Travel off the beaten paths necessarily entails some risk. If overlanding were just like everyday driving, would we even bother? For that reason, risk management is a key component to any overland adventure. While we always want to push our boundaries, we also want both ourselves and our vehicles to come home in one piece. A trail scar or two on your rig can be a badge of honor, but nobody wants to suffer catastrophic damage way in the back of beyond.
Risk management can take several different forms. You can work on your driving skills, you can carefully plan ahead to avoid common mistakes and predict possible dangers, and you can focus on preparing your vehicle for the worst. This entails keeping up with regular maintenance and monitoring the condition of key components of your rig, and it can also mean making some modifications for more protection and capability. Skid plates fit into this category.
The most vulnerable part of your overland vehicle is the underside. On rough routes damage to low hanging engine components like the oil pan, steering linkages, or a differential can end your trip fast. We've covered body armor in general here on the Notebook and on YouTube, as well as rock sliders, so let's take a closer look at skid plates. Designed with your exact vehicle in mind, skid plates are inexpensive insurance for your valuable rig, and they give you the confidence and peace of mind you need to explore new horizons.
Knowing that the soft underside of your vehicle has an added layer of protection can make the difference between camping down in the valley or up on that magnificent overlook that’s just a bit harder to access.
What should you look for when considering skid plates for your vehicle?
As Clay mentions in the video above, like with all body armor (or really any vehicle modification), skid plates are a balancing act between weight and protection. Because aftermarket skid plates usually come in one of two constructions - steel and aluminum - it can make a big difference. It's important to think about how drive and where you drive most commonly. Are you a little more aggressive in your driving style (or careless... be honest...)? Do you relish tackling the more intense trails? A steel skid plate may be useful for you - they can handle a little more abuse than aluminum ones, at the cost of more weight.
Are you more focused on long distance touring and maybe exploring more remote and difficult routes only occasionally? Lighter weight aluminum protection may be the ticket. If weight is a big issue for you, don't necessarily ghost on your factory skid plates either. Some rigs come right off the showroom floor with relatively robust aluminum or composite underbody armor. Remember too that skid plates are not just for trail bashing - they can also work to deflect mud and water from engine and braking components.
Installing skid plates can be a simple bolt-on affair or a more extensive and complex endeavor. This will depend on whether you order a skid plate designed specifically for your vehicle, or are considering a universal kit, like ARB's version. The latter may require some extensive drilling, cutting, or other modifications to your body or the armor itself to fit correctly. Careful installation is important. Skid plates need a gap between the plate itself and the component it's designed to protect for it to work correctly. In addition, you'll need to consider which components require more protection. On my old school Land Rover, my oil pan is pretty safe from trail damage, but my steering components are more vulnerable. Your rig might be just the opposite - protect the most vulnerable parts of your vehicle first.
ARB's Universal skid plates
If you are considering a custom skid plate for your particular rig, plan ahead for a little bit of a wait on delivery - five to six weeks, in general. Fabricators like CBI often need quite a bit of lead time to build precision fit skid plates for platforms like the Tacoma, 4 Runner, and Chevy Colorado.
Questions about skid plates? Tales from the trail where you suffered some underbody damage? Let us know down in the comments.
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