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Rough Country News

  • 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. 

  • Land Rover team attempts to set off-roading record

    Off-roading may take you to some unique places, but rarely does it lead you across multiple continents. Yet that's exactly what two off-road aficionados will be doing from Oct. 4 to 14, when a driving duo will attempt to make their way from England to South Africa in record time. 

    The challenge
    The latest off-road driving challenge involves two British drivers trekking from London, England, all the way down to Cape Town, South Africa. That's a total of 10,000 miles - and the team wants to finish the trip in 10 days. 

    To achieve that goal, the endurance rally drivers, Robert Belcher and Stephen Cooper, will be getting behind the wheel of a 2005 Land Rover LR3. Some many be surprised by their choice of off-road vehicle, as the LR3 doesn't have a strong history of reliability. However, the duo believe it is the right automobile to handle all of the unknowns they will face as they make their way through 13 different countries. 

    "Despite continuing improvements in Africa's transport infrastructure, there are still countless issues that could arise on this journey," said Belcher. "... Not to mention if we have car problems then our attempt could be quickly scuppered. Having said that, we're full of the spirit of adventure, we're well prepared and are both very much looking forward to the challenge. This is an ambitious record to aim for, but we have every reason to believe we can achieve it." 

    The pair are taking on the challenge for a good cause: They are raising money and awareness for Farm Africa, an organization that fights poverty and hunger across the continent. 

    The history 
    This isn't the first time someone has attempted to drive from London to Cape Town. In fact, the history of the route can be traced back to the early 1900s. In 1907, the first over-land attempt to cross Africa was conducted, but the first completed ride across the Sahara was not successfully done until 1924. 

    Then things started picking up. In 1933, a Morris Eight Convertible drove from London to Cape Town - in five months. That vehicle needed 15 gallons of oil to make it to the finish line. Journeys got a bit faster by 1963, when the British Army completed the drive in just under 14 days with the help of a four-wheel drive Range Rover. Similar time was made in 1983 by another Range Rover V8 during a reverse trip from Cape Town to London. 

    A new record was set in 2011, when two drivers in a Land Rover Discovery completed the trip in 11 days. Even more history was made earlier this year. Tony Fawkes Automobiles used a Fiat Panda and managed to complete the drive in 10 days, 13 hours and 28 minutes. Now, the British duo of Belcher and Cooper will try to outdo them all. 

    London to Cape Town
    Driving from London to Cape Town presents a unique set of challenges. As such, the pair of drivers had to outfit the 2005 Land Rover LR3 with a few modifications to make it better suited for off-road driving. It received armor for the undercarriage to protect the weak points, as well as off-road tires and extra fuel tanks. Those will help make the most of the 2.7-liter, turbodiesel V-6 engine. Boasting a 1,200-mile range, the motor is more than capable of reaching the finish line - provided everything else functions as it is supposed to. To ensure the drivers do their part and stay awake, the top of the Land Rover has four high-intensity auxiliary lamps to light the way. 

  • Avoid collisions with animals when off-roading

    Being able to venture into nature is one of the many benefits of off-roading. Yet as you traverse the land and trails around parks and public spaces, you have to be aware of the effect you are having on the environment. While you are almost certainly doing your best to leave the scenery as you found it, there are times when unavoidable incidents involving animals pop up. These collisions can be harmful to you, the creature and your car, so it is especially important to do your best to avoid crashes with animals. 

    "A driver may encounter any number of scenarios at any given moment behind the wheel," said Dr. William Van Tassel, manager of AAA Driver Training Programs. "Remaining alert and limiting distractions is a must. Animals are unpredictable, so the sooner you see them in the roadway, the more time you will have to safely react." 

    Here are three of the biggest things you can do to avoid animal collisions when off-roading: 

    Customize your headlights
    The key to avoiding collisions is maximizing your visibility. This begins by staying attentive to your surroundings, but there are some truck modifications that can enhance your sight lines. High-beam LED headlights can go a long way toward providing better visibility thanks to their bright light and low power usage. They are also easily manipulated, which makes them ideal for adding to an existing vehicle. 

    Other ways to improve visibility include replacing wiper blades, as upgrading these accessories can result in cleaner windshields. When you are mudding or dune bashing, you frequently find mud and other debris covering the front and rear windshield as well as essential mirrors. Having fresh wiper blades ensures you can clean off these surfaces and have a picture-perfect view of the trail ahead. 

    Update your brakes
    An important concept to keep in mind when off-road driving is that braking can be much safer and more effective than swerving. Although your initial reaction upon seeing an animal in your path may be to swerve away, that may cause more harm than good. You expose yourself to unknown dangers when you go off trails - and you can potentially hurt other animals in the process. Firmly applying the brakes - and having high-performing brakes that will work in a pinch - is your ideal option. 

