Top 10 vehicle accessories for camping, fishing and hunting trips

Cargo haulingIn many parts of the country, fall is the ideal time to pack up the truck and trailer and head out on a hunting, fishing, or camping adventure. I like to do it all, and often head to a nearby state or national park, or to a friend’s farm where there’s acreage and an ideal spot for camping in the woods.

At the very least, this is an annual trip, and one I’ve taken so many times that I don’t even need to look at a list to confirm I’ve packed everything. Over the years, I’ve found tools and accessories—sometimes the hard way—that have made my trips and cargo hauling a little easier by increasing the convenience factor.

Here you’ll find a list of my top 10 favorite trip accessories.

1. Magnetic key case – My ’95 F150 had four-wheel drive, but it didn’t have remote keyless entry or a keypad, which wasn’t a problem until I locked the keys in the cab on a camping trip in the mountains. I know have a magnetic key holder hidden on all my vehicles to prevent future lockouts.

2. Liquid transfer tanks – Whether it’s for the snowmobiles, the UTVs and ATVs, dirt bikes, generator, or a combination of all of the above, one of us always has a liquid transfer tank in the truck bed so we can keep all of our fun fueled up throughout the weekend.

3. Pet partition – Road trip or camping trip, Charlie and Oscar are two dogs who like to ride. I love their company too, but I don’t want them jumping from seat to seat, getting hair everywhere, or trying to get into the food I have packed while we’re traveling. Plus, I want to keep them safer in the event I stop short, so I contain them to the rear cargo area with a pet partition.

4. Roof-mounted cargo rack or hitch-mounted cargo tray – There’s rarely enough room inside the vehicle for everything we need to take, particularly if it’s a longer holiday weekend or weeklong trip, so I gave myself some extra carrying capacity. Depending on what I need to haul, I stow the gear on the roof in a cargo rack or on a tray off the rear hitch, secure it, and go.

5. Weather-resistant cargo bags – These save the day when traveling through snow or rain – and they look a lot classier than having everything stowed in plastic garbage bags.

6. Cargo net – If you’re hauling gear in a truck bed or trailer and are worried about it blowing away once you’re up to speed, invest in a cargo net. It’s a lot safer, and cheaper, than having to go out and replace whatever you just lost to the side of the road.

7. Straps – Extra carrying capacity comes with the responsibility to other drivers that the load is properly secured. I like ratcheting tie-down straps because they get nice and snug and give me confidence that my load isn’t going to shift or fly away. For organizing gear – including sleeping bags, extension cords and hoses – I use Velcro straps that keep everything from becoming a tangled mess.

8. Mounts – I use my UTV everywhere and for everything, whether it’s work or play-related, and it’s trailered behind me on almost every camping or hunting trip. I found the easiest and safest way to haul things on it, whether it’s a weedeater or a gun, is with a mount that attaches to the roll bar.

9. Cooler – Inside the truck, I got tired of messing with ice to keep my drinks and snacks cool when traveling from home to the campsite. I solved that problem with a 12V cooler that plugs into my dash and does the work for me, with an added bonus of keeping warm food at temperature too.

10. 12V Heater – I only use this for emergencies now, but there was a brief period of time when my car’s blower motor went out in November and I relied on this little heat source to do the trick until I could get the motor fixed.

What are your must-have accessories when headed out on a camping trip to the woods or a road trip to grandma’s house for Thanksgiving?

Editor’s note: Make your next trip easier with vehicle accessories that provide extra room, comfort, or security. Advance Auto Parts can help. Buy online, pick up in store, in 30 minutes.


Crucial Cars: The Ford F-150

From timeless icons to everyday essentials, Crucial Cars examines the vehicles we can’t live without.

For this first installment, Rural Tales hitches a ride with the workhorse of the ages: The Ford F-150.


Ford F-150 232 consecutive years as the best-selling vehicle in the U.S.

37 years as the top-selling truck.

A major redesign for 2015 that has tongues wagging.

Why do so many truck buyers have a love affair with Ford’s F-150 and Ford trucks in general? Perhaps because like most F-150 drivers, these trucks just work. And that’s not to say that other trucks don’t, because I’m certainly not trying to start a war of words among my fellow truck drivers and loyal Ram, Silverado and Tundra enthusiasts.

