Understanding the “Jeep Thing”

“The ‘Jeep Thing’ has a mind of its own. It is not something that has a meaning or can be put into words. It is just the feeling a Jeep owner feels when owning a Jeep or having owned a Jeep and it can always be brought back just talking ‘Jeep’, no matter where you are or where you are from.”
-John Hohnadel
Jeep Thing cover

The “Jeep Thing”. We’ve heard it, joked about it, embraced it, and at times, have even become obsessed with it. The above quote is how most of us feel about it. But do we really even know what it is? If you ask 10 people to describe it, you’ll probably get 10 responses, all having some similarities, but with those “personal touches” as well. So really, what is the “Jeep Thing” and can we “understand it”? Our very own Michael Lupino has this to say on the matter:
“It’s the community behind the obsession. We wave to strangers, follow “No Jeep Left Behind”, and have wrenching parties. Even bigger are the personal things we help each other with, like moving or home projects. For the people that stick around in clubs and groups they really are a breed of their own.”

Jeff Stone, owner of Stone Off-Road Inc. adds,
“It is about having arguably one of the most capable stock 4×4’s produced in the world. Being able to customize it with the abundance of parts that surround our community to fit what you want or need. Take 20, 30, even 40 Jeeps and sit them side by side; you will see each one is different. Sure you may have the same color as someone else but it’s the look, the feel, the appeal; they are all different. Every Jeep owner can tell a story about their Jeep good or bad, and every Jeep’s appearance can tell a story about its owner. The Jeep thing to me is about sitting on the side of a mountain that most people would not even walk up let alone drive a 2-ton vehicle up. Jeep owners do it for fun. We come together like flocks of birds when someone shouts “I wanna go wheeling!”. You don’t have to know anyone, or even a thing about Jeeps, but if you sit around a mountain side with a bunch of fellow Jeepers it’s an instant, friendly bond. Push the limits, push the edge, roll it over, and flip it back up to try again. The Jeep thing is friendship, adrenaline, mechanical love, fear, and all around fun.”

Various members of CherokeeForum.com share similar thoughts, identifying the “Jeep Thing” as working on Jeeps with friends, going offroad, and building a Jeep to your personal specifications.
Dalton Acosta says, “It is when owners and rigs all have different personalities and attitudes, but it all does not matter. It’s a respect to all other owners and its like a feeling of being in a club.”
For Michael Griffin it’s “putting your blood, sweat, and tears into your Jeep, making it the way you want.”
James Monsen puts it this way: “Spending the majority of your “off-time” working on your rig, to take it out on the weekends or away from the daily grind, to break it seeing things and places others may never get to see, with people of the same intention of doing the same thing to their rigs, to work on it again to do the same all over again.”
Luke Pierson sums it up as having to work on it all weekend due to trying that one, last obstacle, just so you can drive to work Monday morning.
Dan Spagnoli says that, “It’s the comradery of me & my friends spending many a late nights drinking beers & working on our Jeeps. Spending multiple days on trails wheeling & breaking down. All with the same interests.”

Many Jeep owners and wheelers share these sentiments. It’s what ties us all together. But often times it is easy to become acquainted with what we perceive, and stop looking at things from outside our own little world. You see, the “Jeep Thing” isn’t something that is exclusive to Jeep owners. People who own vehicles, particularly 4×4’s, that aren’t Jeeps, have a much different view. We’ve all joked with them, sometimes a little too seriously, about their Ford, Chevy, Dodge, or Toyota. We herald our Jeeps as the best there is and ever was to their faces. Sometimes they joke back. Other times they stay silent and we assume it’s due to their acceptance of what we would say is “truth”. Unfortunately, this has created a lot of negativity towards the “Jeep Thing”. We could say, “That’s just too bad”, but are they justified on their views?

To many there is an elitist attitude among Jeep owners. They see it at 4×4 meets. They see it on the trails. They even see it between Jeep owners. How many times do CJ/YJ/TJ/JK owners not wave to other Jeep models? How many times do uni-body owners not wave to a Wrangler, simply because it’s Wrangler? Honestly, far too often, and sadly, this attitude is mainly among  CJ and Wrangler owners, Jeep’s “iconic” vehicle. There’s a dichotomy among Jeep owners – those with removable tops, and those without. Sadly, the “topless” folks tend to see the rest of us as “lesser Jeeps”, or even worse, “not real Jeeps”. I have personally heard TJ and JK owners snidely state, “I don’t wave to those kind of Jeeps”, talking about my Cherokee XJ. Is this what the “Jeep Thing” really is? Roy Gray, owner of Zuwharrie in North Carolina, shares a similar experience:
“I’m not saying the vast majority of sufferers of the ‘Jeep Thing’ are elitists that will drive by a stuck non-Jeep, but unfortunately I’ve seen too many of them do it. I even watched a few of the ’round eye’ types drive right by Ali Mansour (formally of Peterson’s 4Wheel & Offroad and now of Fourwheeler) broke down in his Grand Cherokee. I heard comments as they passed; it wasn’t because they had more important places to be…He wasn’t a ‘real Jeep’ so they were comfortable driving on I guess. I’ve known Ali for years from down at Carolina Beach, but that had nothing really to do with the situation. We saw a broke down off roader and felt compelled to help. It just so happens it turned out to be Ali. We stopped, took him back to camp, and got him back on the road.
I have had a good relationship with Jeep folks throughout my off road time as owner of Zuharrie, and passed a lot of good-natured ribbing back and forth when pulling out of a hole or up a hill was required. I can say without a doubt that the ‘Jeep Thing’ that I witnessed in most situations were a bunch of Jeep folks (I want to stress that almost every incident of this type of thing was the yj/cj type of Jeep) that turned me completely off from being part of the Jeep crowd. By chance I bought a ZJ… but I fully understand all the animosity from other groups and the need to try to explain the ‘Jeep Thing’. Just like the Hell’s Angels or the other biker gangs that have given all bike clubs a bad name, a bunch of Jeep people have given Jeepers in general a bad reputation of being elitists that fully believe they will always be bigger, better, or faster than you, even if they’re not.”

