Skid Plate-Near Disaster and Learnings-Updated - Off-Road Forums & Discussion Groups
Jeep Liberty KJ For discussion of the new, Jeep Liberty "KJ" SUV.

 
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post #1 of (permalink) Old 11-24-2003, 11:08 PM
nuordersg
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Skid Plate-Near Disaster and Learnings-Updated

just want to share my experience installing an aftermarket skid plate on my '03 KJ, Sport. -READ UPDATE AT BOTTOM

I bought my KJ with the factory skid plates. While kind of flimsy-looking, they seem to have reinforcement seams in all the right areas. Though, one thing lacking is a plate to protect the oil pan and section between the transfer case cross-member and the factory suspension skid plate.

So, I ordered a plate from Skid-Row automotive (www.skidplates.com) It arrived in about a week (I ordered from California). True to their claim, it is a nicely-finished, "beefy" plate which puts the factory plates to shame. The Skidrow plate also comes with a very handy opening for the oil drain plug. The instructions seemed straight-forward and all the fittings were included.

Since my KJ came with the factory plates, the screw inserts where already in the cross-members. Also, I have a 2.5" dealer-installed lift on it. Hence, installation seemed a cinch since I didn't have to raise the car; and it appeared like a one-man job. So I got some tools ready:

1) 3/8" ratchet driver and 15mm, 16, and 17mm sockets (Chrysler's insane selection of different bolt-heads for the factory plates)

2) four brick-size blocks of wood
3)loc-tite for the bolts
4) a metal file
5) a "Tiger-Saw" reciprocating saw with a metal-cutting blade (this seemed like overkill at first, but read down further).
6) a metal scribe to mark the plate for cutting
7)Torque wrench to tighten bolts
8) tire-stops (for safety, so that Jeep won't roll)


The plate itself is not too heavy and mostly manageable by any able-bodied adult of average size. I would recommend a small hydraulic floor jack or an extra pair of hands for those not in the best physical shape.

The first step is to enlarge the rear, driver-side (DS) bolt-hole on the factory suspension plate. Some genius at Chrysler decided to mix and match the retaining bolts with 15 and 16 mm bolt heads....on the SAME plate!!Removing the front plate was otherwise easy.

I followed the Skidrow instructions and cut the factory plate where indicated. Enlarging the bolt hole with a file as suggested with the instructions was tedious so I ended-up using the metal cutting saw.

Next, I did a dry-run on fitting the Skidrow plate. Unfortunately, the factory transfer case plate covered one of the cross-member inserts which was going to be used by the Skidrow plate. So, I removed the factory transfer case plate and used my metal saw to cut a notch on it. I rebolted the transfer case factory plate onto the KJ.

I retried to fit the Skidrow plate. However, the guys at Skidrow are way too precise and didn't allow enough tolerance for Factory Manufacturing Variation!!! In short, the holes on the Skidrow plate were not far enough apart to accommodate the pre-drilled, threaded holes on my KJ. So, used a hardened drill and my metal-cutting saw to cut a new hole in the Skidrow plate. Luckily I had the metal saw, as cutting the 3/16" hardened plate was no easy feat. It would have been near impossible with a file...the other choice being to return the plate for an exchange (another $27 for shipping!!)

Now that I had all the holes I needed, tried to reinstall the front, factory suspension plate by bolting only in the front and leaving enough play to adjust the whole unit into place later. However, the cut as suggested by Skidrow on their diagram, was too far rear. Hence, I had to (again) remove the front skid plate and enlarge the orginal cut. I then fit the factory plate with no problem (note that the cut is ncessary to accomodate the Fitting Angle due to the use of spacers on the Skidrow plate).

Using the blocks of wood to prop-up the Skidrow plate, I positioned the plate in place under the car. Then using one of my Knees and one hand, I lifted the plate into place and installed the two front spacers, washers, and bolts (one spacer per hole for my KJ). The spacers help the plate clear the exhaust system, some KJ's may require more spacers. Positioning the plate requires some deft maneuvering and flexibility. So, again, if you are not physically strong, DO NOT ATTEMPT THIS ALONE...The PLATE WILL BE HEAVY FOR YOU!!!

This left the front end of the Skidrow plate held in place with the 17mm bolts while the rear end was held up with the blocks of wood. So far so good.