The Ford F-150 is the workhorse of choice for countless professionals and weekend warriors alike who need dependable towing and hauling power for a reason. Consider the 2000 F-150 as an example. It’s 5.4-liter V-8, 16-valve, fuel-injected engine delivers 205 horsepower at 4,950 RPM and 255 foot pounds of torque at 3,700 RPM, for a maximum towing capacity of 7,500 pounds – more than enough to get most jobs done. Couple that power with its hefty size – a 3,923-pound curb weight and a 5,600-pound gross weight and a nearly 120-inch wheelbase – and you have a towing and hauling machine that can stand up to tough conditions and looks good doing it. Those good looks are courtesy of periodic F-150 body redesigns that refresh its image without losing the iconic body style that makes it instantly recognizable.

Ford’s continuing success with its F-150 can be traced, in part, to its experience designing and building trucks that drivers want. The F-150 wasn’t Ford’s first pickup. That honor falls to Ford’s 1925 Model T and the more than 33,000 Model T “runabouts” it built with a pickup truck body and sold for $281.The F-150 name didn’t arrive on the scene until 1975, following the F-100’s introduction in 1953 and the F-series creation in 1948 with the F-1 half-ton pickup. Those early F-series pickups were available with just two engine options – a 95-horsepower, 226 cubic-inch, inline six or a 100 horsepower, 239 V-8.

Changes in options through the years helped keep Ford’s  F-series fresh, with perhaps one of the biggest changes occurring in 1959 with the availability of four-wheel drive. That’s such an important feature because for many early pickup-truck drivers, they drove a truck for one reason – they had to. Whether they made their livelihood in farming, construction, or some other industry that required hauling or towing, those early trucks were, undoubtedly, work trucks.Ford F-150 1

Contrast that with today’s pickup owners. While many still choose the F-150 for work, countless others drive it because of the convenience and flexibility it offers – a car-like ride and interior with heated seats, 360-degree cameras, power moon roofs and LED lighting that can still haul and tow when needed, and do it in style. Yet another reason many drivers choose the F-150 and tend to hang onto them is that they’re easy to work on, particularly with a little guidance from the pros when you need it, and the continuing availability of parts and accessories for it.

What has people talking about the latest F-150, however, is Ford’s introduction of an all-aluminum cab, front-end, bed and tailgate. This aluminum body, still resting on plenty of high-strength steel in the frame and underbody, helps the F-150 shed 700 lbs. and increase its fuel efficiency. Anticipating truck drivers’ and F-150 lovers’ wariness about aluminum’s perceived strength in a truck that’s supposed to be Ford-tough, Ford’s been positioning the 2015 as being built with “military-grade aluminum alloy and high-strength steel,” and having undergone more than 10 million miles of brutal testing in real-world conditions before the first truck rolled off the assembly line.

The 2015 F-150’s new, 8-inch “productivity screen,” which provides a steady stream of data about the truck’s performance and driving conditions, is a far cry from early truck drivers’ understanding of productivity , but then again, they were more accustomed to throwing wood in their truck bed, instead of polishing it inside an air-conditioned cab.

2015 Ford F-150

2015 Ford F-150

Rest assured, Ford’s got it right with their new F-150. After all, they have the pickup truck experience as well as the incentive and pressure not to disappoint millions of die-hard Ford fans. No one at Ford really wants to be “that guy” responsible for breaking a 37-year tradition as the top-selling truck, even though there are probably an equal number of loyal Chevy and Dodge fans just waiting for that to happen.

Which truck do you use?

Are you an F-150 fan? Or, do you drive a Ram, Silverado or Tundra? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

Editor’s note: You can lighten your load by shopping Advance Auto Parts for your Ford F-150 needs.  Choose parts, accessories and more—all at a superior value. Get your order fast—buy online, pick up in-store, in 30 minutes.

Loading Your ATV for Transport — a Cautionary Tale

Quad ATVMy brother-in-law almost killed himself a short while back. How he escaped serious injury I don’t know, but he’s lucky he did. He’s a big-time turkey hunter and was getting his gear ready in preparation for being in the woods before dawn the next morning, for the first day of spring gobbler season. His final task was loading his ATV (you might call it a quad) into the bed of his pickup.

As he drove up the two short loading ramps he had made, his son called out to him. Thinking that the ATV ramps weren’t aligned or something was wrong, he hit the brakes, and then the throttle and the ATV flipped over backwards on him and they both landed on the ground. Luckily he was okay. He said it happened so fast, he still isn’t exactly sure what he did…and he still seems to be seeing stars.

