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Rough Country News

  • Jeep hybrids are on the horizon

    For years, drivers of all kinds have appreciated the power and capabilities that a Jeep can bring. The classic SUV has long been a favorite for everything from off-roading to family travel, thanks in large part to its excellent blend of safety, fuel economy and ability. While tradition has helped propel this vehicle to the forefront of the off-road driving industry, a few changes on the horizon may make the vehicle a bit more eco- and user-friendly. 

    Jeeps are getting more eco-friendly
    According to Drive, the introduction of a hybrid Jeep is inevitable - at least according to some of the brand's officials. Although Jeep has already added an EcoDiesel option, the inclusion of a hybrid is still in the distant future. 

    "We are absolutely looking at different things in that field, and we are very active behind the scenes in the development of these systems and how it fits into our profile," Steve Bartoli, one of Chrysler's planning managers, told the news source. 

    The move would do more than provide drivers with improved fuel economy and efficiency. It would also offer additional instant torque, which could come in handy in off-road locations. However, there is a long way to go before this is a reality, largely because Jeep is committed to its recreational use. The brand does not want to make any major changes without exploring all possible results and ensuring that the move will not hinder off-road driving. 

    Benefits of a hybrid
    Hybrids can offer a variety of advantages to drivers, chief among them improved fuel economy. Because they operate with both an electric motor and a gas-powered motor, drivers can use less gas at low speeds and reduce vehicle emissions. The inclusion of both types of engines also allows drivers to take advantage of the efficiency of a gas motor at higher speeds. 

    "These are very complex and expensive systems, not just for us to develop, but also for the consumers," Bartoli told Drive. "Not only that, but range is a very important issue, and we need to make sure how we can fit that into our systems, because you don't want to be stuck in a creek in an electric Jeep that is going nowhere. It is a big problem in that regard, so we need to understand it a bit more." 

  • How to handle a winter driving accident

    Much has been made of the best practices for winter driving. The right maintenance and safe driving techniques can go a long way toward avoiding collisions or breakdowns, but sometimes accidents are unavoidable. 

    Document the situation
    Whenever you find yourself embroiled in an accident, one of the first things you should do is thoroughly examine the situation. Get out of the vehicle and check out the damage - as long as you are not in a dangerous or heavily trafficked area. If you are still in the middle of a road or trail, pull over to the side if possible and stay in the vehicle.

    However, if you are in a setting clear of traffic and with good visibility, get out and take a look at your automobile. Be sure to take pictures of the scene as well as any damage to your vehicle or equipment. These may be important to show later on, especially if you're off-roading and need to move the car to a safer area before it can be checked by a professional. 

    To properly document an accident, you'll need to have a functioning cellphone, camera or similar mobile device. Having a car charger can go a long way toward ensuring you are able to snap photos or even take video of the damage. It may also be a good idea to brush up on your insurance coverage before getting behind the wheel. This can give you a better idea of what to look at when you're on the scene, as well as what steps to take. 

    Don't jump to conclusions 
    Accidents, breakdowns and collisions can be intensely stressful. While it may be easy to lose control, it is important to try to keep a level head and remain calm. Any accident that involves another driver needs to be handled carefully, and it does no good to discuss blame or point fingers before the arrival of the police or insurance inspector. Be sure to exchange contact information and basic insurance info with the owner of the other vehicle, and alert all of the proper authorities as soon as possible. Getting a police report filed, if necessary, will need to be done quickly, and the sooner you can file an insurance claim the better. 

    Take preventative measures
    As previously stated, staying on top of vehicle maintenance and driving safely are two of the best ways to steer clear of problems on the roads or trails. However, there won't always be a clear-cut solution that can help you avoid problems, and if that's the case, you'll want to have the right gear that will keep a situation manageable. 

    To start, you should make sure you have the right equipment for a temporary fix of a vehicle. This includes a spare tire, tool kit, recovery straps and any other items you may find necessary for your given type of off-road driving. It is also a good idea to have some kind of reflective vest or tape, as this can make you and your automobile more visible in any space, alerting other drivers to your location. 

    Because it is the winter season, you may also want to ensure you have some accessories that are equipped to handle the cold or possible inclement weather. Gravel or salt is a good idea if you're concerned about traction, especially in situations where you may be rock crawling or handling steep inclines. Here's a tip: If you're crunched for time or money, consider pet litter instead. It has the same consistency as road gravel and can typically be found at more convenient locations. 

