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Rough Country News

    • 'Truck of the Year' short list announced

      A short list of finalists for the 2014 North American Car & Truck of the Year (NACTOY) has been announced, and the list contains some of the most sought after vehicles of the past year. 

      The NACTOY short list is split into two parts, with 12 cars and 12 trucks or utility vehicles making the cut in their respective segments. The only stipulation is that the finalists have to be vehicles that can drive on North American roads, and they had to have gone through a significant redesign for the 2014 model year. All automobiles will be judged based on their performance in a variety of different scenarios as well as their special features. 

      General Motors emerged as one of the biggest winners early in the voting. The manufacturer had three vehicles up for consideration in each of the two categories, which was the best showing from any automaker. 

      The final short list for the 2014 North American Truck/Utility of the Year consists of 12 vehicles: the Acura MDX, the BMW X5, the Buick Encore, the Chevrolet Silverado, the GMC Sierra, the Hyundai Santa Fe LWB, the Jeep Cherokee, the Kia Sorento, the Land Rover Range Rover Sport, the Nissan Rogue, the Subaru Forester and the Toyota Tundra. 

      Last year's winner of Truck of the Year, the Ram 1500, wasn't eligible for the 2014 list. It will be interesting to see which of the pickups or utility vehicles stands apart from the crowd, as well as which are designated as the best options for off-road driving. 

      Jurors will evaluate these models before narrowing the list down to three finalists in each category. Then there's more testing and voting in store before the winners are announced during the Detroit Auto Show in January. 

    • Celebrate Fall Car Care Month with proper maintenance

      The arrival of October brings about the start of Fall Car Care Month. Although drivers should be paying attention to the upkeep of their vehicles at all times of the year, focusing on maintenance just as the temperatures start to drop can pay off in the long run. 

      "Getting your vehicle ready for winter while temperatures are still mild is a proactive approach to preventative maintenance that helps ensure safety, reliability and fewer unexpected car repairs when severe winter weather strikes," said Rich White, executive director of the Car Care Council. 

      Some motorists may have a general idea of areas that need some extra attention as winter approaches, such as the brakes or tires, but there are a few other aspects that should not be overlooked. Here are three ways you can prep an off-road vehicle or everyday ride for the upcoming months: 

      Rebuild the engine
      One of the most thorough ways to improve the performance of a vehicle in the fall and winter is to rebuild the engine. This involves disassembling the motor and cleaning all of the individual parts, while also replacing any pieces that may be worn or broken. Then drivers will put it all back together, making sure all parts are tight and secure as they do so. 

      Not only can this process allow you to get a better idea of how your automobile is holding up, but it will also improve the general performance and power output of the vehicle. When done properly, rebuilding the engine can eliminate worries about ending up stranded during off-road driving adventures in tough conditions. 

      "Before severe winter weather arrives, it is a good idea to make sure your vehicle's engine is running effectively and efficiently," said Rick Simko, chairman of the Engine Rebuilders Council. "If you find that your car or truck is experiencing major engine damage, but is in relatively good shape otherwise, considering repowering it with a rebuilt engine so you can count on it when temperatures drop." 

      Wash your car regularly
      It may seem strange to wash your car despite heavy snows or low temperatures, but in reality, it is one of the most important things you can do to keep your vehicle in tip-top shape. Waxing regularly to seal the paint against moisture is a must, as is washing the road salt off the underside and bottom of a vehicle. Too much of the salt and moisture can facilitate rust, which is detrimental to your automobile's value and can impact its performance. 

      You should make it a point to wash your vehicle after off-roading adventures, which could have left dirt and debris in hidden parts of a car. 

      Check the HVAC system
      Having a high-functioning heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system goes far beyond comfort. This system is essential for keeping everything under the hood operating as it should. Cold weather may cause a windshield or other glass surface to become brittle, and even the lowest of temperatures won't stop an engine from overheating should the ventilation under the hood go awry.  

      To prevent these problems, carefully evaluate all aspects of the HVAC system. It is also important to make sure the defroster is working well and is able to keep visibility high. As you evaluate this aspect of your vehicle, be sure to give the wipers and antifreeze a second look. Wiper blades need to be replaced every six months and should have no visible cracks or tears. The antifreeze should be replenished and at the proper level to keep the car functioning no matter what the weather is like. 

