It is said that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, and nothing says weak link more than bashing a plastic bumper against an outcrop of rocks or gouging out a chunk of rocker panel dozens of miles from base camp. This rings especially true for a stock, long wheelbase, four-door Jeep Wrangler Unlimited, which can leave itself vulnerable to damage. However, one of the reasons trail riding in an off-road vehicle is so exhilarating is because of the voyages ahead and challenges involved.
We wanted to protect our 2013 Jeep Wrangler JKU Project Sgt. Rocker for just that reason. The bumpers the good people at Jeep designed and installed on a typical street-driven Wrangler are good for exactly that, the street. That’s why they’re called bumpers and not brawlers. It stands to reason that anyone who sees a rock as a challenge or a series of fallen trees as stepping stones would want something better.
We took a look around and decided to check out the body armor from Poison Spyder. Its Brawler Lite Front Bumper, RockBrawler II Rear Bumper, and Brawler Rocker line is designed specifically to fit most every Jeep from CJ to JKU. It doesn’t hurt that they make them look more aggressive too.
The bumpers are designed for excellent ground clearance, and ‘rock dynamics’ – Dusty Sharp, Poison Spyder
Dusty Sharp of Poison Spyder told us, “The Brawler Lite is exactly the width of the grille to protect it, while providing maximum turning radius and articulation for huge off-road tires, as well as giving those tires unrestricted access to grab traction on the next rock or obstacle.”
Built tough from 3/16-inch plate steel and CNC laser cut, the Poison Spyder Brawler Lite line of heavy duty off-road bumpers are designed to fit seamlessly into the design of the Jeep while offering the highest level of protection and function.
Sharp also pointed out that, “The bumpers are designed for excellent ground clearance, and ‘rock dynamics’–meaning they slide effortlessly over the toughest obstacles or miss them altogether.”
It is important to note that these products are shipped bare metal, which provides the basis for a couple of options. For starters, it would be a good idea to “dry fit” each part to solve any fitment or esthetic issues you might come up against. After that initial fitment but before the final installation, you can powdercoat or paint the parts (as we did) to match the theme or overall look you’re striving for. Once they are painted or altered in any way, they cannot be returned.
Read and understand the directions included with the products (including the warranty). Park the Jeep on a level surface and, if possible, in a garage and out of the sun. Consider the use of pads for your knees or a small stool, as you’ll be spending the vast majority of this install near the bottom of the Jeep.
Since you’ll be working with the vehicle’s electrical system, disconnect the negative lead to the battery. It is also a good idea to wear eye protection when working with the drills.
There are a few steps that will require the help of a reliable extra pair of hands, so have that lined up before installing the heavy parts as there’s no greater disappointment than scratching a new part before the great outdoors gets a chance to.
In addition to the tools already mentioned, it’s helpful to have a body trim removal tool, anti-seize compound, axle grease, and masking tape ready. Get your tools, the parts, and something cold to drink. It’s time to get started.
Brawler Light Front Bumper
Designed to provide protection to the radiator, winch, and grill, the Poison Spyder Brawler Lite bumper comes with the Brawler Bar, which is 1-3/4-inches of Drawn Over Mandrel (DOM) tubing. It is welded on two different planes of the bumper for added strength.
The recessed fog light mounts are not just holes in the bumpers, but fully caged buckets that encircle the lights for protection as well as not allowing light to shine from behind the bumper. The factory wiring and harness retaining clips fit perfectly.
The top-mounted integrated winch mount is designed to accept most popular brands of winches that use a 10 x 4-1/2-inch mounting pattern. The optional recovery shackle tabs are mounted high on the bumper to allow for a maximum approach angle.
To start, you will need to remove the lower air dam. A flat-edged screwdriver will make quick work of the plastic push-in retainers. Disconnect the factory fog lights by unplugging the wiring connections on the backside of the stock bumper. Leave the lights in the bumper as they will be removed later.
With a 19mm deep socket and ratchet wrench, remove the eight nuts that attach the bumper to the frame. There are four nuts to each frame rail side, two on the inside and two on the outside. With the help of an extra pair of hands, remove the stock bumper and set it aside for resale or to keep if you ever want the Jeep returned to stock.
