Crawler Conceptz Ultra Series II JK rear bumper & tire carrier installation, part two

Following up my earlier post, which detailed installation of the Crawler Conceptz Ultra Series II rear bumper for Jeep JK, this entry will explain the steps involved in installing the integrated tire carrier.

Materials/tools needed:

  • 3/8-inch socket handle
  • 13 mm socket
  • 9/16-inch socket
  • 1/2-inch socket handle
  • 1 7/8-inch socket
  • 1/2-to-3/4-inch drive adapter
  • 9/16-inch combination wrenches (2)
  • 7/16-inch combination wrenches (2)
  • Grease seal seating kit ($18, Harbor Freight)
  • Basic cleaning supplies

Step 1: Attach tailgate plate and nylon bushing

First, remove the spare tire, if you’ve not already done so.

Open the Jeep’s tailgate and remove both the vertical plastic vent from the right side (use a screw driver to pry open the plastic tabs and firmly pull the pinch clips) and, if you’re running a CB radio, the long horizontal wiring cover from the top of the tailgate. (gently push down on the top to free the plastic tabs and pull up once all the top tabs have been released) Inside the right-side opening, locate the center high-mount stop lamp wire harness, pictured above. Squeeze and pull down on the clip to release the connection, then push out the rubber grommet. Outside the tailgate, twist and pull the rubber bumpers free of their mounting holes, I used a pair of 5/8-inch hole plugs ($1.09/two-pack) from Lowes to hide the exposed 1/2-inch ovoid holes.

Next, use a 13 mm socket to remove all eight of the bolts holding in the factory carrier. Set aside the factory tire carrier. After giving the exposed section of tailgate a good cleaning and waxing, use the eight 13 mm bolts to securely attach the steel tailgate plate to the Jeep. The vertical bushing bracket goes toward the top of the Jeep. (I removed the attached plastic washers from the bolts, which had begun to deform from the factory tire carrier. Note, the Crawler Conceptz instructions do not address these washers. Use your best discretion.)

IMG_5807With the tailgate plate in place, slide the nylon bushing into the vertical bracket and secure with the included 1 3/4-inch bolts and four washers. Tighten the bolts in place, but leave the bushing loose enough so its fit can be adjusted when the tire carrier’s swing arm is in place. (NOTE: One of the two bolts twisted and broke as I tightened them. It hadn’t been that tight, but the bolt’s threads sheered off, sending me to Lowe’s for a replacement. As they did not carry the same size, I returned with a two-inch long replacement.)

Step 2: Lubricate moving parts & install lower bearings/grease seal

Apply a liberal amount of grease to the inside of the carrier’s swing-arm spindle sleeve, both bearing races and to the bumper-mounted trailer spindle. Pack plenty of grease in the two Timken tapered roller bearings and inside the included grease seal.

With the help of a friend, rotate the carrier swing arm upside down and place one of the tapered roller bearings into its race. Next, place the grease seal into the carrier with the extruded rubber end going up into the spindle sleeve. Use caution to keep the seal even as it goes into the spindle sleeve. Tap the seal into place using the seal seating apparatus and a hammer.

Step 3: Mount carrier on spindle & install upper bearings

IMG_5813Carefully turn over the swing arm and slide it over the bumper’s spindle. Drop the final tapered roller bearing, taper side down, into the spindle sleeve. Drop the large washer over the spindle above the bearing and coat the spindle threads with some anti-seize. Spin on the 1 7/8-inch nut and begin tightening. Have a friend gently rotate the swing arm to ensure the carrier is properly seated on the spindle. Tighten the bolt enough that there is no slack for movement on the spindle, but take care to avoid damaging the roller bearings.

Finally, coat the upper spindle threads with anti-seize, place the rubber O-ring around the top of the spindle cap (if it did not arrive pre-installed) and screw the cap onto the spindle.

Step 4: Install/adjust turnbuckle

Remove the mounting bolts and spacers from the included aluminum tie-rod, and install the stationary onto the swing-arm side of the carrier. Carefully slide the spacers between the head of the tie rod and the carrier brackets, one above and below. Use caution, as the second spacer installed will be a very tight squeeze.

My initial installation had the carrier and tailgate handle making contact well before the gate was completely open.

My initial installation had the carrier and tailgate handle making contact well before the gate was completely open.

