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July 2009 Letters To The Editor - In Box

Posted in Features on July 1, 2009
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Submission Information
4-Wheel & Off-Road welcomes letters to the editor. Letters must include an address or a telephone number so the sender can be verified. Once verified, your name may be withheld at your request. Letters published in this magazine reflect the opinions of the writers, and we reserve the right to edit letters for clarity, brevity, or other purposes. Due to the large volume of mail we receive, we regret that we cannot reply to unpublished letters or return photos. Digital photos must measure no less than 1600 x 1200 pixels (or two megapixels) and be saved as a TIFF, an EPS, or a maximum-quality JPEG file.

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4-Wheel & Off-Road
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Los Angeles, CA 90048-5515
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End Of The Turtle
Reader: Once again you guys have proven to be the exception rather than the rule. You have asked for ideas of what to do with your Toyota "Turtle" ("Vote for the Turtle!" Drivelines, May '09). You claim you will smash, bash, and generally destroy the thing before you give it back. Nice going. Hammer the crap out of someone else's stuff just like you try to destroy your own junk. It's junk by your own admission, and I know why. You always whine about a limited budget, but when you go out with the intention of rapid disassembly, it's going to cost money. No "normal" person would purposely trash their ride just because of the price of repairs, but here you are, once again, advocating mechanical mayhem. Why don't you give it back in some condition faintly resembling operational? Get real, and I mean real like the rest of us, not like the evil kid in the movie Toy Story!
Karl Smith

Editor: Thanks for the input. However, you are misinformed on many levels. Assertion: We try and destroy our own junk. Fact: No, we use it to the extreme. We do not try and wreck it for the sake of carnage or a good laugh--we simply are aware of the possibilities and attempt to do the best with the minimum amount of damage. But as adults we also don't whine about a scratch, a dent, or a broken part. Yes, we have to fix it, and yes, we have to pay for much of it. There is no free lunch.

Assertion: Our stuff is junk by our own admission. Fact: The term junk is one of endearment. We don't use it in a bad, negative way. I assume that you think a car with a dent and faded paint in your neighbor's front yard is junk as well, while it could be a priceless treasure or, more importantly, handcrafted automotive art. Remember, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Just look at your own junk.

Assertion: We whine about a limited budget. Fact: True.

Assertion: No normal person would purposely trash their ride just because of the cost of repairs. Fact: Again, we don't purposely trash our rides. That's for 16-year-olds and drunken wheelers. I've seen guys drive off a cliff just to see if they could without blowing up, and by gosh it's too bad they didn't.

Assertion: We aren't going to give the Toyota back in functional condition. Fact: Oh so very true! Why? Because this vehicle is headed to the crusher after we are done with it. It is a preproduction vehicle that Toyota (like most car manufacturers) can't sell, part out, or do anything else with. The lawyers say it has to be demolished so it can never be a liability to the company. It got a death sentence when it was born, so we plan to drive it to the max. Ideally, we'll win the Top Truck competition without a scratch on the old girl, drive the Turtle to the crusher, and weep as it gets flattened like a pancake. But if we don't win, we'll at least put on the best show possible.

Mud Tire Test Cop-Out?
Reader: OK, I am not going to whine to you about the truck of the year or too many Jeeps or not enough Dodges, but I do think your answer to Jason in the In Box in the Apr. '09 issue was a cop-out. You won't do a mud test because it's something you already know? Last I checked, aren't you 4-Wheel & Off-Road magazine? The first thing I do when test-driving a truck is hit the muddiest hole I can find. It's important to me that my truck perform in the mud.Why wouldn't that be a consideration? Plenty of tire companies would help you out (same as they always do). So, like I said, I think it's a cop-out. Great mag, keep it up, just stick to your roots.
(Yes, that's short for Christine)
In the heart of Iowa

Editor: Thanks for the thought, Chris. You make a good point, and we agree with what you do in testing your truck. Our point is that most new vehicles come with street tires, and all we would do by testing in the mud is get the 4x4s miserably stuck. We hit the mud for our tire tests, sure, but in 4x4 of the Year we know what would happen to the new rides.

As far as changing to new mud tires goes, yes, a great idea except that we are testing stock vehicles. Many years ago we swapped tires out for all similar treads, but soon we realized that by just doing that we were giving some rigs an unfair advantage. Wait for our next mud tire test; I think you'll enjoy it.

Where Do They Make Dodge Trucks?
Reader: I just picked up the Apr. '09 issue and feel the need to correct an item in the In Box section. Tim Seener of Washington, Missouri, wrote in asking why Dodge didn't win the 4x4 of the Year test. The thing that needs to be cleared up is that Dodge Ram trucks are not built in Wentzville, Missouri. They are built in Fenton. The Wentzville plant builds vans for GM. There's an hour's difference between the two plants. How did you get that wrong?

I know this because I worked at the Dodge Truck plant for 11 years until taking a buyout last month, plus my dad retired from the Wentzville plant. So there's firsthand knowledge of both.

I think the big point about buying American is that, yes, the transplants build their vehicles here with American workers, but their profits don't stay here; they go back to the home country. Sure, the Big Three build vehicles here and elsewhere, but the profits come back to the U.S.