There are four retaining screws that attach the fog lights to the stock bumper. With a Philips, transfer the fog lights to the Brawler Lite bumper. It is important to note that the stock fog lights found on the Jeep Wrangler 10th Anniversary Rubicon do not fit in these recesses and will need to be replaced with a different model. The OE retaining screws are of the sheet metal variety, so they will need to be driven into the retaining rings of the Brawler Lite bumper, so press firmly to well seat them.
Underneath the grill, resting on the top of the frame rails is a plastic bumper molding that will need to be removed. If the screws won’t back out, use a pry bar to add pressure between the molding and the frame rail, and they should comply.
There are eight threaded studs on the inside of the Brawler Lite bumper that coincide with the stock bumper mounting holes on the frame. Keep in mind that manufacturing variances during production as well flex of the metal over time may make the bumper fit tightly into the holes. You might need the hammer to persuade it into place, but mind the finish coating, of course.
Snug the nylon-insert lock nuts and washers with the 3/4-inch deep socket and after everything fits securely, level and perfect, then torque the eight nuts to 70 pound-feet. Returning the OE fog lights to working condition is just a matter of plugging back in the connectors into the wiring harness, which can then be secured to the bumper via the holes on a flange on the inside of the bumper.
Brawler Rocker Kit
Conforming to the subtle curves of the JK’s undercarriage, the Poison Spyder Brawler Rocker panels are a two-piece style product that provides a strong rub rail as well as a 3-1/4-inch-wide step rail. The lower half of the rocker is designed to angle downward and inward to provide a high clearance rail to slide off of rocks and other obstacles. The upper pieces attach to the body using stainless steel screws and nut-serts, while the lower pieces attach to the upper pieces in the same manner.
The lower pieces attach to the sides as well as the bottom of the Jeep, providing a very strong assembly. All fastener holes are countersunk. Not only are the rockers strong enough to slide off of any potential high points, but the assembly is able to easily withstand the weight of the Jeep itself, providing a great lifting point.
The Rubicon Edition Wrangler comes equipped with side steps and some models already have rocker protection. If yours does, it will need to be removed by way of the four (for two door) or six (four door) nuts located in the pinch weld flange. With a 10mm and 13mm socket, remove the nuts and carefully pull away the existing parts. Again, these can be resold or saved if it ever needs to be returned to stock.
The key to the next step is to protect the existing paint on both the rockers and the Brawler Rocker (we liked ours unpainted and left them so). Apply masking tape to the front and rear fender flares as well as to the body where the upper piece will soon be bolted. You’ll need about 10 feet of tape to cover the length of the body tub (from fender to fender).
However, if you are confident in your abilities, you can get away with only applying masking tape to the back side of the upper pieces of the rockers, wrapping the tape around the corners (as we have done).
With the doors open, position the upper piece of the rocker kit firmly on the side of the Jeep’s tub. Make sure that the gaps around the upper piece of the rocker is equal all the way around, and that it is level with the bottom of the door. Use a set of bar clamps to hold it perfectly in position on the Jeep’s body by clamping it over the top of the door jam.
Even the shackle tabs were shaped to maintain the rear bumper’s smooth departure angle … – Dusty Sharp
This is where it gets real, and after this step, there is no turning back. With the 1/4-inch drill bit and using the Brawler Rocker upper piece as a guide, drill the first two mounting holes through the outer skin of the Jeep only (one at the front and one at the back of the upper piece). Do not drill so deep that you’ll penetrate the inner panel. Unclamp the upper piece and set it aside.
With the 25/64-inch drill bit, widen the two holes you just drilled, again, being careful not to drill into or through the inner panel. Go slow at this point, so the drill bit doesn’t snag the sides of the hole and distort the metal.
When those holes have been widened, insert the supplied nut-serts into the holes being careful not to over tighten them as they can distort and no longer properly function. Install the upper piece via the two 1/4-inch flat head bolts, making sure to apply a small amount of anti-seize to each thread. At this stage, don’t tighten the bolts, just snug them so you can see how it looks overall.
If you are happy with it, remove the two previous bolts, re-clamp the upper piece to the body and drill the remaining mounting holes in the two-step manner previously described. When the holes are drilled, remove the tape from the body (and fender flares) as well as the backside of the upper piece, and bolt the upper piece to the body. Don’t forget to apply some touch-up paint to the exposed metal inside the drilled holes to keep rust at bay.
