Do I Need Jeep Skidplates?
Stock skidplates, upgraded armor, and an examination of obstacles touching Jeep metal.
It doesn't matter whether your off-road rig is a Jeep Wrangler or a fullsize 4x4, you've asked the question, "Do I need Jeep skidplates?" The answer is yes, and in case you haven't been under there recently, Jeeps come off the assembly line with skidplates. We're here to discuss the pros and cons of those factory offerings and whether it makes sense to upgrade.
Let us consider the stone-stock Jeep Wrangler, available from 1997 to 2006. Armor on this breed of Wrangler includes a transfer case skidplate, affectionately known as "the shovel" and a skidplate covering the gas tank beneath the Jeep's rear bumper. Will these two pieces of metal protect the Jeep from the majority of offending trail obstacles? Yes, undoubtedly. Are there drawbacks? Also, yes. Let's get into it.
No, You Do Not Need Skidplates [Argument 1]
- Factory skids cover the majority of the Jeep's vitals
- Stock skidplates are lighter
- Factory skidplates were engineered to decrease heat buildup
- Stock skids are already there = less work
1997-2006 Jeep Wrangler TJ Skidplates
The transfer case skidplate on the 1997 to 2006 Jeep Wrangler TJ, though it does completely cover the transfer case, also curls down toward the front and back, offering a biting edge just itching to bury itself into a muddy rut or rocky ledge. If you've taken your TJ Wrangler off-road, chances are you've hung the Jeep on its transfer case skidplate. The metal between rocks and the gas tank should also defend against most hard knocks, but due to its thickness, it's subject to deformation. TJ Wranglers are also known to lack skidplates beneath the transmission and oil pan, two things that you generally don't want dragging through ruts or slamming on rocks.
Yes, You Need Aftermarket Jeep Skidplates [Argument 2]
- Factory skidplates are thin and can be severely damaged
- Oil pan, transmission, and other vital areas are left uncovered
- Smooth undercarriage slides over snow, mud, rocks without hang-ups
- Aftermarket skidplates often feature bolt protectors, oil/transmission access doors, and vents for heat dissipation
- Think: cost and weight increase vs. catastrophic oil pan damage
2007-2017 Jeep Wrangler JK Stock Skidplates
Fast-forward to the 2007 to 2017 Jeep Wrangler JK. From the factory, like the previous Jeep, the gas tank and transfer case are both shielded by thin skidplates, both of which can withstand substantial hits. These sheets of steel are slightly more streamlined than the outgoing armor but will quickly show signs of deformation after high-energy encounters with stationary solids. Like Wranglers before it, the oil pan and transmission are left largely unprotected. How about the new JL Wrangler? Similar things can be said.
Why We Need Aftermarket Skidplates
We installed MetalCloak's UnderCloak Integrated Armor System on our 2017 two-door JK Wrangler. Before receiving its armor, we pounded the living daylights out of the Jeep, effectively finding the limits of its factory armor. The gas tank skid more closely resembled a crumpled paper bag than it did steel, and the dents in the steel had decreased the fuel capacity of the plastic fuel tank it protected. Our factory transfer case crossmember and skidplate, though far more streamlined than the TJ Wrangler's armor, still hung us up on ledges and had suffered extreme damage. Lastly, we had slightly grazed our oil pan on an obstacle more than once, and we felt our luck had run out.
What's to Like About Our MetalCloak Skids?
- 3/8-inch steel can take a serious beating
- Interlocking skidplates leave no edges to hang on obstacles
- Oil pan, gas tank, and transfer case are completely covered
- Boatsides further eliminate edges to catch on obstacles
Aluminum or Steel Skidplates?
You're likely debating aluminum versus steel skidplates for your Jeep, because weight. Yes, aluminum weighs less than steel and can contribute to a lower sprung mass on your Jeep. However, aluminum is a softer metal and does not slide across rocks the way steel does. Armor systems exist with combinations of steel and aluminum to combine weight and rock-sliding characteristics. Be sure to research them.
We chose steel and fully accepted the increase in weight for the freedom to slam our undercarriage against obstacles without the worry of damaging parts. In the year since installation, the steel skidplates have intercepted blows that could have otherwise ended off-road trips, and we are confident the plates will continue to serve us well.