Well hello, fellow offroaders! Is it May already? The weather's been beautiful here in Northern Colorado and my schedule's finally freeing up a bit which is a nice change from the seven-days-per week work I was involved in during the last few months. I can hardly believe the 2018 camping season is right around the corner, school will be out for the summer in less than a month, and as I took a quick drive around Horsetooth Reservoir today I realized I am so ready to get the top and doors off this lovely beast!
Spring drive... Horsetooth Reservoir near Fort Collins, Colorado
But on to the business at hand...
Recently a reader emailed me to ask about recommendations on Jeep mod priorities. Basically, what would I do first with a stock Jeep? Well, now that I’m a few years into my wheeling adventures, that got me thinking about what I’ll do with the next Jeep I get and upgrade (waaaaayyyy down the road of course!).
I realize Jeep mods are highly dependent upon personal preference but that’s the beauty of Jeeps – you can take a stocker and make it your own, slowly or quickly, and turn it into the perfect vehicle to help you get where you want to go. But in any case, I believe it’s good to think about what your goals are, and what mods are important to you. Don’t walk into a mod shop and tell them you want mods but you don’t know what. It’s not up to them! This is your rig and you should have a good idea of what modifications you want, and why. The mod shop can help with any details you might miss but I know they really appreciate customers that come in with a plan.
So, if I went back a few years to when I started offroading, knowing what I do now, here's the list of priorities I would've followed. It may be different for you and I'm by no means an expert, but this is meant to provide you with some ideas and you can tailor your personal rig plan from here.
Priority 1: Never wheel alone
Find a local offroad group or club and get to know them, or wheel with someone you know, who has a capable rig. Never ever wheel alone, even if you think the trail will be “easy.”
Priority 2: Safety and recovery gear
Start accumulating safety/recovery/survival gear: CB or race radio, fire extinguisher, recovery strap, extra food/water, fire starting supplies, the list goes on. Read 40+ Vehicle Recovery Items, or Packing for Short-term Survival and Vehicle Recovery. But don’t get overwhelmed by all those lists (I really, really like lists!)... Just pick a few items to get that make the most sense to your situation and needs and build from there.
Priority 3: Interior bedliner
Especially if you intend to take the top/doors off, and if you have kids and/or dogs (who just might make a mess), you might start with bedlining your Jeep's interior. I love my interior LINE-X - though consider that there's more road noise and less temperature insulation, but those are concessions I'd make again in a heartbeat. Here's are a few posts about interior bedliner options.
4 More Reasons to Bedline Your Rig
Priority 4: Door removal
It’s a Jeep, why would you NOT run door-less at least part of the year?! To get those doors off, here are some hints. (Though to be fair it also helps if you're tall, especially with a lifted rig).
Priority 5: Extra warmth
If you like your Jeep topless/doorless, maybe invest in a Lava Jacket!
Priority 6: Purchasing aftermarket parts
If you’re a DIY-er or you like to shop around, check out the mod shop recommendations on our Jeep page. Most of those shops also have an online presence so you can look for deals.
Priority 7: Basic mods
What to do first largely depends on budget and personal needs. Make sure you've got a good skid plate under your rig. And I’d put a priority on rock sliders too. I've got the Rock Hard Rocker Sliders which I like because they wrap around underneath - these have taken some pretty good beatings so I know they're a good investment. If you're a petite gal, you might check out the Step Sliders by Rock-Slide Engineering - install may be a little more intense because the step extends down when the driver's door is opened, and lifts up out of the way when the door is closed. But, it's great on trail (because the step is out of the way) and good for shorter people or those with bad knees, etc. who want a little easier time getting in a lifted Jeep.
From here there are so many modification options; really, it’s endless (which is why Jeepers always have empty wallets!)
Priority 8: Other mods
AEV front bumper (custom welded to stubby width) plus WARN synthetic winch
Front bumper and winch - if you don't have a lift or great tires then a winch will go a long way on trail to getting you out of dicey situations. Having a winch allows for gentler recovery, and it'll get you up steep areas or over obstacles that otherwise wouldn't be passable. The brand of bumper is largely up to personal preference. Full-width provides more protection but narrow-width (or stubby) will allow for bigger tires and, just in my opinion, looks cooler. Make sure the bumper has a place to mount a winch, or some come with a built-in winch mount. As far as winches, make sure it's capable of pulling your vehicle's weight and then some. I like the WARN brand but there are other good ones too. I always recommend synthetic winch line (instead of steel) - synthetic doesn't get the steel burrs, is safer to handle without gloves, doesn’t require a damper, and is much lighter weight and easier to use. Here are a few posts on winches and winching:
You could stop here and you'd have a safe and well performing rig, though not one capable of tougher trails that require higher clearance. I know one gal who put on an aftermarket skid plate then wheeled her stock Jeep like crazy just to learn how to drive on trail before she lifted it. So, again, it's about personal preference.
