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2021 Jeep Wrangler Modifications

Creating a Flat Towable Rock Crawler
Article Date: July, 2021


Building a Rock Crawler


Towing a Wrangler behind a motorhome works great as long as you don't break or bend your Jeep while enjoying off-road trails. It's pretty hard to tow a vehicle that's bent or has a hole in the oil pan or transmission and your local repair shop is a long way from where you are right now. While the Rubicon is very capable of going to many places, it can use a bit of body armor to prevent any damage. My previous experience with Rockhard 4x4 made me a true believer that they make the toughest stuff that is perfect for Jeeps.

My first choice was a heavy duty front bumper. Rockhard offers them in lighter weight aluminum or heavy steel plate in various configurations. I chose to install their Full Width Patriot Front Bumper with Lowered Winch Plate. This bumper is made from 1/4" thick steel and has mounting points for D-ring shackles. It accepts the original Jeep fog lights and has a steel hoop with mounting locations for auxiliary LED lighting. It also has a lowered winch mounting plate so that the winch isn't mounted up high, blocking any airflow to the radiator. Everything is heavy duty and I've even hit a deer with one of our 2012 Wranglers and, while the deer wasn't very lucky, this bumper prevented any damage to the Jeep. The Patriot series bumpers also have a tapered flat steel plate beneath that protects the sway bar disconnect motor on Rubicons and also has a pair of laser cut square holes for use with a HiLift jack.

The Rockhard Patriot Series Full Width Front Bumper

Another huge benefit to using the Rockhard bumpers is that they are perfect for flat-towing behind a motorhome. Rockhard offers a set of towing tabs for all of the major tow bar manufacturers. These tabs bolt to the front of the bumper and, rather than just mount to the bumper some place, the bolts run all the way through to the factory bumper mounting points on the Jeep's frame rails so that the towing forces are supported by the Jeep's frame and not just the bumper. The tow tabs are mounted on the front of the bumper which means that you won't need a low slung baseplate for your tow bar, which could get damaged when wheeling off-road. The 1" thick recovery tabs accept 3/4" D-ring shackles so that the Jeep can be retrieved if you go someplace you shouldn't have gone. These shackles are also the perfect place to attach your tow bar's safety cables. As I proved earlier during my breakaway event, these tabs will easily withstand the shock of a breakaway. The steel bumper has plenty of room to mount your tow lighting socket and an air hose connector for an auxiliary braking system. I chose to mount a Warn 12,000 lb. winch on this bumper and a pair of K-C Hilites LED driving lights on top of the hoop.

The next step was to choose a rear bumper. The factory bumpers are poly and won't hold up if you have to drag them over rocks so selecting a good steel bumper was the next step. I chose the Rockhard Patriot Series Rear Bumper for our Wrangler. This bumper is also made from heavy 1/4" steel plate and accepts the factory license plate light as well as the rear parking proximity sensors. Like the front bumper, it has 1" thick retrieval tabs for mounting a pair of 3/4" D-ring shackles. It also has an integrated trailer hitch receiver, which replaces the low slung factory trailer hitch so that it can't get damaged on trails. A spot for the Jeep trailer lighting sockets is also provided and the beveled corners of the rear bumper provide extra clearance when off-roading.

The Rockhard Rear Bumper

Both the front and rear bumpers are simple bolt-on applications and Rockhard provides all of the necessary hardware. The original plastic rear bumper had a cutout for the spare tire, which the Rockhard bumper does not have. The raised height of this bumper provides for more clearance than the OEM bumper but this does require the installation of a spare tire relocation bracket which raises the spare tire slightly to clear the bumper. This bracket also includes a mounting location for the Jeeps rear backup camera.

Lastly, unlike our Gladiator, the Wrangler's transverse muffler is right behind the bumper where it too can be subject to damage if it is dragged over rocks or steep embankments. So I selected Rockhard's muffler skid plate to prevent that from happening. This skid plate hangs from the frame rails, and not the bumper so it can be used with the stock or any brand of aftermarket rear bumper.

