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Rough Country News

  • Tailgate thefts becoming more common

    Truck owners want to do everything in their power to keep vehicles safe and secure. While much of this will revolve around good off-road driving habits, owners will also want to be aware of steps they can take to avoid becoming the victim of theft. 

    Tailgate thefts are on the rise
    According to data from the National Insurance Crime Bureau, the theft of truck tailgates in the U.S. is hitting record levels. The Detroit News stated that more than 500 thefts of the truck bed gear were reported in 2012, and the instances have been steadily increasing since 2008, when only three thefts were claimed. Those numbers put it as the most popular target for thieves, both because it is relatively easy to take, and it easily broken. 

    "It's the No. 1 theft item on a pickup," Bob Hegbloom, of Ram Truck, told The Detroit News. "Typically, the thing that's damaged first on a pickup is the tailgate. People are always replacing those things." 

    Tailgates are a popular target because it doesn't require any fancy tools to steal them - all a criminal needs is the opportunity. Full-size Fords, such as the F-250, are frequently eyed by criminals, with the bulk of thefts taking place in Texas, according to The Car Connection. Vehicles like the Ford F-150 and Chevrolet Silverado also see a significant number of tailgate thefts. 

    How to prevent thefts 
    There are several ways truck owners can protect themselves from theft. The best way is to invest in some kind of a tailgate lock. Although these features are becoming more common on new models, owners of slightly older editions will want to purchase a separate system that can be installed as one of the smaller truck modifications. These devices should be locked every time a driver leaves a vehicle. 

    Simple actions like parking close to an object or structure to block access to a tailgate can also be helpful. When you back up to a building, there is no room to open the tailgate, which can prevent theft. Another easy undertaking is etching the vehicle identification number onto the tailgate itself, according to The Car Connection. All owners have to do is carve the VIN into the tailgate - it doesn't have to be large or visible, but it should be present. This can speed up the process of reclaiming a stolen item. 

  • How to winterize an off-road vehicle

    Getting a vehicle ready for winter involves everything from investing in snow chains or special tires to brushing up on knowledge of cold-weather driving. An important part of preparing for these frigid months is winterizing the vehicle. This goes beyond strapping on new tires or throwing an ice scraper in the back - drivers must be able to complete a variety of tasks that ensure any type of automobile is ready to handle the cold weather. 

    Here are a few steps that you should strike off your to-do list as you winterize a vehicle: 

    Inspect the battery
    A vehicle's battery should be inspected at all times of the year, but it becomes particularly important during the winter. Battery capacity is reduced by colder temperatures, and this freezing environment may also be more harmful to the cables and gear associated with the device. To avoid being stranded in the cold - undoubtedly the worst-case scenario for many drivers - take the time to read the level of the battery and decide if it's time to invest in another one. It is also helpful to check and refill the fluid within the device. 

    Treat the windshield
    Visibility is key throughout the winter, so you should take steps to make sure your windshield is ready to handle the snow and ice. Dealing with mud, snow and other obstacles means you get plenty of work from windshield wipers, but it could be a good idea to replace these tools with new ones before winter arrives. Drivers should also choose an antifreeze that will keep their windshield clear. Certain washer fluids come with antifreeze mixed in, and that option could be a wise choice for drivers. 

    Prepare the doors
    A common problem drivers encounter in the winter occurs when doors and windows freeze, causing door locks to resist keys and many of the openings to clamp shut. Many auto owners head inside to grab some warm water to loosen the ice, but this isn't feasible - or advised - for all drivers. Instead of taking any risks, consider investing in glycerine. This liquid is ideal for de-icing a section of your car. The only thing you need to be aware of is storage: Leaving a stash of glycerine in a glove compartment is useless, so an outside storage container may be a better option. 

    Switch the engine oil
    Depending on the type of vehicle you drive, you may also want to switch your engine oil. Many automakers recommend drivers change their engine oil to one with a lower viscosity, meaning that it is thinner. Cold weather usually thickens the oil naturally, so having a thinner product ensures that there will be no clogging within the engine, and it will continue operating a high level. An owner's manual will likely have more information about making a switch and the type of oil that is preferred for a given vehicle. 

