Inspired by a recent DOR thread, I decided to create a blog of Bump's 25 Must-Have Mods for under $100.
Safety and Convenience
1. FIRST AID KIT
Driving off-road or on-road, accidents can and do happen and, because we tend to take our Jeeps places where first aid response might be delayed, it is important to have some basic first aid supplies and training to deal with injuries more severe than a routine cut or scratch. The first and foremost mod is one to your own knowledge: take a basic first aid course, get certified in performing CPR, and then even consider an Advanced Lifesaving Course from an American Red Cross certified instructor.
A good first aid kit for vehicles, particularly off-roading, will have trauma management supplies in addition to the standard first aid and convenience supplies. Look for kits that include more than just band-aids and blister cream. Your kit should have a good supply of 3x3 and 4x4 gauze pads, some 5x9 pads, Quik-Clot or Celox gauze to promote rapid clotting, pressure bandage or blood stopper such as an Israeli bandage or Blood Stopper sponge/roll bandage, plus a roll of 1" medical tape, steri-strip adhesive wound closure strips, burn dressings/gel, safety pins, EMT shears, tourniquet and basic supply of general supplies for cuts, scrapes, pain management, allergic reaction and diarrhea. There are a lot of kits that make a good starting base, and a few very expensive kits that offer a complete solution, but if you want to stay under $100 your best bet is the Grizzly Sportsman Series kit from Adventure Medical Kits for $99.95.
2. FIRE EXTINGUISHER & MOUNT ($45-125)
You've seen the stories. When your JK catches fire you have seconds to act before it goes out of control. Every rig should have at least one fire extinguisher, ideally mounted within easy reach of the driver. A second, larger fire extinguisher, mounted in the rear cargo area, is also a good idea. The problem is how to mount these heavy metal canisters in such a way that they don't become deadly missiles during an accident or roll-over. Forget about those velcro pocket things that attach to the roll cage, they will drive you nuts. Poly Performance has a very nice Quick Release Fire Extinguisher Mount for $60. My recommendation is you mount one extinguisher within easy reach of the driver, and one on the passenger rear roll cage.
Poly Performance also sells HalGuard fire extinguishers, which are more expensive than what you'll find in Home Depot, but are supposed to work better and are safer for your engine.
3. FLASHLIGHTS (~$18-70)
Whether you're changing a tire on the side of the road or replacing a u-joint, if it's dark you'll need extra light to work by. The best tool for this job is actually a personal headlight; a flashlight that straps to your head, allowing both hands to be free for the work at hand. There are plenty of decent LED headlights available at your local WalMart, but if you want to step-up a notch or two, check out the USB-rechargeable Petzl Actik Core for around $70 (it will also run off standard batteries without an adapter).
Although a headlight is convenient, sometimes a hand-held flashlight is still needed. In this case the Thorfire Mini 500 lumen, @ $18, is a great little flashlight that can run off a single AA or 14500 battery.
4. MULTI-TOOL ($77-130)
While it's no substitute for a toolbox full of wrenches, ratchets and screwdrivers, a multi-tool is a good option for many quick-and-dirty repairs. Leatherman is the leader in multi-tools and the Leatherman Surge. I was surprised by how much these tools have gone up in 5 years since I originally wrote this article, but even in the $102-130 range, I still unequivocally recommend the Surge. It is a full-size and full-strength tool that can accept a variety of optional driver bits. The molle sheath is nice if you have other PALS gear, but the Premium Nylon Sheath has the benefit of two side elastics that can hold a small flashlight and a firesteel.
5. SHOVEL ($35) and FOLDING BOW SAW (BOREAL21, $70)
Whether you're stuck in snow or mud, the standard G.I. Entrenching Tool is there to help you dig out. While no substitute for a full-size shovel, pick or axe, an E-Tool is compact and allows you to move snow, dirt and mud, chop through roots and branches. You'll have to be patient, but a good e-tool will get the job done. It's also handy for digging cat holes when you've got to crap in the woods. There are cheaper versions, but I've always preferred the Cold Steel Special Forces Shovel for around $35. And to cut through downed branches and small trees, nothing beats a 21" Boreal Saw ($70).
6. GRAB HANDLES (~$20+)
Every vehicle I've ever been in has had handles to help passengers get in-and-out. Why Jeep doesn't include grab handles as standard equipment in their high-sitting vehicles is a mystery. Fortunately, it's not expensive to add them. Browse around on Amazon and you can find everything from standard "kayak style" handles to paracord and even aluminum.
