Jeep Terms All New Owners Should Know

Jeep Rubicon

So you got yourself a brand new 4×4 from a Jeep dealer in Miami and you’re looking forward to hitting the trails, but where to begin?

If you’re new to the world of off-roading, there are some key terms you need to know before you delve in. In order to walk the walk, you’ve got to be able to talk the talk.

Check out this list of basics to get yourself started. You’ll pick up more terminology from your off-roading buddies as you become more experienced. But at least with these key terms in your back pocket, you won’t seem like a total noob.

4×4 High

This is the four-wheel drive mode that’s used for moderate off-road conditions. It engages all four wheels at the same time and provides better traction while still allowing you to drive at a regular speed. 4WD high helps prevent your Jeep from slipping and makes the tires less likely to start spinning.

Some vehicles now have full-time 4WD, meaning that you don’t have to worry about switching back and forth to 2WD.  It’s safe to drive a vehicle with full-time 4WD on any surface.

4×4 Low

When you switch into low, your Jeep employs only the low range of gears, which means that you must drive at a significantly lower speed.

This setting is usually used for very challenging off-road terrain because it increases the amount of torque going to the wheels. It’s great for rock crawling and taking on extremely uneven ground.

4×4 low is usually a part-time system and should not be used when driving on pavement. It’s also not helpful when you’re driving on slippery surfaces because it increases the amount of power going to the wheels and does not affect how well your tires grip.

Ride Height/Ground Clearance

Clearance is the amount of space you have between the surface you’re driving on and the lowest part of your vehicle (not including tires). Knowing your ride height is very important because it helps you make decisions about whether or not your vehicle is high enough off the ground to handle an obstacle.

Wheel Travel

The amount your wheel can move up and down is called wheel travel. The more capable your suspension system is, the more play you’ll have with wheel movement.

Approach Angle

The approach angle is the maximum angle that the front of your Jeep can clear. For instance, if you’re considering approaching a steep incline or large obstacle, you must determine if your Jeep will simply hit it or if your tires will be able to reach it and move your Jeep forward.

Break-Over Angle

This is a similar concept. The break-over angle is the angle between your Jeep’s tires and the center of the underside of your vehicle. Risk taking on an obstacle too large and you may end up perched atop it with not tires touching the ground.

Departure Angle

How much of an angle do you need for the rear of your vehicle to clear an obstacle or the bottom of a steep hill? That’s your departure angle. You definitely want to ask yourself how much room you need to come down before you start climbing anything with a sharp angle.


When you first begin off-roading, it’s best to get some basic trail-riding under your belt before you start crawling over rocks and such. However, when you get to that point, it’s important to know that a lot of planning is involved.

While YouTube may primarily be packed with videos of Jeeps triumphantly mastering tough obstacles or epically failing to overcome them, you don’t typically get a chance to see all of the preparation.

If you’re considering taking on a sizeable obstacle, you must first pick your line. Your line is the path you’re going to take for your approach. Finding the best path and making sure that your vehicle is equipped to handle it is critical.

It’s best to scout things out before you drive it. Get out and look around for advantages and disadvantages of each possible approach. Be sure to assess the angles involved to make sure that your vehicle can make it.

If you have a solid plan in place, you’ll be much more likely to succeed, and your Jeep will be much more likely to go unscathed.


A spotter is an off-roading buddy who helps guide you as you manage tricky driving situations. They give you feedback from outside the vehicle, letting you know if you need to make adjustments.

Lift Kit

The reason many people love Jeeps is because they’re so much fun to modify. And there are a lot of modifications that can lead to better off-road performance.

Installing a lift kit is typically one of the first ones recommended by Jeep enthusiasts. There are several different kinds of lift kits, but generally people use them to fit larger tires on their Jeeps and increase their ride height.

The most popular type is the suspension lift kit. Not only does it allow for a significant increase in rubber, but it also gives the vehicle more clearance so it can manage more intense angles.

Choosing the right lift kit for your Jeep is incredibly important. If you raise your vehicle too high, you could make it really dangerous to drive. Putting in a lift kit changes your Jeep’s center of gravity, and if it’s way off, you can easily lose control.

If you’re new to Jeeps and haven’t done any modifications yourself yet, it’s a good idea to consult the experts at a local shop that specializes in Jeeps. They can recommend the appropriate lift size, install it professionally, and take care of any additional alterations that may be necessary.

It’s also a smart move to revisit your warranty before you start making any modifications. Some vehicle alterations can void your coverage, leaving you in a bind if you end up needing repairs. Talk to the dealer ahead of time to find out what is and isn’t acceptable.

Skid Plate

A skid plate is a heavy duty plate, typically made of steel, that you fix to the underside of your Jeep. It helps to prevent damage to the vehicle and its vital mechanics.

Locking Differential/Locker

The wheels on your Jeep usually turn at different speeds because they are traveling different distances depending on their position on the vehicle.

But sometimes when you’re off-roading, it’s beneficial for two tires to move together to provide increased traction. That’s where a locking differential or locker comes in.

As illustrated by its name, the locking differential locks an axle, forcing both wheels to turn in unison. This provides plenty of torque to both wheels, whereas when the locking differential is open, the power will travel down the path of least resistance.


If you become a diehard off-roader, you’ll probably begin to think of your winch as your best friend. A winch is a mechanical device with a long cable or rope wound onto it.

When you get your Jeep into a tight spot that you can’t maneuver out of, you can attach the cable or rope to a solid object and use the winch to haul yourself back onto stable ground.