    Check the HVAC system
    Inspecting the heating and ventilation of a car may seem secondary - after all, the system is more about personal comfort than anything else. However, having a functioning HVAC system is essential for the winter. For one, you need to be comfortable to focus on your off-road driving without any distractions.  Secondly, the HVAC is also responsible for defrosting windows and the windshield, and that task must be done effectively for safe winter driving. If you notice something is wrong with the HVAC system, it could also be a sign of related problems under the hood, so it should be checked out before you head to the trails.

  • Pickups are popular across the US

    Anyone involved with off-road driving knows that different vehicles are better suited to separate tasks. While that may leave some drivers choosing between various pickup trucks and Jeeps based on their off-roading needs, it is also a trend that exists for all motorists across the U.S. 

    Business Insider recently teamed up with Kelley Blue Book to collect data about the best-selling cars in each state. The final results don't show anything too unexpected, but the trends revealed by the data may be interesting for a few drivers. 

    One of the biggest takeaways from the research was the sheer popularity of the Ford F-Series. The line of pickup trucks was the No. 1 selection in more than 30 states, with most concentrated across the middle of the country. The popularity of the truck probably has a lot to do with its attractive exterior and alluring amenities, but there are also a few other advantages. For example, it's easy to make truck mods to the Ford F-Series thanks to the availability of tools and equipment, which may make the pickup a viable choice for many drivers. 

    There were a few outliers, however. For one, Oklahoma was the only state to have the Toyota Tacoma as its best-selling vehicle. Indiana and Maine also bucked the trend, instead boasting the Chevy Silverado as the most popular automobile. Surprisingly, Vermont was the only state where the GMC Sierra was the No. 1 vehicle. Although the state is filled with wide open spaces that may be ideal for off-roading, it also has a reputation for being more environmentally conscious than others

    The remaining states - much of which are concentrated in the Northeast - saw sedans and compact cars as the most popular options. States such as Michigan, Florida and California also had smaller vehicles atop the popularity ranking. 

  • Tips for winter off-road driving

    Just because the weather has cooled down doesn't mean your passion for off-roading has. In fact, the difficult conditions found throughout this season are some of the most challenging and interesting a driver can try, which makes winter driving an attractive option for many. Despite the fun and adventure involved in this activity, there are some dangers that need to be considered. 

    Here are a few tips you can take advantage of when considering off-roading in the winter: 

    Tools for tires
    The benefits of snow tires and chains have been discussed, but there are other considerations that should be made regarding this equipment. For example, carrying a spare is a must, but you should also pack an air compressor. These devices convert power into pressurized air, which can then be used to fill tires. Having one of these tools on hand allows you to air down tires for better traction and ride quality depending on the terrain. 

    Watch out for weak points 
    Investing in items like Jeep JK armor can help you protect weak points on a vehicle, but there are other sections that will always remain exposed to the elements. U-joints are particularly at risk, as they are the weakest point in the drivetrain. Harm to these parts can affect the yoke - and in turn four-wheel drive and similar handling - and they usually cannot be fixed while out on the trails. Make sure you have the proper tools to patch one of these issues up well enough to get home. 

    Brush up on vehicle features
    Trucks and Jeeps come with a variety of features that are essential to have in an off-road vehicle. Four-wheel drive is one amenity that will be used at any time of year, but you should test it out before departing on a winter trek. Additionally, you should practice steering to test the controls of a vehicle and get used to handling the machine in the snow. Battling ditches or slippery slopes can be challenging, especially if you're following in areas where plows or other large vehicles have already been, so it is important to practice dealing with these obstacles. 

    Pack a survival kit
    Off-road driving at any time of year requires an array of tools and safety equipment, and that emergency kit should be a bit more specifically catered to winter conditions when the season approaches. Food and water are a must, and it may also be beneficial to have extra layers of clothing and blankets. 

    Add in tools like antifreeze, recovery straps, winches and snow chains, and you may be ready to face winter off-roading. You should also be sure to have a small supply of gravel or sand, or road salt, which can help you get out of a rough situation when on snowy or icy surfaces. 