  • GMC Canyon to debut at Detroit Auto Show

    When news about the 2015 Chevrolet Colorado first came out, many fans of pickup trucks were excited but hesitant. After all, General Motors hadn't created a midsize pickup for several years, and the market for the style of vehicle has dwindled significantly in the past decade. However, some early reviews seem to point to the fact that the Colorado will be a success, and GM hopes it can carry that momentum through to the new 2015 GMC Canyon as well. 

    A big unveiling
    Recently, GM revealed that the 2015 GMC Canyon will be debuting at the 2014 Detroit Auto Show, which is taking place this upcoming January. This will be just one of the dozens of unveilings that are expected to take place during the auto show. While none of the other scheduled debuts will have much of an impact on the off-roading community, the Canyon should make a splash. 

    What to expect
    So what can drivers expect from the 2015 GMC Canyon? Unfortunately, not much is known about the truck, but some early sightings of the test models were reported earlier in the year. Those confirmed that the truck would be available with both regular and crew cab options, and its exterior design will largely consist of straight edges with rounded corners and a rounded roof, Automobile magazine reported. A teaser image released by the brand simply showed the front grille of the truck, and there is nothing especially noteworthy there. 

    The Canyon is also expected to be similar in style to the 2014 GMC Sierra in many respects. Qualities like excellent payload capacity and trailering are likely to be included, which will allow the truck to immediately compete with models like the Toyota Tacoma and Nissan Frontier, according to Auto Evolution. 

    Off-roading capabilities
    Auto Evolution reported that the GMC Canyon will have several major differences from the 2015 Colorado. However, those contrasts may be particularly appealing to fans of off-roading, as the Canyon is poised to be more in the line with the needs of off-road driving. 

    "GMC will be more about conquest," GM president Mark Ruess said, as quoted by the news source. "The Chevy will be about value." 

    However, drivers who are interested in the GMC Canyon may have to be flexible, as it could take time for model-specific gear, such as lift kits, to hit the market. 

  • Ford to launch driver training program

    Off-roading can be a beloved pastime, but before you become dedicated to the cause, you have to put in the effort to learn the ropes. While much of this knowledge will come from experience, as well as tinkering with truck mods, there are a few ways to speed up the process.

    Ford recently got on board with this idea, and it will be taking it one step further in 2014. 

    Learning the basics of off-road driving
    Automobile magazine reported that Ford is planning to land an off-road driving course at Miller Motorsports Park in Utah. This lesson will give drivers an immersive experience, enabling them to learn the basics of off-roading from professional drivers. They will also be exposed to different types of terrain and truck mods, so as to see what best fits their style.

    All of the driving will be done in the Ford F-150 SVT Raptor. While this automobile may lack some of the modifications you've made to your own off-road vehicle, it's still more than capable of handling the demanding course at Miller Motorsports Park. Ford has designated this as their prime off-road truck, so participants may even find some inspiration for future alterations with the state-of-the-art vehicle. Some of the changes made to make the Raptor more adept at the course include off-road wheels and tires, a locking rear differential, HID headlights, four-wheel drive and more. 

    Drivers who want to take advantage of this opportunity can choose from several training packages. The smallest is simply hot laps with Ford drivers, while the next level is a three-hour experience that adds rock-crawling and another form of off-roading to the agenda. The most comprehensive class is a day-long experience that focuses on hot laps as well as time on all three of the park's off-road areas, according to the news source.

    Take in the action at Miller Motorsports Park
    If you have to condense the beginning stages of off-roading into one crash course, there are few locations better than Miller Motorsports Park. There are many different surfaces on which to learn, including eight acres dedicated to rock crawling, 22 acres for high-speed off-road driving and more than 900 acres set aside for desert racing.

    The facility is frequently used for recreational purposes as well as for formal motorsports racing. The Lucas Oil Off-Road Racing Series returns to the park June 21, using the high-speed off-road short course as the home for the action. That event opens up the flood of happenings for the rest of the summer and fall, including motocross and motorcycle road races and even NASCAR events.

    It will also continue to host the Boss Track Attack program. Much like the off-road training course, this experience lets drivers learn the ropes of handling the Ford Mustang Boss 302 sports car in a professional setting, Automobile magazine reported. 

    "We are very excited about our 2014 schedule," said John Larson, general manager of Miller Performance. "We offer something for just about everyone with an interest in racing, from off-road trucks to motocross, road racing cars and motorcycles, and karting. We're coming off a great season in 2013, and we're looking forward to more of the same next year."

