Lots of us spend thousands of dollars upgrading our vehicles, making them more powerful, taller, more aggressive-looking, etc. etc. What some of us overlook often is what’s going on underneath our vehicles.
Often I come across jeeps on the trails trying to go over obstacles without any skid protection under some of the most critical areas of their vehicles. Here is a small list of upgrades to consider when hitting the trails, some are nice to have while others are must-have.
This list and the importance and availability will completely depend on your vehicle brand and model. I base this article on my Jeep JK and the skid plates I added since I started this project.
When I purchased my Jeep, I had the idea of getting the cheaper version of a JK in order to build it up the way I wanted instead of getting a Rubicon from the get-go. With that said, I started without any of the basic skid plates that will be included with a Rubicon model. But then again, the factory skid plates are really designed to take the first 5 minutes of beating. If you are building up your rig and intend to offroad it regularly, consider replacing all of those with aftermarket skid plates, which are significantly stronger.
Basically, you can go in different ways when choosing skid plates. There are integral skid plates and individual ones.
Although the integral ones are a bit more expensive at first, if you believe you will end up protecting most of those areas, you might save some money compared to installing individual skid plates, like I did… live and learn.
Also, keep in mind the weight; some of the most expensive kits are made out of aluminum. Aluminum is more expensive, lighter, and plenty durable for moderate usage on trails and somewhat rocky trails. Steel, while heavier, is cheaper, easier to work with, more durable, and the skid plate of choice for more dedicated rock crawlers.
The oil pan is probably your most critical and exposed area, followed by the differential covers, and the rock sliders.
You could also protect your rear differential with a skid cover, gas tank, and exhaust in the rear. Although these mentioned won’t stop you from driving back home, if damaged could become expensive repairs.
You can find also control arm skid plates. I had those before upgrading my front axle for the Dana Ultimate, which includes the skid plate on the brackets.
There are also engine skid plates, transfer case, exhaust loop, and manual transmission skid plates, among others.
My two cents
Today I see my skid plates at the same level of importance as my gears, tires, and lift itself. I have run my rig on pretty challenging trails, where I know I’m crushing rocks left and right, and at the end of the run, there is nothing broken. I can drive home in a straight line, and that, to me, is something worth investing.