Fabricating Your Own Skid Plates

Fabricating Your Own Skid Plates

Avoiding the Most Common Classic Car Restoration Mistakes Reading Fabricating Your Own Skid Plates 8 minutes

If you were a soldier in the 1800s, you might have found yourself charging into battle with a fancy cloth cap on your head, maybe even sporting a fancy decorative feather if you were really special. Sure, you probably looked great. But how did that fashion statement fair against a bullet? You can probably guess.

In the 1st World War, helmets were introduced. They might not have been as impressive as a fancy feather in your cap, but they definitely protected your noggin a whole lot better.

The introduction of helmets

This history lesson is a perfect analogy for vehicle skid plates and their purpose. If you’re looking to put your vehicle in some rough situations, skid plates are the perfect welding project. In this article, we’ll take a look at the best tips and tricks for fabricating your own skid plates.


Tank Man, Just Tanking Around

The purpose of skid plates is fairly well known, but just in case: Skid plates are literally armor for the underbelly of your vehicle. Instead of your gas tank taking the full brunt of a sharp rock, the idea is to put a piece of metal in between to take the hit instead. It’s essentially your offensive line to undercarriage damage.

skid plate example

While knowing the right tips and tricks can make your skid plates significantly more effective, the basics of fabricating your own are fairly simple as far as automotive welding projects go. You can purchase your own pre-made skid plate kits, but these tend to not be as mass-produced as other metal goods. This means you can actually save money by fabricating your own skids.

However, there are some key tips to remember. Not following these guidelines can result in consequences as severe as having parts of your vehicle ripped out from under you as you drive. A few moments of studying how to do your skid plates properly can save you a lot of money and time.


Where Oh Where

Knowing where your skid plates should be mounted depends entirely on your vehicle. In the best-case scenario, your automobile will already have spots for mounting skid plates. If that’s the case, the vehicle manufacturer has already determined these spots are structurally capable of withstanding forces applied to your skid plates. Because of that, it’s generally best to design your new skid plates around the mounting spots already built into the vehicle.

If your vehicle doesn’t already have skid plate mounting holes, the job is up to you. The main thing to consider is this: If your skid plate hits a heavy rock, is it mounted to parts of the vehicle that can withstand the force? We kid you not, we’ve seen people bolt their skid plates to oil pans or cooling parts. Generally, those parts aren’t built to handle heavy forces in the same way the frame of your vehicle is. If a heavy rock gets lodged under your skid plate and it’s bolted to your fuel tank, you might be in trouble.

another skid plate example

Since every single vehicle model has different engineering plans, we can’t give you a comprehensive layout of where your plates should go. However, here are a couple tricks applicable to all vehicles:

Use Cardboard First: Before you begin working with metal at all, use a piece of cardboard to trace out the shape of your skid plate. Often you can puncture the cardboard with your mounting bolts, showing you the exact location you need to make mounting holes. This way, you can easily alter the shape or placement of your skid plate using cheap cardboard then transfer your final shape to metal once you’re ready.

Don’t Weld Directly To The Vehicle: If your vehicle didn’t come with skid mounts, it might be tempting to just weld the plates directly to the frame. This is almost never a good long-term idea. The biggest reason is that, at some point, you’ll generally need to remove skid plates to do maintenance (such as oil changes, etc.). Depending on the material you use (which we’ll discuss further on), you may also need to occasionally repaint your skid plates, a task that’s infinitely easier if you can take them off.


What Metal Is Best for Skid Plates?

Skid plates can be made from a variety of materials. However, the two most common are aluminum and steel. Generally, other materials are only used for expensive, high-end racing vehicles where you’re willing to pay a premium to keep weight down without sacrificing strength.

Both aluminum and steel have their pros and cons. We’ll cover the benefits of each below so you can decide which material fits your needs.


More and more base kits for skids are being made with aluminum. A lot of this has to do with aluminum’s two main benefits: lightweight and rust-resistant. Compared to steel, aluminum is a lighter material. This means it’s easier on your vehicle’s maintenance and, most importantly, easier on fuel costs.

welding aluminum

For practical purposes, Aluminum is also essentially rust-proof. Technically it does rust, but the oxidized layer prevents further rusting, unlike steel which’ll rust until it disintegrates. Not having to worry about repainting and maintaining your skid plates can make them much easier to maintain.

The biggest downside of aluminum it that, in most applications, it’s not as strong as steel. If you’re doing a lot of offroading, your aluminum skids take a beating. This can cause them to bend, making your skids harder to take off and put back on when you have to do maintenance under your vehicle.

For welders, another downside of aluminum is that it can be difficult to weld. The best process is usually AC TIG welding which only certain machines are capable of — such as the Lincoln Square Wave TIG 200, the Multimatic 220 or the ESAB Rebel 205. Aluminum can be MIG welded, but it usually requires extra equipment. Check out the Lincoln Aluminum-One Pak for more details.

If you spend more time driving your vehicle for everyday use on paved roads, you should at least consider aluminum skids. They do tend to be more expensive, but with the price of gas these days, you’ll end up saving money over time. The lighter weight is also easier on your vehicle, so if you don’t need to haul around heavy steel skids, you might as well go with the aluminum.


Steel is cheap, heavy and tough — But it deals with water about as good as the Wicked Witch of the West. This means that you’ll definitely want to paint your steel skid plates. A lot of experts actually recommend you spray them with self-etching primer and sprayable truck bed liner. This not only provides really good rust protection, but it also keeps the noise down when rocks bounce off the metal. It is important to check on your steel skids occasionally. It’s not uncommon for someone to ignore repainting their skids for a few years and discover they’ve begun rusting through.

plasma cutting steel

If you’re regularly taking your vehicle offroad, steel is the best protection you’ll get for the money. It can take a beating and many drivers also say that steel slides off rocks better than aluminum. Steel also tends to be more rigid and doesn’t get bent out of shape. This makes it easier to take your skids on and off when accessing the bottom of your vehicle.

Another huge benefit of steel is that it’s easy to weld with stick, TIG or MIG. That’s a big advantage for many welders who don’t AC TIG. That being said, having a quality machine still makes a huge difference, especially because you need to carefully manage your heat when fabricating skids. We’d recommend the Millermatic 211, the Power MIG 215 MPi or any of our other top-sellers.


Whether you choose steel or aluminum skids, your equipment will play a big role in how well your pieces turn out. Weld My Ride has everything you need, from plasma cutters to consumables. We’re the only online welding store specifically dedicated to automobile welders, offering you the best prices, brands and customer service. Check out Weld My Ride's newest rebates here. Hurry though, we’re expecting manufacturers to raise prices on certain types of machines in spring, so don’t miss your chance to get the best deals.

Leave a comment

All comments are moderated before being published.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.