Do you need a Skid Plate?

As an off-roader, you likely already know what a skid plate is - a simple plate placed underneath the vehicle for added protection. However, not all skid plates are made equal. Skid plates are more important than you may realize, especially for rocky offroading trails. Trails are unpredictable and all it takes is one unexpected hit to do some expensive damage and potentially leave you stranded.

What Does a Skid Plate Protect?

While often overlooked, a heavy duty skid plate is a must-have accessory for off roading. Some skid plates offer more coverage than others, but a good skid plate set should start at the very front of the vehicle and provide a seamless transition from the bottom of the bumper. This protects the vehicle radiator and ensures that branches, rocks, or other debris don’t fly up and ruin vulnerable components. Moving back along the skid plate, the next components it should protect are the front differential, engine oil pan and steering rack – all of which can be very expensive to replace on a typical 4WD vehicle. Moving back further, we have the transmission, transfer case and finally the gas tank. With all of these areas protected by solid skid plates, you can tackle challenging 4×4 trails with confidence.

Do I really need Skid Plates for Off-roading?

It seems that all too often, we see a 4WD vehicle that is heavily modified with all sorts of expensive modifications but is still running the thin factory skid plates or no skid plates at all! While the factory skid plates are better than nothing, they usually consist of only a thin front radiator skid plate and a very thin skip plate under the front differential. We consider these plates to be more like “feeler” plates where if you hear them scraping something, its probably best to reverse and assess the situation. Also, their coverage is usually quite limited and the steering rack, transmission, transfer case and gas tank are left fully exposed. 

Heavy duty offroad skid plates on the other hand can survive hard hits from rocks and even support a large chunk of the vehicles weight, such as when dropping down steep ledges. We always tell new 4WD owners that heavy duty skid plates and rock sliders are two of the most important modifications to do on a vehicle that will be taken on challenging offroad trails. Even just one hit to your engine oil pan or transmission will result in a repair cost that will far exceed the cost of a set of offroad skid plates. Not to mention the headache and time spent getting your SUV or pickup truck off of the trail and back to safety where it can be repaired. Proactively avoid this damage altogether and install offroad skid plates from the beginning!

Bonus Benefits

While skid plates provide crucial protection for your 4×4 first and foremost, they have a couple other nice benefits.

With a smooth, uninterrupted surface underneath your 4WD, you will be able to slide over obstacles with less resistance. This is true in rocky terrain as well as when breaking trail in deep snow. 

While adding weight to a vehicle is generally a negative thing, skid plates are located so low on the vehicle that they will actually lower the center of gravity of your 4×4. This improves stability and handling both on and offroad.

The final benefit, though minor, is wind resistance. On a lifted 4WD vehicle, a lot of air ends up traveling underneath the vehicle at highway speeds. This increases drag which can hurt your fuel economy. A smooth uninterrupted skid plate set will reduce that wind resistance.

Why Type of Skid Plate Should You Use?

Depending on the priorities of your 4×4 build, there are a few options to consider when choosing offroad skid plates. Those options are 1/4″ aluminum, heavy duty 3/16″ steel, or medium duty 1/8″ steel.

Comparing Materials

When considering skid plates, the factors to weigh are strength, cost and weight.

If you are looking for the best underbody protection for your 4WD, go with 3/16″ thick steel. These skid plates will withstand whatever you can throw at them, and they come in at a price point much lower than aluminum. The disadvantage of 3/16″ steel skid plates is the higher weight.

For a cost-effective and lighter weight skid plate set up, we recommend 1/8″ steel. This will save 25-40lbs in weight compared to 3/16″ steel. While it won’t provide quite as much protection, they are still a huge improvement over the stock skid plates and are great for medium-duty trail use.

For the lightest weight set, 1/4″ aluminum is a great choice. These provide excellent protection at less than half the weight of 3/16″ steel. However, the cost is higher and keep in mind that while they are very strong, aluminum is softer than steel by nature. As a result, it will dent easier when it comes to direct impacts between your 4×4 and large rocks on the trail.

Check Forums and Reviews

Because you trust your skid plate with protecting the critical components on your 4WD, you want to be sure of your choice. Take a few minutes to read reviews on various skid plates or check out some of the online forums for suggestions from other owners.

As far as Coastal Offroad skid plates compare, they are always designed with maximum ground clearance in mind whereas some other aftermarket skid plates will take short cuts that result in losing precious inches of ground clearance. In addition, Coastal Offroad skid plates use as many mounting points as possible as well as extensive ribbing on the top side of the skid plates which strengthens them substantially. This is in comparison to some other skid plates that are simply bent into shape have very few reinforcements welded to them. 

skid plate

Some Examples of Great Skid Plates

If you aren’t sure what skid plates to pick, consider the quality options from Coastal Offroad. Each one is reliable and reasonably priced.


3rd Gen 4Runner Gas Tank Skid Plate Kit

This 3rd Gen 4Runner Gas Tank Skid Plate Kit works for the 1996-2002 Toyota 4Runner,. The 4Runner is an incredibly popular and capable 4WD vehicle for off-roading, but the fuel tank is notorious for hanging down low and being vulnerable on he trail. We offer this skid plate in ¼-inch aluminum or 3/16-inch steel, letting you choose your preferred material for your uses. On lifted 3rd gen 4Runners with a lot of suspension flex, contact between the gas tank skid plate and driveshaft is a known issue. Not with this skid plate! It has been designed to maximize your driveshaft clearance and features slotted mounting holes which further lets you slide the plate away from the driveshaft to maximize clearance.


4th generation 4Runner, FJ Cruiser, and Lexus GX470 skid plate

This skid plate kit works with the 4th generation 4Runner, 2007-2009 FJ Cruiser, or Lexus GX470. Like the others, It is a weld-together kit and uses a design that maximizes strength with extensive reinforcing on top. You don’t have to drill any holes, as the kit relies solely on factory mounting points. The plate set covers all of your crucial drivetrain components, so nothing is left unprotected (gas tank skid coming soon). It also has a front differential pocket that allows the rest of the skid plate to be raised to add 1.75 inches to your ground clearance and optimize your approach angle. 

R50 Nissan Pathfinder High Clearance Front Bumper Kit

This R50 Nissan Pathfinder High Clearance Front Bumper Kit is not only a great bumper choice, but it also reminds you that you may find skid plate options as part of our front bumper kits. This skid plate provides a seamless transition from the bottom of the Coastal Offroad bumper and extends to the front differential crossmember. The combination of front bumper and skid plate provides full protection to the front of your R50 Pathfinder SUV and greatly improves your approach angle too!

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