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June 2008 Letters To The Editor

Posted in Project Vehicles on June 1, 2008 Comment (0)
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Where To Write
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 www.fourwheeler.com. Due to the volume of mail, electronic and otherwise, we cannot respond to every reader, but we do read everything.

Pickup Truck Comments & Critiques
Reader: I read your report on your choice of the 2008 Ford Super Duty as Pickup of the Year (Mar. '08). I'm not going to complain about your choice-you picked what you felt was the best truck of the group. But I would like to offer an alternative perspective.

First, I should tell you I'm a dyed-in-the-wool Ford guy. Seven of the nine vehicles I've owned have been Fords (the exceptions were the Buick my wife owned when I met her, and a CJ-5). I put 182,000 miles on my first Ford truck (an '85 F-250) and 148,000 on my second (a '95 F-150). So I was pretty excited when I ordered a 2008 F-250 and took delivery of it in May 2007.

I loathe this truck. The three biggest problems are ones your truck wouldn't have had: The 5.4L Triton V-8, its engine management system, and the M6OD transmission.

The 5.4 Triton simply isn't a 3/4-ton truck engine. It'd be nice in a Mustang, and probably acceptable in a 1/2-ton, but it makes no power below 3,000 rpm. I've almost never had to run a truck engine above 3,000 rpm before (my other pickups both had 351 Windsors), and now I can't do anything but cruise below it-and I can't even cruise below 3,000 if the truck is loaded. I know I could have had all the low-end torque I'd ever want if I'd have been willing to pay an extra $7,000 for the diesel. But I'd always been perfectly satisfied with the 351W so it didn't seem like I should need to pay that much for an acceptable truck engine.

Making it even worse is the M6OD trans. I don't like automatics, so I was glad that I at least could get a manual. But this isn't a 3/4-ton truck transmission-it's a 21/2-ton tranny. And overkill isn't always a good thing. If I had a 600-lb-ft torque-monster engine, I'd maybe be willing to put up with the slow shifting that a heavy-duty transmission requires. But backing a Mustang engine up with a dump-truck transmission was not a "Better Idea."

Also completely unacceptable is the engine management system that provides no compression braking (it keeps the throttle open while coasting), doesn't allow effective double-clutching (it doesn't let the engine slow down fast enough to let the engine help slow down the oversized gears in the tranny), and doesn't allow you to slowly back a trailer in low-low (it keeps opening the throttle so you have to slip the clutch and ride the brakes. My old trucks would lug down the engine with the clutch completely engaged and maybe a light foot on the brake).

Any one of these three would make the truck completely unacceptable to me. In addition, there are scores of annoyances that I'd maybe be willing to accept if I otherwise liked the truck. Those big mirrors you like for towing require me to drive my wife's car to the bank drive-through (my old trucks fit); they don't slide in far enough to be effective without a wide load; and they cause road spray to collect on the side windows so you can't see the mirrors anyway. The cab is too high for my slide-in camper (I had to fasten 2x4s on edge to the bottom of the camper so it'd clear). The back edge of the tailgate is curved, so a topper window has to be flexed to allow it to latch. Styling, of course, is a personal thing, but while you like the look, I find it extremely in-your-face, which I don't like. Especially the gaudy chrome grille (at least I was able to get an XL with the black grille). I used to laugh at the mid-'80s Chevys that had such an identity crisis that they had to have "4x4" logos on both rear fenders to tell everyone what it was. This truck has eight "Super Duty" logos on it. To me, this screams "look at me, I'm insecure and trying to compensate."
Bob Wahlstedt
Roseville, MN

Reader: OK guys, I've been quiet long enough. I've been a subscriber to this great magazine since 1974 when I bought my first 4x4, a new IH 200, which I owned for 22 years. The ol' Binder is gone now (thanks to my ex), but the big reason for this letter is about the 2008 Pickup Truck of the Year. I don't have any issues with your choice, and I understand why and how you pick the winner. I was a little disappointed that GM didn't have more than one truck there.

I've been partial to Cummins engines for a long time, and therefore somewhat interested in the big Dodge, so when I saw it in the lineup, I had to read your comments. While I agree it isn't the best off-highway, or the best trail rig, I had to laugh when I saw the last picture where it was stuck clear to the axles. Like someone put the pedal to the metal, and kept it there while it downshifted all the way to First gear, and kept going until all forward motion stopped when the front diff hit the dirt. Having never had a truck with a limited-slip diff, I've learned to turn off the testosterone and not let things get that bad, especially when I'm alone. My son did the same thing in a snowdrift a few winters back. He wasn't too happy when I pulled his big Chevy out with me Explorer. What happened to: "Hey, stop before it gets that deep"? Or, "Hey let some air out of the tires first! We don't have a limited-slip here."? Then feather the throttle just enough to move the truck without breaking traction. Simple! But hindsight is always 20/20.

