The Jeep Wave: Origins, Customs and Etiquette
By Matt Marine
I saw the Jeep coming toward me. It looked like it had just been driven off the dealer's showroom floor. Perfect. Initiation time. I rolled down my window and offered a friendly wave. For a second, the driver seemed confused, then recognition set in and he smiled and waved back. Another member.
For those of us who own Jeeps, we all know about the “Jeep Wave”. From the moment you purchase your first Jeep you become indoctrinated into an elite membership. It doesn’t matter if you have a new $50,000 JK Unlimited Rubicon or a 20 year-old XJ fixer-upper, you’ll be treated like royalty and get waved at from other Jeep owners. Many people wonder about how the Jeep Wave began and I’m happy to tell you that after years of research, I’ve finally uncovered the origins of this infamous ritual.
Origin of the Jeep Wave
Way back in 1940, when the JK was just a future rock crawlers aired-down dream, Mr. Karl Probst (original Bantam designer) was driving the very first Bantam Jeep through its paces at the Army's proving ground at Camp Holabird, Maryland. At this time there were only two Jeeps (known as the Bantam Reconnaissance Car at the time ) in existence. The one Mr. Probst was driving and the one his assistant, a man named Richard Teague, was driving.
As Mr. Probst drove back from an extremely successful run at the proving grounds, he passed Teague coming the other way. Probst offered a friendly wave, which happened to be the very first Jeep Wave. Teague did not return the wave.
Understandably, this pissed off Probst. He quickly turned around and raced (probably getting to over 40 mph) back to catch Teague. The two pulled off to the side of the road and Probst went to talk to Teague. Although there’s no record of the actual conversation, I’m guessing it went something like this:
“I waved at you!” Probst said waving his hand in demonstration.
“So?” Teague replied.
“I have a Jeep. You have a Jeep.”
“Uhhh, I’m not following you.”
Probst let out a long sigh. “We both have Jeeps. When we pass each other. We wave.”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about.” Teague said.
Probst shook his head, “It’s a Jeep thing. You wouldn’t understand.”
Teague shrugged his shoulders and drove away.
Probst fired him that afternoon.
His next assistant made sure he waved back at Mr. Probst and thus the first successful Jeep Wave in history was completed.
It’s interesting to note that Teague’s automotive career didn’t end when he was fired (though many believe mankind would have been better off if it had). He went on to head AMC’s design team in the 1970s and would unleash the AMC Pacer, Gremlin and finally Chrysler's K-car on the unsuspecting public. For this, he was charged with crimes against humanity. Unfortunately, he escaped to South America before he could be brought to justice. He lived the remaining years of his life in relative obscurity, creating the world’s first computer virus and email spam generators, though no one will ever forgive him for the Pacer.
Jeep Waving Customs / Etiquette
As with any custom, there are rules that you must adhere to. This ensures the custom lives on and you don't catch a rash of crap from your Jeeping buddies:
1. You MUST wave to Jeeps when you pass them (at least in these circumstances):
a. On a trail. Actually you must wave to everyone while on a trail, regardless of what type of vehicle they have or the kind you are currently winching out – even if it’s a Ford
b. On two lane roads
c. In parking lots (except at bars because everything looks like a Jeep after a good night at the bar)
2. A common misconception is that you must wave all the time. Not true. Here are the ONLY exceptions for when you don’t have to wave:
a. On freeways
b. On divided four lane roads
c. At night
d. If you are in a military Jeep and the Jeep passing you is filled with enemy soldiers
e. In New York City. There are no Jeeps in New York City, only taxis
f. In Miami. Any form of friendly gestures will probably get you killed
3. Drivers are the only ones allowed to wave. Passengers are prohibited from performing this ritual. This is an insult to the other Jeep owner, as if the driver doesn’t have the time. Exception: any female passengers, especially those wearing bikinis and/or have large breasts, are encouraged to wave to any male Jeep owner and his friends. Caution: this may cause large groups of vehicles to follow the female Jeeper to any trail she may be headed
