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Author Topic: 2003 Jeep Rubicon Rust Repair  (Read 254 times)

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Offline squidtone

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2003 Jeep Rubicon Rust Repair
« on: December 12, 2020, 01:10:13 PM »
I thought I'd put a little blurb about my other Jeep, a 2003 Wrangler Rubicon. I bought it new and I think it's one of the first Rubicons (made in October 2002). It served as a daily driver for many years, through New England summers and winters. In the early years, a few times a season I would wash off winter road salt from the undercarriage, but as the years went by it became apparent that some heavy rust was creeping in. It turns out TJ Jeeps are infamous for rust, particularly horrible frame rot problems. I think the washings did help me avoid the worst of that problem as my frame itself is still solid. But last year a meticulous survey revealed that the front axle bracketry was in bad shape with rot holes showing through the the passenger side spring pocket. The upper control arm mount was paper thin in some spots too. I "stewed" on this discovery for a while and finally decided to fix it rather than get rid of the Jeep.

Dave Miles
Presently: � � � � � � � �
03 Rubicon,
50 CJ3A
Past:
01 XJ Cherokee,
87 XJ Cherokee,
85 XJ Cherokee,
83 CJ8,
81 CJ7

Offline squidtone

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Re: 2003 Jeep Rubicon Rust Repair
« Reply #1 on: December 12, 2020, 01:11:38 PM »
The front axle brackets are big, complex, stamped steel affairs. The passenger side serves as a coil spring pocket, shock mount, track bar mount, sway bar mount and steering stabilizer mount.

Dorman makes replacement brackets for the TJ front axles, but the passenger side bracket is out of stock nationwide. Rather than wait for Dorman (who knows how long), I purchased a more "aftermarkety" version of this bracket from Barnes 4WD. Their kit is beautifully made (laser cut I believe), heavier duty, and all the mount points are perfectly positioned. Their kit does entail more work however; you must weld the whole assembly together yourself before welding it onto the axle.
Dave Miles
Presently: � � � � � � � �
03 Rubicon,
50 CJ3A
Past:
01 XJ Cherokee,
87 XJ Cherokee,
85 XJ Cherokee,
83 CJ8,
81 CJ7

Offline squidtone

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Re: 2003 Jeep Rubicon Rust Repair
« Reply #2 on: December 12, 2020, 01:16:43 PM »
Demolition.

This was a daunting task. It was very ugly under there. The rust was scary. I bought a 1050 ft/lb electric impact gun which made short work of all the nuts I could get to. Some were rusted heavily and required pounding smaller size sockets onto the lumpy remains. Some were so bad I had to slit them and power chisel them off. Luckily, I only encountered one frozen bolt/bushing  on a lower control arm. As many of you know fixing that problem involves delicate yet brutal cutting, hacking and slicing to get through the bushing and bolt. I managed to not damage the control arm, but it doesn't matter since new MOOG bushings installed in a new control arm is cheaper than buying just MOOG bushings. Go figure.

Once the Dana 44 was taken out, I got a much better view of how bad the knuckles were too. The three bearing assembly bolts were almost unrecognizable. I had to cut the crusty, lumpy bolt heads off and chisel the bearings off. The ball joints are still tight, but since I'm replacing the knuckles, I'll just pop in new Dana units. I have a ball joint press and with my new impact gun, the ball joints came out like a breeze. No more tendonitis in my elbow from wrenching hard on the press.

I made a fixture to use to get the new mounts exactly lined up to original bolt hole locations, particularly the track bar mount. Once that was crafted, I started cutting off the passenger side mount. It didn't take much...there wasn't much metal left. I ground down all the factory welds in preparation for the new brackets.
Dave Miles
Presently: � � � � � � � �
03 Rubicon,
50 CJ3A
Past:
01 XJ Cherokee,
87 XJ Cherokee,
85 XJ Cherokee,
83 CJ8,
81 CJ7

Offline Rus Curtis

Re: 2003 Jeep Rubicon Rust Repair
« Reply #3 on: December 12, 2020, 04:31:11 PM »
My XJ had similar rot.  Sadly I couldn't afford to fix all that.  Your project brings back memories of my early years in a garage.  Having access to replacement parts really helps!
'54 CJ-3B "Green Gruntt"
Bantam T3-C

Offline Bob W

Re: 2003 Jeep Rubicon Rust Repair
« Reply #4 on: December 12, 2020, 08:12:04 PM »
The Northeast is tough on Jeeps. Once they go out in the salt they never stop rusting. Looks like you are doing a really nice repair on your Rubicon. (I also have an early 2003 Rubicon)
Bob W

Offline squidtone

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Re: 2003 Jeep Rubicon Rust Repair
« Reply #5 on: December 13, 2020, 01:10:09 PM »
Yeah, if my frame had holes, I think I'd throw in the towel and part it out. But that all looks good. Still, I think I'm getting to this just in time. Not a fun job and I'm going on 4 weeks (casual after-work and partial weekends), but it's my snow car and I need it!

