What to Consider When Buying Rock Sliders For the 5th Gen 4Runner: DOM Vs. HREW Sliders, Tube Vs. Square, Bolt-on Vs. Weld-On & More
Rock Sliders. Yep! They are exactly like they sound. A way to slide your vehicle across rocks without damaging your rocker panels. These are by far the first modification you should make to your 4×4 (Ask me how I know).
In this article, we will go over everything you need to consider when looking at buying rock sliders – from material type, style, multipurpose use, how they mount, and more. The options for rock sliders are endless and it can be a major challenge to find the best set to suit your needs. Let’s get started!
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What Is Your Rig’s Intended Use?
Figure out what you actually plan to use the vehicle for. This is the first step in determining what you will want out of your rock sliders. For the majority of folks, these are daily drivers. They haul the family around, can hit some trails on the weekend, but also get you to work on Monday.
They don’t need to be overkill, but rather something that provides a good step and protects the vehicle when needed. They can also give you peace of mind when exploring. If you do however want to push the limits a bit, these will still allow you to do so.
If you plan to beat on your rig and plan to push the limits of both driver and vehicle abilities, you will probably want something much more robust than the average bolt-on slider. A weld-on option with a stronger material will be a better route. Throughout the rest of this article, keep this question in the back of your mind. There are many great slider options, one just might fit your needs better than the next.
Construction & Materials
Before we get more in-depth on sliders, let’s take a look at what each part of a rock slider is so we can reference back later in the article.
Material Type: DOM, HREW, & More!
One of the most common questions you are asked when picking out rock sliders is to choose between DOM or HREW tubing. Depending on what you’re looking to do with the truck and your budget, this is a major consideration.
You may wonder what these are, how they differ, and why DOM is more expensive. Most companies will have a section on their site explaining the difference between the two. However, this information is usually the bare minimum. Let’s take a deeper dive.
DOM – Drawn Over Mandrel (Average yield strength of 70KSI)
What does Drawn Over Mandrel or yield strength mean? Drawn Over Mandrel means that when the tube is being made, it goes through a more thorough manufacturing process. This allows it to become seamless and stronger. DOM is more true to size with its inside and outside diameters. The biggest visual difference you will notice on DOM tubing is that there is no seam, or “weld” down the tube like HREW has.
To most of us, these facts don’t matter, but what does matter is the yield strength. Yield strength is the steel’s resistance to bending and permanently deforming under load. 70KSI of yield strength would mean that the material can handle 70,000lbs per square inch of force resistance against bending. In short, DOM is stronger and less likely to bend than HREW.
HREW – Hot Rolled Electric Weld (Average yield strength of 40KSI)
Hot Rolled Electric weld tubing is exactly as it sounds. In the manufacturing process, the tube is formed by the metal plate going through a series of rollers forming it into the correct size tubing. The two sides meet together and are welded down the seam creating the tube.
The material goes through less of a manufacturing process than DOM keeping the cost down but not as strong. In some cases depending on the way an HREW tube is dropped, it can split the seam perfectly down the middle of the tube. This isn’t a concern as long as the fabricator is knowledgeable. When building HREW rock sliders, most fabricators will make sure that all of the seams of the tubes are on the inside or positioned in a way to be welded over and out of the way from ever being hit.
DOM & HREW Slider Design Differences
Now that you know the difference between the two materials, we need to know where on the slider those tubes are being used.
Looking at the anatomy of a rock slider, we see that the majority is made up of tubing, but is all of it DOM? What is justifying that cost difference? What do I really sacrifice if I go with HREW?
Depending on the manufacturer/fabricator you choose to purchase your rock sliders from, the tubing sizes and styles will all be different. One of these things to look out for is Square Tubing vs Round Tubing.
Many manufacturers like to utilize square tubing as there is no DOM option for square tubing and all square/rectangular tubing is formed and welded down the seam like HREW. This helps to keep costs down. You will mainly see square tubing utilized on the primary tubes and legs of rock sliders.
Round Vs. Square Tubing
A common misconception is that square tubing is stronger than round tubing which is actually not the case. Round tubing is the strongest style by weight and shape. It is also more resistant to bending and twisting than square tubing. Round tubing is the same strength in all directions whereas square tubing’s strength varies based on its position. Debating the strength difference between the two in a slider application will all come down to how it is loaded, mounted, gusseted, positioned, etc.