Rotate the adjustable end of the turnbuckle so it pulls the carrier into the nylon bushing when the tailgate is open about one inch. According to Crawler Conceptz’s instructions, one inch of preload should be correct, but my carrier still wasn’t pulled tight enough against the bushing to prevent rattling and vibration. I added another quarter inch of pre-load, and the problem was solved. With the pre-load set, tighten the jam nut and install the adjustable end of the turnbuckle into the tailgate plate.

Check the opening and closing of the tire carrier. If it hits the tailgate latch handle as it opens — like mine did, loosen the bumper and adjust the distance to the body. In my case, pushing the bumper in as tight to the body as it would go, allowed the tailgate to swing open perpendicular to the body. Based on images I’ve seen online, I think it ideally should open about an inch or two wider, but it now opens enough to easily and safely load the Jeep, so I find the current fit acceptable.

Step 5: Mount tire bracket

The tire bracket is comprised of two pieces, which bolt together to allow near-infinite adjustment for tire backspacing. Determine the height of the tire bracket on the swing arm by measuring the diameter of the tire, then divide by two and add one inch. Measure up this distance from the base of the bumper’s tray cutout and make a mark.

In Smokey’s case, I know I’ll eventually run 35-inch tires, and I don’t relish moving the tire, so I adjusted my measurements for that tire size and marked accordingly. The bracket mounts using four bolts, nuts and eight washers.

Next, determine the correct wheel stud measurement for your vehicle (the Jeep JK uses a 5-on-5 layout) and use suitable spacers or the spare tire itself to press the studs into the correct holes. Be sure to use plenty of anti-seize for this step.

Finally, use a board, broom handle or other flat surface and a tape measure to determine your wheel’s backspacing, including the sidewall bulge. In the case of my OEM aluminum Moab wheels, the figure was 6.75 inches.

Crawler Conceptz’s instructions call for subtracting one inch and mounting the second tire bracket at this point. In my experience, doing so did not leave enough of the stud protruding from the wheels to be secured with the lug nuts. (wheels with less backspacing may offer different results) Instead, I eyeballed the measurement, secured the tire and, finally, removed the tire to re-tighten the bracket.

Step 6: Mount license plate bracket (optional)

IMG_5897For those who wish to relocate their license plate to the spare tire from the vulnerable corner, the Ultra II carrier includes a mounting bracket that bolts through the wheel’s center cap using two bolts and washers.

I won’t be moving my license plate at this time, though I’m considering having a custom plate made with the Smokey the Jeep logo and the URL of this site for use only at car shows, parades and similar special occasions.

First impressions

As with other Crawler Conceptz products I own, the quality of the materials and the craftsmanship are simply amazing. The 3/16-inch steel construction is rugged enough to handle anything I could ever throw at it. The design is sure to draw attention. I always have been a fan of wraparound bumpers for the JK, as the body’s pinch seam is an absolute eye sore. But, seeing this design when the prototype was first posted to the company’s Facebook page, I knew I had to have it. Yes, it bears some similarity to an existing product, but the differences at the corners give the Ultra II a very unique, “bobbed” look that’s irresistible.

Functionally, the tire carrier is flawless. The swing-arm rotates easily and without any sense of drag or resistance, but isn’t so free-floating as to swing wildly on a downhill slope.

As noted earlier, I did have a few hiccups with this installation. First, Crawler Conceptz really should either note this bumper does not work with an unmodified factory receiver hitch or redesign it so that it does. Second, while I understand Crawler Conceptz is a very young company, it’s rather unprofessional to sell a product that isn’t a direct bolt-on replacement without including complete instructions. (The only instructions included with my setup are for the tire carrier installation.) Next, I broke, in total, four bolts and (I think) two clip nuts during installation and adjustment. Let me be very clear — I’m simply not so muscular that I manhandled the hardware and over-torqued it. In my view, the hardware has to be seen as a potential vulnerability. I’ll be replacing the major hardware pieces in the spring.

Total time to complete

4 hours (This is an estimate, as an insane work and family schedule forced me to break up the installation over several painfully long weeks!)

Total project value

$1,502 (Bumper/tire carrier MSRP: $1,279; powdercoat: $217; rubber grommets/replacement hardware: $6)

LED back-up lights are available from Crawler Conceptz for an additional $66/pair, including shipping.

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