    "These crashes happen so fast, often times drivers don't have the option of making a decision about what to do," Russ Rader, a spokesman for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, told USA Today. "But the best thing, unfortunately, in most cases is to hit the animal and try to avoid swerving or doing something that could cause you to lose control and hit somebody else or an object, or go off the road and roll over." 

    Know what to look for
    Ultimately, the best result would be to prevent these collisions before they happen. This is not always possible, but your best bet is to know what to look for in all scenarios and react appropriately. The first thing you should examine is your environment. Are you in a state park that has lots of leafy, covered areas? Then you need to be more aware of animals being startled from their habitats and jumping in front of your off-road vehicle. Slowing down as you approach blind turns and obeying speed limits are both extremely important. 

    You should be particularly cautious at dawn and dusk. These are common times for animals to be on the move and the unique lighting can cause issues with visibility. If you're alert and focused on the potential for collisions, however, you can avoid these crashes. 

  • Jeep Jam aims to spread the love of off-roading

    When you drive a Jeep, you are part of a culture that goes far beyond standard driving. The lifestyle associated with this off-road vehicle is one of the most important aspects of the brand, and it's that commitment to adventure that inspires many drivers to take part in special events like the upcoming O'Daniel Jeep Jam. 

    About Jeep Jam
    Thousands of Jeep drivers and fans will come together as part of this year's Jeep Jam in Fort Wayne, Ind. The first few years of the event, which began in 2005, were dedicated to bringing a few local Jeep owners and enthusiasts together to honor the brand. It has since transformed into a much larger-scale celebration of off-roading and recreational driving. 

    Over the years, Jeep Jam began teaming up with charities and sponsors, which contributed to the growth of the festival. Eventually, the event outgrew its home at the O'Daniel's Jeep dealership, so it expanded to the nearby Kessie Jeep Farm. A maximum of 300 registered drivers will be allowed to participate in the off-roading at that site, adding a fun and valuable layer to the gathering. 

    "Jeep Jam wouldn't even be here if it wasn't for Pam and Tom Kessie," Craig Ruskaup, one of the organizers of the event, told The News-Sentinel. "We ran out of [space on] the land we had been using, and the Kessies stepped up and saved Jeep Jam. Their family has done more for J.J. than anyone, and the piece of property is off-road heaven." 

    Off-road courses
    At the center of the Jeep Jam are several off-roading courses that allow all guests to take part in the fun. The trails are set up specifically for this event, ensuring that there is plenty of diverse land and quality routes for drivers to enjoy. All driving takes place after a period of check-in and registration, as well as a parade and blessing of the Jeeps, has been completed. 

    "We get instruction and rules for off-roading, a blessing of the Jeeps and then about five hours of complete fun," Ruskaup told the publication. "... We have trails from mild to wild - the easiest trails to trails that no Jeep will be able to pass." 

    While the trails are meant to provide fun for all visitors, Ruskaup maintains that there is one hard and fast rule that will decide who can participate. 

    "It has to be a Jeep product to participate in the off-road portion," he said. "No Rams, only Jeep products." 

    This year's event
    The 2013 Jeep Jam is set to take over Fort Wayne, Ind., during the weekend of Oct. 12. Activities scheduled for this year's event range from the expected, such as off-road driving and a Mopar Car Show, to more low-key pastimes like a corn hole tournament, silent auction and a kids play area. Live music and action-packed races are also scheduled to keep visitors entertained throughout the day. 

    One of the slated events that should have people talking is the Jeep Obstacle Course. Drivers will be able to test each one of their Jeep mods on the course while also seeing what alterations other owners have done to make their Jeep a more rugged, off-road ready vehicle. 

    Ultimately, Jeep Jam is about celebrating the culture of off-roading, or even of just owning one of these iconic vehicles. 

    "Jeep is a way of life, not just transportation," Ruskaup told the news source. "When you own a Jeep, you look for a reason to go for a drive. You volunteer to go to the store. A Jeep is a time machine - it will take you back in time, bringing back your youth." 

  • New GMC Sierra may draw drivers with its cornerstep bumper

    Trucks have been getting bigger and better. This is great news for drivers who love off-roading or use the vehicles for heavy-duty work, but it can also pose a problem for some owners who don't fit the stereotypical mold. For example, shorter drivers or even those who make a point of installing a lift kit and raise the ground clearance of their vehicle may have problems easily accessing the truck bed.

    To remedy this problem, several up and coming models are evolving to allow drivers to get in and out of the truck bed without struggles. One of the new features comes from General Motors, which has started integrating steps into the corners of the rear bumper. In fact, this is one of the nicest features on the redesigned 2014 GMC Sierra and could even be one of the biggest reasons why drivers look at this pickup truck.

