Car + Culture: The Story Behind Houston’s Food Trucks

Food truck culture has exploded in popularity in the past few years, with adventurous chefs trying their hand at every type of cuisine you could imagine, from sushi burritos to Turkish pizza. You’ll find the trucks circled up at local weekend events or parked outside your office just in time for the lunch rush. People now use them for food at weddings too! There’s good reason for the food truck’s popularity: the food is often delicious and cheap, and a restaurant with wheels is as convenient a meal as you can get.

Marco Novo owns Chef Units, a Houston-based business that makes the food trucks you know, love, and maybe even follow on Instagram. In our latest Car + Culture video, we see how his team takes your standard truck and turns it into a roving kitchen. Shout out to Houston locals, you might spot some food truck favorites in the video too.

Eight Facts You Didn’t Know About the Ford F-150

You can’t drive down a road in America without spotting at least a handful of Ford F-150 trucks. No surprise, really; the F-150 has been our country’s best-selling truck for years (keep reading to find out how many Ford has sold). You’re all pretty familiar with these trucks, so tell us, did you know these facts about the F-150?

1948 Ford F1

1948 Ford F1

1) The great-great-grandfather to the F-150 was the Ford F-1 which debuted for 1948. It quickly became a favorite of farmers and small business owners. Despite its name, it never participated in a Formula 1 race.

2) The F-150 moniker itself debuted for the 1975 model year, as the name for Ford’s half-ton pickup which slotted between the lighter-duty F-100 and the heavier-duty F250. Massive popularity soon ensued.

3) How massive? So much so that the Ford F-Series has been not only the best-selling pickup for nearly 40 years running, but the best-selling vehicle for the last 34 years. It has consistently outsold such hugely popular rides as the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry.

4) The F-Series trucks are so popular that their total production comes in at a whopping 35 million trucks. Ford sells an F-Series truck every minute of every day and sold closer to a truck and a half per minute in 2015.

1976 Ford F-150 Ranger

1976 Ford F-150 Ranger

5) Long before it became the model name for its compact pickup truck introduced in the early ’80s, Ford used the “Ranger” label in the ’60s and ’70s to denote an upscale trim level of the F-Series.

2003_Ford_F-150_Harley-Davidson

2003 Ford F-150 Harley-Davidson

6) Truck and motorcycle enthusiasts had a moment of zen when Ford offered a Harley-Davidson edition of the F-150 at various times through the late-1990s and into the 2000s. It sported plenty of black leather and shiny chrome trim in tribute to the iconic American motorcycle. High-rise handlebars and loud exhaust pipes, however, were not on the options list.

2001 Ford F-150 Lightning

2001 Ford F-150 Lightning

7) Do you remember the Ford F-150 Lightning? It’s hard to forget it. Initially available from 1993 through 1995 with a 240-hp, 5.8-liter V8, the Lightning came thundering back for 1999 after a three year hiatus sporting a supercharged 5.4-liter V8. Produced through 2004, that Ford muscle truck could sprint to 60 mph in as quick as 5.2 seconds.

8) 2016 F-150 marks the 68th year of the iconic truck. Keep ’em coming, Ford.

Crucial Cars: GMC Sierra

2016 GMC Sierra

GMC Sierra Photo credit: GMC.com

 

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

For this installment, the Mechanic Next Door does some heavy lifting, delving into the GMC Sierra pickup’s history and looking at the newest model.

Max and Morris Grabowsky may not be household names, but they cemented their place in automotive history nonetheless. In 1901 the Grabowsky duo built a truck prototype in Pontiac, Michigan, and went on to form their company – the Rapid Motor Vehicle Company – a year later. It didn’t take long for the brothers’ truck-building efforts and success to attract competitors’ attention, with General Motors buying them in 1909. Just three years later at the New York Auto Show, the name GMC Trucks would make its debut.

And so begins the story of GMC’s Sierra – a leader in the category of full-size pickups and a nearly identical twin to Chevy’s Silverado truck lineup. It wasn’t until the 1970s, however, that GMC would debut the name Sierra, using it to designate their trucks’ trim level, until 1987 when Sierra began serving as the permanent name for GMC’s full-size pickups.

GMC’s early, 1960’s-era pickups – before the Sierra name change – were designated as either “wideside” or “fenderside” – the latter corresponding to what many drivers today refer to as “stepside” pickups with fenders that flare out over the rear wheels. GMC also was one of the first to use numbers to indicate its trucks’ hauling capacities using the “1000”, “1500”, and “2000” designations that are common today in one form or another among all the major truck manufacturers. A “K” attached to those numbers indicated a GMC truck with four-wheel drive, and there were just two trim levels available – base or Custom. The standard engine was a 236-cubic-inch inline six delivering 135 horsepower.

