"I really like your Jeep safety page - (Are Jeeps Safe?) - talks about the pitfalls, the original use of Jeeps and leads the reader right into the safety of newer Jeeps." (Ron)
Are the iconic little Jeeps safe? The answer's simple, right? Combine a high center of gravity with a short wheel-base and you have a rollover just waiting to happen. Add extra weight, taller tires (increasing the already high center of gravity) plus speed ("movement"...not the drug!) and the rollover potential grows.
So, why for over 70 years has Jeep, (in various ownership) been allowed to continue successfully building such a "rollover waiting to happen"?
Note: I'm referring mostly to the "universal" models such as the old military Willys Jeeps, all Jeep CJs and the Wranglers... but this may apply to any other high profile, short wheelbase vehicles be they Jeeps or otherwise (various 4x4 Toyota's come to mind).
The Universal Jeep was born out of necessity and the phenomenal
reality is how it became so endearing to the public when it became a "Civilian Jeep" or CJ after the war.
Now, the little Jeeps were a part of history and people later found many uses for these little work-horses
in work and play.
Were Jeeps safe to drive in the early days? Absolutely not! They were less stable than anytime in their long history, but you must take into consideration the times. Less traffic on the roads, and the fact that Jeeps were mostly used on farms and for working purposes, made them user specific for those who knew HOW to handle them.
Okay,I still haven't answered the Jeeps safety questions. One simple answer to the question "are Jeeps safe?"
is that they were designed for specific purposes and meant to be driven by drivers with the knowledge
of their intended functions...also with knowledge of their limitations.
The Jeep manufacturers and dealers began to see a growing market of consumers who were not experienced or knowledgeable, but who wanted the vehicles anyway. Even then there were rumors of safety issues especially concerning the little Jeep CJs (5, 6 and 7).
1991 Jeep Wrangler YJ (Notice the Single Roll-bar with Driver and Passenger extensions)
So, Jeep became more conscious of some of the safety issues by adding mostly cosmetic rollbars
and some suspension upgrades on the CJs, however the rollover potential continued especially in the hands of inexperienced (often young) drivers.
(Click here to read more on the roll cage and Jeep safety)
Finally, after much political pressure in the 1980's affecting most of the automotive industry,
and especially Jeep, a new era in safety was born.
Jeep unveiled the Wrangler to replace the CJ in 1986.
I will not go into any depth with the Wrangler except to say that it was lower than the CJ and had a number of mechanical and safety upgrades.
Was the rollover potential reduced? Yes! Was the rollover potential still there? Yes!
Just not nearly as much.
Are Jeeps Safe Today?
Today the Wranglers and others in the jeep line-up are safer than ever with new technologies and materials, as well as safety devices. These include sturdier roll bars and roll cages with padding to reduce head trauma
during an accident, air bags and more ergonomically designed seating with restraints. Jeeps safety has become a priority, yet not at the expense of its rugged heritage.
1997 Jeep Wrangler TJ. (Note the Full Front to Rear Roll-cage)
Will the new Jeep Wrangler still rollover? Absolutely! The same rules still apply as when I began talking about this
potential in the first paragraph:
high center of gravity + short wheelbase = increased rollover potential.
The difference today when compared to older Jeeps is that the likelihood is much less than before.
Any vehicle can rollover if the right circumstances exist. It comes down to a matter of degree. The high centered, short wheelbase rigs still require a lot of knowledge and understanding of their
limitations as well as their abilities on and off the road to keep Jeeps safe and stable while driving.
Some factors to consider for safe operation of high clearance Jeeps on pavement:
Keep your speed reasonable. Don't exceed speed limits especially in bad weather conditions. The little Jeeps were not meant for high speeds anyway, and they were especially not meant to be driven like sports cars. And with gas prices today why not save gas as well?
Learn how to save gas and still enjoy your Jeep!
Be extra cautious with sharp turns. Many Jeep rollovers occur because of quick or panic turns of the wheel.
Be alert. Pay careful attention to your driving. (I know... this applies to driving any vehicle.
It's just more critical in a high clearance Jeep.)
Know your Jeep's limitations and respect them. They ARE versatile, but they can't go anywhere or do everything contrary to some folklore.
Don't brake hard in bad weather. Anti-lock brakes have helped this tremendously, but not all newer Jeeps and older Jeeps have this safety feature.
Here are some factors for safe off-road operation:
Many of the same precautions apply as in the above list for on-pavement driving, so I won't repeat them again.
Make certain you have a good solid rollcage on your Jeep.
Have an approved fire extinguisher secured, and within easy reach on the Jeep at all times.
If the terrain looks too difficult, don't try it. This is a recipe for disaster. Note: A simple slope can have enough angle for a rollover if your position on the grade is not just right.
Know what's at the top of a hill BEFORE you try to climb it in your Jeep.
Stay focused. When you are on unstable ground anything can happen to throw you off course into danger.
Again, I can't stress enough to watch your speed. Unless you are an experienced Baja racer or the such, you and your Jeep are best served by taking it S-L-O-W.
Jeeps break...and...people break! Have enough basic tools and parts for emergencies. Carry a good first aid kit as well.
Now, go out and enjoy your pride and joy. Stay safe and healthy!
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