7. VEHICLE HEADLIGHTS ($90-500+)
First, whether you're driving on-road or off, you'll notice that the stock headlights are a bit weak. Okay, they suck. There are lots of upgrades you can consider, from upgraded H13 bulbs that fit in the stock headlight housings, through HID and LED drop-in upgrades and complete replacement lamps. Drop-in upgrades can be hit-or-miss; some produce a good light pattern, others can be horrible. In the past I was a huge advocate of Bosch H4 E-code headlamps with higher-wattage Hella bulbs, but the glass lenses had a habit of breaking and now these lamps are impossible to find. J.W. Speaker Evolution J headlights are fantastic if you can afford them, but they're not a $100 mod. Having tried several alternatives I feel that if you are on a budget, the $90 Sunpie clones of the J.W. Speakers are a big improvement over stock. They have a weird light pattern, and the high-beams aren't much of an improvement over low beams, but they do light up the road well without causing excessive glare to oncoming traffic (if aimed properly). Just make sure to tape and zip-tie all the adapter cables together or you will have intermittent problems.
Let's be honest here, though. $100 headlights are never going to look as good as the $400+ category leaders, such as J.W. Speaker, Rigid Truck-Lites, K.C. Highlights, etc... For a great comparison of a bunch of headlight upgrade options, check out this video from Headlight Revolution.
8. NAVIGATION (Free)
The OEM options for GPS/Nav suck. They have zero off-road capabilities, are out-of-date from the moment you get the vehicle, and updates are exorbitant. After experimenting with many GPS apps for smartphones, the two that I use regularly are GAIA and Maprika. Maprika is used by many off-road parks to provide GPS tracking over their paper maps, and it works okay for that purpose. GAIA is much better at tracking AND route planning/navigation on public land, and if you subscribe to GAIA's premium membership, you get access to additional layers and trails.
9. COMMUNICATIONS ($60+)
CB is pretty much been replaced by GMRS in my area. Less interference, clearer sound and greater range, all in more compact packaging. The only caveat is you need an FCC license that costs $70 for 5 years, on top of the equipment costs. Also, if you participate in Jeep Jamboree, you still need a CB radio.
There's lots of options for CB and as far as I'm concerned, your two basic choices are the Cobra 75WXST for $120 or the Uniden PRO520XL for around $50. The Cobra is a bit smaller and easier to mount while the Uniden provides better performance. You'll also need a 48" Firestick II, mount, antenna stud and coax, adding around $60 to the total for CB. And you'll need someone to tune your antenna after you install it. All this adds up to over $100 for fairly mediocre performance.
On the other hand, a Midland MTX105 GMRS mobile radio comes complete with pre-tuned antenna and coax (magnetic mount -- just stick it to your hood) for $100, and a pair of Midland GTX1000 handheld radios work nearly as well for only $70.
10. MOUNTS FOR YOUR TECH
I don't know about you, but I have no luck getting suction cup mounts to stay attached to my windshield and don't want to screw-up my dash with sticky-pads. Fortunately, you have choices. Bracketron has a custom bracket for the JK that mounts up next to the radio, and a universal bracket that can be bent and trimmed to fit in other locations in the center stack. Carolina Metal Masters has a 1" CMM A-Pillar Ball Mount that is compatible with all the RAM Products mounts. By combining all three products you can make the inside of your Jeep look like a display case at Radio Shack.
You can find a wide assortment of RAM mounts and arms on Amazon to mount practically anything to anything.
11. EXTRA 12V & USB POWER OUTLETS ($30)
GPS, cell phones, tablet, dash cam, battery charger, so many tech devices and so few power outlets. The problem is exacerbated when traveling with kids. You need something like this to keep them all supplied with juice: http://amzn.com/B000PB8CQI
12. 120V/AC HOUSEHOLD POWER
Sometimes it's handy to have 120V AC available to run AC lights, recharge items that only have an AC power adapter, or run power tools (within reason). A 600W Pure Sine Wave inverter will allow you to run anything from a battery charger to an 8-amp angle grinder.
13. STORAGE, STORAGE, STORAGE!
Put a family of four in a JKU for a weekend of camping, and you'll soon find out the cargo area isn't as big as you thought. And in a 2-door JK, the situation is even worse. Here's some options for making better use of the space you have and adding space you might not have thought of before.
Tailgate & Seat Back Storage ($60-250)
The Smittybilt GEAR Tailgate Cover is a great idea for hanging things off your rear tailgate. I've used mine to hold almost all my hand tools, a crowbar, flashlight, first-aid kit, folding saw and hand axe. The tailgate-mounted webbing holds-up surprising well, though I have had to replace the larger bag once because the weight of the tools caused the seams to rip. The screws are known to rust so either paint them after installation or replace with stainless-steel fasteners. Standard MOLLE webbing means it can accept most accessories designed for MOLLE/PAL systems.
