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Swapping your leaf springs (and broken shock bolts) tutorial

Swapping your leaf springs (and broken shock bolts) tutorial

Old 08-04-2011, 11:03 PM
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bigvig's Avatar
Join Date: Nov 2009
Location: Maine
Posts: 898
Year: 1999 Sport
Model: Cherokee
Engine: I6
Default Swapping your leaf springs (and broken shock bolts) tutorial

OK, so Im in Maine and I drive in snow 6-7 months a year which includes road salt. Mud season is a couple weeks in the fall and 4-6 in the spring and ocean spray is year round whenever Im near the cost. I dont think you could live in a place that was tougher on vehicles if you tried (unless you drove through salt water every day).

In this tutorial Im going to show you what you might run into when changing your leafs, including shocks, because you will probably break the bolts if there is any rust up there. I will explain the different possible problems and the easiest ways to fix them.

Here is what I had for new parts (if you dont have all these you MIGHT run into HUGE problems):

-New Leaf Springs
-New Shackles
-New Bushings
-New Center bolts & nuts (6 pairs, TeamCherokee was the only place I could find them at a reasonable price, but the dealer has them too)
-New Ubolts (4) & nuts (8)
-New Shocks
-New grade 8 bolts 1" by 5/16" bolts (4) nuts (4) & washers (8)

Heres what youll need for tools that will make any problem you run into super easy to get through. You might not need all, but having them will sure make it easier if you run into a problem. BE PREPARED!!!!!:

-Hammer (regular and a BFH)
-Cold Chisels (a 1/2")
-Flat prybar (like the kind that looks like an "L" and is for nails)
-Assortment of wrenches & screwdrivers
-Telescoping magnet (the skinnier the better, ESPECIALLY if your shock bolts break)
-Wire (I used whatever skinny wire I had lying around, it was REALLY skinny)
-Sawzall (this could be IMPERATIVE if you run into a broken bolt in the welded nut)
-TOP OF THE LINE metal sawzall blades (a pack of 5 would be good)
-Angle grinder with cutoff wheels
-Safety glasses
-3M Paint & Rust stripping wheel
-Can of metal & rust spray paint (I used Xo Rust black satin)
-BIG punch
-Razor knife with NEW blades
-PB Blaster
-Breaker bar (youll need one that can fit over not only your socket wrench, but also a 1 1/8" combination wrench. MUST HAVE if you break your bolts and not your welded nut, and it must be about 15 to 20" or it wont fit in the wheel well easily.)
-2 regular concrete blocks & one 4" solid patio block
-Jackstands (at least 1)
-Jack (I prefer a bottle jack)
-Pumpkin jack or axle jack (MUST HAVE)
-Piece of 1/2" plywood 15"x15" (rough size for under your jack & jackstand) and a bigger piece for under your pumpkin jack so it doesnt sink into your driveway.
-Adjustable bar clamp 15"-20"
-Come along

Now, if you have these tools youre ALL SET!:
-Compressor with cutoff
-Impact wrench
-Plasma cutter

The length of time is going to depend SOLEY on you, your tools and problems you face. If youre up for the job, have all the tools listed and can work in a good environment (clean, dry, level, shaded, etc.) straight through then you might be able to pull it off in a few hours. If you dont have all the tools, run into problems, cant work for 6 straight hours, it might take a bit.


A month leading up to doing this I hit every spot with PB Blaster. I did it every day for a week, every other day for a week, then once or twice a week for 3 weeks. While she was sitting on the ground, I broke every bolt free to make sure they werent froze. They all broke fairly easily with a breaker bar and I got all of them out 1/16th to 1/8th. I thought it was going to be a breeze since they all broke and backed out some......but not so fast......

Break the lugnuts, put your jack (I use the bottle jack here) right under the frame just in front of the front leaf box. Here is where I used my 15"x15" piece of plywood (rough size depending on how you do it), then my 4" solid concrete block to put my bottle jack on. Get it all lined up so the block sits right under the middle of the jack and right on the edge of the plywood. This leaves enough room on the plywood to put your jackstand right in front of the block. Jack her up high enough to slip the 2 concrete blocks under the frame lengthwise in front of where the jackstand will go. There will be about 1/2" between the frame and blocks depending on if your lift is stock and what you use for jackstands. Put the jackstand in and lowered her, then put the bottle jack right back up against the frame with a HAIR of pressure. I did this so the stand was holding it and the jack & blocks were backup. You can see in this pic what my set up looked like. SAFETY FIRST!!!!!!

