Hittin’ the Skids

1Hang around the off-road scene for any length of time and you’re sure to pick up a few crucial pieces of knowledge. Properly applied, these tidbits of wisdom can mean the difference between pure enjoyment and an undying nightmare that will haunt you long after the trip is over. For starters, never go alone. I don’t mean to imply that you need a passenger, although one that packs a hearty lunch and splits the fuel cost is always nice; more so to have another vehicle go along to help lend support, brawn and brains to your venture. Bad decisions tend to be cast aside when vetted trough a backwoods democratic process, of sorts. Not to mention, a spotter is always good to have when things get squirrely. Secondly, NEVER wear nice shoes that you care anything about unless you have come to terms with the fact that you may never see them again. I know this seems like an insignificant little piece of advice but when you have your favorite pair of Merrells encased in a layer of slime and mud that’s thicker than a milkshake yet has the aroma of an untreated portable toilet, you’ll soon become an advocate for footwear preservation too. The final charge I would give you, and likely the most important, is to always prepare for everything. Being on the trail and having something break is bad. Having it break and being miles and miles away from a replacement part or the tools necessary to repair it is immeasurably worse. Having a breakdown and knowing it could have been prevented, well…

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Photo Credit: Jeepwithkids.com

One fundamental component of being prepared is having a vehicle that is properly equipped to survive on the trail. For years, off-roaders have fitted their trail rigs with a variety of implements to help accomplish the task of protecting against damage. Often referred to as ‘armor’, bulky steel plates are affixed to body panels and frame rails by any means necessary, in an attempt to keep the rocks from displaying their abusive ways. These plates that line a vehicles underbelly are called ‘Skid Plates’ and they are purpose-designed and built to ward off impacts that would otherwise contact gas tanks, oil pans, steering boxes and other vital components.

So, whoever came up with these skid plates must have been a mechanical marvel, of sorts. To borrow the same theories of relation that exist between wall & cannonball or sword & shield and apply them to a Jeep is nothing short of brilliant! Did you ever wonder at what point Jeep actually decided that incorporating these new-fangled skid plates into the vehicle from the factory would make a great deal of sense, seeing as the likelihood of a Jeep being used off-road during its lifespan is much greater than just a slight possibility. The answer is that the very first ‘Jeep’ or Willys MA, to be exact, came with skid plates. It’s in their DNA as far back as we can trace. Granted, they have become much more advanced in their design and expanded in their usage but, even back in 1941, they realized the importance of a good defense.

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The very first skid plates were pretty much dedicated only to the transmission region of the Jeep, as it hung precariously lower than the frame rails, rendering it quite vulnerable. Attaching a thick steel plate to the cross member not only protected the drivetrain from glancing blows, but the smooth face provided a slick surface to slide over rocks and obstructions, rather than become hung up on them.

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While the exact origin of the skid plate, prior to this, would be hard to trace, it’s surprising to many that they have been around as long as they have; finding their way into an extensive array of makes and models today, both as standard equipment and, to a larger scale, as an aftermarket add-on accessory. To quote the age-old adage, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” hits the proverbial nail on the head. Skid plates are precisely that- a dose of prevention only rarely are they weighed in ounces.

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In fact, popular opinion among hard core off-roaders is that good old-fashioned steel, born of iron and fire, would be the material of choice for building a skid plate. Sure, it’s not the lightest material but it has the hard-headed resiliency to take a severe beating and get right back in line for another. If damaged, it can be removed, hammered out against a rock and welded with very basic tools and then reinstalled. Aluminum, on the other hand, definitely has the benefits of its light weight but is not as easily maintained or welded in the field, making it a wise choice for vehicles where exposure to severe off-road conditions is not a great concern, such as a trophy truck or “mall crawler”.

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Photo Credit: JK Owners Forum

If you want to equip your Jeep to tackle the most unforgiving of trails, or just make it look like it could, Rugged Ridge has got the parts and accessories to make it happen. Yes, even skid plates! You can check them out on our website at http://www.ruggedridge.com/jeep-accessories/jeep-body-protection/skid-plates.html OIIIIIIIO

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