Posted by Thomas Taylor on 2/17/2016
Introductions to most things always involve a learning curve. Often we have people who are completely new to Jeeping or vehicle modifications in general. If you are the type that hasn't been the type to do much in modifications to your vehicles, the off-road life can be a daunting eye opener. This is why we take the time to help break down the modification process for both short term and long term needs of a vehicle. As a rule is usually starts with the lift. You can't just lift it though, right? Now there is to much space in the wheel wells after my lift, now I need tires. Well now my big tires are to heavy for the rear tire carrier, I guess I need a new tire carrier. Do I get a tire carrier or replace the bumper with a new carrier. Ok bumper and carrier, that's what I want...well...now the front bumper doesn't match. Front bumper is on, it's done, I'm finished spending money. Oh wait, those factory rocker panels are weak, guess it's time for rock sliders. Finally it's done!!! Hold on, what are skid plates!?
Commonly called just skids or underbody armor, these are typically the last thing people think about when doing modifications, and frankly should be the first. Understandably so it's usually the last thing, getting the stance -- the look and road ready is important. It's psychologically satisfying to have something tangible to look at and be able to say "yup, that's mine." The underbody is equally as important as the rest of your Jeep. From the factory you have, depending on trim and what the dealer may or may not have done, a front bumper skid (plastic), a decent transfer case skid (metal), and gas tank skid (also metal). "So why spend more money? I already have skids then, nice try Lizard guy!" Slow down. The front plastic skid will stop what flies up and hits you on the highway. The transfer case skid is the more resilient of your arsenal, because the gas tank skid is a joke. The factory gas tank skid is also the carrier for the tank, so when that skid is damaged...you are replacing the entire carrier. Most bumper manufactures have a skid plate for their bumpers, you can also get a skid for the drive shaft. Then you work your way back, the engine oil pan, transmission, the transfer case, gas tank, evap canister, and even the muffler (assuming it's in the factory location). "Why should I worry about that much stuff, I won't be doing that hard of trails?" Your need for skids is purely relative on what you plan to do. Skids are like pistols and parachutes, if you need them and don't have them, you may never need them again. Mall crawling doesn't require skids, but if you plan on going off road, consider your terrain, rock crawling -- you will slam down on things you've got no business slamming down on. Going through the wood to your deer lease? Down trees are obstacles as much as anything else, and think twice if you think a tree branch can't puncture a oil pan.
Now some companies have made steel and aluminum skids. The big appeal with aluminum is the weight reduction, and hands down they are lighter than steel. That a bit of a no-brainer though right? So like all things, consider, what will you be doing with your Jeep. While you have saved weight with aluminum skids, they are more expensive and not as strong. Remember, these are skids, armor, they are there to protect and live to fight another day. Steel VS aluminum of equal thickness (as skids are), steel wins hands down and repeatedly. Skids are something you will rarely ever see, unless you are a fanatic and/or just like spending recreational time under your vehicle with the kids and neighbors. That being said they are an important consideration to anyone who plans to venture off the beaten path.
You have essentially two types of lifts: puck/level and suspension. Puck lifts are simple spacers for the most part and sometimes longer shackles if needed. You don't get much height from these but with less height and less parts will bring a lower price tag. These lifts are often called a "budget boost." Suspension lifts are a different story and come in a variety of style and combinations, some with or without shocks and struts. The old rule of "you get what you pay for" frequently applies to suspension lifts. You can get a $400 suspension lift and it will ride like a $400 suspension lift; the kind that are so rough you may chip a tooth on the way to work. Likewise you can spend more and get a ride that's smoother than stock. Deciding on a suspension lift, really depends on what you plan to do with the vehicle. So ask yourself first what do I plan to do with my Jeep. Is it just for looks? Is pavement quality important? Will you stick to mild trails and still need to go to work on Monday? Do you plan to go big and trailer it home, so max flexibility is a must?
Your Jeep's shoes, lets talk about them. This runs a lot like the conversation we just had about lifts, what do you plan to do with this rig? Anyone who doesn't ask you that, is more concerned about their commission than they are getting you the proper set up. Why get sold inferior or irrelevant parts and service to have to do it properly later, spending more money, when both asking and answer that simple question will help you so much in the long run. Mild or wild, that the question. A Jeep that needs to go back and forth to work and back, you don't want to aggressive of a tire because of the noise. The more aggressive the tire, the more roar will get, and it gets louder the faster you drive. Jeeps that are trailer queens, this isn't an issue, since you would rarely drive on pavement and typically won't go over 20-30mph for short periods. For the majority of people that are weekend wheeling warriors, we still need to drive this bad boy to work and back on Monday. You bring the kids and the family in this rig. It needs to be quiet like a minivan, but with all the fun minivans never have...because their minivans. Do keep in mind that with great tires comes a need for a great lift, so make sure you're considering both at the same time. Not just for the look, but for practicality, you're lift needs to allow for the size tires you're interested in, and vice versa.
