Jeeps are the classic off-road vehicle.
When we think of Jeeps our mind jumps to the image of a rugged off-road rig with lots of ground clearance and big fat tires. An SUV built to tackle anything! Practically every Jeep I see on the road has been souped-up with a 4”-6” lift and mud tires.
Unfortunately, over the years Jeeps have built the reputation of being very easy to flip. Tipping tales from the trails told by many a off-roader have reached my ears. With that in mind, I wanted to explore exactly what was going on with the phenomena of less-than-grounded Jeeps. There must be something going on here!
So, do Jeeps flip easily?
Yes, is the short answer, but there is a lot of science and history involved in exactly why that is the case. Any SUV can be subject to an unwarranted flip, especially with an added lift.
I’ll explain this a little more, so we can all understand what is going on with these tipsy trucks.
Why Do Jeeps Flip Easily?
It all comes down to gravity and physics. In any SUV, the vehicle center of gravity will be much higher than a regular sedan. The higher a vehicle is from the ground, the higher the chance of flipping.
Let’s break down the physics behind a vehicle flip (in the simplest way, I’m no scientist!).
When you turn the steering wheel of your vehicle, your front wheels will turn together in the direction you want your vehicle to go. The front wheels are essentially pulling the rest of your car along with them. Whether you’re going left or right, pressure will be exerted on the outer corner of your vehicle. Your vehicle will be tilting in that direction.
In a sedan, which has a low center of gravity, this tilting action is less likely to result in a roll. Gravity works in your favor to keep your car on the ground.
However, when the center of gravity is higher, like in an SUV, more pressure is put on that outside corner as there is simply more space between the vehicle and the ground. More pressure on the outside corner results in higher likelihood of the tires on the opposite side of your vehicle lifting from the ground.
Alright, now that we understand the science, I’m going to apply this specifically to Jeeps.
Historically, Jeeps were built with very short and narrow wheel bases. Along with the light body and high center of gravity, the early Jeeps were terrible for flipping. This is why Jeeps have the reputation of being very prone to flips and rolls. It’s a bad reputation that has stuck with the brand throughout the years.
This reputation was primarily associated with the Jeep CJ, which was the precursor for the modern day Jeep Wrangler.
Jeep has tried to address this problem in modern times by building the Jeep Wrangler with a wider wheel base. Wider and longer wheel bases result in a far more stable vehicle. This is because weight is more evenly distributed across the wheels.
How to Prevent a Jeep From Rolling Over
There are three things I know you can do to keep your Jeep safely on all four wheels:
- Stay Low
Unfortunately, Jeeps have the double whammy of a light body and a high center of gravity. Adding any extra lift to a Jeep will literally raise your chances of flipping.
As we’ve already learned, a higher center of gravity makes tips and rolls more common.
Thanks to their poor reputation for flips, modern Jeeps (particularly Wranglers) have been tried and tested to lower the chances of tipping. That could change after installing a lift. A lift will alter the factory suspension and change the geometry of your vehicle. It is very important to consider the geometry of your vehicle when installing a lift.
One way to lower the chances of rolling your Jeep is to keep the Jeep…well, low. If you are dead set on installing a lift on your Jeep then you must be sure it is installed properly and safely. This is true no matter what, since rolling your ride is just one of many problems that could come from a shoddy lift installation.
- Do Not Overload Your Jeep
It is also important to never overload your Jeep, especially on the roof rack. Extra weight on the top points of your Jeep will lead to a higher likelihood of tipping. It all comes back to balance, baby. Proper weight distribution throughout your Jeep is the best way to keep it securely on the ground.
- Drive Carefully
This may seem like a no-brainer, but to keep your Jeep right-side up, you must drive safely and cautiously! This means reducing your speed, staying alert and taking corners slowly. The news is filled with too many avoidable accidents and lives lost to foolish drivers. Stay safe on the road and you’ll be in for a good time.
I will never make guarantees that a flip will not occur, but if you take all these precautions you can at least lower your risk of a bad flip or roll. My goal is to keep you and Jeep right-side up.
Safety Precautions for if a Jeep Flips
Even when you’re driving safely, freak accidents can still happen, so I want to be sure you know what to do if you find yourself in a flipped Jeep. The first time you think about keeping yourself and your passengers safe in your Jeep, shouldn’t be when you’re already upside down.
If you are planning on taking your Jeep out for any serious off-roading, then you should look into installing a roll cage or roll bar. A roll cage will protect all passengers inside a Jeep from potentially life-threatening injuries.
Roll cages come in many shapes and sizes, ranging from a full exo-cage that encircles the body of the vehicle, to bolt-in bars that sit in the interior of the Jeep. The type of cage you select will depend on your price range and Jeep. All Jeep Wranglers will come with a factory roll cage, but an aftermarket cage is still well worth the money.
Additionally, be sure to keep any cargo or heavy items properly secured inside your Jeep. If your Jeep begins to roll and you haven’t secured your cargo, loose flying items could be what kills you, and not the roll itself.
Outside of safety modifications that can be made to your Jeep, there are also important steps to take while you are rolling.
Brace for the Roll
- If you feel your Jeep begin to roll, immediately remove your hands from the steering wheel and fold your arms against your chest.
Remove Your Feet from the Pedals
- Remove your feet from the pedals in order to protect your ankles from injury and breaks.
Push Yourself into the Seat
- Push yourself as deep into your seat as you can go. Do not lean forward! This will increase the chances of breaking a limb or sustaining head trauma.
Keep Your Eyes Closed
- If your Jeep flips, it is very likely that several windows may break. This will result in a lot of glass flying around. Keeping your eyes shut during a roll will protect against any damage from glass or other debris.
- Flipping in any vehicle is a terrifying experience, but it is important to remain as calm and collected as possible.
Post-roll, it will be very important to shut off the vehicle and find the safest way to brace yourself and get your surroundings. Be careful when releasing your seat-belt, as you do not want to fall and sustain further injury.
Be wary of glass and other debris. Look for a safe way to get yourself and any passengers out of the vehicle. Do not be hasty when exiting your flipped Jeep! Properly assess the situation first. Any fast movements could shift the weight of the Jeep and send you rolling again.
Be sure to keep tools such as a window breaker, belt cutter and knife in your Jeep. These tools could be life-savers in the event of a roll.
Off-roading is a delicate balance of fun and risk.
A Jeep may come with the reputation of being easy to flip, but to stay safe on the trails it all comes down to how you drive and modify your Jeep.
By understanding the reasons why your Jeep may be prone to tipping, I hope you can make the best choices to keep yourself and your passengers safe.
Remember, it is all about proper balance, just like many things in life. A Jeep can be fantastic off-road if you do your research and understand your vehicle. I had some of the best times of my life riding in my friend’s old Jeep YJ, whether we were getting stuck in the mud or hacking our way through a dense trail. No roof, no doors, just fun.
Now get out there, and stay safe!