Trucks, They Are A-Changin'
And by that we don't mean the usual round of product introductions that happens every few years. We mean significant changes in the very definition of what makes a truck a truck, as well as technological changes that are just around the corner.
Is It a Truck or Not? First, the definition part. As reported in Automotive News, Dr. Jeffrey Runge, administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), is looking to rewrite the agency's definition of what makes a truck a truck in an effort to revamp the government's fuel economy standards and improve vehicle safety.
As it stands now, most SUVs, crossover SUVs, and minivans are classified by the government as "trucks," even though their primary purpose is moving people. They earn this definition because they share traits with traditional trucks, like having a flat load floor (once all those pesky seats are removed) or being built off of a truck chassis. As "trucks," these vehicles don't have to meet the same strict fuel economy standards as cars.
This, of course, is why radical members of the anti-SUV crowd are accusing SUV owners of aiding Middle Eastern terrorists.
But it also correlates with some of the safety issues dogging SUVs right now. As fuel economy standards for cars have gotten stricter, cars have gotten smaller and lighter to reach the mileage goals. Trucks, on the other hand, haven't had to. They're as big as ever, and more popular than ever. So more of them are sharing the road with the smaller, lighter cars. The result: hand-wringing over what happens when a big SUV hits a tin-can of a passenger car.
By changing how trucks are defined, Runge hopes to cure both ills-increase fuel economy standards for those so-called "trucks" that are actually no more than big cars, while at the same time leveling the current mismatch between big and small vehicles when they collide.
While no clear way to change the definition has been chosen, it will probably have to do with vehicle weight, since shedding pounds from an SUV will both improve its fuel economy and put it on a more equal footing with a car it might hit. The easiest way to make a truck lighter is not to put it on a diet but to make it smaller. So fullsize SUVs as we know them today may be going the way of the land yachts of the '70s and early '80s.
The Hybrids are Coming Truck makers aren't waiting for the government to act; they're seeking their own solutions to truck fuel economy. For many, the answer lies in hybrid powertrains. Ford, GM, Dodge, and Lexus all have plans to build either gasoline/ electric or diesel/electric drive systems for trucks and/or SUVs. We've yet to drive one of these hybrid trucks, but we're eager to see how well they work in an off-road environment. Lord knows we'd like to spend less money at the gas pump.
This Just In
*Are ATVs dangerous? Yes, says a report by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). As reported in the Los Angeles Times, the CPSC's report found that the number of ATV injuries requiring emergency room treatment rose 104 percent from 1997 to 2001. Yet the same report said ATV sales rose 124 percent during that period, so it sounds like the machines are actually getting safer, not riskier. One grim statistic from the report: Of the more than 4,500 Americans killed while riding ATVs between 1982 and 2001, nearly 40 percent were under age 16. Watch those kids, dammit!
*Does your new 6.0L Power Stroke engine stall out when the weather is cold? Apparently Ford has been having some trouble with an injection control pressure sensor, which results in problems like stalling, bucking, and making lots of black smoke. If that sounds like your truck, take it to your dealer. It's not your driving.
*On the heels of the successful H2, Hummer is planning on an H3 and even an H4, says Automotive News. The H3 will be a downsized SUV, built on the same platform as GM's new-generation Colorado and Canyon midsize pickups, and is in the works for 2006. No word on what the H4 will be
*Speaking of the new GM trucks, it looks like they won't cause the immediate demise of the S-10. Not yet, anyway. GM will build crew-cab Chevy S-10s and GMC Sonomas for a couple more years, since demand for four-door compact trucks will outstrip what the General can make at first on the new midsize platform.
*Do you carry a VISA card from the AAA? If so, you're entitled to a 5-percent rebate every time you buy gasoline or diesel fuel with it "at any automated fuel pump worldwide." The maximum rebate is $3 per day, and the credit will show up on your credit card statement. For more info, go to the AAA's Web site: www.aaa.com.
*Some industry analysts feel diesel will be the "next big thing" in automotive powerplants as a means of cutting fuel use, but Bob Lutz doesn't agree. Interviewed at the Geneva Auto Show and quoted in Automotive News, GM's vice chairman said new Tier 2 clean-air standards in the U.S. (which go into effect between now and 2009) are "so severe that even the cleanest of European diesels with the technology known today are not going to pass." While it's true we'll be getting cleaner diesel fuel starting in 2006, even that won't help, Lutz said.
Celebrate Cherokee's 20th!
It hardly seems possible that 20 years have gone by since Jeep introduced the XJ. But it was two decades ago this fall that the Cherokee was introduced as an '84 model. The North American XJ Association (NAXJA) is commemorating the Cherokee's birthday with a 20th anniversary celebration to be held October 6-12 in Moab.