    One of the promotions that will likely catch the eyes of off-road drivers is the Wide Open Wednesday program. Between the months of April and October, certain Wednesdays will be designated as public days. This is a unique opportunity for drivers to test out their truck modifications on a professional-level road racing course at a low price. 

  • New Ford F-150 debuts at Detroit Auto Show

    With the Detroit Auto Show in full swing, many automakers are unveiling their latest designs in an effort to drum up interest for future models. Many of these creations are soaking up the spotlight thanks to their new features and revamped styles, and there are a few that should definitely be given a second look by drivers. 

    The Ford F-Series has been the most popular vehicle in the U.S. for years, and the upcoming 2015 F-150 is poised to shake up the segment. After being revealed to the world at the Detroit Auto Show, this full-size pickup is poised to make quite the splash. 

    The debut
    The automaker unveiled the latest model near its Michigan headquarters, but many of the specifics about the creation were kept under wraps. Instead of pushing out statistics about towing capacity or similar factors, Ford chose to emphasize a few of the new features, as well as its upgraded EcoBoost engine. 

    All of the amenities came together to result in a vehicle that is certainly capable of off-roading​.

    "F-150 is well-known for being Built Ford Tough," said Mark Fields, the COO of Ford. "The all-new F-140 redefines the future of trucks, and it is yet another example of our One Ford plan producing vehicles that serve customers with a commitment to the very best quality, fuel efficiency, safety, smart design and value." 

    New additions
    To better accommodate the needs of its drivers, Ford set out to include a slew of special features that upgrade the overall driving experience. The latest amenities created by the brand span a variety of areas of the truck and its usage.

    Drivers can benefit from technological accessories, such as 360-degree cameras, 400-watt power outlets on the interior and sideview mirror spotlights, as well as more practical aspects such as LED headlights, remote tailgate release and integrated loading ramps for the bed of the truck. There is also a smart trailer tow module and a trailer hitch assist feature, which should make it easier to tow. 

    These truck mods are just the tip of the iceberg, and there is still plenty of room to make your own alterations. Ford knows that many fans of the brand want to go off-roading or use the truck in heavy-duty situations, and it had a goal of making sure the new F-150 could work in those scenarios better than ever before - while also offering plenty of advantages for on-road driving. 

    "We have a unique connection with our customers," said Ford executive Joe Hinrichs. "Time and again, F-150 has delivered the tougher, smarter features they want along with the capabilities they need for work or play. We build our trucks to their high standards." 

    Tougher for off-roading 
    This new F-150 was created with some off-road driving capabilities in mind. At the heart of that effort is the high-strength aluminum frame. Although the major benefit of the aluminum is that it dramatically cuts down on weight, it also should be more resistant to dents in the event of collisions. 

    "More than ever before, customers want a truck that is a dependable partner, mobile office and a go-anywhere workshop," said Raj Nair, vice president of global product development for Ford. "To meet the needs of our truck customers, we created smart new features and a whole new approach to using advanced materials and engines to improve capability and efficiency." 

    A combination of the new frame, a more powerful engine and plenty of other special features has resulted in a worthy model that is sure to command praise and attention when it becomes available to the public. 

  • Off-roading in an unusual setting at Virginia's Oak Ridge Estate

    Some off-road drivers may be all about the need for speed, but others appreciate the scenery and challenges of a setting a bit more. In these instances, drivers may want to seek out special areas that boast a nice blend of obstacles and interesting sites. Luckily for off-roading enthusiasts in the Virginia area, there is one easily accessible property that offers all of this and more. Automobile magazine recently spotlighted this location, but for many fans of off-road driving, the locale has been a hot spot for years. 

    About Oak Ridge Estate
    The history of Oak Ridge Estate can trace its history back centuries. Nestled in Nelson County, Va., which is about halfway between Charlottesville and Lynchburg, the property dates back more than 250 years. Its centerpiece is the more than 200-year-old main building. Once housing a prominent Virginia merchant, the dwelling features dozens of rooms and classic architecture. It is surrounded by manicured gardens and several outbuildings, all of which made up a large portion of this estate. 

    However, with more than 5,000 acres of land present as part of the Oak Ridge Estate, there is plenty of excess room away from the houses. This includes a large section of land that is reserved for off-road driving. Made up of steep rock grades, gentle streams, rolling hills and dense forests, there is a ton of room to roam on this site.