    • Off-roading gets elemental at the Bonneville Salt Flats

      Fans of off-road driving on the hunt for a completely unique experience need look no farther than Utah. The state is home to one of the most remarkable environments in the U.S. - and it doesn't even consist of some of the towering mountains the Beehive State is known for. Instead, the region that attracts so many adventurous off-roaders is entirely flat. 

      About the Bonneville Salt Flats
      Located in northwestern Utah, the Bonneville Salt Flats are a large expanse of land nestled on the western edge of the Great Salt Lake. It formed when the ancient Lake Bonneville dried up at the end of the Ice Age and left salt deposits behind. Over time, this salty terrain halted almost all growth of vegetation in the area and condensed to form a hard crust. This layer can be as thick as 5 feet or as thin as an inch, depending on the location, creating a one-of-a-kind spot for driving. 

      Part of the allure of the Bonneville Salt Flats is what is known as "Bonneville Speedway." Unlike other circuits, this track is naturally flat and is made up of the salty soil, creating a slick and fast-paced environment that has been the cause of a number of land speed records. 

      The Utah Salt Flats Racing Association regularly hosts events throughout the year, and some motorists make it a point to visit the area during one of these festivities to experience the events. There are five major contests held throughout the year, including Speed Week, World of Speed, the World Finals, the Bub Motorcycle Speed Trials and the Mike Cook ShootOut. 

      What to expect
      Off-roading is one of the biggest draws at the Bonneville Salt Flats. The area is on the National Register of Historic Landmarks due to its contributions to land speed racing, and as such it attracts many fans of motorsports and off-road driving. It is free and open to the public for most of the year, with the only scheduling difficulties arising when organizations are filming on the site. 

      Drivers should also be prepared to deal with other travelers checking out the salt flats. The natural phenomenon attracts a number of traditional tourists in addition to off-roaders, so you have to be aware of everyday visitors as you drive around. The last thing you want is to encounter a potentially dangerous situation, so be on the lookout for wanderers in the area as you zip around the salt flats. 

      Although the majority of the Bonneville Salt Flats are perfectly level, there are a few sections where hills and even low mountains are present. These geographic landmarks provide a welcome challenge for many drivers, especially with the slick surface, and you will be able to test your skills and truck modifications on these difficult passes. While the Bureau of Land Management asks that visitors stick to established trails, there is still plenty of opportunity to explore the region. 

      The necessary truck mods
      Navigating over flat areas may sound easy, but handling the Bonneville Salt Flats is harder than you may expect. To successfully get around the land, you have to make sure your off-road vehicle can handle the unique nature of the salt. Tires suited for slick surfaces are a must, and drivers will also want to have recovery straps and towing tools on hand. Mud is common within 100 yards of the edge of the crust, and those who drive too close may find themselves stuck if they are not paying attention. 

      Water occasionally floods the area, especially in the winter and early spring, so you may want to be prepared to deal with wet conditions depending on when you visit. Heavy winds and rainstorms are also common, and these elements may change the driving conditions. 

    • NHTSA to close amid government shutdown

      The government shutdown has dominated the headlines, with many people around the country concerned as to how the massive closures will affect their daily lives. What some residents may not have realized is that the U.S. Department of Transportation had to stop many of its operations, including the running of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and this change could pose some major problems to drivers around the country. 

      What the shutdown means
      When it is functioning at full strength, the NHTSA is typically in charge of investigating the state of vehicles, whether it is testing new auto products, investigating driver complaints or issuing recall notices. Many drivers rely on this organization to provide insight and information as to the performance and safety of automobiles. 

      Automakers are not currently required to announce recalls to the general public, and many choose not to in an attempt to avoid negative publicity. Clarence Ditlow, executive director of the Center For Auto Safety, told AOL Autos that 25 to 40 percent of all recalls stem from government investigations, and the NHTSA is responsible for raising most of the awareness around these issues. Without the NHTSA alerting the public or spurring on evaluations, there could be a lapse in quality or repairs offered to the public. 

      "If an automaker does a recall, it might be because they know government investigators are on the trail," Ditlow told the news source. "Without those investigations ... in the long term, it could significantly endanger consumer safety."