Anyway, after getting the axle out, I found the passenger side upper control arm mount had holes too. You can get new ones, but I just pieced in new 1/8" sheet. I put in some extra fish-plate at the sides too for "insurance".

These early Rubicons used air lockers that require 5psi air supply. An air line comes into a fitting at the top side of the diff housing. The fitting rusted off. I couldn't recognize what the fitting looked like, so I put a chisel to it, and it wedged out. I found out this is extremely common also, so I sought out MOPAR replacements and they want $130 for the weenie hose barb part! I'm going to make something. Note picture of air tube fitting hole in side of diff, and you can see there is a breather tube (that's okay and not rusted), and a sensor switch (locker in or out sensor switch).

 

Dave Miles
Presently: � � � � � � � �
03 Rubicon,
50 CJ3A
Past:
01 XJ Cherokee,
87 XJ Cherokee,
85 XJ Cherokee,
83 CJ8,
81 CJ7

Offline squidtone

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Re: 2003 Jeep Rubicon Rust Repair
« Reply #6 on: December 15, 2020, 10:36:09 PM »
I borrowed my neighbors 240V Miller MIG and welded everything up (thankful that I put in an 240VAC outlet in my garage when I put in a subpanel some years ago). I am not a good welder, but I think I can recognize proper penetration, so I'm satisfied (along with the cost of a few less fractions of an inch of diameter of my grinder disc). The bracket was easy to install; I only needed to really pay attention to the side to side location of the passenger bracket to be sure my track bar will locate the axle correctly. Otherwise, it sits on top of the lower control arm bracket, so orientation is locked in that way.
Once done, I painted all the parts with epoxy, then "hot rod black" paint. I sand blasted the original steering linkages and it all looks good. I got out the upper control arms (from the Jeep sitting outside) and the bushing shells are rusted through. The arms are fine and my local Oreilly auto parts had those bushings in stock. So I'll re-bush and paint the upper arms.
I got new knuckles, dust shields, bearings, ball joints and alot of that was not painted, so I prepped and painted that stuff too. I'm excited it's going to look so much better.
I made an air fitting by soldered up some brake line into a brass bushing, then put some brass tubing on the ends to correctly size the OD to fit the rubber air tubes (in and outside of the diff).
Note too that I made new brass tags for the diff cover. The original steel units fell apart (rust), but there was enough left to read the info to duplicate. I only had 1/16" letter stamps, but it will do!
Dave Miles
Presently: � � � � � � � �
03 Rubicon,
50 CJ3A
Past:
01 XJ Cherokee,
87 XJ Cherokee,
85 XJ Cherokee,
83 CJ8,
81 CJ7

Offline OnlyOneDR

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Re: 2003 Jeep Rubicon Rust Repair
« Reply #7 on: December 21, 2020, 12:13:26 PM »
Wow, typically when I hear "rust repair" it is usually body or sometimes frames on vehicles up north.  Never seen this level of work on the axle bracketry.  Nicely done!   I love it when folks can keep things in one piece.
Searching for time to put it all together...
1950 CJ-3A #37751 In Pieces
1969 Chevy Blazer Resto-Mod Waiting for its day...
2001 Nissan Frontier Crawler Adventure Rig

Offline squidtone

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Re: 2003 Jeep Rubicon Rust Repair
« Reply #8 on: Yesterday at 09:34:41 PM »
Well, it's done. I finished a couple weeks ago, but just now uploaded the pictures to my computer.
I bought new bushings for the upper control arms and smacked them into the old arms, but on each yoke of the arms, one side is retained by only a single ply of sheet metal. It was not as tight as I thought it should be so I just spot welded the arm to the bushing. If and when those wear out, I'll just get new arms.

I sandblasted all the original hardware, and I was amazed they all looked fantastic (I did have to buy one dorman lower control arm bolt that I had to cut during demolition [got a new Dormans bolt from oreillys as finding hard alloy M14 metric in hardware stores is impossible around here])
I had purchased a full set of used (yet new looking) front axle control arm hardware from a seller on ebay but after a month in the USPS system, it was assumed lost and I got a refund. So I just meticulously sandblasted all my original stuff. Turns out on the 29th, after almost 5 weeks, the box turned up on my doorstep. Not sure what to do...I don't want to spend my money to send them back.

I assembled the knuckles and it was tricky since I don't have the Jeep adapters for the ball joint tool. I had to scrounge some scrap to make spacers. Next time I might invest in the Jeep ball joint press adapter kit.

Got the axle in, put in the track bar and indexed a new nut for the taper stud (I made my own castle nuts as I could not find decent alloy castle nuts locally)

It looks great and rides much nicer now with all new stuff. I took a ride and then noticed a burning brake smell....DANG a seized caliper. Bought new calipers and hoses, got 'em on and ahhh, a smooth runner.

Next, I have to do the same for the back half! I noticed that air locker hose hanging off the rear diff...that fitting rusted off too. What a terrible daily driver care taker I am!

Dave Miles
Presently: � � � � � � � �
03 Rubicon,
50 CJ3A
Past:
01 XJ Cherokee,
87 XJ Cherokee,
85 XJ Cherokee,
83 CJ8,
81 CJ7