The rocker panel runs along the bottom of your Wrangler between the fenders and beneath the door. The rocker panel helps unify your Wrangler’s frame and creates structural integrity. Your Jeep’s rocker panel is also one of the parts most vulnerable to damage.
Whenever you go off-roading, your Wrangler’s rocker panel is exposed to the elements. When rock crawling, boulders scrape away a Wrangler’s paint and create dents. Which means the next muddy river forged has space to create rust.
Off-roading isn’t the only source of damage though. Even parking can be dangerous. People may park too closely, or open their doors too firmly. Before you know it, you’re dealing with scraped paint or a dent. Though this sounds minor, it’s a situation that escalates quickly.
If you’ve ever seen an older Jeep with rusted out rocker panels, then you already know the worst-case scenario. Once the rust gets started, it’s hard to stop. And if rust has already infected the frame, repairing it could be costly.
"The best option is to protect your rocker panels before they’re damaged"
The best option is to protect your rocker panels before they’re damaged. But even if they’re already dented and dinged, it’s still worth looking at rocker panel protection.
Though there are many ways to protect your rockers, there’s no one best option. Every Jeep-er uses their Wrangler differently, which means your needs may vary. Understanding all the options available can help you pick the right rocker protection for you.
Rock Sliders and Rock Rails
What Are Rock Sliders?
These rocker guards are named rock sliders because they’re designed to help your Wrangler slide over rocks. Rock sliders are typically constructed of heavy gauge steel tubing. Because rock sliders ride below your rocker panels, they’re best against ground-bound obstacles. Rock rails do well against rocks or tree stumps.
What Are Rock Rails?
Rock sliders are also sometimes called rock rails because of their tube design. Though the Rubicon comes stock with a set of rock rails, no other Wrangler does.
The terms rock rails and rock sliders are used interchangeably, but “rock rails” does specifically refer to the tubular versions. There are many different styles of rock rails and rock sliders.
How Are Rock Rails Different from Side Steps?
Rock rails are tougher and offer more protection than side steps. While most side steps will be made out of plastic or aluminum, rock sliders are almost always steel. Side steps may offer incidental protection, but it’s not their primary goal.
Most rock rails have the added benefit of functioning as side steps. Some of them even include ledges specifically designed for that function.
If you just want a way to easily get into your Jeep, side steps or running boards will work well. If you also want your step to protect your Jeep, a rock slider would be a better choice.
How Are Rock Sliders Different from Nerf Bars?
Rock sliders and nerf bars look very similar, and either can be used as a step. Either will help protect your Wrangler in a parking lot. They have more differences than similarities though.
Much like side steps, nerf bars tend to be made of lighter-weight materials. Nerf bars almost never have a frame mounting option, but rather bolt-on. This makes them a very quick install. Nerf bars can’t offer much protection, but they can push away brush and keep parking lot dents at bay.
Rock rails are constructed using heavy gauge steel. This helps them withstand a lot more weight and hard use. Though rock sliders can be bolted to your Jeep’s body, they also have the option of mounting to the frame.
Frame-Mounted vs Body-Mounted
Rock rails can bolt to the body, bolt to the frame, or even be welded to the frame. The last two options are preferred by many off-roaders even though body mounting is more common.
"Most rock rails and sliders are body-mounted"
Most rock rails and sliders are body-mounted. The Rubicon’s rock rails fall into this category. They have better clearance, which is what most off-roaders are interested in. And body mounting a set of rock sliders is a quick and easy install. However, they’re less durable than frame-mounted rails and are more likely to bend or warp.
Frame mounting is a much more serious installation decision. You affect your vehicle’s resale value, warranty, and structure by drilling into the frame. But it’s also what can give a rock rail the most utility.
A frame-mounted rock rail can support the Wrangler’s weight. They can act as a recovery point, or be used to flip a Wrangler right side up. Unfortunately, they can also allow off-roading hazards direct access to your Wrangler’s frame.
As one Jeep driver pointed out, with a body-mounted slider, the weakest point will always be the slider itself. In a hard accident, it will be severely damaged. But while frame-mounted sliders are less likely to take damage, any damage can be transmitted to the frame.
Frame-mounted is probably best for off-roaders who spend most of their time climbing boulders in very rocky terrain. For most trail-riding or overlanding, a body-mounted rock rail would be preferred.
Selecting Jeep Wrangler Rock Sliders
How Good Are the Rubicon’s Rock Sliders?
Many people equip their Jeep Wrangler with the same Mopar rock rails that came standard on the Rubicon. The Rubicon’s rock rails are simple and practical, which makes them a good fit for most Jeep styles. They also don’t negatively impact ground clearance, another practical concern.
