After a few outings in the Jeep, its become quite apparent how critical it is to have the right recovery equipment. One friend just slid sideways in the snow into the mountain, one popped a tire off the bead from a tree stump in the mountain, and even out in the middle of the sand dunes, I had to winch my friends RZR up a good 80′ dune after hitting a witches eye.
I have started building up my gear collection and I am listing the components here for easy reference.
I was invited by a long time friend out on a Jeep run this past weekend. I knew it was with a group of people, I didnt know it was with an official Jeep Club. We took the 210 East to the 15 and exited Bear Valley. It turned into the 18 until we got to El Coyote Loco. We had some good breakfast there with the group and headed out to the start of the trail off the 247 (aka Old Woman Springs Road). Make a right onto Rattlesnake Canyon Road and off you go. (34.355566, -116.664733). You will eventually get to the wash. Make a left and get ready for some difficult trails with lots of big rocks in the way. You will scratch your rims, you will scratch your sliders and you will definitely scratch your under belly skids. But you will have fun doing it. This isnt for the mall crawlers trying to keep their Jeep immaculate. Its a pretty difficult trail so make sure you go with another vehicle and have your recovery gear in working order.
I made a short video of my adventure. You can view it here…
Down in Ocotillo Wells, CA, there is a neat little offroad excursion to explore called Sandstone Canyon. From the San Fernando Valley, you start by heading down the I-5 south. Take the 210 East and then the 10 East. Around Indio, keep right and take the 86 South. Follow the signs for Brawley/El Centro/865 Expressway. Turn right onto CA-78 and follow the signs for Ocotillo Wells. When you get to Split Mountain Road, make a left.
The trailhead for Sandstone Canyon is at:
Be careful if you are going after a rainfall as flash floods are common in the area.
The Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon in standard trim comes with plastic bumpers. We dont have a “Special Edition” Rubicon. There are a number of special edition Wranglers that came with steel bumpers from the Anniversary Edition to the 2017 Winter Edition. One of the most common aftermarket upgrades to most Jeeps are the bumpers. While the stock bumpers are lightweight and offer legal coverage, they often limit approach/departure angles and as a result, suffer casualties on the trails. Its difficult to attach lights and winches and any other gear you may need. The standard tire carrier on most Jeeps are also mounted on the rear tailgate so offloading the extra weight of the bigger tires to the bumper is a better option. As far as I can remember, there havent been any stock Wranglers offered with a bumper mounted tire carrier. There are a number of quality aftermarket bumper manufacturers on the market today. Some of the more popular quality ones include Poison Spyder, Fab Fours, and GenRight Offroad. Most offer a bumper mounted tire carrier. Many of these are built for serious rock crawling duty and offer a great look, great protection, and even more clearance for your adventures.
For my build, after looking at a lot of pictures online and making the decision that we were building a Jeep that was mostly for overlanding adventures, we decided to stick with the same company that has been providing Jeep with bumpers for their special edition vehicles for years and the same manufacturer that we bought our suspension lift from, American Expedition Vehicles (AEV). One of the reasons we chose AEV was because of its history. They have been in business for quite some time and the fact that Jeep turned to THEM to provide parts was quite telling. More recently, Chevrolet gave the official nod to AEV with the release of the Colorado ZR2 Bison.
The rear bumper really caught our eye. Instead of tacking on 3 or 4 “jerry cans” or RotopaX for extra gas and water, AEV allows for 5 gallons of water in the bumper itself and another 10 gallons of gas in a nice tank tucked behind the spare tire (see pics below). The bumper mounted tire carrier also has an integrated Hi-Lift Jack mount, an integrated Pull-Pal mount, nice mount for a shovel, and mounts for rear lights as well as the CHMSL. All without looking like I’m Mad Max running through my concrete jungle. They look like they were designed and installed at the factory and it even has a nice winch mount on the front bumper that nicely hides my Warn Zeon 10-S. The bumpers are full width and the front bumper has a nice hoop and also comes with mounts for 2 driving lights. While you can get away with 6″ IPF lights from ARB or someone similar, I will probably opt for a Rigid Adapt light bar or two 7″ ARB Intensity’s. That is still TBD and may show up in a next post. Until then, thanks for reading and enjoy the pics!
Stock Front Bumper (Before):
AEV Front Bumper (After):
Stock Rear Bumper (Before):
AEV Rear Bumper with Tire Carrier, Fuel Cell, and Hi-Lift Mount:
Closer look at the Hi-Lift Mount (and FireStik CB Antenna):
After some careful research on form and function, we opted to purchase some rock sliders/steps from GenRight Offroad. I chose these since they offered the most coverage for my Jeep, double as a step, came in a nice textured black powder-coated finish, and they are made close by in Simi Valley, CA.
These were available in a lightweight aluminum but strength is always an issue vs. steel. GenRight offers something called a Rash Guard. These $250 pieces bolt over the Rocker Guard and take most of the beating and add some strength to the setup. Overall, it is still lighter than the steel solution and its riveted design looks great too.
My friends recently took my family and I up to Big Bear, California and signed us up for a guided Jeep tour. We took a trail called Little John Bull and despite my best efforts, I came crashing down on my brand new guards along the way. First war wound. I am happy to say that it did not even dent the rash guard. There are scuffs on the powder coating as expected…but no denting. If I ever want to replace the guards where the rock hit, its just the $250 rash guard that needs replacing. The guards are highly recommended and are not available on all online sites (nor is the textured powdercoat option!). Call GenRight, they are great folks (I drove there).
