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How to Cover a Jeep Wrangler Pinch Seam

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If you have an entry level Sport Wrangler, the pinch seam along the bottom side edge of the frame tub will probably be exposed. Although there’s no structural issues with the exposed seam, it does give the Wrangler an unfinished look. Sahara, Rubicon, and specialty models typically come equipped with rock rails or side steps to cover the seam. In this tech guide we’ll discuss the varying options available to apply the same level of cosmetic treatment to the base model, while also offer some function and protection to all Jeep models.

What is a Pinch Seam?

The pinch seam is the accumulation of sheet metal layers from the Wrangler’s body. Outer fenders and inner tub panels are joined in a pinch weld along the bottom side of the Jeep’s body. The seam runs the length of the Jeep directly under the doors. As mentioned earlier, most special edition, Sahara and Rubicon models cover this seam with steps or rails, but entry level sport models have it exposed. Typically, this is a part of the Jeep that is rarely modified with the exception of running 35”  tires. At the larger tire size, there is a potential of contact, especially while on the trail and the tire pressure is lowered, causing the tire to bulge out. The pinch seam’s edge is thin and could be sharp enough to slice through the tire if contact is made. When running larger tires, the modification requires either bending the rear excess lip, cutting and then welding, or filling it closed with JBweld to prevent any corrosion. 

JK Wrangler Crawling Down a Rock Shelf

What are Rubicon Rock Rails and How Do They Cover The Pinch Seam?

Rubicon models come equipped with a steel rail that runs the side length of the Jeep and covers the exposed pinch seam. The rail runs along the side of the seam and tucks underneath, creating a finished rounded face to the bottom seam, while also protecting it from under-side damage from rocky terrain. Rubicon rails can be installed on any Jeep model, taking advantage of mounting provisions already available from the factory. This is among the easiest and inexpensive solution to covering the pinch seam.

Running Rock Sliders with the Rubicon Rock Rails

The Rubicon rock rails provide a great layer of protection to the pinch seam and a good foundation for rock sliders. Rock sliders are steel side tubes that generally attach to the Jeep’s body frame bolts and can support the weight of the Jeep, allowing it to deflect and slide off rocky/hard terrain. This also provides another layer of protection to the lower sides of the Jeep, while also providing a stepping platform to get in/out of the Jeep. This is especially helpful if your Jeep is lifted. There is a large variety of rock sliders available, depending on your specific need and budget, some offer a layer of protection that you may/may not need. 

1987-2006 Wrangler with Rocker Guards

What is Rocker Armor and How Can it Work With Rock Sliders?

Building off the rock slider and Rubicon rail combination, rocker armor is typically a plate that is attached to the bottom edge of the Jeep’s body. These armor plates follow the contour of the doors and are generally a permanent modification, requiring the drilling of the fenders and side body. They prevent the scratching and denting of the Jeep’s body if it comes in contact with rocks or other hard terrain and can also cause the paint to fall off, exposing the Jeep’s body to the elements and possible corrosion over time. Rocker panels also protect the bottom panels from any rock or trail/road debris that can be kicked up by the tire, overtime this small impacts can wear away at the paint finish, also exposing the metal to the elements. It’s important to note that the alignment is perfect during the installation, since there is very little room for adjustment once the holes have been drilled and the nutserts installed, the plates are rigid and have to be securely held in place during installation.  

1997-2006 TJ Wrangler with Rocker Panel Armor & Side Step
TJ with Rocker Armor

Can You Use Side Steps to Cover the Pinch Seam?

Most special edition and Sahara models just cover the pinch seam with a side step. These side steps are typically made of plastic and attach along the bottom frame of the Jeep, just over the pinch seam itself. They are not designed to sustain the weight of the Jeep, or offer any protection while on the trail. Their only purpose is to provide a stepping base when getting in/out of the Jeep. As a result, Jeep actually recommends the removal of the plastic factory steps while on the trail. There are however several aftermarket side steps available that are made of steel and offer a bit more protection when compared to the plastic stock steps. It’s important to make note of the mounting location of the side steps to ensure they don’t utilizes the same mounting location as the Rubicon rock rails, or provide an alternate mounting solution if you choose to use them with the rock rails. 

2-Door JK Side Step Review & Installation

Conclusion

There are several solutions that can cover an exposed pinch seam.

Rubicon rock rails: These steel rails provide a low profile, rounded finished look to the bottom edge of the Jeep, while also protecting the pinch seam from rocky terrain.

Rock sliders: Similar to the Rubicon rock rails, the sliders provide an added layer of protection to the Jeep’s underbody from rocky terrain, allowing the jeep to deflect and slide of hard obstacles while also providing a layer of protection to the rocker panels. They can typically run along with the Rubicon rock rails

Rocker Armor: Rocker armor are plates mounted to the bottom sides of the Jeep, running along the contours of the doors, these panels require drilling holes into the Jeep’s body for nutserts and mounting provisions. Some rocker armor solutions also offer an integrated rock slider that can serve as a side step to get in/out of the Jeep easily. 

Side Steps: Sahara and some special edition Jeeps come equipped with plastic side steps that allow for easy entry/exit of the jeep, while also covering the pinch seam. These side steps however are not designed to be used on the trail and offer no protection to the underbody and lower sides of the Jeep. 

1997-2006 TJ Wrangler with Rocker Armor & Integrated Step
Rocker Armor with an Integrated Side Step
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