Normally when we say “Universal,” the terms “joint” or “Jeep” come right after it, but not this time. With so many years, makes, and models of Jeep, there aren’t really any universal parts. And after years of playing Jeep, we get more sure each year that nothing is really “bolt-on” either. But if you’ve got a 2-inch receiver on your Jeep, not only is the Hitch Gate from Wilco Products a bolt-on, but it is about as close to “Universal” as we are ever going to get.
When we built this Comanche, we left the spare under the bed, which is fine up to a smallish 33-inch tire. But we knew that we were going to end up on 35s, and maybe even 37s, at some point. We have done the through-the-bed floor mounts, but in a shortbed MJ that means having to remove the tire just about every time you want to haul stuff. Rather than go back down that road, we used some 2-inch hitch stock, and some parts from M.O.R.E. to build a through-the bed adjustable tire carrier. It didn’t work out so well for us. In the past three years, it’s ripped the weld from the bedside three times, and due to sheetmetal flex, has dented the side of the truck as well. Not only that, but whenever we wanted to use our truck bed tent, we had to pull the spare out.
We had been eyeing the Tire Gate (a tire carrier that replaces the tailgate) for a while, but the company doesn’t make one for Comanches. Then the company introduced the Hitch Gate universal 2-inch hitch carrier lines, but we had already cut and welded our solution together.
Once we decided to abandon our broken, not-so-fab solution, we contacted the company. We had some concerns. We were worried that the tire carrier might rattle, and in a Unitbody Jeep, that sound would transmit into the cab. We’ve seen a few tire carriers where the swing arm sheared off at the pivot, thanks in part to the wonderful hobby-horse ride on our freeways. We were also concerned about being able to keep the tow rating of the Jeep. Finally, the MJ already has a big butt and we hit our factory-installed trailer hitch coming off of all kinds of obstacles, so departure angle was important to us. We asked all those questions and more, and the company assured us at every corner as any company would do. We were still kind of skeptical until they told us, “Look, if it does any of the things we just told you it wouldn’t, write about it, tell the truth, and we won’t hold it against you.”
It isn’t that often a company is willing to say that to magazine guys, especially ones that are really good at breaking stuff—so naturally we agreed. There are two lines of Hitch Gates to choose from, and we went with the HG Adventure series. It is rated for up to a 37.5x13.50 inch tire, and we liked the easy strap-retention setup. To that we added a license plate mount to keep us legal and a jerrycan holder, because our 19-gallon gas tank feeding a 4.7L stroker means that off-road our range can be as bad as only 100 miles. So how did it work? After six months of use and abuse, we are happy to tell you.
Living With It
There is no rattling even after six months, and while the tire does move a little bit while on the freeway and washboard roads, it is less than many other tire carriers we’ve used. Stainless steel and gold-zinc coated bolts coupled with thick semi-gloss black powdercoating means that this carrier should have no problem surviving even the Rust Belt. The jerrycan mount is easily removable, so on-road or for wheeling trips with fuel nearby, we leave it off and at home. We would have rather had a cam-action latch for ease of opening and closing, but that would have probably allowed more vibration.