      What drivers can do
      The absence of the NHTSA and other DOT efforts for the foreseeable future means that motorists will have to be proactive when it comes to vehicle maintenance and research. If they don't, they could encounter issues that affect the performance of the car. 

      "For a consumer who goes and buys a car today, then finds out a month from now it was a poor performer on a test, they're not going to be able to get their money back," Ditlow explained to the news source. "So it's a raw deal."

      Those drivers who are on the lookout for a new off-road vehicle should be sure to conduct thorough research before making a final decision. Extensive test drives and maintenance checks are just the beginning. Prospective buyers should also be looking for ways to see what current drivers have to say about the quality and performance of the automobile. Motorists will also have to pay close attention to vehicle recalls or news that comes straight from the manufacturer. 

    • Range Rover makes waves with latest ad

      Range Rover has come under fire for its latest ad. The commercial for the 2014 Range Rover Sport features the vehicle conquering some intense terrain on its way up Pike's Peak, which is part of the U.S.'s National Forest System (NFS). Unfortunately, that qualifies the area as federal land, and off-roading on these lands is prohibited. 

      Some viewers were concerned that this commercial would encourage drivers to disrupt federal land with off-road driving. This isn't the first time the NFS has been upset about how certain environmental activities were portrayed in a commercial, but it is one of the first involving Range Rover and an off-road vehicle.

      "It clearly goes against the basic philosophy of ethical attitudes and proper driver behavior for using OHV's anywhere, let alone on NFS lands," wrote Jack Gregory, a retired Forest Service officer, according to The Washington Post.

      Despite the controversy, Range Rover stands by the ad, claiming that the commercial is standard fare and was not intended to inspire illegal activity. The vehicle did not actually drive off-road on Pike's Peak for the filming of the ad, so there was no harm done to the environment. 

      "As is typical in much of advertising, there are scenes that are realistic but not meant to be taken literally, including both racing up the mountain, as well as driving off-road back down, though the vehicle is more than capable of both," Range Rover said in a statement, as quoted by the news source. 

      Although the pastime is allowed in certain government-controlled areas, it is banned in most, and any plans need to be carefully researched and approached before you get behind the wheel. Most drivers who make sure they are driving lawfully won't encounter any type of trouble in their adventures. 

    • Romania unveils off-road fire and rescue truck

      Most truck mods are completed with efficiency and practicality in mind. When you're trying to conquer difficult terrain and get the most out of a vehicle, it's natural to want to push the automobile to its limits. However, a recent redesign of a vehicle in Romania has created an off-road machine that was made for a higher purpose. Called the Ghe-O Rescue, this vehicle was created to be an off-road fire and rescue truck, and it certainly sets the bar high for safety vehicles.  

      About the vehicle
      Unveiled at the Bucharest Auto Show, the Ghe-O Rescue looks like a hybrid between a Jeep Wrangler and a Hummer. However, it's almost 3 feet longer and 2 feet wider than a typical Hummer H1, yet at the same time it weighs about 500 pounds less, AutoBlog reported. 

      The unique design needs a special engine and frame for support. It's got lockable axles, excellent ground clearance and even additional layers of protection that guard what's under the hood from electromagnetic or water damage. On top of all that, the Ghe-O Rescue boasts inflatable tire-mounted pillows that will allow it to float as well as water pumps that are designed to put out fires. Investors can also choose between a gas engine that produces between 340 and 500 horsepower and a diesel engine with an output of 218 to 204 horsepower, the news source reported. 

      With the ability to carry 11 passengers plus safety equipment and cargo, the Ghe-O Rescue is more than capable of serving as an emergency response vehicle. 

      The need for safety
      While the off-road vehicle is undoubtedly a cool creation, perhaps the most important aspect of it is that it is designed with safety in mind. You can make all of the intense truck modifications you want, but if trouble arises, you may find yourself in need of help. It takes intense machines to serve the public in these situations, which makes vehicles like the Ghe-O Rescue a necessary investment. 

      An off-roading tradition
      When you think of off-road driving, Romania may not be the first place that springs to mind. However, the country is home to miles and miles of open space that is ideal for exploring with an off-road vehicle. The land is subject to many different kinds of inclement weather and rough conditions - hence all of the special features on the Ghe-O Rescue. 

