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Rough Country News

  • Fall maintenance can make a big difference

    Winter is only a glimmer on the horizon, but many drivers are taking steps to get their vehicles ready for the seasons ahead. In fact, fall is one of the best times to perform tune ups and get problem areas checked out. With summer's heavy off-roading season in the rear-view mirror, now is the time to look over an automobile and evaluate what work needs to be done to prepare it for the inclement weather ahead. 

    Here are some aspects of a vehicle that you should be checking on as fall begins: 

    Air filter
    An air filter protects the engine from debris or other airborne contaminants, and if it gets clogged, it can seriously hamper the performance of your engine. Replacing the filter outright should boost power almost immediately, and it is among the easiest ways to upgrade the performance of an off-road vehicle. You never know what could have gotten into your automobile's system after some off-road adventures in the wilderness, so cleaning it out prior to new fall or winter rides is a wise choice. 

    Excessive heat can be harmful to a battery. High temperatures may be one of the main causes of battery failure, but drivers who take precautions to have it checked out can avoid breakdowns. Assessing the battery for any type of corrosion or damage is a must, and it is also a good idea to run separate battery testing and replace it if necessary. 

    You should be checking the brakes for wear and tear consistently throughout the year. It is particularly important to examine them in the fall because of the excess of driving that took place in the summer coupled with the need for strong brakes on slick fall roads. Look for pads that need to be replaced and conduct some test drives to verify that every aspect of the brakes is functioning as it is supposed to. 

    Fluid levels
    Owners need to examine the fluid levels on their vehicles at regular intervals, but it is particularly important to give them a second look in the fall. Hardcore off-roading in the summer may have contributed to additional wear or build up in engine oil as well as other vehicle fluids. As the temperature changes throughout the coming months, and you face a variety of different obstacles, continue to check fluids like engine oil, antifreeze and transmission and brake fluid. 

    Wiper blades
    Once your vehicle is stocked with wiper fluid and antifreeze, you should turn your attention to the wipers themselves. The blades are an essential tool for all automobiles, and you should never underestimate the need for fresh wipers. Heavy rains, layers of ice and debris from off-road driving are all common sights on a windshield throughout the fall and winter, and the only way to properly cut through all of these distractions is with heavy-duty wiper blades. 

    Emergency kit
    The changing of the seasons means you will also need different items stocked in an emergency kit. Consider adding a blanket in case you have a breakdown in the middle of some cold weather as well as packets of road salt or sand that can help you get out of slippery situations. Examining recovery straps or jumper cables for any excess wear and tear is also a good idea that could save time and aggravation in the long run. If any of this equipment isn't up to par, the fall is a good time to replace them and test out new options to get ready for winter. 

  • Ram Truck to update garages for 3 lucky fans

    The Ram Truck brand is offering a special opportunity for three lucky fans. Drivers of Ram vehicles are used to making their own truck modifications to create an off-road vehicle that perfectly meets their needs, but soon the automaker could be helping these drivers customize their garages to provide the perfect "Ram Cave." 

    Willing participants can apply to have their garages redone by the automaker. All they have to do is submit a photograph of their current workspace and explain why they deserve to have it redone and outfitted with everything they need to have a haven for their truck. In total, the renovation will be worth approximately $25,000.

    Home improvement guru Bob Vila, do-it-yourself advisor Timothy Dahl and Brett and Kate McKay of The Art of Manliness will serve as the judges. Fans don't even need to own a Ram to enter - they simply need to appreciate the heavy-duty, off-roading culture that goes along with the brand. 

    "Ram Truck is proud to partner with Bob Vila, Brett McKay and Timothy Dahl to offer our fans a unique opportunity to bring the style and design of Ram Trucks to their home garages," said Reid Bigland, president and CEO of Ram. "The Ram Caves contest was built to engage fans and to celebrate the spaces where owners come together to spend time with their vehicles." 

    Fans can enter the contest though Oct. 9, and the submissions will be open to public voting during that time. After that, the judging panel will select the three grand prize winners based on personal scores, public votes and cause for renovation. Barring any issues, construction on the Ram Caves will go underway by mid-November. 