When looking at buying rock sliders, be sure to look at how much of that slider is actually going to be using the more costly DOM tubing. If the legs and main tube of the sliders are made from square tubing and only the outer tube and connectors are DOM, is it really worth that extra $100+?
Now that we have the basics down between the types of tubing, what about the thickness?
Earlier, I was talking about how DOM tubing is more consistent in the sizing of its inner and outer diameter. Tubing thickness or (wall) is measured based on the outside diameter being subtracted from the inside diameter of the tube.
The wall thickness is what will add strength and weight causing the tube to not bend as easily. Most brands in the Toyota world use a mix between 2″, 1.75″, and 1.5″ diameter tubing with .120 wall (1/8″) thickness. This might not seem like it is very strong being only 1/8″ thick, but going back to yield strength, companies are able to manufacture stronger products with these higher yield strength materials using less actual material.
For the average 5th gen 4Runner owner, anything thicker than this is usually going to be overkill.
These are for all you crazy off-roaders who are constantly slamming your 5000lb+ vehicle on rocks and dropping them on ledges in Moab. You may want to look into having a set made or building a set yourself that utilizes aluminum slugs.
Hardcore off-roaders who get tired of having to replace their beefy DOM sliders from bending, use a trick where in the main tube of their rock sliders are aluminum inserts fitting perfectly in the inner diameter of the main tube. By putting an aluminum slug inside the main tube of the rock slider, you are still able to save weight but add tremendous strength as the tube is now a solid piece of metal and not hollow.
This might be very uncommon on Toyota’s, especially newer ones, but something to definitely consider depending on the weight of and how you use your vehicle.
Surprisingly, not all rock sliders are just tubes of steel! Every rock slider should be utilizing some sort of plate metal, whether the whole thing is made from it or just the mounting plates.
In most rock sliders, a metal plate is used for mounting the product to the vehicle (mounting plate), or as a top plate (step) on the rock slider. You might be thinking, isn’t all metal plate the same? Does it matter if it’s different? The short answer is no.
There are multiple kinds of metal plates but the two most commonly used in the off-road industry are hot rolled and cold rolled. Just like tubing, hot rolled metal is cheaper and less consistent (quality-wise) than cold rolled.
With cold rolled metal, the material is much cleaner, consistent, and is higher quality material. In the production process of rock sliders, companies might use hot rolled for mounting plates which for a welder, doesn’t weld as nicely without a lot of prep work involved. Most companies who use lasers opt for cold rolled metal due to the consistency of quality. With higher quality metals, less prep work is involved, which in turn saves time and helps to get the product in your hands faster.
Dimple dies are commonly used in automotive fabrication as they are able to help make the metal more rigid while keeping weight down.
You will see dimple dies in all shapes and sizes on rock sliders across the industry. Dimple dies remove a portion of metal while pressing the metal around the area that was punched out. They use an insane force of 15+ tons of pressure (depending on thickness) which stiffens up the metal and makes it stronger. In fabrication, it is known that bends in the material strengthen it. Dimples are just another form of that concept.
Dimple dies add more than just a cool astehtic. Depending on which way you dimple the top plate on your sliders and the size of the dimples, they can add some nice step traction. RSG Metalworks has a very unique dimple die pattern called “Grip Hole” that expands on this concept in a new way with a spiked dimple hole for better grip in colder weather climates. There are many companies that offer dimples on their skid plates including C4 Fabrication sliders, RCI Offroad sliders, among others.
One of the biggest questions we ask ourselves when deciding on rock sliders is do we want weld-on or bolt-on?
Each one has its benefits and is going to be better depending on your needs. The majority of rock sliders you see for newer vehicles are bolt-on. Many people are concerned that weld-on sliders will be difficult to replace in the event of rust as they are directly fixed to the frame.
If the commitment of weld-on isn’t right for you, then you’ll likely want to go with bolt-on rock sliders. These will allow you to easily touch them up with paint as needed or sell them separately later on.
There are many different configurations of bolt-on rock sliders, specifically in how they mount.
