In this scene we are crawling through the mall parking lot. This activity is appropriately named “mall crawling” - driving the trail rated Wrangler to shopping centers more often than through forested terrain. And it is a much maligned and debated practice among Jeep Wrangler owners. What exactly is “mall crawling”? Why is it an issue? And is it really such a bad thing?
I learned this term reading through the Jeep Wrangler Internet forums. Search “mall crawler” and you’ll find plenty of discussions on how the Jeep was built for the trail. It is argued as the most capable off-road vehicle ever built for the consumer. The big tires (which can be swapped for bigger), high ground clearance (which can be lifted higher), and low-geared 4 wheel drive (which can be geared lower) are all said to be wasted on suburban moms and dads doing nothing more with this powerhouse than crawling the parking lot at the mall!
I can easily see this point of view. Add to that, the beloved vehicular version of man’s best friend can be optioned-up to include heated leather seats, painted fenders and top, and electronics that would make Captain Kirk blush. But it gets worse for the die-hard off-road Jeepers. Some have observed perfectly good Jeeps modified with 22” sparkle-y wheels, low-profile tires, and enough chrome to blind a man on a cloudy day. All of these Jeeps will likely never taste the dirt, sand, and mud as they should.
Let’s flip to the other side for a moment and see things from the alleged mall crawler’s point of view. The new Jeeps are more comfortable than older models. You can even get a 4-door now. The man (or woman for that matter) who missed his “Jeep-ortunity” when younger can get one that fits the whole family. Even the wife enjoys driving it to… where else?… the mall! Heated seats, leather, and killer electronics are in every other vehicle, so why should he sacrifice? The shiny version with paint-matched trim looks good in the city and doesn’t make the in-laws ask if he’s moving the family to a survival shelter in the mountains. Finally, the man ponders, “They built it so why should I be judged for buying it?”
So how did we get here? Answering that question will, I think, lead us to a peaceful state of co-existence, and dare I say, co-dependence. We all know the Jeep got it’s start in war. The United States Army needed a general purpose vehicle and went with the Willys-Overland Model MB. They named it in grand Army style as the GP for General Purpose Vehicle, pronounced “jeep” by its first drivers who must have been in some sort of hurry when speaking the acronym. They were likely getting shot at and didn’t have time to say “Quick! Let’s get in the G-P and get out of here!” the way the Army had intended.
But there’s more… Plenty of things developed during war time became inseparable parts of regular life. I'm not saying that was a good or bad way to do it, but that's what happened. We got quicker development of things like the airplane, food preservation, and telecommunications. These advances along with the post-war prosperity led to the interstate highway system which connected the cities, and helped grow interstate commerce and manufacturing. People used those highways to move to the suburbs and build houses with room for more stuff. The desire to get more stuff to put in their houses led to… wait for it… shopping malls and general purpose vehicles to haul the stuff! You probably saw that conclusion coming.
Think of it as one of those circle-of-life things. Just as we can fly in a jet plane that descended from a big bomber, we can drive a 4-door, family-packed, fully-loaded “Jeep of today” to the mall for some frozen yogurt and a ride on the merry-go-round for the kids.
Where though does that leave the true off-road Jeeper who’s still a bit horrified at how things turned out? The good news is that he can still find joy in all of this. The Jeep’s popularity makes it so he can still buy one and use it for what it was designed – crawling rocks and trudging through deep mud. And there’s yet another circle-of-life thing going on here from which he benefits. That mall crawler will get traded-in after a few years. That puts an affordable used Jeep with frozen yogurt-stained seats on the market. After a lift and some big tires, it may never see the mall parking lot again.
So… “Can’t we all just get along?”. I don’t think there was ever any question really. The results of one of those searches for “mall crawler” assured me of that. The post opened with the almost accusatory title, “Are you a mall crawler?” Inside the post, though, the writer assured, “Don’t worry, we will respect you.” And respect they did. Many came forward confessing more mall time than trail time. Some true off-roaders admitted they did a little of both and offered words of encouragement to their mall-bound Jeep brethren. In the end, everyone was happy with their Jeeps no matter where they crawled.