Hooked Up: Installing Fab Fours Bumpers And A Mean Mother Winch

Although the JK-series Jeep Wrangler is a pretty capable machine right out of the box, those who regularly head off the beaten path recognize that there’s still room for improvement. Jeep is hip to that notion as well, which is one of the reasons that the Wrangler’s design is so modular and customization-friendly. And while the best upgrades for any off-road machine are the ones that focus on enhancing capability, it never hurts to add a little bit of style in the process.

That brings us to the subject of our latest install, this 2017 four-door Sport model. We’d already gotten the ball rolling in regards to bolstering the JK’s capability, starting with fundamentals like the suspension, wheels, tires, and fender flares, but recently we decided it was time to turn our attention to some of the more ancillary components in the equation – ones which enhance the Jeep’s capability while giving the aesthetics a bit of a bump as well.

Cathy's JK has already seen some chassis upgrades that will allow the Jeep to handle some pretty serious trails - challenging enough that adding a winch to the equation seemed like a good idea. But the factory front bumper doesn't allow for a winch installation, giving us the perfect excuse to ditch it, and the rear bumper, for some beefier pieces.

In the interest of tossing out those tired factory bumpers while adding more capability in the process, we’ll be swapping them out for a set from Fab Fours and outfitting the JK with a Mean Mother winch as well. Here we’ll check out the features and details of the components we used, get some insight from the experts, and take a look at the installation process.

A Bolder, Better Bumper

Designed for the 2007-2018 JK-series Jeep Wrangler, the Fab Fours Lifestyle bumper is a high-clearance bumper with a design focus on strength and rock-clearing abilities. Along with providing greater tire clearance, the Fab Fours front bumper has tapered sides and bottom sections to help slide off obstacles and can accept winches rated up to 10,000 pounds.

Fab Fours’ Lifestyle bumpers are designed, CNC laser cut, fabricated, and powder coated in the US. They’re made from 3/16-inch steel with 1 3/4-inch center tube and a 1 1/2-inch outer tube. To install these bad boys you’ll need a flat head screwdriver, a Philips head screwdriver, a socket wrench with an extension, 18 and 19mm sockets, a 7/16-inch open end wrench, and a 5/32-inch Allen wrench.

90mm fog lights and 60mm turn indicator lights are included with the bumper, which are installed into the bumper’s injection-molded light cut-outs. Available with or without a front guard, customers can also choose between bare steel or Fab Fours’ two-stage matte black powder coat with epoxy primer.

“Our owner and CEO, Greg Higgs, provides the creative force and product DNA that goes into all of Fab Fours’ products,” explains Fab Fours’ Jason Bukolt. “Stronger materials, superior construction, more tire clearance, added turn lights, winch-ready design, D-ring mounts, optional guard for added grille and hood protection – these advantages provide the off-roader a great sense of confidence as they tackle the trail.”

Fab Fours' bumper kit includes detailed, step-by-step instructions that guide you through the removal of the front and rear factory bumpers, mounting the new bumpers, and installing the new turn signals and fog lights. While the install is pretty straightforward, those instructions will come in handy when you're ready to take on the wiring.

Bukolt also gave us some insight into Fab Fours’ test and development processes. “Our engineering team uses the latest 3D design software to turn products into reality. In our factory, these designs come to life with a combination of cutting-edge production technology and American workforce that puts its heart and pride into every product made. We run through multiple test fits to ensure the product matches the body lines of the vehicle – no rubbing or rattling, just a precise, secure fit. Then we hit the trails and put the product through various situations, including winch pull tests, to ensure everything holds up to our standards.”

Stronger materials, superior construction, more tire clearance, added turn lights, winch-ready design, D-ring mounts, optional guard for added grille and hood protection – these advantages provide the off-roader a great sense of confidence as they tackle the trail. – Jason Bukolt, Fab Fours

The Lifestyle bumper is constructed from 3/16-inch US-sourced steel, 1.75-inch center tube and 1.5-inch outer tube, with .120 wall DOM tubing. “We are a US manufacturer and build everything in-house – from design to cutting, bending, welding, grinding, polishing, powder coating and packaging,” Bukolt adds.

