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What Sets Mud Flaps & Splash Guards Apart: Should You Care?

Mud Flaps vs Splash Guards
Written by Nick Steiner

The debate over mud flaps and splash guards has been going on for years. The terms splash guard and mud flaps are interchangeable. While their purpose is the same, not everyone believes in using them. Here we will look at their use, the types of mud flaps available, and two ways to install them.

Their purpose

If you’ve ever driven behind a semi and had an object on the road shoot up and hit your windshield, you appreciate the need for mud flaps. Splash guards are usually rubber and attached behind the vehicle’s wheels.

They protect other drivers and pedestrians from being hit by rocks and debris on the road. They also help keep snow, rain, salt, and mud from spraying your car’s undercarriage and causing rust and corrosion. Vehicles with superior tread are known to throw water, snow, and debris from under the vehicle. Splash guards prevent this from spraying the cars behind them.

Mud flap history

In the 1970s, state regulations were passed that required trucks of 24,000 pounds or more to have rear mud flaps that are as wide as the tire tread and must reach 8-inches above the road. Most states still have laws that require semi-trucks and trailers, RVs, delivery trucks, and buses that travel the highways to have mud flaps that meet the state’s specifications.

Vehicles with curved wheel wells were exempt. Manufacturers began designing cars without splash guards.

Automotive manufacturers gradually stopped putting splash guards on vehicles because many auto buyers didn’t want them or thought they benefited from having them. While mud flaps are unnecessary on family vehicles, SUVs, and 4 x 4s, many people still use them.

The mud flap debate

Where you live, drive, and the type of vehicle you drive will help you decide whether you need splash guards. They keep your vehicle’s paint from being chipped or scratched, assure rocks and road debris won’t strike the car behind you and protect pedestrians from flying debris. They also prevent corrosion caused by the elements, stones, road salt, and dirt. Today’s mudflaps are aesthetically pleasing and customizable.

The downside to splash guards is that they can get dirty and become an eyesore. They are another thing on your car or truck that needs cleaning and replacing. The element exposure causes them to breakdown.

Mud flaps are an aftermarket part, considered an accessory, and are not covered under your car insurance. If you use splash guards, inspect them for damage before driving.

Today’s mud flaps

Splash guards come in every color of the rainbow. You can put your company logo, cartoons, and most graphics on them. While they still make them from rubber, you can get them in plastic, molded plastic specific to a vehicle’s make and model, and metal—eco-friendly splash guards made from high-impact nylon.

You can install them as an OEM after part or have a professional do it. They come in a no-drill version made of thermoplastic that uses digital technology to fit your vehicle and a turn-fastening system to attach to the car or truck. They can even be matched to your vehicle’s color.

The drill-on version is just as the name implies. They must be screwed on the vehicle to install, and holes must be drilled into the car’s wheel wells.

People often think splash guards affect gas mileage, but the truth is they don’t. What little wind resistance they may offer is too little to affect your fuel consumption. If you are worried about fuel consumption, some companies make aerodynamic splash guards vented to prevent drag.

Mud flap choices

Once you decide on mud flaps, you can choose between universal and molded mud flaps. Universal mud flaps fit pretty much any car, SUV, or truck. They are a sheet of rubber, plastic, etc. In most cases, they require drilling for installation and are the recommended choice of splash guard if your fender flares are aftermarket.

Molded splash guards mold to the tire’s shape, similar to a bowl on its side. The slightly rounded shape lets it catch the water and slide to the ground. The mounting holes come pre-drilled and created for a specific car, truck, or SUV model.

The choice of plastic vs. rubber depends on your vehicle’s size. Plastic mud flaps work best for smaller cars, especially the molded options. Trucks and heavier vehicles have better success with the rubber splash guards because they are more flexible. There is no difference between plastic and rubber as far as durability goes. They both do an excellent job. Whether you choose rubber or plastic, make sure the size is right for your tire width.

How to Install Mud Flaps

Installing drillable mudflaps

Tools

  • Drill and drill bits
  • Sharpie
  • Splash guards to be installed
  • Screwdriver

Before starting, read the instructions with your mud flaps, as they may be more specific than the ones below.

Step 1: Wash and dry the wheel well where you are installing the mud flaps.

Step 2: To make the space needed to install the splash guards, turn the wheel as far left as you can.

Step 3: Choose the correct mud flap for the right rear, left front, etc., and match it to the spot where you are installing it. Mark the placement with a sharpie, marking the holes where you will need to drill if there are no manufacturer holes on the wheel well.

Step 4: Once the holes are marked, you can drill the holes.

Step 5: Place the mudflaps over the holes and screw them in place using the hardware provided in the package. If your mud flaps have a hex screw, you must install it between the wheel well and the splash guard. It can be challenging to hold and screw. An extra set of hands is very helpful. Screw the flaps to hold them in place.

Step 6: After all three screws and bolts are attached,  adjust the splash guards as needed, then fully tighten the screws.

Installing no-drill mudflaps

Make sure to read the instructions for the splash guards before installing them. The manufacturer”s instructions are specific to their mud flaps.

Tools

  • Splash guards to be installed
  • Screwdriver

Step 1: Clean the area of the wheel well where your mud flaps will go.

Step 2: Turn the wheel as far to the left as possible to give yourself the space to install the splash guards.

Step 3: Choose the proper flap for the wheel by matching the markings on the flap, ie. Rt rear. Place the mud flap to the wheel well to ensure it is the right size and fit. Once in place, match the holes in the splash guard with the ones on the wheel well.

Step 4: Remove the screws in the wheel well holes and place them to the side to reuse.

Step 5: Place the splash guard in place by matching up the holes. If the package has a hex screw. Install this between the wheel and the mud flap. Loosely screw the splash guards to the wheel well. You may need someone to hold the flaps in place as you screw them to the vehicle.

Step 6: Once all the screws are in, adjust the mud flaps in position and tighten the screws. If the splash guards came with more hardware, be sure to install that as well.

About the author

Nick Steiner

Nick has been a car nut for his whole life as far as he can remember. His father was a car dealer who used to change and repair his cars himself. As a result, Nick had the opportunity to get around all sorts of cars and learned to get his hands dirty repairing vehicles from an early age.

Nick is a great fan of Japanese quality and German preciosity. His deep passion lies in older models that he believes have a flair that takes him back to his childhood. He also loves their durability and reliability when compared to the modern models.

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