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March 2006 Letters To The Editor

Posted in Project Vehicles on March 1, 2006
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Address your correspondence to:
Four Wheeler
6420 Wilshire Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90048.

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 and otherwise, we cannot respond to every reader, but we do read everything.

Reader: Your coverage of Top Truck Challenge this year was awful. In fact, it was an embarrassment. You had nearly as many pages telling us about the prizes as you did covering the event. For all of the hype and hoopla you propagated about this event, the coverage was a real let-down.

Just so you don't feel that I'm only criticizing you, I will point to the coverage of the event last year. Each event received its own page in the magazine complete with reports of how each competitor fared. This type of coverage really allows for us readers to follow the competition because, unlike you, we are not there. This is the type of coverage we loyal subscribers want. I realize that you cover the event through video and over the Internet, but there are still some of us who like to read (and look at pictures) in a concrete medium. I had to search just to find the final standings!.

Come on, guys. If you are going to hype this event like you do, then you need to deliver the goods. Thanks for hearing my complaint, and I hope you revert your format to the superior coverage from the previous year.
Justin Devito
via the Internet

Reader: Waiting for the December '05 issue was almost too much. I couldn't wait to see what happened at Top Truck Challenge about the inevitable carnage. But then I opened up the cover and found some of what I believe is the shortest coverage I've seen. I don't know about other readers, but part of what draws me to TTC is reading about the rigs the month before and then finding out if what they have really works the next month. I want to hear about whose rig broke what, where, and the drama of the event.

You tell me that in the Tow Test, only one rig broke, but which one was it? Am I missing something? Then there is a spectacular pic of Josh Tippit's truck with the side of his bed smashed in. What happened? Most of us don't have TTC rigs, but we can dream about them and your magazine can throw us in to the drama. These competitors drove their rigs to the max, and I think it is owed to them and the readers to be told more of their story.

You got me-I'm gonna buy the video to see more. But the amount of time I spend with the video is nothing compared to the amount of time I spend with back issues of your magazine. It looks like Tippit destroyed his truck out there-yeah, you give him the cover shot and show his carnage, but your description of what happened is already explained by the picture itself. I was glad to see more pictures on your Web site, but again, where is the coverage? Where is the written description? How did those PTO winches work? What about the waterproofing? Do we all need to upgrade to Rockwells, or did the guys with lesser axles do just fine? Tell me more.
David VanEaton
via the Internet

Reader: Boy, you guys blew it. This year's TTC coverage just plain sucked. Great action, terrible story. Sorry, Ken, but I think you left for Montana before TTC even started. No play-by-play, just blah-blah-blah about each event. So I guess I have to buy the video, huh? Sorry guys, but I subscribed to a magazine, not a video club or a sales brochure.

Which brings me to my last point: Not one Nissan was voted in, but there's one in almost every picture. You guys even made the competitors wear the hats! Sorry, but your tribute to corporate sponsorship started on page 38 and ended when I puked in the margin. Get back to writing for the reader, or cancel my subscription.
via the Internet

Editor: How did the PTOs work? Great, so long as your engine's running. Waterproofing? Yeah, you need it. Rockwells? Well, last year's champion-who won by the biggest margin ever-runs plain ol' Dana 60s (OK, plain ol' Dynatrac 60s). Who broke in the Tow Test? What happened in the Tank Trap? Check out the Top Truck DVD! Which leads to the issues raised here:

Yes, we did significantly revise our coverage of TTC in the magazine this year. The reason for this was simple: With the expanded, in-depth exposure of Top Truck we now provide year-round via the Web site, the DVD, and our Four Wheeler TV series, it simply doesn't make sense for us to sacrifice a lot of increasingly valuable pages in the magazine to depict the kinds of action and carnage that are done better, more compellingly, and in greater detail by other available media.

One of the things that we can do better than video, though, is provide an up-close look at the technology and engineering that go into any given vehicle. We'd never done this before in relation to Top Truck, but we thought that a detailed and lengthy feature treatment of Jerry Duffy's winning Scrambler might help answer a question we're often asked, namely: "What does it take to build a winning TTC rig?"

