Do I need Skid Plates on my Jeep JK/JKU Wrangler?

If you are going to take your JK off-road, the short answer is YES! Every Jeep Wrangler JK needs additional skid plates if it is taken off-road. While the Jeep Wrangler JK is factory-equipped with a couple of skid plates, there are several important components that are not protected at all. Before venturing offroad it's critical to provide additional skid plates under your Jeep....and it's usually a lot cheaper to protect a component, than it is to replace or repair it later.

Below is a list of Wrangler protection accessories you should consider if you intend to use your Jeep JK Wrangler off-road. 

Control Arm Skid Plates

Damaged Lower Control Arm BracketsBolt-on Lower Control Arm Skid Plate

To repair this damaged control arm mount required cutting off the old mounting tabs and welding new ones in place. If you can't do it yourself, that's a VERY expensive repair! Bolt-on skids are a much cheaper option even if you have to pay someone to install them for you.

The mounts for the front lower control arms on your jeep are very low, are often hit while off-roading, and are made of surprisingly thin material. This makes it very easy for them to end up in need of repair. Control arm skid plates protect the mounts from damage while giving rocks and other trail debris a smoother spot to slide under rather than tearing up the mounts. There are two types: bolt-on skids and weld-on skids. Bolt-on skids are easy to install with basic hand tools and potentially could be transferred from one vehicle to another. Weld-on skids are an inexpensive option but, require both the equipment, and the ability to weld, in order to install them.

Evap Canister Skid Plate

Unprotected Evap CanisterJK Evap Canister Skid Plate

This evap canister is easily hit but, can be relocated or covered with an easily installed, bolt-on skid plate.

A spot that is left completely unprotected on 2007-2011 JK's is the evap canister. Later models have a light-duty skid plate made of thin steel from the factory. While a damaged evap canister won’t leave you stranded on the trail, it will set off the check engine light. It’s very easy to put a skid plate over it to keep it safe. The skid plate will save you the headache of the dreaded check engine light and the cost of a repair. Another option is to relocate the evap canister to a safer spot under the body. There are quite a few kits on the market that allow you to do this. Either way, the installation can be done yourself if you have some mechanical ability or any decent off-road shop can handle it for you.

Exhaust System Skid Plates

Unprotected exhaust loop on driver's side.Exhaust Loop Skid Plate for 2012-2018 Jeep JK Wrangler 

You can easily see what the exhaust loop looks like from the factory with no protection at all. One easily installed skid plate provides ample protection.

The exhaust system on all JK’s is left completely unprotected from the factory. The cross-over pipe that is routed in front of the transmission crossmember, can be protected by the installation of an engine/transmission skid plate. However, the 2012-2018 JK also has a loop in the exhaust tubing that is located next to the front driveshaft and that loop is low hanging leaving it very exposed. If hit, it can be dented or even cracked which could cause a multitude of issues. An exhaust loop skid plate protects the tubing and prevents any damage. The muffler is also left unprotected at the rear of the Jeep and is easily hit any time you drop the rear of your Jeep off of an obstacle. There are aftermarket muffler skid plates available to protect this area of your JK. Alternatively, you could modify the exhaust system by removing the factory muffler and installing a smaller one in a different, more protected location.

Front Skid Plate

Jeep JK OEM plastic "mud shield"Jeep JK Front Skid Plate installed with OEM bumper
Our Skid Row Offroad front skid plate for the Jeep JK Wrangler fits between the factory bumper and the lower crash bar on the frame and replaces the flimsy plastic part.

The front "skid plate" that comes stock on a Jeep Wrangler JK is just a plastic cover that attaches to the underside of the bumper and helps with aerodynamics. It's supposed to help with fuel economy and prevents the hood from fluttering at highway speeds. It may protect against small rocks and debris that would be kicked up from the road, but that’s about all. Once off-road, it is easily torn off by virtually any trail obstacle. A front skid plate made of metal won’t get torn off when off-road. It fills a gap below the bumper and can prevent mud and muck from getting into the radiator. It can also help prevent the hood from moving due to the air pressure build-up in the engine compartment.

 Gas Tank Skid Plate

Jeep JK Gas Tank Skid Plate

Our Skid Row Offroad gas tank skid plates for the JK cover the entire gas tank and are easily installed with simple hand tools and without needing to remove the tank.