The Rockhard Muffler Skid Plate Protects the Muffler from Damage

Undercarriage Armor

The Rockhard Complete Bellypan Skid Plate System

There is a lot of stuff underneath a Jeep that can get damaged when wheeling off-road. Puncturing an oil pan or automatic transmission pan or fuel tank will leave you stranded quite quickly. I selected Rockhard's Complete Bellypan Skid Plate System for our Wrangler. These plates are made from heavy 3/16" thick steel. A pair of additional crossmembers helps to eliminate the frame from twisting. A large center section covers the long 8-speed automatic transmission and transfer case, while the front section protects the engine oil pan and includes a small removable hatch panel for easy access when changing your engine oil. A fuel tank skid plate covers the fuel tank while another plate covers the resonator and battery pack for the 3.6 liter E-torque V6 engine. Rockhard offers other models to fit other engine choices.

I also chose to protect a few other sensitive areas. I selected Rockhard's front and rear lower control arm skid plates to prevent impact damage from rocks as well as a Front Axle Disconnect (FAD) skid plate to prevent damage to that sensitive area. I also ordered a set of Rough Country differential skid plates to protect those expensive axles.

The Rough Country Rear Differential Skid Plate

The Rockhard Front Axle Disconnect Skid

One of the Rockhard Front Control Arm Skids

One of the Rockhard Rear Control Arm Skids

Finally, I added a set of Patriot Series Tube Sliders to protect the rocker panels from damage. It also helps in parking lots to prevent door dings from neighboring parked cars owner by lazy and inconsiderate drivers and acts as a step assist for anyone with short legs to climb in and out of a tall vehicle.

The Rockhard Tube Slider Rock Rails

Misc Accessories

Naturally, a few other accessories were required. After all it's a Jeep and most owners can't stop customizing them, at least until the money runs out. Traveling off-road requires traction and climbing over terrain with tires all pumped up to highway pressures leads to less traction and a bumpy ride. By lowering the air pressure in the tires you'll get more surface area on the ground for better traction and a less bumpy ride. You can go extreme with bead lock rims to prevent the tire from popping off the rim but even if you go down to around 16 PSI you'll still experience a big improvement. Once you're done wheeling and want to return to the highway you'll need those tires pumped back up though so carrying an air compressor of some sort will be required. I've used portable 12 volt compressors in a carrying case in the past and they work well for this task but do require storage space in the Jeep, which can be at a premium. For this Wrangler I chose a kit from Innovative AT Products that includes a twin ARB compressor and a special mount that locates the compressor underneath the copilot's seat where it is out of the way. A complete wiring harness was included, as well as an illuminated switch but I simply connected mine to Jeep's optional Auxiliary switches that were in my Wrangler. A complete accessory kit provides all of the necessary hoses, tire fillers and bleed-down valve.

The ARB Compressor From AT Innovations Mounted Beneath the Passenger's Seat

A Bestop Sunrider for Hardtops Replaced the Hardtop's Freedom Panels

I added a few other accessories as well. I forgot to include the factory hardtop headliners when I ordered our Wrangler so I bought a set of Hothead hardtop liners to keep the interior warm in winter and cool in summer. I was annoyed by Jeep's automatic stop-start feature that shut off the engine at every stop light and got tired of trying to remember to turn it off every time I started up the Jeep so I installed the Smart Stop-Start module that remembers the position of that switch so that you don't have to keep turning it off whenever you start the engine. I added the usual shorty antenna that everyone changes too and a Bestop Sunrider to allow fast changes between open-air travel or all closed up. Finally, an RVI Towed Vehicle Battery Charger to keep the Jeep's battery charged while towing and prevent any discharge or backfeeding when parked. This was also necessary to properly connect the Jeep's 12 volt vacuum pump and Mopar wiring harness to allow battery charging.

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