So we’ve hit the basics. Last week we covered some of the easiest Jeep JK mods and upgrades. Stuff that was easy to install and practical for everyday life. Today we’re going a bit deeper, with Jeep upgrades that are moderately easy to install and provide even more utility. All of them are great for looks, and some of them will even help your performance the next time you feel like taking your Jeep off road. Let’s dive in.
We’ll start with a soft top. And no, we’re not currently insane. We know we covered soft tops among the Jeep mods in Stage I. But we wanted to give you some options, because Bestop, who practically invented the soft top, created something way back in the day called a Bikini®. No, not the thing you wear to the beach that’s basically an excuse to frolic in your underwear. It’s a smaller, more minimalist approach to the Jeep top. Instead of covering the whole exposed area of your Jeep, roof and sides, it only covers the passenger compartments, and only at the top.
Let’s start with what Jeep you have. 2010-current Wranglers that came with full soft tops from the factory include a cable that runs along the sides of the top. This cable helps keep your top in place and weatherproof. 2007-2009 Wranglers did not have this cable, and used a different system instead. If your JK is an 07-09, we still have Bikini tops for you, but give us a call at 877.787.8989, because we want to make sure you’re getting the right one.
A Bikini attaches to the front of your Jeep via the windshield header, the panel that goes between the top of the windshield and the front end of the soft top. Now, if your JK came with a hard top, it didn’t come with a windshield header. That’s okay, because the Bestop kit comes with a windshield header. However, your Jeep didn’t come with door surrounds. So if you’re converting to a Bikini from a hardtop, you’ll need some door surrounds that will fit the cable. 07-09 door surrounds won’t work, because they don’t fit the cable. Thankfully, Bestop has door surrounds, too, like these for the four door, and these for the two door. Be sure to grab some of you don’t have some already.
Now that the complicated stuff is out of the way, let’s talk about the top itself. It stretches from the windshield header, over the passenger compartment, and ends just past it. This makes it a brilliant sun shade and lets you get much more wind through the cabin without having to go roofless. Bikinis are also quicker and easier to remove, and they weigh less. But we put them in Stage II because though they will protect you from the rain, your cargo area will remain open to the elements, and that’s not for everybody. Check out this one for the four door, and this one for the 2-door. Here’s how easy it is to install:
Speaking of Bestop, they also make one of the coolest mods you can get for your Jeep, and the easiest to install on today’s list: doors. Yes, we know your Jeep came with doors. But as you probably know, they’re removable. There’s nothing quite like cruising doorless in a Jeep. Until a discarded semi trailer tire smacks into your leg on the highway. Sometimes you want the freedom of doorlessness and the protection of a door. And as always, you have options.
First, we have removable soft doors, like this excellent half door set or this full door set. These are the traditional modular Jeep doors. Soft doors are lighter than the stock steel doors, utilizing weatherproof fabric over a steel frame, so they’re easy to pop off whenever you want. They’re also thinner, which means you can easily toss them in the back. So you can have no doors on the trail or doors for the highway, all in the same trip. Like your stock Jeep doors, they latch and lock, too. Half doors, as you probably guessed, are half the size of stock doors. They come up to about window level and then stop. They’re a great budget option for the open Jeep. But if we’re honest, the best deal are the full soft doors, because they also become half doors. A full soft door includes a zip-down soft window with weatherstripping, shielding you from the elements. But here’s the coolest part. If you open the door and undo the velcro strip running across the middle, you’ll find that you can lift the top, window half off of the lower half, giving you a half door.
Soft doors have been around for some time, but Bestop had a new idea for aftermarket doors: the Element, available in satin or matte finish. The system is customizable to meet your tastes. In its first form, it provides you with a skeletal barworks door that lets in all the breeze and none of the truck tires. Just slide it into your hinges and latch it closed. It even comes with a lock so no one will run off with it. So what if you want a little more? Bestop makes a heavy duty organizer that slips over the bars and provides you some additional coverage and many spacious pockets where you can store your gear. The organizer is reversible, so you can put the pockets on the inside or the outside. Want more door? Bolt up the custom fit steel panels in a few minutes flat and you have an awesome set of half doors. They’re extremely strong and great for weatherproofing your Jeep in the winter. And if you want full coverage, you can just plug in the top half with windows, just like traditional soft doors. Windows even zip out so you can roll them down as desired.
