Ever since I have gotten my Jeep I had been doing modifications which I felt were priority for the performance of the Jeep and its offroad capabilities while remaining in my budget. As you have seen in the initial build writeup are things like, the ARB compressor, JKS sway bar disconnects, and Rubicon takeoff suspension have taken priority over parts that 'look cool'.
Now there is no doubt that I would love a big lift, massive tires, aftermarket bumpers, winch etc. however none of that stuff has really been necessary. I have gotten through tough trails while still maintaining a vehicle comfortable to drive on the road. To me this is how all parts should be purchased, by asking yourself do I need it? Do I want it? For the cost, what does it give me?
Since I had been hammering out these highest ratio cost/benefit modifications for the last 3 years it was slowly creeping up on the inevitable... a re-gear.
Now I have made up in my mind that my Jeep must have lived a pretty easy life before me. From all I can tell it was a one owner (leased, then bought out), woman driver in the flatlands of Calgary AB. When I bought it had stock tires (Goodyear SR-A), only a few minor scratches that were not buffed out (all but one were from a dog jumping up on the door). The Jeep was also spotlessly clean inside and out including a frame and suspension that looked brand new.
From this previous easy life its easy to understand how the original owner (and many others) have had their jeep for so many years with the 3.21 gears. In fact when I bought it I would easily have been able to get 600-800kms per tank of gas. However now as time has gone on, and I use it off road as much of the time as on, run larger more aggressive tires, use it to pull my trailer, or at the very least packed full of camping gear I have found that I have been unable to use 5th and 6th gear. In fact even over this last summer I had paid attention to how much I used these gears and I would estimate 5th was used about 1-2% of the time, and 6th was well less than 1%. So when some investments paid out I knew I had to make a big decision. Stay with this Jeep and re-gear, or trade to something else.
I stuck with this Jeep for several reasons:
1. I only paid $14,500 for it so wasn't too worried about negatively affecting value in terms of investment with any future modifications. (All Jeep modifications have to be thought of as getting pennies back on the dollar in a resale situation, if not impacting the value of the vehicle negatively)
2. I felt I know all its quirks, and yes parts will go bad and things will need to be replaced, but once they are I know that they should be good for many years. Recently I had done a lot of work on the brakes, suspension, U-joints, ball joints, wheel bearings, fluid flushes, oil changes etc.
3. Cosmetically it was as nice as I could expect or really want. I wouldn't want anything too perfect that I would be afraid to pinstripe.
4. Desire to modify no matter what. Regardless of what platform I have, I will want to modify it. The Jeep has plenty of capability out of the box and huge aftermarket support. The holy grail of modifications being a motor swap to either a V8 or Diesel, both of which have a lot of support in this platform.
So now that the decision was made to embrace this Jeep I knew I was going to have it professionally re-geared. I normally like doing things myself but my better judgement and lots of research showed that a reputable shop is the only way to go. For this I took it to Kelowna Transmissions, the owner is an avid Jeeper as is most of the staff, and finally their online reviews indicated exceptional service.
I originally was leaning toward 4.88 gears as my calculations put it so my new 6th gear would have been similar to 4th prior, exactly where I was driving most of the time. However speaking with the owner of the shop while out wheeling one day he suggested no more than 4.56 due to the limited teeth engaged with these higher ratios. I settled on 4.56 since the cost between ratios was negligible and a 4.10 was too pedestrian. Especially if some came from the factory like this.
I also spoke to the shop at length regarding different locker options and ultimately decided that they were just not in the budget at this point. If I was to add one in later I would already have the gear set, and the pinion would be set too so labor would be less expensive. I did opt for a rear limited slip as it only cost an additional 100 over the open carrier and since it was a factory option I figured that there was some benefit over not having one. Plus I figured that the resale of the carrier would be better should I ever go to a selectable locker.
Once all was decided the parts were ordered and the Jeep went in the shop that same Friday. I had to go through a weekend withdrawal from it but got it back on Wednesday of the next week. The cost was quite a bit, and truthfully more then I originally wanted or expected to pay, but when I priced it all out on my own for the same quality components it was right in the right range.
Driving the Jeep for the first time afterwards was a bit of an experience, first of all some people say it drives like a different vehicle. To this I say yes and no. Yes it will feel different, to me it felt lighter. It was easier to get moving at stop lights but you do have to shift a heck of a lot more around town. I noticed several times being one or two cars back in an intersection and having to shift once before the intersection, then again midway through, you would be in third gear by the other side. This attribute may also negatively impact your 0-60 time, unless you are fully loaded since so much time is spent shifting. However I say it doesn't make it feel like a different vehicle because you still ultimately have the same HP from the engine, if you are pulling up a steep hill you will still need to rev out the engine to get the power to the wheels, you just may now be in fourth instead of 2nd and have more flexibility to shift down or up depending on the slight variances. Regardless the overall driving experience is greatly improved!
Towards the end of breaking in the gears I actually took the jeep on a 750km day trip to pickup the ARB bumper written about in the adjacent post. On the freeway the drive was also much nicer and relaxed as you could use 6th mostly, and 5th when needing to pull the mountain pass hills.
The re-gear really shines off-road all the gears feel peppier, and there is a perfect gear for everything. Previously I also found myself using 4low anytime the road turned into a trail or a cross ditched needed to be crossed. With the new gears my experience off road has been that 4 low was only needed for about 1/4 of where it was need before.
I can't wait to spend more time off road, and this season in the snow!
PS. If anyone out there has the 3.73 and up gears but finds that their jeep just has too much power I have a full set of 3.21 gears I can sell you at a great price.