From a pragmatic point of view, tail-light guards are pretty silly. I mean, how often do you ever take a hit to your tail-lights out on the trail? Honestly, I’ve never done it.
So why did I get tail-light guards?
Oh, I’d like to give you some Boy Scout rigamarole about preparedness, but the truth is I just think they look awesome. On a vehicle that can be accused of soccer-momminess — which the Commander often is — tail-light guards are a quick and easy visual rebuttal. They make a world of difference, I think, in proclaiming the rough and tumble readiness of the vehicle.
There are several different tail-light guard options for the Commander, ranging from full metal bar grates to plastic tape-on jobs. I went with the full metal outfit for general ruggedness, and I went with the version from Aries for, well, several reasons:
- It “stands off” from the vehicle more than some, which helps both to draw the eye and to break up the long flat lines of the XK.
- It is cheaper in price than many alternatives, yet I know from experience that the quality is very high.
- It was easy to roll into a package purchase, since I ordered it along with several other items (detailed in later posts) from 4xGuard.
For all the positives of my Aries purchase, one thing that was distinctly missing from the box pictured above were instructions. Aries sent me none. I also received far fewer screws and bolts and such than an Aries guard kit that my father and I simultaneously installed on his Grand Cherokee (WK). (His kit, incidentally, did come with instructions, so clearly it was merely a packing snafu on mine.)
Turns out that Aries, though they screwed up in regards to my lack of instructions, did not screw up when it came to parts. After a long time of contemplation and experimentation (without instructions it was the only manly thing we could do), my father and I figured out that we did in fact have everything we needed for my install. It took fewer parts because it just went on easier.
Lift your tailgate and this is what you’ll see: the black plastic side of the tail-light guard. The two round heads you see are panel pushpins that are holding the light unit to the body. They will also be the locations for two of the three brackets that will mount the guard.
The pins are pulled any number of ways, a designated panel puller being perhaps the most efficient. Lacking that, you can use a regular screwdriver as I did: carefully work it around the head until you manage to pull it up a bit, releasing the tension on the spreader wings inside the body. You can then remove both pins, at which point the light should “pop” loose with a gentle but firm pull toward the rear of the vehicle. Do not lose or break the panel pins!
And don’t yank the light backward too much, either: there are quite a few wires on the back side that won’t be happy if you get too macho with this step. Remember that all you’re doing is pulling a couple of round-headed screws free from the clutches of rubber grips on the side of the vehicle. You’ll see them in the next picture …
You actually don’t have to remove the light completely to complete this step — I’ve only done so to get a good shot of what’s going on here. All you need to do is pull the light back enough to unscrew the uppermost of the round-headed screws. Once that’s done, you just place one of your two little mounting brackets over the hole and then thread the round-headed screw back in. (This is far easier than the WK set-up, by the way: they have to drill into the body to mount this little bracket.)
With the little bracket installed, put the light back into place. It’ll take a little push to get the round-headed screws back into their rubber seats, but it’s painless. Then line the two brackets that are attached to the tail-light guard up with the holes where those panel pins go.
The WK kit we installed needed all new screws to remount in these locations, but the XK did not (a significant source of the disparity in parts between the two kits). On the XK, simply take your old panel pins and reinsert them through the guard brackets into the existing holes in the light and the body.
Before you close these pins, be sure that the side bracket is lining up all right, and make any adjustments now if it isn’t. There’s a tiny little screw included with the kit that passes through a hole in the bracket and into an existing hole in the guard. Mine lined up pretty perfectly, and I went ahead and screwed it in about halfway to hold things.
Once everything is lined up, close down the pins. This step is the only “hard” part of the whole job. Because the fit is so tight, some amount of force is needed to push them in. I found that a hard-rubber mallet did wonders for the job. One solid hit and they punched in perfectly. Just be sure to line up your strike really well, since you don’t want to mar your Jeep and you don’t want to break a pin!
Now just tighten down those side screws — don’t over-tighten and strip the little things — and then stand back and admire your simple but visually effective modification.