Suspension, steering, wheels, and tires are among the most common upgrades at the beginning of a Jeep build. That's enough to start doing some next-level trails and terrain. Nothing radical, but you're having fun. Then, you might hear some scraping and grinding sounds. Unless your Jeep has some serious problem, that noise is probably the frame or crossmembers, and hopefully nothing else, dragging on rocks or other trail challenges.
Before that noise includes vital drivetrain, exhaust, or fuel systems, it's a good idea to protect the underside of your Jeep with a set of skidplates. Jeep had done a good job at keeping the transfer case and gas tank protected, but we wanted great. The engine's oil and transmission pans are fairly exposed, and in our '13 Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon, this exposure has given us a few close calls—even with the benefit of 37-inch-tall tires and a modest 2 1/2 inches of lift.
After too many scrapes, we finally opted to give our underbelly some proper protection. Our skidplate upgrade would come from 7 Slot Customs. The made-in-the-USA brand specializes in a wide range of armor products for everything from a CJ to the JL. We picked up the company's full underbelly skidplate system that spans from the front of the engine oil pan to the back of the gas tank.
After providing our skids with a fresh protective coating via Area 51 Powder Coating, we took our JK to the Jeep pros at Low Range 4x4 in Wilmington, North Carolina. While you can easily install these bolt-on skidplates in your home garage, putting our Jeep on the rack made this much easier to document. Plan for around two hours of work, and be sure you have floor jacks handy if you are installing these on the ground. For more info, check out 7slotcustoms.com.
Since 7 Slot Customs ships the skidplates bare, we had to choose between paint or powdercoat. We opted to take ours to Area 51 Powder Coating in Wilmington, North Carolina. Since our semi-gloss finish is a bit thicker than paint, we'll have a better chance of keeping the plates protected. Sure, we'll need to touch them up after a hard wheeling trip, but it's still a sound investment over paint.
Years of wheeling have definitely left a mark or two on the underside of our JK. Thankfully, the new skidplate system will be covering up much of what you see. If your gas tank skid looks as bad as ours, be sure to hit the rust with some rust reformer prior to the install, as the new gas tank skidplate bolts go on over the stock ones.
We got pretty lucky in the fact that none of our skidplate bolt heads were too rounded off for us to pull them. While you can leave the gas tank skid in place, you will need to pull the stock T-case skid, along with the small transmission skid just ahead of it. They are pretty light, so it's an easy one-man job.
The first section to get installed will be the transfer case skid. Made of 1/4-inch-thick steel, it's a substantial replacement over what was removed. Given that it attaches to the stock crossmember, you'll need to support the transmission so you can remove the stock hardware. This is where two floor jacks will come in handy if you are doing this in your home garage.
The next cog in the skidplate puzzle is the full tank skid. As the longest and most exposed item under the Jeep, it's the spot that without a doubt will see the most punishment. Thankfully, 7 Slot Customs planned for this and uses reinforcement braces that bolt to the stock mounts around the tank. The braces are 3/16-inch steel—a secure and sturdy mount for the gas tank skid.
To support the front skidplate, two attachment arms will be bolted using existing holes located under the stock engine mounts. It's worth noting that you do not need to drill a single hole for this kit.
Since the 1/4-inch-thick steel front skid covers the oil drain, 7 Slot Customs built in a removable drain door. This allows for easy access to the drain plug, and the plate sits flush with a countersunk bolt when attached to the skid.
Since we're running the stock crossmember along with a short-arm suspension kit, we could bolt our front skidplate up without any additional modifications. If your JK is running a long-arm suspension, you may need to modify the skid slightly depending on the type of suspension system you have.
The entire system was designed to work together and provide a smooth underbelly. We also like the fact that it stays tight to the framerails, so minimal ground clearance is sacrificed. This should keep us from hanging up too often on the trail.
To avoid getting hung up, 7 Slot Customs provides bolt head covers that protect the hardware from rock damage. We didn't get our remaining covers back from powdercoat in time for the install. But, rest assured, you'll have all of your exposed hardware protected.
It's pretty clear that 7 Slot Customs engineered these skidplates to be used. No matter if you have a heavy 1-ton JK or a modest build like ours—the combination of thick steel and additional bracing throughout the skidplate system gives us confidence that we can routinely make contact on the trail with no worries.
One thing worth mentioning: Yes, we did add a few pounds under our Jeep. Would aluminum have been better? Not necessarily better, but it would have been lighter. A comparable aluminum skid system is also twice as expensive. The fact that we have a somewhat modestly built JK to begin with keeps the weight from being extremely noticeable overall.
If you have aftermarket upgrade axles you may also have to make some minor modifications for this skidplate kit. Our JK had a Dynatrac ProRock 44 front axle, and we found that the inner fin on the differential made contact with the front of the skidplate. A few passes with the grinder and our minor interference was gone.