4. You may only wave to members of your own species. Wrangler to Wrangler. XJ to XJ. Most people do not engage in cross-species waving, but see no issue with it. Research has shown that many instances of this occur while in college and while one or more of the other Jeep owners is drunk. Exception: this is allowed in the states of California and New Hampshire where new laws have been passed making cross-species waving a legislative right
5. You don’t have to own the Jeep you’re driving to do the wave. If you’re borrowing a Jeep, go ahead and wave. It feels great
6. If you’re stealing a Jeep, don’t wave. It’s suspicious and helps the cops track you down
7. Wave only when safe to do so
8. You must wave to mall crawlers wannabes, even if you’re the most bad ass mud-covered rock crawler. These are just future offroaders waiting to be born. You never know, your wave may transform their owner into getting off the pavement and hitting the dirt
9. You must not wave to other Jeeps while driving something other than a Jeep. For those of you who only drive a Jeep, this seems obvious. But for those of us who switch between two vehicles or borrow the spouses non-Jeep every once in a while get caught by this. We see a Jeep coming toward us and instinctively go for the wave. Our misguided greeting usually goes unnoticed (we aren’t in a Jeep – so why pay attention to us?), but if it does, the response is typically a confused look followed by the one that says, “Don’t you know you’re not driving a Jeep?” Exception: you may wave to the Jeep driver if you actually know them, but you’ll probably still get the same reaction
10. Jeep drivers need to pay attention. Owning a Jeep has responsibilities. The main one being that you notice other Jeeps and wave to them
11. Don't let it get out of hand. Keep them to yourself. It's a wave, that's all. No more, no less.
Proper Jeep Wave Forms, Customs and Etiquette
There are many different variations of the Jeep Wave. Here are a few of the most common forms of the ritual that I will demonstrate for you.
The “General Purpose or GP” Wave
This is the old standby and has been used by Jeep owners for decades. Many believe this was the type of wave offered by Mr. Probst in 1940, but I have not been able to confirm this. The nice thing about this wave is that it’s nothing fancy. Just a normal wave out an open window or behind the front windshield. You can do this without thinking or any preplanning. The type of people who use this wave are the traditionalists, paying homage to the origins of the Jeep Wave. They are usually seen in stock Jeeps and have limited imagination or ambition. If you find yourself giving the GP Wave over 95% of the time, trade in your Jeep, you're unworthy.
The “Two Fingered Peace Sign” Wave
This is an oldie, but goodie. The wave can be done either while still holding onto the steering wheel or by thrusting your hand out the window and extending your pointer and middle finger into a peace sign. This wave is most commonly used by the older generation driving pre-1982 Jeeps. They are typically beat up, have tons of miles, barely run and way past their prime. The Jeeps aren’t in any better shape either. But, if they can get their gray hair back into their ponytail and out of their eyes long enough, they’ll smile and shoot you a quick peace sign wave as you drive by.
The “Four Fingered Steering Wheel” Wave
This is the second most common wave out there today. It’s where the driver doesn’t release his tenuous grip on the steering wheel and raises four fingers in recognition to the passing driver. Although it’s one of the easiest waves to perform, many have mistakenly attributed its popularity to laziness. This could not be farther from the truth. Those who have experienced the Jeep “Death Wobble” understand this is a safety precaution. We know that keeping both hands on the steering wheel at all times may help keep us in control if/when the wobble starts. The key word here is “may”.
The “One Finger Salute” Wave
Although not a wave typically done between Jeep owners, this wave is extremely common along the California freeways and it’s included here for completeness. The One Finger Salute (also known as “flipping someone off”) gets its roots from 1908 when Mr. Salvatore Pellegrini pulled his horse drawn buggy out in front of Mr. Aberto Santoro’s Model T. A heated discussion ensued. In Mr. Pellegrini's opinion, the Model T was speeding at almost 10 mph, while Mr. Santoro vehemently stated that Pellegrini was blind as a freakin’ bat and shouldn’t be on the eff'n road. Pellegrini was so incensed that the only thing he could think of was extending his middle finger and telling Santoro where he could “put it” and that he could “f-off.” Not knowing what “f-off” meant, Santoro took the tire wrench out of his trunk and beat Pellegrini to death. The bottom line here is use this wave sparingly as it can lead to horse buggy rage.
