When investing in an off-road vehicle, there’s one item that you absolutely must have – skid plates.
Skid plates are sheets of metal that provide protection for your investment. Placed strategically on the underbelly of your off-road vehicle, they protect the transmission and transfer case, the rear differential, the suspension, fuel tank, and other vital components.
Typically, skid plates are made from abrasion-resistant materials that can stand up to impacts from logs, rocks, or whatever else you might drive over. In most cases, off-roaders choose either steel or aluminum skid plates.
In this guide to skid plates, we’ll discuss the steel vs aluminum skid plate debate as well as other essential things to consider when investing in skid plates.
Quick Guide to Skid Plates: Steel vs Aluminum
While there are plastic and carbon fiber skid plate options for smaller off-road vehicles like side-by-sides and motorcycles, for full-size 4WD vehicles, steel or aluminum skid plates are the way to go. Both have their pros and cons.
Steel skid plates are ultra-tough and offer the strongest protection for the underbelly of your rig. They’re usually one-eighth of an inch thick up to about three-sixteenths of an inch thick. The thicker skid plates are often reserved for fast off-roaders because they have the power to accommodate the additional weight of steel skid plates. Rock crawlers often have steel skid plates as well.
While they are heavier, steel skid plates are also fairly cheap to make. This is great if you have the skills to make your own, or if you need to have someone make them for you, steel won’t be terribly expensive.
Aluminum skid plates, on the other hand, are better for off-roaders that are concerned about weight. Desert runners, for example, typically have aluminum skid plates so as not to weigh the vehicle down and make it more difficult to navigate sandy surfaces.
The problem with aluminum is that it’s expensive, so it isn’t as viable an option as steel if you’re on a budget.
Another issue with aluminum is that it’s softer than steel, so sliding over obstacles won’t be as easy as it is with steel skid plates.
Quick Guide to Skid Plates: Custom-Fit or Universal?
The obvious benefit of having custom-fit skid plates is that they will fit your vehicle perfectly and offer the utmost of protection to your vehicle’s components. It’s a lot like the difference between custom-made floor mats and universal floor mats – the universal ones can get the job done, but the custom-fit ones simply do a better job.
Another benefit of custom-fit skid plates is that they are really easy to install. Being custom, they take into account the topography of the underside of your rig and fit each nook and cranny like a glove. They usually bolt on using pre-drilled holes, so a few minutes under your truck is all that’s needed for the install.
If budget is a concern, though, universal skid plates might be the better option. They are certainly less expensive than custom-fit skid plates, but they can also be a lot more work to get on your rig. The opportunity cost of the time spent trying to fit a universal skid plate to your vehicle might not be worth it.
Another concern with universal skid plates is that they typically corrode faster than custom-fit plates. This is because they tend to collect more mud and dirt than a custom-fit plate, which speeds up the process of deterioration.
For my money, custom-fit skid plates are the way to go. While they might be more expensive up front, you’ll spend less time installing them and get more life out of them.
How to Care for Skid Plates
Don’t think that because your skid plates aren’t really visible that you don’t need to perform some routine care on them…
Not only should you check for damage after each off-road trip, you should also inspect the skid plates for any signs of rust, including on the bolts that affix them to your vehicle.
If you find rusty bolts, replace them immediately. Also clean the skid plates frequently to minimize the presence of dirt and mud that can lead to corrosion. A fresh coat of paint on any surfaces that have some rust popping up will improve the longevity as well.
Also be sure to clean out any dirt, mud, or water that collects above the skid plate. A good washing after each trip should do the trick.
Whether you opt for steel or aluminum skid plates, universal or custom ones, having something to protect the underbelly of your off-road rig is critical. This guide should help you determine what type of skid plate is best for your needs so you can get out on the trail and let ‘er rip!