Call it a “Bro-dozer,” a “street princess,” or a “mall crawler,” if you have a magnificently decked-out off-road machine ready to hit the trail and it’s never had a single splatter of mud on it, then you’ve made a huge mistake. I don’t care who you are, whether you bought your vehicle new or used, or whatever reason you’re avoiding the trail, the result is the same: you need to knock that off right now. No one is impressed by how clean your Jeep Wrangler is; no one is going to give you a thumbs-up for the sparkling rims on your Ford Bronco. Go play in the mud already – for all our sakes.
Is this a personal pet peeve? Maybe. Is this an opportunity for me to climb high onto my soapbox and tell you why I’m better than you? Perhaps. But none of that changes the fact that mall crawlers are a blight on our roads, and things need to change if there’s any hope for humanity. Am I being overly dramatic with some of these proclamations? How dare you!?
What is a Mall Crawler?
If you’re still here and you haven’t shrunk away into a mass of guilty despair, then congratulations: you’ve taken the first step to self-improvement. Before we go any further, though, let’s make sure we’re on the same page here about what I’m talking about and what you’ve done that you should feel so shameful about. Because you should.
A mall crawler is an off-road vehicle that’s never taken off-road. I’m talking about something like a Jeep Wrangler with large tires, maybe Beadlock-capable for extra points, a beautiful ground clearance, and shocks designed to handle anything the trail can throw at it. But it just sits in a mall parking lot (are malls even a thing still? This is feeling a bit anachronistic) – or in your driveway or the parking lot at your job, sparkling in the sunshine and looking dazzling.
Those Beadlock-capable wheels have never been locked; the tires have never had air let out of them for extra squish on the trail. Your skid plates are pristine, as unbent as the Republican National Convention pretends it is, and they’ve never known the gentle touch of a large rock that consists of nothing but jagged points yearning to tear apart of the underside of an unsuspecting off-road vehicle. The tow winch is exquisitely coiled, the hook nice and flat, without a fleck of dust or dirt upon it; the rims shining and gleaming confidently with ornate designs that have never been splashed by a stream or creek (or “crick”).
Are you getting the gist here? Mall crawlers are an abomination: something beautifully designed for going off-road, for conquering the trail, for taking the path less traveled, for playing in the mud and dirt and grime. But they’ve never been allowed to do it; they’re caged birds, and you’re the one keeping them in that cage. You might as well buy a mid-engine Corvette, then drive it exclusively through school zones cruising along at 15 mph, you monster.
How Did We Get Here?
There are, by my estimation, two typical ways that someone ends up the shameful owner of a mall crawler: sloth and pride (surprise surprise, two of the seven deadly sins!). Some people buy a shiny new Jeep Wrangler, Ford Bronco, or similar vehicle (Chevy Colorado ZR2 owners can be just as guilty, as can Ford Raptor model owners, and those with the full power of the Ram TRX at their fingertips) and deck it out with all of the off-road features available. They’ll splurge for every package and feature, getting an amazing vehicle that can take them just about anywhere in the country. Then they do nothing with it––to these slothful fiends, driving on a gravel road when visiting a friend out in a rural area is adventure enough.
For others, however, it comes down to the pride of owning an off-road machine and wanting to protect or preserve it. These people buy a Jeep Wrangler YJ, maybe a 1993 model, and the Internet has told them they have something really special. They get it fixed up, pour more money into, wash and wax it every weekend, and show off that Wrangler like a collector’s item. They’re so proud of what they have, they never realize the truth: no one cares.
No one is impressed by a Wrangler just because it’s a Wrangler––okay, maybe someone is, but those are not the sort of people you should want to impress. Trust me. The reason people talk about certain generations or years being so great is either pure nostalgia or because of what those years represent in terms of capability. If you want to impress a Jeep fan, show them what trails you’ve made it through behind the wheel of your Wrangler; show them the ding in the bumper from when a rock jumped out of nowhere or the mud stains on your floor mats.
How Do We Solve This Problem?
I’ve already told you how to solve this problem, so maybe start paying attention. It’s incredibly simple: all you have to do is actually use your off-road machine to *gasp* go off-road! The reason so many people mock mall crawlers (rightly so) is because they’re nothing but an empty status symbol, the bloated trophy-spouse of the auto industry. There are plenty of shiny vehicles you can get just to show off, and they’ll do it quite well––make your neighbors jealous with a new Mustang or Tesla or something, see if I care.
But the reason that mall-crawler owners are the butt of the joke is that they think they’re showing off, but all they’re doing is looking foolish. Stop caring what other people think about you or your vehicle and just go have fun in it. Take that Wrangler to a local trail and spend the day playing in the mud, splashing through puddles and streams, and doing what it was intended for. Let the Bronco out of the pen and take it for a weekend of camping; if you’re going to spend all that money on something designed to take the road untraveled, then take the road already!
Seriously, Just Go Have Some Fun
I’m going to be honest with you: this goes well beyond mall crawlers and really applies to a wide range of people. Responsibility is great: be responsible and drive safely, but have some fun. I’m not telling you to do dumb things like letting your car coast as you hop out to dance alongside it like an idiot while filming a video for TikTok or whatever dumb program you kids use these days––that’s far worse than owning a mall crawler and legitimately horrifying. No, I’m saying that if you’re going to own an off-road vehicle, which isn’t cheap I know, then use it for what it was designed for and enjoy yourself.
And yes, before anyone points it out, I understand the contradiction of telling you not to worry about what anyone thinks while I tell you what I think and why you should change your behavior because I’m judging you. That’s not an oversight; that’s called irony, dear reader, and it’s the cornerstone of why you should still feel bad about owning a mall crawler. Just enjoy your life a bit; take your sports car to the track, hit the trail in your used Jeep Wrangler, and squeeze every last drop of joy from the teat of life. Or don’t––I’m not your boss.