    Never go alone
    Perhaps the most important thing you should keep in mind as winter arrives is that you should not be driving alone, especially on a remote trail. Stick to set courses or organized trail events to ensure you are always close to safety. At the very least, you should bring a partner along to have someone who can help with sudden repairs, and each of you should have a fully charged cellphone as well as other emergency gear. 

    If you do decide to drive alone, make sure you have a backup plan. You shouldn't stray from a distinct trail, and you should always make sure you are within walking distance of shelter and help. 

  • Chevrolet Colorado makes its debut

    When it was first announced that the 2015 Chevrolet Colorado would be making its debut at the L.A. Auto Show, many drivers may have been on the fence regarding their feelings on its arrival. After all, while it was sure to be an impressive model - especially in light of all of the hype that surrounded it - it was still a midsize truck. Without the appeal of heavy-duty capabilities or full-size features, it was tough to predict just how successful the truck would be. 

    However, all of that has changed now that the Chevy Colorado has entered the public spotlight. The vehicle comes with a variety of features and accents that many motorists and off-road enthusiasts will like, and it could convince more than a few people to make the switch to a midsize vehicle. 

    "Our strategy is simple: meet the needs of the broadest possible customer base, and let them choose precisely the right truck to meet their needs," said Mark Reuss, president of GM North America. "The all-new Colorado benefits from the solid foundation established by the Silverado, and it reinvents the midsize truck, while reinvigorating the segment at the same time." 

    The basics of the design
    Chevrolet set out to create a rugged midsize truck that still had all of the qualities drivers have come to expect. Like other models from the automaker, this vehicle boasts a CornerStep bumper design - similar to the Silverado - as well as an EZ Lift-and-Lower tailgate, 13 tie-down locations, tailgate protectors and a pre-installed bed liner. 

    "The new Colorado's design brings a youthful breath of fresh air to the midsize truck segment and puts a progressive spin on Chevrolet's true-truck styling," said Ken Parkinson, executive director of Chevrolet Design. "It's like the younger, more eager brother of the Silverado - a Chevy truck through and through, with great zeal and a spirit of adventure."

    Drivers will also appreciate the exterior of the truck. It definitely has a sporty edge, and drivers can choose from options like an extended cab or longer bed depending on their desires. Triple-sealed doors offer better ergonomics and a quieter interior, while additional storage has been added all around the truck for extra space. They can also select from different trims to customize the look. 

    Ready for off-roading
    With so many qualities and characteristics that were inspired by full-size trucks, the Colorado is more than ready to head to the great outdoors and explore the environment during off-road driving treks. The Z71 version of the truck is likely the one most catered to off-roading, with a gunmetal grille, projector headlamps and 17-inch aluminum wheels. 

    The Colorado's payload capacity is said to be the best in its class, while the trailering capacity is in excess of 6,700 pounds. Add in an option for a diesel engine, which is just one of the ways the powertrain has been amped up, and the truck is capable of handling your demands and equipment while out in nature. 

    "We designed the Colorado to be the most versatile and most capable in its segment, bar none," said Jeff Luke, the executive engineer of GM Trucks. "Not everyone needs full-size capability, but they still deserve the strength and true-truck attributes that come in larger models. The Colorado delivers capability with confidence - and a fun-to-drive spirit that complements active lifestyles." 

    The 2015 Chevrolet Colorado will come to showrooms around the U.S. in 2014. With improved technology and comfort on the inside, as well as sporty functionality on the outside, this midsize truck is poised to make an impact on the auto industry. 

  • Jeep Wrangler shows off Willys Wheeler Edition

    The Jeep Wrangler hasn't changed much over time, simply because it hasn't needed to. Its classic style and off-roading capabilities have helped make it one of the most desirable vehicles of its kind. Its basic frame has served as the canvas for many unique models and Jeep modifications, and that is part of the reason why the Wrangler spawns tons of special, limited edition vehicles. 

    Any driver who is a fan of the Jeep - and its many special editions - will likely be enthralled by the Jeep Wrangler Willys Wheeler Edition. This vehicle comes with an array of special features that sets it apart from the standard Wrangler while also making it a viable option for an off-road vehicle. 

    A look back
    One of the most appealing aspects of the Jeep Wrangler Willys Wheeler Edition is its throwback style. It was created as a way to honor the very first civilian Jeep, the Willys-Overland CJ-2A, which came onto the scene in 1945. When it first entered the public view, it was renowned for its functional amenities and off-road ability - two characteristics that have been mimicked for the 2014 Willys edition. 

    "The new Jeep Wrangler Willys Wheeler Edition is a Jeep purist's dream, delivering a Jeep vehicle that harkens back to the original, classic CJs of the 1940s," said Mike Manley, president and CEO of Jeep brand. "This new Jeep vehicle delivers pure functionality and rugged capability in a unique package that recognizes the origins of the brand." 

    The total package
    At the heart of the Jeep Wrangler Willys Wheeler Edition is the focus on functionality that was a hallmark of the earliest civilian Jeeps. Drawing inspiration from the Wrangler Sport, the Willys Wheeler Edition boasts rock rails, mud terrain tires and the new Jeep Trail Rated Kit, which includes a tow strap and D-Ring. Its exterior includes a glossy black grille with matching front and rear bumpers. Willys hood decals and high-gloss 17-inch black wheels set off the all-black paint.

    Powering the Jeep is a 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 engine. That motor can reach 285 horsepower and 260 foot-pounds of torque. Drivers can choose from a six-speed manual or five-speed automatic transmission. Off-road driving is easier with the low-range gear ratio and the Jeep Command-Trac 4x4 part-time, two-speed transfer case. 

    The Jeep Wrangler Willys Wheeler Edition is set to go on sale in early 2014, but it will make its public debut at the 2013 LA Auto Show. 

  • Toyota, Jeep stand apart for residual value

    When shopping around for a new or used car, qualities like resale value are often in the back of a driver's mind. Everyone wants to get bang for their buck, but they also want to be in a good position should they decide to sell a vehicle and upgrade to a different model. Luckily for fans of off-road driving, even the most modified off-road vehicle can still boast a solid resale value, although certain brands have proved to be better than others.

    Kelley Blue Book recently released its list of the 2014 Best Resale Value Awards, and many of the recognized models and automakers are found in the world of off-roading. No matter what truck mods or alterations are made to these machines, they should retain a fair amount of value, especially if the upgrades improve the overall quality of the automobile. 

    "Most options and packages added to a vehicle do not necessarily increase its resale value," said Jack R. Nerad, executive editorial director for Kelley Blue Book. "However, there are exceptions to the rule, such as a high-performance engine for a performance package ... Regional preferences can significantly impact the value of a vehicle as well. In the colder sections of the country, a two-wheel drive vehicle's resale value often will not be as high as a four-wheel or all-wheel drive of that same model."

    To determine the winners, Kelley Blue Book measured which vehicles retain the most of their purchase value over the following five-year period. 

    Toyota takes a win
    One of the biggest takeaways from the list was the excellent resale value of Toyota vehicles. In fact, the automaker was named the 2014 Best Resale Value: Brand, landing four automobiles in the top 10 list of individual models. It also had models top their respective categories in six of the 22 segments, which was tied with Lexus for the most of any brand. Over the course of five years, Toyota vehicles kept an average of 46.1 percent of their original sticker price, an increase of 2.1 percent from last year. 

    This was the third year in a row Toyota came out on top, largely thanks to its rugged models. Its four vehicles in the top 10 consisted of the FJ Cruiser, Tacoma, Tundra and 4Runner, each of which can be used as a viable off-road vehicle or heavy-duty work machine. Additionally, the Toyota Sequoia took the title as the Full-Size SUV/Crossover with the best resale value, while the FJ Cruiser, Tundra and Tacoma had the highest value in their segments as well. 

    Jeep, Dodge stand out
    While Toyota may have taken the win for the top overall brand, the Jeep Wrangler landed on the list of the top 10 individual vehicles with the best resale value. The Jeep Wrangler was also named the top Compact SUV/Crossover for resale value. Not to be outdone, the Dodge Challenger also made an appearance in the top 10, and although it didn't win its segment, it is still a force to be reckoned with and should continue to appear on the list in the coming years.

    "Jeep continues to dominate in its segment and among the top 10 list, increasing its residual value 3.9 percentage points from just last year," said Eric Ibara, a director for Kelley Blue Book. "New to this year's list is the Dodge Challenger, which heavily contributes to Dodge's success for the 2014 model year, along with other strong vehicles from the brand."

    While the resale value of a vehicle will have a lot to do with the maintenance and care that it receives, knowing which brands are more likely to hold their value could be a major boon for all drivers. 

  • The basics of winches for off-road vehicles

    Anyone who pushes their vehicle to the limit will find themselves in a sticky situation at one time or another. These precarious scenarios may have some drivers scrambling for help, but having the right tools and equipment can make the entire obstacle a bit more manageable. 

    One of the tools that drivers should have is a winch. Winching is a relatively common practice within the world of off-roading, and those who are new to the sport or need a refresher should brush up on some of the basics of winches and their benefits. 

    What is a winch? 
    A winch is a device that is situated on the front bumper of an off-road vehicle. It occasionally may be placed in the rear to tow boats, ATVs or other objects. Instead of acting as a tow hook, however, it features a motorized unit that uses a spool of wire or rope and typically draws power from the battery of the vehicle. When the power to the winch is connected, the spool turns, allowing an object to be pulled in or out. 

    Off-roading uses
    The most prevalent use of a winch in off-road driving is for recovery purposes. If you get stuck while mudding or dune bashing, you'll want to have the proper equipment to help you out of the jam, and a winch is one of the easiest ways to do that. You can use it to connect to another vehicle or something else that is solid, and once the switch is activated, the spinning spool of wire or rope will pull the vehicle out of trouble. 

    Things to know
    The first thing you have to know about installing a winch on your off-road vehicle is the weight of the car, plus any truck mods or equipment attached. Winches do have weight limits, and you should be adding in some leeway to allow for the unexpected surprises that may make an automobile heavier, such as the sand or mud dragging it down. Look for a winch that is 1.5 times the weight of your car. 

    Line length is another feature to consider. Although a long wire may be the best to get you out of a variety of situations, it is important to keep in mind that these devices work best when fully extended. Because the length of your cable is the length you will always have to deal with, this factor could prevent or promote tangles, obstacles and other annoyances. 

    Kits and accessories 
    Choosing the right winch will depend on the type of vehicle you have, as well as the type of driving and towing you plan on doing. No matter what you purchase, you will likely have the opportunity to consider buying several different accessories to go with the winch. Extra ropes, power cables, covers and mounts may all have to purchased. While winch kits can provide you with many of the tools you'll need for installation, repeated use might result in having to invest in one of these replacement parts. 

    You should also be wearing gloves when working with a winch and its cable. Steel wires or rope can easily burn hands that are pulling on it, and gloves will help protect you from these avoidable injuries. Additionally, when you are pulling the cable from the winch to the other object, consider placing some sort of weight in the middle. A jacket or heavy blanket will do - you are simply aiming to add some kind of resistance in case you lose your grip and the wire snaps back.

  • New suspension requirements aim to make driving safer

    Avid fans of off-road driving are used to tinkering with a truck suspension to customize their vehicle. While taking steps like installing a lift kit can make off-roading more manageable, it might also impact the quality of steering. To ease the mind of many drivers and ensure safety, new rules have been enacted with an end goal of making the driving experience safer for everyone, regardless of where they are operating a vehicle. 

    The new rule
    Electronic Stability Control is designed to improve control over a vehicle. It kicks into effect when a motorist uses "extreme steering maneuvers," which normally occur when trying to get out of the way of an accident or obstacle, or when the automobile nears the limit of its traction. The new rule, also known as Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No. 126, requires ESC to be installed on all new vehicles under 10,000 pounds. 

    "ESC systems use automatic computer-controlled braking of individual wheels to assist the driver in maintaining control in critical driving situations," the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported. "NHTSA estimates ESC will reduce single-vehicle crashes of passenger cars by 34 percent and single-vehicle crashes of sport utility vehicles by 59 percent, with a much greater reduction of rollover crashes." 