    In total, the property boasts about 47 miles of trails. With the sheer number of obstacles and challenges, it's likely you'll only be able to conquer a small section in a day - especially if you need to be helped out of a bind - but a visit that spans several days will undoubtedly keep you entertained. 

    Off-road events
    Oak Ridge Estate is home to several off-roading events, and each of these special gatherings brings together fans of off-road driving in a unique way. In 2010, it acted as host for the first annual Wheeling for Hope charity event, which raises money for the American Cancer Society fundraiser Relay for Life. Modified vehicles are welcome to participate in this multiday event, which encompasses everything from driving and prize raffles to live entertainment and general camaraderie. 

    Another notable celebration is Camp Jeep. Although this event moves locations, it has brought its action to Oak Ridge Estate several times, and each occurrence gets bigger and better than the one before it. This all-Jeep event brings together more than 6,000 people driving 2,000 Jeeps, offering drivers to take part in everything from off-roading to kayaking and mountain biking. 

    One of the highlights of this event is the engineering roundtables, where experts provide insight to top-of-the-line modifications that can allow drivers to get the most out of their vehicles. 

    What a vehicle needs
    To conquer the land that makes up Oak Ridge Estate, an off-road vehicle will need to be equipped with a few alterations. Tow hooks are mandatory to drive on the course, and it is a good idea to be ready to utilize front hooks, as there are quite a few slippery sections that may be difficult to climb. Winches may also be a smart investment, as the soft red clay can easily trap a vehicle and its driver, requiring lots of effort to get out of the jam. 

    Skid plates and armor may also be a welcome addition. These Jeep modifications can make a big difference in how confidently you can approach the course, as they can protect a vehicle from some of the most common nicks and scrapes that come about from off-roading. 

  • Chevy Silverado wins truck of the year award

    We may be in the beginning stages of 2014, but several organizations are just now wrapping up the end-of-year awards from 2013. Four Wheeler magazine was one of the latest publications to do just that, and the recreational journal took a look at some of the most popular off-road vehicle options from the past year.

    According to the magazine, the Pickup Truck of the Year contest was decided after a week-long testing period. All of the driving took place in Fullerton, Calif., where the models were exposed to a wide range of landscapes. Winding rounds, mountains, desert settings and sandy trails were all included in the tests, providing a comprehensive look at the capabilities of the trucks.

    The winner
    After all of the testing was said and done, the Chevrolet Silverado 1500 LTZ Z71 Crew Cab came out on top. It has been dramatically upgraded from past years, with changes made to the frame, suspension and interior. Those alterations have made a big difference, and the end result is a vehicle that is comfortable, capable and fun to drive. 

    According to Four Wheeler, the overall layout of the interior is solid. A state-of-the-art touchscreen, leather front bucket seats and built-in seat temperature controls all help to customize the inside of the cab, and there were enough storage compartments to get the job done. Although the exterior appearance left a bit to be desired, the LED under-rail lighting, multiple tie-down points and an integrated step in the back bumper were all of use. Add in excellent braking and powerful engine options, and the result is a worthy winner. 

    That's not to say there weren't any areas where the Silverado could stand to improve. Judges cited the low frame and box-shaped appearance as two of the places where Chevy can make adjustments, but overall the fun driving experience and great power won out. 

    Other contenders
    While the Chevy Silverado 1500 was the winner, the other contenders involved in the contest are certainly worthy of a second look. The Toyota Tundra SR5 CrewMax and Ram 2500 Outdoorsman Crew Cab wound up in second and third place, respectively. That may come as a surprise to some drivers, as these models beat out top sellers like the Ford F-150 and Ram 1500.

    Ultimately, the Silverado edged out its competitors, but it was one of the closer contests in recent years, the magazine reported. What may be most encouraging, however, is the number of pickups that challenged for this title, as well as similar awards. So many different winners in the same model year underscore the impressive selection of trucks on the market today, and make it easier for motorists to choose an investment based on their personal needs and driving desires.

    Off-road driving tests
    All of the vehicles tested by Four Wheeler magazine were driven on- and off-road. Part of what set the Silverado apart was its impressive off-road power, and additions like the rear Gov-Lok helped to make the machine more adept in certain scenarios. According to the publication, the main drawback was the truck's low stance, but installing a lift kit could be a good way to remedy that problem and increase the truck's capabilities.

    The Tundra was also among the top picks for off-roading. Its truck suspension is among the best on the market, and it is more than capable of taking a driver across a variety of terrain. If there was one area where improvements could be made, it's likely rock crawling, as there is a lack of traction that makes this off-road driving more difficult.

