose? That’s what this post is all about!
Needs Vs. Wants. Keep it Real!
It’s easy to get all caught up with the rigs you see in the magazines, on the 4X4 shows, at the Off-Road park and with what you read in the forums, but you gotta be honest with yourself.
The two most important questions to ask yourself are, how are you really going to use your rig, and, what’s your budget? Get those wrong, and you won’t be happy with the results.
Like many of you, my Jeep JK is a multi-faceted vehicle. Regardless of any aspirations to be a professional adventure photographer, and despite wanting to join Fred Williams’ for some Dirt Every Day, my JK is my primary means of transportation. It’s my daily driver. It’s the family truckster. That means it must be reliable, safe, easy to drive & comfortable.
Every day, my Jeep JK has to get me and my family wherever we’re going – and back. Regardless of whether that’s exploring the back country, accessing favorite hunting & fishing spots, hitting the trials, or just to and from work, often an 80+ mile roundtrip in rush hour traffic. Ahhh good times! Since I’m not always the only driver, it’s also got to be easy to drive.
While they’re awesome, I’m not building a KOH, Baja or Ultra4 racer. Nor am I building a rock bouncer, moon buggy, or even a dedicated rock-crawler. (My Bronco is pretty close.) My Jeep JK is something I plan to drive every day, in varied conditions, on varied terrain, to all kinds of things, and with all kinds of company. As you can see, I’m building a true dual / multi-purpose rig. That’s what I need. That’s what this rig is gonna be.
Doin’ It Right The First Time!
Do It Right The First Time. It’s a general philosophy I try to follow in life, and lifting my Jeep JK was no exception. So as I considered the almost overwhelming plethora of JK suspension options, I had three “Must Have’s”:
- A complete, proven suspension system, built with quality components, from a manufacturer focussing on the Jeep JK, and with reputation for great customer service. This is a no-brainer. Unlike back in the day when I lifted my ’91 & ’97 Ford Explorers, JK aftermarket support is unbeatable! So many companies specialize in suspension systems for the Jeep Wrangler JK, many of whom have been in the game a long time, use high quality components, stand behind their product, and offer complete systems. Getting a complete system is important because manufacturers pour significant dollars and time engineering, building and testing components that work together successfully. Your results probably won’t be as good if you just start piecing parts together.
- Functionality. Multi-Dimensional Functionality. Back to “Needs Vs. Wants.” Multi-dimensional functionality means great road & highway manners, a comfortable, quiet, enjoyable ride AND excellent trail performance. While I’m definitely a gear-head at heart, I’m also “a suit.” When rollin’ up to a Fortune 500 client or taking the Mrs. out for a high class night on the town, I can’t look, or sound (whether it’s a loud exhaust, humming tires or a noisy suspension) like I just came off the set of Mad Max. This one started to narrow the list…
- Ease of maintenance. Between family, work, the house, volunteer organizations and other activities, things these days are ridiculously busy. Combine that with the way I wrack up miles, and given I live in the rainy, snowy, slushy Northeast (where roads are heavily salted in Winter), I don’t want to be greasing, cleaning or rebuilding suspension joints every 3K miles. When I can grab some non-wheeling “Jeep time”, I’d much prefer to spend it keeping her clean, or installing new parts instead of doing more maintenance. This one really stratified the population.
So, when you ponder the list above, you should realize it’s a REALLY tall order. Many of these requirements were mutually exclusive just a few years ago. (That’s a testament to just how far the off-road industry has come, and how mainstream it’s become.)
And Then There Were Two: AEV’s 3.5″ DualSport SC & MetalCloak’s 3.5″ Game Changer Lite
Ask ANYONE in the know and they’ll tell you AEV tops the list for a JK that spends 70% or more of it’s time on road. Look at the now famous track video. There’s no debate over AEV’s on-road performance.
That said, some people (pretty much only on the Internet forums) love to debate AEV’s off-road ability. Now, don’t know who these people are, nor what their real-World experience is, but you should take them with a grain of salt. I personally spent a day riding in, and with, a group of AEV modded JK’s as we wheeled some of the Mid-Atlantic’s most challenging terrain. While some of it pushed the limits of what I’d do in my daily driver, the AEV lifted rigs handled the trails, the obstacles, and technical rock crawling just as well, if not better than anything else out there that day. In fact, who made it, who didn’t and how easily had more to do with the line, drive ability, tire size, lockers and gearing than it did with what suspension system people were running. The point is, AEV suspensions can wheel, and I know an AEV suspension system will work for my off road needs! And again, that’s based on my own, first hand, real-World experience.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know MetalCloak’s Game Changer Suspension set the JK suspension lift world on fire when it hit the scene just a couple years back. MAD Flex and road manners equal to AEV??!! The Holy Grail of Jeep JK suspension systems??!! With aligned and centered control arm joints, non-binding, self centering, quiet and maintenance free, (yet fully rebuildable) Duroflex suspension joints, the MetalCloak Game Changer system certainly has A LOT going for it. Despite being a relatively new kid on the block, real-World feedback has pretty much lived up to the hype. Confident in MetalCloak’s off-road ability, my questions had more to do with how well the Duroflex would wear over time, how well they would handle the harsh Northeast Winters and how the GC Lite would handle on-road.
Ultimately I went with….
…. American Expedition Vehicles’ 3.5″ DualSport SC Suspension System…
…and I couldn’t be happier!
Honestly, it was a high-class problem to have, (we should all be so fortunate). I went back and forth more than a couple of times, and really couldn’t have gone too wrong either way, but two major things swayed me. One was cold hard cash. The other, more importantly, was friends and colleagues in the industry.
Guys at more than one off-road and 4×4 shop, who make their living day-in, and day-out, building Jeeps consistently told me that for how I use my Jeep JK, I’d be happier with AEV than anything else on the market.
In some cases, these guys can run anything they want on their own rigs, and choose to run very same AEV DualSport suspension system. That right there tells ya something!
If you’ve never taken the time, please take a look at the history of AEV. Look at how they’ve evolved from humble beginnings to what they are today. Look at their continued close partnering and working relationship with, and vehicle engineering ties to Chrysler. Look at the acquisition of suspension specialist Nth Degree Mobility. Look at how they continue to evolve and their target audience. Look at how AEV positions and markets their products. That’s it. That’s what I want to do with my Jeep Wrangler JK Unlimited Rubicon.