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Ed A. Stevens

NAXJA Member
NAXJA Member
Testing the difficulty of posting my old web page help series as a series of posts on NAXJA. (Comments are welcome)

A little help:
Improving the XJ trail performance, #1


I notice a great deal of discussion regarding lifts and what is, and is not, a good lift. Most of what is stated is personal opinion.... (Take it with reservations) and here's what I think (?)

I started this web page as a basic introduction to lifting the XJ, back in the early 1990's when the Cherokee was an unknown modification platform, and little XJ Cherokee aftermarket existed.

This first issue was published in 1996, with pages (or posts) added as a continuing aid to XJ owners on various topics. The series was taken off line in 2000 when the host server shut down.

The XJ.

First, I agree with the people who believe that installing the minimal lift possible with the best articulation is the safest and most effective enhancement to trail performance. As I believe the desired goal is better trail performance you may not need to do too much work.

The stock XJ wheel travel is very good and drivers who migrated from a CJ or Toy are amazed how a well-driven stock XJ trails. Lifts required to fit larger tires, or provide the visual boost desired by an owner, will sometimes reduce articulation performance of the stock XJ. The suspension is a combination of components that need to work as a matched system. The system is more important than just a cool looking lift height, shock, or control arm, and the limits need to be addressed one at a time.

A difficult issue to address is "What will my XJ look like at various lift heights and tire combinations?" It will look good, but making it perform off road is better than just good looks.

Issue number one, the anti sway bar:

Off road, the stock Cherokee axle articulation (axle travel) is limited by the anti sway bar binding before using the full shock travel or bump stops. The stock front shocks top-out way before the control arms or brake lines bind, ...if the anti-sway bar is disconnected. If you have never disconnected the anti-sway bar (unbolting it, or with a kit,) it makes the greatest single improvement to articulation and should be done as a first step before spending any money on lifts.

The rear bar seems to make little effect and is removed on some year's Up-Country option. Some people feel it provides little effect and leave it installed with soft spring packs. It may be completely removed, again with little effect, if it rubs the tires.


The misalignment of the anti-sway bar links compared to the axle mounts is shown in the proceeding picture. The axle is extended at full droop with the anti-sway bar disconnected. The lower anti-sway bar mount misalignment is about three inches. If the link is attached, the droop will be three to four inches less than shown in the picture (you will loose three to four inches of wheel travel and articulation.)


How do I disconnect the anti-sway bar?

I unbolt the bottom bolts. You can unbolt the top, or bottom bolts, or both. (There are a number of kits available with replacement links and link nuts that you can purchase to make the process quicker on the trail. I modified my bolts before kits were available and have never upgraded.


In truth I unbolted the bottom bolts and ground down the top of the nuts to allow them to spin off easily. The factory nuts are peened and have an interference fit (very tough to remove the first time.) The nuts now spin off by hand after breaking loose with the tire handle or an 18mm socket.

These bolts require a #55 torx socket and usually need to be knocked out with a hammer or removed with a puller the first time (they also fit very tight and the later model years may be knurled.) Once they are removed they (usually) slip in & out with a light tap. I also drilled the bolts to fit a cotter pin on the outside of the (now easier spinning) nuts to keep them from rattling loose & backing off.

You can also replace the nuts & bolts with Grade 8 hardware & nylock nuts.

If you want a quick disconnect (poor mans version,) replace your sway bar link nuts with Wing Nuts. Then drill & pin the bolts just above the tightened wing nuts to keep them rattling loose. It is a lot like what I did with my lower bolts with wing nuts instead of reusing bolts. If you cannot remove the bolts do not worry about it, just remove both top and bottom nuts and remove the complete link. Some drivers prefer it this way (less noise.)

I just bungee the anti-sway bar out of the way. Yes, the bushing gap is normal. The nut & bolt crush against an internal sleeve in the bushing.

Regardless of what a Salesman will tell you, most 0-3 inch lifts (as sold in a package) do not improve the wheel travel and articulation over that possible with a stock Cherokee. The upper limit of compression wheel travel is the bump stop, and the lower limit of extension is the open shock length. The stock springs will allow the axle to droop until the shock is fully extended, before control arms or brake lines bind. The only potential drawback of the stock form is you have considerably more extension travel than that available in compression, and the spring rate is soft. A loaded XJ will spend a lot of time on the bump stops, while a lifted XJ rides more on the spring travel.

If you have access to a stock XJ and a ramp, you can Wow the crowd during the next club meeting by removing the anti-sway bar(s) (and shocks) and testing the vehicle. It will ramp extremely well (A lightweight vehicle works better, and just take care as stock length brake lines may bind before anything hits and the slip yoke u-joint may bind if both sides of the rear axle are unloaded.)

Anyone who exploits the articulation of a vehicle should always check and compensate for proper brake line slack. The above exercise is good to try on any vehicle as you never know when a shock mount will break on the trail, resulting in a snapped brake line or dropped drive line (100 miles from help.)