The Best Jeep CJ7 upgrades

I have owned many CJ jeeps during the past 30 yrs and currently own a 1986 CJ7. It is used only for summer driving and occasional trips up north to Jeep events (Jeep the Mac, family hunting trips, etc). The last of the CJ’s are approaching 40 yrs old and technology has improved greatly over this time period leaving the old CJ Jeeps behind. I will go over some of the better upgrades that are out there that I recommend if your interested in less maintenance and a better driving experience. Those of you that are collectors or want your Jeep original will want to skip most of these. Note: prices listed are older and everything has gone up in price since I purchased these items. This list is highly subjective and based 100% on my personal experience. I have experimented with many upgrades and found these to be the the ones I liked the most for the casual summer drives.

#1 – Brighter Head Lights: The OEM factory head lights are dim and short throw distance compared to any modern headlight today. This is a real safety issue especially if you drive the Jeep at night. Jeep head lights remind me of candles when compared side by side to any modern vehicle – they are terrible! The OEM wiring in the CJ is also too small to power any modern lighting so thankfully there is a easy wire kit available that will use 12v relays to power the head lights direct from the battery. The wire gauge (size) is larger and with relays, you can pug directly into the existing wiring harness so you can use the standard dashboard controls for all lights. No soldering.

This is all plug and play with some wire routing using zip ties. It was very easy and took me a few hours. I paid $15 on Ebay for a H4 (9003) wiring kit for my jeep with all relays and ceramic sockets. They are universal and fit many vehicles. Your old lights will actually be noticeably brighter, however buying modern H4 Halogen bulbs are the best use of this new wiring kit. This will require removing your standard sealed bulbs and replacing them with H4 Rampage Conversion from or wherever you want to buy one. Results are excellent! Warning: Do not try using H4 halogens with the OEM factory wiring. You will eventually melt your head light dash switch. Aiming the head lights will need to be done as well. There are no instructions on this as you are installing aftermarket parts. My recommendation is to take note of where your current lights are aimed (at night, use the side if your house on level ground) mark with masking tape and start there with the new lights. The goal is to have them shine as far as possible down on the road without shining into drivers eyes of oncoming cars. This will take several attempts and several test drives at night. Lights are aimed down and shine on the road in front of you. They are not aimed “up” or “level”. There are tons of YouTube videos on aiming head lights.

#2 – HEI Ignition: The OEM Motorcraft ignition used on the straight 6 and the V8 engines is old tech and very prone to weak spark and failure. I used to carry a spare control module in my glove box because they failed so often. The General Motors HEI ignition is very reliable, cheap, and a perfect upgrade for the Jeep engine. GM HEI conversion kits for AMC engines are $120 or less on ebay or you can pay more from an aftermarket store like,, or anywhere else you prefer. You can pick one up for the 258 6 cyl or the AMC 304 V8.

General Motors HEI Ignition (red)

I bought one from ebay and its still going strong 8 yrs later. I have had no issues whatsoever. The GM HEI ignitions are simple one wire connection and copied by everyone so they are easy to get parts for even today. Combine this with a new set of modern 8mm spark plug wires and your engine will run smoother and start easier. I noticed a significant improvement in engine idle and engine starting. This is one of the best upgrades you can do for your Jeep and its cheap. Use the same spark plugs as before. This does require you to do some minor wiring as the HEI ignition only requires 2 wires. (12v ignition, tachometer). It also needs one vacuum line from the carburetor for timing advance. Its all easy to find with a good multi-meter and find a good wiring diagram for your Jeep online.

#3 – Steering Slop Upgrade: Sloppy CJ steering is annoying but its fixable and possible to get it almost zero. This requires three items. A 2″ muffler clamp, A Crown Automotive HD steering shaft, and a new power steering gearbox from a Jeep J20 pickup (from your local auto parts store).