Although this type of wave is inappropriate between Jeep drivers, it can be used in good conscience to others when being cut off, tailgated or run off the road. Variations can include thrusting you hand out the window, shouting and letting go a series of profanities that would make a Navy man blush.
This wave is only effective when using the middle finger. Extending other fingers have different meanings:
- Thumb: you want a ride and don’t really care about your personal safety. You can only hope that a psycho who wants to use your skin for custom seat covers isn’t the next guy driving down the lane.
-Pointer finger: this typically says, “Hey, you! Yeah, I’m pointing at you.” Or “Would you look at that big asteroid heading your way!” It’s meant to gain someone’s attention and ensure they understand what/who you are looking at. It can be used in conjunction with the middle finger salute to ensure they know exactly who you are flipping off.
- Ring finger: this is usually done by the female of the species to indicate her readiness for monogamy and/or marriage. In most cases, the target in question turns his Jeep around and heads off into the desert, never to be seen again.
- Pinky: the only reason to wave your pinky at someone is to ask, “Where’s the tea party?” Mainly used in England and is frowned upon by Americans ever since the Boston Tea Party.
The “Royal” Wave
Another wave used in merry Ol’ England is the “Royal” or “Princess” wave. You don’t have to be a member of royalty or a princess to perform this wave (though you will look like an idiot if you’re not). To perform a Royal wave, stick your left arm out the window making sure your elbow is bent at exactly 90 degrees. Then rotate your wrist slowly clockwise, then counterclockwise, while your fingers are kept together and your thumb is kept tight. Repeat.
Many people stop there and all I've got to say is, “You aren’t doing it right!”. An all too often forgotten piece of the Royal wave is the fake, pasted on smile. This is done by curving your upper lips into a forced smile, showing your crooked teeth (if you’re truly English royalty, this shouldn’t be a problem) and then holding that exact goofy facial expression for the entire duration of the wave. It’s sort of like trying to sneak and SDB out at church on Sunday. But not nearly as satisfying.
The “Oh Shit, I Didn’t See You” Wave
This is what happens when you’re not paying attention to your surroundings. A common scenario may be you're out driving during a 100-year blizzard delivering much needed beer supply to the local bar. Committed to your community responsibilities, you’re eyes are trained on the snow covered road and the stupid ass in the Camry skidding to and fro in front of you.
And you miss the Jeep delivering the much needed beer to the bar on the other side of town that just passed you, the driver giving you the GP wave. You almost miss it. Almost. But you catch sight of it in the corner of your eye and turn to return the wave just before you slide off the road into a snow drift.
Most of the people who use this wave are those not paying attention to their surroundings. By this I mean looking for other Jeeps. The best method to ensure you see every Jeep possible is to do what’s called the “Terminator Scan”. Remember the original Terminator where Arnold methodically rotated his head from side to side as he scanned the entire scene around him while he was searching for Sarah Connor? He never paid attention to what was playing on satellite radio, his current speed or the crying baby in the car seat behind him. What’s more important, making sure you get that wave in or not getting another speeding ticket? Thought so.
The success of spotting other Jeeps using this method can be increased by wearing cool sunglasses at night, having digital readouts installed in your eyeballs or being an indestructible killing machine. Be a terminator. Do not stop until you find a Jeep to wave at.
The “Patriotic” Wave
Generally speaking (pun intended), this type of wave is given by members of the armed services or veterans. This wave more resembles a salute than a wave and gives homage to the men and women in uniform. There is no rank involved, though many of the mall crawlers will salute the rock crawlers out of revere. Salute back.
This wave can also be given as a sign of respect for a fallen comrade (even if not in a Jeep) just before you winch the idiot out.
