2018 Jeep Wrangler: Installing a Mopar Grille
by Dan Edmunds, Director of Vehicle Testing
Few Jeep Wrangler owners keep their rigs in factory original condition for very long, so our 2018 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon is unusual in that we haven't modded a single thing. Our standard long-term test intervals of one year and 20,000 miles have long since passed, so we've decided to have some fun with it.
We figured it might be best to start small with simple visual changes, then work up to beefier hardware tweaks later on. Our first order of business is what we hoped would be a simple grille swap. I've always liked the look of a black grille on a red or white Jeep, so we got our hands on a Mopar matte-black grille. It's a direct swap, and few tools are required.
In the process of installing it, I learned that the JL Wrangler's grille is a lot more complicated than I ever imagined, but in this case that fact worked in my favor.
The process of getting the original grille off starts by opening the hood. Next, you'll locate and remove six of these retainer clips by first prying up the center to unlock some hidden tabs, then prying the whole thing out by the base. There's a fork-shaped tool that makes this easy, but I used a couple of sizes of screwdrivers. Save these retainers for later use, of course.
With the upper retainers removed, the grille can be tipped forward an inch or two. You can peek inside and see how the bottom is held on with spring clips: five along the lowermost edge and one under each headlight. Once you know where they are you'll want to square the grille back up so that the clips aren't being twisted. Then pull the grille forward along the bottom edge with firm but gentle pressure. It feels like you might break something, but you won't as long as you apply pressure near one of the clips. Once one goes, the ones next to it come out easier. The ones under the headlight are the spookiest, so save them for last. You don't want to break anything, so apply careful force here.
It's time to prep the new grille.
Look carefully and you'll see that the new matte-black grille is missing some body-colored trim pieces along the sides and bottom that must be transferred over from the original grille. You'll need to turn each of them over to see what has to be undone. There are three pieces in all.
Mostly, the parts are helped on by clips like this. There are also some spring clips. Save everything for reuse, and move the parts over one at a time as you remove them.
You'll also have to remove and transfer a couple of foam blocks that help seal the hood when it's closed. New single-use serrated clips are supplied for this step, which means you can cut the old ones off with a pair of diagonal cutters. Do this from the back side, not the top, to better preserve the foam.
Here's what the new matte grille looks like with the trim swapped over. It'll make sense when you see the finished product back on the Jeep.
Snap the bottom clips back together first, and line up the top holes so you can reinstall the retainer clips along the upper edge.
Here's the finished product. The old red grille is undamaged and can be reused if we ever change our minds. I suppose it could be resold, or maybe even hung on the wall as garage art.
At this point I was conflicted, and I got mixed reactions from people who saw it. I generally liked it, but was it too much black? I drove it to the Easter Jeep Safari in Moab, Utah, like this (more on that later). While there I noticed that one of the Jeep concept vehicles had the same matte-black grille, but with gunmetal gray inserts. I really liked the effect. When I got home, I realized that our original red grille had the very same gunmetal gray inserts, so I decided to see if I could swap them.
I won't bore you with the details, but the grille slot trim is made up of no less than six parts — three grille nostril/headlight bucket-liner pieces and three grille mesh pieces. It's all held together by over two dozen clips, catches and screws in a way that tells me that the Jeep design team built this thing so the bits could be mixed and matched however and whenever whimsy strikes. It was clear that what I wanted to do was totally doable so long as I took my time and didn't break anything.
I worked on the red grille first, and in about 15 minutes I had it all apart. So I removed the black grille once more and took it apart, too.
I liked what I saw after swapping just one piece, so I kept at it. This new hybrid look was going to soften the black-hole look of our matte grille.
This look is much better, in my opinion. The gunmetal trim matches the tone of the fender and bumper plastic better, and it generally makes the grille appear less like an unpainted crash-repair piece. And if I ever want a darker intermediate look, I can go back in and install the black grille mesh pieces inside the gunmetal nostrils.
I'm not going to do that just yet. We have other mods planned, and they may change how I feel about all this. Stay tuned.