While I do miss the convenience of a step lowering down so I dont have to climb in/out of the Jeep, I have to say that having the peace of mind that nothing is going to break (aka AMP PowerStep motors) while I am off-road is a decent trade-off. RockSlide Engineering makes a set of power steps that double as rock guards. With all the pieces to make it work properly, it would have been more money out of my pocket and I’m still worrying about motor life. I ended saving a few hundred bucks on the GenRight solution vs. my AMP steps but none of this was about cost really. I wanted a solution that protected my Jeep well, looked clean, and matched my AEV bumpers and wheels. The rivets also happened to compliment the beadlock bolts. GenRight fit the bill. We are 100% happy.
My wife and I are not tall people. We also have 2 young daughters. Our 2014 Rubicon came with stock rocker guards. No steps like the Sahara model. While these worked good for protecting the side of the Jeep, they didn’t provide us with a step after we lifted the Jeep 3.5 inches. It was pretty tough to get in and out of. We didn’t have plans to do too much rock crawling so we didn’t need hard core rock sliders. After looking at all the options on the market, we decided we liked the look of the AMP Research PowerStep running boards. These are power steps that deploy when the door is opened and retract back up once the doors are closed. When they deploy, they also provide a nice set of LED lights to illuminate the running boards. AMP had just released a dual motor version of the steps called the PowerXtreme. With a ruggedized texture to provide more traction when wet or covered with mud or snow, these really fit the bill since we snowboard often and camp in the dirt and mud. They cost about $1800 and they were a blast. The kids loved them, the wife thought they were awesome…
…until they didn’t work all the time. Unfortunately, these became the first casualty of the build. After working with my shop to get the first controller swapped out, it too began working intermittently. LUND who owns AMP has great support. I worked with them and they sent me the most current version of the controller. They didn’t even put me through the hassle of sending the old controller back. Sadly enough, that one failed too and I had to send them back to Extreme Terrain. Again, LUND made this very easy despite some initial push back from Extreme Terrain. Both were extremely helpful with the whole process in the end. It took about a couple of weeks to get the funds back into my account but I was on the prowl for some non-electric replacements. I’m looking at some grab handles too. Like I said, we are not of the tall variety.
Clearance! We needed more ground clearance. The curb at our house was nearly as tall as the bottom of the stock sliders. We wanted to install some nice big 35″ mud terrain tires. There were a couple of options. Get some bigger fenders and some leveling blocks or take the dive (aka spend the money) and get all new springs and shocks with a lift kit. We wanted to do it the right way so we decided on the “lift kit” route. I started doing some research. I visited a couple of shops around my area and felt like I was just being pushed to buy their vendor of choice. JKS here, ProComp there…I didnt like it.
After days of perusing the internet, I decided on a company called American Expedition Vehicles (AEV). They have a long reputation of making quality OEM fit and finish parts for Jeeps and Rams. More importantly, they do a lot of B2B sales. In fact, Jeep themselves called on AEV to provide bumpers for certain special editions (MW3) that rolled off the factory floor. Another nice part about the AEV kit is that it came with everything needed to properly lift the Jeep without changing the ride too much. Cheap lift kits can be a nightmare, cause bump steer, and just generally be unsafe at speed. Since my wife and kids were going to be in here primarily, I didnt want to take any chances. The AEV DualSport RS kit was roughly $2500 bucks and it included a set of Bilstein 5160 shocks with remote reservoirs. It provided 3.5″ of lift and plenty of clearance for the 18″ Method Vex wheels wrapped in 35″ Toyo Open Country MT (Mud Terrain) tires.
This is what it looked like when we brought her home from the shop.
We were happy with our decisions and were ready to get it ready for some off-roading and overland adventures!
My wife and I had two little baby girls within 18 months of each other. At the time, we had a Ford F-150 and a Mazda CX-7. Cool cars for us hipster parents. Add the requirement of hauling 2 strollers everywhere you go and the bed of the F-150 or the trunk of a compact (but fun!) crossover seemed like bad options. We bought a 2-munchkin stroller eventually but try putting that in the back of a CX-7 along with diapers and groceries for the week! We eventually bought a shiny new minivan. Not just any minivan for us though. We bought the “Swagger Wagon”. The Toyota Sienna SE. One cool minivan. Altezza taillights, 19″ wheels, factory aerokit, LED projector headlights, Dual-DVD rear entertainment, for the kids…pretty sweet. It served us well but it was a minivan and the wife was over it. At a recent (annual) visit to the LA Auto Show, she fell in love with Jeeps. We got some estimates on trading the van in but at the last minute, found a buyer on Craigslist who just happened to live next to a used Jeep I wanted to explore at a dealer. I met the guy at a bank close by and just like that, the van was sold. I was left without a car for my wife though so I headed over to the Jeep dealer and inspected the Jeep. It had a ding in the door but it seemed like a decent deal and I needed a replacement for the van so I bought it. This is the Jeep when I took delivery. Its a 2014 Granite Crystal Rubicon Unlimited.
We wanted a little more aggressive look so we looked into what it would take to make it look a little more “fun”. Our journey is documented on the next few pages. We hope you enjoy!