Modifying The Exterior Of Your Jeep - Trail-Wise Body ModsPosted in How To: Body Chassis on June 11, 2014 Comment (0)
Once you take your Jeep off-road, you realize quickly that things like 3-inch chrome tube steps, flimsy bumpers, and excessively dangling body add-ons are about as useful as a dress on a pig. If you’re lucky, these sub-par parts will only slow you down, but in some cases they can cause more harm than good. With so many aftermarket parts available, it can be difficult to figure out what will and what won’t work for you on the trail. We’ve compiled a few parts and ideas to help you make more off-road-wise decisions about how to modify the exterior of your Jeep.
Some rocker guards like these TJ units from Currie are available with optional tubes welded to the outside edges. We like this option because it usually pushes the Jeep’s body out of harm’s way when sliding over an obstacle. The disadvantage is that mud and road grime will build up on the tubes and dirty your clothes when getting in and out day-to-day.
Bumper selection is almost always based on personal preference. If you have some pretty heavy trail work planned you really don’t want to block the front tires. Stubby front bumpers have an advantage in that they give your Jeep an unobstructed approach. It’s always easier to line up and climb a ledge or rock with a stubby front bumper because of the added clearance.
Body bits that protrude outward like these fender flares are just waiting to get taken out by a tree or rock. Consider trimming them. The further you can keep trail obstacles from the body, the better.
The factory tin and plastic Jeep bumpers are usually scoffed at, however they are a great way to save weight on your Jeep. Most aftermarket bumpers weigh many times more than the factory stuff. Evaluate how you plan to use the Jeep before buying a bumper that weighs more than a railroad rail. If you don’t need heavy reinforced bumpers, look into some of the aluminum aftermarket offerings or keep the stock parts in place.
Corner guards can save your butt if you frequent rocky off-camber trails. But, like the bumpers, evaluate if you need to add the weight. A lightweight Jeep will almost always outperform a similarly built heavier Jeep. While real abusive rock draggers should stick with steel, less aggressive drivers can make use of lightweight aluminum body armor.
Rocker guards are always on the top of our must-have list for a trail Jeep. The aftermarket offers many different kinds of rocker guards for the more common Jeeps. Generally there are three schools of thought here, though. You can attach them to the frame, the body, or to the body and body mounts like these from Poison Spyder Customs. We typically lean toward the body and body mount versions because they provide plenty of protection without sacrificing as much ground clearance as frame-mounted rocker guards. Those with less mainstream Jeeps will have to bite the bullet and build their own rocker guards. In this case, mounting them to the frame may be your only option. Avoid mounting the rockers to the frame and body as these two components need to move independently.
Trimming the inner fenderwells of any Jeep should be done similarly to the XJ fenders. Smoother is better. A few raps with a large hammer can knock down any tire-eating sharp edges left behind.
Another way to protect the Jeep body is to install wider axles or fatter tires and wheels. Rubbing the sidewall of a tire or two on a trail obstacle is far less painful and expensive than rubbing the shine off the side of your Jeep’s body.
Fender trimming to fit bigger tires is nothing new, but there are some methods that give better results than others. Trimming fenders on a Unitbody Jeep body like an XJ can be tricky. You want to leave as many of the spot welds intact as possible to retain the structural integrity of the chassis. Rather than simply cutting and removing the offending fender metal, you should make relief cuts and bend it back and out to the way. This does two things for you: It makes more room for bigger tires, and makes the inner fender area less sharp so the tires don’t get cut up if they make contact.
You can’t damage it if it’s not there. You can remove the doors on many Jeeps and leave them back at camp or at home if you plan to attack a particularly difficult trail. The added bonus is you’ll have far better trail visibility without the doors on.
Bulky factory plastic taillights are just waiting to get crushed by hungry trees and rocks. Flush-mounted trailer taillights make a great replacement. They are available from many different companies. You can even find them in the lighting section at local parts stores.
Installing heavy-duty tube fenders on some Jeeps may not get you the kind of body protection you want. In some cases, such as on the JK, the tub and other fender attachment points can get bent if you actually lean the Jeep over on a fender. This potential problem makes a pretty good case for lightweight flexible fenders like these from MCE. Rather than transferring the load to other parts of the Jeep body, the flexible fenders simply bend out of the way and then return back to shape. If they do become damaged, they can be easily replaced without painting.
You might want to think twice if you’re the guy that throws everything but the kitchen sink on your Jeep’s rear bumper. More weight back here will cause your Jeep to climb poorly and handle bumps at speed like a bucking bronco. Dump the stuff you don’t need, or at least try to spread it more evenly throughout the Jeep. Several companies offer strippy rear bumpers to save weight.