I see lots of people around here hauling lawn tractors and ATVs in their pickup beds, particularly during deer and turkey seasons. I’ve even hauled my own a time or two, but am fortunate to have a trailer that’s low to the ground – and a set of loading ramps.

Given his accident, and how many other similar accidents happen – many of which have “bad idea” written all over them – I got to thinking about the safest way to load an ATV or tractor into a pickup bed, and learned a few things in the process. Here’s my unofficial list of how to “do it right” and avoid potential death, injury, property damage, or humiliation. If you have some tips or pointers, I’d love to hear those too.

1. Get ATV ramps – they are designed specifically for this purpose, unlike the scraps of lumber and cinderblocks lying around your garage. They make these aluminum ramps for a reason – safety. They’ll also make your loading and unloading a lot easier and less scary.

2. Make sure the loading ramps are securely fastened to the loading platform. Many of the accidents I’ve seen occur as the ATV nears the top of the ramps. The torque from the rear drive tire grabs the unsecured ramp and kicks it out, leaving only three wheels on the surface. You know what happens next.

3. Get aluminum ramps or a ramp kit with ramps using dimensional lumber that are long enough to reduce the angle of ascent or descent. ATV ramps that are too short, coupled with today’s truck beds that are higher off the ground, are a recipe for disaster because the incline you’re driving up or down is too steep, increasing the likelihood of a flip over. Consider ramp extensions instead. Also look for a spot from which to load that naturally reduces the angle because of the terrain – i.e. parking the truck in a dip and using the adjacent sloping terrain on which to place the ramps

4. Avoid sudden starts or stops, particularly midway through the loading or unloading process. The sudden weight transfer can cause the ATV to flip over.

5. Wear your helmet.

6. Know the weight of what you’re loading. This is important because wood or aluminum ramps are designed to safely hold only a certain amount of weight. Same goes for your truck’s tailgate.

Once your ATV or tractor is safely tucked in the truck bed, secure it well, to avoid watching it bounce away down the road in your rearview mirror. And, make sure it’s not pressing against the truck cab’s back window in case you stop short.

Finally, if you’re serious about hauling your ATV – and boat – and still having room left in the bed to store your gear, then check this loading system out. I didn’t even know it existed but think it’s a great idea.

Editor’s note: From ATV loading ramps to parts that keep your quad running right, Advance Auto Parts has what your ATV needs. Buy online, pick up in store.





Your A/C: Car Myths Debunked!

Car_air conditioner

Myths – they’re everywhere, and particularly online. Plenty of those myths focus on cars, like the one about it being better to fill your tank in the morning because the fuel is colder and denser (it isn’t) and you’ll get more for your money (you won’t.) Or there’s the one about increasing your pickup truck’s fuel mileage by driving with the tailgate down to reduce wind resistant (false, as pickups are designed to be aerodynamic with the tailgate up).

I’d like to investigate two myths that always seem to crop up when summer rolls around, the temperature climbs higher, and the long road trip becomes commonplace. It’s this myth: a vehicle’s air conditioner causes the engine to work harder. Therefore, electing not to use the air conditioner and instead rolling down the windows when driving will significantly increase fuel mileage. And in a similar vein there’s this myth – driving with your windows down will significantly decrease your fuel mileage because of the increased aerodynamic drag the open windows create.

One myth probably has some truth to it and one is most likely false. Here’s why.

In a test conducted by Consumer Reports, they drove a Honda Accord at 65 mph and found that using the air conditioner reduced fuel mileage by three percent. In another test they drove at 65 mph but this time with the windows down and found no measurable effect on fuel mileage. In a similar test performed by Edmunds using a Toyota Tundra, they saw a decrease in fuel mileage of almost 10 percent when using the air conditioner as opposed to driving with the windows down and the air conditioner off.

There are many similar tests and results online, but here’s what I think is the bottom line. It’s a conclusion similar to that reached by many of the testers:

  • Using a vehicle’s air conditioner may result in a small decrease in fuel mileage. However, that decrease is negligible compared to the discomfort of not having air conditioning on a hot summer day.
  • Driving with a vehicle’s windows rolled down doesn’t produce any measurable impact on fuel mileage as a result of aerodynamic drag (but your dog will love it if he’s along for the ride!)

