There are some repair jobs so soul-suckingly awful that I can’t help but put them off. There is one in my garage 1991 Jeep Cherokee which I sold to someone on the condition that I change the rear leaf springs. Why did I agree to this? Because I’m an idiot, that’s why.
A few years ago, I bought a beautiful 1991 Jeep Cherokee who had been involved in a minor fender bender. A Chicagoan named Tracy had tipped me off and said the vehicle her son had been driving at the time of the crash had been towed by her insurance company. If I wanted a nice stick-shift XJ, this was my chance to get one on the cheap.
After frantically trying to get hold of the perfect (but dented) Jeep XJ, I bought the thing for $2,000 from a used car dealer near Indianapolis. Then the Jeep just sat at my house, because I got too distracted by other projects. After spending years slowly repairing the machine, I got it looking good. Then I put it up for sale, because I needed to thin out my herd.
Recently someone asked me if they could buy the Jeep for my asking price of $7,000; for some reason I decided to call Tracy and see if she wanted her family’s Jeep back. Her father, a former employee of the Warn Winch Company, had purchased the Jeep new as part of his company’s Jeep deal. He might be keen to get the vehicle back now that I’ve fixed it all up.
Tracy’s dad agreed to buy the Jeep, especially after I offered him a discount – $6,500 – considering he had ordered the vehicle from the factory, so I would love to sell it back to him; he would appreciate it more than anyone. I mentioned that the rear leaf springs were flat and offered to fix them; I don’t know why I did this. But the buyer said of course; he would pay me $7000 total if i replaced the rear leaf springs.
I got some new springs for $140, a set of easy to use shocks for $30 (because I heard a pop from the back), and new fasteners for $75. So basically I had agreed to replace the rear springs for $250 in labor.
I don’t regret this decision, as I want Tracy and her family to have a nice Jeep, and I would feel bad if they had to pay a shop $1500 (or whatever) to do the work. But trust me when I say: I would never do this job for $250 under any other circumstances. It’s hell.
In my defense, this Jeep is stainless and from Oregon. I figured it would be immune to the corrosion-causing ailments I’m used to dealing with on rust belt machines. But the reality is that it doesn’t matter where a Jeep Cherokee XJ comes from – replacing the rear springs will always be a soul-crushing job.
Before I go any further, let me quickly discuss the anatomy of a leaf spring. A leaf spring package consists of a bunch of leaves that are all bolted together via a centering pin that goes into a hole in the shaft. The centering pin is important because it not only clamps the blades together to create a single pack, but it also takes the shear loads off the shaft. Leaf springs are tasked with absorbing not only vertical wall-up loads, but lateral loads as well (coil springs, on the other hand, do not absorb lateral loads, as they would only flex; coil-sprung solid-axle suspensions use track bars to handle lateral loads massively). At each end of a spring pack is a spring eye, which is part of the main blade at the top of the pack. In each eye there is a bushing with a steel sleeve in the middle.
The problem with my XJ is that the bolts that go through the front leaf spring eye bushings (see below) are either stuck in the weld nut in the unibody or stuck in the metal sleeve. Either way, it is impossible to spin out the bolts.
If the bracket is stuck in the weld nut in the unibody, and I crank the bolt head with all my force, I risk breaking the nut off the unibody. Then I would have to cut a hole in the frame or floorboard to get a traditional nut on the back of the leaf spring hole in the main rail. God, I don’t want to cut a hole in this Jeep.
If the bolt is only attached to the metal sleeve in the center of the rubber bushing, then when the bolt comes off the nut in the unibody (spinning the sleeve in the bushing), the bolt will not be able to slide out of its hole. When I tried to unscrew the bolt, the sleeve tried to press on the spring mount, which is part of the unibody. Since it doesn’t fold, the threads in the weld nut would probably be ruined, and I’d be back to cutting a hole in the Jeep to put a nut in.
So the solution is simple, but terrible. I will need to cut off my front leaf spring eye with an angle grinder, cut out the rubber bushing with a saw, then heat up where the bolt goes into the unibody weld nut. Then I have to grip the metal sleeve with vises and rotate it until it comes off the bolt, so that the fastener can move axially without destroying the threads of the weld nut.
This will take forever. Cutting the leaf springs will be loud, cutting out the rubber bushings will be laborious, and heating everything up and putting my back on loosening that bolt will ruin my mood, no doubt about it.
Then there are the rear leaf spring eyebolts (there is one shown above). Fortunately, there is only a plain, exposed nut and not a hidden weld nut. Still, the rear bolts have the same problem as the front – the nut and sleeve are both stuck in the bracket. I might just cut off the two ends of each bolt. I don’t have time to deal with this nonsense.
Although not part of the deal, new(er) shocks were only $30, and this Jeep needs new shocks. So I’m replacing these. The upper shock bolts, shown above, almost always break during extraction. I hope this Jeep doesn’t break down, considering they are covered in differential oil leaking from a bad rear differential seal. But we’ll see.
In any case, I have hours of work ahead of me, and it’s the kind of work that is downright painful. These mounts will fight me for every millimeter. In the end, though, I will get rid of a vehicle, and that – at least at this point in my life – will make it worth it.