Although I have been castigated in the past for comparing naked Jeeping to riding a slow motorcycle (except with reduced odds of being in a wheelchair the rest of your life), there’s really not much else to compare it to, especially once you drop the windshield.
Except, I suppose, if you’ve ever ridden in a Jimny with the windshield down.
Point being, it’s hard to explain if you haven’t done it. It’s like a convertible, just dramatically more so. Top off, doors off, windshield down, it’s just you and the world and a couple tons of metal carrying you above it all.
And boy does it attract attention. I saw a guy driving a cool beach buggy down the road recently, and he couldn’t take his eyes off my ride. I gave one older gentleman in a parking lot a triple take. How often do you get a triple take in life?
Recently I discussed the joys of riding in the rain. While not for everyone, I definitely recommend everyone try it once.
And much like riding in the rain, there are some trials and tribulations that come with driving without a windshield. Part of it, of course, is in the name. Wind. There’s a lot of it.
In fact, the Fujita scale for tornadoes starts at 40mph. 40! So, basically, any time you drive your Jeep with the windshield down on a public road you’re experiencing an F0. Cool, huh? Just make sure you’re wearing some kind of glasses.
So while there are a few other important points to make about this particular craziness, let’s talk about what comes with the wind.
One of my biases is against fully buttoned-up Wranglers in warm weather.
Nonetheless, I understand that not everyone can tolerate 90º weather, even with the top off. Or especially with the top off, given that the sun at 90º tends to be a pretty harsh experience.
But for me, that kind of weather means exactly one thing: windshield down! I’m fine with it down at lower temperatures too, but the effort involved usually isn’t worth it until the thermostat is going to be stuck in the 80s for a while.
Wind chill is a real thing, even at those temperatures: if we pretend for a moment that the North American wind chill formula applies at 70º, driving at 50mph lowers the effective temperature to below 65.
Anyway, 90º + 40mph winds to the face makes for a pleasant temperature experience...for me. But I also find 50º relatively unpleasant, so your windage may vary.
What was that? I can’t hear you over the wind.
Yeah, bugs are a thing. A big, ugly thing when you get smacked in the face at 65mph. I don’t know how motorcyclists do it, although I imagine a lot of those who drive at high speeds with no windscreen wear goggles.
Don’t drive at night with the windshield down, except perhaps in heavily urban areas. After dark is when the flying bugs really come out.
I like to joke that the most important rule to driving with the windshield down is to not sing to the music you can’t really hear anyway.
Don’t drive behind a dump truck. Or any large truck. Or, really, anything at all at high speeds if you can avoid it.
I’ve driven as fast as 65mph with the windshield down, but that wasn’t entirely voluntary. This past weekend I was on a charity ride with motorcycles and Jeeps, and a few times I had to drive that fast to keep up with the caravan.
You absolutely do not want to get hit by a rock at 65mph.
One of the most important reasons that people have different levels of enthusiasm for the naked Jeeping lifestyle is, simply, hair.
I started shaving my head once it became apparent my hair was entering very early retirement. But while I don’t have hair to worry about, skin cancer is a concern. And, jumping ahead of myself a bit, besides trying to avert skin cancer, just trying to manage visibility on a sunny day with no hardware around you is not easy.
Plus, rainy days are much easier to manage with a good hat, no matter what your windshield status.
So baseball caps are a vital part of my Jeep life. But, wind makes them harder to hang onto, so I like cheap baseball caps. I don’t care if they get dirty from spending so much time wet, and I don’t care much if they blow away on a highway when I can’t retrieve them.
Fortunately, Michaels (a popular retail store in North America) not only carries cheap baseball caps, they carry yellow ones that perfectly match my Jeep (and a lot of my Jeep outerwear such as my rain jacket and wind breaker), making me a committed customer for life.
(If you don’t have long hair to use to anchor your hat, I recommend hook & loop attachments. You really want your hat to be as snug as possible at high travel speeds, because losing one at speed is both inconvenient and makes you a litterbug.)
As I mentioned, dropping the windshield not only takes the convertible experience up several notches with regard to wind and general openness, it makes the sun much harder to manage.
On TJs and JKs, dropping the windshield means losing the sport bars as well (unless you have an aftermarket sport cage) so not only do you lose the windshield frame and sun shades, you lose the bars to the left and right of the driver’s seat that often do a pretty good job of blocking the sun.
(Worth noting: removing those bars and lowering the windshield is time-consuming and has serious safety implications. You really don’t want to roll over. Is this burying the lede?)
The new Wrangler JL has an entirely different roll cage that includes a frame around the cabin that’s always there even with the windshield down. This makes for a less open experience, but a safer and less sun-obnoxious one.
It seems self-evident that dropping the windshield would improve visibility, at least when you’re not wiping bug guts off your sunglasses.
Sadly, that’s not really true.
I already mentioned the sun problem. And the wind problem. Both tend to make it a little more difficult to see what’s ahead of you.
Furthermore, you lose the rear-view mirror. That’s a big problem if you’re driving without doors, since Wranglers come from the factory with the side mirrors mounted on them. And if you’re wearing a hat and glasses, turning your head at high speeds risks losing both.
I have nifty mirror/footpeg accessories that give me a very stable view (unlike many aftermarket side mirrors), but with one significant downside: they’re convex, which means while I have a very wide view of what’s behind me, it’s not good for recognizing, say, emergency vehicles until they’re directly behind me.
And of course I typically can’t hear the sirens over the wind noise. Danger, Will Robinson.
Anyway, your local laws may vary, but in Indiana we’re required to have at least one mirror with an unobstructed view to the rear. Common sense dictates you’ll want one.
This is closely related to visibility, but there are a couple of important issues worth noting here.
I recall reading about class A motorhomes and how difficult they can be to steer accurately because most drivers are used to having a hood to help judge their line. Well, dropping the windshield gives you the same effect, albeit a bit less so.
Also, when you’re off-roading, the header around the windshield basically makes it impossible to see anything as you’re cresting a hill. You’d think off-roading would be the perfect time to have your windshield down, but on a modern Wrangler with a lot of plastic around the frame, you’d be mistaken.
The JL addresses both of these problems: not only is the windshield easier to drop than any recent generation, but it’s easy to remove entirely. That, however, leads us to...
Is it legal to drive on the roads with your windshield down?
I’ll give my unambiguous answer regarding our Indiana state code: maybe.
The law is fuzzy. Indiana says all vehicles must be equipped with a windshield. It doesn’t say that it must be engaged.
So, I’m choosing to go with a liberal interpretation of the law, and relying on the apathy of the local constabulary.
I can’t, however, fully remove my windshield and expect to be able to say with a straight face I thought it was legal.
Again, your local laws will undoubtedly vary.
Just kidding, of course you should. (But, if you kill yourself doing so, I never wrote that.)
You do need to be aware of the risks. And you don’t want to do it at high speeds for any great distance, lest your ears ring for days. (And ear plugs are morally dubious in this case given how much you really need to be able to hear emergency vehicles approaching.)
And if you own a Wrangler JK, well, good luck. It’s about an hour to lower or raise it.
But, yeah, give it a try on some country roads. You can thank me later.