The shock absorbers are installed and Red Banjo is ready the tires.

Just as a winch is severely limited in its capability without its accessory kit (tree strap, clevis, snatch block, etc.), a Cherokee is severely limited in its off-road capability without more ground clearance and traction-enhanced tires.

Having worked with Skyjacker suspension systems before on Jeeps and Chevy trucks (for example, see our Project Master Kee Cherokee build), we knew the Skyjacker suspension kits to be complete and well-documented. For this project (owned by the author’s grandson, Cash), we did not want the huge high long-arm lift like we installed on Master ‘Kee. We wanted a more modest lift (read: less expensive) with all-around, all-season tires that would work equally well on-road, off-road, and give a good account of themselves in the mileage department. Hence, we chose the Skyjacker JC315BKSH-R 3-inch lift kit and Yokohama Geolandar A/T-S LT265/75R16  tires, which were ideal for our 1990 Cherokee Laredo.

We don’t want to spend a great deal of time and space here on detailed instructions for the lift kit. Skyjacker does an excellent job with its instructions, and we’ll cover much of the installation in the slideshow below. However, we do want to talk more about the Geolandar tires. Cash won’t become the daily driver of Red Banjo—his name for the XJ because of its noisy remanufactured power steering pump—until 2016. At that time he’ll be driving it to high school, jobs, dates, and camping trips, so we have a little over a year to complete the XJ’s refurbishment.

When the time comes, Red Banjo will spend 90 percent of its time on pavement; therefore, we chose the Yokohama Geolandar A/T-S LT265/75R16 load range D tire. This all-terrain tire is designed for extended highway mileage, quiet road noise, all-weather traction, and better-than-average off-road capabilities. Also, to save some money and weight, we chose to use Jeep OEM aluminum wheels from my own 2005 Rubicon Unlimited. The wheels have the same lug pattern (5 x 4.5) as the Cherokee and the proper width for the LT265/75R16 tires, which have a 31.9-inch overall diameter and weigh 49.6 pounds.

The two-ply tires provide strength and promote ride comfort. The tires’ internal structure includes a polyester casing and two steel belts that are reinforced with spirally wrapped nylon for extra durability.

According to Yokohama’s documentation: “Geolandar A/T-S all-terrain tires have an aggressive design that’ll make your light truck or SUV stand tall. But the real beauty lies deeper. With features ranging from multi-stepped grooves to dual interlocking pyramid sipes, every Geolandar A/T-S packs the absolute latest in technology. Get ready to experience on-road manners and off-road attitude with our latest, greatest generation of all-terrain tires.

For most light truck and SUV owners, everyday driving is the main use of their vehicle. The design and construction of the Geolandar provides style and performance, delivering an excellent ride, great performance, and long tread life. Something called dynamic spring control stiffens the lower sidewall as the tire turns and allows the upper sidewall to flex easily over bumps on the road. This results in a comfortable ride without sacrificing steering response. Large shoulder blocks provide strength and stiffness for outstanding cornering. And grooves around the circumferential improve water evacuation while cross grooves provide more biting edges for better winter traction.

As it turned out, the overall lift provided by the Skyjacker 3-inch kit and Yokohama 32-inch tires was a shade over four inches. That’s ideal for the type of traveling and exploring Cash plans for the Red Banjo, and the complete installation wasn’t too bad either.

Check out the installation in the slideshow below.

