Ever since my niece was a young teenager she wanted a Jeep Wrangler. It was really the perfect fit for her. She’s a rough and tumble type of girl who loves the beach, the sun and being seen. Throw all those attributes into a car blender and the chances are pretty high you’ll come up with a soft top Jeep Wrangler. So one day after she was about to finish up community college right before continuing her studies at the university level my brother surprised her with a 2003 short-body Wrangler. It’s bright yellow, has a retractable soft top, and most importantly, my niece adores it.
From a mechanical point of view the Jeep is in great shape. With only about 55,000 miles on the odometer, the car had been fairly babied all its life. The engine, transmission and interior are all top notch. The only real shortcomings are a paint job that’s a bit faded and a very questionable choice in rims & tires. Leaving the paint job for another day, the second I saw the truck I was itching to change the rims. Granted the extra wide 15”x10” look was popular in its day, but now the truck just looks like a frog. With this in mind I waited until an opportunity would arise. I finally got a chance to do something about it when my brother told me the Jeep needed new tires. My pitch for converting it over was twofold. First, a new 15”x10” tire is going to cost a few bucks, probably close to $150 per tire. Secondly though, given that South Florida is a hotbed for customized Jeep Wranglers, I was certain I would be able to get a relatively new set of take-off rims with little trouble and at a cheap price.
Parts for this DIY:
- New or Used set of JK (2007-Present) Wrangler Rims (see used eBay Selection Below)
- 5”x4.5” to 5”x5” Conversion Spacers
- New Spare Tire Carrier (Depending on Tire Size)
- New Spare Tire Cover (Not Nessesary)
Tools You’ll Need:
- A GOOD Jack
- A Ratchet Set
With the goal in place I set off on my search, mostly concentrating on Craigslist as I wanted it to be local given the weight. After a couple of failed attempts and a negotiation that fell through I found the perfect package. The seller had just recently upgraded his 2016 Wrangler and was planning to move up north. As such, he needed all the original parts currently occupying space in his garage gone. The price was so cheap that I didn’t even bother negotiating. We agreed on five 17” rims and tires and the stock front and rear bumpers for $400. That’s not a typo… $400, and the tires had less than 5,000 miles on them. The only drawback was that it was an hour drive and I needed to go in 2 cars as my SSR couldn’t carry it all.
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JK Rims Available for Sale:
On the first available Saturday morning my nephew and I woke up early, ate at a waffle house on the way up, and made it to a Home Depot parking lot to wait for our purchase. When the Craigslist seller showed up we were in for a surprise. Not only did he bring everything promised, he also threw in the Wrangler’s stock suspension, headlights, spare tire carrier, wheel flares and an aftermarket tire carrier. It was a good thing we took two trucks because it was a ton of stuff. With a literal bonanza of parts weighing us down we made it back home, hid everything so my niece wouldn’t see it and ordered the extra parts we would need.
If you have some cursory knowledge of Jeep Wranglers you’ll be quick to point out that JK generation (2007-present) rims do not bolt on TJ (1997-2006) Wranglers. And that’s true, but the solution is quite simple and elegant. TJ Wranglers use a 5”x4.5” (5×114.3mm) bolt pattern rim, with -25.4mm of offset. While JK Wranglers use a 5”x5” (5x127mm) bolt pattern with a 44mm offset. To mount the rims then you need to bridge the gap caused by the differing offsets while also adjusting the bolt pattern. Luckily using wheel spacers is a modification that has been around for over twenty years, and as long as you bolt them on properly they are a safe and secure way of doing just what we needed.
I ordered a set of four spacers (you’ll need five if you plan on mounting the spare tire to the original carrier). The spacers are 1.25” thick aluminum, with a 5”x4.5” to 5”x5” mounting pattern. Additionally, at 1.25” thick you don’t need to cut the original studs, as the nuts tuck nicely into the mounting slots of the spacers. Mounting the rims then is really as simple as dismounting the old rims and adding on the new spacer & rim package.
We went through a couple additional steps just to make sure everything was nice and secure. First, when bolting on the spacers I used a dab of Loctite on the threads, as they would not be coming off for any reason other than changing the brake rotors. Next we made sure that the rims did in fact mount flush with the face of the spacers. As I already mentioned the 1.25” depth of the spacer is perfect to completely hide the wheel nut. We then bolted up the new rims and stared in amazement. The Wrangler looks 10 years newer with the 17” rims. Plus, the added rim/tire height really closed up the wheel well gap.
Speaking of the wheel gap, if you are planning on doing any sort of off-roading then this rim/tire package will definitely need a lift. If however you’re like my niece, and the majority of your driving is on pavement with the occasional jaunt on the beach, then the tight wheel well gap is the way to go. The final step was mounting the aftermarket spare tire carrier to the rear and bolting on the rim.
The Wrangler simply looks amazing, and there is a definite increase in driving dynamics with the bigger rims and tires. The Jeep feels more planted to the pavement, and the narrower tires cause less rolling resistance, allowing it to coast easier. It was an amazing upgrade.
With the rest of the parts we received we were able to use the headlights to upgrade to a modern bulb (that’s another post that will be put up later). You can use the JK suspension on a TJ, with the result being a 2” lift, give or take. Given that we weren’t going to go in that direction though I ended up selling the suspension, bumpers and flairs on eBay. While the old rims and tires were given to a friend. At the end of the day we almost netted even on the investment. Next up hopefully we can drop in some new shocks to really tighten up the ride.
Useful Parts & Tools to Help you with this DIY Project: