Rough Country News

  • Off-road driving heads to outer space

    Have you ever wondered how space vessels handle off-road driving on other planets? It's probably not something that comes to the front of your mind very often, but it is actually an important aspect of off-roading. Although procedures on planets such as Mars are undoubtedly different than those on Earth, there are a number of similarities between how vehicles drive on both planets. 

    For scientists to create and prepare rovers and other machines for life on Mars, they had to first test them in similar conditions on Earth. This may seem like a tall order, but it was made easy when researchers found a similar environment to the one in space - in Utah. 

    Mimicking Mars
    The first thing experts had to do to was find a property that could act as Mars' rough surface during testing. They found the perfect stand-in at Utah's Mars Desert Research Station, located in Hanksville, which is just southeast of the state's center. 

    At the facility, scientists, engineers, volunteers and plenty of curious minds get the chance to see what it's like to drive on Mars, Space.com reported. Much the land surrounding the research station is filled with dust and rocks, so driving on the land is reminiscent of dune bashing. In some areas however, it can be more similar to mudding, especially during damp seasons when the ground becomes a sprawling segment of mud in all directions. 

    Teams who utilize the facility have preplanned "missions" they can take part in, getting as close to an outer space experience as they're likely to find.

    "The idea was a small crew on these kind of preplanned set of missions that would allow astronauts to get there and have a functioning habitat in place," MDRS Director Shannon Rupert told Space.com. "We approached it from the idea that it's there and ready to go, and they [the crew] just have to land." 

    While many real-life astronauts and NASA workers get to spend time at the center, it is also open to those who simply have a curiosity for what outer space may be like.

    About the Mars Rover
    Curiosity, the Mars Rover, is currently exploring the Red Planet, and it is doing so with the help of a number of features that allow the vessel to handle the difficult terrain. With the head rising 6.9 feet above the ground and an arm extending another 7 feet outward, in addition to an array of technological features that can accomplish a number of scientific feats, Curiosity is certain capable of completing tasks on Mars. However, the only way it could successfully reach its locations is with the right off-roading tools. 

    According to NASA, the rover has six wheels stemming off its legs, and its tires are able to get through the sand, dirt and rocks present on Mars. The rocker-bogie design enables the machine to keep all of its wheels on the ground at all times, no matter how rocky the terrain is, which is a huge advantage. Its technology has been optimized to have tilt limits, so the rover can smartly avoid any inclines that may cause it to tip over or harm one of its exterior features. 

    With four-wheel steering, the ability to swerve and curve, and the potential to go over obstacles or across holes, Curiosity is able to handle many types of terrain it encounters on Mars. Add in cleats installed on the wheels, which provide added grip for going through sand and across rocks, and the end result is a tremendous machine that draws from many standard off-road vehicles. 

  • Ford F-150 RaptorTrax is ready for snow

    Driving on snow can be tough enough when you're sticking to paved roads and highways. With poor visibility, slushy surfaces and plenty of hidden dangers, any type of driving taking place in the cold-weather months can be hazardous, but even those obstacles don't stop avid off-road drivers from heading out into the wilderness. Before they can truly have a fun experience behind the wheel of an off-road vehicle, however, these drivers have to make sure their rides are equipped to handle whatever comes their way. 

    A number of truck modifications may help accomplish this, but there are also a few concept trucks that could meet all of your winter off-roading needs. The latest to join the fray is the Ford F-150 RaptorTrax. Already billed as the "world's fastest snowcat," according to AutoBlog, this upgraded truck could be just what you need to handle off-road driving in any kind of conditions. 

    The inspiration
    This custom truck is the brainchild of Ken Block, an experienced driver who has honed his skills as part of Global RallyCross events and as a part of the Hoonigan Racing family. He wanted a vehicle that could satisfy his love of racing as well as his desire to spend time in the great outdoors, particularly to participate in a few winter sports. 

    "This project is something I've had in my head for awhile now," said Block. "I absolutely love my daily driver Ford Raptor, especially since I live out here in the mountains of Park City, so to build out this mountain assault vehicle with a Raptor as the base platform made sense to me." 

    Ready for snow
    To handle the snow, the base Ford F-150 was outfitted with several truck mods to adapt it to winter weather. It's powered by a 6.2-liter supercharged engine and features a full roll cage, rear-mounted winch and more. Extra exterior lighting was included to help the vehicle see through the wilderness, even in the short days of winter. 

    One of the biggest helps in the snow will be the tires. Instead of traditional off-road wheels, this Ford boasts four Mattracks, which are sure to come in handy when crossing through deep snow drifts or climbing up slippery mountains. That change obviously isn't an easy one to make for everyday drivers, but then again, not everyone will need to battle the excessive snow that Block expects in Utah. 

    Block had snowboarding on the brain when he gave input regarding some of the alterations. Snowboard racks were added, as well as a roof basket for additional storage. Interior compartments have been primed to hold snacks and drinks, while an exterior stereo system is perfectly capable of blasting tunes across a mountain. 

    The next step
    Fans of off-road driving who are curious about the Ford F-150 RaptorTrax will be able to get a glimpse of the design and capabilities in a video, which unfortunately isn't due out until after the start of next winter. However, the concept truck will be on hand at the Winter X Games in Aspen, Colo., which are set to take place in the coming weeks. 

    Of course, Block will also need some time to test out the vehicle and make sure it meets the needs of sportsmen and women everywhere. 

    "It's an absolute beast of a machine, and I'm stoked with how it's turned out," Block said. "Next up is for me to take it deep into the backcountry ASAP to help me and some friends slay some powder on our snowboards for a video project due out later this year." 

  • Midsize trucks ready to square off

    Pickup trucks have been among the most popular vehicle types in the U.S. for years. However, for the most part, consumers have to choose from a range of full-size, heavy-duty automobiles. That is the perfect match for some, but the prospect of a smaller model pickup is often intriguing for a select group of drivers. These trucks can still be used for off-road driving or work-related tasks, but they also offer a number of benefits ranging from better fuel economy to different off-roading capabilities. 

    According to CBS Local News, the compact pickup truck market hit its peak in the mid-1980s, when as many as 1.4 million models were sold. That number dwindled to roughly 250,000 in recent years, as the majority of buyers gravitated toward full-size vehicles. Luckily for interested parties, that all could be changing soon. 

    More manufacturers taking notice
    A number of automakers have begun turning their attention to the midsize truck segment. While models such as the Toyota Tacoma and Nissan Frontier have been on the market for some time, other manufacturers are returning to the stage after a prolonged absence. General Motors came onto the scene with a bang, showcasing models like the 2015 GMC Canyon and 2015 Chevrolet Colorado. Both of those pickups hope to allow drivers to complete whatever tasks they have in mind, whether it's hauling or camping. 

    GMC Vice President Tony DiSalle hopes that the added details included by the brand, which increase the overall comfort and driving experience, will be enough to set the trucks apart. 

    "Things like refinement. Things like materials, comfort, roominess, fuel economy. All of those elements have basically been dissatisfiers for years amongst consumers in midsize pickups," DiSalle told CBS Local News. "We see that as a real opportunity." 

    Focusing on fuel economy
    While many factors influence what truck a driver will buy, regardless of its size or segment, fuel economy is one quality that will not be overlooked. This quality is one that has increased in importance in recent years, and today, the fuel economy of a vehicle is an aspect that can drastically sway a driver's opinion. 

    Automotive News reported that Ram and Ford may be ahead of the pack in this regard, as they frequently employ turbocharged technology, which can improve fuel economy. The rise of diesel engines has also increased the efficiency of trucks, making certain models more attractive than others. 

  • Is your emergency kit stocked for winter?

    Winter adventures are particularly alluring, especially for off-road drivers, but you have to make sure you have all of the right equipment before setting out on a trip. It doesn't matter if you're traveling great distances on the highways or checking out off-road locations close to home - you need to have a properly stocked emergency kit. Having the right tools can be a major help in different circumstances, particularly in the cold-weather months, and some select items may be especially important.

    State Farm recently conducted a study to determine what drivers need, as well as what they have stored in their vehicles. While about 96 percent of people had at least one of the items deemed important, only about 5 percent had all of them. Instead of keeping useless junk in an off-road vehicle, consider investing in some of the most helpful articles.

    "Even on a relatively short trip, you can find yourself stranded for several hours," said John Nepomuceno, an auto safety research administrator from State Farm. "Whether it's because of a flat tire, an empty fuel tank or treacherous conditions like ice or fog, it's important to be prepared. These new findings highlight the importance of having the right emergency equipment so you can safely get back on the road sooner."

    Essential emergency items
    State Farm recommended that drivers of all kinds keep a few important tools stored in their vehicles in case of emergency. Among the most essential objects are flashlights, a spare tire, jumper cables, a first-aid kit, a windshield scraper and road salt. In the event you have to conduct some type of maintenance or repair on-the-go, you should also have things like a tarp, which can be used for sitting or kneeling on and is especially handy when driving across snow or ice, as well as a hazard triangle or road flares, which can alert others to your presence. 

    Your responsibilities don't stop at simply keeping the emergency equipment in your vehicle. The items also need to be checked periodically to ensure they are in good working condition. Only about 38 percent of drivers say they inspect their emergency kit at least twice a year, but can be extremely helpful to monitor the condition throughout the year. It is also a good idea to refresh a store of batteries, water bottles, nonperishable items and extra clothing or blankets. All of these objects are beneficial to drivers who may be stranded for a prolonged period of time. 

    For off-road driving
    When you go off-roading, there's a good chance you'll need a few specialized tools in addition to the same emergency items as a standard driver. For instance, while the average driver may be able to rely on the spare tire that comes along with a vehicle, you may have to take extra steps to accommodate this need. Anyone who has installed a lift kit may have also invested in larger off-road tires, and you could need a more refined spare tire on hand. 

    You should also keep in mind that you may have to rearrange some of your storage options when placing the important tools in a vehicle. Although many might be inclined to put these items in a storage box on the bed of a truck, for example, there may be a few pieces that you'll want to have a bit closer. For example, things like de-icer or a flashlight should be placed in a glove compartment, where you can quickly access them.

  • Mopar Muscle Ram blends off-roading and monster trucks

    When it comes to off-road driving, bigger is usually better. With details like lift kits, off-road tires and suspension components all contributing to higher ground clearance and larger overall vehicles, there are many ways drivers can upgrade their rides to handle anything. 

    However, no matter how many truck modifications these owners make, their automobiles rarely touch the biggest, baddest rides out there: monster trucks. One new creation that certainly deserves some respect is the Mopar Muscle Ram. As the latest addition to the lineup from Hall Brothers Racing, this monster truck is expected to steal the spotlight at several upcoming shows around the U.S., including its grand debut Jan. 11 in Detroit.

    Fortunately for fans of off-roading, this vehicle also features several truck mods that could act as inspiration for future off-road vehicles. After all, Mopar worked with Ram Truck to develop the final model, and that teamwork may have some far-reaching effects on the industry. 

    About the partnership
    Ram has been a sponsor of the Hall Brothers Racing team since 2002. Since that time, the two companies have worked together on a variety of projects, but none on the level of this Mopar Muscle Ram. In fact, that vehicle is the first Original Equipment Manufacturer monster truck to take part in the Monster Jam series in more than a decade. 

    "We're excited to have Mopar make its first foray into the world of monster trucks by joining the Ram brand in this popular and competitive exhibition series ..." said Pietro Gorlier, president and CEO of Mopar. "So much of what Mopar does is applicable to the general consumer, but occasionally we like to show just how capable our brand is of really extreme performance. This is a great and fun opportunity for us to do that with Mopar Muscle and the Hall Brothers." 

    Inside the truck
    With a weight of 10,300 pounds and a height that stands at about 10 feet, the Mopar Muscle is an intimidating truck. It is based on the 2014 Ram HD pickup truck, and the frame of the new vehicle was even made to look like that Ram product. 

    Of course, what will likely steal the show immediately are the oversized tires included on the truck. Ram and Mopar made room for those giant wheels by installing a lift kit, which raised the truck several feet off the ground. That is necessary to maneuver around full-size cars and other obstacles, but the odds are off-road drivers won't need as much separation from the ground. Still, that doesn't mean the capability isn't appreciated, and it should help make the truck a force to be reckoned with on the course. 

    "We are very proud of our new Mopar Muscle Ram monster truck," said Tim Hall, owner and crew chief of the monster truck team. "It looks really fantastic, and I can't wait to see it run. Mopar has a long and storied history of winning across many forms of racing, so we intend on helping to make their entry into monster truck racing just as successful." 

    To match the increased size of the truck, the Ram's engine has also been upgraded. It now measures at 9.3 liters and was supercharged to reach 2,000 horsepower. That was created from the Gen II 426 HEMI motor, which is an engine that is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. This latest version shows that the engine isn't slowing down anytime soon, and if it can power this large machine through the challenges of a Monster Jam, it is likely able to handle anything from mudding to dune bashing as well. 

  • Ford, Jeep set the mark for customer loyalty

    What motivates a buyer to choose a certain vehicle when shopping around for a new investment? For some, it's the possibility for truck modifications or off-roading, while others may be more drawn to automobiles that offer excellent fuel economy and affordable maintenance. Regardless of what's at the top of your wish list, you've probably got a few ideas in mind, and that can even extend to the automaker you want to purchase from.

    A major part of the decision-making process may be brand loyalty. There are many instances when a driver's past experiences with a certain vehicle affect their current opinion, and some of that could be rising out of affection for a given brand. To determine just how much of a role this plays, IHS Automotive unveiled its Polk Automotive Loyalty Awards, which examine how different brands and vehicles play on the emotions of drivers. 

    Chrysler earns accolades
    Chrysler emerged as the big winner of the awards. The company won five of the accolades, including for potential off-road vehicles such as the Jeep Grand Cherokee and Jeep Wrangler. Jeep, which is owned by Chrysler, appears to inspire a fierce love and loyalty in its drivers, and that contributed to the brand dominating the SUV categories. 

    "Winning five Polk Automotive Loyalty Awards is proof-positive of Chrysler Group's drive to build the best vehicles on the market," said Reid Bigland, head of U.S. sales for the group. "Customers will only come back if they trust their vehicles to deliver flawless quality and reliability, and these awards speak volumes about Chrysler Group's extensive vehicle lineup." 

    It also helps that Jeep modifications are relatively easy to make. Motorists can take a vehicle like the Jeep Wrangler, which has been designed for a variety of situations, and customize it for a specific type of off-road driving.

    Ford stays on top
    Despite Chrysler's winning ways, Ford managed to retain its hold on the top spot. According to Automotive News, Ford was named as the car company with the most loyal customers for the fourth year in a row. 

    Loyalty is going up across the board - IHS Automotive found that it had risen as much as 51 percent in the past year, according to the news source - and that means there are plenty of drivers interested in what a brand has to offer. 

  • Demand for used pickups remains high

    Not everyone can afford a brand-new pickup truck. Fortunately for drivers, many of the most popular models have reached a high standard of quality and come equipped with an impressive bevy of features year after year, which makes it easy to find a passable off-road vehicle in a pre-owned model.

    While this may relieve some of the stress on a budget, however, it doesn't mean the automobiles come cheap. In fact, some of these used models may still have a relatively high price tag, as the general cost of these vehicles has been rising steadily over the past several years. 

    Demand for pickups remains
    According to the NADA Used Car Guide, pickup trucks remain one area where buyers cannot get enough. A combination of lower gas prices and a smaller supply of used pickups for sale caused the demand to jump, which in turn raised prices for these trucks. 

    "Demand for both new and used full-size pickups was extremely high last year," said Jonathan Banks, an analyst with the NADA Used Car Guide. "The segment is unique because it supports both consumer and commercial needs, and the fact that used full-size pickups lost about 8 percent of their value last year is clear evidence that America's love affair with the segment remains strong." 

    Prices increase all around
    Continuing the trend set in the past several years, the average cost of used cars rose again in 2013. At the end of December, used cars cost about 0.4 percent more than they did at the same time in 2012. That is good news for sellers, as they can get a better return on their vehicles, and it partially comes about as a result of a slower rate of depreciation. According to the data, trade-in values of vehicles from 2006 to 2013 model years dropped by about 15.9 percent in 2013, which is an improvement from the 16.1 percent rate in 2012. 

    "A stronger economy, pent-up demand and favorable credit conditions underpinned used vehicle price strength in 2013," Banks said. "These positive factors helped to balance downward price pressure caused by an increase in the supply of late-model used vehicles, which began to grow again in 2013 following a five-year slide from a falloff in new vehicle sales and trade-ins during the recession." 

  • Chrysler inching closer to Jeep recall

    For years, drivers have turned to Jeep vehicles when they were in search of a reliable automobile. The brand has a reputation for producing some of the most capable off-road driving options on the market, and many recreational users have spent their time and money making a number of Jeep modifications to upgrade their rides. Unfortunately for these drivers, there may be some problems on the horizon for Jeep, and a recall could even be in the cards for the oft-reliable brand. 

    AutoBlog reported that Chrysler, Jeep's parent company, has been in a battle with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for the past several years. The safety organization claims that more than 3 million Jeeps are currently affected by a problem with the location of the gas tank in the lineup. According to the NHTSA, in a rear-end collision, the gas tank may be damaged, causing fires and injuries. Chrysler maintained that there was no such issue, but the company eventually agreed to join in a voluntary inspection of several Jeep models. 

    Now that this campaign is underway, Chrysler has agreed to recall more than 1.5 million vehicles, and as many as 2.7 million SUVs, including Grand Cherokees and Libertys, The Detroit News reported. To prevent further issues, the automaker will be installing special trailer hitches that add another layer of protection should an accident occur. 

    "Chrysler Group has finalized replacement part design and is initiating the tooling process to deliver the required volume," Chrysler said in a statement, as quoted by The New York Times. "Launching a safety recall demands complex engineering and close collaboration with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration well before we accumulate replacement parts. Chrysler Group takes seriously its commitment to customer safety." 

    The full recall has yet to go into effect, but drivers who own a Jeep vehicle may want to take a closer look at the safety features of their vehicle. A few simple changes can go a long way toward safety. 

  • 2015 GMC Canyon makes its debut

    Although Ford may have dominated the headlines at the North American International Auto Show, GMC was on hand with a new creation that is ready to make a splash. As part of the growing midsize truck market, the GMC Canyon offers a prime blend of capability and bulk. With factors such as fuel efficiency and maintenance costs acting as a major factor in the car-buying process, the midsize segment could become more prominent, and the GMC Canyon will certainly be a large part of that. 

    Latest reveal
    To debut the Canyon, GMC drove the pickup onto the grounds of the Detroit Auto Show, and many viewers may have thought they were seeing double. The manufacturer showed off the Chevrolet Colorado - the sister truck of this Canyon - at the L.A. Auto Show in November, and the two trucks are quite similar. This new Canyon is also close to the GMC Sierra, and many fans of off-road driving will likely be hoping that the latest pickup brings together all of the top features from the family. 

    "The all-new 2015 GMC Canyon completes GMC's three-truck family, which started with the redesigned 2014 Sierra 1500 and 2015 Sierra HD," said Tony DiSalle, vice president of GMC marketing. "It rounds out a lineup that offers the broadest range of capabilities in the industry, giving truck customers more choices to find the vehicle that meets their professional, personal and lifestyle needs." 

    The all-new GMC Canyon
    As the newest introduction to the midsize segment, the GMC Canyon offers an impressive array of features that can serve in many different situations. Those motorists who prioritize comfort and everyday driving will benefit from touches like the sculpted door panels, expanded storage spaces, 8-inch touch-screen panel and 4G LTE service. 

    Of course, many of the sought-after qualities of the Canyon deal with the truck's off-roading abilities. It is equipped with four-wheel drive, a lift-and-lower locking tailgate, two-tier loading, multiple tie-down locations, an already installed bed liner, and bed rail. It also has an aluminum hood, which not only provides some added front strength but also keeps the weight of the vehicle down while evening out the mass of the truck. 

    "Not everyone needs full-size capability, but they still deserve strength and true-truck attributes that comes in larger models," DiSalle said. "The Canyon will offer all the capability with confidence - and GMC's signature refinement that complements active lifestyles. It also delivers the technology customers want with more standard features." 

    Driver options
    While the standard version of the 2015 GMC Canyon is quite impressive, drivers will be able to customize parts of the truck to meet their needs. These efforts only scratch the surface of truck modifications, but they could be enough to get new owners started on the right foot. 

    The Canyon comes in two body styles: extended cab and crew cab. Crew cabs have another option of a 5-foot or 6-foot bed, while the extended cab only has the 6-foot cargo bed. Owners can then choose their trim level, which is available in base, SLE and SLT. The base offers only the bare minimum but can keep costs down. On the other side of the spectrum is the SLE and SLT, with the SLT package being the best choice for off-roading. That option boasts 17-inch all-terrain tires and a finely tuned truck suspension. 

    There are also multiple engines to choose from, including a 2.5-liter option with 193 horsepower and 184 foot-pounds of torque and a 3.6-liter motor with a maximum of 302 horsepower and 270 foot-pounds of torque. Each type should be able to tow up to 6,700 pounds.  

  • Looking back at the 2013 Jeep Wrangler Moab Edition

    Jeep released many special edition models in the past several months. In fact, there was so many that it was easy for a few to fall through the cracks, including a few models that should be given their fair share of the spotlight. One of those is the 2013 Jeep Wrangler Moab Edition, an off-road vehicle that is sure to please traditionalists who like to embrace the rugged nature of their rides. 

    Offering an array of excellent features that are ideal for off-roading, this vehicle is primed to become a favorite of heavy-duty drivers. 

    About the Moab
    It's impossible to miss the 2013 Jeep Wrangler Moab Edition, largely due to its unique paint color. Whether you're looking at the vehicle in vivid Gecko green or a Rock Lobster red, this automobile demands attention. It may be available in more standard shades like black and white, but with all of the extra benefits available with the Moab, you'll likely want to be noticed. Everything meshes well with the black wheels, fender flares and trim, which accents all paint colors nicely while sticking to the rugged vibe. 

    Although the Moab contains all of the capabilities you've come to expect from Jeep, there are also a few touches that cater the vehicle toward a more high-class crowd. The sleek exterior and extremely comfortable interior are just two of the ways this is accomplished, and with extras like a touchscreen on the center console, there are enough smart advancements to keep all types of drivers interested. 

    What to expect
    Thanks to a few key features, the 2013 Jeep Wrangler Moab Edition is more than capable of handling itself when off-roading. Several Jeep modifications, such as off-road tires, side rock rails and taillight guards, help to protect the vehicle even when it is being pushed to the limit. However, the Moab doesn't require a lot of fiddling before it can hit the trails. Auto Week reported that the edition is relatively customized as is, and with its special design and extra features, drivers won't have to make many changes to ensure their safety while off-road driving. 

    Of course, plenty of modifications can still be made. Installing a lift kit, adding armor, installing a front winch or outfitting the vehicle with similar types of off-road accessories is relatively easy to do. You can choose from two- or four-door models, as well as an optional soft canvas top and a soft top lift. You can also purchase the model with anti-spin rear differential, which will increase security on all kinds of steep slopes or slick terrain. 

    Drawing inspiration from the land
    The name of the 2013 Jeep Wrangler Moab Edition stems from Moab, Utah. This mountainous region is home to some of the coolest off-roading trails in the U.S., and any vehicle that draws its moniker from the space must be well equipped to live up to it. 

    Much of the Moab area is made up of old mining roads that have since been taken over by 4x4 vehicles. Some of the most challenging courses show off the beauty of the land while also providing plenty of obstacles to overcome - whether it's the solitude, intense rock crawling spots or other trials. Beginners should stick to routes like the Secret Spire and Chicken Corners, while more experienced drivers will enjoy stretches like Pritchett Canyon or Golden Spike. Each of these routes offers a special array of landmarks and challenges, allowing drivers to test their mettle in a unique area. 

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