If forced to choose between a fixed-top Wrangler with four-wheel drive, and a removable-top with rear-wheel drive, I’d choose the removable top every time. You can always get a boring vehicle with four-wheel drive, but I’d suffer mightily without my soft top.
Technically a soft top isn’t required to enjoy open-air Jeeping. Starting with the Jeep JK in 2007, and available for earlier Wranglers in the aftermarket, hard tops are now effectively T-tops.
And of course, if you have a hoist, a few local friends, or, in a pinch, a mattress and a stronger back than mine, you can remove the hard top entirely.
When I bought my LJ, however, I had none of the above, so removing the hard top temporarily wasn’t viable. However, the doors—while heavy—aren’t difficult to remove.
And a couple of hours after I removed mine for the first time, I was pleased that I had previously removed the carpeting, because a major summer storm blew through town. The rain was coming in sideways, I was absolutely drenched, and I was having the time of my life.
Since that day I’ve embraced the philosophy that, if it’s warm enough, a heavy rain isn’t a good enough reason to put the top back on. So let’s talk naked Jeeping logistics, at least as they apply to me in the Midwest. Your climate may vary.
To really commit to going topless all summer, the most important advice I can offer: be single and childless, or have an amazingly tolerant family. Just because you’re crazy enough to put up with the sacrifices doesn’t mean everyone around you will be.
(Craziness is relative. This Jeeper in my local club goes topless all year round, including when it’s well below zero. With no windshield. Even on the interstate. I can’t really help you attain that level of insanity, but I know with whom to put you in contact if you really want to make a splash.)
Removing the carpet is strongly recommended. Wranglers have drain plugs that let you keep your floor wells from flooding, but it’ll still take time for the carpet to dry. The noise level definitely increases without carpeting, but it’s a Jeep. If you want a quiet ride, the Wrangler isn’t your best option. Or even your 100th-best option.
And speaking of drain plugs, deciding what to do with them isn’t nearly as trivial a decision as it may seem. You’ll definitely want them in for cold weather. You’ll want them in if you’re driving through mud or crossing rivers. And driving down the interstate at 80mph with floor mats and no drain plugs risks having a floor mat blow away.
But removing them is a pain, at least for my generation of Jeep, so I keep a multitool around for removing them and generally leave them out all summer. And keep something heavy in the passenger floor well.
Seat covers also help. You can find plenty of opinions online about what to buy, but find a set with zipper pockets in back. You’ll want to stash trash bags to keep your butt dry when you’re driving.
Trash bags are also useful to protect the steering wheel when you’re parked in the rain. A rusty clock spring can really ruin your day, and even without long-term damage you can have problems with a drenched steering wheel (such as the time my horn went off and wouldn’t stop until I pulled the fuse). Bungee cords are helpful for many things in a Jeep; keeping a trash bag over your steering wheel during a storm is just one of them.
You’ll want a squeegee to wipe the rain off your windshield, although I keep contemplating how I might take the manual wipers from an early CJ and put them to good use on the inside.
And a quality weather app is worth its weight in gold. Dark Sky. ‘Nuff said.
I mentioned to my father recently that, although I regret not discovering the joys of Jeeping when I was much younger, modern technology has some significant upsides. He thought I meant YouTube. I actually meant Ziploc bags.
I have a large collection of various sizes of lockable bags. I keep a device for charging my iPhone in my backpack...inside a Ziploc, just in case. I keep my rain jacket in a Ziploc bag; there’s not much worse than coming out to drive home in a rain storm and discovering that your jacket is already drenched.
I keep some spare warmer clothes in a Ziploc bag. Medical supplies. A rain parka and pants for really heavy rains. My battery jumpstarter. A baseball cap to help keep the rain out of my glasses (and the sun off my bald head). A 12.9" iPad Pro fits nicely in a large Ziploc and not only continues to respond properly to touch inputs, but even recognizes my thumbprint.
What about your built-in electronics? Good question. I mentioned the horn problem, but that was a temporary glitch. (The morning of the horn malfunction the Jeep also wouldn’t start until the sun was high enough to dry it out a bit. That spooked me a bit, but it’s never happened since.)
The aftermarket radio when I bought my Jeep was junky and didn’t support Bluetooth, so after some research I bought a marine radio to replace it.
Later that summer, after some heavy rainstorms, a few of the radio buttons stopped working. So much for buying quality marine gear.
I replaced the marine radio with a relatively inexpensive model, figuring that if it too were going to succumb to rain, at least I hadn’t spent much money on it. Two years later it’s still going strong. Go figure.
More frustrating: I recently lost a very useful circuit after a day of exploring remote areas, in which I was hit with about 4" of rain. I’ve yet to identify the short and it’s annoying me greatly because I no longer have a dimmable rear view mirror. Or tripometer. Or internal lighting. No one said this would be easy.
Incidentally, regarding tornado safety? I got nothin’. The one time I was in the middle of nowhere with tornadoes passing through, I was lucky enough to be able to drive away from the dangerous areas. If you’re actually in the path of a tornado in a naked Jeep...well, consult a lawyer or a priest, but not me.
Going doorless raises some legal issues that are worth mentioning while I have your attention.
First, despite the nanny state so many of us lament, driving without doors isn’t illegal in most places. Pennsylvania DOT inspection requires doors for anything that rolled off the factory line with them, and I’ve heard rumblings about New Jersey and the state of Washington, but everywhere else in the U.S. it seems kosher.
With the transition from the CJ to the first Wrangler, however, Jeep moved the side mirrors from the body to the doors, and some states require more than one mirror. Fortunately there are no shortage of aftermarket mirrors, although many of them are barely usable due to vibrations. I have a combination mirror/foot peg that fits very securely into the hinges, and so as long as I’m not using my aftermarket soft doors I can have extra mirrors.
That aftermarket mirror becomes a requirement in my home state of Indiana when I drop my windshield. Unfortunately the side mirrors are convex, so they aren’t particularly good primary mirrors, but Indiana law doesn’t say the rear view has to be useful, just unobstructed.
(And with regard to the legality of driving without a windshield: Indiana, at least, requires that a windshield be “equipped”. It doesn’t say it must be “engaged”. Some day I may find out how persuasive a judge finds that argument.)
I’ve dwelled quite a bit on what could be perceived as negatives of running a naked Jeep. It’s worth mentioning some benefits.
Do you find that your vehicle attracts clutter more than you’d like? Good news: that won’t be a problem here. You can’t keep clutter from flying away when you drive (or walking away when your Jeep is parked and someone wants to grab something).
So, unless you want to litter your way down the road, you simply don’t keep clutter in your Jeep. Motivation is easy to find.
You may not get as much attention from the opposite sex as you’d think (although the combination of a naked Jeep and a cute dog often works wonders), but from personal experience I can attest that drunken revelers will tell you how cool it is that you’re cruising a hot spot at night in the rain without a top. As will old-timers who remember what Jeeping used to be.
So, do I really go the entire summer without doors and top? Nope.
When I’m going to be transporting friends or family in the rain, I put on the top. And if I know it’s going to be cold and wet for a few days, I’ll button up, because ultimately I’m just as much a wimp as anyone else. (And, in fact, we’re having a string of wet/cool weather right now, and the top and soft doors are on. No windows, though, I’m not a heathen.)
And if I make a long trip, say to Florida to see family, I’ll put my soft doors on. It’s rare in our modern world to get an opportunity to use a zipper to roll down your window, so you have to seize the moment when you can. (Plus there really is such a thing as too much wind.)
I’m not a masochist. I just play one on the interwebs.