And speaking of mods for all seasons, we can offer you some even better floor protection than the awesome floor mats we covered last time. Because BedRug makes kits to cover your entire Jeep floor. BedRug got their start making invincible, grippy, and easy to clean liners for pickup truck beds. But as the pickup community fell in love with BedRug’s unique material, they realized they didn’t have to stop there. So now they make carpet replacement kits for your JK, both 2-door and 4-door.
Water and other liquids roll off of BedRug’s surface due to its polypropylene construction. That means it doesn’t trap moisture and refuses to mold or mildew. In most vehicles this is important. In Jeeps, which might be wearing Bikini tops or running doorless at any time, it’s essential. Countless Jeep owners have found the factory carpet to be a mildew magnet. Many pulled out the carpet and went through the messy process of adding spray-in bedliner to the whole interior. BedRug is the solution. It also has a layer of foam beneath the poly, which provides padding for cargo and feet alike. It also fends off road noise and even heat. To give you even more protection against heat, BedRug includes an adhesive insulation pad to cover the transmission tunnel. BedRug is nearly indestructible. It doesn’t rip or tear under normal conditions, and not even battery acid can harm it.
These systems are especially cool because they don’t require you to remove your seats for installation. Since the JK’s carpet pulls out without removing a single interior piece, BedRug made their Jeep floor do the same thing. It attaches with adhesive velcro strips, so when it gets dirty or muddy, you can just remove it, hose it down, and put it back in. The kits have been especially molded and cut to fit your JK, so you won’t have to do any cutting. They also have kits for your cargo area, making BedRug the perfect complement for your Bikini top.
Now for something that improves the appearance of the outside of your Jeep: lights. They look good and they help you look better. Get it? Yeah, terrible. Anyway, auxiliary lights do look really cool, but they’re also very functional, whether you’re driving in adverse conditions, need more light on the trail, or just want to light up a basketball court while you play. You have many options when adding more lighting to your Jeep, but as prime examples, we’ll stick to two. They’re very different, but they’re both crafted by the same manufacturer, whom we love not just for making brilliant products, but also because they share the initials of our hometown and our favorite country Christmas artist: KC HiLites. KC has been making lights for just about ever, and their distinctive yellow light covers can be found (or have been copied) on off road vehicles all over the world.
We’ll start with something classic: the Slimlite. Using halogen bulbs, these 100 watt lamps mount up to your bumper and blaze a trail in front of you. Because they use such slim housings, they tend to fit where bigger lights might not. Stone guards are included, along with integrated mounts, all required wiring, and the switch. They’re great for an old-school, vintage off-road look and keep the budget small.
If you want something a little less retro and a little more futuristic, go with KC’s C20 LED light bar. LEDs are pretty amazing. They use less power than conventional halogen bulbs but create more light. They’re more stable under vibration and take far longer to burn out. And you can arrange them in all types of interesting shapes. A bar that puts out as much light as the C20 using conventional halogens would be many times the size of this compact little powerhouse. And believe it or not, they’re not a big deal to install. The C20’s included mounting bracket is even reversible, so you can install it in a high position, to shine over the top of a winch or grille guard; or a lower position, to sit near the bumper. Here’s a large-handed man showing us how it’s done.
You can also attach your auxiliary lights directly to your bumpers. Oh hey, bumpers! Let’s talk about bumpers for a moment, because while stock JK bumpers look okay, they’re just stock. They’re designed to make people comfortable. But you want something a little edgier, don’t you? Something a little tougher and a little more distinct? Fab Fours has that taken care of. We have a couple of options here. Their JK Lifestyle winch bumper has, a winch mount integrated, as well as a heavy duty grille guard to give you an even tougher look. The entire bumper is constructed of tough 3/16″ steel and armored against rust with a double stage matte black powder coat and epoxy primer. It has two D-shackle mounts and includes two integrated 90mm fog lights and 60mm turn signals. This is pretty uncommon in the aftermarket. Many bumpers offer light mounts, but they usually leave getting the lights up to you. Fab Fours was awesome enough to just throw them in for free. It should be noted that this bumper does not fit every winch on the market, so be sure to plan ahead.
