Stock Fender Flares & Stock Tires
The factory fenders have a structural brace and lip. These elements are designed to fully cover the factory tire. In addition, the stock fender flares help absorb tire/road noise while on the highway. However, just slightly increasing the tire size to a 33-inch tire without a lift will have you running out of room while on the trail. This exposes the stock flare’s biggest weakness: clearance.
When you take your Jeep off-road, depending on the type of trail, you might choose to disconnect the front sway bar. Disconnecting the sway bar while on the trail allows your Jeep to articulate and provide more range of motion/flexing of the axle. This up and down articulation ensures a tire is in contact with the ground despite the unevenness of the trail. The vertical range of motion is largely determined by the suspension’s limitation, but also the available clearance for the tire within the wheel well, bringing the fender flares into the discussion. During these conditions your Wrangler is often pushed to its limits. This includes the range of clearance as the factory tire and factory fender flare reach maximum efficiency and come close to contact. There is often very little room left during maximum articulation.
Stock Fender Flares with 33” Tires
If you’re going to be off-roading, odds are you’re looking into bigger tires. The 33” tire size can be mounted on a Jeep with stock suspension without any clearance issues during paved road use. Off-road, however, 33” tires will exceed the available clearance space with a stock fender flare. During mild articulation, the tire can come in contact with the stock fender flare’s structural base and could cause the fender flare to rip off the factory fenders. This is most probable in the front end of the Jeep which has greater articulation, but can also take place in the rear if the trail is aggressive enough.
The Ever Popular Flat Fender Flares
These are among the most popular aftermarket fender flare style. There’s a large variety of flat Jeep fender flares to choose from. If you are on a budget, you can start by cutting your stock fenders. There are several tutorials online that highlight the process and with some patience you can achieve great results.
Another flat fender option is a steel tubular flare. Tubular fender flares provide the same level of clearance with the added bonus of side protection while on the trail. Properly sized, they can protect the body from trees on narrow paths. The negative of a plastic flat fender is the loss of rigidity, protection, and increased tire/road noise. Tubular flares solve the issue of rigidity, but the positive of increased clearance leads room for unavoidable tire/road noise.
In addition, going with a narrower flat fender allows for great clearance on a narrow trail, but you lose the protection aspect, putting your wheel’s face as the out-most point of contact. If you are looking for better clearance while on the trail, a flat fender flare option is the best choice. For even more clearance a narrow flat fender option provides even greater clearance, but offers no side protection on narrow trails.
Tubular Style Fender Flares
Flat Fender Clearance with Stock Tires
During off-road conditions the stock combination is pushed to its limit with very little room left. If you’re looking for some additional space, flat fender flares might be an easy and inexpensive solution when compared to adding a lift.
By eliminating the structural base and lip of the factory fender flares, flat fenders provide a substantial increase in clearance for the factory tire within the wheel well. This increase is most noticeable while on the trail and under full articulation, allowing the suspension to fully move within its complete range of motion without fear of contact between the tire and fender flare.
Flat Style Fender Flares
Flat Fender Clearance with 33” Tires
A common solution when upgrading to 33” tires is to use a flat fender flare. By eliminating the structural base of the stock fender flare, the tire has a greater level of clearance. The combination of 33” tires and flat fender flares will achieve a similar clearance level as stock tires with a stock fender flare. The clearance will be maximized and allow the Jeep’s factory suspension to fully travel freely. However, similar to the stock combination, the clearance will reach its maximum allotment and there will be little to no room left during extreme articulation. It’s important to note that while on the trail, there could be a potential of contact if the trail is aggressive enough.
To counter the possibility of any type of contact, you can install a 1-2” basic lift. This type of lift is very easy to install and has minimal impact to your factory suspension. It will provide the slight increase in lift to ensure there is no contact between the 33” tire and flat fender.
JK with a 2.5" Lift and Flat, Bare-Bones Fenders
Wide Fender Flares - Staying Within the Law
Finally, some states require a vehicle’s fenders completely cover the wheels. The flares on a stock Wrangler serve that purpose, and most aftermarket wheel sizes continue to meet those requirements. However, some wheel designs have a wider stance, placing the face of the wheel past the fender flare line. In those cases, a wider fender flare is useful to stay within local laws.
Typically wider fender flares have what is called a “pocket style” with curved indents for mounting bolts. These flares offer additional coverage and support for wider wheels. The advantage of wider fender flares is the retention of the factory coverage and tire/road noise is minimal. However, the disadvantage over flat fenders is the loss of clearance while on the trail. If you are looking for a wider more aggressive stance and require the fenders cover your wheels, these are the best options.
Like most upgrades on Jeeps, fender flares can offer significant improvements while on the trail, or retain the factory look and function for a wider stance. Fulfilling your individual needs is up to your intended purpose and local state laws. In any case there is certainly the right fender flare available for your specific needs.
Pocket Style Fender Flares
Fitment includes: JL, JK, TJ, YJ, 1987, 1988, 1989, 1990, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, Laredo, Sport, Islander, S, Sahara, Renegade, SE, X, Rubicon, Unlimited, Sport-S