Before I could take Project XJ on more adventurous trips, I needed to address the basic requirements of a practical 4x4 vehicle. Chief among those is the need for a strong front bumper. It had to be tough enough to push into trees while trying to turn around on super tight trails, or survive being driven into the ground when going through ditches or sliding down drop-offs. It'd have to have suitable surfaces for hooking a Hi-Lift jaw into it for lifting the front of the vehicle, as well as tow points that could be used for vehicle recovery. And finally, it had to have a winch mount. Ideally, it had to keep weight to a minimum, and not hurt the vehicle's approach angle. OR Fab's Rock Slider bumper fit those requirements perfectly.
This tube bumper is made from .120 wall steel tube and .25" thick steel plate. It weighs in at 70 lbs which is quite managable, and has integrated mounting holes for D-ring shackles. It comes in two configurations: winch or no winch. I opted for the winch version which features a unique mounting plate that maximizes the vehicle's approach angle by positioning the winch at an angle. Although the bumper came with four tabs for mounting auxiliary lights, I also ordered the optional center light mount, and the bumper hoop. The hoop is mostly for looks, although I'm also considering using it as a base for attaching our Hi-Lift jack and possibly a CB or VHF antenna.
The Rock Slider bumper is a modular design. The main module is the center piece which consists of two beefy slabs of steel that bolt to the front ends of the uniframe. Once that is installed, then the two ends of the bumper are bolted to it. After that, the winch mount is bolted on, as well as the bumper hoop. I know that in this day and age there is a tendency to be "extreme" (please shoot me if I use that word again in this article) and sneer at bolt-on stuff 'cuz all the cool kids are buying tube benders and welders and fabricating their own junk. If that's what you're into, great, knock yourself out. Myself, I'm at the other end of the fourwheeling spectrum. While I have the equipment and know-how necessary to build a bumper, I just don't have the time, nor do I currently have access to a workshop. For me, buying a quality, aftermarket bumper made a lot of sense. It'd save me a lot of time (time I could be spending with my kids, which is why I bought a four-door 4x4 in the first place), a lot of headache, and it'd get done way sooner. By the way, some people I've talked to have expressed concern about the bolt-together modularity of this bumper. The thing they forget is that a properly-specified nut and bolt can be extremely strong, stronger than some welds, in fact. It all depends in how you design the bumper to bolt together. OR Fab has done its homework. Where the bumper ends mount to the center section, part of the bumper end's tube fits into a mating hole in the center section. So any frontal impact on the bumper end will be transferred to the center section through this tube and mating hole, and well as several mounting bolts. Similarly, the mounting holes for the D-ring shackles pass directly through the bumper mounting plates, so they don't depend on any welds at all, only bolts, and that's the proper way to do it.
Installation of the bumper was relatively painless. The kit came with very good instructions that also cover the installation differences between pre-1997 and 1997-and-up Cherokees. The black-and-white images are a bit difficult to see in some cases but it was only after I finished the install did I notice that OR Fab has kindly provided a full-colour, downloadable .PDF version on their website. You can get it here: http://orfab.com/instructions/83203.pdf
You can refer to that .PDF file for complete details on installing the bumper. DO NOT USE THIS ARTICLE AS YOUR SOLE REFERENCE FOR INSTALLING THIS BUMPER. You MUST use OR Fab's instructions. In this article, I'll just cover the highlights and provide some useful tips that will make the project go more smoothly. As always, I recommend washing your vehicle before beginning this job. Laying under a 4x4 with hardened chunks of mud falling on your face makes the process harder than it needs to be.
The first step is, obviously, to remove the factory bumper.
Front bumper removed. (The cluttered garage in the background has been masked to reduce embarassment to the home owner.)
With the bumper removed, the next step is to remove the vacuum reservoir from the bumper, as well as detaching the two horns (one on each side of the vehicle).
One of the horns.
With the bumper removed, you can see three of the side holes (marked in green) that will be used to mount the OR Fab bumper center section. On the driver's side, the three steering box bolts (marked in red) will also be removed in order to mount a steering box supporting plate that ties into the bumper center section's mounting plate.
The vacuum reservoir gets relocated between the windshield washer fluid filler cap and the firewall. The instructions suggest tightening the re-location brackets to the fender first, and then bolting them to the reservoir. I had problems doing it in this sequence because my Torx bits for my ratchet wrench wouldn't fit between the fender and bracket. I had to loosely attach the brackets to the reservoir first, then position them against the fender's mounting holes to establish how the brackets needed to be arranged, and then tightened the brackets to the reservoir. After that, I bolted the reservoir and brackets to the fender.
