Over the last few years, the pandemic, nationwide lockdowns, and economic-related shifts caused many of us to pause and reevaluate our lifestyles: from our careers and pastimes to how we spend our money. In doing so, people discovered that less is often more, especially when it’s time to slow down and enjoy the quiet passing of time when we’re not punching the clock. What do I mean? More people are discovering the perks of escaping the hustle and bustle by heading into the woods and immersing themselves in nature by exploring new trails.
Off-roading is open to anyone and doesn’t require a massive financial investment to get started. All it takes is finding a truck like the GMC Sierra 1500 for sale and a penchant for adventure. Fortunately, automakers like GMC are making these experiences accessible to more drivers by offering off-road-ready rigs straight from the factory. Trucks like the GMC Sierra 1500 AT4 and AT4X are equipped with all the necessities, from off-road-tuned suspensions and potent engines to underbody skid plates. No modifications are needed.
But what are skid plates, and why have these pieces of armor become a staple in the automotive industry? Why are they must-haves on vehicles destined for the trail? Moreover, why does the Sierra 1500 boast the best skid plate in the segment? It’s time to take a closer look at this armor and its underpinnings.
What Is a Skid Plate?
The 2023 GMC Sierra 1500 AT4X is a showstopper with an aggressive stance and bold silhouette that reflects its rugged capability. However, there’s far more to the Sierra 1500 AT4X than what meets the eye. Behind the scenes is everything the truck needs to exceed your performance expectations, from its potent 420-horsepower 6.2L V8 engine to the Multimatic DSSV Spool-Valve Dampers and front and rear e-locking differentials.
The components are integral to the Sierra 1500 AT4X’s performance on and off the pavement, so protecting them is essential anytime you’re behind the wheel. Sure, the hood and cab of the truck add substantial protection, but what about the hidden dangers of the trail itself–the debris and obstacles that are staples on every path across the country? What protects these vital components from jagged boulders on a technical ascent or downed trees as you near a water crossing?
Perhaps the most underappreciated component of any truck worth its salt on the trail is the skid plate; at least, we don’t appreciate these plates of armor until the going gets tough. Think of the skid plate on your truck as the equivalent of a shield or armor a knight relies on when going into battle. A knight would never face an opponent without his armor or shield, nor should a truck explore challenging terrain without the proper protection.
Hot-Stamped Boron Steel: The AEV Treatment
As one of the leading truck manufacturers in America, GMC doesn’t mess around when outfitting the Sierra 1500 with the best skid plates in the industry. GMC partners with American Expedition Vehicles (AEV) to make the 2023 Sierra 1500 AT4X the most capable overlanding truck in the Sierra’s history. With AEV’s stellar reputation for building high-quality parts, the AT4X gets top-notch treatment, from its AEV-stamped steel front bumper to its hot-stamped boron steel skid plate.
So, why hot-stamped boron steel, and why is this such a big deal? Most vehicles have some form of underbody protection, primarily plastic or aluminum. While this protection is better than nothing, it isn’t the greatest, and with a truck that features AEV badging, the AT4X only offers the best. It turns out that the best is hot-stamped boron steel, a lightweight steel that is incredibly strong. It’s so versatile (strong and lightweight) that it’s commonly used in automotive builds because it offers heightened impact protection.
AEV applies these characteristics in another critical area–under the Sierra 1500’s body. The strength of hot-stamped boron steel comes down to the measurements, with mild steel yielding a rating of 25,000 ksi. KSI is the measurement of tensile strength in kilo-pound per square inch. In other words, it’s how much stress the material can take before it breaks. While 25,000 ksi seems impressive, AEV’s hot-stamped boron steel plate measures 200,000 ksi. As I said, the AT4X only gets the best.
Stating the Obvious and the Less Obvious: Advantages and Disadvantages
You have your sights on one of the gnarliest trails in the region. It’s prone to flooding, so you’re excitedly planning your route for the best time of year when rain is scarce and you know you can safely navigate the terrain. While you can plan your route and create a long checklist of items to carry with you, overlanding and off-roading are full of the unexpected; that’s part of what makes it so enjoyable and exciting. More often than not, the unforeseen looks like downed trees and steep ascents littered with jagged boulders that heighten your senses and put you on the edge of the driver’s seat.
While you can’t plan for everything on the trail, you can confidently explore knowing your Sierra 1500 has plenty of armor. The skid plate gives you peace of mind, protecting the undercarriage from debris and potential damage as you navigate the terrain. It also creates an added layer of protection for the engine, minimizing the dirt and debris that reaches the truck’s heartbeat.
So, how could there possibly be any disadvantages to having a skid plate? Skid plates are a worthwhile investment for anyone planning to venture off the pavement. However, there are a few downsides because you’re adding another component to your truck. Because of their design, skid plates can trap mud, water, salt, and dirt that can damage the undercarriage if ignored. However, every veteran off-roader and overlander knows the importance of washing their rig after their last trail run, eliminating dirt and debris buildup around the vehicle, and protecting the paint. With a skid plate, you simply have an extra component to wash.
Another potential concern with a skid plate is the additional time repairs can take. If you’re a DIY garage mechanic, this could be an issue when it’s time to change the oil or tackle another repair because the skid plate must be removed. Fortunately, removing the plate isn’t difficult. Alternatively, trained mechanics have no issues with the skid plates because they have the necessary tools to remove and reinstall the component in minutes.
Weighing Your Options
Shopping for a truck like the GMC Sierra 1500 means you have high standards and expectations for a work partner that can tackle every job and adventure without a second thought. Now, imagine not giving your work partner the tools it needs to get the job done. That’s what it’s like if you plan to venture off the pavement in a truck without a skid plate. You’re knowingly setting yourself up for costly future repairs.
As you weigh your options, consider the investment of a truck like the GMC Sierra 1500 and what that investment will do for you. Now, look at the cost of replacing the engine or repairing the undercarriage after a weekend adventure on the trail went sideways. Opting for a trim like the AT4X with its hot-stamped boron skid plate makes your investment more enjoyable and adds another layer of protection to ensure you can thoroughly enjoy every moment behind the wheel, rugged terrain or not.