  • Get your off-road vehicle ready for winter

    Just because summer has come to an end doesn't mean your off-roading experiences have to. In fact, some of the most fun and thrilling adventures can take place in the fall and winter, but you have to be prepared to handle the challenges that go along with cold, inclement weather. With heavy snows, slick fallen leaves and ice covering all types of surfaces, it is extremely important that all drivers take steps so they are ready to drive in any scenario. 

    While advanced drivers likely have a winter driving routine down pat, those who are in the beginning stages of off-roading may need a little guidance. Here are a few of the most important tips to keep in mind: 

    Tires are important
    The tires and tire pressure are two of the most vital aspects of handling an off-road vehicle in rough conditions. Snow tires are a common addition to many vehicles, while other drivers may want to stick with constantly examining tire tread to confirm they are able to grip any surface. Paying attention to the wear and alignment of the tires and rotating them as you see fit can improve the performance of a vehicle in fall or winter. 

    Be conscious of four-wheel drive
    Many drivers will turn to four-wheel drive to expertly maneuver their truck or SUV around on snow or ice. This can be a major boon in difficult driving conditions, but all motorists should keep in mind that having four-wheel drive does not aid in braking. Leave plenty of room to brake on and off pavement. You may also want to consider reverting back to two-wheel drive when going downhill. This will allow the rear wheels to slow the vehicle as the front wheels propel it forward, striking a nice balance that can enhance stability. 

    Better headlights could make a difference
    Another area you may want to upgrade before winter arrives is your vehicle's headlights. Being able to make your way through difficult conditions is of paramount importance, and having the right equipment can be a huge help in these situations. 

    An intriguing option for many drivers is LED headlights. This gear is generally brighter and more energy efficient, allowing you to accurately see the obstacles that lay before you, regardless of the weather. LED lights boast a unique light pattern and a bright white color, and these two qualities work together to offer superior visibility. Making truck mods or alterations to an SUV to add these lights is relatively easy as well, as many kits come with all of the materials you need to upgrade your lights. 

    Check the ventilation
    Before the weather gets too cold, you should examine the HVAC system to ensure the heating and ventilation are functioning at a high level. Not only are you going to want the heat for the vehicle's cabin to be able to foster a comfortable driving environment, but you should also be checking to make sure the vehicle is cycling out potentially harmful exhaust. More than likely, all windows will be closed during the winter, and knowing the HVAC system is working properly can prevent dangerous or uncomfortable situations. 

    Stay on the lookout for black ice
    You know black ice can be a dangerous thing to encounter on the roads, but it can be just as harmful off-roading as well. In areas where the sun is blocked and the temperature can drop, such as spaces you will find in the wilderness or near nature trails, black ice is more common. So when you're taking part in off-road driving, you should make a conscious effort to slow down and pay attention to the area in front of you to locate black ice. 

  • Most automobiles overstate fuel economy, study finds

    Mileage is an important factor of an automobile that practically all drivers keep in mind. Because it affects everything from the performance of a vehicle to its sticker price, fuel efficiency is not something you should glance over, and that makes tracking the mileage incredibly significant. The emphasis on fuel economy may be great, but all drivers need to be wary of putting all their faith in an automobile's report. 

    Mileage meters are not always accurate
    With all eyes on the fuel efficiency, many drivers look to onboard meters for help tracking mileage. However, these digital readouts are not as effective as most motorists would like them to be. Instead of providing drivers with a glimpse of a vehicle's actual efficiency, many of these computerized displays overstate the true number of miles per gallon an automobile is achieving, The Detroit News reported. 

    "I don't think anyone is trying to hoodwink anybody," Dan Edmunds, director of vehicle testing for automotive research firm, told the news source. "But these meters have never been 100 percent accurate. They are more for instantaneous feedback to let you know how you're doing." regularly tests models to find the average miles per gallon rating and compare it to what the manufacturer claims the average is. Testing in 2010 found that some of the worst offenders had mpg readouts that inflated fuel efficiency by as much as 19 percent, the news source reported. On average, cars boasted a fuel economy that was about 5 percent better than the actual results. Although this may not seem like much, it can make a big difference in fuel costs or maintenance issues throughout the life of a vehicle. noted a similar trend during their 2013 Light-Duty Challenge. Results of this review showed five of the six trucks examined reported better fuel economy than what the real-life testing found.  