Next I installed the Skidrow bolts into the rear of the plate. Note that the front end of the Skidrow plates fits between the front,cross-member and the factory suspension plate. The rear of the Skidrow plate fits ON TOP of the factory, transfer case plate.

With the Skidrow plate in place, I positioned the front suspension plate in place so that it fit under the bolts/washers holding up the Skidrow plate (but ON TOP of the Skidrow Plate) and proceeded to tighten everything down. So far so good.

I proceeded to tighten everything uniformly so as too minimize distortion. I tightened everything to about
25-ft/lbs using a torque wrench. I used a torque wrench as the threaded KJ inserts appear flimsy and I didn't want to strip them. The poundage was determined by calling the local Jeep dealer, service shop and asking them what was recommended.

In any case, what was supposed to be a 30-45 min job took about Two Hours with all the fitting and cutting.

Soon after I had finished and was tidying-up, I hear a loud TWANG!! from the car. Upon inspection, I noted that the flex in the Skidrow plate had PULLED-OUT ONE OF THE CROSS-MEMBER INSERTS!!! I guess the spring tension resulting from tightening the plate had stressed it. Apparently the stress was too much for the threaded inserts on the KJ and as the plate relaxed, it pulled out the insert complete with bolt and all!! The Skidrow plate doesn’t' sit flat as the rear factory plate is grooved. At this point, I weighed my options:

(1) Proceed with plan two of instructions and drill through the cross-member and install the Skidrow-supplied carriage bolts

(2) Have the dealer reinstall the hexagonal, special-fitted threaded insert (some KJ use the round inserts).

I really liked option one as re-doing the inserts seemed like asking for more of the same problem. The problem with Option (1) is that the factory holes are right below the Transfer Case Mounts!!! So drilling through the cross-member is NOT Recommended (at least on my KJ). Also keep in mind that the cross-members are made of very, very hard steel and not easy to drill. Though, Skidrow makes it seem like a cinch...it is NOT!


So, I removed the entire Skidrow plate and reinstalled the front suspension plate as original (another 30 min). The dealer was charging me $75 to reinstall the detached insert. This seems like too much money. So at this point, I am weighing my options whether to:

1) Weld some 1/2" nuts onto the cross member to replace the inserts.
2) Replace the detached insert
3) return the plate (and lose $54...and have nothing)

I contacted Skidrow and they swore problem-free installation on "hundreds" of such plates on KJ's. At this point, I am not so sure as their plate didn't even properly fit my KJ and the instructions while easy, didn't account for other installation problems.

**Look out for my report on the end results of this project. ..suggestions and comments are welcome!!!

**Also, coming up: Installing an Auburn Gear, Limited-Slip Differential on my KJ ( to replace the Chrysler Corp 8.5" open, rear diff.)


UPDATE: 11/30/03: After the dealer refused to replace the inserts under warranty, I decided to just go ahead and drill through the transfer-case, cross member. I broke a "regular" carbide tip drill, so I recommend using a hardened drill used for drilling Titanium, Armor, etc.
I used a hardened drill (3/8") and drilled at a very slight angle so as to miss the transfer case mounts and weld seams. You can source these drills from Sears for about $10 for a single or about $60 for a set of 15.

The Skidrow carriage bolts were kind of flimsy and didn't have enough exposed thread to use a lockwasher, so I replaced them with 10mm stainless steel carriage bolts about 4.5" long so that I had enough thread to use a washer, lockwasher, and spacers in the rear. Note that using spacers only in the front, leaves about 1/2" between the skidrow plate and the driver-side exhaust. This is too close for comfort, so I recommend using spacers all the way around. So, Project now complete!

Read about the EVIC install! The Auburn Gear project is on hold for a few weeks as I am currently sourcing a Detroit True-Trac for the front Dana diff; and will be installing both front and rear at the same time.
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post #2 of (permalink) Old 11-25-2003, 05:38 PM
skrracing
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Re: Skid Plate Project- Near Disaster and Learnings

I hear you and understand...First of all I am not trying to bag on Skid Row but all the KJ guys now this is a commom problem with the fittings pulling out. Most of us have drilled through the frame cross member and they seems to cure that problem. Again I am not baggin on Skid Row. They make a great product....But the KJ skid is too long and everyone that has one that is really using theirs for off road bends it...be careful cause it will hit your exhaust and could do damage. If it does bend...you will have to pull it back off and then bend it back. Hope this helps man. later...Clint
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