About sponsorship: Sad but true, it takes money to hold an event like TTC (you ought to see our insurance premiums), and to produce the DVD and episodes of the TV series. We could always raise the price of your subscription to cover the costs, but we think it's more prudent to go the sponsorship route. Product placement? Sure, we do it ... and if you want to sign up as a sponsor next year, we'll put your picture on every page too.

Bottom line, we're never going to abandon Top Truck coverage altogether in these pages, but nowadays, with the growing popularity of digital media, let's just say we'll be doing things a little differently in the future. And for those of you who are still mad, don't blame Brubaker-he's not the boss.

Reader: This is a picture of our '05 Dodge Power Wagon. I work at a Dodge dealer in Chicopee, Massachusetts, and this is our marketing ploy. The funny thing is, we sold the Camaro-twice!!
Mark Zippin
via the Internet

Editor: You sold the same car twice? Ya gotta love those dealer ethics. But thanks for the pic anyway. Now we just need to keep a close eye on our in-house P/W fanatic to make sure he doesn't get any funny ideas for his next long-term report.

Reader: For most of my life I coveted four-wheel drive, but for many years I rarely went anywhere where four-wheel drive was absolutely required, and the cost just didn't seem justified. But about 25 years ago, I saw the light, and my family fleet has since included 4x4 SUVs. They go in our occasional ice and snow. They go on unpaved roads and trails that are inappropriate for cars and many trucks. They tow. They haul. They pull people from ditches and other stucks. Our current fleet is an '02 Yukon and an '05 AWD Pilot. Despite the newer Honda's significantly better mileage and better ride, the big Yukon is usually what we load up when we go anywhere.

Your readers often complain that your content is not relevant to what they do in their own lives. Well, that's true for me as well. We don't do most of the things you cover in your magazine. Too many of them involve what is, to me, work-a profane four-letter word I try to avoid doing or using! We're not into hard-core 'wheeling. I haven't been stuck in 25 years because I try to think before I go. If you can't fix it with duct tape, WD-40, or a hammer, it's outside my interest and probably my ability as well. But I'm not complaining about your content. Here's why:

Most of the car magazines and several truck magazines are on my subscription list. (I've subscribed to Motor Trend and several others almost since their inception.) The car magazines rarely test anything I would actually buy! When testing trucks and SUVs, the car guys always pick the best "car." Most of their content, as with much of yours, isn't relevant to what we actually do, but, it's all interesting and it's much better entertainment than anything (except football) found on television. Besides, I've learned a lot from them over the years.

Keep up the good work. I'm always delighted when your magazine is in my mailbox.
Wayne Middleton
Bartlesville, OK

Reader: Regarding the letter, "September Gripes" by Jamie Lee (Dec. '05): The kinds of information I need are just the opposite of Mr. Lee's. However, like Mr. Lee, I may be subscribing to the wrong magazine.

I live in western Wyoming, where snow averages more than 4 feet deep and drifts may get as high as 3 feet overnight. I could not give a darn about rockclimbing or some of the interests of Mr. Lee. What I need is information on just how to make my current vehicles compatible with the winter conditions here. My interests include winter tires, lockers front and rear, electronic braking to stop wheelspin, and so forth. Unlike Mr. Lee, I welcome articles about Lexus and Mercedes vehicles. Anything new to beat the climate here is welcome to me. Any article to improve my current K-1500 Chevrolet truck or Jeep Cherokee is welcome too, along with articles of newer vehicles that will do the job even better.

While my driving situation may not be as interesting as going through swamps and climbing rocks, it is a real-world situation that needs to be addressed. I understand the talent required for swamp or rock work, both the engineering of the vehicle as well as the driver's talent in using the vehicle. Perhaps you could see fit to spend some time on publishing information on real-world problems such as winter snow, as well as your other good articles.
Robert P. Giese
Bedford, WY

Editor: Well, you're certainly not subscribing to the wrong mag, we can tell you that much. Road tests of new 4x4s, and articles detailing the latest developments in new-model tech, have been part and parcel of Four Wheeler since Day 1, and we aim to continue the tradition for the foreseeable future. (Besides, if you were actually getting paid to go four-wheeling in a brand-new Range Rover, wouldn't you do it too?) However, we're still on the lookout for new parts and products to help older vehicles, as well as low-buck tech tips, which we'll focus on in an upcoming issue. And thanks for reminding us about winter weather-being headquartered in California, it's easy to forget about it sometimes. We'll be addressing the subject later in the year.