    Watch the dashboard counter
    Some drivers may trust their vehicle enough to ignore the dashboard meter, but this would be a mistake. For one, the mileage provides important insight into when vehicle maintenance is needed. It also allows owners to keep track of how much money they are spending on fuel, check if all systems are working properly and project what they need for longer, off-road driving trips. 

    Drivers of some newer trucks may have less to worry about. According to Edmunds, early testing on the 2014 Chevrolet Silverado, which recently topped Consumer Reports' list of the best pickup trucks, features a mileage tracker that is only off estimates by about 2 percent. That is below average - good news for drivers on the hunt for a future off-road vehicle. 

    What you can do
    While tracking your own mileage may be manageable, it is more difficult to adjust to the counters on a used model. That makes selecting a model with good ratings and a strong history of impressive fuel efficiency of paramount importance. Researching the average fuel economy of a certain model truck before purchase enables you to avoid any surprises, but writing down the readings of a tripmeter may be the most important of all. You should also be manually logging the number of miles you get out of a certain amount of fuel.

    "The only way to get a real accurate reading is to keep log books," Edmunds told The Detroit News. "You need to record your trip odometer and the fuel amount that you used."

    Still, even registering the numbers yourself is not a fool-proof way to estimate fuel economy. Variables such as where you are driving, what the weather is like and whether or not you are off-roading can impact the bottom line. 

  • Sand Mountain is a haven for fans of off-roading

    The hunt for the perfect off-roading location frequently brings drivers to America's expansive West. With vast stretches of open land and thousands of acres of wilderness ready to be explored, this region is a hotbed of off-road driving. One of the premier places to venture to is found in Northern Nevada, where Sand Mountain and its surrounding recreational areas can act as a great place to test off-roading skills. 

    About the area
    Nestled approximately 25 miles outside Fallon, Nev., is the Sand Mountain Recreation Area. It is comprised of more than 4,700 acres of open land, and nearly all of it has been designated for off-road use. While some specific areas are closed to motor vehicles, much more remains open to the public, and it has become a popular site for off-road driving. 

    Sand Mountain, which is the main dune, extends over nearly 2 miles. Its calling card is what is known as "singing sand," as the surface makes groaning noises when riders cross over it. The sounds come about from the unique shape of the sand, as well as the way grains rub against each other under pressure, creating a one-of-a-kind environment for drivers. 

    The unique area started its formation thousands of years ago, when Lake Lahontan dried up and left a large empty space behind. Without water, the hill on the edge of the lake rose up 600 feet above the ground, and became somewhat of a beacon for adventurers. That is certainly true now, as off-roaders often make the pilgrimage to Sand Mountain to test it out for themselves. 

    Part of the reason Sand Mountain regularly attracts so many experienced off-road drivers is because of its wide array of terrain. The land is ideal for dune bashing, and various stretches of land throughout the area also provide spots for rock crawling. Add in the climate changes, which can bring everything from desert conditions to snow to the region, and you have an unpredictable location that has enough variables to challenge even the most skilled drivers. 

    What to expect
    If you're eager to bring your off-road vehicle to Sand Mountain, you should make sure that it - and you - are ready to handle the different obstacles you may encounter. ATVs are the most common sight on the grounds, although it's not strange to see a few souped-up trucks exploring the land as well. Because of the lack of large vehicles, you'll likely have plenty of room to test your latest truck modifications and explore the wide open spaces. 

    Before taking off on your adventure, you should be aware of a few rules put in place for the safety of all drivers on Sand Mountain. For example, all vehicles must have whip flags measuring 8 feet attached to them when in the dunes, and visitors are not allowed to have burning tires on their rides. Other rules are in place for camping and camper safety, and drivers should check up on those regulations before planning a multi-day trip to the area. 