    How it affects off-road driving
    Installing a suspension lift kit may impact the steering, but things within the off-roading industry are changing to allow for better safety practices. Many manufacturers of aftermarket parts are taking steps to test their suspension lifts to see how they affect ESC systems, if they do at all, FourWheeler.com reported. Not only do these brands want to improve their safety reputation, but they also want to avoid liability for any accidents along the way. Already, some of the biggest names in the off-road industry have made strides toward certifying suspension lift kits and other accessories. 

    Having ESC systems on a truck or Jeep could be a major benefit for drivers. Off-roading pushes a vehicle to its limits, and if car owners are partaking in activities like rock crawling or mudding, they will want to know that their control over a vehicle is at the highest possible level. The peace of mind provided by this new technology - not to mention the enhanced steering capabilities - may make it a must-have for off-roaders. 

  • Take a look at 3 of Ford's off-road concepts

    Few companies are as dedicated to off-roading as Ford. While many are familiar with some of the automaker's vehicles, the American brand recently introduced a few new concepts that fans of off-road driving should get acquainted with. Many of the models were unveiled at the 2013 SEMA Show, and although they may have been overshadowed by machines from other manufacturers, these creations from Ford are certainly worthy of a second glance. 

    2014 Ford F-150 Adventure Edition
    The 2014 Ford F-150 Adventure Edition was designed by The Sportsman Channel, and like the name implies, it is the perfect machine for adventurous drivers. Fans of the channel sent in ideas about what type of features they would want in a vehicle for any type of hunting, camping, fishing or hiking trip, and that insight was used to make decisions about the final product. 

    Some of the truck mods include custom bumpers, fender flares and 20-inch all-terrain wheels matched with specialty tires. A Ford lift kit has also been installed to add an additional 6 inches to the height, which makes it easier to traverse terrain, and the 11,000-pound winch allows for easy towing as well. It even has a locked storage compartment and an enhanced audio system to make your time in the great outdoors even more enjoyable. 

    While this vehicle can certainly be used for standing off-roading - everything from rock crawling to mudding will likely be easier with all of the upgrades - it is also ideal for any other type of recreation. 

    Ford F-350 by EcoTrek
    Based off a Ford F-350, this EcoTrek creation stands out - and for more than just its brightly colored exterior. In addition to its red-orange paint job, this custom vehicle boasts a number of truck modifications that could prove to make a difference when off-roading. To start with, it's had a 50-gallon fuel tank installed, to go along with a 75-gallon tank on the truck bed. When both compartments are filled with fuel, the truck's range extends to approximately 1,800 miles. Beyond that, it can also be fueled up with diesel, biodiesel or algae-based biodiesel - or any combination of the three, according to Gizmag. 

    Even driving thousands of miles can be done in comfort. EcoTrek has outfitted the vehicle with a roof shelter, stoves and a small refrigerator, and it even has solar panels installed on the roof for an additional power source. As if that wasn't enough, the interior of the Ford is complete with sleeping bags, backpacks and storage lockers. All you need to do is store some food in the truck and you're good to go halfway across the country without having to stop. 

    The entire vehicle sits on 20-inch wheels that are capable of being covered with street or off-road tires. If you do decide to take the machine off-roading, you can reap the rewards of the 9-inch lift kit. 

    Ford F-150 Backwoods Sportsman by Skyjacker Suspensions
    Keeping in the theme of extreme off-road vehicles, the brand also created the Skyjacker Suspension Backwoods Sportsman Ford F-150. While on the outside this machine closely resembles the standard F-150, it does feature a 6-inch suspension lift kit, an upgraded lockable storage area and special Fab Fours bumpers. The suspension is stabilized by the large BFGoodrich tires, which help the truck find some solid ground even when crossing unstable terrain. 

    These are just three of the many concept vehicles Ford brought to the 2013 SEMA Show. Although they may simply have been custom creations that won't enter the main market anytime soon, these trucks could provide some inspiration for drivers who are ready to take their vehicles to the extreme.

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