There is an old adage in the motorcycle crowd. There are two types of people that ride motorcycles: ones who have laid down their bike, and ones that are going to lay down their bike. There is a similar adage in the off-road community; there are two types of Jeepers: ones that have rolled their rig, and ones that are going to roll their rig.
“Dey see me rollin’, dey hatin!”
Obviously, that adage is not entirely true. You could wheel your entire life and never roll or flop your Jeep. But the thing is: you never know when it could happen to you. In the hard-core, off-road set, rollovers are common because they are pushing their vehicles to the extreme. While roll-overs are less common for normal trail wheelers, they DO happen, and it is much better to be prepared for a rollover than not. Your life could depend on it. So please heed the following to make sure you save yourself and your pocketbook.
The first thing in dealing with roll-overs is to avoid them. (DUH!) The biggest thing here for normal trail wheeling is to be PATIENT. Take your time and pick your line. The skinny pedal will only get you into trouble. Many rollovers occur because Jeepers get impatient and hammer the throttle trying to get over an obstacle. It is always better to back out of the obstacle and try another line. Having a spotter outside your vehicle is always recommended.
In the days of old, many wheelers who had ridiculously low crawl ratios in their rigs would brag about it with their crawl ratio stickered on their rigs. This fad quickly disappeared. The reason it did is this: a low crawl ratio is awesome, but people soon figured out that a super low crawl ratio will not help you in saving yourself from a roll. You need the gas pedal and some wheel spin to pull you out of a roll.
If your vehicle does start to roll, first off…stay calm. Then turn into the roll and blip the gas pedal. The front tire that is still on the ground should pull you straight and put your wheels back on the ground. The key terms here are “calm” and “blip”. If you panic and slam the gas pedal, that can lead to even bigger problems, especially if people are standing nearby on the trail.
I should not even have to say this, but I am still going to: ALWAYS WEAR YOUR SEAT BELT. Not having a seat belt on in a roll or even in a slow flop can lead to injury and death. A five-point harness is always better than a normal seat belt in a roll, but only if you are wearing the entire harness. Since it takes longer to put on a five-point harness, and you are not able to lean forward in your vehicle when it is on, many people with those harnesses forego the shoulder belts and only put on the lap belt portion. That is less than ideal in a rollover.
“Five point harnesses are mandatory in Ultra4 racing”
If you are going to spend the money to upgrade to full harnesses, wear the entire thing. Another decent upgrade than can protect you in a roll by keeping you in your seat is a wrap-around suspension seat that wraps around your sides. Unfortunately, I am too fat to fit in many of those seats, but I wish I had them in my own rig.
Unless you are doing some major hill climb, most trail rollovers are relatively slow. It is not like you are doing 65 MPH going down the Rubicon. Still, you need a cage that will hold up and protect you and your occupants. The factory cages in Jeep are OK, but they are just that. Just OK. A custom full cage will offer much more protection.
“A proper custom cage offers much more protection than a stock one”
Trust me on this, you don’t want Uncle Billy booger welding some pipe together to build you a cage for your beater. Ideally, you want a cage that is built out of at least 1.75’ x .120 DOM and put together by someone who REALLY knows how to weld. Many wheelers will go bigger on the main part of the cage and use 2” DOM, as that is the safety standard for Ultra4 racing, but 1.75 is sufficient for most trail-users.
While the material you use is important, the actual cage design is even more important. It is much more of a science than you would expect designing a cage. This is why you should find a serious fabricator that knows what they are doing if you are going this route. Ideally, the best way to go is to also have your cage tied into the frame, not just bolted to the body.
“Admittedly, the cage on my son’s Willys MB is lacking and needs to be replaced soon”
You also want to make sure that your head does not stick up out of the top of the cage when you are seated in your rig. You would be surprised how many rigs I have seen in the past where this is common. Having an interior grab-handle for your passenger welded into the cage is also a good choice.
