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Rough Country 6" X-Series:
35's On a Budget - and It Works!

By Shawn Pagan and Steve Snyder

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On-Road Impressions:
The Jeep sits high. It's much higher than some of the other 6" lifts we have seen. The assumption was that the vehicle would settle and the height would come down a little. The suspension is designed mostly for "up" travel, as this does keep the rear wheel walk to a minimum and performs well. The offset control arms seem to help the overall ride, as it really doesn't exhibit the harshness or quirkiness of a normal high spring/short arm suspension. However, it is our opinion that the nitro gas shocks are way too stiff in combination with this Jeep and this kit.

Note: Rough Country offers a couple of different selections for shocks including an upgrade to Fox Shox, as well as a "downgrade" to the Hydro 8000, which is a hydraulic shock. Either one might be a better choice than these really, really stiff gas shocks.

Having talked with the owners of this vehicle after they lived with the Jeep for a number of months, they are very happy with the kit overall. It performs well and meets the primary objectives they had when we started this project. They only had a couple of concerns which are quoted here:

These are direct quotes from the owners of this vehicle:

"It's definitely not as comfortable as a long arm kit, but it's remarkably comfortable considering how tall it is on short arms. Rate it as "acceptable" for a die-hard wheeler, but probably a little stiff for my wife's daily driver."

"It is amazing how easy it is to "tire-pick.' It will pick up the left or right front tire if the driver goes around a corner too quickly. It does not feel dangerous or unstable. It's just weird to feel a tire lift and then a mild screech (like an airplane when the landing gear touches the runway) when the tire sits back on the ground. It REALLY freaks out other drivers that see the tire come off the ground. By changing our driving style we have been able to avoid this altogether on the street."

Of course we have seen this type of comment on many short arm/high spring lifts

Note about tire-pick: Of course, we have seen this type of comment on many short arm / high spring lifts. This is not so much an issue with Rough Country, as this occurs with many different lifts. In general, the geometry on a TJ (coil springs in the rear) seems to generate tire pick. It amplifies as springs are made longer, creating sharper angles on the control arms and again when locking differentials are added. It is, in fact, possible to make a stock height TJ lift a front tire given the right situation. It may also be contributed to spring/shock combinations, as well as other factors.

Off-Highway - Real World Impressions:
Once we had everything dialed in on the road it was time to take it to a more serious area for some off-highway driving. We loaded up the Jeep along with our own rigs and decided to try it out (with the owner driving, of course) at a couple of off-road recreation areas known for their tougher-than-moderate trail systems. It should be noted that we did not disconnect the rear sway bar for any of these runs.

X-Series
X-Series
On the trailer with the boys - ready for a couple weekends of fun!

The first stop was a rock-strewn off-highway driving area filled with clay trails and large boulders called Green Acres ORV Park near the town of Clayton, OK. The photos were taken while moving through a marked run-off crossing. 

Note: Rockcrawler does not condone random driving in flowing water but there are times when it is necessary to make crossings due to run off and at marked crossings on many roads and trails.  All Tread Lightly! principles should be followed - cross stream beds only at fording points, stay on the trail, drive slowly, cross directly.

While the off-road driving mimicked much of our on-road findings (stiff and tall) we did find that the suspension was still workable.

X-Series
X-Series
The ride is not perfect but reasonable off road. We still have concerns over the stiff shocks but they seem to work well at a slow crawl.
X-Series
X-Series
Here the suspension provided plenty of traction keeping all the wheels on the ground. As we stated, the rear swaybar is connected and is not hurting "useable" travel at this point.
X-Series
X-Series
Here is a close up of the front suspension.
This spot is harder than it looks and she walked right over it.

The next place we stopped was a location that is 850 acres of granite called Katemcy Rocks (or more formally, Kruse Off-Road Park). Katemcy Rocks is a great place to pretend you're on the Professional Rockcrawling Tour or just have a great time with your friends.

X-Series
X-Series
Getting the hang of the new suspension was easy.
X-Series
X-Series
You can see here that it's reasonably flexible, even in off-camber and downhill situations. Nothing to worry about and plenty of clearance for those 35" tires. The owner however did experience "tire pick" (when a front tire picks up off the ground while making a sharp turn) on a number of occasions.
X-Series
X-Series
Even though it's stiff riding, it provides enough flex when needed.
X-Series
X-Series
Here you can see the back and front working together to get over this boulder.
X-Series
X-Series
Line up, drive up, no problem.
X-Series
X-Series
The suspension seemed to handle everything she could throw at it.
X-Series
X-Series
Everyone had a good time on this trip.

Again, our biggest concern was tire pick, which does seem to be somewhat amplified when using this kit. Off-road there are times when you must make a sharp turn while pointing uphill, and it is at these times when the wheel-pick can get a little scary. The feeling is controlled and stable but certainly does provide a moment of concern - at least until you get used to it.

