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Tall Trucks - The M Factor

Posted in Features on March 1, 2003
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They're at it again; the Safety Zealots, the Chicken Littles of the world, the ill-informed, middle-of-the-road members of the public who seem to have a problem with modified vehicles as a whole, and seemingly, with lifted off-road machines in particular.

The latest salvo fired by Those Who Would Limit Our Fun comes courtesy of the Los Angeles Times, who has somehow turned anti-automotive in the pages of their automotive section, Highway 1.

How anti-automotive? Writer Jeanne Wright, in a Special to Highway 1, took tall trucks to task, quoting numerous "experts" who agreed that "monster trucks" put the motoring public at great risk. How's that? Well, Wright and her group of tall truck haters conclude that, during a collision, the first contact between truck and car would be when the car's bumper hits the truck's rear axle. A motorist who was interviewed by Wright claimed, "My family is at risk when I am following one of these vehicles."

To this, I say: take responsibility for your driving habits. It's downright foolhardy to tailgate a lifted truck - or any vehicle for that matter. If you're in control, your car's bumper will be a safe distance away from the rear of a tall truck during a panic stop.

Clarence Ditlow, director of the Center for Auto Safety in Washington, D.C., chimed in, stating, "Police should approach the problem of on-street use of too-tall vehicles as seriously as they take red-light running and drunk driving." Oh? I guess that means lifted truck owners are dangerous criminals and deserve the same treatment as killer drunk drivers and maniac motorists. I'm surprised that Ditlow didn't compare lifted truck owners to mass murderers or terrorists.

But Wright wasn't finished. She also has some kind of a problem with lifted trucks as an automotive style statement. Wright states, "Serious off-road enthusiasts buy lift kits and giant tires to equip their vehicles for their outdoor adventures. The problem is that some vehicles modified to look like off-roaders never venture from city streets. For their owners, the extra height is an automotive statement. The message, apparently, is that the bigger my truck, the tougher I am." Frankly, Jeanne, you have some wacky ideas about lifted trucks and their owners. Furthermore, why do you or the L.A. Times care if someone equips their truck for outdoor adventure, yet never leaves the pavement? I guess all those import cars with aero body panels and 2-foot-tall rear wings should be banned because they're equipped for high-speed race track/autobahn duties. And the same for Pro-Streeters, because most never see a drag strip.

Consumer Reports' David Champion even got in on the tall truck bash, claiming that adding oversize tires increases the grip, and that additional traction, when combined with a lift, increases the chance of a rollover. I guess Champion never heard of the fact that increasing the track width (with wide wheels and tires) will reduce the rollover tendency of a lifted truck - or any vehicle for that matter.

The only voice of reason in the Times' story came from - incredibly - the Los Angeles Police Department. Jason Lee, a spokesman for the L.A.P.D., said: "We don't get involved much with that (lifted trucks). Our job is to catch criminals. Using a modified vehicle that is not street legal for city driving is a minimal offense compared with driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs."

The subject of lifted trucks, their performance, and their affect on other drivers is one that's been discussed many times before. Obviously, a lifted truck handles and reacts differently than a truck in OE trim, but that's not always a bad thing, unless you're a member of Jeanne Wright's posse.

One thing is for sure: Wright's attack set the staff of OFF-ROAD into motion. We're looking into the dynamics of lifted off-road trucks and the performance changes - positive and negative - that occur when a suspension is lifted, when large tires are added, when a truck's track width is increased, and when all of the aforementioned components are set up to enhance stability and drivability. Whether lifted trucks are evil or not, we plan to bring you an unbiased story this summer that's based on facts and sound engineering principals - a story that will hopefully set the record straight.

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