I’m Afraid to Start Modifying My Jeep Gladiator

I’m Afraid to Start Modifying My Jeep Gladiator

I want new wheels and tires for my Jeep Gladiator. The stock five-spoke wheels on a Sport S are so boring that I think about them at night when I’m trying to fall asleep. And yet, aftermarket truck wheels generally look like they were designed as props on Mad Max: Fury Road, with lavish bro filigree of exposed bolts and spikes and garish contrasting colors. “Hey, look at me!” they say. “I spent two paychecks on a set of wheels from the Chud MegaOctane lineup and increased my unsprung weight by 15 pounds per corner.” American Expedition Vehicles makes some wheels that are the exception—tasteful designs, made in Italy—but they’re also intended for bigger tires, and then you need a lift. And once you’ve done that, you’re on your way to what is euphemistically called “a build.” Which is to say, spending endless money on an infinite pursuit of some unquantifiable higher plane of vehicular existence. And I’m afraid that if I got into that, I might not know where to stop.

And so the Gladiator remains resolutely, lamely, stock. I’ve not turned up the boost on the 3.0-liter diesel. I haven’t lifted it or even leveled the front end to match the tail-high rear. It came with the Alpine stereo, so no need to mess with that.

A Gladiator is a blank canvas for customization, and yet I’m afraid to make a misstep. What if I lift it and get 35-inch tires and find out they’re noisy and I hate them? What if I bolt on a new intake and it’s noisy and I hate it? That Mopar Sunrider soft-top insert over the front seats looks cool, but what if . . . actually, never mind the what if. I tested one of those on a Wrangler, and at 70 mph with the top open, the interior was louder than a low-altitude flyby from an F-16. Maybe I’ll just get some stripes.

Yes, stripes. I’ve been pondering a stripe package that evokes the old Jeep Scramblers, a retro yellow-and-orange scheme down the flanks. I think that would look cool, it wouldn’t cost much, and if I didn’t like the vibe, I could peel it all off. As we say in the custom-car game, stripes are low stakes.

And yet, I feel a little ridiculous for coveting such a thing at all: I’m a grown man, and I want to put stripes on my truck. The world is chaos, a simmering cauldron of calamity and relentless existential crisis, and I’m like, “I need some stripes. For my TRUCK!” It’s possible I’m overthinking this.

black jeep gladiator with stripes

The stripes are good. I think. (Disclaimer: Not my truck.)

Car and Driver

I haven’t even mentioned my other truck, the 2003 Ram. That one I have no intention of modifying, but at least in that case I have a rationale. The Dodge is in relatively nice shape, and with paint and some fettling it would essentially be like driving a new truck. And that’s a rare experience—inasmuch as anyone is interested in reliving 2003 from the bench seat of a regular-cab Dodge. Maybe I’ve looked at too many Bring a Trailer auctions, but it seems that for the Ram, there’s no upside to mods—stock is where the love is.

With the Jeep, though, I suffer from some kind of inverse FOMO, this nagging worry that I’ll invest time and money and end up unhappy with the results. And so I do nothing. Well, OK, I bought some factory Rubicon take-off rock rails for $100, but it’s not really a mod when you’re installing a factory part that should be standard in the first place. Have you seen a Gladiator without rock rails or side steps? There’s sheet metal hanging down under the doors, mounting holes clearly visible, that make it look like it got shunted off the assembly line 15 minutes early. Adding rock rails was the least I could do for it. Gladiator, come out when you’re decent.

jeep gladiator with rock rails on the ground

It’s not a mod if it should have been that way in the first place.

Car and Driver

Along those lines, I also just hit up someone on Facebook Marketplace who’s selling Gladiator Rubicon wheels and tires, brand new. He removed them from his truck, presumably because he lifted it and installed 35-inch or 37-inch tires. I guess I should feel like a loser, pining for someone else’s not-cool-enough castoff parts, but building a mongrel truck from actual Jeep components might satisfy my thriftiness while minimizing the chances of aesthetic or functional ruin.

If that works out, maybe I’ll be good for a while. This is what I tell myself, as my Jeep slowly transmogrifies into a 500-hp, eight-foot-tall monster pickup with gold wheels and two rows of KC Daylighters on a tubular roll bar. No, no, that’s not inevitable. But I did just order the stripes.

UPDATE: I found some Rubicon take-offs. Vast improvement.

rubicon wheels and tires in the bed of a gladiator

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jeep gladiator rubicon tire and standard tire

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black jeep gladiator

Much better.

Car and Driver
Headshot of Ezra Dyer

Senior Editor

Ezra Dyer is a Car and Driver senior editor and columnist. He’s now based in North Carolina but still remembers how to turn right. He owns a 2009 GEM e4 and once drove 206 mph. Those facts are mutually exclusive.

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