Torque is the enemy when driving in deep sand, as you found out with the Ram. Plus its 7,000 pounds didn't help much. I agree the Cummins should be an option for the Power Wagon-when is Dodge going to wake up?
Jim Crandall
Elko, NV

Reader: The butler did it ... again! As a long-time subscriber (15+ years), I always look forward to getting my monthly issues from you. I normally read them cover to cover, and I wanted to say that the last two issues have been extremely disappointing because you give away your winners for FWOTY and PTOTY right on the cover of each issue (Feb., Mar. '08) This decision seems to have been a last-minute change by someone at FW since the "On the Cover" text in the Table of Contents for both issues refers to a different (nonexistent) photo. If the intent of the change was to draw more people to buy newsstand copies, you may have had the opposite result. Why buy the issue when the answer is printed in bold font on the cover? Your editorial mentions reading the article to find out who comes out on top. Well, you already spoiled it. It's like publishing a mystery novel with the whodunit in the cover title. Of course, I still read the article to get details on each vehicle and compare the specs between them all.

I really enjoy your magazine but wanted to share my frustration with these latest spoilers and hope you reconsider this approach in the future.
Dave Wurts
Tiny Town, CO

Editor: Thanks for the suggestions. The discrepancy in the Table of Contents reflected the fact, as you surmised, that we did have two separate covers-one for the newsstand and one for subscribers-and one of the local bozos (er, editors) around here forgot to include that info on the Contents page. In other words, it wasn't a last-minute decision-we just goofed. We're always trying out new approaches on our covers to see what works and what doesn't with our readers, and we appreciate any and all feedback about our cover treatments. Thanks again.

About the big Ram: As a rule, we usually don't air down the tires on our test rigs during our FWOTY and PTOTY tests, preferring instead to "run 'em as they brung 'em" straight from the factory. This gives us a chance to test each tire at the manufacturers' recommended inflation pressures, and also to simulate how most everyday (i.e., non-hardcore) wheelers would run these (stock) rigs in the dirt. Also, while we realize we lose some tire adhesion by not airing down, we also minimize the chances of sidewall failure, which strikes us as an acceptable trade-off-we'd rather yank a stuck rig out of the sand than have to reseat a bead, or change a tire and wheel, on the trail. Finally, in our defense, the pilot of the stuck Ram was a grizzled 20-year veteran of the Rubicon and Moab who had never, ever gotten stuck on any trail before. On a related note, our Editor's nose is getting longer these days-and it was already pretty big to begin with.

About the Super Duty: You make some very perceptive observations. If we need some extra testdrivers for PTOTY next year, we'll keep you in mind. Can you handle Southern California in November?

More On Pickups And Missing Prices
Reader: I'd like to say that I've been a longtime reader of your magazine, and thank you for putting out such a high-quality publication. I read your March issue and have two suggestions. While they may just be picking at nits, I do feel that both suggestions would make for a better magazine.

First: Your 2008 PTOTY article. While the Hummer H2 SUT is, no doubt, a great truck, I'm pretty sure it's an SUV with a small bed-not a pickup truck-and should therefore be included in your Four Wheeler of the Year contest instead. I understand that with trucks like the H2 SUT, the Avalanche, the Ridgeline and others, the line between SUVs and pickup trucks has become somewhat blurred. My suggestion would be to let the readers decide which category to put them in via a reader poll. I think this might more accurately reflect readers' opinions on them, and may help with future articles about such trucks.

Second, I was quite interested in Robin Stover's response to the reader wanting to purchase your Project Teal Brute. It would be quite helpful if you would add a line or two in each of your buildup articles about the final cost of the build. This would be quite helpful for readers that want to do such buildups on their own trucks, as it would give them some idea of what to expect from a cost standpoint. Thanks for your time, and thanks again for a great magazine.
Burton Zender
Tiffin, OH

Editor: By now, we have received enough reader response over the last two years of testing that we've decided to make changes to our PTOTY evaluation starting next year: Namely, the field of "pickup trucks" will be limited to those vehicles that have a dedicated chassis/cab configuration with a detachable bed. So-called SUTs like the Avalanche will be tested as SUVs in the future. How about them apples?

On the subject of "blurred lines": One segment of the 4x4 market that has grown by leaps and bounds over the years has been the so-called "crossover" or XUV market. Back in the day, we used to trail-test rigs like Subarus, AMC Eagles, and Audi Quattros, even if they didn't have a low-range gear, and frankly, we're thinking about staging some kind of "Crossover of the Year" test similar to Four Wheeler of the Year in the future. (Don't worry, we won't put a Subaru on the cover.) Based on our own driving experiences, some of these vehicles are actually quite capable in the dirt, and we'd be willing to guess that more than a few of you (or your wives, or your in-laws) have one of these rigs in your garage as a daily driver. Would anyone be interested reading about such a test? If so, how should we conduct it? (And no, "Drive 'em off a cliff" doesn't count as an answer.)