For something more extreme, their Hardcore Stubby bumper also includes a winch mount and a grille bar, but the bumper itself is narrower and perfect for rock crawling. And you don’t have to be a crazy rock crawler to appreciate the hard-edge look. It’s constructed of the same 3/16″ steel and features the same up-armored powder coat. Its integrated cut-out brackets are designed to relocate your factory fog lights right next to the 1″ D-shackle mounts. This bumper will also mount up a 10,000 lb or less winch.
Oh yeah. It’s time to talk winches. Let’s face it: We can all be a little overconfident in our vehicles, especially if those vehicles are Jeeps. We can get stuck in the mud or snow, and even the JK’s mighty 4WD can’t pull us out. A winch of the right weight rating can do just that. They’re nearly indispensable off-road, and beside that, they just look awesome. Let’s take a look at a couple of winches from Warn, who makes the best and most popular winches in the world.
Warn’s Zeon Platinum is one of the most advanced consumer winches in the world. They brought one by here a few weeks ago to give us a look and we’re not kidding: It’s basically the future. We’ve written all about the Warn Zeon before, but the Platinum takes it a step further. There are now two auxiliary power ports on the back of the winch, so you can hook up your lights or an air compressor and control them with the Zeon’s wireless controller.Yeah, it’s backlit, with a big screen and toggles for everything you have plugged in. Plus, both the winch and the controller are waterproof. Really waterproof. Look at the seal on the controller’s USB charging port. These guys are serious. You can get the Zeon Platinum in 10,000 lb or 12,000 lb pulling capacities, and with Warn’s Spydura synthetic rope or their classic steel cable.
With the Zeon, you get what you pay for, and you get alot. But if you’re on a bit smaller of a budget, and you still want an awesome, powerful winch for emergencies, Warn’s tried and true M8000 has a 4 ton pulling force and a compact, reliable housing. It includes a steel cable, a corded remote, and a roller fairlead. Warn made their name on little workhorses like the M8000, and it won’t let you down. Unless you’re winching yourself down from something.
Now let’s take a look at those stock wheels and tires. The Jeep wheels and tires are okay. Those stock five-spoke jobbers are pretty recognizable as a Jeep icon. But that also means they’re not terribly unique, so it might be time for some Jeep JK upgrades of the round variety. Thankfully, your Jeep is designed for ground clearance, and in general, that also means tire clearance. Bigger is better, and with the Wrangler, you can fit up to 35″ tires, like this all-purpose Mickey Thompson Baja ATZ P3 radial. It fits a 17″ wheel and is designed to perform both on- and off-road, so you can be ready for everything. However, if you do plan to run off road where you’ll see alot of suspension travel, you may experience some rubbing against the fender, so with a 35″ tire, we strongly recommend (see how we bolded that?) that you add a 2″ or 2.5″ lift to your JK. We’ll cover lift kits in Stage III, so stay tuned.
As for the wheels, the possibilities are endless. You can go with a classic steel design or a lightweight, distinctive alloy like this Dick Cepek DC-2. It will all depend on your personal style and budget, but nothing sets off the style of a Jeep like a great set of aftermarket wheels.
But no matter what your tastes, your wheels and tires should be road legal. And often the problem isn’t with the tires, but the fenders. In most states, it’s illegal to drive with tires that stick out beyond the vehicle’s fenders, but those are the best kinds of wheels and tires! A wider track is almost always better when Jeeping. It looks cooler and gives you more stability. The solution is a set of Bushwacker Fender flares.
They bolt onto the sides of your JK to give you the extra coverage you need to stay legal. But they’re also just awesome looking. The Flat Style flares give you tons of coverage and a mean, off-road look, while the Pocket Style aren’t quite as wide, but offer a very cool array of simulated rivet pockets. Plus, they’re nearly indestructible and help protect your factory paint.
So there you have it. Some slightly more advanced upgrades for your JK. Bolt a few of these on and not only will your Jeep look amazing, it will be more ready for the trail. Come back soon for Stage III, in which we discuss lifts, lockers, and some Jeep JK performance mods.
Andy Sheehan is a blogger, aspiring novelist, and relentless hoon. He plans to will his 2002 Subaru WRX Wagon to his firstborn, plans his daily commute around the swoop of its roads, and doesn’t plan to ever buy an automatic. A cool-car omnipath, he loves the common Mustang or Chevelle, but hunts for the weird and wonderful Velorexes and Cosmos of the autoverse. And when he can afford a garage, he’s going to turn an MX-5 into a race car.