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Septemeber 2002 Letters To The Editor

Posted in Project Vehicles on September 1, 2002
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Where To Write
Address your correspondence to:
Four Wheeler
6420 Wilshire Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90048-5515.

All letters become the property of Four Wheeler, and we reserve the right to edit them for length, accuracy, and clarity. The editorial department also can be reached through the Web site at Due to the volume of mail, electronic or otherwise, we cannot respond to every reader, but we do read everything.

Top Truck Fan
Reader: First, when are you gonna bring the circus that has become Top Truck Challenge to the eastern portion of the country? Rocks may not be as available as they are out west, but we do have some.

Second, when are you going to do a Durango buildup? Sure, its a soccer-mom-mobile, but the soccer dads are very interested to see how much twist you could wring out of the IFS, solid rear combo.

Third, what is up with the Dirt Grips? They seem to be gaining high praise from you guys, but next to nobody sells them. How do they perform in the snow/ice? I desperately need new skins and I am very close to choosing the Grips based solely on your opinions. But being that the soccermobile is a daily driver/tow vehicle, it needs good manners on the street as well.

Lastly, I think you all deserve a raise, so take the rest of the day off, and tell the boss I said it's OK.
Joe Muller
Horsham, Pennsylvania

Editor: First, maybe sooner than later. We certainly have not given up on the idea of doing the Top Truck Challenge at sites other than Hollister, California. Wherever we do it, however, it's still likely to remain a closed event.

Second, we doubt if we ever will build a Durango. Though there is some interest in the Durango, we rarely see them on the trail, and there doesn't seem to be enough interest to impel manufacturers to build a variety of aftermarket parts for them.

Third, the open tread pattern we find on the Dirt Grip leads us to suspect that it would work well in snow. Nothing works very well on ice, except maybe Blizzacks, or studs. Our review, in the Jan. '02 issue, indicated that they work well on the street, but are not as quiet as all-terrain tires would be.

Finally, we know we all deserve raises, no news there; and as this is being written it's just about 5 p.m., so we do indeed intend to take the rest of the day off.

The Thornbird Solution
Reader: You guys are killing me! I have an easy solution to balancing your Thornbirds ("Letters," May '02). Buy a Volvo and go to the country club and whine at them! Sorry guys, are we losing site of what these tires are intended for? I too have a set of TSL Thornbirds. Guess what? I don't give a "jet-puffed Scout" about how perfectly balanced they are. All I know is in the past two years of owning them, rocks (granite in the Northeast) have torn chunks out of them, they accept low pressure without falling off the beads and they have had tire chains wrapped around them during winter

I guess what I'm trying to say is if you want to look at how well a tire is put together, try taking it apart. I bought my tires to match my vehicle after doing research such as talking to people about the type of tire I wanted, actually borrowing a set of like tires to try on my rig, price and compatibility with what I do with my rig. Just to get the record straight, I do drive a Jeep. So go cry in the corner with your little bottle of Armor-All, 'cause if your wheels aren't trashed, you ain't been 'wheeling.
David Knowles
Milford, New Hampshire

Editor: Easy there, big fellow. We're thrilled that you're having good luck with your Thornbirds, but the fact remains, readers have indicated that these tires seem to be built with less precision than we've all come to expect from other brands of tires, are more difficult to balance and therefore tend to be more difficult to live with on a daily basis.

Steamed Over Rice
Reader: The letter of the month for the June '02 issue absolutely blew me away. Now I don't want to offend anyone, but I have to vent a little. The letter from this gentleman stated that import 4x4s were "namby pamby rice-burners." Besides the obvious racial slur, lets look at the facts. Has he not heard of the Toyota Land Cruiser, a vehicle which could probably survive a nuclear blast? And what about the Nissan Xterra? If this "rice burner" is namby pamby then what, may I ask, isn't?

I was wheeling a friend's YJ with a 6-inch lift, Dana 60s, a built LT1, Detroit Locker and 37-inch mud tires. I got stuck. I walked home, got into my dads' stock '87 Toyota pickup, drove the same trail the built YJ did, drove around the Jeep and pulled it out with a strap! Namby pamby, eh?
Vince Skirzyk
Vancouver, British Columbia

Where's his IFS?
Reader: I have always been a hard-core Chevy buff, but I, like so many others, have been dismayed with the introduction of IFS as standard equipment on fullsize Chevy trucks. What will it take to make the (apparently hard of hearing) General stand up and take notice of the dissatisfaction of the public at large with this suspension? Some time ago I sent an e-mail to the General stating that myself and at least eight other people would come back to Chevy from Ford if a solid axle was offered at least as an option in the Heavy Duty series. I received the standard blow-off response thanking me for my input and that it would be put into consideration.