Start all of the screws before tightening any one of them down completely. Start tightening the middle bolts and alternate back and forth toward the outer bolts (towards the fenders), and snug them to no more than 10 foot-pounds.
The lower pieces attach to the upper pieces via clip-nuts and nut flanges along the bottom of the upper pieces. Start by removing the 18mm nuts below the rocker panels that mount the body to the frame. There will be three on each side for the four-door and two for the two-door. Hang the lower piece on the upper piece’s nut flanges, placing a flat head cap screw temporarily at each end, just to hold it in position.
Underneath the lower panel are body mount holes that line up with the existing mounting holes underneath the tub. By pushing up on the lower panel, those mounting holes should line up, allowing the two (or three, depending on your model) body bolts to be reinstalled. Once turned, leave them loose.
Install the remaining flat head cap screws on the upper portion of the lower piece, then push against the lower piece so that its entire length is sandwiched as close to upper piece as possible. Tighten all of the flat head cap screws and body bolts, while ensuring that the lower piece stays firmly snug to the upper piece. There should be no gap between them.
RockBrawler II Rear Bumper
Lastly, we move to the back of the Jeep and to the Poison Spyder RockBrawler II rear bumper assembly complete with integrated tire carrier. The bumper’s high clearance allows for a greater increase in departure angles and corner clearance of obstacles. Sharp told us, “Even the shackle tabs were shaped to maintain the rear bumper’s smooth departure angle rather than sticking out like anchors.”
It’s multi-faced design appears streamlined compared to the boxy square shape of most rear bumpers, alluding to form over function. However, don’t be fooled here, as its function well outweighs its form via the 3/16-inch steel plate used, the full welding, and the multiple attachment points.
Unlike Jeep’s original design, the tire carrier is affixed to the tailgate so that the carrier and the tailgate open up in tandem. A tie rod assembly keeps the carrier tightly tethered to the tailgate to not only ensure a strong connection but a rattle-free one as well.
Start by removing the stock rear bumper and disconnecting the rear sway bar where it bolts to the outside of the frame rails (leave the other end connected). If your Jeep is equipped, remove the recovery shackles as well. Retain the hardware as some will be reused. Under the Jeep’s now exposed crossmember, there are two small holes on either end, just a few inches in from the edge.
From the edge of the outermost hole, measure 3/4 inches towards the crossmember end and make a mark (felt tip pen or center punch). With the one-inch hole saw, carefully drill a hole centered on this mark. Do this on both sides, making sure to add touch-up paint to the exposed metal to avoid corrosion; then insert a 3/8-inch clip-nut into each hole so that the barrel of the threads point inward.
There is a floating mount plate that is attached to the driver’s side rear of the bumper assembly via the supplied bolts. Finger tighten these bolts. There are three holes on the mounting flange on each side of the bumper. Two of these holes line up with the stock holes on the frame rail. The bumper can now be fitted to the crossmember, bolted loosely to the stock holes on the frame rail.
After ensuring that the bumper is not only straight but level and centered to the Jeep, tighten the floating mount plate. Before removing the bumper, on each side, mark the location of the center of the third bolt hole on the frame rail. Drill 1/2-inch holes centered on those marks and apply touch-up paint to the exposed metal. Insert the 3/8-inch clipnuts into the larger oblong shaped hole on the frame rail and slip the barrel of the nut into the hole you just drilled.
Reattach the bumper and bolt it to the frame rails and crossmember with the supplied hardware and the OE pieces from the old bumper. Make sure the stationary mount flange and the floating mount plate are inserted between the outside frame rail and the sway bar bracket. Torque these eight bolts to 45 foot-pounds.
Optional Backup Lights
If you are using the optional 2-1/2-inch LED backup lights, you need to wire those to the existing taillight assembly after mounting them into the bumper. The extra wire and connectors needed are not included in the kit. Some electrical skills are needed in this step, and since there are quite a few options here—some people have merely wired the lights to a switch on the dash and used them as utility lights—the details won’t be covered here.
Spare Tire Carrier
Remove the OE spare tire mount hardware and the mount from the tailgate, and using the OE hardware, mount the Brawler tailgate plate so that the welded-on brackets are toward the top and driver’s side.