The “Click and Shoot” Wave
This is a tricky wave to perform and is usually done by middle-aged used up athletes who didn’t get beyond their lackluster high school football career or used car salesmen with premature balding (though many times this can be the same person).
The technique is to point your index finger and extend your thumb as if you’ve suddenly been given the super power of morphing into a human pistol (commonly known as a Dorkman). With your finger-powered automatic, point it toward the other Jeep driver and make an audible double clicking sound. A good option is to squint your eye as if you’re really aiming your finger.
Caution: you will look like a dork performing this type of wave and if you have any children in the Jeep they will make fun of you for years afterward. I am just giving an example, not talking about personal experience or anything.
The “Too Much Freakin’ Bling” Wave
This is more a reflex action than an actual wave. We’ve all seen those Jeeps that have every accessory, body panel and possible piece of equipment chromed and shined. When you’re driving toward one these bling-machines it’s like you’re driving into the sun. Only brighter.
If you’re not wearing your sunglasses, you better cover your eyes as best you can (while still performing some kind of wave – it IS still a Jeep) as this bling-thing passes you.
The “Overly Friendly” Wave
Whoa, guy. Settle down. It’s a Jeep and someone waved at you. You’ll see another one soon. Maybe. Or maybe not if you keep waving like a crazed Brazilian soccer fan.
Many times these waves are initiated by new Jeep owners who have just found out they are part of an exclusive club. They could be driving home from the dealer in their brand new Jeep and get a few waves. Dealers usually don’t brief new Jeep owners about this phenomena and it can be a complete surprise. If you get one of these waves, it’s best just give him your best GP wave, smile and keep moving.
Caution: newbies can get overly excited, which can lead to the dreaded premature wave.
The “Premature” Wave
The premature wave happens when an inexperienced new Jeep owner becomes too excited about the whole Jeep Wave thing. You probably know this guy. He’s had his Jeep for about a week, is out washing it every chance he gets and keeps tellling you about his fantasy of getting his hands on a set of really big offroad lights or high-beams.
When he sees another Jeep, especially those with large, oversized tires, he gets all excited and waves too early. Sometimes so early the other Jeep driver never sees it coming and can’t return the wave, leaving both Jeep owners feeling unsatisfied.
A Jeep wave is best when they occur simultaneously.
The “Not Really a Wave” Wave
Sometimes you may think you're getting a wave when it's not really a wave. The following are two of the most common non-waves: the ear dig and the pick-n-flick.
When you see these, your first instinct is to look away and ignore them. But you can't. It could be a wave. And you really need to know if he found anything up there.
Go ahead and wave. It's the right thing to do. Just don't get close enough to catch any of the fodder as it's flung out the window.
The "Doggie in the Window" Wave
This is the most rare of all Jeep waves. It happens when the Jeep owner's dog get tired of bouncing around all day in a hot Jeep when she would rather either be sleeping in her chair at home or hiking in a cool pine forest.
When the driver gets out to take a pee, she hops into the driver's seat, puts the Jeep in gear and heads for home, leaving the driver to bum a ride with one of his buddies.
But don't worry, she'll still wave at you when you drive by. She knows the rules.
The bottom line is when driving a Jeep you must wave at all Jeeps as you pass them. With great power, comes great responsibility. Do the wave.
I'll just wrap it up with a Grumpy Cat meme (yep, I feel the same way).
What did you think? Comments and updates welcome by clicking here.
The "Oh Shit, That's a Photo Radar" Wave
From Subscriber Brian S: I wanted to point out the “Too Much Freakin’ Bling” wave is often mistaken for the “Oh Shit, That’s a Photo Radar” face shield. The actions are similar as both subjects raise both hands in the windshield, squint their eyes tightly shut and turn their heads to the side to avoid the bright flash. The difference is the “Too Much Freakin’ Bling” wave only occurs during the daytime or under the bright parking lot lights of your local mall, whereas the “Oh Shit, That’s a Photo Radar” face shield can happen at any time.