I want to start by saying that I haven’t been paid or compensated by anyone to say anything. I paid for my lift with my own money and turned every bolt with my own tools. This is my opinion and my experience. No filter, no bias. I’m writing this because I see people post about Rough Country and it’s competition, and I see talk and anecdotes but I never see proof. I never see any useful information. I’ve endeavored to offer factual information here as much as I can, but since experience is so subjective, all I can offer in the end is what I went through myself.
Now for the stuff:
Rough Country (roughcountry.com) is a manufacturer of various off-road parts and components and accessories. They make things for Jeep, Ford, Chevy, Dodge, and several imports as well. I don’t know about anything they make for anything but Jeep, and to put it even finer, I’ve only got experience with the kit I have on my rig. But I don’t think it matters in these circumstances, and I’ll explain why later.
Rough Country gets some serious hate. I mean the kind of hate usually reserved for people who drive slow in the fast lane, or that asshat that tells you the end of a movie before you’ve seen it. It’s been the topic of several of the most fiery, hateful, rage-fueled neck-beardy forum wars I have ever had the fortune of perusing. People are PASSIONATE about hating Rough Country. I do not understand where this hate originated, other than from the fires of Mordor itself, but I know it has spread like wildfire due to the hive-mind of the internet. I am here to walk with you Frodo, support you, drag you if I have to, to return this hate to whence it was forged. (It’s funny to me because writing this feels like it’s as long as Lord of the Rings)
I bought the Rough Country kit before I really knew too much about what was available for the WJ. I was aware of the Clayton kit, but with my budget, it was simply out of the question. But it did help to set my priorities for the kit. I wanted long arms and I wanted to get rid of the belly-shovel-of-a-crossmember that comes stock on these Jeeps. The Rough Country 4″ long arm lift kit fit the bill and fit my budget. The kit design consists of two “halves”. Up front is a complete replacement of the factory four link design with a dual radius arm configuration. The mounting location for the body-side lower control arm is moved back about 8 inches (in line with the new transmission crossmember) to accommodate the long arm. The rear lower body mount is moved about 10 inches forward for the same reason. The wishbone/3-link/boomerang/rear upper control arm is replaced by a stronger tube steel version, with a flex joint to replace the ball joint (a MUCH needed improvement). It also came with a complete replacement for the transmission crossmember (and a transfer case skid plate too) to tuck things up out of the way, which is awesome because the stock crossmember was a sore spot on the otherwise phenomenal chassis design of the WJ (yea, I’m biased. so?). I had them delete the shocks from the order, as I had already decided to run Bilsteins on it. That decision saved me $200 off the lift, which I applied toward the shocks. Here’s a writeup I did on Reddit way back when my writing sounded pretentious as fuck. I have some very different ideas and a whole lot more knowledge now than I did when I wrote that, but I had different goals for the Jeep back then too. It’ll at least give you a good detail of the kit itself though.
Okay, so now that all the fluff and back story is out of the way, I got a chance to rebuild two of my flex joints this weekend. I fully expected that they would be completely destroyed, just as all the forums said they’d be… Oh wait. A bit more back story: Apparently Rough Country has two versions of their flex joint. The first version was apparently a truly terrible joint, and is probably the real cause of all the bad press all over the interwebs. I don’t know when they upgraded to the new second generation joint, but I’m sure that is what I have. This is why I mentioned earlier that it didn’t matter which kit I was talking about. Rough Country uses the same flex joints across all their kits, so this will apply pretty much whatever type of linked suspension configuration you use. As long as there’s flex joints, this applies. So, just a bit more data for your brain: I have the “new and improved” Rough Country joint, which everyone fully expected to be as bad as the original. I am here to tell you otherwise. Hold fast Frodo. The journey is long, but worthwhile.
So, as I was saying, I was expecting the joints to be in bad shape. I’ll be honest. I haven’t been very good to these flex joints. By the time I replaced them, they had seen over two years and almost 40000 miles of highway, city, small town, gravel road, slickrock, riverbed crawling abuse. And I didn’t even grease them regularly.
To get right down to it (lol, right?), these flex joints, and the kit as a whole, has allowed me entry into a world that would have otherwise been unavailable to me. I don’t mean to be dramatic, but because of this kit, and its shortcomings, I have become a better mechanic, a more focused wrencher, and even eventually, a true automotive fabricator. And I think it’s something anyone just getting into wheeling should go through. And that doesn’t even bring into the picture the trails that I’ve run with this kit that stock arms NEVER would have survived. I will say, unequivocally, that this kit was the best kit I could have bought for my Jeep without stepping up to weld in kits. Others will disagree. There are always others to disagree.
Here are the flex joint inserts from the front lowers, where they mount to the body. In my opinion, these joints get the most abuse, since they are the ones soaking up all the impacts from cement joints, potholes, rocks, roots, etc, etc, ad nauseum. The top pic has the old urethane inserts below the new replacements. As you can see, there is hardly any wear on them, even after two years of serious use.
