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Jeep Wrangler Body Armor Overview

XT Staff

XT Staff

 / Jun 19 2019
Jeep Wrangler Body Armor Overview

When you are on the trail in your Jeep Wrangler, it is comforting to know a suit of armor surrounds you and keeps you safe. Just how safe often depends on what trim level you purchased, and what aftermarket Jeep parts you have added. To avoid serious damage on the trail, it’s best to upgrade your Jeep with aftermarket armor. Since 1941, Jeep has been producing some of the most rugged and capable vehicles that venture where others wouldn’t dare to go. While the stock Wranglers are very durable, it is still a good idea to help reinforce some of the more exposed areas. Wrangler armor can help protect your Jeep’s body and important mechanical components, saving you from deep scratches, gouges, smashed differentials, sliced oil pans and expensive fixes.

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Nothing's worse than being stranded on the trail with a busted differential or transmission. If you're gung-ho about rock crawling, it's better safe than sorry to install armor pieces to protect your rig.

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What's the Best Material for Armor?

For Wrangler owners that use their Jeep as a daily driver aluminum can be a great choice, due to it weighing less than steel, a vehicle with aluminum body gear will have better fuel economy and handling. Aluminum is also great for daily drivers especially in the north due to the use of road salt because of aluminum's ability not to rust. For Jeeps that are used primarily off-road steel can be a great choice due to its superior strength and lower cost than aluminum. Keep in mind most Jeep body armor other than plastic will require holes to be drilled into your Wrangler’s tub, so if you want to be able to take it off someday without there being holes, you might want to go with some plastic body armor.

Full Body Wrangler Armor Kit - Plastic - for 1997-2006 TJs
Plastic, Textured Body Armor Kit for TJs

Tough as Nails: Tough as Steel

Steel is a very strong metal that is also relatively inexpensive. This makes it very popular for suspension parts, skids, and body armor. Another benefit of steel is that it is able to be easily repaired unlike aluminum. The main drawbacks to steel body gear are it is going to rust easier, and the extra weight can add up quickly. By adding large amounts of weight to your Wrangler you may change your center of gravity. This can affect handling and increase the chances of your Wrangler rolling over.

Steel Body Armor Set - Fenders - for JK Wranglers
Steel Armor Set for JKs

Wrangler Aluminum Body Armor: Not Quite as Light as Air

Aluminum is an amazing metal already used in many areas of the automotive field, ranging from body panels to engine blocks. One of aluminum’s largest benefits is it’s incredibly light compared to steel. This allows you to keep your Wrangler’s weight down which will help avoid any negative impacts to your handling or fuel economy. Generally, steel weighs three times as much as aluminum. However, many things can affect this including thickness, type of aluminum, manufacturer, etc. Aluminum is not as strong as steel, but because of its light weight you can use more aluminum to increase its strength all while keeping it lighter than the same part in steel. The downside to aluminum is that it typically costs more than steel and is easier to damage.

Aluminum Stubby Bumper with Winch Installed on a JK Wrangler
Aluminum Stubby Bumper with Winch Installed on a JK

Aluminum's Version of Rust: Corrosion

Another huge advantage aluminum has over steel is it doesn’t rust, however it does oxidize. The main difference is rust on steel will act as a cancer and continue to spread causing more damage unless all present rust is removed and the surface is coated with paint or some other form of protective coating. Aluminum, on the other hand, will begin to oxidize after its coating wears away or deteriorates. After this happens it is protected from further damage by its powdery oxidation. Oxidation will act as a protective layer that will guard against most forms of corrosion. The only real problem with oxidation is aluminum will look dull and. However, with proper care and maintenance oxidation and corrosion can be avoided in most situations.

Full Body Cover for JK and TJ Wranglers
Full Jeep Cover

For Aesthetics, Plastic Body Parts

If you are looking for light protection against scrapes, plastic might be a good choice of material for your body armor. Plastic is a great choice if you don’t want a heavy material that you have to drill into the body to install. Most plastic body armor can be installed using double sided tape to provide a strong bond that won’t damage your Wrangler.

Wrangler Grilles

The front of many Wranglers tend to get nicks and scratches due to stones being flung up from the tires. Body armor can help prevent this whether you use a grille cover or grille inserts. In addition to protecting from stones it can also help prevent damage due to branches off-road and other light off-road scrapes. Grille inserts are a great way to protect your radiator fins as damage to your radiator fins can reduce your engine’s ability to regulate its temperature properly, and in some cases rogue branches can even cause a leak. If your Wrangler has A/C your condenser will be the component that gets damaged instead of your radiator, causing either poor vent temps or a refrigerant leak.

JK Wrangler Grille Insert Installed
Close-Up of JK Grille Insert

Protecting Your Wrangler's Fenders

As many TJ and YJ owners know, the front fenders love to rust. If you want to add an extra layer of protection against rust or want to cover up a hole you can use some body armor. Another great use for body armor on fenders is to prevent scratches and chips to your paint that may occur during off-roading, on the highway, or even at home. If you don’t want to add body armor to your fenders you can also replace them or modify them into flat fenders. The benefit of this versus adding protective panels is you can remove rusty metal from your Wrangler and provide more clearance for your tires.

JK Wranlgers Side by Side: Left with Flat Fender Flares
Standard Fenders Versus Flat Fenders

Wrangler Rock Rails/Sliders

If you plan to go off-roading regularly rock rails are a good idea. If you are planning on going rock crawling they are essential. Rock rails are designed to protect the sides of your Wrangler, particularly when rock crawling since your Wrangler’s rocker panels slide across rocks. Depending on the situation you could be facing some scratches or a caved in rocker panel if you tried crawling without protection. However, if you had rock rails your Jeep will typically just slide across without any damage. This is where they get the nickname “rock sliders”.