The kit provides plenty of clearance to stuff the tires into the wheel wells, but not quite as much droop as we'd like. The shocks seem to be the limiting point and the cause of much of the stiffness. To fix it we might venture to run longer shocks in the front or (more likely) relocate the shock bracket higher on the axle resulting in more droop, but that's outside the parameters of testing the bolt on kit.

Conclusions...

Now that she has had some time to use the vehicle, the owner likes the way it looks and the way it works, for the most part. As a summary, here are the concerns we had, but bear in mind that, overall, Rough Country has put together a great kit - one that supplies everything you need to get out on the trails and back to work on Monday morning. It looks good, performs well within the bounds it was designed for and is an overall great value. Fine tuning is always up to the installer/owner, and with a little tweaking the owner of this rig will have a competent vehicle for many years to come.

Shocks:
The shocks seem too stiff to the owner of this Jeep. At some point in time she will replace them with something else. Rough Country is addressing this by offering hydraulic or Fox Shox with their kits at time of purchase. Talk to their sales reps about which may be best for you (some people like a more truck-like ride).

Sway Bar Disconnects:
The sway bar disconnects are useable, albeit of a design that we believe was not up to the quality of design found in the rest of the kit. However, this is certainly not a reason to overlook or not buy this kit, as they do work and can be replaced later if you feel the same as we did. When we spoke to Rough Country they assured us that they have made the holes and pins fit much better, which would resolve the fit issue we had. Keep in mind that while we did not have a prototype kit, we did have one from a very early production run.

Brake Line Clips:
The problem with the brake line retainer clips breaking when trying to install them was a fluke. We reported it because it's our job to pass along what we find during our install. I wouldn't expect anyone else to see this. In fact, we have installed several sets of Rough Country lines with no further issues seen. If you are in need of just brake line components I would check Rough Country out, as their prices on these high quality lines are killer!

Pitman Arm :
While we doubt very much that this is a Rough Country problem (most companies do not make their own Pitman arms), we wanted to tell you that the Pitman arm in our kit broke. We have no stats or experience to tell us why it broke, so we made the assumption that we didn't get it properly tightened. We decided to let everyone know about it as a reminder to tighten, torque and re-check your bolts throughout the lift install process and once again when you're done.

We noticed that the Pitman arm had come loose. When we removed it we found that a number of teeth had been sheared from the arm itself, so we had no choice but to replace it.
X-Series
X-Series
Teeth missing from the Rough Country pitman arm.

Mark The Parts and The Bags, Please?
When we did our install there were something like 4 or 5 boxes and I think 6 small bags of parts. Unfortunately, a lot of the parts bags had "similar" parts and none of the bags were marked, so we spent a lot of time trying to figure out which bag went with which box and which parts fit where. We figured it out but also mentioned the concern to Rough Country. Now it is our understanding (as evidenced in their new online instructions) that all the bags and boxes are marked with numbers and the instructions have notes explaining which numbers go where. Thanks Rough Country for listening!

Un-Settling:
The kit has never really settled. A stock 1998 - 2001 TJ sits about 11" from the top of the front lower coil spring bucket to the outside edge of the upper coil spring bucket. Upon initial install the Jeep sat at around 19" - 8" taller than stock! This TJ with a 6" lift now sits at about 18", which means we got closer to 7" after settling during the past 6 months.

Flex:
The suspension flexes really well for an off-the-shelf kit, regardless of long or short arms. The movement front and back seem to work nicely with each other and the rear doesn't move as far to the front like we have seen with some short arm kits (and a number of improperly installed long arm kits). After talking to Rough Country we believe this is because of two reasons - the offset in the control arms and the overall design that places more emphasis on suspension up travel then droop.

Components:
Rough Country has been around for a while and they took their time with the parts in this kit. The fit and finish was outstanding, the coating and paint were done very nicely and all the parts fit together. The bushings had grease flutes and all exposed metal was either painted, powder coated or plated for a long life. The components in the kit should last as long as any other good quality component on the market and, for the most part, at a lot better value.

Value:
All kidding aside, paying this price for a full 6" suspension kit that actually works is a bargain. The icing for this kit is that while it is an inexpensive solution, it performs adequately well and will get most weekend warriors where they want to go and back without any issues. It can be installed in your own garage or driveway in less than a full day with hand tools - and requires no cutting or welding.

Two of us installed the kit along with new axles in around 8 hours.

It's not just enough that something is inexpensive - and this kit is inexpensive. But beyond that, there are plenty of other reasons to like this kit. It works, the parts fit and are of good quality, which means you won't be replacing stuff 18 months down the road. And keep in mind that Rough Country has been around for years (heck they are part of Heckethorn - the company that invented the steering stabilizer) and they are not going anywhere. So if you do have a problem they will be there to back you up years down the road.