Reader: I'm a Nissan and Toyota dealer in northern Michigan, and just received my December '05 issue. The article on page 80 ("Project Nismo Frontier") caught my attention. I've been looking into lift kits for the Frontier, and the picture shows you've found one. We sell a good number of trucks, but the Frontier needs a little boost in the suspension department. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.
Glenn Cousineau
Traverse City, MI

Editor: Up to now, pickings have been slim for the Frontier-not surprising, as it's still a fairly new platform-but we know of a number of suspension manufacturers who are prototyping and R&D'ing lift kits for it at present, and a couple of them have already made their way to market. Stay tuned to these pages in the near future, and we'll keep you posted on new developments from the aftermarket as they happen.

Reader: I drive a '90 GMC Sierra 1500 regular-cab shortbed with the Z71 Off-Road Package. I am looking into the near future of lifting my truck 4 to 6 inches and putting 33- or 35-inch tires on it. I have been looking at lift kits for a while now and have decided on three manufacturers: Race Car Dynamics, Fabtech Motorsports, and Tuff Country. I have e-mailed all three companies asking questions without any responses. Maybe you guys can help? I live in Michigan, so my driving includes city streets littered with car-swallowing potholes, and dunes, mud, deep snow, forest trails, stumps, logs, and steep hills. My questions are:

How are the kits all alike? How are they different? Does one kit have an advantage over another? Is one kit particularly designed best for my driving habits? Will any of the kit's tractions bars fit my truck? If not, which set would be easiest to modify? Is suspension travel increased with any of these kits?
Matt Ledbetter
via the Internet

Editor: All three of the companies you mention make quality suspension products, and you'd likely do well with any of their applicable kits. But there are too many variables involved for us to make a definitive recommendation. We don't know what your general driving style is, how much time you spend on the Interstate versus the street, how much time you actually spend 'wheeling, or how much money you can afford for the upgrade. Granted, with torsion-bar IFS, your lift options will be somewhat limited over, say, a solid axle if you don't want to get into a lot of custom work, but we are seeing a greater variety of proven bolt-on suspension setups for '88-'98 IFS Chevys every day. For your more technical questions, you're best advised calling the respective companies' tech support lines and talking with their service reps. Sometimes, you need to do a lot of legwork-or phone work-to get all the answers you'll need, but in the end it'll be worth the extra effort knowing that you decided on the suspension upgrade that's right for you and your four-by based on cold, hard facts.

Reader: From Iraq: Defending Abu Ghraib
My name is Sgt. Baxter Stegall. I'm currently stationed in Iraq, with a Field Artillery unit of the Virginia Army National Guard. My wife recently sent me the newest issue of Four Wheeler. I tore into it with my usual fervor, looking for any interesting articles, ads, or tips I could use on any of my 4x4s (including an '04 KJ, '81 CJ-5, '80 CJ-7, '49 CJ-2A, and '88 Toyota pickup). Your magazine, along with many others from the Primedia Group, including 4WOR, 4WD&SU, Diesel Power, Off-Road, and Jp, have helped keep me sane while dealing with the sand and sun!

While looking through the November '05 issue, I came across the article on M1114s ("Number 1 ... With a Bullet"), and seeing the intro spread of the Crossed Swords, instantly thought, "Hey! I've been there!" As I continued reading, I recognized many places I've seen in the country, but was surprised to see the entrance gates to my assigned base, the notorious Abu Ghraib. I noted that Jerry Garrett mentioned the attack on this base in his story, and thought I'd elaborate a bit more.