If you really want to improve gas mileage during an epic road trip this summer, pay attention to these fuel-saving strategies instead:

  • Slow down and avoid aggressive driving, such as hard accelerations and hard braking and increase fuel mileage by as much as 33 percent at highway speeds, according to the official U.S. government source for fuel economy.
  • Remove excess weight from the vehicle and avoid hauling bulky items on the roof because it increases aerodynamic drag.
  • Keep your engine in tune and tires inflated to the recommended air pressure for a three to four percent improvement in fuel mileage.
  • Consolidate trips or share rides with someone else.
  • Drive a fuel-efficient vehicle.
  • Get more fuel-saving tips.

It’s not a bad idea to brush up on your  A/C-testing skills either because cold A/C makes for a comfortable car temperature. If you think your air conditioning might be malfunctioning, measure the temperature accurately by sticking this A/C thermometer in the vent with the A/C turned on. It might be working fine or you might need a simple fix. Either way, you’ll have an accurate temperature reading to help you decide.

For me, even on a hot summer day, if I’m driving on back country roads or on the highway, I prefer having the windows down and the A/C off. There’s just something about fresh air that I love. But driving around town, having the A/C on wins hands down every time. What do you think?

Editor’s note: Visit Advance Auto Parts for helpful advice and even better values. Buy online, pick up in store—in 30 minutes.




Kickstart my heart: one man’s rocky relationship with his vehicle’s starter

Toughone_Starter_SStarterThe starter and I have long had an uneasy relationship. We hit rock bottom a few years ago, but since then we’ve patched up our differences and things have been going pretty well. At least up until last week. But that’s ok. Every relationship is going to have its ups and downs, right?

The problem is that for a while there, the starter was letting me down, consistently. I couldn’t count on it when I needed it most, and that kind of behavior will put a serious damper on any relationship in a heartbeat. If I want this relationship to work, I know I need to look ahead and stop dwelling on the past injustices starters have inflicted upon me, but someone needs to hear my side of the story.

There was the time before the 18-inch snowstorm. We were going on three winters without measurable snow, and I was itching for a big one so I could go out and plow my driveway, my neighbors’ driveways, the roads in the neighborhood, and pretty much any other flat, snow-covered surface that would give me an excuse to keep plowing, and playing. The old Massey Ferguson 65 tractor had its tank filled with off-road diesel, battery charged, and the block heater plugged in. In the morning, I’d be ready to push some snow. Unfortunately, my tractor starter had other ideas. That’s the time it picked to fail. After I finished clearing the driveway, by hand, I removed that tractor starter and found it filled with an oily, watery mess. No surprise it had stopped working.

Then there was the time I was selling my riding lawn mower at our moving sale. It was well on its way to being sold, until the prospective buyer went to start it. Yep, you guessed it. The tractor starter failed and needed to be replaced before he’d complete the sale. The nerve!

How about the Valentine’s Day dinner in the city that never was because the car starter on the old ’85 Chevy Caprice that grandma was kind enough to pass on to us newlyweds picked that night to die. Not feeling the love.

And finally, there was the long-running battle of three consecutive truck starter failures, each about nine months apart, on my ’99 F150. Turns out my neighbor really didn’t know how to rebuild a truck starter. Once I wised up an replaced it with a quality truck starter, the problem was solved.

If there’s a silver lining to these experiences, it’s that the starter and I are still together (like I have a choice), I now know how to replace a starter; I know the importance of buying a good replacement starter, and I can usually hear when a starter is getting ready to check out of a relationship. Oh yeah, and I can usually get a malfunctioning car starter to work a couple more times simply by banging on it with a hammer.

If the starter in your life is giving you grief, here’s some relationship advice.

  • The end may be near. If you hear an odd metallic grinding sound from under the hood, or if there is just a clicking sound when turning the key before the engine finally cranks, your car starter could be on its last legs.
  • Diagnose the problem. If you suspect the starter might be bad, get it tested. Stop by your local Advance Auto Parts store for free testing. If the vehicle won’t start, just bring in the starter instead.
  • Bang on it. If the starter has indeed failed and left you stranded, try banging on it with a hammer. Oftentimes this will get it working again, but it’s not a trick you should rely on more than once. Instead, make a note that reads “replace starter” and put it somewhere you’ll see it.
  • Replace it. Swapping out a malfunctioning starter with a new one isn’t rocket science. First, check out this video for some quick tips. While this procedure can vary depending on the vehicle year, make and model, here are the starter-replacement steps, in a nutshell:
    1. Locate your starter.
    2. Disconnect the negative battery cable.
    3. Label and disconnect the wires on the starter.
    4. Unbolt the car starter, being careful not to drop it as it may be heavy.
    5. Install the new starter.
    6. Reconnect the wires.
    7. Reconnect the negative battery cable.
    8. Start the vehicle.