A MOLLE-compatible folding tailgate table is another option for organizing MOLLE bags that provides double-duty as a work counter for cooking or repairs. Several different brands and configurations are available on Amazon and eBay starting around $60, but the best IMO is from Springtail Solutions and costs $209.
Okay, a little over the $100 limit but a very worthwhile use of otherwise dead space. JeepSwag Dirt Bagz ($125/pair) mount over the rear wheel well to provide a capricious amount of storage space.
Hitch Haul ($49-180)
A Hitch Haul is a cargo rack that plugs-in to your tow hitch receiver and allows you to strap up to 350 pounds (250 on a 2-door) to the back of your JK. Available in many sizes and capacities, with fold-up capability, raised side rails for better cargo retention and even ramps to accept mobility scooters and wheelchairs, Masterbuilt is the original creator and still one of the best quality manufacturers of these racks, but there are other good options available. Due to the size and weight, this is the kind of item you should look around at local auto parts and sporting goods stores to save on shipping costs. You will also need a hitch extender to clear the spare tire.
No hitch? Not a problem: get one for under $70 with wiring harness
Designed and marketed as an off-road trash bag, the Trasharoo is a heavy-duty nylon bag gets strapped to your spare tire and can hold up to 50 pounds of stuff. That stuff can be trash, or it can be camping gear, clothing or food. Trasharoo doesn't care what goes inside. Even if you do use it for trash, it will save space on the floor of your Jeep.
14. Ratchet Straps ($12-40)
Ratchet straps are the most positive way to secure light to medium-weight cargo in and to your Jeep. They should be used to strap-down all items in the back of the Jeep to prevent injury from flying gear during an accident or roll-over. They can strap cargo to your Hitch Haul or even your spare tire, bumper or roof. Ratchet straps will keep your axle from dropping when jacking-up the body/chassis to change a tire or perform repairs, and they can be used to temporarily hold an engine mount or axle in place to get off the trail. You should have at least 4 if not 8 ratchet-straps rated for 800+ pounds.
15. RECOVERY STRAP/ROPE ($60-140)
If you venture off-road, sooner or later you're going to get stuck. Even if you have a winch you might not be situated in a position to use it, and in most cases a snatch strap is a quicker solution. I've used the same ARB recovery strap for 4 years and it shows no signs of wearing-out. On some rides my strap will be used 5 or more times in a row as we hand it off from one vehicle to the next to get through a muddy obstacle. What I particularly like is the sliding, neoprene sleeves at each end that helps prevent the strap from falling-off the recovery hooks.
The latest advancement in recovery gear is kinetic rope, popularized by Bubba Rope. It's more stretchy than recovery straps, providing a softer shock load on vehicles and greater slingshot effect. Actual Bubba Rope comes in at around $160, but there are knock-offs that work equally well in the $100-120 price range.
16. D-SHACKLES (2X, $12-50 each)
D-Shackles or D-Rings are used to connect snatch straps or winch line to vehicles, tree straps, etc... If you have tow hooks instead of D-Shackle mounts you still should carry at least one D-Shackle, because the other vehicle might not have hooks. I recommend at least two, and better four, because they sometimes get lost on the trail and some recoveries need to complex rigging. There's many brands available, but make sure to get 3/4" shackles rated for at least 4-3/4 tons WLL.
Again, a recent advance is the use of soft shackles made of Dyneema rope instead of metal. Called "Soft Shackles," they cost between $20 and $60 each in size ranges from 3/8" to 1/2" and are safer than using metal shackles.
17. HI-LIFT JACK ($80+)
The infamous Hi-Lift Jack is a staple of the off-road world, but is not without some controversey. The are know to tilt and unexpectedly unlock, if a proper jacking point is not used, the vehicle can easily slip off the jack. The handle can fly up with great force causing broken jaws and lost teeth if you're not careful to keep your head away from the handle's swing arc. You should always chock the tires, in front and behind the tire, before using the jack. It is important that you never work under or near the vehicle until a jack stand, cribbing or other suitable support is used to keep the vehicle in place. In spite of all this, I've never found a tool more versatile than a Hi-Lift jack. Of course I've used them to lift vehicles, either to move them off of rocks or for repairs. I've used a Hi-Lift to straighten bent control arms, and even to replace a broken tie rod. Treated with respect and a healthy dose of fear, they are more useful than bottle jacks or shop jacks.
