Hard Top Hoist

Driver's SideDrivers side

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Update 5/15/05


This isn't so much about the Jeep or making it trail worthy.  Instead, it's about handling seasonal changes to it.  Anyone who lives in the colder regions and has both hard and soft tops is familiar with the time of year when one top comes off and another goes on.

I had a light-weight aluminum top (Sears Deluxe Full Top) for my CJ-2A that could be taken off by one person.  It was reasonably small and, with the doors and rear hatch removed, was quite manageable.  My biggest problem in those days was finding a place to leave it when I took it off.

These days, a storage location isn't a problem, but the top is not easy for one person to handle.  True confession time.  I figured that since it was possible for me to stand up inside the back of the Jeep, I reasoned that I could balance the top on my back and walk down a ramp, then set the top down on the ground.  I choose a windy day to attempt this (Did I tell you I am a rocket scientist?).

All went well until I was ALMOST down the ramp.  A big gust of wind blew up and literally lifted the top off my shoulders and deposited on the ground.  The good news was, it didn't crack and none of the windows broke.  The bad news was that one of the gas shocks got bent and the top got a couple large gouges.

My solution was to place it upside-down on a moving blanket and drag it to the back of the garage where it sat all summer, hogging up space.  Every once in a while I would check the back window to see if it opened and closed.  It would open up to where the gas strut was bent (hardly visible bend, but enough to prevent the window from opening all the way).  I procrastinated getting a new gas shock until finally it was time to put the top back on again.  I wanted to save some money...

Ready to put the top back on, and this time I was a little bit smarter.  I knew that it would be difficult to handle the top by myself so I got my friend Carl to come by and help.  We removed my rack first, a small chore by itself.  Then we removed the soft-top.  Then we placed the hard top in position.  So far so good.  Everything is going well until I decide to see if the back window will open past the bent shock strut.

PSSSSSHHHHH (tinkle tinkle tinkle)!  That would be the sound of the back window disintegrating into a few thousand perfect little cubes....  I guess that means the gas strut is not going to open any further...  I was dumfounded.  I barely applied any pressure on the window trying to ease it past the bend in the strut, but it was enough to break it.  I was left standing there with the plastic bar that goes across the bottom of the now broken window in my hands, and what would ultimately be a $700 bill to replace the window and shock.  For this, I could have bought the electric top hoist and still come out ahead...

So with the hard top back in place I realized that it was time to admit defeat:  I was not going to avoid getting a hard top hoist.  The commercially available ones are expensive.  And confusing.  Some say that they work for any top except the factory top.  I wonder why not?  Anyway, I saw several examples of hoists that people made themselves for less money and decided that I could do it too.

I went to a camper store and bought a boat trailer winch.




I went to Home Depot and bought a bunch of stuff that I would need to make a sturdy frame, pulleys to hang from the wall and ceiling, and load-rated rope to tie it all together.

Pulley and Rope - Click to Enlarge
I affixed a pulley to the rafters, centered over the area where I want to hoist the top off the Jeep.

I installed another pulley above the hand winch, lining it up with the pulley in the center of the rafter and the hand winch.

All of this stuff was installed so it cleared the garage door when open, and the Jeep with the top installed.

Pulley and Rope - Click to Enlarge


Here is a basic drawing.  The rope is shown in green.


The frame is made of metal pipe that was threaded together using 90-degree corners and a joint to allow the connection on one end.  It is very heavy and probably not such a great choice of materials.  But I do not think PVC pipe is strong enough, aluminum would probably bend, and I could not find anything else, so used this as the best of the choices I had.


I assembled a frame that is tied to the winch on one end, and the top on the other.  After some fumbling with the alignment of the winch and pulleys, I was able to get it working well.  I tested it by removing my rack.  Brilliant!  It was a breeze.  I moved the Jeep out of the way and lowered the rack to the ground.  Then I wrestled it out of the way (trusty moving blankets) and backed the Jeep in to do the top.  Again, a few bolts to remove the top, the harness for the windshield washer, wiper and dome light, and the front clips and I had a top dangling from the rafters!  Moved the Jeep again.

Then I found myself in a dilemma.  I really wanted to replace the rack using the hoist but that would mean removing the top from the hoist and moving it out of the way.  My garage is pretty big but I have a car taken apart in the other bay.  So there is no place to put the top.  Instead, I emptied all the containers on my rack and managed to get it back on top of the Jeep a couple inches at a time.

Several lessons learned here.  I should never have attempted to remove the top by myself.  I should have fixed the gas strut RIGHT AWAY.  I should have made my own top-hoist to begin with.  It took about 4 hours including the shopping for parts.  I could have done it faster if I went shopping with a list, and if I assembled it without watching the kids at the same time.


Update: 5/15/05

I installed the same hoist into my garage at my new house.  For the write-up, follow this link.

Hard Top In Storage

General Disclaimer:  Since the writing of this page, Jeep has introduced the Jeep Wrangler Unlimited 2 and 4-door models.  The hoist design described on this page is adequate to support the 140 pound weight of the Wrangler 2-door hard top.  The rope and hardware components used were selected to have three-times the operating weight capacity required for the Wrangler top.  This design would require revision to be capable of supporting the weight of the Wrangler Unlimited top which is nearly twice as heavy and has a different center of gravity than the top shown here.  The 4-door top likely would not lend itself to this design at all and would require a different approach though some of the components here could be used in a new design.

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