Wheels are a different issue all together. When it comes to wheels you have regular wheels, like your factory wheels and you have beadlock wheels. Now please don't get confused when you research wheels, many companies make fake beadlock or fauxlock wheels. These are wheels that look, and only look, like they have beadlock rings on them. It's not to trick you, it's strictly for the look. Beadlock wheels are on average 50%+ more than regular wheels, hence why they have wheels that just 'look' like them. "Ok, but what are you talking about, what is a beadlock?" First let me explain how they appear, then explain their purpose. The most common you'll see if a single sided lock, this is a wheel, looks normal enough, except there is an outer ring that bolts to the face of the wheel. The bolts will be recessed. The ring is flat and if used, very very scratched. Now for purpose. When you rock crawl, you air down your tires. Typically you'll run your Jeep at lets say 35 psi, a little firm for some but lets just say for this conversation it's 35psi. When you air down with your stock wheels and new 35" tires, you air down to 20psi. This flattens out your tire, think of it like an elephants foot, spread wide as it presses down. A properly inflated tire will typically pop when coming up against the rocks your about to crawl. Think about the fact that it's not just the bottom of your tire, you're putting these tires through areas, you're not supposed to go, so the side walls will be scuffed and a scratched. When you air down, now much of the pressure used to hold your tire to the wheel is, frankly, not there. So when getting into a tight spot it is possibly that sometimes your tire will pop loose from the wheel. The area of the tire that presses against the wheel is called the bead. With a beadlock wheel, the lock ring keeps the bead in place, so it doesn't have a chance to roll off the wheel. This security also allows you to air down even less, more flare out of that tire, more ground coverage. There are companies that make a double sided lock to allow for maximum security on both sides of the wheel.
The internal beadlock is a different creature all. Some wheels are set up for internal locks. These work in the same way your bicycle tire worked. You have a tube inside the tire which has to be aired up separately when installing. What this does is allow you to air down again very low and the inner tube then presses against the inside of the tire keeping it pressed to the wheel, preventing slippage. Either type of lock, be warned, are more expensive in both parts and labor to install. This is again part of the "go big/go home" rigs.
Aside from changing the look, bumpers have their place as well as the rear tire carrier. Front bumpers now come in full width, mid width and what they call stubby, which exactly what it sounds like. Purpose being to allow first contact with rocks to be with tire rather than bumper and also to allow all the room possible when flexing the front end. Rear bumpers also come in a smaller variety of lengths, but do still have options for how much bumper you think you need to protect your assets. For daily use most will use a full with rear bumper and with it a different tire carrier. The stock tire carrier and bumper will physically fit a wheel with a 35" tire, however the hinges and sheet metal of the door were not designed for the weight. When upgrading to heavier wheels and tires, a new carrier should very much be considered. In no particular order the issues that come with factory carrier and heavy tires are the pinch welds inside the door breaking, you won't notice this until it's far to late and until it starts to tear the outer metal. The hinges can't keep up and sags the door, causing every bump in the road to rattle the door latch, not a big deal, but often very annoying.
We spoke about armor a moment ago, this is a different type. The rocker panel of your Jeep is susceptible to injury when falling off or sliding across rocks. No matter how good you are, no one can wheel every trail in a straight line. You will slide, you will tip and you will yell for your nearest deity when wheeling. Rock sliders safe the lower rocker of your Jeep, period. You can get a few versions, some have separate steps on them. These leave a nice gap to get your Jeep stuck on and makes for a very fun story of why you had to get winched out. With a proper slider you can do exactly as their name implies, slide. Will it sound God awful, oh yes it will, but that's why you buy them. They aren't suppose to be clean and shiny, they are designed to save your Jeep from crushing that lower area. All armor has a purpose.
"My God man, how much stuff is there?" "A lot", is the shortest way I can answer that question. Fenders can in steel and aluminum and often in stock width or narrow widths, all depends on manufacture. As in skids, the aluminum flares are lighter, and plenty strong, but still no where near as strong as steel. Plus if money is an issue as it often is, aluminum is more than steel. Reasoning for doing flares is one of a few. First, you ripped yours off doing something, which happens more than you think. Second is like anything else you are future proofing as much as possibly or just gaining that clearance for large tires. Flat fenders give you much more room for flexibility by not having all that plastic in the way, while still giving you a flare as is required by law, just to have it stay looking right, or just keep from slinging while driving. If you choose metal of either type, they will more often than not come raw, so you can paint or powder coat to your hearts content.
Not at all cosmetic but still a necessary evil. Between wheels and tires, bumpers, and anything else you've added you've noticed your Jeep is real sluggish now. It feels like your always pulling a trailer when you're not. Changing out your gears will drastically restore that drive-ability and that final gear to you. As our broken record goes, what do you plan to do with it? This is a case of "while we're in there", if you want to update or add your lockers or change your axles to chromoly axles, now is that time. If you have to replace a broken axle later, it will be like paying for that gear job all over again. It's cheaper to do these at the time of gear if you plan to. The same rule for axle sleeves. Before I get ahead of myself, chromoly axles are super strong. If you plan to wheel HARD and/or run on 37"+ tires, it's something to really consider. First the excessive weight of a 37" tire is that much more strain on the factory axles. It requires a certain amount of energy to turn the factory axles to spin the factory tires for highway driving. It requires much more to spin 37"+ tires and even more when taking it off road and pushing those tires to grab and fight rocks. Path of least resistance, something's got to give and it will probably be the axles first.
Now axle sleeves. What they do is reinforce the axle housing. Like the axles, with excessive stress the metal housing itself, can actually tear or warp. So when the axles are out of the way during a gear job, the axle housing itself is wide open and a perfect time to install a sleeve. For anyone unfamiliar with the idea of a sleeve, imagine a hollow tube, now take a slightly smaller steel tube that fits perfectly to the inside of the first tube. What you've essentially done is made the housing walls thicker and more resilient to wear and tear. Doing sleeves after the fact or by themselves, you will be paying for a front gear job on top of the labor to install the sleeves. There's no since in spending that money twice.
I'd like to think we've learned a lot and grown a little throughout this lesson. If you aren't asked what you're doing with your rig when it's time to build, at the very least ask yourself and plan accordingly. This is a hobby to some and way of life to others. The fact is your Jeep is your own expression, just understand it very much can be a perpetual project -- one thing will lead to another, and another and yes another. Make it yours but most importantly make it home and safe.