Ownership Verified: Blind_Io and Kiki rescue a 2005 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon.

Blind_Io

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This is a long time coming, but we told ourselves we would not start a thread until all the paperwork was done. Little did we know it would take this long.

In 2021 we started looking for another off road vehicle, something that would be more capable on the trails than the Xterra and would add an extra layer of safety by having two vehicles on our trips (always wheel with a friend!). I've always wanted a first generation Jeep Wrangler Unlimited, and Kiki agreed it would be the perfect size - not as big as a 4-door Wrangler and more stable than the short 2-door Wranglers. In June of 2021 we drove to Wyoming to look at a Jeep that clearly needed some love, but it was the right spec - a 2005 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon that hadn't been too molested. Clean and low-miles examples were ruled out, as they could run in the $20,000-$30,000 range, thanks to only being produced for 3 years - and only 2005 and 2006 were built with the Rubicon trim that includes a heavier front axle, lifted suspension and modified steering and suspension geometry, and lockers on both axles. This example is Electric Lime Green, according to some old forum posts there were only 99 examples of the Rubicon Unlimited built in this color for North America, another source claims 291 globally. Either way, it's not exactly common.

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The Jeep clearly needed some love, there's overspray on the turn signals, the headlights are cheap knock-offs... I don't know what the hell was going on with those shackles. The front and rear bumpers are Smittybilt junk, but that's a solid Warn winch. It's already lifted and rolling on 35"s.
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Getting it home I noticed the bumper was struggling to hold up that big tire.
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So the rear carrier was removed until we figure out what bumper will fit the build - which is a bigger decision than one might think. Do we go with all suspension lift, or do we do a body lift? Are we going to raise the transmission and transfer case in a "tummy tuck" to get better clearance down the middle? All these decisions affect every other.
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Yup, that's tweaked. Damn Smittybilt.

Oh, on the way back from getting the car, the Check Engine Light of Doom came on. This would be the beginning of a very long problem of trying to get the Jeep past emissions (which Wyoming doesn't have). But we will get to that in a minute. First, let's bring this beast to a stop with some new rotors and pads. We have some time to work on the emissions, the Wyoming tags don't expire until February and it's only Summer of 2021 right now.

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Time to get that farm jack off the hood. These proved very difficult to remove and I ended up having to cut a few of them out. The brackets did finally give it up and the hood was reattached with stainless hardware

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Well, it's idling high and I found a vacuum leak on the intake manifold. The OEM part is unobtainum, but I was able to match a generic vacuum fitting at NAPA.

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This is how the old one failed. It's also how the new one failed in a week, I guess this isn't the correct size. At this point I just went to get some small fuel line and made my own adapter.

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It's been solid now for a year and it's way more sturdy than OEM. So go me.

Work now began to stop for the winter as we researched the hell out of why the computer would never show as ready to test.

First step is to replace the O2 sensors. Jeeps are actually picky about their sensors and work best with NGK, we had no faith the previous owner used the right ones since every other decision on the Jeep was done based on "what's the cheapest way to do this?" New O2 sensors were purchased and installed (I won't post photos of that, they're boring) - but no luck. The system would still not show ready. Back down the rabbit hole of 20 year old forum posts Kiki went. She learned more about O2 sensor cycles than most actual mechanics, we broke out the multimeter to make sure every sensor was getting the correct current and Kiki plotted the sine wave of each sensor's cycle by hand because we don't own an oscilloscope (although I was briefly tempted to buy one).

(If you're noticing a pattern of Kiki doing all the big-brain stuff and I do things like removing seized fasteners and apply Gorilla-levels of torque to things, you're not wrong.)

The next thing she learns is the Jeep is not running the OEM computer and no OEM computers exist anymore. They were prone to failure and, while you might find one in a junk yard, chances are the computer failing is why the Jeep is there in the first place. The computer in the Jeep is an aftermarket replacement, but it hacks around the check engine light by simply not looking at some of the data. Ahh, so that's why the system will never show as "ready". With more digging we find a guy in Florida who takes other Chrysler computers (I think off a PT Cruiser) and flashes them to your VIN - and they are guaranteed to be fully functional for emissions!
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So out with the old computer and in with the new one. We did have a few issues with the immobilizer, because the VIN wasn't entered correctly in the computer, which we noticed with the OBDII scan tool. A quick call to the seller and a new computer was on it's way.


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Should fix the problem, right? Oh yeah, we really need to de-bro-ify that hot-air intake at some point, but first, we need to get it registered - and that means passing emissions, which still isn't happening. Back to the research and we find another potential problem relates to a TSB that was never done in the fuse box.

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This doesn't seem so bad, apparently we just need to move a wire or something?

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Oh fuck...well, we got it done, the results test as correct, but the photos aren't too interesting. I'm sure you've all seen a properly done wire splice before.

Maybe that Bro intake is causing a problem, let's address that and source an OEM intake and airbox. I'd rather have the OEM one anyway, it's better for water crossings and it actually filters dusty air better than these crappy oiled filters.

