Project MJ: Lights, Bumper, Action!

A lot of little things have been coming together on the Comanche lately – mainly so we can use the truck to help us move to our new garage house. These small tasks have gone a long way toward getting the Jeep back on the road.

Lights

Rear plate lit

Finishing one of the projects from last time, I finished installing the license plate light on the rear bumper. This simply involved drilling a couple more holes, a couple of small bolts, and tapping power from the stock license plate lights intended for the stock bumper. All of that wiring is still intact under the truck, so I took what I needed, then taped up and stashed the rest in case it’s ever needed later. The truck is now fully illuminated from behind.

Front lights done

In the front, I needed to replace the clear bulbs in the turn signals with amber ones, as required by law, as well as replace a burnt out side marker. Additionally, my Autopal H4 headlights arrived, so it was a good time to tackle all of this at once. The H4 upgrade is similar to the one offered by Hella, but for a fraction of the price. Some are concerned about Indian rather than German build quality, but I ran these in one of my Miatas and had no issues. Installation was almost identical to replacing a sealed beam headlight, except I also had to install the H4 bulb into its housing (don’t touch the glass of the bulb) before putting it into the truck. While the sealed beams projected two small dots of dim light ahead of me, the H4s light up the road quite well, even on low beam. The key difference is in the beam pattern, which follows European standards rather than ancient US DOT sealed beam standards. The more powerful bulbs help too (55 watt low beams, 60 watt high beams), but it’s the lens that directs the light more effectively that’s the main improvement here. While still not as good as my BRZ‘s HID headlights, they’re certainly adequate for any night time navigation I wish to do on public roads, which the sealed beams definitely were not. I plan to add more lighting later for off road or rally stage use, but this is certainly good enough for now.

With that, all of my lighting was now adequate for state inspection.

Bumper

Project MJ coming together

With all the front lighting in order, it was time to put the front bumper on. I’d left it off until the lighting was sorted out for easier access, though I realized as I took care of the lighting that leaving the bumper off wasn’t really necessary. The Jeep came with both a brand new bumper  and an old one that had been bashed in. I opted not to swap the front bumper guards over from the old one, despite holes drilled in the new bumper to mount them. I think it looks cleaner this way. It also has holes to mount the factory fog lights on top of the bumper, which I won’t use now but will later. This bumper is so thin and flimsy I can’t imagine it actually absorbing any real impact whatsoever. It’s more cosmetic than anything. But it does cover a bunch of ugly stuff behind it, and makes the Jeep look more complete, so on it went. Yes, I know it’s slightly crooked. I might fix it later. I might not.

Two bolts are all it takes to attach the bumper – one on each side. Like I said, it’s thin and flimsy. The Jeep also came with new plastic end caps to cover the sharp edges and blend into the lines of the fender flares a bit. Rather than fight with rusty mounting hardware on the old bumper, I used a bunch of zip-ties for now and will do it right later. I haven’t reinstalled the tow hooks yet. The mounting point for one of them appears to have been damaged in whatever bashed the old bumper in, so I’ll have to see about hammering it out. The other mounting point is fine, so that can go on anytime.

It’s also worth mentioning that I thought I had lost the driver’s seat belt, but found it hanging in one of the uninstalled interior trim panels. I found all of the bolts in a baggie in the passenger foot well and reattached all of the belts and buckles, making the Jeep a bit safer now.

Action!

Full load

Our project Ford Focus has emigrated to the Great White North, where a friend who needed a good cheap car has gotten one. I transferred the registration from the Focus to the Jeep, which put it on the road legally and began the 7 day window to get it inspected. Even though it hasn’t seen a state inspection since 2010, it’s fully legal to be on the road in its current condition for a week. So we used it to help me move.

The seven foot bed can swallow a lot of stuff, and the cap keeps it secure without having to tie it down. When the brakes on my fiancee’s Ford Flex started grinding that put it out of action for most of the weekend. But the Comanche came to the rescue and enabled me to finish moving, as well as take a trip to buy a new hydraulic jack when the Flex’s jack flexed in the middle of the brake job. We’re really glad we got it for that reason alone. Even with multiple pieces of furniture in the back on one trip, the Jeep didn’t seem to notice it had any load at all. It just swallowed things up and took them where we wanted them. And although the bench seat is stuck too far forward, that did mean there was enough room behind the seat to put some groceries back there on the way home.

What’s Next?

The engine is still running rough. It’s also leaking oil. From where, I’m not sure, because with all the moving I haven’t had time to look. I’m hoping it’s just the valve cover gasket, which is a common failure point in the Jeep 4.0, and easy to replace. I’m hoping it’s not something that will be a lot of work, but since the truck has sat for several years, who knows how much rubber has dried up and cracked? It’s more than ready for an oil change, but I may investigate the source of the oil leak first so that all that fresh new oil doesn’t fall out. Fortunately it’s not losing much oil – the level hasn’t dropped to the “add” mark yet.

I really need to splice that muffler into the exhaust. I confirmed that it’s a solid exhaust system from front to back, but it’s just so darn loud! I may or may not be able to squeak through inspection as-is, but I definitely want to add the muffler before long. Fortunately one was included with the Jeep, so either I can cut and clamp it myself or get a shop to do it.

I’ve been chatting with one of the Comanche Club moderators, who lives in neighboring Connecticut and has a variety of XJ Cherokee driver’s doors in various conditions to offer us (they bolt right on the Comanche). I’ll see if he can supply a passenger mirror as well, so we’ll transition to the smaller, forward Cherokee mirrors instead of the larger mirrors bolted to the door skin like this Comanche originally had. The one on the driver’s side vibrates so much it’s useless anyway. The hard part is going to be finding the time to go get stuff while moving!

But still, it’s getting there. The next major hurdle is passing Massachusetts inspection, but it may be worth a try now since all the major safety items are fixed. Cross your fingers for us!