For all of the capability and simplicity that comes from the Jeep Wrangler, there’s one area of the vehicle that tends to bug even its most fervent fans: the interior. We’re not here to discuss the design and layout of buttons and electronics inside the vehicle, but more to narrow down the nagging issue of interior noise that can get overwhelming.
Jeep guys want to go bigger: bigger tires, bigger axles, bigger shocks, and so on. One upgrade begets another, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as it can correct issues that came directly from the factory. Aftermarket companies are all too happy to step in and offer top-tier parts to fix said issues, and in the case of interior noise affecting the stock hardtop, that company is Boom Mat.
We reached out to our favorite Wrangler that’s still out there kicking and wheeling: a 2013 JK Unlimited owned by our friend, Mary MacGregor. Once more, she graciously allowed us to get to work on improving her 4×4. Without further ado, let’s jump in and see what went into shushing this rambunctious Jeep.
Overview Of Boom Mat And Leather Look Kits
Jeeps have long been known for their open-roof design, with the two main ways to cover them up being hardtops and soft tops. Both can be had on different models of the JK, and saying one is better than the other is simply not possible, as both offer unique characteristics and will do more for one owner than they will for another.
In the case of this Jeep, it was made from the factory with the Freedom Panel hardtop. We won’t go into the whys and wherefores on this, but we will say that for the purposes of mitigating outside noise, the hardtop is the preferable option thanks to its rigid composite structure and hard mounting points. Nevertheless, the hardtop can still let in an undesirable amount of noise, especially out on the trail or cruising down the highway.
Such is the reason for an installation of Boom Mat’s Leather Look headliner kit (PN 050161) and side window kit (PN 050164). We spoke with Boom Mat’s Mike Zenone to get a better understanding of the kits.
Boom Mat became interested in the Jeep and off-road market because a lot of its employees have Jeeps themselves. As Zenone stated, “It became clear that offering products catering to this market segment was a fantastic idea. We have been able to take our knowledge from working on other segments and apply it to this market without much difficulty.”
Driving around in a JK with a hardtop showed the folks at Boom Mat just the sort of issues that people were having with interior sound.
Zenone said, “After driving in a Jeep JK hardtop, we realized there was a need for sound insulation. We drove the same JK during the summertime, and realized there was a need for thermal insulation as well. We developed the first headliner and side window kits a while back, and had good success with them thanks to the pre-cut shape and stick-on installation. It minimized work on the end user, and provided great sound-dampening and insulating abilities, too. We tested these kits and found they dropped outside noise by up to four decibels.”
Boom Mat now offers the headliner and side window kits in Leather Look to appeal to a wider range of customers. “The ‘Leather Look’ kits are the next step for us,” said Zenone. “In addition to the dampening and thermal qualities, these kits raise the bar for aesthetics as well. Leather Look is made of perforated vinyl designed for sound absorption, easy cleaning, and a beautiful embossed appearance.”
An interesting facet of the Leather Look kits is their material composition. Zenone was able to elaborate on this: “The makeup is embossed Leather Look grain perforated vinyl, which has been permanently bonded to a one-inch-thick layer of marine-grade, open-cell acoustic foam. The thickness and quality of our foam is key, as it plays a dramatic effect on those qualities you mentioned. The foam, in particular, features a high-grade, even-cell structure for maximum sound absorption and thermal insulation.”
This is all well and good, but what about when it comes time to clean the Leather Look material? Zenone suggested that customers use an automotive vinyl cleaner and a soft rag, nothing too fancy. For light cleaning, like a layer of dust, he recommended using clean water and a soft cloth.
If a customer wanted to go further than using the Leather Look kits, he or she can check out UC Lite (PN 050110). “It’s a half-inch-thick multi-layer, composite material designed to be extremely flexible and easy to install,” said Zenone. “It provides less heat transfer in the summer while protecting against the transfer of cold air in the winter.”
Silence Isn’t Golden, It’s Gray
Before we got on with the installation, we had to establish the “before” of the Jeep regarding its sound levels. We drove the Jeep to a nearby dead end street that was both quiet and sparse, and then shut off the engine. Using a Smartphone app, we detected that we were making 26 dB average over the course of 10-second tests. While still in park, we turned on the engine, and the number jumped to 38 dB. We went into drive and accelerated quickly to 40 mph, which gave us 71 dB. Lastly, we went cruising at 50 mph and came back with 62 dB.
Back in the shop, we looked at the instructions and realized that this modification, compared to our tire and wheel and lift kit phases, wouldn’t be anything worth sweating over. After all, the installation of the Leather Look kits wouldn’t involve permanent changes to the vehicle, and could be done with the vehicle sitting on the ground.
Testing on these kits showed they dropped outside noise by four decibels. –Mike Zenone, Boom Mat
We began by clearing a large space in the shop and laying down a large blanket, as we would need a big, soft place to put the pieces of the hardtop – made up of two front panels and the hardtop itself – down for an extended period of time. The removal was quick and easy, starting with the front panels: Unclip the driver’s side visor, turn the L-shaped locks in the panels, turn the rear fastener knobs, unlatch the header panel latch, and then repeat for the passenger side.
Removing the hardtop was a hefty job. We had one man on each corner as the top was carefully pulled up, backed out, and then rotated 180 degrees to show the interior more fully. At this point, the instructions called for us to clean up grease or grime, and we spent a few minutes going over the panels and hardtop with 70 percent isopropyl alcohol and a clean rag until we were satisfied.
We pulled out the strips of sound-dampening material, 18 in all, and laid them out according to size: 15-inch, 19-inch, and 21-inch. We mocked them up against the roof panels and hardtop and found we had everything in order. Once that was taken care of, we peeled the backings off of each strip, one by one, and laid them in the ribs of the panels and hardtop, mushing them down as we went along to ensure a total seal.
Next, we grabbed the pieces for the roof panels and mocked those up as well. Again, a perfect fit was found, and then we carefully stuck the pieces on. The same went for the side windows and hardtop, and before we knew it, the install was complete. The only part that bothered us was the noticeable creasing that occurred with the pre-folded pieces that went on the hardtop. Zenone reassured this would disappear, however, saying: “We found this during our tests, too. The creases went away on their own after a few days of settling in.”
We completed the reinstallation of the roof panels and hardtop in reverse of their removal, putting the hardtop back on first and then the roof panels. Now, it was time to take the Jeep out once more and see just what a difference our Leather Look kits had made.
Repeating our tests in the same locations, we found we had achieved some very noticeable results. Parked with the engine off, we had a reading of 19 dB; parked with the engine on, 37 dB; accelerating, 59 dB; and cruising at 50 mph, 60 dB. In keeping with our expectations, we had indeed dropped sound levels across all of these parameters, with the most occurring during acceleration for a loss of 12 dB. To our ears, too, we felt we could hear more of the interior and hold conversations at a lower volume than before.
For more insight into our findings, we reached out to Mike Zenone once again: “A perceived reduction in noise level, where one can definitely hear a difference, will usually equate between three and four decibels of reduction. It appears you achieved more than that, and I find this interesting considering this Jeep runs on mud-terrain tires, which can be a major contributor to vehicle noise.”
Because time was of the essence for our install, we unfortunately didn’t have the time to go off-roading in the Wrangler, but we have every reason to believe Boom Mat’s Leather Look kits would be able to deal with harsh and bumpy terrain and let passengers have their every word heard (even the expletives).
Stay tuned for more great tech and installs here on Off Road Xtreme, and don’t forget to check out all that Boom Mat has to offer on its website and Facebook page.