You can see above where the ball does have some wear on it, but is it an unfair amount of wear after two years? What’s your opinion?
After a quick cleaning, I installed the rebuild kit, which included new inserts, washer, snap ring, and grease fitting, and got the following end result:
I’m not saying that the RC flex joint is the best one there is. I’m not even saying it’s great. What I am saying is that whatever flex joints Rough Country used to make a few years ago aren’t the flex joints that I have. These joints have stood up to serious abuse way longer than they were spec’d to, even when they aren’t maintained properly. If you don’t believe me, much of my trail history isn’t too hard to find online. Whatever their past mistakes, the flex joint they offer now is legit. Full stop.
Now for the other side of the coin… I have had my fair share of problems with this lift, most of which can be found in the Reddit link I posted above. But since then, I’ve run into some other issues, some of them even dangerous, that I think should be addressed in the spirit of fairness, if nothing else. To begin with, I have had to rebuild the smaller flex joints that come on the upper fronts control arms once, but once a year is pretty much lifespan of a flex joint out here in the desert, regardless of the brand. Also, the joints have lubrication problems; But so do Johnny Joints, and every other flex joint of this design. It’s one of the major shortcomings of the flex joint.
The first, and most worrisome issue that I’ve run into is that both of the brackets on the front lower control arms (to mount the radius arms) actually hit the unibody when you hit a bump at certain speeds. it isn’t a constant thing, and only occurs during a perfect alignment of the moon, but it does happen, and it’s documented more than once from more than one person. This can’t be anything other than a design flaw, and from what I’ve heard, Rough Country isn’t doing anything to take care of the problem. But I haven’t looked into it much myself. The second issue that I feel is worth mentioning is that one of the welds on the same bracket I’ve mentioned above (passenger side only) has cracked about halfway through. I ground out the broken weld and stitched it back up, but I don’t think it’s acceptable for a weld to break on a kit like this, especially if it’s a result of the contact with the body.
Other than that though, I’ve been really happy with this kit. Like I said at the beginning, nobody paid me to say this. I’m putting this out there because I think Rough Country makes a really decent product, and it’s affordable enough that people can get a little more for their money. I want to expose this hobby to as many people as I can, and I won’t achieve that by bashing everything that isn’t the best of the best (and most expensive).
Now here’s my opinion: This is mostly just for Jeep folks, so the rest of you (thanks for reading babe!) may want to tune out now…
I’ve seen the IRO equivalent of my lift kit up close. Not only would I not run it on my vehicle, but it makes me uncomfortable to see how highly it’s praised all over the forums. Now, I have IRO parts on my Jeep, and I like them just fine. And their customer service is freakin’ awesome. I’m not saying IRO is a shit company AT ALL. I’m just saying I don’t like this particular design. In fact, to be fair, there are a few things from Rough Country that just make me laugh out loud.
This kit is of a single radius arm design, which means it has two arms (called lower control arms) that attach to the body at one end and to the bottom of the axle at the other. The third arm (upper control arm or radius arm) attaches to the top of the axle, and to one of the lower arms. It’s great, because it allows the axle to articulate like crazy.
The unfortunate part of this design is that it depends on a single rubber bushing for ALL of the alignment of the front axle. It’s responsible for the pinion angle (and caster angle), shock angle, spring angle, and just about everything else on the front axle. If this bolt snaps, or the bushing fails, the vehicle will be dangerous to drive. Now here’s the rub. That bushing is poorly designed in the first place, and fails quickly when there are two of them supporting the axle. When you remove one of them and then add all the stress of maintaining axle alignment you’re looking for trouble. Add in the heavy stresses of off roading, and it’s a recipe for disaster. Furthermore, I would expect nothing less than chronic and consistent death wobble from a setup like this, just by the very nature of its design. One half of the upper side of the front axle simply has NO support.
At best, I would expect to have to replace bushings all the time (Oh and by the way, it’s the bushing that’s in the diff housing. The one that’s a nightmare to replace). At worst, without constant maintenance, the rig would be plagued by some of the worst death wobble this side of the see-saw at Auschwitz, and it would be breaking shit ALL. THE. TIME.
I know that I’m starting to beat the dead horse here, but the IRO kit doesn’t even come with long rear lowers, and that’s just the beginning… In fact, I’ll shut up. Here are some comparison pics, straight from their respective sites:
IRO 4″ Critical path long arm kit
Rough Country 4″ long arm lift kit
Anyway, this is what I think. These are the experiences I’ve had with this kit for the last two years. I am not biased by anything but what I have experienced for myself, and I have presented the evidence as honestly and empirically as possible. I leave it to you to make your own decision, hopefully more informed than before you got here.
As I always urge you to do, learn for yourself. Do your own research. Don’t just trust the words of some anonymous asshole on the internet, whether it’s from JeepForum, Facebook, or even from this awesome blog.
And one last thought, it doesn’t matter what you run, just get out there and have fun.