Automakers take what they know from decades of experience and look for ways that they can “cut corners” in the manufacturing process. One area where that affects the off-road market is with Jeep Wrangler JKs, and the use of rubber in the vehicles’ bushings.
Rubber is far better than nothing at all, but it pales in comparison to polyurethane. The latter is the specialty of Energy Suspension, based out of San Clemente, California. We recently ventured to the company headquarters to see how these bushings were installed in a 2014 Jeep Wrangler JKU. We’ve worked on this Jeep several times before – the Eibach All-Terrain-Lift Kit, Mickey Thompson Deegan 38 tires and wheels, the Bestop Sunrider for Hardtop, and body armor from Extreme Terrain.
Background Of A Bushing
As we touched on before, rubber is used to make the bushings on Jeep Wrangler JKs, just as it’s been for all previous generations. It has several factors going for it, including being cheap, readily available, and adaptable. For vehicles that stay on-road and never do any sort of racing, it’s mildly adequate.
However, up against the wild and unpredictable outdoors, it doesn’t tend to do very well. Water, dirt, and chemicals can gradually wear on the bushing, cracking it to the point where it loses its ability to absorb bumps and vibrations. Eventually, it can simply give way and lead to metal-on-metal contact.
“OE and aftermarket rubber bushings are subject to extreme load, deflection, changes in temeprature and exposeure to a great number of caustic chemicals that cause wear and tear,” said Energy’s Michael Santacruz. “Worn bushings alone can completley change the driving characterisitcs of a vehicle, making them feel unpredictable and dangerous.”
When Should You Replace Your Bushings?
The irritating thing about bushings is that they are not the easiest components to replace on a vehicle – tucked away in suspension components underneath the vehicle, they’re hard to access and even harder to detect problems in. Still, Energy Suspension has some helpful tips for the latter:
- Poor handling
- “Death wobble”
- Loud knocks or clunks
If you detect these issues, you might be inclined to replace the entire part, whether it’s a steering rack, shock absorber, or a control arm. But replacing the bushing (even body mounts) might actually be the cure.
“Where chemicals, dirt, and other elements can infiltrate rubber through its porous surface, polyurethane has a skin and is resilient to these elements,” commented Santacruz. “Our polyurethane has been proven to be more durable and efficient than rubber, so we offer longevity and overall handling improvements with our components.”
Putting polyurethane bushings on a Jeep like this one makes sense, since these bushings can stand up to water and dirt, and will survive the vehicle’s lifespan. While they will require re-greasing about every four or five years, that’s a small price to pay for a lifetime of worry-free operation, especially when bushings can be so tedious to access.
Installing The Bushings
For our install, we went with the Master Set (PN 2.18108R) in Energy Suspension’s signature red color. Parts included in the Master Set would cover everything from control arms, sway bars, bump stops, track bar, and even the body mounts.
As a matter of fact, the body mounts were the first items that we tackled in our installation. With the Jeep parked and chocked on a four-post lift, we took chains with hooks and went to work on the left side of the vehicle. The chains and hooks connected the frame to the lift, while five-ton bottle jacks were deployed strategically and the bolts on the right side of the vehicle were loosened to give us enough play to tilt the vehicle up and to the right. The jacks lifted (using wooden blocks to help disperse the load) the body from the frame, allowing us to gain access to the body mounts.
The front of the Jeep also had to come apart for this phase, as there were upside-down body mounts on left and right that were located behind the grille. We located the connectors for the fog lamps on either side and disconnected them to remove the grille entirely.
The nice part about the body mounts was, unlike the other suspension components we’d be working on that day, everything was held in with nuts and bolts, as opposed to being pressed in; it made for a relatively easy swap. One by one, they all went in without issue.
It was worth noting here the difference between the OE style bushing and Energy Suspension’s bushing. With both versions free and able to be picked up and inspected, we could appreciate the differences that made Energy’s version better.
“The OE style bushing is bonded, so it uses two different pieces of metal that the rubber itself is bonded to,” said Energy’s Ben LaHatt. “That is what helps keep the rubber in suspension. With our mount, it comes in separate pieces. We don’t do bonding. It makes servicing or replacing the parts easier and more cost-effective.”
“Our poly pieces are individual and can be moved around as needed,” continued LaHatt. “The rubber parts have to come as one piece because the rubber and glue hold it all together. ”
After putting all of the body mounts in, we carefully lowered the body back onto the frame, making sure the bolts lined up before tightening them with the nuts. The rock rails were left off, however, as they would obstruct other installs to follow.
Following the body mounts, we went through all of the other suspension components that would be receiving new bushings. The lower front control arms were first. The process on these parts was repeated for all of the other control arms on the Jeep (front upper, rear lower, and rear upper): Remove front and rear bolts, insert mounting points into a press, press out the old bushing, grease up new bushing, insert one half at a time (since Energy’s bushings come into two symmetrical pieces), press together, and then reinstall the part.
The only one that gave us any issue was the front left upper control arm, which had a bushing pressed into a mount on top of the differential. It took several minutes of applying dual MAPP gas torches to the mount to wear off the adhesive, but we eventually got the sucker out. After cleaning out the mount of any leftover rubber/adhesive residue, the Energy bushing went in easily.
Installing bushings on the sway bars was relatively painless, as these only had a few bolts holding us back from freeing them up. The hardest part was taking a box cutter and hacking through the bushing, which we did in a few seconds. The Energy Suspension bushing went on simply, and that was thanks to a pre-made incision that allowed us to slip it over the sway bar and into place.
We finally came to the last phase, which involved the bump stops. The front ones were installed inside the spring, meaning we had to remove the tire and shock absorber to get to the bump stop. With that done, we took a set of coil spreaders, set them in place, and used an air tool to work the screw and spread the coil apart. We didn’t want to do too much, or else we risked harming the spring or worse, causing an accident in the shop.
We finally got the spring spread wide enough to let the old bump stop out. The new bump stop, however, was not as pliable, and forced us to spread the spring a little more. We finally got it to work its way through the coil and then into its new home.
Following these phases, we went on to change out bushings for the rear sway bar and control arms, as well as replace the bump stops. This concluded our install, and now it was time to take it out for some fun on the dirt.
On-road and off-road, the difference in ride quality was difficult to notice. We couldn’t detect much in the way of noise, vibration, or harshness, but the owner, Mary MacGregor, was able to shed some personal insight on the changes she felt post-install.
“Since the install, my Jeep feels like it has better control and an overall smoother ride,” said Mary. “There is significantly less noise when I drive.”
Jeeps like this JK stake a lot on the reputation on toughness and durability. Now that this Wrangler has been beefed up with polyurethane bushings, that reputation is earned all the more. Check out more from Energy Suspension on its website, and be sure to follow the company on Facebook, too.