Bends Under Frame
Some have the mounting plate bend under the frame and bolt on there in addition to the side. This helps provide additional leverage when using the slider and could potentially be considered stronger from what we covered earlier about bends adding strength.
Something to look out for on these types of sliders is that the bolt heads on the bottom of the frame can get worn down over time if you’re making constant contact with obstacles. This can make them a pain to remove if you ever want to get these sliders off.
Does Not Bend Under Frame
Another type of bolt-on slider just utilizes a flat frame mounting plate and the existing bolt holes in the side of the frame. The mounting plate does not wrap under the frame as discussed above. With these kinds of sliders, you want to be aware that they can shift under extremely hard hits. It is extremely uncommon but since they are only bolted to the side of the frame and each company leaves a little room for adjustment, a super hard hit can deflect the slider up and worst case, slightly into the rocker panel.
Depending on how heavy your vehicle is and the hits you plan to take, flat bolt-on mounting may not be for you.
The last two types of commonly used bolt-on sliders are very unique and some I really can’t wrap my brain around.
Running Boards & Steps
One of those is sliders that bolt onto the body (pinch weld) and not the frame, and are often referred to as nerf bars or running boards. You mainly see this type of mounting used for running boards which is understandable as they are not holding up 5000+ lbs. Some Amazon special rock sliders will do this. I would not consider anything that bolts to the body of a vehicle a rock slider. That would actually be a damage multiplier.
The other mounting system I question is U-bolts around the frame, found on the White Knuckle Offroad sliders. This method of mounting puts a lot of stress on the U-bolts and adds unnecessary hardware hanging down from the frame. If that hardware gets hit and shifted on rocks, it could get sketchy relying on three U-bolts to hold your truck up. I see this mounting solution more for vehicles that do not have factory frame holes or for those who don’t want to weld. However, for vehicles like the 4Runner, this mounting solution probably isn’t for you with simpler options out there.
Believe it or not, there is a right and wrong way to weld rock sliders to your frame.
Will either way work? Yes. However, one is more sustainable than the other and is less prone to failure. When welding rock sliders onto the frame of a vehicle, you want to think about how thick the frame is. On most Toyota’s, the frame is pretty thin, in which case weld-on sliders should also have their own mounting plates.
Do not weld your rock slider legs directly to the frame. This will only help bend and rip holes in your frame!
The best way to weld rock sliders would be to weld smaller frame plates to the frame to help distribute the load.
Some folks like to have their mounting plates bend under the frame and weld there as well for added strength. Others prefer to turn their frame plate (with plug holes) sideways in order to reach the weld area better under the truck. Welding on rock sliders can be tricky as you can’t see the top welds of the mounting plate and are hard to access. Turning it slightly allows you to reach everything.
Some frame plates also have plug holes and the corners are cut off. These are both ways of adding weld surface area to the mount. The more weld surface area you have, the stronger it will be.
A major part of mounting rock sliders is the number of “legs” you have going to the frame. The industry standard is a minimum of three legs. With heavier trucks, four or more is better if they can fit. Having an evenly spread out load across multiple legs is ideal.
Some companies like to use only two. Be sure to have material thickness and diameter in mind when looking at the legs companies use on their sliders. Above each leg should have a gusset if you can fit one. The gussets help to support and push back against any upward force the slider may encounter.
Gussets are typically standard on every slider. For rock sliders, gussets are a small triangle of metal welded above the leg of the slider and to the mounting plate. Going back to high-school geometry, triangles make things stronger.
Now that we have gone over use-case, materials, and mounting, we are now onto the fun stuff!
The next step in selecting the best rock sliders for you is figuring out if you want them angled, flat, and with or without a kick-out.
Angled rock sliders are more tucked in towards the body for maximum protection and ground clearance. The frame of the slider is at a slight upward angle keeping it tight to the body and out of the way.
Depending on the angle of the outer tube of the rock slider, the difference between angled and flat rock sliders can be up to 2″+ of additional ground clearance. When stepping on your rock slider you will be stepping mainly on the outside tube rather than the whole top of the slider. Keep this in mind when thinking about utilizing them as steps.
Flat rock sliders come straight out from the frame and are completely flat. These are primarily made to double as a step to get in the vehicle or access your things on the roof.
Each rock slider brand will stick out closer or further from the body depending on how long the legs of the sliders are. With flat sliders, many choose to opt for a top plate so that it becomes a more usable step.
