Some off-roaders have the technical know-how and equipment to do most, if not all, their rig modifications themselves. If that's you, good on you! For the rest of us, here’s why and how to choose a quality 4x4 shop to help us install all the mods we might desire!
Now, this is actually “part 4” of the build or buy series but I’m tired of beating a dead horse with the list of wrongs that the local dealership sold us, so I decided to name this post something different. Recently we finally had our fill of trying to keep hub’s Jeep on the road (if we let off the steering wheel in five yards we’d be off the road, and his whole rig shook like crazy over 35 mph), so we took the beast to Northridge 4x4 Colorado for some proper fixin’! (If you haven’t heard, Northridge does high quality work, sells Jeep/off-road parts and accessories with consistently fast ship times, and is an all-around excellent shop for any trail-related or off-road needs).
What we found out with hub’s Jeep was this:
- Lift springs the dealer had put on were cheap crap that have settled a whole inch over one year’s time. These will be remedied with quality, high performing springs at some point in the near future.
- The high steer kit (put on by the dealer’s mod company) should not have been installed and it was put on incorrectly (drilled into the stock knuckles, which we now had to replace).
- Contributing to the severe vibration and pull was a lack of adequate tire balancing – a local tire shop had loaded up one tire with 9 oz. weight, and stacked/taped weights in another. (The tire shop told me they do this regularly but from what I can find it’s not a best practice).
What his Jeep actually needed to ensure proper steering and stabilization was:
- Steering Stabilizer (TeraFlex)
- Heavy Duty Drag Link Kit (JK Extreme)
- Knuckles (Factory)
Of note, Northridge did tell us that most of their recommended fixes would probably be covered by warranty if we went back to the dealership. Hub and I discussed this and we decided that our safety is more important than our dollars – meaning we’ve tried the dealership and their contracted mods shop several times, and we’ve ended up with a vehicle that still doesn’t drive like it should, so we no longer trust the dealer or their mods shop to work on this rig. We decided that the best decision for us at this point was to have it fixed right even if it cost us more. (This actually provides conclusive evidence to prove that buying a dealer-modified Jeep with warranty is actually way costlier than buying a stock vehicle and building it yourself – plus you run a big safety risk by driving cheap dealer mods).
Anyhow, Northridge kept hub’s Jeep for a couple weeks, diagnosed the issues, ordered parts plus installed the correct items, and test drove to ensure it was fixed. The result was an astounding difference in road handling and driveability! The first time I drove it post-fix I let go of the steering wheel and literally 100 yards down the road it was still driving straight with no help from me! Woo-hoo! It still needs better tires because the current ones can’t be balanced adequately so that’s a work in progress. Northridge also installed a set of Rancho shocks that I’d won in the raffle at their Open House this year, tightened up the tire carrier so the spare tire isn’t rattling around anymore, placed a handle-keeper on the hi-lift jack to reduce vibration, and installed our requested set of back-up lights that are wired to light up in reverse to provide better visibility when backing up.
In short, Northridge has done it again – great service, stellar work, and excellent communication (they provide a quote up front and if anything changes they let us know and then provide updated pricing so we know what we're in for when the bill comes due).
At the end of the day, what matters is road and trail safety. The quality work done by Northridge costs more than what a dealership will provide but it’s well worth it so we can drive and wheel safely. A Jeep is no good if it doesn’t perform as it should.
For contrast, here's my Jeep then and now, built entirely by Northridge - and it practically drives itself!
So, how do you find a quality mods shop if you’re just starting out with an off-road vehicle?
- Talk to other wheelers at group trail runs, especially those with mods you like, and see where they had the work done.
- Whenever you see a modified Jeep (in the mall parking lot, downtown, at the grocery store, wherever!), talk to the driver if possible and see where their mods were done. However, also make sure the mods were tried on trail – and ask how they’ve performed. Bling is no good if it stays at the mall.
- Join a good, respectable, and reputable Facebook group and ask for mod shop recommendations.
- If you have a basic mechanic shop you trust (such as for oil changes or other basic repairs) you might ask them for a local 4x4 shop recommendation; ideally ask a mechanic who’s also an off-roader – you want to ensure the recommendation comes from someone with time spent on trail.
- If you’re in Colorado check out my Jeep page for links to several area shops that do top quality work.
Thanks for reading, happy modding, and stay safe on the trails!