When we first started considering a Jeep Cherokee (XJ) for our new project vehicle, we knew that one of the first required modifications would be fender flares. By opening up the fenderwells, we could minimize how much suspension lift we'd need to run 35" tires. Keeping the lift as low as possible would also let us maximize the vehicle's stability on side hills, steep climbs and descents. Around the same time, we were also lucky enough to discover that Napier Precision Products was releasing their first XJ fender flares, specifically designed for '97 and newer Cherokees. What makes these flares stand out from the competition's is their thickness. The more common after-market XJ flares are prone to cracking or shattering. The Napier flares are much thicker and stronger. Strong enough to park a Jeep on them, as evidenced by one of their promotional photos. So we contacted Doug Napier and within a week, the flares were delivered.
A photographic illustration of how tough these flares are.
The flares were packaged in a kit that contained:
Four fender flares (2 front pieces, and 4 rear pieces to fit 2-door and 4-door Cherokees).
Corrosion-resistant, self-tapping sheet metal screws.
Plastic edge trim to provide a professional fit and finish.
Plastic bushings that fit over the screws to provide a tight fit against the fenders.
Detailed installation instructions.
The Napier Precision fender flares: six flare sections, edge trim, screw bushings, screws, and detailed instructions.
A video overview of the Napier Precision fender flares for Jeep Cherokees.
Things to Think About
There's a line in a John Woo movie where one of the heroes of the story, an Asian cop, says, "If you want to be Chinese, you got to eat the nasty stuff." Well, the same applies to Cherokees...if you want to install bigger fender flares, you've got to do the nasty stuff, which is cutting sheet metal. Embrace this need and you will find contentment as you begin cutting up your precious Cherokee.
These flares, as the instructions clearly point out, are not designed to fit without some custom trimming. They have been designed to fit a broad range of Cherokees, but the actual trimming required will depend on the individual vehicle. In my opinion, this is far better than getting flares that are designed to fit a very particular vehicle configuration.
Installing the Front Flares
The first step in the process was to remove the factory fender flares and fender liner, as well as loosening the front bumper trim so it can be propped out of the way. This involves removing some bolts, nuts, and plastic push fasteners. As warned in the instructions, while attempting some of the nuts, their studs simply snapped off due to corrosion of the nut on the stud. This isn't a problem, though, because the nuts and studs will be discarded, anyway.
I strongly recommend washing your fender wells before beginning this project.
Some of the plastic push fasteners that need to be removed in order to remove the fender liner.
A trim removal tool like this makes it very easy to remove those plastic push fasteners.
Driver's side, after the liner has been removed. Note the location of the wiper fluid tank! The red squares indicate some of the nuts that have to come off in order to remove the factory flare. The blue square indicates the location of two of the three bolts that need to come off in order to separate the bumper trim from the fender. The green square indicates the rivet that must be drilled out in order to move the flare bracket.
The red square indicates the welded seam that will need to be trimmed back to increase fender well clearance for the wheel.
Removing an easy-to-miss bolt which retains the rear portion of the factory flare.
The fender well with the factory flare and liner removed.
The red boxes show the areas which will need to be trimmed back.
A comparison between the factory and Napier Precision front flares.
With the factory flare gone, this bracket is no longer required and can be removed by drilling out its rivet.
With the flare and liner removed, and bumper trimmed propped away from the sheet metal, I next traced the shape of the front flare onto a piece of paper and used that template to decide on the precise mounting location. The main problem with the Cherokee's stock fender wells is that there's not enough room fore and aft to fit larger tires. Fender well height isn't as much of a concern, at least for me. I chose a position that involved a mild amount of upper fender trimming, and that centered the template fore and aft. I then taped it in place, and used some more tape to create an outline of where the fender should go. I also used the template to mark where the body cladding needed to be trimmed.
I used the paper template to decide where to position the flare. The template also shows me where I'll need to trim the body cladding (that black, rubber trim piece ahead of the door).
Before we do any cutting, we'll need to move the bumper trim away from the sheet metal. To do that, these two bolts need to be removed...
...and this one, too. (It's under the front of the bumper.)
Using the paper template as my guide, I applied tape to mark where I'll need to cut. I'll be cutting between the tape lines.