Now remove the wheel and go around under the pumpkin and use your bigger sheet of plywood and pumpkin jack and lift it. Lift the pumpkin up a hair more than parallel to the driveway so the wheel of the side yours working on is up just a HAIR. DO NOT take pressure off the jackstand!!!!!

I then took off the rear shackle bolt that goes goes into the frame box. It came out no problem! Hope yours does too!!!!! If it doesnt, youll see what needs to happen when I get to the front bolt. Since I had new shackles and bushings (if you dont and you run into a problem you might be SCREWED!) I only needed to remove the frame bolt leaving the shackles right on the leaf because everything else was going to be new. Then I moved to the u-bolts. If they are froze just BE CAREFULL and cut them below the plate. WATCH OUT because the sway bar can be under a lot of pressure and kick up. Use your clamp here to be safe by putting the stationary end under the axle and the adjustable end on the sway bar bracket itself. Once that is completely disconnected take the leaf/u-bolt plate and clean it up with the 3M wheel and then spray it with the paint. Set aside to dry and its as good as new!!!!! (or at least better than it was).

In this photo you can see the leaf shackle is removed from the rear box. Also the u-bolts are removed and the leaf is taken apart at the center pin. This is because I was trying EVERYTHING to get it out without taking off the shocks (wont happen). Also take note on how high the sway bar is. It CAN spring up on you! You can also see what happens when you dont use a board under your pumpkin jack (sank in my driveway a half inch). OOPS!

Now is another tough part: Undoing the shock bolts. You WILL need to do this to get the leaf out (obviously, photo above). I tried it a few different ways without doing this because I knew the bolts would break but it was a no-go. So, I broke the bolts. Pull the shock and set it aside or trash it (like I did). Now, Im 5'10" and 210lbs. About 10% body fat and I wear an XL athletic cut shirt with a 34" waist pants. I say this because I waited until the end to do my shocks. You might not be able to depending on how big you are because it can get tight under there. Im going to cover the shock bolt replacement at the end because this is a leaf replacement tutorial first and foremost. If you cant fit under your Jeep when its on the ground, refer to the shock bolt replacement info NOW!!!!!!

Now that thats all undone, go around to the pumpkin jack and lower it REALLY SLOWLY until the axle pops free of the leaf and stop with about an inch gap between the axle and leaf. You might need to lower it more later on to pull the leaf when youre ready. Your leaf is no longer under any pressure so move around to the front bolt and get ready for possible problems.

About 3/8th's of my bolt came out and it froze. It seemed like it MIGHT have been out of the nut and froze in the bushing sleeve because I had a pipe on it in the wheel well and when Id push down, it would spring back up. It felt like it was twisting the sleeve in the bushing and the rubber bushing was springing it back. Eventually I snapped something and the bolt was turning.....but not coming out. Upon further inspection it was, in fact, frozen in the sleeve and the sleeve had broken free of the bushing. So either the bolt was out of the welded nut or the nut itself broke (it didnt look out enough to be free but it didnt seem like the nut was broken either). Hmmm???

Now is where I ran into a TON of trouble: My angle grinder crapped the bed. NOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!

Portable band saw couldnt get in tight enough and I busted my only 2 nice metal sawzall blades. Soooo..... I cut through it with the bandsaw and was down to just the leaf eye, with the bushing in it. A buddy then showed up and saw what was going on and offered to loan me his compressor and cuttoff. GREAT! I cut the eye apart and cut into the bushing (NOTE: DO NOT CUT THE BUSHING WITH A HIGH SPEED CUTTER!!!!!!!!!!). It not only stunk and threw super hot liquid rubber all over my arms, but somehow it made its way into the house. For the past 2 days now we've been finding it EVERYWHERE! My 3 1/2 year old has it on him every 5 minutes somehow. So dont use a cutoff wheel to cut threw it. Once you hit the rubber, STOP! Youll need to flip the bushing around and cut again to get it into two pieces so itll come off. Now the rubber bushing is exposed and you can use a box cutter and go through it.

Anyway..... then I had just the bolt and sleeve. LUCKILY the sleeve was a pinch sleeve and NOT a solid sleeve and I could see into it. The bolt itself had snapped about an inch from the welded nut. NICE! So I cut the bolt head with the sawzall and the sleeve near the break and that was out of the way. I now had the broken bolt exposed. I sprayed it with PB blaster and let it sit for 30 mins. Then I did it again. Then I used a pipe wrench and started turning the bolt. IT IS COMING!!!!!!!!!!! Then SNAP! The welded nut broke.