    The Wall Street Journal recently cited the Sierra's new cornerstep bumper as one of the top features included on the new model. Although they are not extremely noticeable and don't take away from the overall design of the Sierra, they certainly serve their purpose. At approximately 6.5 inches lower than the top of the bumper, the step is at a good height for entering the truck bed or loading cargo. It's also big enough to accommodate anything from clunky work boots to children climbing into the truck bed, making it a suitable amenity for workers or recreational drivers.

    Although almost all trucks have a step in the center of the bumper, this is often put out of use due to cargo loads, lift kits or other truck modifications. For those who use the truck bed frequently or need a little extra boost to reach the heights, this step could be a huge help, and because it is still at a relatively high height, it doesn't have to get in the way of off-road driving.

    The 2014 GMC Sierra offers plenty of top-of-the-line features that could make it an attractive option for drivers. Electronic safety features go above and beyond to ensure drivers can avoid a collision. Some of the new additions include lane-departure alerts, vibrating truck sensors and more. All of these qualities should help to make the Sierra a more competitive vehicle in the world of trucks. 

  • 2014 Ram 1500 named the Truck of Texas

    A lot of attention was paid to the State Fair of Texas Auto Show, and for good reason. The event showcased some of the newest creations throughout the auto industry, including a few of the newest models of pickup trucks. Now that the festival is drawing to a close, several of these automobiles are earning awards for their presentation as part of the show, including a few pickup trucks that will draw the attention of off-road drivers. 

    Ram 1500 brings home the grand prize
    More than 60 trucks and SUVs were competing for the top prize, which was awarded by the Texas Auto Writers Association. About 40 auto writers voted on the accolades, judging the vehicles based on their on- and off-road performance. Design, capability, value and technology are just a few of the areas that are considered in the evaluations. 

    After all was said and done, the 2014 Ram 1500 was named the Truck of Texas. The 2013 Ram 1500 also won the prestigious award last year. On top of the overall win, it was also tops in seven individual categories, including Best Powertrain, Best Technology for its new heavy-duty rear coil suspension and Best Commercial Vehicle for the 2-14 Ram Promaster. 

    The Ram 1500 beat out competitors like the Toyota Tundra, GMC Sierra and Chevrolet Silverado - all of which were completely redesigned for the 2014 model year. Ram only received a few choice upgrades - a fact that makes the win even more impressive. 

    Chrysler rakes in the accolades
    The Auto Show included more than just pickup trucks. In fact, many other models duked it out in their respective segments, including a few that may interest fans of off-road driving. For example, the Jeep Grand Cherokee was named the top SUV of Texas for the fourth straight year, and the Dodge Durango claimed the title of best Full-size SUV of Texas for the second time in three years. 

    "The Ram, Jeep and Dodge brands from Chrysler Group clearly impressed our TAWA members at this year's event," said Michael Marrs, TAWA president. "There's no doubt that innovative powertrains, impressive designs and new technologies are paying off for these brands."

    This is just one of the first awards to be revealed for the 2014 model year, and if it's any indication of the future, Ram can expect to bring home some more prizes. 

  • Jeep Grand Cherokee named one of the most improved vehicles

    It's not uncommon for automobiles to undergo many rounds of changes and redesigns throughout their lives. As new technologies and amenities are introduced, the models have to be updated to remain competitive, and most of the time this results in a positive evolution of vehicles. 

    To track which of the changes were the most effective, created a list of the Top 10 Most Improved Cars Over the Past 15 Years. Each of the models included has undergone significant improvements and redesigns, with the alterations enhancing the automobile. 

    "Sometimes changes to these cars were as simple as a fresh interior and new parts under the hood, and sometimes the outgoing model of a car was so poor that automakers gave the new version an all-new name," said Patrick Olsen, the editor-in-chief of "Regardless of why changes were made, all of these improved cars earn our seal of approval and should not be overlooked by shoppers." 

    While many of the automobiles on the list were sedans and sports cars, a few others may stand out to the off-roading community - specifically, the 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee, which landed in the No. 2 spot. 

    Although praised the Grand Cherokee models from the years 2005 to 2010, the website claims the 2011 design upped the ante. Its high-quality ride and smart appearance can keep everyday drivers satisfied, while an array of extras provide plenty of amenities for more intense motorists. 

    The Jeep Grand Cherokee was also cited as one of the best vehicles for off-road driving, with its wide range of abilities allowing drivers to be very flexible when they get behind the wheel. All of the features can still be customized with Jeep modifications to make the most out of the automobile. 

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