Since I started purchasing quality replacement starters,  instead of asking my neighbor to try and rebuild them for me, the starter and I have had a much better relationship. I’m hoping it stays that way, and not just because they’re calling for 12 to 14 inches tonight.

Editor’s note: If you and your starter are going through a bit of a rough patch in your relationship, Advance Auto Parts can help. Buy online, pick up in store–in 30 minutes.

The Ballad of CV Axle

Ballad of the CV axleIt’s definitely not my fault, despite what my wife would like you to believe.

Our farmhouse is old, really old, like 1800s old, and our winters are relatively cold because we live in Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains. An old, drafty house and cold winters equal a potentially high heating bill.

This isn’t a problem, usually, because we heat exclusively with wood, using one of those outdoor wood-burning furnaces that heat the water and pump it through the home’s baseboard radiators. It only becomes a problem if I run out of wood and have to search for some (or wood-derived products like last year’s Christmas tree, the pizza boxes from last night and scrap lumber). Such is the predicament I found myself in recently, and the blame lies squarely with my F150 and its CV axle, or specifically, its constant velocity joint.

I planned on cutting wood all day Saturday, getting plenty to see us through the coming weeks. That plan was replaced by a new plan, however, when my wife heard the awful sounds the truck was making thanks to the broken constant velocity joint. She insisted I fix it. Where first I was short on wood, I was now long on a laborious new task.

I had just enough CV axle knowledge to get started. And as I’m a quick study and pretty handy in the garage, I figured I could tackle it. I had extra incentive though — my wife and kids were cold. (Isn’t that what jackets are for?)

The first thing I discovered is that replacing a CV joint or CV axle can be a fairly labor-intensive job. A constant velocity joint’s function is to allow power to be transmitted from one shaft to another, through an angle, without any loss of power or a big increase in friction. They’re commonly found in front-wheel drive, all-wheel drive, and four-wheel drive vehicles and allow the drive shaft to transfer all that power and torque to the wheels, no matter how they’re angled or turned. On a front-wheel drive vehicle, there’s an inner and outer CV axle. The inner connects the drive shaft to the transmission while the outer connects the driveshaft to the wheel.

CV joints typically last about 100,000 miles.  When they fail, they can’t be repaired. They need to be replaced. The CV joint is sealed and protected by a rubber boot that keeps the grease in the joint and contaminants, such as dirt and water, out. When the boot fails because of a tear or hole, the constant velocity joint will fail eventually too, just like mine did.

Now if you catch the broken boot soon enough, you can just replace the boot, which is a lot less expensive and troublesome than replacing the entire joint. If you hear a clicking or popping when turning, then it’s probably too late as that’s a symptom of a CV joint failure. On some vehicles, the CV joint isn’t separate and the entire CV axle needs to be replaced.

ToughOne_New CV Drive Axle_Box_Axle_SIn the end, it all worked out for me. I learned that hauling wood in a wheelbarrow is a GREAT workout. On top of that, I found and installed a ToughOne CV axle assembly and was soon back in business.

Here are a few other takeaways you might appreciate, at my expense:

  • If your front-wheel drive has been making some odd sounds lately – get it checked out.
  • Make sure your Saturday plan matches up to your significant other’s plans for you.
  • Have an emergency supply of whatever it is you can’t do without.
  • The Rzeppa joint is a type of CV joint invented by Alfred Rzeppa in the 1920s and still in use today – try that one out on your know-it-all-mechanical-genius friend!

Editor’s note: If you’re CV is SOL, then check out Advance Auto Parts and ToughONE, for a great solution at an even better value.

Guitar graphic courtesy of Taylor Guitars.

Think outside the
heart-shaped box

Valentines Day Gifts

Show you care for St. Valentine’s Day.

If your significant other is a car guy or girl—someone who loves their vehicle almost as much as they love you—then figuring out what to get them for St. Valentine’s Day should be a snap: something for their vehicle.

But what if you’re in a relationship with someone who just isn’t that into cars or trucks and sees them simply as a mode of transportation? (Yes, there really are people out there who think like that!) What then would be the appropriate Valentine’s Day gifts? Flowers? Chocolates? A mix tape? (Sorry, I was reliving my high school days for a moment.) Two of those three aren’t bad ideas, and are pretty safe as far as Valentine’s Day gifts are concerned, but how about thinking outside the heart-shaped box this year?

