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Protecting An Investment - TNT, Rugged Ridge, Smittybilt, GenRight

Like any asset, we decided to protect it, and for this one, we used steel

Jim BrightlyPhotographer, Writer

After building an awesome, supremely capable, strikingly attractive Jeep, you may be afraid to leave it at the airport or even take it to the movies. Although you’re proud to show it off, there can be the constant fear it’s going to be stolen. It’s so much fun to drive now that you’ve put all that time, effort, and money into the build, but you do need to protect your investment. LoJack can help find the Jeep if it’s stolen, but steel can help protect its body and components while you’re on the trail. With that in mind, we went shopping for armor.

Body Armor

With the TNT lift and body armor—and 35-inch Yokohama M/T tires—there’s more than enough underneath and side clearance. No scraping through the notch.

With the Rugged Ridge bumper protecting the grille, the Jeep can weave among the boulders without a worry.

To mount the new bumper, the front frame rails must be exposed and cleaned before mounting the new bumper.

After removing the old bumper, the front frame rails were cleaned. Because we were remounting the OEM tow hooks on the new bumper, shims were needed to properly align the hooks. We used screwdrivers to help locate the new bumper during installation.

When a rear bumper is as badly corroded as this New Hampshire native—see the rounded out W—power tools will be needed for removal.

We had to use an oxyacetylene torch to remove a few of the rear bumper’s original bolts. Ten years of New Hampshire road salt had turned them into a single piece of metal.

The new rear bumper was a direct bolt-on in place of the OEM rear bumper. The tire carrier swings on greaseable bearings and can carry up to 35-inch tires, but we bet 37-inch tires would also fit. The tire carrier can also be adjusted for different wheel offset depths.

With its pebbled powder coating, Rugged Ridge’s rear bumper can slide over obstacles with little or no damage to the metal.

The TNT Fenders mount directly in place of the factory units. However, some brackets, such as the windshield washer mount and other accessories may have to be relocated or replaced.

If you’re going to use 4-inch round LED taillights as we did, you’ll also need to trim the OEM rear fenders to accept the flush-mounted lights before installing the TNT rear fender armor.

When drilling the holes to mount the body armor on the rear side panels, we were careful to not hit the wiring loom for the taillights routed along the driver’s side.

Also be cautious when drilling the holes to mount the TNT rock guards. There are wire looms everywhere, and drilling into them can create electrical problems you don’t want to deal with.

All three of the TNT body armor components such as the fenders, rock guards, and rear side panel armor are designed to fit together like a jigsaw puzzle, providing protection from front to back.

The front bumper we chose was the Rugged Ridge RRC Front Grille Guard Bumper. It’s designed to protect the Jeep’s headlights and fenders. A black, textured powdercoat covers the heavy-duty 0.120-inch–wall tubular steel. There are welded tabs for four off-road lights and two reinforced D-ring attachments (a winch plate can be added). The bumper’s side supports provide fender and fog light protection but do not change the Jeep’s width.

The Rugged RRC Rear Bumper with a 2-inch hitch receiver and tire carrier was also on out must-have list. The textured black powdercoated rear bumper (also made from heavy-duty 0.120-inch–wall tubular steel) has a reinforced hitch and spare tire carrier (or you can order just the bumper without the tire carrier if you have 33-inch or smaller tires). This rear bumper has a frame-mounted platform that features a heavy-duty grid-like system with raised sides for protection and greater ground clearance. These tough and durable off-road bumpers are treated with a special E-coating and a dual-stage powdercoat to ensure a hassle-free, no-rust finish.

The tire carrier mounts your tire off the rear bumper, taking the load off your tailgate, and is equipped with a vertical post for remounting the Jeep’s third brake light. With a grease fitting and special latching mechanism, this tire carrier is capable of holding up to a 35-inch tire (and is adjustable for the off-set depth of the wheels).

TNT Customs’ tube-type front fenders, rock rails, and body armor came next. The front fenders and rear quarter-panel body armor eliminate the OEM taillights and front turn signal and running lights, so you’ll have to decide what to use in their places.

TNT Customs offers body armor that is predrilled for OEM taillights, but we preferred to replace the vulnerable exterior-design OEM lights with flush-mounted LED lights from Amazon. Also, because the front parking lights went away with the factory fenders, we opted for a newly designed H4 headlight that includes LED turn and parking lights inside the front lens from Summit Racing. They look and work great but will have to be realigned because they have a different focus than OEM lights.