    There is a fee for off-roading at Sand Mountain, with passes available on a seven-day or yearly basis. However, Tuesdays and Wednesdays are free, so those drivers who don't mind heading out during the week will be able to enjoy the land at an incredibly low cost. Additionally, those who visit in the spring or fall can reap the benefits of near-perfect weather conditions, Dirtopia reports. Summer is also a good time to visit, but only for those who don't mind the heat, as the temperatures can reach high levels and winds whip dust around the area. 

  • Protect weak spots of the Jeep JK with armor

    Jeep has made a name for itself as one of the most rugged brands in the world of off-roading. Its exemplary tradition and reputation may be well deserved, but that doesn't mean there are not areas where the vehicle could use some improvement. 

    Weak points to watch
    Even installing a Jeep lift kit on a machine can't prevent all kinds of damage from striking the bottom of the vehicle. While raising a vehicle can certainly reduce the number of obstacles it comes in contact with, it does not eliminate the threat of harm all together, which makes caring for at-risk areas extremely important.

    One area to watch is the front and rear axles. While these axles are designed to withstand wear and tear of everyday driving and off-roading, there are always unexpected obstacles that may pop up along the way and throw off the alignment. There are also a few spots along the axles that are susceptible to bending, which can cause tires to tilt inward or create gaps at the ball joints, both of which will negatively affect the performance of your Jeep. 

    The axles aren't the only weak points on a Jeep. Owners will also want to protect areas like the gas tank and muffler, which can be easily damaged while off-road driving and run up the cost of auto repair. 

    Why armor? 
    These weak points on a Jeep JK may not seem like much, but damage to these areas may be extremely costly. You could have to replace and install new gear, racking up expenses while also missing out on valuable time on the off-road trails. Instead of wasting time and money on these damages, you can take preemptive action to protect your Jeep from harm. 

    Armor and skid plates typically consist of heavy-duty plate steel that protect the underside of a Jeep. Once these accessories are installed, you can focus all of your attention on enjoying the off-roading experience and conquering any obstacles that get in your way - without worrying about excessive damage to the bottom of your vehicle. 

    Making Jeep modifications like installing skid plates and armor can go a long way toward protecting an off-road vehicle. To cut down on costs and aggravation, consider investing in some Jeep JK armor and get a head start on preventative maintenance and care. 

  • 'Off Road Nights' strives to get bigger and better

    The off-roading community is a strong one, and when a bunch of enthusiasts gather together in one place, you know it's going to be a good time. Despite this, there are not a lot of high-profile events that were made for displaying off-road vehicles, checking out the latest stages of truck mods and browsing around for some fresh ideas. 

    However, all is not lost for fans of off-roading. One particular festival held in the western U.S. is quickly becoming a can't-miss event, as it offers everything a driver could want. Known as Off Road Nights, this extravaganza is starting to attract thousands of fans and plenty of attention, and it may soon be a major event in the world of off-roading. 

    This year's event
    Billed as a festival that celebrates everything about the dirt lifestyle, Off Road Nights was created to be a haven for fans of off-road driving. The 2013 edition of the event, which was held Aug. 3, featured almost 60 of the top vendors from various sectors of the off-roading industry, as well as thousands of fans of the pastime. 

    "I just wanted to bring the community together, have a party and show off all their sick vehicles while they're clean," Rat Sult, the founder of the event, told The Press-Enterprise. "No stress. No racing. Everybody is just hanging out having a good time." 

    With everything from semi trucks and full-size pickups to rock crawlers and go karts present, there really is something for everyone with an interest in the off-roading industry, and all guests can bond over their love of the dirt lifestyle. According to the news source, more than 15,000 people flocked to the most recent running, and the event organizers believe that there is enough interest to keep the festivities growing into the future. 

    What the future holds
    After the success of the 2013 event, Off Road Nights is only looking up. The goal is to keep the event growing, adding more vendors and attracting more fans - and their vehicles - each year. 

    Even families can get in on the fun. There is a kids' zone filled with age-appropriate activities, and auto fans of any age will love strolling through the grounds and checking out all of the truck and Jeep modifications on display - and perhaps even getting some ideas for future projects. 

    Many of the favorite activities from Off Road Nights will continue to be a part of future celebrations. Even if you have missed the festivities in the past, things like the car show, off-road lifestyle expo and displays, live entertainment, and vehicle competitions should be a staple for years to come. 