What? Have I lost my mind? Am I trying to singlehandedly destroy your relationship? To the contrary. I’m going to improve your relationship by helping you demonstrate to the love of your life that you’ve been listening, and by helping you show how much you care—even if they think you’re not and that you don’t.

Even for someone who isn’t a vehicle enthusiast, there’s still probably something about their car or truck that bothers them, or that they’d at least like changed or fixed. Think about it. Has your partner ever mentioned to you that there’s something wrong with their vehicle or something that needs to be done? Perhaps it’s those squeaky brakes, or that darn interior smell. Or, do their wipers streak for days and is their car in need of an oil change?

Here’s your chance to shine by taking action that demonstrates how much you’ve been listening.

You’re going to solve their problems by taking care of the issues that have been annoying them. Based on a purely unscientific, informal survey of my friends’ significant others, here are the top issues that they’d like their Valentine to take care of now:

  • It’s really dirty. After a long winter, it’s probably filthy inside and out. Wash it. Wax it. Vacuum it. Just make it shine, inside and out.
  • It needs an oil change. The sticker in the window says it’s overdue and so does the owner’s manual. Do it yourself and save some money that you can spend instead on that nice evening out.
  • I can’t see when it rains. The windshield wipers aren’t doing their job because they’re too old. Get new ones, and get them installed for free with purchase.
  • The “Check Engine” light has been on forever. Not only is it annoying, it can also indicate a serious problem. Check it yourself with this diagnostic tool.
  • I need a new headlight or taillight. On most vehicles, this is a really easy fix. Even if the headlight isn’t burned out, if it’s old, consider replacing both of them anyway because new lights have technology that enable you to see further.


In addition to making their St. Valentine’s Day special, you just might make a car lover out of them! (There’s always hope!)


Editor’s note: Whether your significant other loves cars or not, you can still get a sweetheart deal on parts, tools, accessories and more at Advance Auto Parts

Gaining traction for winter

Car headlights in snowy nightI got cocky. That’s often how trouble starts, and this particular Saturday night was no exception.

The first winter I lived in the Ohio country, my dairy farmer neighbor told me that a truck without four-wheel drive was about as useful as a chocolate teapot. I soon learned why, the hard way, and quickly said hello to winter travel with a four-wheel-drive F150 and the whole new world it opened. With the bed filled with firewood for extra weight, I drove everywhere in the snow – unplowed roads, through the field, backwards up the ramp to the bank barn. Compared to driving the old rear-wheel drive truck, I felt unstoppable and invincible in all my winter travel thanks to four-wheel drive, and of course, a car emergency kit with food and other supplies in case I did get stuck. A man has to eat!

Then that Saturday night rolled around. My wife mentioned previously that the truck was spinning out from a stop and didn’t seem to have traction in bad weather. Like a good husband, I wasn’t listening. We went to a friend’s house for dinner that evening and when it came time to leave, found that the County snowplow and some fierce winds whipping across open fields had drifted the driveway shut.

“No problem,” I exclaimed. “We have four-wheel drive!” Except we didn’t, as I found out much to my embarrassment after my third attempt at trying to back through the drifted driveway failed and I had to go back in and ask my friend to help shovel us out. It seems the four-wheel drive was broken, compounded by the fact that we had marginal tread depth on the tires, and they weren’t even snow tires. Not a good winter-travel combination. But, to my credit, we did have a car emergency kit.

Whether you’re driving a car, SUV, or pickup with or without all-wheel or four-wheel drive this winter, you can learn from my mistakes. If you live in the country, doing everything you can to prevent yourself from being stranded in the snow is particularly important because another vehicle might not pass by for hours, and there are plenty of spots without cell phone reception. So, here’s what you should do to prevent yourself from being stranded and increase your comfort level if it happens.

