(By the way, if you're wondering who Mopar is and why they make accessories for Jeeps, they explained that. Mopar is the parts division for various Chrysler divisions, so they became the supplier for Jeep and Eagle at the time of the AMC acquisition. They were giving some consideration to changing that name as far as Jeep accessories were concerned, and thinking about selling them under the Jeep name directly.)
With that, the roundtable-type discussion began. There was a discussion about why people would buy accessories from Mopar versus other manufacturers. The reasons cited were:
Another question was about adding grid-style light covers for signals. Mopar's protectors for front and side signals are new and not in the catalog yet, whereas aftermarket manufacturers have had theirs on the market for a while. By the way, the US DOT regulates front light protectors, so they have to meet certain standards.
I asked the sticky question about rear tow hooks for the TJ, since people are trying to figure out how to mount them. (Here's my tip: Don't mount them to the bumper. The bumper mountings can't withstand pulling.) Mopar is coming out with rear tow hooks for the TJ, which will mount in the same place as a trailer hitch. I also asked about the possibility of mounting a receiver hitch and using a clevis-mount adapter in the hitch, as well as whether a receiver hitch would compromise the departure angle. Another TJ owner said that it wouldn't cause problems with the departure angle. The engineers said that most clevis hooks in receiver hitches are rated for 4000-5000 pounds and that a two inch receiver hitch is rated for 5000 pounds. (I don't remember if this is a Class II or Class III hitch.) However, the towing capacity of a TJ is 2000 pounds, or 1000 pounds for a 4 cylinder with an automatic transmission. They stressed that if I really wanted to do this, I should understand the safety requirements of the hitch and the clevis adapter, since the Jeep itself weighs 3000 pounds. The engineers also said that the tow hooks and receiver hitches could be mounted together -- at least theirs were, anyway.
A couple other miscellaneous questions: someone asked if bug deflectors work, and another Jeep owner said they do. Someone also asked why the bikini top had to mount to a channel in the windshield that required drilling for the screws, instead of mounting it to the same slots where the soft top hooks in. The engineers said that it would have been difficult to do this safely, because it would be a bad thing for the top to become unmounted from the hooks (obviously).
I asked Moses specifically about adding a lift kit to the TJ. He said that there's a trickle down effect, because some people feel there's a need for them, but there are a lot of pitfalls. Adding a lift kit stresses the power train and compromises safety and handling. First, lifting the vehicle increases the center of gravity, which is a liability (remember 60 Minutes?) To get around this, you need to increase the track width of the vehicle, which often comes with the bigger aid wider tires. Some people do this by using wheels with more negative offset. However, this increases the load on the wheel bearings. Also, he said a lot of late model vehicles use electronic speed counters to monitor the antilock brakes and shift points, so upping the tire size changes this (since it's changing the effective final drive gearing). Using really big tires screws up the axle gearing for highway usage, to the point where you need to change axle gear ratios. It also affects the driveshaft angle and could cause problems with the alignment, since the control arms are in a different position. And, the manufacturer of the vehicle can't honor the warranty on problems caused by a bad lift kit.
The moral of the story is that lifting a vehicle has to be done properly and safely. The only real use for lift kits is in off-pavement usage. If you always tow your Jeep to the trails on a trailer, you might not have to worry about a lot of these problems, but you might want to think twice about lifting a daily driver. He did recommend the Warn Black Diamond lift for the TJ, since it addresses a lot of the safety issues and fixes the steering geometry and caster angle.
They also talked about performance enhancements for the TJ. Mopar has a separate catalog of performance accessories (aptly named the Mopar Performance Catalog) that are legal in all 50 states. Some aftermarket performance chips just advance the timing, which causes problems with detonation and makes it necessary to use 92 octane gas.
I asked why the tubular side steps mount to the body and not to the frame. (No, I didn't ask all the questions at the meeting; it's just that I took better notes on the questions that I asked. :-)) He mentioned that they're mounted to a strong part of the body, so they probably won't rip anything open, but that they're not meant for really severe off-road usage. If you try to bounce the side step on a rock, you could risk some body damage, because they're not meant for that sort of thing.
Overall, I enjoyed the accessories talk and found that it answered a lot of questions. If I had tried to ask everything that everyone on the Internet has ever asked, I would have monopolized the discussion, but I got some good information out of it. By the way, Moses Ludel's site is at http://www.truckworld.com/ludel.
The obligatory links back to:
My Camp Jeep '97 page
Todd's Jeep Page
1997 Wrangler FAQ
The Information Singletrack (my glorious home page)