The J20 steering gearbox is tighter and has variable rate turning like a modern car. Its a bolt on replacement and really makes a difference at road speeds. I paid $120 for a rebuilt J20 gear box from Napa with trade in of my old one. The HD steering shaft was $140 from and the muffler clamps was $3 from Napa. Install the muffler clamp around the plastic bushing up by the firewall where the shaft goes into the firewall. That plastic bushing is sloppy and the muffler clamp will snug it up. Do not tighten the clamp too much only enough to get rid of some of the slop. Remember the bushing is plastic so be gentle with the clamping force.

#4 – Better Suspension: Jeeps have stiff leaf suspension and they are super old and outdated. I started to dislike the stiff ride as I got older and it hurts after long rides. I even considered getting rid of the Jeep for a more modern one. Suspension technology has actually greatly improved even for leaf springs. Its time to trash the OEM springs and replace with new modern ones. I highly recommend the Old Man Emu leaf springs for the Wrangler YJ series Jeeps. They are fully compatible with CJ7 Jeeps with the exception of the very front leaf brackets. You need a YJ to CJ conversion bracket for $50-$100 and that’s it. YJ springs will fit perfect.

Front YJ to CJ Conversion Bracket

I replaced all rubber bushings, bolts, leafs, drop brackets, and new longer rubber brake lines for the increased travel all from I bought the medium springs with no lift based on recommendations from their tech support and did not want any lift added. Unfortunately the jeep did sit 2″ higher which makes it more difficult to get into but its still manageable. The new Old Man Emu leaf suspension was an expensive upgrade around $800 for everything I needed. I did not use any of the old parts, everything was new. The ride is greatly improved and most pleasant now on longer rides. I have since watched three other Jeep CJ owners buy these same springs after they took a ride in my jeep. I should get a commission! I highly recommend this upgrade if your hating the stiffness of the older CJ’s. Its expensive but well worth it and took me a weekend to install.

#5 – Better Seats. My CJ passenger seat broke and started me on an adventure for some aftermarket replacements. The front OEM seats are “okay” but have little side support like many modern seats do today. I have grown accustom to those now and wanted them in the CJ as well. Seats are very subjective and what works for me might not work for you. I recommend testing out seats by going to a store in person or to a “jeep” swap in your area that might have seats on display to test. I tested out a bunch of seats at a local Jeep show and found a set I liked (then order them online). I ended up getting a pair of Corbeau Sport Seats from for $300 each. Expensive but really worth if if you want a nicer ride. These seats wrap around you and hold you in much better than the old ones.

They were for a YJ but it only required me to drill an extra set of holes in my existing seat brackets to make them fit. They are super comfy and with the upgraded leaf suspension, the jeep is actually quite nice to ride in these days. I bought a matching rear seat cover for $50 and just kept the rear folding seat.

#6 Better Engine Cooling: The stock 4 blade fan that is super common on the straight 6 engines is bare minimum at best. It will not pull enough air for the V8 and hardly works for the straight 6. I have used the small 4 blade fan on many of my jeeps but when I upgraded to the V8 I had to find something better due to overheating. The stock 3 core radiator is just fine, but the fan could be better. I have seen some people install electric fans which work well. I found that the 7 blade clutch fan off a Jeep Wagoneer bolts on perfect. I ordered an aftermarket shroud (Omix-Ada | 17102.03 | Engine Cooling Fan Shroud) off Amazon which matched up and worked well. The difference in air movement was impressive! I had some rags laying on the front bumper and when I started the jeep, those rags were sucked into the front grill! I never saw anything like that with the old setup. The shroud really helps move the air through the radiator.

Honorable Mentions: There are many great upgrades not listed here but I posted the ones that I had experience with and thought were good value for what you get out of it. Some other upgrades I have done are listed below but might not be needed for every situation. These also were a lot of work to install.

-upgraded heater blower fan with a GM blazer fan

-plastic gas tank. Replace the old metal one

-1 Piece axles for the AMC20 rear end. (not really necessary for the 258 6 Cylinder)


  1. ‘The Best Jeep CJ7 upgrades’ is a wonderful article.
    Simple text with quality images.
    Great Job, thanks for sharing.
    I have a shopping list!
    1980 base cj7 2.5 and sr4.
    (dreaming of v8)

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