  1. Listen to your significant other.
  2. Test your four-wheel drive periodically (preferably before it snows).
  3. Don’t be cocky.
  4. Pay attention to tread depth and replace your tires as needed. This handy tool makes it easy.
  5. Consider tire chains. Sized to fit your vehicle’s tires, they are installed without raising the vehicle or even moving it, making them an excellent resource to keep in the vehicle and install when bad weather strikes.
  6. Keep a car emergency kit in your vehicle that includes, among other supplies, food, water, a blanket, and a compact snow shovel (it helps when digging yourself out of a friend’s driveway on a Friday night).
  7. And finally, consider switching your all-season  tires, which is what most drives have today, to true winter tires – what many people call snow tires. Tire makers optimize their tire and tread compounds based on what type of tire they’re building. With snow tires, the tire’s rubber and chemical compounds are designed for maximum performance in freezing temperatures and on ice and snow. Outfitting vehicles with winter tires is routine in Europe, particularly on high-performance vehicles .

In addition to rubber compounds that are designed for winter performance, these winter or snow tires also feature tread designs that maximize stopping and steering ability on snow, slush and ice. Just about every major tire manufacturer offers a winter tire, a selection of which can be seen at Firestone, Goodyear, Michelin, and others.

For example, Goodyear’s Ultra Grip 8 Performance Winter Tire features a tread design with multiple biting edges that enhance traction on slippery surfaces, a directional tread pattern that channels water away from the tread surface on slushy roads, and a saw-shaped center area that helps push snow aside during braking.

For areas where ice-covered roads or packed-snow conditions dominate the winter travel season, drivers might want to consider using snow tires with studs. The studs are metal pins that protrude from the surface of the snow tires and “bite” into ice and packed snow. Studs are noisy on dry roads, however, and performance and handling can suffer too.

Remember that winter tires shouldn’t just be fitted to the vehicle’s drive wheels, but rather all wheel positions in order to maintain control.

Most importantly, slow down during hazardous winter travel and leave extra space between yourself and the vehicle in front of you. And don’t get cocky when it comes to your driving prowess or four-wheel drive’s performance. We know now where that can lead.

Trucks take flight: an expert look at lifted trucks

Lifted trucks

Photo courtesy of Super Trucks Plus.

“And she said, ‘Hey, boy, do you mind taking me home tonight, cuz’ I ain’t never see a country boy with tires on his truck this high.’”  Jake Owen. “Eight Second Ride.”

Out here, it seems like the only thing a lot of people like more than their trucks is the art of raising them up. Followed closely by a mud-bogging hole or field filled with red Virginia clay that’s just waiting to get torn up by those lifted trucks.

Now, I don’t say this from experience, as my workhorse consists of a highly functional but decidedly tame, un-lifted F150. Rather, I make that call based on the number of lifted trucks I see around here, and the fact that they’re often covered top to bottom, including windows, in mud.

Why do we have a love affair with lifted trucks, and why do we raise them up in the first place? For some insight, I turned to an expert in the field of lifting trucks – Chris Dye. He’s the store manager at Super Trucks Plus LLC in North Carolina, and describes it as “probably Raleigh’s only full custom shop.” Chris and his crew specialize in transforming ordinary vehicles into amazing lifted trucks.

“Most people lift trucks to achieve a higher ground clearance,” Chris explains. They do this to avoid bottoming out or getting stuck when driving off-road, and to allow for the fitment of larger tires.

Higher ground clearance? Sounds plausible, but my gut tells me there’s another, more common reason that people lift their trucks, and it didn’t take long for Chris to confirm my suspicions. “A lot of people lift ‘em just for looks these days. They’ll take a brand-new truck, lift it, and it’ll never go off-road.”

Chris said that one of the more common and popular requests when it comes to lifted trucks is a six-inch lift with 35’s, with “35” referring to the tire size. These suspension lift kits can start out at four inches of lift and go all the way to 12 inches, or higher. Chris then began explaining other vehicle parts that get involved with suspension lift kits, including independent front suspension, shocks versus struts, drop cradles, larger knuckles and steering geometry, and this was about the time that I realized that lifting a truck might be more involved than I realized.

He went on to explain that once you maxed out your lift with suspension lift kits, you can still go higher by choosing a body lift. With a body lift, the vehicle body has to be disconnected from every spot it’s mounted to, new spacers inserted, and then the body bolted back down to all its connecting points.

As for height, it seems like that’s more a matter of personal choice. Chris said the highest he’s ever lifted was 26 inches, and that was enough to clear a set of 54’s. In his opinion, the maximum comfortable lift he’d recommend for someone’s daily driver, as opposed to a show truck, is a 12-inch lift with 40-inch tires.

What do you think? Are you driving a lifted truck? If so, let me know your lift height and tire size, and what you think is the optimal set up.

Lifted Truck 2

Photo courtesy of Super Trucks Plus.