I used the pneumatic cutter and opened up the bottom of the box that the nut is behind. Here is the hard part:

After opening up the bottom of that box I put a wrench on the nut. I used a pipe to brace the wrench and then cut off the remainder of the bolt that went through the bushing with the sawzall, but there was still too much bolt sticking through the back of the nut to pull it out. There is a hole in the frame there for the nut to extend through. But, I WAS able to hammer a small flat prybar in between the frame and the back of that nut (it was too tight to use the wrech and sawzall alone). Then I used the sawzall to cut off the remainder of the front and back of that bolt. THE NUT IS OUT!!!!!!!! On my drivers side I saved a ton of time by knowing what might happen, and when the bolt started to seize I just cut it apart to the sleeve, used the chisel to open the sleeve enough to back out the bolt. No problems there at all and it was SUPER fast. Then I cut open the box anyway to remove the welded nut so I could use a new one.

I also took a minute to clean up everything and spray the paint up into the opening now. It was full of junk from being closed in, now its open so its better anyway in my opinion: Air circulation. But clean it up and spray it or POR it. Itll be better.

I reassembled everything in about 15 minutes, honestly. I had brand new nuts & bolts for the leafs. Brand new leafs with brand new bushings. Brand new u-bolts & nuts. The toughest part was getting everything to line up by myself so I could get the leaf pin in the axle bracket and the main bolts through the bushings. If youre alone and doing it this way, its NOT easy. Put the front eye in place first because its stationary and the back has the shackle to move back and forth. Just put the bolt through and start it so it stays in place. Now, if the leaf pin is close to the axle bracket, muscle the axle forward. If you cant, youll need a friend or a come-along. Once its in, put on the plate and u-bolts just hand tight. You might need the clamp again to get the sway bar in place. Tighten the nuts and bolts hand tight (with a wrench, not finger tight) and put the wheel back on and drop her. Now, before torquing get the other side done and bounce her a bit. I drove her around the block then torqued everything.

Now you can work on the shocks (unless you already did that).

If you break your shock bolts you better hope youve gotten your $4 dollars worth of nuts, bolts and washers. Use your big punch and BFH and SMASH the welded nut up through the frame bracket. It might take some pounding, it might not. I had one punch right through with a tap, 2 that took a couple minutes of hammering and 1 that REALLY didnt want to come out. There isnt much room to work up there, youll see, so you might have another tool or idea that works better like an air chisel. This is where leaving it on stands with the wheel off might help some "bigger" guys.

Once all the nuts are out, get the magnet and wire. Put a bolt and washer on the magnet and carefully feed it over to the hole. Then make a "U" with the wire, slip it up through the hole and capture the tip of the bolt and pull it down through. My first bolt when in "standing up" like in the photo below, but none of the other three did. The photo shows the second bolt on the magnet and me trying to get it through the hole. I couldnt, so I used the wire here and on the rest. Now put the other washer on it and start the nut. Then put the shock in place and tighten it up. Do the same with the other bolt. Dont do both bolts at once, it makes it hard to hold the shock in place and get the nut started and not knock the other bolt back in. I tried that on my first one (pictured below), it was TOUGH!

See the magnet top right and the bolt peeking through the hole, it wouldnt come so I pulled it out and put it on the magnet straight, like an extension, then captured the end of the bolt with the wire. That worked SUPER EASY! I couldnt do it all and photogrpah it too, sorry, but Im sure you get it.

New shock is on. Yes, I used my color-matched paint to paint it. As much as I love NAPA, I didnt want NAPA blue shocks on "Goldie".

So, this isnt a small job if you run into trouble (hell, it isnt a small job anyway). I was HOPING that my sawzall and angle grinder would be enough if I ran into trouble but since my angle grinder died I was out of luck. If you start breaking things, this goes from a few hours to a few days depending on how long you can work on it at a time. I spent a few days working on the passenger side because of a lack of tools but the drivers side was SIMPLE with the knowledge I had and my buddies compressor with cutoff. I was able to avoid the bolt seizing in the sleeve (which it was going to) because I knew what to look for and when it started to bind like the passenger side I just cut it up like I explained.


After (a week later):

The ride has improved INCREDIBLY!! Now I need to do new shocks & springs on the front! Good luck, send me a PM if you need some help!!!!!

Last edited by bigvig; 08-05-2011 at 11:21 AM.
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