To trim the sheet metal, I used an angle grinder with a cut-off disc. It worked quite well. For best control over the precise shape of the line, I made a few light passes over the cut line, and then began using more pressure until the metal was cut right through. After cutting, I used the grinder to smooth-off the edges. Naturally, you'll want to cut out only as much as you think you'll need to cut. When in doubt, cut less. It takes very little time to widen the cut when you're working with thin sheet metal and a cut-off disc. I also cut back the body cladding so there would be enough room to test fit the flare.
I always thought it was good to have very flexible flares, like the stock ones on Jeep YJs. Flexible means they're virtually impossible to crack or shatter. But I soon changed my mind after I started trimming the sheet metal. With large portions of the creased sheet metal removed, the fender lost a lot of its strength. It was only after the Napier flare was installed that it felt rigid again. So in the case of the Cherokee, stiff flares are necessary, and for them to be durable, they also need to be very strong.
Trimming back the body cladding.
Body cladding trimmed back.
Once the metal was cut, I did a test fit with the Napier fender flares. As expected, the flares did not fit flush against the fender, but a little bit of attention from the grinder took care of that. When I was happy with the fit, I applied the supplied edge trim to the edges of the flare that would ride against the fender. The instructions recommend that you lay out the trim in the sun to soften it up. Unfortunately, it wasn't sunny when I began the install so I put the trim in my engine compartment (away from any moving parts!) and ran the engine for a while. That did a great job of making it pliable and easy to work with.
After grinding the flare to properly follow the contours of the fender, I applied the edge trim.
I had some trouble making the trim follow this bend so I cut a slice in the edge of the trim to make it easier.
In the meantime, I sprayed the exposed metal with rocker guard, which is what I happened to have on hand. Some kind of rust converter, rust paint, or undercoating would also work well, I would think. My main goal was to simply protected the exposed metal from corrosion.
I sprayed the exposed metal with rocker guard.
I did a final test fit of the flare (with trim attached) and then, with the flare taped to the fender, I slid a skinny drill bit through the flare's mounting holes to scratch the drill locations into the fender's paint (having shiny black paint makes the scratches very easy to see). With the hole locations marked, I next drilled smaller-than-required holes in each location. Then I used one of the self-tapping screws to cut and thread all the holes. By the way, the windshield washer fluid tank sits inside the top of the driver's side fender. The Internet is awash with woeful Cherokee owners who forgot about this fact and proceeded to drill right through their tanks. I avoided this heartbreak by placing a putty knife between the tank and the fender's outside skin.
With the flare's edging applied, I then taped it in place for a final test fit.
I used this guide as a reference for figuring exactly where the flare should go. To protect against damage when dragging the rockers over rocks, the flares are not designed to reach all the way to the bottom edges of the vehicle.
Then I marked the hole locations with a drill bit.
With the hole locations marked, I then proceeded to drill them through. I placed a putty knife between the fender metal and washer fluid tank so I didn't accidentally drill through the tank.
The holes were then widened and threaded using one of the kit's self-tapping screws.
Prior to mounting the fender, I put a screw in each of the fender's mounting holes, and then threaded them in until they extended just past the thickness of the flare. Over each screw, I slid the rubber spacers or bushings. Having the screws extend behind the thickness of the flare made it easy to line up the screws with their holes. Then I held the flare up to the fender, carefully started each screw into its hole, and then tightened them all. I used an impact driver for turning the screws but for the final tightening, I used a manual screwdriver. This is also when I did some very typical of me. I completely forgot about the washer fluid tank. That's right, after my self-congratulatory smugness in craftily drilling through the fender without puncturing the tank, I put a screw right through it. After the fluid drained to the level of the hole, I jacked up that side of the Jeep a little bit more (to get the fluid level away from the hole), pried the fender skin away from the tank, and sealed up the hole with my hot glue gun, thereby fixing the damage to the tank. My ego, however, is still severely injured.
One of the screws and its rubber spacer, ready for installation.
Final tightening of the screws was done by hand.
The final result looked absolutely great. The flare wasn't as "in your face" as some others that I've seen, yet it still provided lots of room to fit a larger tire. But most importantly, the flare is very strong.
After. A very distinct difference.
A before/after animation.
A very nice looking result!
Video re-cap of the process.
Want more? Continue on to the Rear Flare installation article.