Personal Armor

You’ll have to remove all the OEM roll bar padding before installing the many components of the Smittybilt roll bar cage kit. However, several of the new components have padding. If you want padding on the OEM portions of the roll bar, you’ll have to find them elsewhere.

These six-bolt clamps are used to tie the Smittybilt cage kit and the OEM roll bar together.

The overhead console bars and the front cross bar are installed as one piece.

The overhead console bars are extended with these additions, which clamp to the OEM center roll bar. You’ll have to temporarily remove the sound bar (if you have one) in order to install the console clamps.

The dashboard side panels must be removed in order to install the Smittybilt cage kit’s vertical supports, which include welded on handholds.

Kit-included hardware is used to mount the Smittybilt cage vertical bars to the strongest part of the Jeep’s body, the A-pillar. The verticals attach to the OEM bars forward of the kit’s upper cross bar.

The verticals support the over-the-door OEM bars (which in turn support the windshield) during a condition of upset and provide connecting points to the over-the-dash bar. Notice the matching orange gauge faceplate from US Speedo.

We added an Aspen net set to the completed Smittybilt roll bar cage kit. The nets help keep valuables inside the protection of the cage, including pets.

Although the H3R Performance fire extinguishers come with roll bar mounts, we preferred the instant availability of the extinguishers next to our seats. We can grab them as we’re exiting the Jeep.

Occupant protection was next, and a Smittybilt bolt-on rollcage kit includes a rear brace over the tailgate and a pair of curved diagonals bracing the center bar from the two factory side-support bars. Another pair of bars is mounted to the sides of the dashboard at the A-pillars. They strengthen the OEM bars that support the windshield. From these two bars, another bar parallels the dash just above the padded dash and just below the windshield. And a fourth bar connects the two overhead OEM bars above the windshield and provides a connection point for the overhead center T-section that is bolted to the factory center bar.

Two H3R model HG250R fire extinguishers are mounted on the rear overhead crossbar above the tailgate. The HalGuard model HG250R quickly extinguishes car fires without leaving any mess or damage to the vehicle’s surfaces. It’s made in the USA, has a 6 to 10-foot discharge range, and a five-year warranty.

Fuel Armor

The GenRight heavy-duty Safari 31-gallon tank not only adds over 10 additional gallons of gas—about 80 pounds—between the frame rails and below the floorboards, which lowers the center of gravity, its strength protects the rear of the Jeep and provides a bit more ground clearance than the stock tank.

The GenRight heavy-duty Safari 31-gallon tank not only adds over 10 additional gallons of gas—about 80 pounds—between the frame rails and below the floorboards, which lowers the center of gravity, its strength protects the rear of the Jeep and provides a bit more ground clearance than the stock tank.

GenRight’s 3/16-inch skidplate is far superior to the thin OEM sheet metal skid plate. If you drop your Jeep off a boulder onto another boulder with the OEM tank, the sheet metal bends upward, pushing on the plastic tank and reducing the tank’s capacity. Won’t happen with a GenRight tank!

Now that’s protection, And the GenRight tank looks much better than the factory fuel tank. It can more easily slide off a rock without collapsing, crinkling, or crushing.

GenRight’s heavy-duty aluminum fuel tanks protect your Jeep’s gas supply. The 20-gallon plastic gas tank has a thin sheet-metal skidplate, so replacing it with a GenRight Safari 1/8-inch-thick aluminum alloy tank that includes a matching heavy-duty 3/16-inch-thick steel skid plate was a darn good idea. This extra-capacity tank holds 31.5 gallons and provides much better protection from off-road obstacles.

Theft Armor

If you’re really worried about protecting your Jeep and its contents, the BOLT selection of one-key locks–spare tire lock, hitch receiver lock, cable lock, Hi-Lift jack locking mount, padlock, hood lock, and hitch coupler lock—can help to alleviate your worries, and they all work with just your Jeep’s ignition key.

If you haven’t discovered the BOLT line up of one-key security products, you’re in for a big treat. Spare tire locks, cable locks, Hi-Lift jack locking mounts, receiver pin locks, hood locks, and almost anything else you can think of can be locked up with a BOLT product. And it only takes one key—your Jeep ignition key! As of this writing, the BOLT locks can be matched to the ignition keys of Jeeps from ’99 to current models. Paranoia be damned, we’ll just BOLT everything up, have fun, and trust that our Jeep will be there when the movie is over.

This Jeep is also protected by The Force! I’ve owned this button since the first showing of the very first Star Wars episode, and it’s been clipped to every Jeep I’ve owned since then.