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Making a case for the Wrangler Rubicon

Posted by on March 18, 2012

Making a case for the Wrangler RubiconThe Jeep Wrangler Rubicon Vs. All other factory options…

So, for whatever reason, you’ve decided to  buy your first Jeep… and you’ve decided it’s gonna be brandy-assed-new.  First, Congratulations!  Second, you’ve gotta determine if you’re gonna spring for the Rubicon edition.  To answer that question, you have to be honest with yourself when answering the following questions…

  1. Will you take it in the dirt – wheeling, off-roadng?
  2. If so, how crazy are you going to get? What kind of off-roading are you going to do?  What kind of trails are you going to run? How frequently are you going to get out there?
  3. Is this going to be your primary vehicle, responsible for getting you to, and from work everyday?
  4. Do you value the warranty at all, and if so, how much?
  5. What type of modifications do you plan for the Jeep, and how soon?
  6. How much money do you plan to sink into modifications?
  7. What kind of tools do you own, and how good are you at using them?
  8. How much time do you have to be wrenchin’ out in the garage?


Assuming you’ve got aspirations of hitting the dirt at least a few times a year, that you are a new to intermediate wheeler, that you don’t have the tools, time, know-how or inclination to spin wrenches, and that this is your primary vehicle (which means you should care about the warranty), you should absolutely consider, and probably get, the Rubicon!  (Under the same assumptions, it’s almost a ‘no-brainer‘ upgrade from just about anything above the base model.)  Here’s why.


Simply put, you get a lot of real-World, usable off-road capability for the approximately $6,000 difference you’ll spend on the Rubicon over getting the base model.  But let’s dive a little deeper.


Right out of the box, straight from the factory, the Rubicon gives you:

  1. Dana 44 Front Axle.
  2. Electronically actuated front locker.
  3. Electronically disconnecting sway bars.
  4. The NP 241OR RockTrac 4:1 geared transfer case.
  5. 32 Spline Dana 44 Rear Axle.
  6. Electronically actuated rear locker.
  7. Usable rocker protection.
  8. 32″ BF Goodrich Mud Terrains.


I can tell you from years of wheelin’ experience, and from a ton of research, that it could cost you more than 6K to add all those features, possibly a lot more if you’re paying someone else for the installs.  Plus, even though the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act exists, it doesn’t mean your dealer won’t give you a hard time on warranty claims if you’ve done the mods yourself or had another shop do them.  (Not so sure about that $6K? Go price an Atlas Transfer Case, a set of ARB Lockers with pump, a Dana 44 front axle, decent off road sway bars, like a Currie Antirock, and some good rocker protection…)


Sounds great, but why do you need all this stuff?  What does it do off-road?  Let’s break ’em down one-by-one…



In oversimplified terms, think of the 1992 timeless classic, “My Cousin Vinny”.  As the lovely and talented “Miss Mona Lisa Vito” says when asked about Positraction, “It’s a limited slip differential which distributes power equally to both the right and left tires. The ’64 Skylark had a regular differential, which, anyone who’s been stuck in the mud in Alabama knows, you step on the gas, one tire spins, the other tire does nothing.”  Again, this is an oversimplified explanation of Positraction, but drives home the point. Lockers are one step better.

In more technical terms, Positraction is a Limited Slip Differential (LSD) that does its best to split power to both wheels on the axle, but uses clutch discs in each side of the carrier.  Those clutch discs allow for some slippage and like all discs, get weaker with age and wear.  Lockers mechanically lock both sides of the differential, sending equal power to each wheel, and they don’t get weaker over time… unless something breaks.

Most 4×4 vehicles leave the factory with maybe an LSD in the rear, and a “regular” differential in the front.  This means many 4X4s are really only 2x2s, with one back tire, and one front tire sending power to the ground at any given time.  Plus, these driving tires are usually on opposite sides of the vehicle.  Get a bit twisted up off road, throw in some mud or loose gravel, and you’ll be going nowhere fast.

At least a rear locker is something EVERY wheeler should have!  It gives you true 3 wheel drive, with power always going to both rear wheels, and one front wheel.  This makes a major and noticeable difference on the trails, especially when you start flexing out the suspension to the point you’re pulling tires off the ground.

The Rubicon gives you selectable front and rear lockers, and that ‘selectable’ feature is important.  In 4Lo, under a certain speed, you can actuate the rear, or both front and rear lockers with the simple push of a button.  You can disengage them just as easily and quickly.  For a daily driver that is going to see a lot of street and highway time, switch operated lockers are  the best way to go!  Why??

I’ll tell you from first hand experience that the combination of a rear locker, dry pavement, big tires and highways speeds can make things real squirrely, real quick – especially in a relatively short wheel based vehicle.  Throw some snow & ice on the roads, and you’ll be sliding sideways and fishtailing all over the place.  Certainly fun in a controlled environment, and in the right situation, but otherwise dangerous for you and everyone else on the road.  If you’re gonna wheel, you want at least a rear locker!  If your rig will see a lot of street and highway time, having it selectable is ideal.


