For decades the “Jeep Wave” has been a way for Jeep owners to greet one another, and it’s a lot of fun. But there’s one misunderstanding about this tradition thats been tearing at my soul: people think it applies to all Jeeps, when in reality, most Jeepers—including my poor self—get no love.
Obviously, a greeting between owners of a certain type of vehicle isn’t the most important issue to be discussing, but this has been nagging me for a while now, so bear with me: The “Jeep Wave” isn’t actually a “Jeep” wave. The name is a big lie.
“Jeep vehicle owners are unlike any others; from those who embrace the ‘Jeep wave’ to those who look forward to helping a fellow off-roader along the trail, there is a sense of community and passion among Jeep owners that makes our brand unique,” Jeep wrote in a 2012 press release.
Reading this, you might think to yourself “Oh boy, I should buy a Jeep Compass, because I want to be part of that tight-knit community.” That’s, at least, what Jeep wants you to think. But trust me when I say that you will be sorely disappointed, and perhaps cry yourself to sleep a few nights eating a bucket of Neapolitan ice cream and watching a rom com, feeling thoroughly rejected.
I own two lifted Jeep Cherokee XJs, a Jeep Grand Wagoneer, a Jeep J10, a Jeep Cherokee Golden Eagle, and a Willys CJ-2A. Of those, the only one in which I regularly receive the gift of the coveted “Jeep Wave” is the CJ.
Even in a glorious Jeep Cherokee XJ—one of the best Jeeps of all time, arguably the most versatile, and certainly the best selling—I find myself driving along suburban Detroit’s wide streets, looking up with hope as I see an oncoming Jeep Wrangler. Gently, I lift my right hand’s index and middle finger, staring at the oncoming driver intensely.
“Please. Just acknowledge me,” I think to myself, as sweat drips down my face in what feels like the longest drive of my life. The big JK closes in on my XJ, with 100 feet becoming 50. 50 becoming 25. And 25 becoming 12.5. Now’s the time. This is it. This is, according to my obsessive research, optimal “Jeep Wave-ing” distance.
But the driver’s index and middle fingers remain planted on the steering wheel, and the box-on-wheels blows past, shattering my hopes yet again.
I say “yet again,” because this happens all the time in my hardtop Jeeps. They’re great vehicles—highly capable, relatively reliable and damn sexy—but they’re not CJs or Wranglers. And thus, they are not part of the family.
There are some reasons why this might be the case. After all, as Autoblog points out in a video on the matter, the Jeep wave may have started in World War II as a sign of military camaraderie. It’s also possible that the wave started after the war, with soldiers doing it to salute one another’s service. The car website also theorizes that the wave may have started in the 1970s, as off-roading took off in the U.S.
Especially if the first two theories are correct, these were times when hardtop Jeeps weren’t really prevalent. MBs, GPWs and CJs were Jeep.
I also think that the average four-door JK Wrangler owner may be a bit different than Jeep owners of yore. In fact, in my Farewell JK post, I wrote all about how the vehicle brought an entirely new demographic to the brand. Does this demographic know that an XJ or an SJ is worthy of the wave?
I don’t know. Maybe not. None of this really matters, though, as I’ve gotten used to being rejected dozens of times on my way to the grocery store. It burns at first, but it gets better.
So to all you XJ, WJ, SJ or other hardtop Jeep owners, you can heed Autoblog’s advice (“The next time you drive a Jeep, be sure to wave as you pass another by.”) all you want, but prepare for sorrow.
Come on, someone, anyone. Please just wave at me! Just one. Little. Wave.