The factory gas tank skid plate is a very thin sheet metal cover over the actual plastic tank. It holds the gas tank in place and provides some protection against puncturing the tank but, does little to prevent it from getting crushed here and there. A good quality gas tank skid fits over the stock one and is made from much thicker material to provide significantly more protection from damage. This spot on the belly of your Jeep will see a lot of impacts since it's right in the middle, so it is worth that extra protection. Skid Row makes separate models for the 4 door JKU and the 2 door JK.

 Oil Pan Skid Plate

Unprotected engine oil pan and transmission on a Jeep JK WranglerFully protected engine oil pan, transmission, and exhaust crossover pipe.

This before and after shows how vulnerable the engine and transmission are to damage. It's easy to see how the Skid Row Offroad engine/transmission skid plate protects the oil pan, the transmission, and the exhaust crossover pipe.

The engine's oil pan is an easily damaged component and needs to be protected. If dragged over or onto a rock, the thin sheetmetal oil pan can be torn or punctured, which can result in a rapid loss of engine oil. Besides being a difficult and messy trail repair, the potential engine damage far outweighs the cost of a good quality skid plate. In addition, an oil spill on the trail or in a waterway isn’t good for our environment. As off-roaders, we never want to cause any damage to the trails or local ecosystems.

Another point worth mentioning is that a skid plate that only covers the oil pan is silly and is a waste of money. It's best to protect both the oil pan and the transmission since they're both equally important and vulnerable. Besides, a skid plate that protects both creates a smooth underside and that means that your Jeep can get over more obstacles. Note that the 2007-2011 JK’s have a different motor than the 2012-2018 JK’s and need a different skid plate.

Sway Bar Disconnect Skid Plate

 Sway Bar Disconnect Motor with No ProtectionSway Bar Disconnect with Skid Plate Protection

The sway bar disconnect motor is right behind the bumper area and isn't always protected by a skid plate from the factory. Our skid plate covers the whole area and provides substantial protection. 

Rubicon model JK's come equipped with Jeep's Electronic Sway Bar Disconnect system and not all of them have an optional skid plate to protect them. Often, the sway bar disconnect motor sits just above the plastic front valance that comes stock. Since that piece won't really provide any protection when off-roading, a skid plate is a good idea. This motor is a very expensive part to replace once broken. The other problem is that you can't reconnect the front sway bar without it and that means a slow and potentially dangerous drive home. Protecting this area with a metal skid plate will give you peace of mind about this vulnerable part.

Transfer Case Skid Plate

 The OEM Transfer Case Skid Plate is small and doesn't cover the whole t-case.Skid Row Transfer Case Skid Plate covers the whole transfer case.

The transfer case is completely covered by this Skid Row Offroad skid plate and there is now a nice, smooth surface instead of gaps and bumps.

Another critical part of your drivetrain that needs protection is the transfer case. Thankfully, the JK does come with a fairly substantial skid plate from the factory, but it's kinda small, doesn't cover the entire transfer case, and it definitely isn't smooth. Even so, you can use the stock skid plate initially and then upgrade later, if desired. An aftermarket transfer case skid plate will not only give you more protection, but it will also create a smoother surface for rocks and other trail debris to slide against.

Transmission Skid Plate

2012 Jeep JK with Automatic Transmission and OEM "guard"Complete Protection with Bolt-on Engine/Transmission Skid Plate

Unbelievably, the factory provides a small steel tube to protect the transmission. That's never going to hold up to a fun trail and it also interferes with the driveshaft once the sway bar is disconnected. 

One of the most important spots to protect under your Jeep is its transmission, especially if it is an automatic transmission. The oil pan of an automatic transmission is thin, easily-damaged, sheetmetal. Once torn the subsequent loss of fluid will create a huge oily mess on the trail and will definitely leave you stranded. It doesn’t matter if the Jeep is on the trail or road, an immobile Jeep is never a good thing. The skid plate for the transmission is usually combined with the oil pan or engine skid plate and is different for the early model years and late-model years.

In Conclusion

Aftermarket off-road skid plates are a great way to smooth out the underside of your Jeep and gain piece of mind when off-road. You can buy Jeep skid plates individually from different companies to create your own skid plate system or you can buy skid plate packages that cover most areas. Either way, your Jeep becomes more capable and more bullet-proof with the protection it needs when you play off-road.

Happy Trails! ... -.- .. -..     .-. --- .--     --- ..-. ..-. .-. --- .- -..

Skid Row Offroad, Aug 18, 2021
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