The Jeep Wrangler is widely recognized as one of the most capable off-road vehicles available. Still, in spite of its numerous built-in capabilities, such as body-on-frame construction, maneuverable short wheelbase, excellent approach/departures angles, high-riding suspension and a number of other design features, it was also designed as a daily driver, so there are some things that a stock Wrangler just can’t do. If you own a Jeep Wrangler, whether it’s a classic Willys, CJ, modern JL Gladiator or anything between, here are the top five most popular Jeep modifications that you should consider.
1. Soft Top
If your ride came with a hard top, or your original soft top is getting a little ragged, a new top is probably one of the easiest and most-satisfying upgrades you can make. A soft top is easy to install right in your own driveway so it makes for a great Saturday afternoon upgrade. New Jeep Wrangler and CJ soft tops are available in many colors, styles and materials, offering protection from the elements, yet folding away for sunny days. You might even swap between styles when the mood strikes. You can choose a full coverage top like the original factory top, or something a bit more sporty like a bikini top for that open air feel with a bit of shade. For a bit more coverage without giving up the open air feel try a roll bar top. Don’t forget a set of matching full or half soft doors to complete the look.
2. Off-Road Tires
Unless you spring for one of the top models like the Rubicon, chances are good your Wrangler came with all-season radial tires, which are great for highway driving, dirt roads and maybe a well-traveled forest trail. To keep from being stranded while rock crawling or mud bogging, however, a set of dedicated off-road tires are a good decision. Sometimes just switching to a more aggressive tread pattern can yield better traction results off the paved road. Tire design technology has come a long way so the roaring drone of past serious off road tires isn’t as much of a problem anymore. You can even go slightly oversized, up to 33 x 11 on stock wheels depending on your model. Just make sure to measure carefully to make sure your new tires don’t rub a full steering lock or full suspension compression. If you do choose to go with a bigger tire you may have to consider the next Jeep modification on the list.
3. Lift Kit
One major factor in off-road capability is ground clearance, which the Wrangler already has in spades but could always use more. Oversized off-road tires will certainly help get your axles and differentials away from rocks and trees, but you can only go so big before you start rubbing fenders and other parts. Jeep Wrangler suspension lift kits come in all stages, typically from just 1.5 inches to 4 inches, and are usually something you can do in your garage. A simple “puck lift” kit can be installed in just a few hours. Some kits, if you want to go higher, will require professional installation and possibly even fabrication. Stock suspension mounting points may need to be modified or removed completely for the new suspension. Be careful if you plan on making your own lift kit, as any failure could easily lead to grave injury while traversing off-road trails. A lot of engineering goes into suspension components to allow for articulation while also being strong enough to resist tremendous forces.
4. Body and Underbody Protection
Unlike the highway and most dirt roads, taking your Jeep off-road presents a whole new world of danger — rocks, trees and frame-deep mud being just a few of them. Installing skid plates can protect the power steering box, gas tank, oil pan, drive shaft, differentials and transfer case underneath your Jeep. On the sides, rock rails (also called rock sliders) serve as a step to get into your taller Wrangler and as protection against rocks and trees that get a little too close. Similarly rocker guards protect the rocker panel sheet metal but are lighter duty than rock sliders. In front and rear, full-size bumpers offer protection from trees, brush and hillsides, preventing off-road rash. Corner protectors help keep your body tub corners from taking a beating. If you can’t figure out what areas need protecting, just look for the dents and scratches after your next wheeling adventure. Lastly consider a set of fender flares, especially if you already installed bigger tires or a suspension kit. Stock fender flares are pretty narrow and choke down the wheel opening. A good set of aftermarket fender flares will keep your big new tires from throwing dirt in your face while also allowing you to stuff a tire in the wheel well without rubbing. Depending on state law wider fender flares may also be a requirement, so be sure to check.
5. Recovery and Safety
No matter how well-equipped your Jeep Wrangler is, chances are that you, or at least one of your trail buddies, will get stuck in the mud or on a rock. So consider a winch or at least a farm-jack and heavy-duty transport chains. Don’t forget winch accessories, such as block-and-tackle, tree-saver, D-rings, tow straps, a shovel and a pair of heavy gloves. The easy solution is to just pick up an off road recovery kit. Other safety equipment should include a fire extinguisher and first-aid kit.
To say that there are a lot of Jeep modifications would be an understatement. Indeed, there are entire chat forums, clubs, magazines and websites dedicated to them! Take time to research any potential Jeep modifications so you know what you are getting into and what to expect during installation. Whatever upgrades you have in mind for your Jeep, keep safety as your top priority, and you’ll be sure to have tons of fun on the trail.
Check out all the accessory products available on NAPAOnline or trust one of our 17,000 NAPA AutoCare locations for routine maintenance and repairs. For more information on Jeep modifications, chat with a knowledgeable expert at your local NAPA Auto Parts store.
Photo courtesy of Flickr.
Ben has been taking things apart since he was 5, and putting them back together again since he was 8. After dabbling in DIY repairs at home and on the farm, he found his calling in the CGCC Automobile Repair program. After he held his ASE CMAT for 10 years, Ben decided he needed a change. Now, he writes on automotive topics across the web and around the world, including new automotive technology, transportation legislation, emissions, fuel economy and auto repair.