If you are an “average Joe Jeeper,” I understand that a full custom cage may be overkill and too expensive of an option. There are multiple companies however that make pre-cut custom cages for newer vehicles that may be a cheaper option for you. It is not the BEST option, but it is still better than stock. Personally I would tend to avoid the bolt-in ones however, and find a cage that needs to be welded in.
“It is normally at this point when you hope the cage holds up”
Tube fenders can also be a great option to help protect your vehicle in a roll. While windshield frames and the windshield itself is often a casualty in a roll, a potentially more expensive casualty is a crushed hood, which could lead to damage to the engine, radiator, etc. One of the worst-case scenarios in a roll is a crushed hood that comes down on your positive battery terminal causing it to spark. Combined with a gas leak, this can go real bad real quick. Make sure that your positive terminal has a cover on it, especially if you have an older vehicle that did not originally come with one. One way to protect your hood from all of this is a hood hoop mounted to your bumper or a mild stinger. Also make sure your battery is mounted secure so it will not shift during a roll.
“Tube fenders like on the front of the 4554 help to protect the vehicle”
One year on a night wheeling trip, I flopped my junk onto the driver’s side. It was a very slow flop and did not do much damage to my rig, but what did get damaged was my cranium. I had tossed a Maglite flashlight into the passenger’s footwell, and during the flop, it turned into a metal missile and cracked me right in the temple. I had a massive headache for the rest of the weekend.
I was lucky. Imagine if I had a Hi-lift hit me in the head, or my toolbox. Loose items packed into your rig can become deadly objects if you roll your junk. Often when someone rolls a vehicle, all of their gear falls all over the ground around the vehicle, hence the industry term: “yard sale” because it looks like you laid everything out for sale.
“With the gear and spare tire on top of my wagon, I have raised my center for gravity too much”
Make sure that everything in your vehicle is strapped down tight, especially heavy things like tools, jacks, and spare axle shafts. Cooler lids are also a common issue, make sure you strap the lid on. I had one buddy who had to leave a wheeling trip early because he flopped his rig and the water in his cooler dumped onto all of his sleeping gear completely soaking it.
Since many jeeps, especially older CJ’s and YJ’s do not have much storage space, many people load gear on top of their cages or on a roof rack. The issue with this is that if the heavier gear is stored up there, you are raising your center of gravity. Save your roof rack for lighter stuff like blankets and sleeping bags, while storing your heavier gear lower in the vehicle.
A final note on loading your rig. You should ALWAYS have a fire extinguisher mounted securely somewhere within reach of both you and passengers.
There are few things scarier than when you are right at the tipping point, and you suddenly realize that you are going to roll, especially if you have never rolled a rig before. Again, if you are driving, try to steer into the roll and blip the throttle to try to save it. If you do not manage to pull out of the roll, there are several things that you and your passengers MUST know before even wheeling down a trail.
First and foremost, do not try to stick your arm out to stop the roll. That will not work, yet you would be surprised how many people have attempted to do just that in the past. When a vehicle goes into a roll, it is almost a natural response for people to stick out an arm. This is one reason to have grab handles for your passengers.
“Don’t spend too much time taking pictures with your rig on its lid”
If you are driving the vehicle, keep your hands on the steering wheel and make sure your thumbs are not through it. If a tire is pushed one way or the other, the wheel could spin catching your thumb. Close your eyes to protect them from breaking glass, do not panic, and just go for the ride and roll with it.
You should always instruct your passengers where to place their hands before wheeling. Tell them to NEVER stick their arm out or hold onto the cage. If someone is holding a spreader bar with their hands, those fingers will get crushed when your 4,000-pound rig squashes them between the cage and the ground.
Again, it is best if there are interior grab handles for them to hold onto. If you don’t have those, instruct them to reach down and hold on to the bottom of their seats if you roll. If your passengers are wearing five-point harnesses, they should cross their arms and hold onto the shoulder harnesses right at their shoulders, tucking their chin down into the area where their arms are crossed.
After the roll, there are several critical things that you must do to protect yourself and your vehicle. However, those steps will be found in part II of this article, which is coming soon on Modernjeeper.com! Please stay tuned!