X-Series
She likes the way the suspension makes her "Grocery Getter" keep up with the boys. In fact it might even embarrass them a little when she walks up where they just laid over!

The bottom line is that if you just have to have 35" tires and you are on a budget, this kit will get you there - and back again with a little green left in your pocket and it won't require you to break the bank and pay someone to cut, grind and weld for you. It will work off-road and it will get you to work everyday. It is competent enough to play with the big boys on many moderate to difficult trails and with the right driver can probably even tackle some harder stuff. It's definitely a kit worth looking into.


UPDATE!!! 10/3/2005

Addendum (Rough Country Leaves a Great Impression):
Articles are typically not written in a vacuum. Companies know the ups and downs that we experience when using their products but the reactions are always different. Some companies treat the writers as children who simply need an explanation, while other honestly care about the results and want to know the problems so they can address or fix them as they are found or in the future. Fortunately for me, the majority of the time the manufacturers have been terrific to work with, but I can honestly say that Rough Country has been a pleasant surprise.

Rough Country has had two people contact us directly to address, resolve, work though or change design issues that we found during the install. They talk a lot about "the customer" and I believe it shows in the commitment after the article was written. In the context of the article we addressed many of these areas but because of Rough Country's commitment to the product I wanted to add this note to the end of my article and show the reader some of the thought and insight that Rough Country had on the concerns or issues we brought up

The Title: Rough Country cringes at the association with a "budget kit" made in the article title because they are concerned that it may send the wrong message that budget equals cheap or borderline functionality. In other words, it may imply that they have left something out or are missing something and that is not their intention with this kit. Rough Country has a complete kit. They provide one of the best values on the market and for many this kit more than meets their needs on and off-road.

Brake Clips: Even though Rockcrawler pointed out that they received another set of brake lines and didn't see this as an issue, Rough Country has added a check of the integrity of the bracket to their receiving QC check list that is done on this part. Per their Quality Control logs, they have not had an additional report of a problem to the bracket in the last 6 months.

Track Bar Tie Rod: Relative to the track bar and the tie rod end that is used, Rough Country is in the process of re-engineering the tie rod. They feel that on a Jeep that is going to see severe off-road use the tie rod will be a wear point that will require occasional replacement (this is not different from many other ends on many other manufacturers' arms). It is possible that they may convert the end over to a heavy duty heim joint or maybe offer two versions at some point in the future. They asked that if any of the readers have question that they please feel free to contact them directly and discuss their needs.

Sway Bar Disconnects: The sway bar disconnects and the pins have been redesigned.

Rough Country Sway Bar Dosconnects
The pins have been changed and the holes have been re-aligned.

Static Ride Height: The actual lift height Rough Country achieved from this lift has been 6" after a period of settling that varies based on usage. On this lift they wanted to make sure it maintained 6" of lift and did not offer a kit that gave something less and heighten the "budget kit" perception. Their assumption here is that all of their test vehicles had a multitude of aftermarket parts, winches, tire carriers, etc. so some of the difference may have simply been the overall weight of the vehicle.

Shock Stiffness: In large part the stiffness of the shock Rough Country attributes to the Nitro Shocks that were chosen. They believe their hydraulic version is valved more consistently with what their test driver was expecting and is what is most frequently sold. To reassure themselves on where they stood they retested their units and are in the process of making slight modifications to the valving on all of the units they offer for the TJ and at the same time revisiting lengths and mountings. They have also recently came out with a new line of monotubes shocks that they are using as our basis for ride quality as it relates to valving so this is an upgrade any customer can choose.

The Pitman Arm: Wow! Even though we stated in the article that we felt this was an installation error Rough Country jumped all over this one. Pulling samples from the field and working in-house to make sure it wasn't and issue. They took this very, very seriously and I commend them for it. As we stated in the article we related the problem to be a result of it not being properly tightened. Rough Country is always concerned about the potential for products to be under-tightened and/or over-tightened during install and how important it is to recheck everything periodically.

 

Resource
Rough Country Suspension Systems
Phone: (800) 222-7023
answerman@roughcountry.com

Web: www.roughcountry.com

Shawn Pagan

Shawn Pagan is a staff writer for ROCKCRAWLER.com, as well as Our Land Use Editor. Shawn resides in northern Colorado.

Contact Shawn at thepagan@rockcrawler.com

Steve lives in Southwest Houston where he spends weekdays as a college professor and weekends trying to keep all four wheels of his Jeep on the ground.

Contact Steve at steve@southernhighrollers.com

Steve Snyder

 

 

 
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