If you’re going to tackle tough trails or scrape over boulders while rock-crawling, you’ll need to protect your Jeep. Upgrading your Wrangler with strong armor and protection will guard its vulnerable areas. While Jeeps come from the factory Trail-Rated, there are steps you can take to better protect them when you’re off-road.
What Is Jeep Wrangler Armor?
Wrangler armor refers to the parts that protect your Jeep’s critical components and body while you’re off-roading. It’s primarily used to protect the underbody and exterior body.
The most important area to armor for off-roading is the underbody. Shielding your drivetrain components and the fuel tank is vital if you don’t want to end up stranded on the trail.
The second section to consider armoring is the exterior body. While damage to your Jeep’s body isn’t likely to end your off-road journey, it’s still useful to have. Adding body armor will help prevent cosmetic damage like paint scratches or broken taillights.
Pros and Cons of Jeep Wrangler Armor
Although armoring your Jeep might seem like a no-brainer, there are pros and cons to consider. This is especially true for underbody armor. These metal pieces often require permanent modification and they add significant weight.
Pros and Cons of Jeep Armor
|Extra protection and peace of mind
||Adds weight (unsprung and possibly sprung, which can affect handling and put stress on the frame)
|Adds style to visible elements
||Permanence due to drilling/welding
|Prevents costly repairs
||Moderate upfront cost
Wrangler Armor Materials
The primary materials used to make off-road armor are steel, aluminum, and plastic. Steel and aluminum are typically used for underbody protection, while plastic tends to be used for body protection. Each has pros and cons to their use.
Steel Wrangler Armor
Steel provides the most protection since it slides across rock better than aluminum. Its properties make it favored by those who do serious rock crawling. This is because bouncing and dragging the underside against hard surfaces is common or expected. Some off-roaders swear by steel skid plates and wouldn’t dream of considering anything else.
Steel armor’s main disadvantage is it can add a lot of weight to your Wrangler. Too much weight puts stress on the frame and negatively affects handling and fuel economy. So you’ll want to keep that in mind when choosing your armor material.
Aluminum Wrangler Armor
If you’re concerned about fuel efficiency or weight strain, aluminum is a better option. For mudding and water fording, aluminum will offer adequate protection.
The downside to aluminum is it can be gouged more easily by hard, sharp objects. Therefore, it’s not as ideal for rock crawling as steel is. You’ll still find plenty of aluminum skid plates though. Most non-underbelly armor and rock rails are aluminum.
Plastic Wrangler Armor
Plastic is very light and less expensive than aluminum or steel. It’s best at providing moderate protection against small scratches to your paint, but that’s about it.
Your Jeep’s stock fender flares and bumper caps are made of plastic. You won’t really need to replace them unless you’ll be doing serious rock-crawling. For parts that provide cosmetic protection, like a cowl cover, plastic is a fine material.
Wrangler Skid Plates and Underbody Protection
The most important part of armoring your Wrangler is adding protection to the parts you can’t see. Skid plates are used to protect the vital components within your Jeep’s underbody. There aren’t any style points to be earned here, as these parts will rarely be seen or noticed. But for rock-crawlers, skid plates are a necessity.
Front Skid Plate
Your front skid plate will protect your radiator and sway bar area. The Rubicon comes with a steel front skid plate, but only if you order the steel bumper. If you have another trim or didn’t get the steel bumper package with the Rubicon, you’ll just have a plastic guard. You can upgrade to a more off-road-focused and durable option on the aftermarket.
Differential Skid Plate
The differential is one of the most sensitive areas of your Jeep’s underbelly. It’s also one of the lowest, and it won’t be raised by a lift kit. Therefore, most rock-crawlers see armor for their differential as a must-have. A leaky or damaged differential can be noisy at best and prevent driving at worst. Most differential skid plates are made of steel to ensure this vital area is protected.
If you don’t want a skid plate, an upgraded differential cover will provide some extra protection. They’re usually made of aluminum and are often painted for extra style.
Fuel Tank Skid Plate
A fuel tank skid plate provides protection to one of the most crucial underbody components. The last thing you want is a punctured fuel tank, giving you a leak and even bigger problems.