On the evening of 2 April 2005, FOB Abu Ghraib came under attack by 45 to 60 armed insurgents, who attempted to use small arms, mortars, rockets, and car bombs to breach the walls of the base. They were repelled, and the U.S. forces stationed here withstood what has been termed the largest direct assault on a U.S. military base since Vietnam. (The attack didn't receive much press, because unfortunately the next day Pope John Paul II passed away.) I wanted to take a minute to commend those who won the battle. The real credit belongs to the brave men of 2/8 Marines and 3/10 Marines, from Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. These riflemen and fellow artillerymen were assigned as the perimeter security detail for our base, and they fought like savage animals to protect us all that night. Some of them were wounded, but none of them were killed. I can't say the same about the fate of our attackers. I accompanied some of these Marines on a patrol to eliminate remaining resistance just outside the gate pictured, and these Marines were truly top-drawer. I never found out how many of them were commended for their valor, but I guarantee you, they deserve every medal they get. I hope you can use your media influence to publicize their courageous actions, as the battle seems to have escaped the mainstream spotlight.

I thought I'd include a picture of an H2 [or what's left of one.-Ed.] near our FOB. It's not a great picture, but then again, it's not easy to shoot snapshots with digital cameras out of a machine gun turret at 60 mph. I'm not sure what happened to the vehicle, but thought you'd like to see that not all H2s are in the hands of soccer moms, and that at least one of these vehicles has lived up to its combat roots. Again, thanks for the great article on the troops over here, and for your continued support. My guys will be home soon, but I'll be sure to leave some of your magazines laying around for the next group to enjoy.

Thanks for your support, America!
SGT Baxter Stegal
Squad Leader
2d Sqd, 1st Plt
Det 1, B 2-111 FA
FOB Abu Ghraib

Editor: Duly noted, and much appreciated. A box of Four Wheeler license plates and other goodies is on its way to you and your guys at Abu Ghraib. Here's hoping we see you all Stateside soon.

Reader: Every month you test many new vehicles, and every year you put all the manufacturers up against each other. Here's a new twist: Instead of testing one vehicle from each manufacturer, why not all of them? I don't mean different kinds of trucks from the same manufacturer.

For example: Why not test a bunch of Toyota Tacomas? For instance, a stock four-cylinder; a stock six-cylinder; a TRD Off-Road package; a TRD Sport package; and so forth. I know it depends on which truck(s) the manufacturer sends you, but if you asked them for all the different models, they might send a few.

It would be nice to see how the differently equipped trucks do against each other. Maybe the four-cylinder has enough power on the highway; maybe the TRD Sport goes anywhere the TRD Off-Road goes; maybe the gas mileage between trucks is a really big difference, or maybe not so much.
Forrest Williams
via the Internet

Editor: It's a great suggestion, and if we had the resources to pull it off, we'd probably give it a whack. But as it is, it's tough enough rounding up enough staffers and freelancers for our Four Wheeler of the Year test once a year, let alone on a regular basis. We do like the idea of comparo-testing some vehicles that compete in the same class, though, and we'll be looking to organize a test or two like that during the year.

Reader: I recently purchased an '05 Dodge Power Wagon. I cannot get the front and rear wheels to lock in 4-Hi, but I can get them to lock when I am in 4-Lo. Is this normal?
the Internet

Editor: Yes. For reasons related to warranty and liability, the OE lockers only engage in low-range. The Jeep Wrangler Rubicon's factory lockers work the same way. We're working on a low-buck fix for this-stay tuned.

Reader: Does anyone make a 6-inch lift for a '98 Ford Ranger 4x4?
Kyle Carpenter
via the Internet

Editor: Ranger ace Sean Holman replies: RCD Suspension makes the best drop-bracket kit available (5 inches), because it eliminates the torsion bars and replaces them with Bilstein coilover shocks. However, you might have to swap from a pulse-vacuum hub front axle to a live frontend by swapping in live-style brakes, wheel bearings, and axles for use with the RCD spindle, because the PVH version of the lift isn't out yet, as far as I know.

Looking for old copies of Four Wheeler? We do keep some of them around-but only copies from the current year and the previous calendar year are available. For back issues, call toll-free 866/848-2413 and specify the issue (month and year) you are looking for. The cost is $9.00 per magazine, which includes shipping and handling.

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