“It’s all about personal preference. If you’re building a show truck, the sky’s the limit,” Chris adds.

As for my truck, if I were to do anything, I’d be inclined to start with Chris’ recommendation of just a leveling kit. “It’s your most basic kind of lift,” Chris explains. “That’s going to take most trucks and lift the front up about two inches so that the front height equals the height of the rear. This will allow you to go up one tire size from factory specs and gives you essentially two inches of lift.”

Cost is another consideration when deciding how high to lift because the two seem to rise in unison. Chris said that a ballpark cost for a six-inch lift on 35’s is about $5,000 to $6,000, but that he’s done lift jobs that total over $20,000.

If you’re looking for ideas on what others have done with their lifts, Chris recommends Mud Life and Four Wheel & Off-Road, as well as the online forum at Lifted Trucks USA. And, of course, you can always check out some projects that he and Super Trucks Plus have performed.

As for me, what do think I should do to it? Stick with the leveling kit? Go a little bigger and get a six-inch lift? Maybe just switch to bigger tires? Leave me a comment, and please include thoughts on how I can sell the idea to my significant other. Chances are, she’s going to be less than pleased instead of asking me to take her home tonight because she’s impressed with my truck’s tire height!

Editor’s note: If there’s a lift or an off-road adventure in your truck’s future, make your first stop Advance Auto Parts, for all the best in parts, tools and accessories at a great price. Buy online, pick up in store.  


Spark plugs, a comic book and a smoke bomb

Rural Tales Photo -- NGK_Laser Iridium_Spark Plug_SThe ad in my 1977 comic book promised a smoke bomb that would deliver “surprise as smoke pours from under the hood.” At 13 years old, I thought I knew a lot about cars. My sister would soon pay the price for both misconceptions.

It had been three years since my last ill-conceived prank involving a vehicle. That one hadn’t ended well either. Crab apples littering the ground in woods along the country road, a lone, old pickup driving slowly by, and a dare that I couldn’t hit it helped me learn just how fast an angry adult can chase you down when you mess with their vehicle.

The smoke bomb arrived in the mail, addressed to me and discreetly packaged, as promised. At five inches long, it looked a little like a thin cigar and was wrapped in red, white, and blue paper with two copper wires protruding from the end. The instructions were simple – attach the wires to the vehicle’s spark plugs and watch as panic overtakes the driver when smoke pours from the engine compartment at start up.

I knew how to change spark plugs, or so I thought, so installing the smoke bomb on my sister’s 1974 Ford LTD Country Squire Station Wagon was a snap. When it was time for her to leave for work, I hid in the pine trees, barely able to contain my excitement as I watched the door close and heard the engine start. This was it! Smoke would soon pour from the engine compartment. She’s putting the car in reverse. She’s backing down the driveway. She shifts to drive. Uh-oh. There she goes. No smoke. No one screaming “the car’s on fire!” Nothing, except a letdown, and regret that I didn’t order the “keep on trucking” t-shirt with the big red tongue instead of a stupid smoke bomb that didn’t work. What could possibly have gone wrong?

I removed the smoke bomb from her car the next afternoon and tossed it into my dresser drawer along with other discarded treasures. Little did I know, the fun was just starting. See, I had no idea that it actually mattered which spark plugs were connected to which wires. In the course of installing and removing the smoke bomb, I’m sure I had removed all eight wires and reconnected them in no particular order – something my sister found out later that day, sitting on the side of the road, wondering why the car was running so poorly.

Luckily, she actually knew something about cars, unlike me, and figured out that the plug wires were connected wrong. She fixed them and was on her way. When she came home she asked me about it I confessed to the whole scheme, in part to prevent her from telling my dad and seeing smoke pour from under his lid! That’s when she gave me an education about how to change spark plugs, and that spark plugs, wires and cylinders had to be connected to the proper distributor terminal.

I decided then and there that it would be the end of my car capers—a declaration helped by the impending arrival of Sea Monkeys and Mexican Jumping Beans on yet another order from the back of the comic book.

Now that I know how to replace spark plugs, and that the different types of spark plug metal—such as copper, iridium, and platinum—actually matter, I always think about the smoke bomb that wasn’t…whenever I’m showing someone else how to replace spark plugs.

Editor’s note: Put the comic book down and head on over to Advance Auto Parts for all the best in spark plugs, batteries, brakes and more. Buy online, pick up in store.Gag gifts