I have since (against my better judgment) purchased a new GMC Sierra crew cab dualie 4x4 with the Duramax/Allison combo. I rationalized that since this is my tow vehicle, I can live with the IFS. My future plans are to duplicate my last dualie that rode on 9 inches of lift (three of this in the form of a body lift for obvious reasons) and 38-inch Super Swampers. But I want a real axle. My list of eight other people has grown considerably since everyone loves my GMC but still they all say, "I don't want that #!***ing IFS!" The general dislike of this system is mentioned at least once in almost every issue of enthusiast magazines and talked about in these circles and any circle of people who truly use their trucks for work or play. How do we get the attention of the marketing people at GM? I hope you have ideas. Please reply.
Shawn Marin

Editor: Our best take on this is that you're fighting a losing battle because the manufacturers use IFS on their trucks to satisfy that vast majority of buyers who demand a smooth, car-like ride. That would be the public at large mentioned in your letter. The much smaller percentage of enthusiasts who want to seriously 'wheel their trucks doesn't make much of a ripple on GM's pond. That leaves you three courses of action if you want a heavy-duty 4x4 with a solid front axle. Buy a Ford Super Duty. Buy a Dodge HD. Or perform a solid-axle conversion on your GMC. And be glad that the manufacturers haven't yet turned to IRS.

Four Wheeler's "Letter of the Month" is the most interesting or informative letter we receive each month. The letter's author will be sent one of Four Wheeler's highly prized Four Wheeler license plates. So be sure to include your full name and address when you write Four Wheeler.

Letter Of The Month
IFS, or Not?
Reader: I know that solid axles are better for off-road use than independent suspension. However, I don't know the exact reason why. I've seen several articles in your magazine about independent suspension in new vehicles. I know that in the U.S. most SUVs are bought to be used as grocery-getters and are rarely taken off-road, and independent suspension is used for this reason, but are there any beneficial aspects to using independent suspension for off-road? Is there any hope for the SUV and truck business as far as bringing back solid front axles? Please explain to me the science behind solid axles being better off-road.
Joe Bender

Editor: It's simple, Joe. First, a vehicle with solid axles is much easier, and usually much less expensive, to lift than is a vehicle with independent suspension. Lifts are essential for the fitment of big tires, which are essential for the kind of 'wheeling most enthusiasts do. Second, solid axles tend to provide more wheel travel, especially in modified suspension systems, than do IFS/IRS systems. Wheel travel-especially droop-is important because if a tire is suspended in midair through lack of droop, as is often the case with independent systems when they encounter rugged terrain, it can't get traction. Third, in a related point, when a wheel on one end of a solid axle is pushed up into the wheelwell by a rock or a mound or a log or some other trail obstacle, the axle's mounting points work as fulcrums and the wheel on the other end of the axle is forced down into the trail. This is known as articulation, and is an important factor in insuring that all four wheels stay in contact with the driving surface. Next, IFS systems tend to use discrete differentials, and often aftermarket parts like lockers and alternate gearing aren't available for them. Solid axles tend to be familiar units like Ford 9-inchers, GM Corporate units, or units from Dana. There are all kinds of performance parts, including ratios and locker alternatives, for all of these. Finally, solid axles tend to be much stronger than IFS.

The downside of solid axles is that they almost always are heavier than IFS/IRS systems. This axle/differential weight and its movement has to be controlled by the vehicle's springs. Engineers would refer to that as unsprung weight. Unsprung weight is difficult to control, and this difficulty tends to detract from ride comfort because it requires stiffer shocks and springs. Independent systems tend to have less unsprung weight than solid-axle systems. With less unsprung weight, it's easier for engineers to come up with the kinds of spring and shock values that provide the kind of ride comfort many buyers of trucks and SUVs today require. So it is that one of the factors that the manufacturers have embraced to make their 4x4 vehicles sell better is exactly the factor that makes that same 4x4 vehicle less capable in four-wheeling situations. Ironic, no?

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