    Visiting Temecula
    Off Road Nights is held in Temecula because of the city's prime location, and that also makes it a great spot for fans of off-roading to visit at any time of year. With a close proximity to both mountains and desert lands, riders who enjoy any type of terrain will have access to their preferred setting. 

    "Temecula is like the epicenter for action sports and off-road because of the location of the mountains and desert," Sult, a Temecula city resident, told the Southwest Riverside News Network. "This is going to be like Sturgis [and its motorcycle rally] for off-road."  

    The city also hosts an annual event known as the Rod Run. This classic car show brings in anywhere from 25,000 to 35,000 people and only furthers the reputation Temecula has a haven for auto lovers, The Press-Enterprise reported. 

  • More emphasis placed on pet safety

    We've touched on some of the best ways to keep pets safe when you take them off-roading, but some new developments have once again brought the issue into the spotlight. Although many motorists want to share off-road driving experiences with their pets, it is best to take all necessary measures to ensure that you and your passengers - human or otherwise - remain safe. 

    About the dangers
    The risks involved with letting a pet roam free within a vehicle go beyond what may happen in the event of a crash. In particular, animals getting harmed while riding in the truck bed is a widespread issue that needs to be addressed. 

    "It is estimated that 100,000 dogs die each year riding in truck beds," said Dr. Robin Ganzert, president of the American Humane Association. "Unfortunately, we have all seen dogs riding in the bed of a pickup truck, which is an extremely dangerous way to transport your pet." 

    Another potential cause of problems comes from letting dogs ride with their head out the window. While they certainly enjoy doing it, this act can be incredibly dangerous, especially if you are off-roading. Just one missed obstacle or piece of debris can lead to a major issue, and it is better to err on the side of caution. Let your dog ride in the backseat, roll up the passenger window to keep its head inside or take other measures to ensure it's not placing itself in unnecessary danger. 

    Ford gets on board
    A new campaign from Ford aims to shed some light on this issues. The automaker teamed up with the American Humane Association to launch an awareness effort reminding drivers of the need to keep their dogs safe. While it goes beyond getting them out of the truck bed, that is certainly a good place to begin, and it is not difficult to get started on these safety initiatives. 

    "As America's truck leader, this is an issue that's close to the heart for us," said Doug Scott, marketing manager for the Ford Truck Group. "We're not asking that people go to onerous lengths while driving with pets, but even the smallest steps can make a difference in keeping all passengers in our vehicles safe." 

    Following some of the safety tips previously offered, as well as remaining cognizant of where your pet is and what it is doing when in a vehicle, can lead to safer experiences and better results for everyone on the roads. 

  • Tips help drivers before long off-roading trips

    Part of the fun of off-roading comes from conquering unknown lands. That's why finding new parks and trails is of such importance to some drivers. However, these alluring locations are not always close to home, and you may have to embark on long road trips to get to the latest spot that's caught your eye. 

    Prior to these adventures, there are a few steps you should take to ensure your vehicle is primed for a long trip. The truck mods you've made may have it ready for off-road driving, but your vehicle will need to be ready to handle pavement, mud, rocks, gravel and everything in between. 

    Inspect the off-road vehicle
    Before setting off on any significant trip, you should make sure you are thoroughly examining the vehicle to see if it is up to par - especially if you plan on off-roading. Looking at things like wipers, fluid levels and the automobile's oil are all important aspects of maintenance that you should take care of ahead of a trip. While you may be constantly updating a vehicle and be confident in its capabilities, giving the machine a once-over before an extended journey is an easy preventative measure that provides peace of mind. 

    Check the tires
    Several months of summer driving and hot weather could have contributed to the wearing down of your tires, which is why it is essential for drivers to check the tires and their pressure before long trips. Temperature changes can wreak havoc on tire pressure, so it is important to keep an eye on this aspect throughout road trips. Under- or over-inflated tires can cause problems when off-roading, which only furthers the need to have them at the level recommended by the manufacturer. 