Electronically Disconnected Sway Bars

Sway bars eliminate sway, or body roll, which is basically the amount side-to-side body movement over the axles.  Think of a giant lever that prevents one side of the axle from getting far ‘out of whack‘ from the other.  This is great on-road.  It makes your vehicle handle much better, and makes it safer for both normal driving and for emergency maneuvers, especially at higher speeds.

This is not so great off-road.  Wheelin’ is all about traction, which means keeping all wheels on the ground as much as possible – especially over uneven and varied terrain.  As an example, imagine your front  passenger tire is climbing an obstacle,  fully compressing the passenger side front suspension, instead of lifting the driver side tire off the ground and losing all traction to that tire, you want your driver side suspension to droop out, keeping that tire on Terra firma.

Sway bars eliminate axle articulation, or flex,so you need to find a way to disconnect them when wheelin’.  Electronically operated, driver controlled sway bars offer the best of both Worlds.  While there are plenty of aftermarket options, and some are better than stock, it doesn’t hurt that the Rubicons are factory installed from Day-One, and under warranty.  Disconnect them for max axle articulation on the trail.  Reconnect them for the ride home.

Like lockers, disconnecting sway bars are a must have for the daily driver, weekend wheeler.  Together, they help keep your wheels on the ground and moving!


Beefed Up Dana 44 Axles Front & Rear

All Wrangler Unlimiteds come with Dana 44 rears, but the Rubicons have 32 spline vs the regular 30 spline axles.  How much stronger is that?  I’m not  sure.  Probably not enough to argue.

The front axle, is a different story.  While the Rubicon front is a Dana 44, the non-Rubicon front is a smaller and weaker Dana 30.  On a two-door Wrangler with 33-35″ tires, a light foot and easy wheelin’?  Sure it might last.  Hell, do enough reading and you’ll come across plenty of guys and girls running 35-37″ or bigger tires on the stock Dana 30 front axles, locked, and wheeling the snot out ’em, with “no problems.”  Just like Sasquatch, I’m sure these guys exist somewhere…but I bet they’re the exception.

Given my luck, I wouldn’t trust that front D30 under a heavier four-door, running 35s, locked, pulling double duty as daily drive AND weekend warrior.  For my money, I want a stronger front axle.  (Admittedly once you throw on 37s or bigger, there are things you’ll need to do to help that axle survive…but they are minor in relation to getting a whole new axle.)


Rocker Protection

The Rubicon comes standard with rock sliders, (aka sliders or rock rails).  They’re basically sacrificial chunks of stout metal that run between the front and rear tires under the bottom of the doors.  Their sole purpose in life is to keep trail obstacles like rocks, ledges, logs, etc. from denting the bottom and low sides of the body.

Sure, the factory installed variant might not be as strong or versatile as some of the aftermarket options, but they are certainly better than nothing!  From what I’ve read and seen, they work pretty successfully, especially for what most new to intermediate wheelers are going to run.

When taking a brand new and relatively low vehicle into the woods, this is important protection – all the more so on a four-door with the longer wheelbase and lower break-over angle.


The NP 241OR RockTrac 4:1 Geared Transfer Case

Newer or inexperienced wheelers might not appreciate this feature too much at first.  (You might even be frustrated by how slow your Jeep goes in low range.)  Suffice it so say that once the obstacles get harder (and they will) you’ll come to greatly appreciate the crawl ratio and driver control provided by this tcase –  especially when you get into the rocks found on almost every trail I’ve seen…


Bottom Line

If you’re going totally ‘Xtreme‘, with visions of wheeling every weekend and plans for major suspension lift, 38″ or bigger tires, and tons of hard core rock crawling, then the Rubicon isn’t for you.  You’ll spend too much for factory upgrades you’ll just replace yourself with Dana 60s, ARBs, long arm suspensions, etc…

If you’re never going ‘where the pavement ends‘, then the Rubicon isn’t for you either.  You’ll spend too much for factory upgrades you’ll never use, and won’t even begin to appreciate.

However, if you’re gonna hit the dirt, and you’re looking for a truly capable daily driver AND weekend warrior, right out of the gate, well, then you just can’t beat the Rubicon.  It’s pretty impressive in stock trim.  Modern safety equipment. Modern amenities and creature comforts.  Classic styling and size – even the four-door.  Real-World features off-roaders need and use…

Get the optional 4.10 gears, throw on a mild 2″ – 4.5″ lift, 33 – 35″ tires (maybe even 37s with some C gussets and axle tube sleeves), and you just might have found “The Holy Grail” of multi-purpose off-road vehicles!