The event will include trail rides, a show-n-shine, special evening activities, and a raffle. Plus, a fully-built XJ will be given away by the association. For more information, visit NAXJA's Web site: www.naxja.org.
RecallsIf you own one of the following vehicles and haven't been notified by the maker that your vehicle is under recall, get yourself down to your local dealer to find out if the recall affects your 4x4.
*'03 Chevrolet Avalanche and Suburban, GMC Yukon XL: During "a 30-degree left angle frontal impact of sufficient severity," says the NHTSA, a tear could develop in the mid-frame crossmember at its attachment to the left framerail, and that tear could be sharp enough to puncture the fuel tank.
*'02 Nissan Xterra, Frontier: On supercharger-equipped trucks, under certain conditions (wide-open throttle when the engine is still cold), the amount of intake flow through the airflow meter "may exceed the maximum preset diagnosis limit value," say the Feds, resulting in the engine going into failsafe mode. Dealers will reprogram the ECU to fix the problem.
*'01-'03 Nissan Xterra, Frontier: On some 4x4 models, water may enter the rear axlehousing due to inadequate sealing of the ABS sensor, resulting in corrosion and eventual failure of the wheel bearing. If this occurs, the wheel assebly could separate from the vehicle. Dealers will inspect the rear axle for water intrusion and replace any affected components.
*'01 Nissan Xterra, Frontier: On certain models, the fuel-tank inlet shutter valve does not meet spec for sealing performance. This could lead to fuel spillage under certain conditions as the tank is being filled, which could lead to fire should an ignition source be present. Dealers will replace the fuel tank inlet shutter valve.
*'03 Nissan Frontier XE: An incorrect size spare-tire wheel was provided on certain V-6-equipped trucks. When installed on the front of the vehicle, the wheel rim will contact the brake caliper, which could result in wear on the caliper and/or wheel rim. Continued usage of the spare-tire wheel at the front location can also result in loosening the lug nuts and deteriorating braking performance. Dealers will replace the spare-tire wheel with a new one, and remount the spare tire on it.
Dog Days Of Summer To Test Diesels
Are you proud of your diesel truck? Figure it's the biggest, baddest 4x4 around? Want a chance to prove it? Take your shot at the first annual Dog Days of Summer truck event June 27-28 in Aberdeen, Idaho.
Hosted by Bully Dog Technologies, maker of performance parts and accessories for diesel pickups, Dog Days will feature two events where diesel truck owners can test their rigs' performance potential: a sled pull and a dyno test. The top three finishers in each event will be awarded cash and prizes, say the Bully Dog folks.
If you want to put your oil burner to the test, contact Bully Dog for all the event details: 208/397-3200 or www.bullydog.com.
Political & Environmental Watch
Our friends at SEMA's Washington, D.C., office have been keeping a close eye on legislation that could affect our hobby. If any of these bills affects vehicle regulations in your state, be sure to contact your local representative to express your view on how he or she should vote on the issue. They are, after all, your representative in government. If you're not sure how to get in touch with your local law makers, visit this link on SEMA's Enjoy the Drive Web site for assistance: www.enjoythedrive.com/legislative/contact_legislator.asp. More information on all of these bills is also available on Enjoythedrive.com or SEMA.org.
*Greenhouse Gas Emissions: Following California's lead, Connecticut, Hawaii, and New York have introduced legislation to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, including carbon dioxide. In all three cases the regulations are similar to California's and won't take effect until 2009. SEMA sees all of these bills-S.B. 712 (Connecticut), S.B. 1681 (Hawaii) and A.B. 4082 (New York)-as "back-door efforts by environmentalists to set fuel-economy standards, an authority exclusively reserved for the Federal government. Because carbon dioxide is given off whenever gasoline is burned, the only way to cut emissions is to make vehicles that burn less gasoline or vehicles driven by electricity or other means." SEMA urges you to contact your legislator to oppose these bills.
*Emissions Inspection Exemption: Arizona's legislation that would exempt motor vehicles 25 years old or older from the state's mandatory emissions inspection and maintenance program has been renumbered. Formerly known as H.B. 2387, it's now H.B. 2238. SEMA encourages you to contact your legislator in support of this bill.
*Aftermarket Exhaust Ban: Massachusetts has been trying to ban the sale or installation of "an exhaust system which has been modified in a manner which will amplify or increase the noise emitted by the exhaust" by introducing a number of bills. The most recent is H.B. 1722. Contact your legislator to oppose this bill.