VIDEO: The Best 4 JK Wrangler (2-Door) Rock Sliders

Wrangler Rocker Gaurds

Rocker guards can be anything ranging from a piece of sheet metal that covers your rocker panels or a panel with some tubular guards welded on that wrap underneath. Rocker guards protect the sides of your Wrangler from scratches, punctures, and from rocks flying up and doing damage to the rocker panels while moving down the road. Some of the nicer ones can also act as Jeep rock sliders. If you remove the fender extensions on TJ and YJ Wranglers, you may leave some holes in the side of your Jeep. Using a set of rocker panel guards is a great way to cover them up. 

Wrangler Quarter Panel Armor

When it comes to quarter panel armor there are several options to pick from. You can get textured plastic, diamond plate, or sheet metal just to name a few. Diamond plate is usually the strongest and heaviest. Sheet metal is not as strong, but it is lighter. Lastly plastic is weaker, but it is usually the lightest. If you are planning on light occasional off-roading the textured plastic should get the job done. However, if you are planning on heavier and frequent off-road excursions, diamond plate or sheet metal would be a better choice. This armor protects your quarter panels from rocks, branches, and whatever else you might find on the trails.

1997-2006 TJ Wrangler with Rear Corner Guards
TJ Fitted with Rear Corner Guards

Wrangler Skid Plates

Skid plates are generally heavy gauged steel plates that cover strategic points of the Jeep’s undercarriage. The Wrangler comes equipped with skid plates over critical components like the fuel tank and transfer case. Although these plates are enough for some off-roading, additional plates along with a thicker gauge material would be beneficial against more serious obstacles. Most aftermarket skid plates start off with additional coverage of the factory oil pan and EVAP canister. Both areas are exposed and have little to no protection. There are several options available, but a good plan of attack is to set up a series of plates that work off each other, providing a continuous smooth surface. The mounting hardware ideally should be rounded in order to deflect off obstacles. A square head bolt could be sheared off by a rock, so a round head bolt is ideal. Additionally, bracket mounts to the Jeep’s frame are generally better options for oil pan protection over options that replace the actual oil pan itself. Plates anchored on frame-mounted arms offer more versatility and coverage of other components.

Oil/Transmission Skid Plate on a JK Wrangler
Transmission Skid Plate Installed on a JK

The Importance of Differential Covers

While off-roading, one of the Jeep’s lowest contact points is the front and rear axle differential. The factory pumpkin shaped bells can hold up well against small obstacles like tree roots, sand, mud, and ice, but larger obstacles like rocks or tree stumps could cause significant damage. The first item of protection should be a differential cover. Most aftermarket options are made of heavy gauged iron and provide a significant amount of protection against rough terrain.

Aftermarket covers are also angled at the edges to address a second concern, which is “peeling”. This is a problem faced when the differentials are dragged across a hard obstacle, such as a rock or tree. If the obstacles meet the lip of a differential cover, it could “peel” it off the housing. A good replacement cover should have various curved angled faces to help deflect the impact and prevent it from getting caught on something. For that same reason, bolts ideally should be recessed. The goal is to have a smooth, rounded, multi-faced surface that can easily deflect off obstacles it comes in contact with.

Dana 30 Differential Cover
Dana 30 Differential Cover

Wrangler Cages: Factory vs Aftermarket

Every Wrangler comes from the factory with a roll cage that is quite strong. However, if you are into serious off-roading it may be a good idea to upgrade your roll cage. The stock roll cage will keep you safe during a mild rollover, however, if you get into any serious trouble it may not be able to protect you. Many companies sell kits that upgrade your stock cage to greatly boost the strength, saving you from buying an entire roll cage.

Wrangler Bumpers: Front to Back

The world of Bumpers is quite extensive and offers a large variety of options. Ultimately they are steel replacements of the factory aluminum frame, plastic covered option. Steel bumpers protect the Jeep’s front and rear while providing mounting solutions for winches and recovery points. Special attention should be placed on the type of off-roading you plan on doing. A short stubby bumper provides the ability of better turning and articulation. Full frame bumpers offer more protection but are much heavier. A good alternative would probably be a mid-width front bumper that tends to cover both concerns. Another important note when choosing a rear bumper is the option for a hitch. Some rear bumpers offer an integrated hitch mount or a recess for the factory hitch, some do not. Also, some rear bumpers offer an integrated tire carrier and some do not. These are options to consider during your research. It is also very common to mix brands and is not necessary to stick with one particular brand for both bumpers.

Tube Doors: Letting Air In, Keeping Rocks Out

Tube doors are great for off-roading as they give you the open air feel of having your doors off with added protection. If you or passengers don’t feel comfortable riding in a vehicle without doors, tube doors are a great choice. Tubular doors provide an open air feel while still providing a protective barrier between the riders and the trail. Not everyone enjoys riding in a vehicle with no doors, but tubular doors help keep you and your passengers inside your Wrangler and help reduce the number of branches slapping your legs. Tubular doors can be considered armor because they protect you and your passengers from falling out and it’s quite the challenge to damage your doors on the trail if you leave them at home.

JK Wrangler 4 Door with Tube Doors
JK with Tube Doors

Light Guards: Keeping the Trail Lit

Light guards and light covers are great for off-roading due nobody likes getting pulled over for a broken headlight or taillight, and no one is ever excited to see their expensive off-road lights get smashed by a random flying rock or branch.

If you want to keep your Jeep protected from some of the dangers of the trails, it’s important to insure it’s ready to handle them. Wranglers are extremely durable, but they are not indestructible. Hence why there are various types of armor to prevent costly repairs due to something like a rock smashing through an oil pan or rocker panel.

Wrap Around Tail Light Guard - Textured - on a JK Wrangler
Wrap Around JK Tail Light Guard
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