We could go on and on about buying American and the nasty name calling associated with that, but how about we just get back to four-wheelin'? I've got an '87 Suburban and an '01 Ram to build.
Ken Gibson
Bourbon, MO

Editor: Right you are! My mistake was saying that the Ram is built in Mexico. That is true, but only HD models, 2500/3500s, and chassis-cab 3500/4500/5500 trucks. The half-ton 1500 is indeed built in Fenton, Missouri, even though that facility is often called the St. Louis plant. Some 1500s are built in Warren, Michigan. Regardless, the case is closed until next year. Let's go wheeling!

April Rollovers
Reader: I have one for the "Be Aware" archive. Great rollover articles this month (Apr. '09), but I spotted something on page 32, the Power Tank. I doubt the little handle/rollbar on the tank is designed to protect the valve from the weight of the truck. So "be aware" when mounting them to keep the valve in the rollcage-protected area of the vehicle, just like the passengers. While rapidly venting all the C02 will always be inconvenient, if the tank gets loose it can also cause bodily injury.

And one more thing. I thought that in the event of a serious rollover it was a bad idea for the driver to hold onto the steering wheel. That's a good way to break your fingers, as the steering wheel can whip around violently from the tires contacting the ground. Better for the driver to have his or her own set of grab handles where the fingers will stay safe.
Keep up the good work!
Ryan Pope
Edgerton, WI

Editor: Good point. Many items we carry in our rigs don't survive a turn upside-down. Also, everything in a vehicle should be lashed down or secured, including yourself, in case of a roll.

The Hospital Rate
Reader: In your Apr. '09 4xForward, "Hospital Game," Editor Rick Pw mentions that reader Jeff Mello had a 75-percent running Hospital Rate. It has been a few years since my shoes have felt the grinding dust and my nose has smelled the welding flux burning in Jeff's workshop, but I just can't imagine Jeff being up to 75 percent. I don't know where he learned to count (California school system?) but last time I was at his place I'm sure there was more iron that couldn't possibly sputter to life. He must not have been counting the other two frames out back or the other body under the tarp...or the one with the 'Mog axles, and no motor or tranny, or the other at his dad's place that he didn't have room for. You get the picture.

Maybe it's the VIN requirement that he's counting on to get him up to 75 percent. Does it have to pass smog testing? Rick shouldn't feel that bad; 67 percent is respectable. Especially with the quantities listed. Heck, I'm at 100 percent right now, but it wasn't more than five months ago when I was at 67 percent and things were looking bad. My 67 percent was caused by a wheel bearing that got a bit of metal in it when flat towing for 2,000 miles. (I'm pretty sure I'm not the only person who has pulled a hub off and heard the ping ping ping of little bearings falling out onto the concrete.)
Philip Walton
Bentonville, AR

Editor: We got lots of responses to my Hospital Rate column, most of them good. But there was this other guy who thought it was a terrible idea to justify ownership of junk and ruining property values. Hey, in today's economy a derelict car on blocks in the front yard can probably improve property values!

Question of the Month--Answered!
Responses to last Month's Question:
Is an automatic or manual transmission better for four-wheeling and why?

I feel that manual is better because it offers better gear ratios and is more durable than an automatic. It also keeps all its fluids inside itself and does not require an external cooler. Lastly, all of the components are locked together mechanically (not hydraulically)--that gives the driver a better feel for what's going on. The automatic's only advantage is that it's easier to use in crawling situations because there is no clutch.
Mike Minnis
Augusta, KS

Manual, Also
I am a diehard manual transmission fan and believe that most people don't like them because, frankly, they don't know how to drive them. With a manual I feel more in control of my vehicle. I also have the option of a push-start, and when in the right gear I rarely have to touch the brakes. Long live the stick shift.
Zack Green

For me and the rest of the 'wheelers I have ever met, it's automatic all the way! They offer a faster, smoother, more reliable shift to allow maximum momentum, and we all know how important that is when in the middle of some serious slop! Some manuals have long-throw shifters and can be very sluggish. Not to mention you can drop your auto into First or Second and control it as if it were a manual tranny. For me, this is a no-brainer.
Dale Byers
Owosso, MI

Tough question. If I'm wheeling rocks or trails, I want a manual. If I'm wheeling mud or sand, I want an auto. The manual is less likely to overheat under harsh conditions, but if the clutch is not a heavy-duty model it can slip and cook both the flywheel and itself. For towing, manual is the best choice. Automatics are expensive to rebuild and keep cool, and they don't come strong enough from the factory. I like rowing through the gears of my manual, but I also like the no-brainer driving of my auto. So "undecided" is my final answer.
Troy "Kid" Chapel
Big Timber, MT

Editor: Twice as many readers who responded prefer manuals, but even more can go either way depending on the situation.
Manual:20 percent
Auto: 39 percent
On the fence: 41 percent

It all boils down to what you drive, how you drive, and where you go--and apparently how much of a control freak you are.

For next month's question we will be using the forums at, but as always you can contact us directly at

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