Bolted up and ready to rock, the JK not only looks cooler, it’s now also ready to be equipped with a winch, and that leads us to the second phase of this install.

Winch Design That Goes Beyond The Numbers

When it comes to winches, quality is crucial– the last thing you want when you’re stuck on the trail is the discovery that your winch isn’t up to the task. But not all winches are created equal – even if they have similar specs, says Mean Mother’s Chris Roberts. “We test and measure our motor power as an output, while many others measure theirs as input,” he says. “It’s like measuring the power of your truck at the crank versus the wheels. Having this more accurate rating gives our customers the confidence that our winch has the grunt to pull them out during a recovery operation.”

For this particular install, we selected Mean Mother’s Edge series 9500-pound winch. “We built the Edge series to appeal to the 4×4 enthusiast who is passionate about quality,” Roberts explains. “The Edge series ticks all those boxes with standard features not found on comparable winches.”

We test and measure our motor power as an output, while many others measure theirs as input. It’s like measuring the power of your truck at the crank versus the wheels. Having this more accurate rating gives our customers the confidence that our winch has the grunt to pull them out during a recovery operation. – Chris Roberts, Mean Mother

The design shows a clear emphasis on durability. “Every Mean Mother winch has been tested and approved before being boxed and sent out,” Roberts points out. “We have developed our own detailed testing procedures to ensure our winches meet and exceed our engineering, performance and quality benchmarks. Our testing procedures are divided into two individual areas: strength and durability.”

Each winch in the Mean Mother's Edge series features a three-stage planetary gearbox with sintered steel bushings which have been pressed and stamped into the gear carrier rather than using pop rivets. A sliding ring gear clutch provides maximum strength and efficiency in forward and reverse winching operations with ease of free spool functionality. Delivering power to the winch is a waterproof solenoid that uses silver cadmium alloy contacts, which resists arcing when switching currents. This, in turn, prevents the contacts from fusing together and creating a closed circuit, which can potentially damage your winch, your vehicle, or you.

Mean Mother uses a high-quality, 12-volt series wound motor that offers high output power using fewer amps at maximum capacity to deliver superior performance and reliability. A three-stage planetary sliding ring gear clutch provides maximum strength and efficiency in forward and reverse winching, while sintered steel bushings in the gear carrier and a hardened seamless steel drum provide the strength to endure the pulling forces exerted during a recovery. An automatic load holding in-drum brake delivers maximum holding strength and safety.

The winch is mounted in the front bumper and tested to ensure the installation is sound and the winch is operating correctly.

On the electrical side of the design, the winch boasts a waterproof plug with an internal keyway and threaded outer housing to correctly and safely connect your controller. It also has a waterproof contactor (solenoid) inside the control box using Ag-Cd (silver cadmium) alloy contacts to resist arcing when switching currents, and a sharp-looking control box housing that includes multiple mounting options to make installation easier.

“We use tin-coated copper power cables with a fiberglass outer sheath and PVC insulation,” Roberts points out. “This combination greatly increases the life of the power cables and is regarded as the ultimate in corrosion protection.”

With the installation complete, the JK now has more self-sustaining capability out on the trail and a sharper, more purposeful look to boot.

While Roberts recommends letting a shop handle the installation if you’re not totally confident in your ability to take this on, Mean Mother does provide detailed instructions for those who have enough experience to tackle the job. “Thoroughly read the instructions to ensure the winch is fitted correctly, safely, and that no damage is caused,” he says. “Also take note of the rope direction onto the drum (underwinding) to avoid serious damage to the winch.”

Looking to beef up the look and capability of your off-road rig? Give the folks at Fab Fours and Mean Mother a shout and see what they can do to help elevate your dirt game.

About the author

Bradley Iger

Lover of noisy cars, noisy music, and noisy bulldogs, Brad can often be found flogging something expensive along the twisting tarmac of the Angeles Forest.
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