  • Ram hints at future models

    The Ram 1500 has been among the top pickup trucks throughout the past several years. Its most recent accolade was for the 2014 Motor Trend Truck of the Year, which was won thanks to the Ram 1500 EcoDiesel's excellent features.

    While many of these award-winning qualities will likely be present on future models, not much else is known about what the next generation of Ram trucks may look like. That is, until now, as a new commercial may be providing some insight as to the direction of this coveted off-road vehicle. The preview was shown in a recent television commercial that was made to honor the truck's Motor Trend victory. 

    According to Automotive News, the 30-second commercial showed a pickup truck in a Ram testing lab. There is then a shot of the Ram logo centered on the grille of a pickup - but it's not a design we have seen in the past. This new style is a bit more streamlined than the current design, and it was attached to a model that had a few other differences from the existing automobiles as well. The mystery vehicle boasts a prominent bump on its front hood, a more slanted windscreen and a cab with a pinched greenhouse, the news source reported. 

    A Ram spokesman denied that this truck is indeed the next generation of the 1500 pickup truck, but did reveal the commercial was "intended to show what's behind designing, engineering and building great trucks," according to Automotive News. So although it is not the exact model fans of truck mods can expect in the near future, it could have some features that will soon be spotted on the roads. 

  • Toyota trucks gaining in popularity

    Much has been made of the big-name pickup trucks like the Ford F-Series and the Ram 1500. Both of these options are among the best-selling vehicles in the U.S., and they also regularly earn major accolades from some of the most trusted names in the auto industry. However, they are certainly not the only options for off-roading enthusiasts. 

    Automotive News recently reported that Toyota was seeing outstanding success with both its Tundra and Tacoma pickup trucks. Although the manufacturer's trucks struggled from 2009 to 2011, when many larger vehicles were being overlooked for more fuel efficient models, sales have since rebounded. While it is not close to the pre-recession numbers in 2007 and 2008, there have been solid increases, and interest is only growing. 

    In fact, many Toyota dealers across the nation have been reaching out to the automaker to stock up on more Tacomas and Tundras. 

    "Dealers are telling us they could sell more Tacomas and Tundras," Bill Fay, the general manager of Toyota Division, told Automotive News. "We are evaluating our footprint and capacity." 

    To accommodate for this uptick, Toyota is considering an expansion of its operations in San Antonio. That plant, combined with another in Mexico, creates most of the pickups for North America. If the interest continues to grow and dealers demand more trucks, these facilities would have to add to their output by a considerable amount. 

    Despite the recent and predicted success of these Toyota vehicles, Fay said the automaker was not looking too far ahead of themselves. Officials within the organization remember the shift that occurred from 2008 to 2009, when the sale of pickup trucks was halved, and they want to remain prepared in the event of a surprise. 

  • Chevy Colorado preps for the beach

    The 2015 Chevrolet Colorado was only recently revealed, but that hasn't stopped the automaker from producing some interesting concept designs with the vehicle. While many of these special editions are catered to off-road driving, this latest creation from Chevy shows off a few other uses that are better catered to various recreational activities. 

    One of the unique designs, which was also revealed at the L.A. Auto Show, is dubbed the 2015 Chevrolet Colorado Lifeguard. Like the name implies, this pickup truck is ready to patrol the beaches along the Pacific Ocean - or any other sandy course you may encounter. The off-road vehicle is primed for driving on sand, and it is fast enough to satisfy the needs of any lifeguard or rescue worker. 

    "Designed with adventure in mind, the Colorado is easily equipped for the mountains or the beach," the manufacturer said in a statement. "Inspired by the West Coast, this show truck demonstrates one of the many ways the new Colorado can be accessorized." 

    It also has a variety of extra features that are capable of storing all of the gear lifeguards need to do their duty. Extra racks have been installed in the bed to hold equipment, and a bright yellow exterior, emblazoned with the words "Lifeguard Beach Patrol," ensures that the truck will draw attention when it's on the beach. 

    While the Lifeguard version was showcased with an extended cab, a crew cab option will also be available. 

    The midsize pickup is scheduled to go on sale in 2014, so off-roading enthusiasts won't have to wait too long to start making truck mods. While the civilian version of the Colorado will likely come in more subdued colors, there is also an all-black edition that has side steps, a bike rack, and a few other enhancements. 

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