The vacuum reservoir will go here.
The reservoir in its new location.
Instead of forcing you to re-route the factory vacuum line, OR Fab provided some flexible vacuum line to run the short distance between the vacuum fitting on the intake manifold and the reservoir. Here I've attached the fitting onto one end of the hose.
And here it is attached to the intake manifold.
A heavy urethane sheet, the Gap Guard, was supplied to block the unsightly opening that was revealed by the removal of the factory bumper. Installing it was as simple as pushing in some plastic retainers. Before going past this step, I strongly suggest that you examine the four holes that I've marked in red in this photo. They will be used for mounting the bumper's center section. The problem is, Chrysler's quality control is a bit lacking here, so the two sheets of metal containing these holes don't line up perfectly. Rather than being circular, the holes on my XJ were more cat's eye in appearance. This is the perfect opportunity to take a drill bit or reamer and make these holes round. If you wait until the bumper center section is in place, your drill bit will probably bite into the mounting plate and violently twist the drill so that you knuckle gets smashed into a sharp steel edge. Don't ask me how I know this. Of course, I could have avoided this grief simply by reading through all the instructions before beginning the installation.
Make sure the holes marked in red are perfectly round. If they're not, deal with them now, before proceeding.
Around this point in the installation, you'll also need to remove the steering box bolts. This is problematic because if you're working by yourself, holding the steering box and the spacer that sits between it and the frame is difficult to do. But you need to do that in order to position the steering box so that you can re-install the bolts later on. And if you have a front steering linkage skid plate, this is even harder, because it blocks easy access to the steering box. Sure, you can unbolt the skid plate...but the mounting studs might (ok, WILL) spin. I ended up having to use my angle grinder to cut off the studs in order to get the skid plate off. So, at this point, my suggestion is to reach down from above and secure the steering box with some rope so it might stay in place when you remove its mounting bolts. If it shifts its position, then you might as well start removing the skid plate, too. I tried to do the steering box re-install by myself, with the skid plate in place and wasted about an hour before I decided to drop the skid plate.
Here's the bumper center section in place. To hold it in place while I was lining it up with the various bolt holes, I strapped it to the hood catch.
With the bumper center section in place, the mounting bolts are put in place. Inserting the ones that go through the steering box support plate, frame, spacer, and finally into the steering box will be the most difficult. After that, everything else should be easy.
Here you can see the bolts going through the steering box support plate and the bumper center section mounting plate.
To insert the nuts that need to go fairly far into the frame rail, I placed them in the end of a box wrench and then stuck the wrench into the frame.
Here you can see the ends of some of the bolts that mount through the side of the frame rail. You can also see two of the holes (facing forward) that I had to round out. In total, the bumper is attached to the frame with 12 or 13 bolts.
Once the center section is in place, it's a simple matter of bolting on the bumper ends, the winch mounting plate, the option hoop, and (not shown), the light mounting plate. Minor odds and ends included re-locating the horns and re-locating the air sensor that comes with XJs equipped with exterior temperature displays (all of this is covered in detail in the instructions).
The bumper ends feature tube ends that mate with a matching hole in the bumper center section, ensuring a strong attachment in the event of a collision.
The final result was a rugged and good-looking bumper for Project XJ. An added bonus is that it doesn't protrude by very much into the widened front fender opening (a result of the Napier Fender Flares). The fit and finish of this bumper is first rate and I like how all the pieces lined up perfectly. There was no wrestling or prying involved in lining up the bolt holes. Following the tips I provided, your average home mechanic can have this bumper installed in under 3 hours, no problem. XJs prior to 1997 will require a little more time because the leading edges of their fenders will require some trimming.
The finished product.
Here's how much the factory bumper protruded into the widened front fender well.
And here's how it looks with the OR Fab Rock Slider front bumper. If I need more room, I can easily cut off another inch or so while retaining the good looks of this bumper.
Everything fit together beautifully.
The winch plate was a breeze to attach.
The red square indicates where one of the reinforced D-ring shackle holes is located. It goes right through the primary mounting plate so it doesn't rely on any welds for its strength. Just a lot of grade 5, half-inch bolts, which is the right way to do it.
The rest of these photos show how many bolts are used to attach the bumper to the vehicle.
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