What do skid plates do?
Skid plates are designed to protect your 4×4. Off-roading should be a time for adventure and exploration, so outfitting your 4wd with these parts will ensure a safe and successful journey.
Why do I need skid plates?
Skid plates are a necessity for anyone who takes their truck off-road. Skid plates are heavy duty armor that typically bolt directly to the vehicle to protect important components from harm. From a budgetary and weight perspective, you might elect to start with a specific level of protection and build up as you need. 4×4 are made specifically for off-roading, but while off-roading you may encounter rocks, mud, downed trees, or other hazards that may damage your vehicle. In order to prevent injury to your fragile steering box, gas tank, oil pan, transmission, and transfer case you need skid plates. A variety of different skid plates are available to protect your vehicle, so you can tackle whatever obstacles lie ahead with the peace of mind that you’ll be able to drive home scratch free.
What are skid plates made of?
Skid plates are usually made of aluminum or steel. Aluminum skid plates are great when it comes to lightweight materials. They are not as strong as steel and tend to develop holes or rips. Steel skid plates are heavier but stronger than the aluminum plates. They are more likely to dent rather than rip.
Aluminum vs steel
If you drive your truck daily, or like to make long hauls to find your favorite scenic trails, the weight difference between aluminum and steel could be a determining factor in your choice. Steel is substantially heavier than aluminum, and the weight difference can easily have an impact on your gas mileage and high speed handling. If it’s just your trail beater, and you rarely drive it, or you trailer it to the trail head every time, this may not be very important to you.
Another major factor that may help you decide between aluminum and steel is the durability. Steel is a less malleable material, meaning it can take more of a beating before enduring real damage (specifically in the way of denting or bending while you’re on the trail). Aluminum on the other hand, is softer and more prone to damage, and so an aluminum skid plate may need to be repaired or replaced more often.
Steel skid plates (like any steel parts) are prone to corrosion. Even in parts of the country where you don’t typically have to consider rust, offroaders need to keep it front of mind and now to prevent it before it rears its ugly head. If you decide to run steel parts, make sure to clean out any mud that might be left behind when you get home after a day on the trails– the decision not to can cause rust damage in a hurry.
Because steel can corrode so easily, you’ll want to keep it at least painted, but preferably powder coated. Any scratches will need to be cleaned and covered up regularly with touch up paint to prevent corrosion from continuing — meaning you have to stay vigilant and maintain your steel parts regularly.
Lastly, consider what you’re looking to spend. Steel skid plates will always be the less expensive option when they’re stacked up against comparable aluminum parts.
So here it is, in summary: steel is more durable and less expensive, but it requires more careful maintenance, and aluminum is lighter and more corrosion resistant, but more costly initially.
Are skid plates necessary on a 4×4?
The factory skid plates are good for sandy/beach terrain where it’s unlikely your 4×4 will come in contact with a hard obstacle that could bend or puncture the aluminum plates. If you plan on doing any rock crawling or mud bogging, you should consider the addition of an oil pan/transmission skid plate. The unexpected rocky and muddy terrain can introduce hard obstacles that can cause severe damage to your 4wd’s underside. Overly exposed areas like the oil pan are especially vulnerable to unexpected obstacles that can easily be hidden in mud/soil. It’s important to note a full replacement skid plate system can be expensive and very heavy, introducing a significant increase in weight which can have a sagging/negative affect on your suspension, lift height, and handling. If you only plan on doing occasional off-road trips, it’s advisable to purchase plates independently as your need for additional protection increases.
What if I have stock skid plates?
Some 4×4’s came with some skid plate protection from the factory. Highlighted below are some key skid plate/reinforced armor protection that comes standard on some vehicles. They include:
- Front Air Dam: This is a plastic shield attached to the bottom of the front bumper. Although it offers no protection from rocks, it helps with protection from sand, snow, and ice by deflecting lighter debris past major steering components
- Differential Covers: These steel cast pumpkin shape covers protect the differential gears. They’re among the lowest contact points of your vehicle
- Oil Pan: The factory oil pan is stamped aluminum and very exposed. It can still hold up to sand, snow and some ice impacts, but can’t sustain a direct hit from a rock
- Transfer Skid Plate: This important skid plate protects the 4×4’s transfer case. It ties into the cross member for added strength and protection
- Gas Tank Skid Plate: The gas tank is encased by a skid plate. Although it’s equally as thin as the other skid plates, the structure and design can deflect and sustain significant impacts from rocks and tree stumps
- EVAP Canister Skid Plate: The EVAP canister is encased in a thin aluminum cage. Unlike the gas tank skid plate, the EVAP is exposed with very little additional structural support. A significant impact from a rock can cause serious damage
All kinds explained
Front Air Dam Plates
These front skid plates are the first point of deflection and can help elevate your vehicle over obstacles. If you have Rubicon, these plates also offer protection to the electronic sway bay disconnection assembly.
Steering Box Skid Plates
The steering box skid plate protects your 4×4’s steering box. The steering box allows the car to turn and switch lanes easily by transmitting the steering shaft’s movement. It’s located in the front of the vehicle, exposing it to the hazards of the trail. With a skid plate you can approach boulders and any other obstacles you may face while also keeping your 4wd’s steering box alive so you remain mobile and safe.
Control Arms – One of the Lowest Points
Similar to the differential covers, the lower control arms are the lowest contact point for a 4wd. Simple angled plates can be welded over the bracket to offer a good amount of protection from rocks and tree stumps.
Gas Tank Skid Plates
The gas tank skid plate is needed to protect your fuel, the life blood of your 4×4. While off-road, you may find yourself scaling rocks and other obstacles and bouncing off of a rock or tree. The gas tank skid plate exists to protect your fuel so you do not puncture, dent, or damage your tank. The gas tank skid is there to prevent fuel loss, giving you the ability to go anywhere without fear of being stranded. Gas tank plates are among the longest and heaviest plates.
Oil Pan Skid Plate
The oil pan skid plate protects your vehicle’s oil pan which, similar in importance to fuel, keeps your engine alive and allows it to work hard without seizing. The oil pan skid plate is critical because the oil pan is directly under your engine, and as a result it is exposed to hazards that may fly vertically towards the undercarriage of your vehicle. With the oil pan skid plate, you are able to protect your oil pan from trail damage such as punctures or dents. These plates vary in attachment methods, but generally they attach to the 4wd’s frame and cross member for an incredibly amount of structural support.
Transmission/Transfer Case Skid Plates
The transmission and the transfer case skid plate is probably the most important piece of armor on your vehicle. The transmission and transfer case are essential for keeping your car moving, and without your transmission or transfer case your vehicle is completely incapacitated. Transmissions and transfer cases are fragile due to their many moving parts which are used for keeping your vehicle in gear and in four-wheel drive. The transmission and transfer case skid plate protects the most delicate pieces of your vehicle, so your car can continue on the trail without hindrance to your adventure. Generally, these plates will tie into the cross member along with the oil pan and transmission aftermarket skid plate. The unification of these sections generate a solid structurally sound surface that can deflect and sustain direct impact from rocks.
Both the front and rear differential covers are among the lowest contact points on a 4wd. These points are generally replaced by heavy iron aftermarket covers that can withstand a direct impact from a rock. The covers are also rounded to help the vehicle deflect and slide off the obstacle with no/minimal damage to the differential itself.
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