About prices: You're not the only reader who's written in with this question...

Reader: I like your mag, but one thing irks me-you never put prices in your stories. How much for new parts, or for rebuilds? You could include approximate prices (somewhere in the ballpark-it doesn't have to be exact). So why no prices?
Lou Hockel
Las Vegas, NV

Editor: As a rule, we refrain from including price information in our tech articles due to the fact that prices can, and do, change over time. This might not be a tremendous problem for readers of this magazine from month-to-month, but a reader who stumbles upon, say, a three-year-old tech story on our Web site wouldn't likely be getting accurate pricing information from such a story. And nowadays, with the prevalence of the Internet, getting current and up-to-date price information is as easy as logging onto a manufacturer's Web site and running a simple search.

What Happens To Old Project Parts?
Reader: I've noticed that you have changed the Teal Brute's suspension a few times, and I was just wondering what you do with the old parts? I hope you don't just throw them out because there are poor college kids like myself who would be glad to buy a good used lift kit, and that kit would go great with my new TJ. I'm also pretty sure you did a couple of axle swaps, too. Again, you should sell them to your most loyal readers such as myself. Thanks for the great magazine, and keep doing the great job.
Ricky Borchert
Meriden, CT

Reader: I'm just curious as to what happens to all the leftover bits from project rigs? I've been following project "Project Ain't It Grand(er)" because I have a '95 ZJ that I'm making plans for (wife willing) and was wondering if any of those parts, like the old Teraflex lift, would be for sale?
Rob Groeger
Springbook, Alberta, Canada

Editor: It all depends. Many of these parts end up being swapped into other vehicles among our project fleet, some are sent back to the manufacturer for further testing after we're done with them, and some end up as junk. (The Teal-J's original Dana axles, for instance, were corroded beyond repair at the time we retrieved the vehicle, hence our Dynatrac 60 swap.) More pointedly, up to now we haven't sold used parts or project rigs to the public primarily for reasons related to liability. (We've had a lot of nervous lawyers around here in the past.) However, we are discussing amongst ourselves the feasibility of selling some parts and/or vehicles in the future. We'll let you know if we're finally able to do it.

Wants New Titan Axle Info
In your review of the new Nissan Titan Pro-4X (Feb. '08), you said that they upgraded the rear axle with a stronger aluminum diff cover, inner/outer bearing materials and seals, and a four-pinion setup. Is this just on the Pro-4X, or is it also on the 4x4 SE crew-cab model?
Jonathan Pierce
Huntsville, AL

Editor: The rear axle has been strengthened on all Titan models for 2008. Sorry we weren't clearer about that.

Wants 4x4 Snowplow Info
Reader: Through the years you guys have given me great ideas, but how about a practical article on snowplowing? Information on vehicle types, optional wheels, tires, size of plow, and so on could be interesting reading.
John Owen
Lake George, NY

Editor: We floated this suggestion past Senior Editor Brubaker at our Midwest Bureau. He certainly knows his way around a snowdrift or two-and he shovels his fair share of it just to get out of his driveway each winter-and he liked the idea so much, he's working on an article which we'll be running later in the year. Thanks for writing in.

Real Jeeps Have Round Springs ... Don't They?
Reader: I own an '03 Jeep Wrangler X, and I was looking into leaf-spring suspensions. I don't know much about them and I was looking for some information about what they can do for my rig. Pros and cons for this subject are something I am looking for, as well as what are the best types to look for, and what to look for in a good leaf-spring suspension. Any help in this area would be a great help.

One more thing: I was looking for places to go out and play in central Texas, and maybe some clubs. Thanks again-can't wait to hear back.
John
Fort Hood, TX

Editor: First off, if you're thinking about converting your present Jeep to leaf springs, do yourself a big favor and trade it in for a low-mileage '87-'96 Wrangler YJ, which has leaf springs and all the mounting pads, brackets, and shock towers already in place. Converting your TJ to leaf springs, by contrast, will take a fair amount of time, money, and fabrication skills-and frankly, it probably won't improve overall trailability a whole lot over your stock setup. We could write a whole book about this subject, but long story short: Leaf springs are low-tech, relatively inexpensive, easy to work with, and provide lateral stability as well as load-carrying capability. On the other hand, they're tuned to flex at a certain fixed rate, and ride quality on bumpy trails can often be harsh. Coils require control arms and track bars to help provide stability, and they utilize more complex geometry, but they can also be tuned to variable rates for a smoother ride on uneven terrain. If you're looking for custom spring makers, two of the best are out here in California-Deaver Spring (www.deaverspring.com) and National Spring (www.nationalsprings.com). But once again, if it was up to us, we'd leave your TJ Wrangler just as it is, round springs and all.