jeep cherokee xj in desert
jeep cherokee xj being driven down desert trail
man unboxing skyjacker suspension lift kit from box
man removing wheel and lugnuts from a jeep cherokee xj on lift
tie rod disconnect on steering knuckle of a jeep cherokee xj
removing front sway bar on a jeep cherokee xj
cracked sway bar bushing on a jeep cherokee xj
side by side comparison of jeep cherokee stock spring and skyjacker coil
using a ratchet strap to compress col spring on a jeep cherokee xj
using a ratchet strap to align track bar of a jeep cherokee xj
track bar on a jeep cherokee xj
Skyjacker shock absorber and coil spring installed
using jack stands to support rear axle of a jeep cherokee xj
rusty suspension parts of a jeep cherokee xj
removing axle and leaf spring clamp
removing center pin from leaf pack on a jeep cherokee xj
a new leaf spring resting in place on a jeep cherokee xj
removing leaf spring form a jeep cherokee xj
aligning pin on jeep leaf spring pack
checking center pin spot on jeep cherokee xj leaf spring
man removing leaf spring from a jeep cherokee xj
rear leaf spring and drum brake of a jeep cherokee xj
old leaf spring clamp clip on a jeep cherokee xj
leaf spring clip on a jeep cherokee xj
welding leaf spring perch on a jeep cherokee xj
skyjacker suspension tool
skyjacker shocks on a jeep cherokee xj
jeep cherokee xj on a lift with wheels removed
inside a wheel and tire shop
jeep cherokee xj on alignment jig
jeep cherokee xj descending a steep desert trail grade
cherokee jeep xj climbing up a desert trail
a jeep cherokee xj crawling over rocks and boulders in a desert
a jeep cherokee xj racing through a mud track

Although this isn’t stock height—some previous owner had installed a cheap 2-inch lift at some time in the XJ’s 25-year history—the Rubicon wheels and tires are already on the Jeep.

Cash is enjoying some of the local trails around Kingman, AZ, and honing his driving skills.

Kevin Lake is unpacking the kit, which arrives from Skyjacker in just one large container.

Skyjacker’s instruction sheet tells us to block the wheels, use jack stands, etc., for safety, but Kevin’s shop is equipped with an electric lift so we used it.

While the instructions begin with the rear suspension, we started on the front and disconnected the steering.

We then disconnected the front sway bar.

Once we removed the sway bar’s mounting bolts, the sway bar was discarded.

OEM spring on the left and the Skyjacker spring on the right. The Skyjacker spring is both longer and stronger.

We used a ratchet strap to compress the coils for installation.

We also used a ratchet strap from the frame to the axle to align the track bar.

The track bar also necessitated a drift punch for the final alignment.

Skyjacker shock absorber and coil spring installed.

We did use jack stands to support the rear axle while working on the suspension.

The Cherokee had quite a bit of rust on the suspension, so we blasted the bolts with rust cutter to avoid breaking them.

After removing the U-bolts, the center pin has to be removed.

Skyjacker uses an add-a-leaf for its 3-inch lift rather than expensive new leaf springs. That’s why the center pin must be removed.

Once the center pin is removed, also remove the two clips that hold the spring pack together. Do not discard the spring clips because you’ll need them later.

Separate the spring pack and slip the new leaf in below the main spring.

Use a drift pin or Phillips screwdriver through the center pin holes to align the spring pack and then tighten the pack with a C-clamp.

Kevin is making sure the new center pin will fit.

Tighten the center pin. You may have to cut the pin after installation.

Reinstall and tighten the U-bolts. Skyjacker’s instructions have all the torque specs.

Using a hammer to mold the clip around the spring pack, reinstall the spring clips.

One spring clip goes on each side of the axle. The add-a-leaf thickens the spring pack, making it difficult for the clips to fit.

Because the spring clips don’t fit properly over the thicker spring pack, you should spot-weld them. Just tack them, though, so you can easily remove the spring clips later if necessary.

Use white lithium grease or silicone lubricant spray on the components and assemble the rear shock absorbers.

Install both shock absorbers.

The shock absorbers are installed and Red Banjo is ready the tires.

As it turned out, the Yokohama Geolandar tires are the same size as the OEM Rubicon tires were. Also, they easily fit on the Rubicon wheels and looked good.

Any time you change/modify a vehicle’s suspension, it should be re-aligned.

Without the lift, this obstacle near Lake Havasu City, Arizona, would have been impossible.

The added clearance is readily noticeable on this hill climb.

Yet another obstacle that would have been impossible before the lift.

The combination of Yokohama Geolandar tires and Skyjacker lift allowed Cash’s dad to enter Red Banjo in the Kingman Mud Bogs on July 4th.

Author: Jim Brightly

A former editor of Truckin’ and Trailer Life magazines, and tech editor of Four Wheeler, Petersen’s 4-Wheel & Off-Road, and Family Motor Coaching magazines, Jim Brightly is now a semi-retired photojournalist living, writing, and wheeling in northern Arizona. He’s been building and wheeling Jeeps for more than fifty years.