Choices for a Full-Size Jeep rear tire carrier are very limited. There are homebuilt and low-volume custom-built carriers (such as Metalward's), but the only mass-produced tire carrier was a Valley Industries model. This carrier used a swingarm hinged on the passenger side, that used a lever that locked on a pin protruding from a bracket mounted on the tailgate. This carrier can hold a tire and a gerry-can, and I envisioned it as an ideal way to move the 33"x12.5" spare out of my cargo-compartment so I could regain some storage space, and perhaps install that rear-facing third seat I'd been dreaming about.
I say this "was" the only mass-produced tire carrier available because Valley Industries dropped production of all their tire carriers, including their model for our FSJ's. The only way to find one (apart from the rare unsold unit still sitting on a dealer's shelf) is to buy one used. That's what I did (thanks, Rick!); I picked up a complete but scratched up carrier that I wire-brushed to the bare metal and covered with a coat of black Hammerite paint. After letting it sit in my garage for 8 months, I finally got a chance to install it:
The big hassle with installing a swing-out carrier on a Full-Size Jeep wagon is finding a flat place strong enough to mount the pivot without obstructing the taillights. The rear of an FSJ has a number of complex angles and curves, and the sheetmetal is rather thin and flexible. Valley's solution was to use a backing plate for the upper mount that tied-in to two separate body-panels. The weakness of this design is that it requires an upward-curving bracket to meet the upper pivot on the swing-arm; this curved bracket acts as a lever when the tire is swung outward, causing the body to flex. In fact, when I first installed the carrier, the weight of the tire caused the swingarm to sag about an inch and a half at the point where it locked on the pin on the tailgate bracket.
My solution is a bracket that I formed out of a scrap tranny-pan from some unknown application that my daughter found in the weeds out on a four-wheeling expedition. The metal is thick enough to reinforce the upper pivot mount, yet ductile enough to be shaped to fit the complex angles on the rear quarter panel. The bracket is now covered with Hammerite to match the rest of the carrier, but here in its unfinished state you can see the creases where I bent it to bolt on in three places. A professional metal-worker would be able to better triangulate this bracket, but since it doesn't bear any weight and just has to assist the original bracket by stabilizing its lateral movement, it doesn't have to be super-strong:
I also reinforced the lower bracket with a strip of 1/4"x1.5" strap iron that I extended to the middle of the rear valence panel and attached with three 3/8" bolts:
With these two reinforcements, there is virtually no flex in the body when the carrier is swung open and closed, and the carrier only sags about 3/8" where the swing-arm meets up with the locking pin. This allows me to open or close the swing-arm with just one hand:
The tire rests on a bracket, then is bolted to the carrier with a J-bolt through one of the lug-nut holes:
I thought that this would be a marginal design for holding a 33"x12.5" tire, and that the bracket would bend under the weight of the tire, but it turns out that the J-bolt is enough to hold the tire on all by itself, and that the weight of the tire actually doesn't rest on the bracket. This design might even be enough to mount a 35" tire, though anything larger than that might need a support shelf for the bottom of the tire, which would be easy enough to fabricate and plug into the receiver hitch:
I also improved on Valley's design in a few places. First, I used stainless fasteners on all the brackets (hey, at least SOMETHING on my Cherokee will be shiny). Second, I fabricated backing-plates with threaded holes for inside the body to back all the original hinge brackets; these help distribute the load on the sheetmetal and also make installation easier since I don't have to fish a wrench back there to keep a nut from turning. Third, I used nylon and bronze washers, along with wave-lock washers and nuts with locking nylon inserts on the pivot bolts, so the swingarm swings smoothly and doesn't loosen up:
The tire also blocks the original location for the license-plate, so I relocated it to the left side of the tailgate-panel using 1/4" well-nuts for the plate and a chrome-hooded license-light from Pep-Boys that I tied into the original license-light wiring with a couple bullet connectors. I also added a chrome-trim license-plate frame, to give the impression that this is a factory-style setup:
I'm very pleased with the carrier, and for anyone who wants to mount their tire out back, I think it would be well-worth your while to scrounge through junkyards or pick up a used one, as long as you get all the mouting hardware. I would recommend, however, that anyone installing this setup with a 31" or larger tire consider adding reinforcements to the stock brackets like I describe above. With those reinforcements, the carrier is completely rattle-free on the road, and the tire doesn't block more than a couple inches of vision out the bottom of the tailgate window.
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