But about higher clearance... a lift and bigger tires is what most people want to do first because it's the standard question among offroaders ("Is that a 3" lift?" "Are you running 37s?" etc.). Lift height depends on personal preference. Greater lift height can affect road driveability even though in theory it makes for an easier trail experience. I have a 2.5" lift and am super happy with it - it gets me where I want to go on trail and my daily drive is smooth. Lift brand is also personal preference. Having first-hand experience with a couple of different lift kits I would go with AEV myself, if I do another lift. AEV costs a bit more than other options but it's super great quality and I've had NO complaints or issues with my springs, shocks, etc. (all AEV) or driveability.
Tire size and brand also depend on budget, trails, and if your Jeep is also your daily driver. I am a Nitto gal until death myself. (Some people have experienced uneven wear on their Trail Grapplers but I rotate mine every 3K miles so this hasn't been an issue. Also, some people don't like the road noise from the Trail Grapplers but I don't mind that either – although I think their Ridge Grapplers are supposed to be less noisy on the road). A tire similar to Nittos, I've been told, is the Cooper STT Pro. I've heard good things about their performance on trail, and they cost less than Nittos. Some people also like the Maxxis trail tires - I'm told they perform as good or better than Nittos but again, that's based on feedback from only a few people on a few trails. Lastly, and most importantly, it's important to note that, no matter the tire brand, a larger size tire may require re-gearing (especially on offroad rigs other than Wranglers). A good mod shop can help you figure out the specific gearing needs for your vehicle and tire plans.
Tire size depends on your lift height and axles. I wouldn't run bigger than 35" tires on a stock 30 axle. I have 35" tires and love 'em. 35s work very well on JKs and I've had no driving issues. Once you go bigger than 35" (which a lot of people want to do) you run into clearance issues, steering issues, axle issues, and a whole domino effect of other mods that you'll then "need." And speaking of axles - beefing those up may require re-gearing as well, so keep that in mind. I ran my 35" tires on my stock 30 front axle for a couple of years without issue, before upgrading to a Dana 44 to ensure it withstood beatings on trail.
A beefier Dana 44 with 4.56 gearing supports 35" Nitto Trail Grapplers on Method wheels
If you get bigger tires you may need different wheels too - and if you go with an upgraded wheel I recommend one that has a reinforced edge around it (Method makes some good wheels with the reinforced edge that look like beadlocks but aren't). The point of the reinforced edge is to allow for more scraping and scratching (rock kisses!) on trail without breaking the wheel right away (I broke my AEV Pintler on a fairly easy trail a couple years ago and quickly upgraded to something sturdier).
Method Race Wheels have a reinforced edge that can take a beating on trail without breaking
Or, you could go straight to beadlocks (which, in hindsight, I wish I'd done to begin with).
My big-girl wheels (KMC Machetes)
With a lift and bigger tires you may want the consider sway bar disconnects (I like the JKS Quicker Disconnect) - unless you have a Rubicon in which case you’ve probably got the push button disconnect. Also on-board air really comes in handy for airing up after trail runs (since you'll want to let air out at the start for better grip on trail). I have the ARB single air compressor under my hood and love it.
The ARB Single Air Compressor is a small but powerful workhorse for airing up tires and running airlockers
And once you're done with all the mod "necessities," you might move on to those lifelong dreams...
Go fast quickly with the Edelbrock E-Force Supercharger... but that's a story for another post!
Hopefully this list provided some ideas to fuel your rig mod dreams! In addition to this website (of course), I think the best ways to learn about offroading, mods, issues and solutions is: A. join a good Facebook group or online forum (it may take some time to find a quality one that actually posts about parts, questions, answers, etc), and B. run trails with a group of fellow offroaders - I love seeing other mods in action, hearing pros and cons, getting advice… Jeepers love to give advice and talk about what they've got on their rigs. I have learned so much wheeling with groups like this and everything I see and hear has been of value in some manner.
Enjoy dreaming of wheeling, and Happy Trails!
by Dawn Gallegos
Dawn Gallegos is the founding editor of the Chicks On The Rocks blog. When she's not working to fund her Jeep habit she's thinking up new ways to inspire others to explore the great outdoors!
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