I have an '03 Wrangler with 31 inch tires and a mild 1-3/4 inch spacer lift. It's equipped with the 4.0 6 cyl and the HD NV3550 5 spd. It towed my 1967 Searay VR170 (a 16 ft fiberglass runabout with 65 hp outboard) from the southeast coast of CT to Sebago Lake ME and back no problems. Well, no problems other than the pathetic stock 3.07 gears combined with the over sized tires preventing the use of high gear for anything but down hill runs (I have the parts for a 4.11/4.10 swap but just haven't gotten around to it). The short wheelbase is really handy for maneuverability, and I'm sure that the rear set axle and long tongue of the boat trailer really helped with stability.
Compared to my much longer GMC Sonoma (same as extended cab long bed S10, now sold) it was much preferred due to the better maneuverability, both at the boat launch and backing into my driveway.
I have also towed a heavily loaded 5x8 UT all the way to the Punkin' Chunk in DE, and back. No issues there, either.
The short wheelbase is a pleasure in the woods and around town, but you do have to stay on the steering; it wants to dart around a little more than a longer wheelbase does; but that is regardless of whether you are towing or not and is more related to the inverted 'Y' steering link, the short wheelbase, and the solid front axle (i.e. bump steer).
Another thing to look out for is death wobble. The slightest wear in any of the front end suspension components tends to induce rapid tire wear, which results in imbalance, which accelerates tire wear, which leads to death wobble (violent shaking when the imbalance matches resonate frequency; only solution is to stab the brakes hard or come to a near complete stop lest the steering wheel is ripped out of your hands). Frequent tire rotations and front end inspections are advised; those big truck tires are rather expensive when you are replacing them every year or two. I went thru a couple of sets in rapid succession until I found that the thin metal keeper clips that the factory installs to hold the brake drums and hats onto the axles during their ride down the assembly line were preventing the aftermarket aluminum wheels from bolting up flat (the original steel wheels had recesses stamped into the back to allow for these). Next time it was the steering damper. Then shocks. Soon it will be the unit bearings.
One last thing, the TJ's (1997 thru 2006) are 5 inches narrower than the later JK's. I'm what you might call hefty at 6 ft and 260 lbs, and the difference between the TJ and my Ford Escape is noticeable from a comfort factor; the Ford is roomier in the side bolsters of the seats and between the shoulders and door sills. The wife drives the Jeep daily and I get the Ford. On the other hand, the Jeep will go places in the woods that I would never even try to put the Ford. Ground clearance, short wheelbase, low range, AT tires, solid axles, etc. are all better off road, at least in my wooded NE region.
My Build: The Poet Creek Express
Poet Creek Or Bust
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