Take a look at this Rough Country steel fuel tank skid plate for the JK. Aluminum options are available if you want something with lighter weight.
Transmission, Oil Pan, and Muffler Skid Plates
Your transmission, oil pan, and muffler are all at risk of being struck by obstacles and debris. Rugged Ridge has an excellent option for your transmission. You can also check out Rancho’s oil pan guard and Rough Country’s muffler protection. While oil pan and muffler damage probably won’t end your trip, a damaged transmission can leave your vehicle inoperable.
Types of Jeep Wrangler Body Armor
Although underbody armor and skid plates are the most important, body armor components guard structural and cosmetic areas. The most practical body armor pieces are off-road rock rails, bumpers, and fender flares. They’ll offer the most protection. But there are plenty of other body armor options to protect areas that are vulnerable.
Wrangler Rock Rails and Bumpers
Rock rails and off-road bumpers protect the front, back, and sides of your Wrangler from rocks and debris. Check out our helpful guide on rock rails to learn about the different styles and materials available.
Rock rails are a common piece of armor that protect your Jeep’s sides. Steel rock rails are a factory feature of the Rubicon trim, but the other trim levels don’t offer this protection. You’ll probably want to add your own pair if you didn’t get them on your Wrangler. Rocker guards and side steps are other options if you don’t want to install a set of rock rails.
As for the front and back, there are lots of different bumpers that can offer protection. See our Wrangler bumper guide for a rundown. There are dozens of bumper options for your Jeep. Stubbies offer more clearance for better approach and departure angles. Full-width bumpers cover more area and protect your front corners.
As for material, steel bumpers are favored for rigorous off-roading. Installation of any bumper should be simple since they bolt directly onto the vehicle.
Wrangler Inner Fender Flares
Inner fender flares, or fender liners, are crucial for those that tackle rough terrain. Often made of aluminum, they’ll require some drilling and grinding to install. However, they offer superb protection for your engine bay by deflecting sharp rocks and debris.
Wrangler Fender Flares
Fender flares safeguard your wheel well areas. The plastic fenders from the factory provide good protection and looks. However, steel fender flares are a better choice for rock-crawlers.
Wrangler Corner Guards and Taillight Guards
Corner guards protect against damage as you come off an obstacle. They also look pretty cool. For further coverage, taillight guards will protect your lenses from being broken. They’re typically constructed of tough plastic, and you can custom-paint them to your liking. Some are made of steel.
Wrangler Cowl Covers
While they won’t provide much protection on the trail, cowl covers will prevent scratches from your side mirrors. They also add some noticeable style. Easy installation and affordable prices make them popular, even for those that don’t do serious off-roading. They’re made of durable plastic and require no drilling to install.
Wrangler Magnetic Body Armor
For those that want temporary body protection on the trail, magnetic body armor is a great solution. These semi-flexible panels cover parts of your Wrangler’s body like the doors and fenders. Applying and removing them is simple, as the magnetic backing sticks right to your Jeep’s metal.
Check out Smittybilt’s magnetic armor set for the JK for a low-cost, non-permanent way to guard your paint.
You can also take your doors off entirely or add aftermarket tube doors. Doors designed for off-roading can take much more of a beating than your factory ones. Read our aftermarket Wrangler door guide for inspiration.
Wrangler Entry Guards
Entry guards will give your Wrangler some extra scuff protection on an area that sees a lot of traffic. They’re not always considered armor and don’t protect any vital parts. But if you have lots of people or gear going in and out, these are worth the investment. Plus, they can provide extra protection when you’re rolling with the doors off.
Getting Ready for Off-Road Obstacles
Adding aftermarket armor to your Jeep Wrangler is one of the best ways to protect it off-road. While no amount of mods can replace safe and cautious driving, you can prepare for the worst by outfitting your 4x4 with Jeep trail armor. To learn about deals on Jeep armor products, sign up for our CJ Off-Road email newsletter.
Source: Aluminum vs Steel Skid Plates and Armor- Vehicle Protection, RockChuckSummit
This article was researched, written, edited, and reviewed following the steps outlined in our editorial process. Learn more about CJ's editorial standards and guidelines.