    In addition to the tire pressure, you should also check on the alignment. Obstacles you've encountered when off-roading could have thrown the alignment off, and getting it fixed will improve other aspects of the drive as well. Should you notice there are any issues and tires may need replacing, focus on the rear two. Those are the tires that provide the most stability for a vehicle, even if you have the option of all-wheel drive, so they are the most important ones to switch out. 

    Know your blind spots
    Driving a large, souped-up truck or SUV gives you a lot of advantages both on and off the roads, but it can also cause some disruptions as you go about the journey. For example, some of your truck modifications may have expanded blind spots or even created new ones. Getting an idea of where these areas are before traveling will give you the knowledge you need to stay safe on the roads and handle any off-road trails with ease. 

    Charge all devices beforehand
    Keeping things like a cellphone charged is one task that almost all drivers know to do. But it's not the only device you should be focusing on. If you're going to be driving in unfamiliar places to reach an off-roading destination, be sure to charge gadgets like a GPS or tablet. Although you may be content to leave these items behind and rely solely on a smartphone for any directional help, that can quickly drain your battery and leave you scrambling for other ways to communicate. While you may not even need these devices, it is best for your safety and peace of mind if you bring along one or two of them and take steps that enhance your safety. 

  • Consumer Reports names top pickup trucks

    There is a lot of competition within the auto industry. With countless brands fighting for supremacy across a wide range of segments, choosing the top vehicles in any given situation can be difficult. That didn't stop Consumer Reports from releasing ratings that selected the best pickup truck on the market. 

    A surprise winner
    After all of the scores were in, the Chevrolet Silverado 1500 emerged as Consumer Reports' big winner. With a final total of 81 points out of 100, the truck earned a rating of "excellent,"  narrowly edging out its closest competitor. 

    The Silverado staked its claim for the title by standing out in categories like towing and cargo capacity. In the testing, the truck managed to pull up to a trailer weighing in at 11,200 pounds. It also has a tailgate that is easily lowered and raised, as well as corner bumper steps that make it easy to climb in and out of the truck bed, no matter how high a Chevy lift kit has made the vehicle. Improved handling and solid fuel economy also contributed to the pickup's win. 

    Not everything was top-notch with the Silverado. The truck got lower marks for the downshift, which could feel underpowered. Shifting up, however, can be done smoothly and quickly, allowing drivers to make the most of their time on the road. 

    The runner up
    Just behind the Silverado 1500 was the Ram 1500, which came in at 78 points out of 100. The close scores indicate how similar these two vehicles are and emphasize that both are strong options any prospective pickup owner should consider. 

    Despite all of the benefits of the Chevrolet Silverado, the publication noted that the Ram 1500 may be the better option for everyday drivers. Judges believed the Ram vehicle had a more comfortable interior, an intuitive control layout and smoother driving than its competitors, which created a nice environment for owners who do a lot of traditional driving. It was also very close behind the Chevrolet vehicle when it comes to mileage. 

    The Ram 1500 was praised for its power. With an eight-speed transmission, quick acceleration and powerful four-wheel drive, the truck was capable of accomplishing great things both on- and off-highway. 

    "The reality is you can't go wrong with either one," said Jake Fisher, director of automotive testing for Consumer Reports. "Both are capable trucks that get decent gas mileage and are as quiet inside as a good luxury car." 

    Both of the trucks outpaced models like the Ford F-150 XLT, which has two separate editions placing third and fourth on the list. 

    Can they go off-roading? 
    All of the top trucks are well suited to become an off-road vehicle. The impressive towing and cargo limits makes all of the automobiles solid choices for drivers who will be lugging tools, camping equipment and other gear into the wilderness.

    Consumer Reports even conducted an off-road driving test to see just how these vehicles performed. The Silverado's lower ground clearance and wheel spin inhibited its performance on a rock-crawling course, but it was still able to complete the route. The Ram 1500 did not have those same problems when it came to off-road driving, and was instead praised for its consistent delivery. 

    Ram has a strong history of producing reliable vehicles, which makes it an attractive option for drivers who want to know what they're getting in a truck. Until the Silverado builds up its repertoire and demonstrates that it is a dependable vehicle, the publication gives Ram the edge. 

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