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In between each of these steps is months of research - all done by Kiki. She also did the brakes, O2 sensors, two computer replacements, and more drive cycles than either of us care to imagine. The amount of research she put in is astounding, and figuring out what information on various forums was real and what was bullshit was not an easy job. She cataloged everything she found and cross-referenced it to various Jeep service manuals, other posts, photographs, and even YouTube instructional videos. She even sourced the original internal TSB documentation for the fuse box wiring and she's the one who traced all the wires and then said "Cut this one, Shop Sasquatch".

For the vast majority of this, I was simply her helper.
 
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As I expected, that crappy oiled filter was blowing all kinds of oily dust into the intake. This is the grime I found on the intake temp sensor and throttle body.

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I removed and cleaned the throttle body, then reinstalled it with the OEM airbox and a crank breather line I had to fabricate from some fuel line.

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Now the Jeep is idling high, so I take it all apart again and find the IAC valve is broken, so I replace it and reassemble it. It's still idling high, so I run through a series of "relearn" procedures to teach the computer what the throttle is doing (the procedures were of course obtained by Kiki, who also did several re-learn cycles) - but no dice. Maybe I screwed up the TPS? So a new one of those goes on and I re-check the entire throttle body. About the only thing left is a vacuum leak. Some quick-and-dirty "spray combustible aerosol around the engine bay and listen for the RPM to go up" vacuum leak testing shows nothing. I can't figure it out, so we get an actual smoke-tester and do a pressurized smoke test of the entire vacuum system, but can't find a leak anywhere.

The Wyoming registration has now long-since expired, so not pictured are the months of running simulated re-set cycles on jack stands in the driveway, which we are assured are the best way to reset the system because you can hold the exact RPM and "speed" needed for the computer to reset. Still no dice, the goddammed thing just won't show as ready to test.

Last week we gave up and finally took it to a shop for some expert advice, and guess what it was? The mother f----ing Cruise Control! Apparently the cruise control cable to the solenoid is just a hair too short and it's pulling the throttle open just a little. It wasn't idling high before I cleaned it because all the grime from the crappy air filter was constricting the throttle body; it was actually sealing against the dirt! Right now the cruise cable is disconnected from the throttle body, it idles normally and immediately showed ready to test. Months of trouble-shooting and delays, well beyond the expiration of the registration and being unable to drive the Jeep over 3mm of cruise control cable!

We took it in last week, it passed emissions on the first try, and we got temporary registration until the plates arrive. Today the actual fun started with new seats.

The old seats were collapsed, disgusting, and offered no support. They were soaked in 17 years of human slime and were not worth trying to save. In other good news, we got a rebate back that lowered the cost of the Jeep!

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These were inside one of the seats, I'm just going to toss them into the ultrasonic cleaner for about a week, then amputate my hand.

Passenger seat out and partially disassembled to get the slide/tumble mechanism out. The previous owner thought it best to hose down the entire bracket with lithium grease spray, it looked like a Motel 6 after a Bukake party - so out came the kerosene and rags to clean it up and just put lube where it's needed.

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New seats installed

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Very nice... I'm digging the build!
 
This is awesome.
 
Very nice... I'm digging the build!
There's a whole lot to do, all the suspension and steering bushings are shot, and we want to convert to long-arm suspension. That means cutting and welding the chassis for new mounting points. New bumpers front and rear, new armor, lighting, new stereo and speakers, headlights, fixing a lot of wiring that was horribly done, and a new center console. The paint is rough, so we will probably want to have it repainted the OEM color and possibly paint the top to match.

It's going to be a long road and there's a lot we haven't figured out yet on the build.
 
This is great. I mean, what's not to like? It's a nice off road machine and it's green. It's funny how some vehicles make 35s look small.

Great work on the diagnosis and fixing, cabled cruise control is and always was the work of Satan so it makes sense that it was part of the issue. Also If I wasn't already very wary of computers in off roaders then I would be now. Looking forward to seeing what you get up to in it.
 
This is great. I mean, what's not to like? It's a nice off road machine and it's green. It's funny how some vehicles make 35s look small.

Great work on the diagnosis and fixing, cabled cruise control is and always was the work of Satan so it makes sense that it was part of the issue. Also If I wasn't already very wary of computers in off roaders then I would be now. Looking forward to seeing what you get up to in it.
The new computer has been great - plug-and-play with no issues. It was the cheap hacked version that caused the problem, not the OEM one.
 
I had no idea that thing was being so problematic! Still, a great spec and once y'all get it sorted it'll be a monster on the trails. I look forward to being towed up a trail by it the next time my junk breaks in Moab.
 
I had no idea that thing was being so problematic! Still, a great spec and once y'all get it sorted it'll be a monster on the trails. I look forward to being towed up a trail by it the next time my junk breaks in Moab.
I think it's our turn next.
 
The Jeep's tint on the front windows was not legal and honestly, poor quality and too dark to see out of safely at night. $100 got us a legal (and safe) tint of better quality.