Through the mid-1960’s, GMC trucks underwent a suspension change, additional engine options, and cosmetic changes to freshen the truck’s appearance. One of the most notable changes, and perhaps the start of pickups’ migration to becoming more than just work vehicles, was the debut of air conditioning in 1965.

1973 saw GM completely redesign its pickup truck line with longer wheelbases and the debut of a four-door crew cab. Engine choices ranged from a 100-horsepower, 250-cubic-inch inline six on the low end to a 240-horse 454 V8. GM’s next complete overhaul of its Sierra truck line wouldn’t occur until 1988 with trucks sporting a third more glass for improved visibility and a marked focus on more luxury items, such as upholstery and instrumentation.

That 80’s-era “luxury” pales in comparison to today’s model, considering that the 2016 GMC Sierra sports such innovations as advanced safety features and a 4G Wi-Fi Hotspot. The pickup’s evolution from being strictly a work vehicle to becoming a multi-purpose vehicle today is clearly evident on GMC’s site for Sierra, where a review of the vehicle’s interior receives precedence over its capabilities – something that would have been unheard of when trucks were meant solely for hauling and pulling. This old school Sierra’s transition into a show vehicle shows that there’s clearly a lot of life left for these pickups even when their days of doing hard work are over.

That’s not to say that new Sierra’s lack anything in the performance department. Its 6.2L V8 cranks out 420 horsepower, which GMC says is more than any other light-duty pickup. And, according to GM, the available EcoTec3 5.3L V8 engine delivers the best V8 fuel economy available among any full-size pickup. Balancing that power with control is Hill Descent Control, allowing for less nerve-wracking downhill journeys in rough terrain, and the Eaton Locker which automatically locks the rear wheels when slippage is detected.

GMC Sierra

Photo Credit: GMC.com

Other automatic technology features aimed at assisting drivers include the Lane Keep Assist which helps drivers avoid drifting out of their lane by automatically correcting steering, and IntelliBeam which activates or deactivates Sierra’s high beams based on traffic conditions. Forward Collision Alert provides audible and visual alerts to help prevent collisions while the Safety Alert Seat vibrates as a warning signal to drivers.

 

GMC Sierra

GMC Sierra Photo Credit: GMC.com

Technology inside Sierra’s cab that’s aimed at driver convenience rather than strictly safety includes IntellilLink for customizing and organizing a variety of media, Apple CarPlay for syncing phones to the IntelliLink system, the previously mentioned 4G WiFi hotspot, and OnStar’s RemoteLink app to remotely start the vehicle, pinpoint its location on a map, and monitor the vehicle’s mechanical functions.

Available in four trim levels – Sierra Base Trim, SLE, SLT, and Denali, Sierra’s base MSRP is $27,275, and heads higher from there. After decades of popularity among truck buyers and features that give drivers what they want, the Sierra’s popularity doesn’t show any signs of slowing down.

 

Editor’s note: When you need anything related to your GMC Sierra, turn to Advance Auto Parts first. Buy online, pick up in store, and get back to the garage.

Mudding Anyone?

Truck mudding photoRemember when you were a little kid and the idea of playing in the mud outside after it rained got you hyped? Pushing your toy cars and trucks through the mud puddles while you did your best to enunciate the sound of a beefed-up engine was one of life’s simple joys. Well, now you’re a grown-up with a rugged, four-wheel-drive rig and maybe you want to kick up some summer mud, albeit on a much grander and exciting scale. Here’s a video that gives you a taste of what a blast this sub-category of off-roading can be.

Jeep_Wrangler photoChoose your weapon

To probably nobody’s surprise, the most popular mud tamer is the modern-day Jeep Wrangler and its very similar old-school forebears, Jeep’s CJ-5 and CJ-7. Compact dimensions, plenty of ground clearance, stout four-wheel-drive components and room in the wheel wells for large off-road tires are key reasons these iconic Jeeps reign supreme.

But they are far from the only good choices. Older Toyota Land Cruisers (the more basic four-door SUV styles as well as the Jeep-like FJ40) are very capable and durable rigs, as are the first- and second-generation Ford Broncos. Of course, 4WD pickup trucks are solid picks too, though the massive, full-size ones can sometimes prove too bulky in off-road environments with narrow trails. As such, we favor compact, more maneuverable pickups such as the Ford Ranger, Nissan Frontier and Toyota Tacoma. One might also consider a Land Rover Defender, though aces off road, they tend to be rather pricey.