*Aftermarket Lightbar Ban: West Virginia has introduced a bill-S.B. 370-that would only allow OEM lightbars. This bill would effectively ban the sale, installation, and use of aftermarket lightbars equipped with aftermarket lighting equipment intended for off-highway use. The bill also mandates that the lights be installed or aimed under the direction of the vehicle manufacturer. Obviously we're against this one too.
Calendar Of Events
June 5-7 Annual Moab Off-Road Adventure, two days of guided 4WD trails in Moab, UT. Information: www.moaboffroadadventure.com.
June 6-8 13th Daniel Boone Jeep Jamboree, Slade, KY. Information: Jeep Jamboree USA, 530/333-4777, www.jeepjamboreeusa.com.
June 6-8 12th Canyon de Chelly Jeep Jamboree, Chinle, AZ. Information: Jeep Jamboree USA, 530/333-4777, www.jeepjamboreeusa.com.
June 7 Twisted Trails 2003, Martinsburg, NY. Information: Twisted Axles 4WD Club, 315/675-9788.
June 7-8 CORR Lucas Oil Series Mole Lake Regency Casino Off-Road Championships, Antigo, WI. Information: CORR, 317/272-2827, www.corracing.com.
June 8 Off-Rodeo, Eerie, PA. Information: Erie County Mudmushers, 814/739-2945.
June 8 Mud bog, Somerset, PA. Information: Fayette County Four Wheelers, 301/264-3718.
June 8 Sand drags and mud bog, Bath, NY. Information: Bahoggers 4-Wheelers, 607/776-1185.
June 13-15 11th Drummond Island Jeep Jamboree No. 1, Drummond Island, MI. Information: Jeep Jamboree USA, 530/333-4777, www.jeepjamboreeusa.com.
June 13-15 Jeepster/Commando Jam, Boone, NC. Information: Eastern Chapter of the American Jeepster Club, 704/578-1180, www.dem.com/ajcec/.
June 13-15 North American Rock Crawlers Association event, Goldendale, WA. Information: NARRCA, 530/622-0370, www.calrocs.com.
June 14 Mud race, Norwalk, OH. Information: Firelands 4WD Club, 419/668-2464.
June 14-15 Northeastern U.S. Rock-crawling and Off-road Championship, Paragon Adventure Park, Hazelton, PA. Information: NEUROC, 570/384-0550, www.neuroc.com
June 14-15 Offroad Mountain Madness, Kempton, PA. Information: County Line Rough Riders, 610/298-8556.
June 19-22 Herring Creek 2003, for all International Scouts, pickups, Travelalls, and so on, Stanislaus National Forest, CA. Information: Black Dawg Scouts, 209/533-4776, www.wac.com/~blkdawg.
June 20-22 4th Drummond Island Jeep Jamboree No. 4, Drummond Island, MI. Information: Jeep Jamboree USA, 530/333-4777, www.jeepjamboreeusa.com.
June 20-22 6th Penn's Woods Jeep Jamboree, Bradford, PA. Information: Jeep Jamboree USA, 530/333-4777, www.jeepjamboreeusa.com.
June 20-22 Kansas Krunch III, Shields, KS. Information: Heartland Off-Road Association, 620/275-7738, www.heartlandoffroad.org.
June 20-22 Tennessee Off Road Challenge, Monteagle, TN. Information: Tennessee Off Road, 615/248-8638, www.tennesseeoffroad.com/files/torc_2003/index.htm.
June 21 4x4 Quest Off-Road Training, Hungry Valley SVRA, Gorman, CA. Information: 818/ 370-3582, www.4x4quest.com.
June 21 Summer Blast, Cleves, OH. Information: Whisky City Racing Team, 812/537-5455.
June 21-22 CORR Lucas Oil Series Forest County Potawatomi Brush Run, Crandon, WI. Information: CORR, 317/272-2827, www.corracing.com.
June 21-22 Spring Warmup, Norwalk, OH. Information: Firelands 4-Wheelers, 419/994-4847.
June 21-28 United Four Wheel Drive Associations Annual Meeting, Little America Resort, Flagstaff, AZ. Information: UFWDA, 800/448-3932, www.ufwda.org.
June 26-22 Camp Jeep, at the Oak Ridge Estate in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Nelson County, VA. Information: 800/789-5337, www.jeep.com.
June 26-29 Vegas to Reno (NV) off-road race. Information: Best in the Desert, 702/457-5775, www.bitd.com.
June 28 Trail ride in Heflin, AL, by the Off Road Sportsman Association. Information: 770/478-2587, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
June 28 The MDR 400, Lucerne Valley, CA. Information: Mojave Desert Racing, 626/442-9320, www.mdrracing.com.