Harsh words, but unfortunately they’re founded. Roy’s seen this attitude from Jeep owners many times, and he’s not the only one. Our own Kevin Hix has this to say:
“The ‘Jeep Thing’ is the arrogant, unproven idea that Jeeps are the only true off-road vehicles and that Jeep owners are somehow superior to drivers of other vehicles. It’s a way to build a clique and exclude wheelers with other vehicles.
I have a lot of wrench time on a number of vehicles. I’ve never seen anyone more stuck up over a Jeep than a guy who’s paid a shop to build it for him. When you’re on a creeper looking up at parts, it’s clear there’s nothing exclusive or superior about a Jeep. I’ve put in far more dirt time driving different and arguably more reliable 4x4s than I have with my XJ.
My XJ has been a POS but it’s been fun learning and building it and it’s certainly the most capable off-road rig I’ve ever owned. I try to think of it as a hot rod: the increase in performance must be paralleled by an increase in maintenance. I like Jeeps of all types as I am a gearhead and car geek. I just don’t do the ‘Jeep thing’.”

Honestly, I agree with Roy and Kevin. There is a “nose-up” attitude that many Jeep owners (most of these types being CJ/Wrangler owners, but not all) have. Will I say that a Jeep is the most capable 4×4 from the factory? Yes, when it’s compared to a similarly built vehicle. But once the aftermarket parts start being added, there are plenty of vehicles far more capable than a Jeep, just as there are Jeeps far more capable than other vehicles that aren’t as built-up. Joe Bonney, and off road enthusiast and the Parts & Service Manager at Starr Motors in Suffolk, VA puts it like this:
“I own a Jeep TJ, but I also own a Dodge Ram. When I’m in the Jeep I wave at Jeeps and when I’m in the Dodge I wave at Dodges. Not because I think one is better than the other, but because I know a Jeep guy isn’t going to wave back to a Dodge. When it comes down to it, it’s not about Jeeps and non-Jeeps; it’s about the 4×4 community. Whatever the make and model, we’re all here for the same reason: to have some fun in the dirt, the sand, the mud, and on the rocks. That’s what the ‘Jeep Thing’ really is, and should be.”

At the end of his conversation, I think Roy Gray explained the “Jeep Thing” better than I’ve ever heard before:
“It’s the exact same thing every other lover of something inanimate has. Jeepers have no more love for their vehicles than Zukers, or Yotas, or Harley riders, or Ricers. They’d like to think they do, because it makes them feel special. But every single one of those groups think the exact same thing. Explaining the ‘Jeep Thing’ is easy: Find something you really enjoy, something you’re willing to put time, money and effort into, something that brings you and other people who like the same thing together, and gives you something to enjoy together, and you’ll have your own understanding of the ‘Jeep Thing’.”

I think it’s time we all started thinking this way. Whether you’re fan of Jeep’s, Yota’s, Chevy’s, Ford’s, Dodge’s, Zuke’s, or God-forbid, even Hummer’s, when the sun sets, after all the jokes and mud and dust have settled, we really are just one big, dysfunctional 4×4 family. Yes, take pride in being a Jeep owner. Yes, be proud of the modifications you’ve made and the obstacles you’ve gotten over or through. By all means, brag on it. But also take a step back, relax, and let your “Thing” be just that – yours. But let others have their own “Thing”, and when they try to get through or over that obstacle, or they talk about a new modification, cheer ’em on, show respect for their rig, and most of all, have a blast doing what we all love.

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3 thoughts on “Understanding the “Jeep Thing”

  1. I can understand this, I am currently building a camaro for my son however My daughter who has made this mopar guy so very proud has asked me to build her a CJ7 I am so happy. Not sure what happened to my son. lol

  2. Excellent culmination of the various opinions on this. Everyone’s personalities really came out in their thoughts on this. It’s easy to see who amongst us people gravitate to and who people probably retreat from. Through this article, I can definitely see the shinier side of the “Jeep thing” at work. How so? I can count you guys as friends, despite me being the way I am. Great work, Matt!

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