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No touchy!
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We also only had a single, very worn out key. This Jeep has a SKIS immobilizer system from the factory, but it requires a rather old computer called a DRBIII to program any new keys. A lot of dealerships are selling off their DRBIII systems or allowing them to break and never fixing them because they just aren't in the same demand as they used to be - and techs who know the Forgotten Magic are also hard to find since most have retired. Fortunately we live in an area where Jeeps are very popular so the local dealer had the correct computer and someone who knew which bones to cast to operate it. We tried over the weekend, but the keys that showed up were defective and would not take the programming; apparently this is not uncommon. They ordered new keys and we went back today to try again. The tech tried to get them to program without any luck, the dealership finally called in an key expert with a mobile truck to try. He was able to get one of the two keys to program successfully - so after 3 hours at the dealership for a 30 minute job we left with half the keys we'd ordered.

The dealership was very nice about it and their parts department is going to try to chase down transponders to add to the keys that were missing them. Apparently the chips can be slipped inside the key via a hidden access port - which I never knew. We will take the Jeep back when the new keys arrive and try again.

Another issue is a mismatched interior dash panel, the previous owner didn't bother to check the actual spec of the vehicle and ordered a light gray defroster panel for a black interior. (It's getting a little dark and the LED flood lights on the driveway are screwing with the white balance, but you get the idea.)
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A replacement part in the correct color arrived today and will be installed when we have the interior apart to install a new head unit, cameras, and off road switch gear.
 
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The lower driver's door hinge was seized in a very unusual way. The pin that is supposed to be press-fit into the door-half of the hinge had separated from the door and seized into the body-half (lower) part. This meant the driver's door would open and close but would not come off the vehicle. The solution was to unscrew the seized hinge from both the body and door and replace it with an aftermarket. The upper hinges were okay and replacing them would also mean replacing the entire lower corner of the windshield. The upper hinges were rehabilitated by pressing out the worn out bushings and inserting new ones.

Driver's lower hinge removed. You can see the threads for the locking nut have also been snapped off

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Passenger door removed. This is how they are supposed to come apart. You can see how cruddy the old hinge pins were.

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Passenger side before hinge replacement.

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Cleaning out the inside of the upper hinge using a .38 cal copper bore brush.

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Final product. The black powdercoated stainless hinge looks right at home with the other black accents. Eventually we want to repaint the body in the stock color, and the hinges will be painted to match at that time.

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This one went well. All the fasteners came free once the blue locktite inside gave way, the hinges came off the door without taking a bunch of paint with them, and it all went back together. Nothing sheered off, nothing was seized, and all the hardware fit correctly.
It feels weird and I'm scared.

Now we can do Jeep things.

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So we went for a drive to see the fall colors.

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The aspens were showing off today.

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The sky cooperated too.

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We also have some photos and GoPro video, which we will get around to posting on the "take us for a drive in your country" thread once we get the PC fixed (it decided to eat its memory).
 
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Trail mirrors arrived, now we're legal.

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I also replaced all the interior lights with LED. In the process we discovered the driver's footwell light dome was missing. I was able to find an assembly on eBay with an intact dome, it was just chopped out of the donor vehicle, so it was cheap.

Next up is retrofitting a GM trouble light spool to the hood.
 
Jeeps have a small "trouble light" under the hood that doesn't do much. The light is dim, the housing sucks, and the ball-bearing tilt-switch is notoriously unreliable. I clocked in on a GM part that was installed on mid 1970s-1980s trucks and SUVs, their trouble light is a reel holding 16 feet of wire and a light with a magnetic base. This seemed like natural upgrade, so one was acquired from eBay in working condition along with an LED bulb upgrade.

The first step was to figure out where to mount the light so it wouldn't hit anything with the hood closed. With limited options, the space over the battery was picked for having good support structure on the hood to mount to and space when closed. The three mounting holes in the GM part don't all fit on the Jeep's hood support, so some scrap aluminum was used and a mounting plate traced. A cutoff wheel roughed out the shape and a flap wheel helped define and smooth it before the wire wheel de-burred the sharp edges.

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The old light was removed and the GM pigtail was spliced in using the same spiffy waterproof solder/heat shrink splice connectors we used on the fuse box refit.

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The light was mounted to the support plate, which then mounted to the underside of the hood. The wiring was wrapped in protective cloth tape to avoid chaffing, damage and shorts while still being flexible.

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Showing off the reel and magnet functions. Even in daylight the LED is bright.
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Crazy amount of light:
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Night shot simulating the need to change a tire.
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Small improvement:

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Why the hell the GDPO didn't remove the lights when patching the paint is beyond me. It's just two little Torx screws to remove the entire housing.

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Why the hell the GDPO didn't remove the lights when patching the paint is beyond me. It's just two little Torx screws to remove the entire housing.

Two screws?! You want the GDPO to remove two screws, per side?! :ROFLMAO:
 
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