Unfortunately, many have noted that the Rubicon’s rails aren’t made for very intense off-roading. Because they’re body mounted, there are some situations where they won’t provide protection. These situations include coming down hard on a sharp boulder. But for scrapes and impacts, these rock rails are great.
One feature the Mopar rock sliders come with is a black powder-coating. Powder-coating is tough and stands up well against the elements. Unfortunately, even the world’s best coating isn’t going to resist being scraped off by a rock. Bare metal options exist for people who anticipate substantial scraping in their future.
Some rock sliders come painted, and some you can easily spray paint yourself. No finish is necessarily better than another. Powder-coating is the most popular choice and is a practical choice for the majority of Wrangler owners.
Square vs Round Tubing
Though most rock sliders are made of round steel tubing, square rock sliders are available. Square tubing resists being bent, making it a good choice for tough off-road use. Unfortunately, because square tubing resists being bent, it’s less likely to be used by manufacturers. Bending square tubing into a rock rail shape is challenging. This often results in a less attractive finished project to boot.
Body Armor Rocker Guards
While rock sliders offer some protection from threats coming up from the ground, rocker guards offer protection in a very different way. Essentially, rocker guards either bolt or stick on to the rocker panels. It’s almost like replacing your rocker panel with one made out of steel plating.
Though the standard definition of rocker guard is simple, there’s no limit to how complex they can be. Some rocker guards also have attached rock rails or side steps for added use. Rocker guards also come in a variety of styles, so they can be stylish and functional.
Non-Steel Rocker Guards
There are some non-steel rocker guards. Though these options look like body armor, they’re not as protective as the steel plate options. One reason people want non-steel rocker guards is to save weight. If you’re mostly interested in beach-cruising in your Wrangler, then staying light is beneficial.
Though these options are less protective than steel, they’re still much more protective than stock. They can still prevent your paint from chipping and are rust-resistant. They also tend to be less expensive.
Rocker Guard Comparison
So, which rocker guard is for you? That depends on your usage!
For those just looking for an easier way to get in and out of their Jeep Wrangler, Nerf bars or Side Steps are perfect options. Nerf bars may help you avoid parking lot mishaps. Running boards and side steps may have additional features, like the ability to retract.
If your Wrangler deals with a lot of side impact from driving on loose gravel or general rough use, then rocker panel body armor is a great fit. This option is especially great for people who want to armor their entire Wrangler.
Most off-roading can benefit from rock rails. The Rubicon’s stock rock rails are a great option and can be added by any Jeep owner. These rock rails will work well in most off-road scenarios.
For truly serious off-roaders, frame-mounted rock rails offer a lot of utility. Bare metal options are especially worthwhile.
Once you’ve figured out what type of rocker guard is right for you, the next step is finding one that fits your Wrangler.
TJ/YJ Wrangler Rock Sliders and Rocker Guards
Some people make the mistake of thinking rocker guards are only for new Jeeps. Just because your Jeep has already seen its share of dents and dings doesn’t mean you can’t protect its rockers now.
Rocker guards can provide a side-step if you just added a high lift to your Jeep, or create a unified look with fender flares.
From very heavy-duty options to simple and subtle, there are plenty of rocker guard options.
JK and JL Wrangler Rock Sliders
Not surprisingly, there are a lot of rocker protection options for the newest two Wrangler generations. No matter what your experience is with installing modifications, there are rocker guard options.
While some JK and JL Wrangler rock sliders mount to the frame, others are easy bolt-ons. There are even rock rails that use 3M adhesive.
There are rocker guards for the toughest trails and the worst parking lots. No matter what your taste, you’ll find a rocker guard that suits you. Do you prefer a sleek black powder-coating that matches your factory fenders? Or a flashier bare metal pair?
JKU and JLU Wrangler Rock Sliders
Four-door Wranglers have quickly become the most popular options. Probably because off-roading is better with friends. Because of its popularity, there are plenty of options for JKU and JLU rocker protection.
JKU and JLU Wranglers have longer rocker panels. That means that there’s more space to protect. Most of the options available for two-door Wranglers are also available for four-door Wranglers.
Of course, with a backseat, rocker guard options with steps are especially useful.
Jeep Wrangler Rocker Panel Protection
There are a number of ways to protect your rocker panel. Whether you’re drawn to the utility of a rock rail or prefer a rocker armor panel. Rocker guards can either contribute to an overall build look or blend in seamlessly with your stock options.
The biggest factor in what rocker panel protection is right for you is how much protection you need. While there are options for daily drivers as well as hardcore rock crawling enthusiasts, the use determines the pick that’s right for you.
Many manufacturers also create their own forms of rocker protection. While these don’t fit into any category, they do help to create overlap between these categories.