      While there's no off-road vehicle quite like the Ghe-O Rescue yet in the U.S., this could be the beginning of high-performing safety automobiles. 

    • Chrysler recalls thousands of SUVs and trucks

      For years, the Jeep Grand Cherokee and Ram 1500 have been two of the most sought-after vehicles for fans of off-roading. Part of the reason so many drivers are drawn to these vehicles - other than their rugged frames and exemplary features, of course - is because of their reliability. 

      That reputation has come under fire due to a recent recall issued by Chrysler. The automaker was forced to recall more than 140,000 SUVs because of an electrical glitch that wreaks havoc on the instrument display. After testing, it was determined that the issue was caused by faulty software that is tied to the anti-lock brake system, and while it can be fixed relatively easily in the short-term, there could be other problems in the long-term that need to be checked out. The error may also affect electronic stability control systems, which could have a far-reaching impact on those who plan to partake in off-road driving. 

      "Chrysler Group quality-control personnel observed reports of random warning-light illumination and instrument-cluster blackout," Chrysler said in a statement. "Both events occur infrequently and appear to resolve themselves by turning the vehicle's ignition off and then on. However, regulatory compliance requires that clusters display complete information that is clearly legible." 

      Most of the recalled vehicles were 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokees, which comprised approximately 132,000 of the units around the world. It also issued notices for more than 10,000 2014 Ram 1500, 2500 and 3500 model trucks. 

      According to The Detroit News, Chrysler is not aware of any injuries or accidents that occurred as a result of this problem. The recall will start taking place over the course of the next month, and drivers of these vehicles can start preparing for repairs and updates that will improve performance. 

    • Electric pickup trucks head into production

      Drivers are always on the lookout for ways to save money in the operation and maintenance of a vehicle, if only so they can devote more funds to truck mods and similar upgrades. The possibility of driving electric cars is one area motorists may consider, but this option left many fans of off-roading in the dust - until now. 

      Production of electric trucks begins
      VIA Motors announced that it has signed a contract to produce $20 million worth of electric pickup trucks and vans. While these would be light-duty vehicles, there would be plenty of options for truck modifications and upgrades that could transform the truck into a solid option for recreational or off-road driving. 

      "The pickup truck is the No. 1 selling vehicle in America, and VIA Motors is the only automaker building electric light-duty pickup trucks, cargo vans and passenger vans," said Alan Perriton, president of VIA Motors. "The all-in cost is actually lower than driving a gas truck; this is very welcome news to budget-constrained fleets who spend more and more each year on ever-increasing gas prices, who can now save money." 

      Cutting down on gas money isn't the only reason motorists may be drawn to an electric vehicle. The trucks will also reduce harmful emissions, which helps preserve and protect the very environment they are often driving through. Creations from VIA have also shown the ability to decrease gas consumption and emissions by as much as 80 percent in early testing. That is a considerable amount that could make a big difference for cash-strapped truck drivers.  

      These efforts are still in the beginning stages, but interested parties will be able to gather more information from the technology being installed on each vehicle. Every device will transmit real-time data that will allow the U.S. Department of Energy to track savings in both fuel economy and emissions. 

      Electric versus diesel vehicles 
      One of the biggest sources of controversy surrounding electric pickup trucks is how they compare to diesel-powered vehicles. If the costs are similar, many drivers may be more likely to gravitate to an automobile with a diesel engine, which has a reputation for more power and a few eco-friendly attributes. However, a recent study conducted at Georgia Tech found that there are several instances where electric vehicles can save drivers a significant amount of money. 

      "Over the life of the truck, there are many situations in which the total cost of operating an electric vehicle is less than operating a diesel vehicle," said Marilyn Brown, a co-author of the study. "Our expectation was that the electric vehicle would provide environmental benefits, but at a cost. We found that particularly in urban settings and in locations with relatively low greenhouse gas emissions from electricity, electric delivery trucks both save money and have environmental benefits." 

      The future of electric trucks
      Looking to the future of electric pickup trucks is not easy, especially since so many factors are uncertain. However, that hasn't stopped some experts from considering whether or not these automobiles can remain a viable option for drivers. 