Clubs? There are quite a few in Austin, including the Austin Four Wheelers (www.austin fourwheelers.org), the Central Texas 4WD Club (geocities.com/centex4x4club), and the Texas Trail Riders (www.txtrailriders.com). A great wheelin' spot that's not far from you-a two-hour drive at most-is Katemcy Rocks (katemcyrocks.com) near Mason.

Gear Swap For Slight-Lift Silverado
Reader: I currently drive a Chevy Silverado Z/71 with stock 3.42:1 gears. I have added some larger tires, 285/70R17, and figure I've probably got something like 3.30:1s now. My question is, what do you suggest for changing gears? I saw a set of 4.56:1s for a few hundred bucks, but what do you guys think? I am more than likely going to get some sort of lift, larger tires, and start towing eventually (I also wouldn't mind a little more oomph for now), but I figured I would start here. Any help would be appreciated.
Michael Chachakis
Port Jefferson Station, NY

Editor: According to our records, your stock tires should've been 265/70R17s, which is the metric equivalent of a 31.6-inch-tall tire. If your information is correct, your new tires, at 32.7 inches, are barely an inch taller than the rubber they replaced. Given such an incremental gain in diameter, you don't absolutely need to swap gears, but we'd probably recommend going to 3.73:1s anyway since that ratio was standard for '05 Silverados with the Z/85 Towing Package. Otherwise, if we were you, we'd wait until you'd finished lifting the vehicle and installing larger tires before re-gearing any further. One last thing we would remind you about, though: you did recalibrate your speedometer, right?

Wants Old Ford To Pass Cali Emissions
Reader: How can I find out what modifications to my vehicles are legal and will pass the smog test in California. A friend of mine has a '77 Ford F-150. He made a few small changes, and he had to put the truck completely back to original to pass smog. Please help if you can.
George Eads
Marina, CA

Editor: Without knowing what kinds of modifications were made, the engine's state of tune, or the condition of the exhaust, this is a virtually impossible question to answer definitively. One thing to look for is the presence of any aftermarket parts that have been bolted onto the engine to improve power and performance-the intake manifold, carburetor or EFI conversion, air filter, headers and the like. Don't forget the muffler and exhaust. There's also the crankshaft and pulley, camshaft, ignition coil, fuel lines, and filters ... well, the list goes on. Just about any aftermarket component that affects engine performance needs to be "CARB-certified" to have a chance to pass emissions. What's that? CARB stands for California Air Resources Board, and that's the bureau that sets emissions standards for the state-and since California's smog laws are the toughest in the nation, a CARB-certified part should be emissions-legal in any state. Each CARB-certified part will have what's called an E.O. (Executive Order) number, and should come with an exemption sticker with the number on it when you purchase the part. It's good to have all those stickers and numbers handy when you go for the sniffer test, because the folks who administer the test will have no way of memorizing all the CARB-legal parts that are out there.

Now, even if all of your underhood hop-ups are legal, your 30-year-old engine might not pass the tailpipe test anyway, and this could be due to countless factors. (One of the most common is that some of the old '70s-vintage emissions components can fail over time.) Our best advice is to have an experienced engine mechanic have a look at your vehicle and run some diagnostic tests before you hit the smog station. You can also log on to the CARB Web site (arb.ca.gov) and check their database for information.

Wants E-Brake For 205 T-Case
Reader: I'm looking for a parking-brake assembly for an NP205 transfer case. I've heard they are out there, but I'm having trouble locating them. Any info would be great.
Don Terry Jr.
Lakehurst, NJ

Editor: High Angle Driveline (www.highangledriveline.com) offers a kit for 205s with fixed yokes. Tom Wood's Custom Driveshafts (www.4xshaft.com) also had a 205 kit at one time to fit 1350 CV-joints. They may still have some in stock.

Looking For Blazer Soft Top
Reader: I have a '91 Chevy K-5 Blazer and I'm looking for a soft top for it. I do not wish to drill into the body to install snaps, however. I was wondering if you could direct me to a manufacturer that sells a top where there is minimal drilling required.
Ryan
Newton, NC

Editor: This was a tougher question than we thought. A company called Specialty Tops (formerly Kayline) had a full line of fullsize SUV tops, but the company has gone out of business. Off Road Design (www.offroaddesign.com) lists some discontinued Bestop soft tops for Blazers for sale in its catalog, but otherwise we drew a blank. Readers?

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