Part 1 – Mini Boatside and Rock Sliders on Vitara Tracker 1


Time to remove PJ’s rusty rocker panels and build some rock sliders from scratch. Rock sliders are great for protecting your doors offroad and providing a pivot point around trees and rocks.

The recipe to offroad success

I have had many offroad trucks in the past and at this point I think I have the recipe down for (cheap) offroad performance in the midwest. Our trails here in Kansas and Missouri are heavily wooded, rocky, muddy, and steep. Obviously this truck is a budget build with only 30″ tires at this stage, but it will do most of the local midwest trails without too much trouble.

So for PJ, we started with simple mods like fixing the 4wd actuator, welding ‘locking’ the rear end, and adding bumper clearance. Then we moved on to more extreme things like relocating the gas tank, building a roll cage, and we just finished up with building a high clearance front bumper with winch mount.

The next step: Rock sliders

Today we are going to cut off the entire rocker panel down each side and start building rock sliders out of 1 3/4″ HREW (Hot Rolled Electric Welded) tubing. These should be strong yet still somewhat light. I had rock sliders on the CrAzYbLaZe but they were built out of 2×2″ tubing with 1/4″ wall. While they never dented, they were very (unnecessarily) heavy. These will be able to dent but I believe the weight savings will be worth it.

As a disclaimer, cutting out the rockers isn’t for the faint of heart. Typically you would just buy rock sliders that bolted to the frame and were located under the rockers. I didn’t even look to see if rock sliders were available for this truck since knew I wanted to build them myself.

I bought my Suzuki Vitara dubbed ‘PJ’ for the specific goal of creating the most capable offroad vehicle to take wheeling as cheaply as possible. Every inch of clearance under the body matters and PJ’s rockers are pretty rusty so I don’t feel bad cutting them off.

Mini Boatside and Rock Sliders on Vitara Tracker
Eww… This was the worst spot. Turns out that was just the visible part, there was a lot more that wasn’t visible.
Mini Boatside and Rock Sliders on Vitara Tracker
I will be cutting everything off below the body line. It will gain about 4-5″ of clearance then I will be adding back in about 2 ” with the rock sliders.
Mini Boatside and Rock Sliders on Vitara Tracker
I measured down about 1/2″ from the body line and marked it with painters tape. I am leaving this lip intentionally.

NOTE: Be careful and try not to go too deep especially between the two doors. There was a little electrical connector hanging down inside the rocker for the back door power window and locks that I snagged with the grinder. A couple of butt connectors later I was able to get it back together though.

Mini Boatside and Rock Sliders on Vitara Tracker
There was just a pile of rust inside the rocker.
Mini Boatside and Rock Sliders on Vitara Tracker
This was a very messy job. Made good use of my sawzall and grinder with 4.5″ diamond cutoff wheel.
Mini Boatside and Rock Sliders on Vitara Tracker
Once I got it all cut off and cleaned up, it actually looked pretty good.
Mini Boatside and Rock Sliders on Vitara Tracker
Now that the rockers are off though, I noticed a problem that would need covered up.
Mini Boatside and Rock Sliders on Vitara Tracker
What a mess. One side down.
Mini Boatside and Rock Sliders on Vitara Tracker
That sure opened things up. Never know when you might encounter buckets on the trail.
MMMmmm pork spare ribs…
Mini Boatside and Rock Sliders on Vitara Tracker
Same thing, drivers side.
Mini Boatside and Rock Sliders on Vitara Tracker
Even though this side hadn’t rusted through yet, it was pretty nasty underneath.

Building the rock sliders

Mini Boatside and Rock Sliders on Vitara Tracker
Once I got the rockers cut off, I grabbed some random scraps of tubing and laid them out to see what I wanted the rock sliders to look like.
Mini Boatside and Rock Sliders on Vitara Tracker
four 5′ pieces of 1 3/4″ HREW tubing (Hot Rolled Electric Welded) also called mechanical tubing

Random note about tubing. When you buy it, it typically comes in 20′ sticks. I don’t have any indoor options for storing tubing that long so I cut them down to 10′ sticks so they would fit in my shed. Storing them indoors and periodically spraying them with WD40 keeps the rust away. You don’t want to run rusty tube through your bender or it will scratch up the dies (that will then scratch your future pieces of tubing).

Luckily in this case, two 5′ sticks per side worked out perfectly and I didn’t have to make any splices. If I had a choice though, I would have made them just a bit longer.

Mini Boatside and Rock Sliders on Vitara Tracker
I started with a couple of 25* bends. One on each end.
Tubing Bender Organization
Then I got distracted and productively wasted some time upgrading my bender.

I was ALWAYS looking for a spot to put my adjustable wrench and lube while using my bender. I just happened to have some large magnets laying around from another project, so I added some 1/4″ bolts and random pieces of metal and made some perfect move-able mounts to hold my gypsy things. Also added a bungee to keep the air valve for the cylinder easy to access. This will save much time and frustration going forward.

Mini Boatside and Rock Sliders on Vitara Tracker
Setting out and marking to cope the ends of the tube.
Mini Boatside and Rock Sliders on Vitara Tracker
I readily admit that I probably didn’t do this the best way that I could have. I just eyeballed and marked a line then started hacking with the 4.5″ angle grinder. Cut, fit, cut, fit, cut fit… you get the point.

If anybody has a better idea for how to mark these large copes, comment below. I thought about using my tubing notcher but I didn’t think it could do this aggressive of a cope and didn’t have any sharp hole saw bits at the time.

Mini Boatside and Rock Sliders on Vitara Tracker
After a whole bunch of hacking with the diamond cutoff wheel and sanding with a flap wheel, it came out ok.
Mini Boatside and Rock Sliders on Vitara Tracker
Mocked up and looking pretty good.

So that is where we are going to wrap up for today. In the next part, we will finish the rock sliders, patch the rockers with sheetmetal, then cut some tubing to attach the sliders to the frame.

Hope you got some ideas from this. Now YOU, go outside and work on something!


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