The tire carrier hinge includes a pair of tapered roller bearings that provide a smooth operation while being able to support a extremely heavy load. A seal at the bottom of the hinge assembly keeps out unwanted debris and water, while the top is capped with a billet aluminum cap with the company’s logo machined in it. Wearing latex gloves, pack with grease with two roller bearings either by hand or with a packing tool. The bearing races are already pressed into the hinge housing.
Avoid coating the spindle nut, but add grease to the inside of the tire carrier hinge housing, the bearing races and the spindle itself. Press a bearing into the lower race of the hinge housing until it seats properly, and then use a bearing seal driver (or a large socket and a dead blow hammer) to carefully and evenly install the grease seal into the bottom of the hinge housing. Be careful not to let it get misaligned while driving it in.
Because there are such tight tolerances, it may be difficult to feed the carrier hinge housing onto the spindle, but you’ll need a friend to support the other end, while you install the second bearing over the hinge spindle (narrow end pointing down). Apply some anti-seize to the threads, install the one-inch washer and lock nut. While swinging the carrier back and forth, tighten the nut until the bearing is seated, the nut is tight and the carrier’s operation is smooth without any play.
If it hasn’t been done by the factory, install the hinge cap o-ring and the hinge cap. Use a crescent wrench to tighten the cap, but place a rag between the wrench and the cap to avoid marring the surface. However, wait until the end to completely tighten down the cap.
Install the V-alignment bushing to the bracket of the tailgate plate and attach the V-alignment plate to the backside of the carrier, ensuring that it seats correctly when the carrier is closed. The turnbuckle tie rod ends are left- and right-hand threads, and when attached to the tailgate plate and the carrier, leave the bolts loose.
Close the carrier until it is about 1/2-inch from closed and then adjust the turnbuckle on the tie rod so the V-alignment plate just begins to touch the V-alignment bushing. Test the fitment by firmly closing the carrier so that it latches. Adjusted properly, the tie rod should be pulling the V-alignment plate into the V-alignment bushing with enough force to keep everything tight. Once that is achieved, tighten the nuts.
Spare Tire Mount
Start by measuring the overall height of your spare tire, but make sure it isn’t one mounted on the Jeep (you’ll need a true diameter). Divide your findings in half and then add an inch. The result will be the tire mount height measurement, which you will use to measure up from the recessed step surface of the bumper, making a mark on the carrier.
There are four screws, washers, and nuts that will attach the carrier side tire mount plate to the carrier, which should be centered on the mark you just made. There are slots in the carrier to allow for some adjustment. Align and mark three holes in the mounting plate (with the square tube protruding through the wheel) with three holes in the wheel.
Three wheel studs need to be inserted in the tire side tire mount at the three holes you just designated. Fit the tire side tire mount onto the beam of the carrier side tire mount plate and leave the fasteners loose.
Lift the spare tire onto the tire mount, and the previously fitted wheel bolts through the lug pattern of your wheel, leaving the lug nuts only about half threaded. Making sure the two tire mounting plates are tightly together, tighten the two screws and nuts that secure them together. Then tighten the lug nuts of the spare.
The bumpers and rockers are fabricated entirely from CNC laser cut, precision brake-formed plate steel, and expertly welded together in a specially designed assembly fixture to ensure consistent fit and quality, and to quote the company literature, “a web gusset design is cut into the corner of the tire carrier to provide a little Poison Spyder flair.”
We took our 2013 Jeep Wrangler JKU Project Sgt. Rocker to the 2014 Moab Easter Jeep Safari after the installation of the Poison Spyder bumpers and rockers, and put them to the test on two trails. They performed with flying colors, helping to keep the Jeep clear of obstacles and safely sliding over rocks instead of becoming hung up on them or damaged by them.
Poison Spyder’s Brawler Lite front bumper provided a perfect mount for the Warn winch, and allowed plenty of clearance for the large Mickey Thompson meats. The RockBrawler II rear bumper offered substantial support for the Weld Racing REKON wheel and Mickey Thompson 35-inch tire, as well as the HiLift jack we toted along.
With smart design and engineering, quality materials and painstaking fabrication, the Poison Spyder Brawler Bumpers and Brawler Rockers we installed on Sgt. Rocker came through to not only protect the Jeep from what Mother Nature threw our way on the trails, but they looked great while doing it.