18. HI-LIFT LIFT-MATE ($40)
When recovering with a Hi-Lift, usually you are trying to lift one or more tires to put rocks underneath for traction. Using a Lift-Mate makes this process quicker and safer as you are jacking-up the wheel instead of the entire vehicle to get the tire elevated. Very worth the extra money IMHO: http://amzn.com/B00FOVXYAS
19. QUICK SWAYBAR DISCONNECTS ($100+)
No single off-road modification makes more of an improvement than disconnecting your front sway bar. The sway bar is designed to keep the vehicle flat in turns, avoiding body roll and tire-lifting on the pavement. Off-road it limits front axle articulation and causes tires to lift off the ground instead of maintaining contact on uneven terrain. If you have a RUBICON model you already have factory electronic swaybar disconnects (Smart Bar). However, the SmartBar is known to be unreliable and often fails after a year or two of off-roading due to poor water sealing. There are many brands of disconnects, with JKS Quicker Disconnects being the top of the heap, and the Synergy conversion kit being the least expensive, but still effective.
JKS: https://jksmfg.com/i-13306776-quicker-disconnect-fits-2-5-6-0-lift-wrangler-jk.html?ref=category:381021 (Note lift size)
20. STEERING STABILIZER RELOCATION BRACKET ($45)
The first thing virtually every Jeep owner bends when off-roading is the steering stabilizer shock. It's stock location below and in front of the the tie-rod makes it a magnet for rocks, logs and even tall mounds of dirt. Unless you've got a lift kit on order, which should have a bracket to raise both the SS shock and track bar, this is a no-brainer mod. Often you can get one used for $25 or even free from another Jeeper who's replaced theirs with a more full-featured one from a lift kit, or when installing a truss.
21. DIFFERENTIAL COVERS ($70-150)
Banging and sliding your diffs on/over rocks is pretty much standard operating procedure when doing any moderate to extreme off-roading. The stock differential covers will easily dent or peel-back when abused, potentially damaging your gears or causing a loss of gear oil. Replacing the stock diff covers with beefier third-party options is a good way to prevent this costly damage. There's a number of options here, but Solid is an affordable and quality choice.
22. LUBE LOCKER DIFF GASKET ($22)
While you're replacing your diff covers, I highly recommend using Lube Locker gaskets instead of RTV or paper gaskets to seal them up. Paper gaskets are okay, but messy to remove and thin enough that sometimes getting a good seal can be a problem. RTV also works, and is what the factory uses, but can crack and leak if the cover is stressed when sliding over a rock. Lube Lockers have a series of silicon beads on a fiberglass base that provides an excellent that will immediately re-seal if the cover is stressed. Best of all is they are reusable, and since off-roaders are frequently pulling off our diff covers to check the gears and make repairs, being able to re-use a Lube Locker several times is a great convenience.
Dana 44: https://www.lubelocker.com/product/llr-d44hd/
Dana 30: https://www.lubelocker.com/product/llr-d030/
23. LOWER CONTROL ARM SKIDS ($40-70)
Lower control arm brackets take a beating on the trail and are known to fold and break. Reinforcing them with some weld-on skids is inexpensive insurance against getting stranded on the trail. I like the Artec LCA skids, just because. https://www.artecindustries.com/jk_front_lca_skids
24. INNER C-GUSSETS ($40-80)
The front axle inner-C on the JK is known to bend under high lateral force, particularly with larger tires. Save yourself an expensive repair and have a set of C-Gussets installed to beef-up this part of the axle. https://www.artecindustries.com/JK_Inner_C_Gussets
25. FRONT AXLE TRUSS OR SLEEVE ($100+)
If you're going to take it extreme, especially with big tires, you need to reinforce your front axle. Bent axles are a common problem among Jeepers who like rocks, and the cost of a new axle can run into the thousands. An inner sleeve or external truss can help prevent axle bending, twisting and breakage. Of the two, the truss is a stronger solution, but it is also considerably more expensive to install due to the cost of prep and welding. A sleeve also needs to be welded, but this is a much easier and quicker process that can often be done without removing the axle from the vehicle.
Inner Sleeves: https://teraflex.com/shop_items/jk-front-axle-sleeve-kit
https://www.artecindustries.com/JK-Front-Axle-Truss_p_312.html or with c-gussets and lower control arm skids: https://www.artecindustries.com/JK_44_Front_Axle_Armor_Kit
Note: Installation of the truss requires careful preparation and welding by an experienced welder.