      "Technology advances make predicting the long-term price of electric trucks difficult," said Valerie Thomas, another co-author and professor at the Georgia Tech. "Battery price reductions down the road could have a large effect on the cost-competitiveness of electric trucks of electric trucks, while only diesel fuel prices could have a similarly large effect on the future cost-competitiveness of diesel trucks." 

      The production of electric pickups by VIA Motors is just the beginning of alternative off-road vehicles. If the light-duty pickups are successful, the technology could soon spread to more rugged models and brands, improving in ways that will ensure drivers don't miss a beat when they set out on off-road trails.

    • Mercedes SUV is ready to go off-roading

      When you think of a top off-road vehicle, a Mercedes probably is not the first thing to come to mind. That could all be changing in the near future, however. The German automaker has created a Mercedes-Benz G63 AMG 6x6 that is more than capable of handling whatever type of trails or obstacles you can throw at it. 

      So strong it's bulletproof
      The first thing you'll notice about the Mercedes-Benz G63 AMG 6x6 is its six wheels. With two in the front and four in the back under the bed, it resembles a military vehicle, but still has a number of the high-end touches you would expect from the luxury automaker. A leather interior and intricate dashboard instrument display provide plenty of comfort and functionality, while the six tires and rugged frame are more than capable of going through any type of terrain. 

      Of course, all of these features come at a price. The basic vehicle will sell for approximately $550,000, while other drivers will have an opportunity to purchase a version with bulletproof body armor for a whopping $1.35 million. To reserve one of these vehicles, drivers will have to put down a deposit of 75 percent of that cost. 

      Ready for off-roading
      This Mercedes weighs in at five tons. That means that it's powerful enough to barrel through almost any environment, especially with the help of the powerful engine. The hand-built 5.5-liter, bi-turbo V-8 engine is great for acceleration as well as powering through all kinds of obstacles. 

      "It has a very complicated drivetrain and chassis," Mercedes-Benz spokesman Jerry Stamoulis told Carsguide. "It has absolutely no relation to the other G-class vehicles, including the 6x6 G-wagon used by the Australian Army. The G63 is a complex, super-articulated machine designed for extreme off-road conditions." 

      The one downside to this vehicle, other than the price, is that making modifications may be a tall order. Off-road parts are not typically made for luxury vehicles like a Mercedes-Benz SUV, so it could be difficult to find the right tools and gear to upgrade. On the other hand, this automobile certainly doesn't need much work, and you would be hard pressed to find many areas where you'll need to make changes. 

      Deliveries of the Mercedes-Benz G63 AMG 6x6 are expected to occur in late 2014. 

    • Hyundai creates a zombie survival machine

      Millions of people tune in every week to catch episodes of "The Walking Dead," and many fans of the show have noticed that certain cars continue to make an appearance in the series. Hyundai has been one of the show's sponsors for some time - which is why all of the vehicles on the program are made by the Japanese automaker - but the manufacturer decided to take its involvement up a notch. 

      Hyundai recently created a Zombie Survival Machine out of a remodeled Santa Fe. Although this model is not typically known for its ruggedness or propensity for off-roading, several rounds of modifications have turned it into a fine-tuned vehicle that is ready to battle the undead. 

      The car was designed by Anson Kuo, a fan of "The Walking Dead" who submitted his proposal for a zombie machine in a Hyundai contest. Officials liked his concept the best out of more than 82,000 fan submissions and chose to bring the design to life. The final product features alterations like aluminum armor, razor-wired windows, increased cargo space for supplies and passengers, and plenty of defensive weaponry. 

      "We love Anson Kuo's take on this Santa Fe Zombie Survival Machine - it's creative ... and deadly," said Steve Shannon, vice president of marketing for Hyundai Motor America. "With help from the popularity of 'The Walking Dead' franchise, Hyundai continues to expand the conversation around Hyundai vehicles with young and passionate audiences." 

      The Santa Fe Zombie Survival Machine will make its debut at New York Comic-Con Oct. 10. While it may not be the ideal off-road vehicle for some drivers, it's certainly an interesting take on an alternative ride, and fans will get a chance to see it up close at the Comic-Con event. 

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