Kick-outs are one of the most popular features of a rock slider. The slider frame is made to kick out at the back in order to help push the back of the vehicle and rear tire away from rocks and trees.
Kick-outs can also be utilized to help to pivot the vehicle around an obstacle while keeping the body of the truck protected. When looking for rock sliders with a kick-out, look for a smooth flowing transition that can help the truck slide. Some kick-out designs don’t flow well and can cause the truck to get hung up instead.
The back part of the kick-out is always controversial and really comes down to personal preference. Most sliders have the outer tube kick out and come back into the main tube. Others will have the outer tube just bent out and slap a connector on the end or leave it open.
Just like building the rest of the vehicle, it is all about compromises when it comes to rock sliders. In certain situations, this style with a straight back portion of the slider can get hung up on rocks if backing up. A slider with a fully rounded outer tube, however, might be able to work the opposite way instead.
No kick-out is for those who want a sleek, clean look. They are the same great sliders, just without a kick-out at the back end of the slider. The front and rear maintain an equal distance away from the body along the whole length of the rock slider.
Not only can rock sliders be used for protecting the vehicle, but they can help you get in it as well. No, these are not your factory running boards or NFAB steps that hang down. These are high clearance steps that are pricey but totally worth it for the piece-of-mind on the trails.
When selecting your rock sliders, you will have an option to add a top plate. Top plate’s have many different variations ranging from grippy, solid, clean, and more. It will all come down to personal preference.
Many people choose which way the dimple on the top plate goes based on if they need additional grip or if they have a dog that could injure themselves by stepping on them. Top plates are great if you have a dog as sometimes the dog’s legs can get stuck in the slider tubing.
Top plates can also be welded on or bolted on. Welded on top plates tend to rattle less and help strengthen the slider by tying the frame together from more than just the bolts. Bolted on top plates can rattle and the hardware might start to corrode over time. However, they can be replaced, and or powder coated to match your build easily.
Price & Lead Times
One of the most common complaints in the offroad industry is the price of products and the lead times that come with them. Rock sliders are no exception.
There are many different ways to build rock sliders as we have covered in detail. For most companies, price directly reflects the quality of the product. Some are able to build them cheaper with thinner materials or save time by bolting top plates on instead of welding. Manufacturers can cut costs in many ways.
Quality rock sliders may require more welding than even bumpers. There are many steps involved in producing each slider.
Lead times are one of the most annoying things for customers. Nobody can seem to wait anymore for a quality product.
When looking at lead times, think about what is involved in making that product you order and the multistep processes they go through to get it into your hands. Not to mention, lengthy order queues. When companies in this industry give estimated lead times, the keyword is estimated. Don’t go and try planning a trip based on an ETA you’ve been given.
It is often a common issue within the off-road industry that things get damaged or do not turn out well. This might be caught as late as the final stage of the shipping process. The companies give a buffer just in case products need to be remade and fixed before being sent out.
Many rock slider and off-road armor companies tend to be smaller than you think. Patience is key, and quality products take time to make.
Powder Coat VS. Rattle Can
The last thing you have to consider when ordering rock sliders is the finish. If you opt for powder coating, be aware that not all powder coating is the same. Some companies are of higher quality than others.
If you are someone who doesn’t plan to hit their sliders often, I recommend having them powder-coated. Depending on the company’s process, it should not chip away after being scraped. A good powder coat will use a multistage process that comprises acid dipping, sandblasting, primer, and a top coat of powder. A thorough process like this will keep the product from rusting underneath the coating.
If you are someone who plans to use their rock sliders constantly, I suggest spray painting or truck bed liner. If you take your time and prep the metal before a couple of coats of primer and paint, they usually last for the year. Spray painting your rock sliders makes it very easy to touch up trail damage.
If you have made it this far in the article, congrats! We went over a ton of material.
As you can see, there is so much that goes into selecting the perfect rock sliders. If you are just starting your build or already well into one, you will know or soon find out that it all comes down to making compromises. Rock sliders are no different.
Think about what you want to do with the vehicle, the situations you will be in, and how heavy the truck is. With all of the information above, you can either build your own dream slider or pick one of the many awesome brands out there today.