Mudding 101

1988 Toyota Land Cruiser photo

1988 Toyota Land Cruiser

Depending on the scenario, simply popping your truck into 4WD and driving on through the muck as if you’re on pavement may not be sufficient. As with any type of challenge, there are proper techniques that separate the hacks from those that know what they’re doing. As such, thanks to the pros at off-road.com, fourwheeler.com and allstate.com, we’ve come up with a six-pack of tips to make sure that you move through the mud.

1) Don’t go it alone.

Having at least one other person with a truck and recovery gear (such as a powerful winch) provides peace of mind, as well as a helping hand (and truck) should you get stuck.

2) Air down your tires.

Lowering your tires’ pressure increases surface area and allows the tires to flex and grab traction better than when they’re fully-aired up for on-road use. Dropping down to 18 to 20 psi should be about right.

3) Recon first.

If you’re trying to negotiate a deep mud puddle/bog, you might want to hop out and take a closer look first. Grab a long stick and use it to get an idea of the mud’s consistency, its depth, and if there are any large rocks or tree roots lying below in wait.

4) Take the proper line.

If others are also having fun in the muddy playground, watch and take note of the line they’re taking as they work their way through. Usually going straight is best, but there may be some obstructions or stickier points that may dictate using a different, more traction-friendly line that somebody else has demonstrated.

5) Start out in 4WD low.

This will obviously maximize your traction and torque at the low speeds you’ll be using to make your way through the mud.

6) Take it easy.

Throwing up 15-foot high rooster tails of muddy water at higher speed may look cool in commercials, but you could lose control and end up doing some damage or stalling out your engine. It’s slow and steady that wins this race. As the experts say and as with other types of off-roading, you should go as slow as possible but as fast as necessary to keep moving forward. Momentum, not speed, is your best friend here.

Muddy buddies

2004_Ford_Ranger photoSo you’ve discovered that you really dig playing in the mud. Fortunately, so do a lot of other off-road enthusiasts. Reading the various online forums for tips on where to go, how to set up your vehicle and how to improve your skills will help you enjoy your mucked up adventures even more. We suggest also checking out enthusiast sites such as mudtrails.com and offroadworld.net, which are also great for finding new friends that share this dirty passion.

Are you a mudding fan? Share your favorite mudding spots in the comments.

Get the Most from Your Diesel Engine

Tractor in a barn

The scent of diesel exhaust on a clear, crisp morning may remind some of the Big City, where buses and delivery trucks are ever-present. But country living comes with its own share of diesel fumes, thanks to farm tractors, pickups, and big diesel-powered trucks used for hauling grain or manure. City or country, diesel engines are efficient, both in terms of fuel economy and power generated. But like any other mechanical device, diesel engines require some TLC, and perhaps even some modifications to perform at their best. Here are a few tips for getting the most out of your diesel engine.

Glow plugs

Glow plugs heat the combustion chambers in a diesel engine, making cold-weather or even cool-morning starts easier. A diesel engine has a glow plug for every cylinder, so if one goes bad you may not notice right away. You’ll know it’s time to replace them if you’re having trouble with cold starts, or if it sounds like the engine isn’t firing on all cylinders.

Engine heater

Engine heaters are helpful tools for diesel owners once temperatures plummet. If you’ve seen diesel-powered trucks or school buses parked overnight with what appears to be an electric cord sticking out the front, it’s probably for the heater. There are several varieties of engine heaters out there. You can use an electric heater that attaches to the oil pan via a powerful magnet. This prevents the oil from thickening and causing hard starts. There are also heaters that insert into the oil dipstick tube, diesel fuel heaters to prevent gelling, and circulation tank heaters that keep the engine’s coolant warm. All of these devices make easier starts possible in low temperatures.

Diesel engine programmers

With the advent of computer-controlled diesel engines comes the increasing popularity of diesel engine programmers. Frequently used for diesel-powered trucks, these programmers enable users to change the engine’s factory-programmed settings in order to increase horsepower and fuel efficiency. There are a variety of options out there , depending on your vehicle make and model.

Diesel fuel additive

Another consideration, even for diesel-engine cars, is a diesel fuel additive. Many are approved for use in all diesel fuels, and have a wide range of benefits, including:

  • Preventing fuel from gelling in cold temperatures
  • Keeping injectors clean
  • Providing lubricants that protect the engine
  • Boosting cetane (a measurement of combustion quality) for faster cold-weather starts

These are just a few considerations that can improve your diesel engine’s performance and efficiency.

Are there other products you use on your diesel engine that we haven’t covered? Share your comment with us.