The Truck Brand Bracket: Chevy Reigns Supreme

It’s a question as old as the first time someone strapped a 2×4 to a combustion engine. What is the best truck brand? It started with the “Galion Allsteel Body Company” modifying Ford Model T’s with pickup and dump bodies. Then in 1924, Dodge decided it wanted to get into the game and released a ¾ ton pickup. Not wanting to be outdone, GM released trucks under the GMC and Chevy brand in 1931.

           As the years came and went, so did truck brands. International and Studebaker both introduced pickups that would eventually die. Mazda, Mitsubishi, and Isuzu all tried and failed with pickup trucks during the Japanese manufacturer invasion. When it was shaken down, Ford, GM, Dodge/Ram/Chrysler/Fiat, Toyota, and Nissan were the only brands to continuously produce and sell trucks.

           However, things have changed. The year is 2021, and EVERYONE is getting back into the pickup game. The Ranger is back from the dead, as is the Colorado, and rumor has it the Dakota might not be far behind; hell, even the Maverick nameplate has made it to a pickup. Volkswagen is making a pickup; Honda is as well. Hyundai is bringing that they are claiming as a pickup to market.

           Electric vehicles are also getting beds thrown on the back. The CyberTruck has been everywhere in the news. Hummer is coming back out with an insane vehicle, as is Ford with the new Lightning. Startups such as Rivian are coming up from nowhere to try and be the kings of the pickup game; even the Diesel Brothers attempted (and failed) to get their hands into it.

           With all of that being said, we wanted to see who truly the best pickup truck brand is in 2021. Who has taken over 100 years of engineering, technology, field testing, reliability, customer feedback, and all made the best truck out of it?

Round 1

Ford vs Bye (Why does Ford get a bye? Because I drive one)

Ram 94% vs VW 6%

Toyota 97% vs Subaru 3%

Chevy 97% vs Hyundai 3%

GMC 97% vs Mitsubishi 3%

Jeep 90% vs Honda 10%

Nissan 87% vs Tesla 13%

Cadillac 50% vs Lincoln 50%

Round 2

Ford 95% vs Lincoln 5%

Ram 90% vs Jeep 10%

Toyota 88% vs Nissan 12%

Chevy 76% vs GMC 24%

Semi Finals

Ford 71% vs Toyota 29%

Ram 47% vs Chevy 53%

Finals

Ford 47% vs Chevy 53%

Your Winner

Dear Chevy… can I get a sponsorship from this?

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If You Like Rare Cars Go to Newport, Rhode Island

I was skeptical at first, seeing that I have never heard of this museum. It is also a newer museum, opened sometime in the middle of 2017 in an old missile manufacturing building. The Newport Auto Museum is one of the best auto museums I’ve ever been to. Each car was meticulously cleaned and perfect, and most of them were set up on platforms with accent lighting and showed off as a piece of art. It doesn’t matter if you are into new cars, old cars, supercars, or alternate history cars; they have almost everything for every taste you could have. Pictures are allowed, so you can go and take pictures of any vehicle in the showroom, and even interiors are on full display and easy to see (no, do not even think about sitting in them, you may be escorted to the nearest exit). They do “open hood” weekends, and from what I was told by an employee, it is usually every other weekend.

The first car I walked to was the first car you see as you enter, a beautiful red Lamborghini Countach, and it’s a perfect example of a classic supercar. I knew once I saw that this museum was going to be amazing. That initial hunch did not let me down at all, as I proceeded to walk by many rare or exotic cars from a BMW I8, a 1993 Jaguar XJ220, and a 2018 Mercedes AMG GT-R, and a new NSX. For people into classics, the next area I walked into had a 1957 Bel-Air and a 1957 Desoto, with a Dodge Hellcat and Demon both lurking behind them. I won’t spoil the entire museum for you, but instead, I strongly encourage a trip to see everything they have. It isn’t the same cars all the time either, me and my girlfriend were lucky enough to briefly tour the storage area, where my eyes instantly locked onto 2 McLarens sitting side by side on battery tenders. The employee told me that they usually rotate some cars in and out monthly, so you won’t see all the same cars on every single visit.

I wouldn’t even mind if I saw the same cars because the museum was excellent, and I would go back every time I find myself in or around Portsmouth, Rhode Island. If you have yet to go, if you can’t tell already, I STRONGLY recommend paying this museum a visit.

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The EPA is Cracking Down on Modified Cars, and It’s Bullshit

People who modify cars are soon to be in trouble from many, many different angles. It does not look good for runs anyone who tunes, loud exhausts, or even everyday people who need to buy tires. Between government and manufacturers, prices are going up, or parts are being taken off the market seemingly overnight. It will become challenging to be a car or truck guy. It’s a shame to see because the price it seems to cost now to modify what you drive is already time-consuming and expensive. No company or government as a whole seems to be helping with that. 

            The Environmental Protection Agency has recently started an enormous crackdown, seemingly to pertain to diesel trucks.  To be more specific, the EPA seems to be going after medium-duty diesel trucks for tuners and emissions deletes. This has been going on for quite a few years but seems to have ramped up significantly due to the change of power in the white house. They currently estimate roughly 550,000 trucks on the road today have some tampering to emissions standards that trucks came with new from the factory. Many performance companies are either going out of business or immensely struggling as the crackdown of this becomes worse, notably H&S Performance, which after being fined by the EPA, shut their doors in 2013. In more recent events, Edge Products and Spartan Diesel Technology were both given heavy fines. Edge looks like they settled at around $500,000, and court documents I was able to track down on the EPA website claims around $4.1 million in fines to Spartan. From what I have found on forums and other websites, Spartan now goes by Patriot Diagnostic Systems, which probably changed shortly after fines were issued. It seems Edge still operates under the same name.

Now, everyone knows that one Karen who wants to “sAvE tHe EaRtH fOr YoUr ChIlDrEn,” which I agree with… to a point. But what Karen doesn’t realize is that many of the deleted trucks actually protect longevity, and in some cases, do actually run equally clean. It seems to be mostly the high-soot tunes that really hurt emissions on these trucks. Also, Karen’s Tesla they just bought to save said earth is not inherently better because “mY cAr DoEsN’t BuRn FoSsiL fUeLs.” Yes, as they drive down the road, they do not have emissions that go to the atmosphere; however, the problem lies in charging and battery production. Generally, electric cars create more carbon emissions due to the mining of rare-earth metals electric car batteries require to function properly. These earth metals, including Lithium, Nickel, Cobalt, and Graphite, are found underneath the earth’s surface and require extensive mining to extract. Electric vehicles offset this cost over time, approximately 1-3 years after driving, depending on how often or little the electric car is driven by anyone, and that does not account for battery disposal once the battery needs replacement. Now, I am NOT saying that electric cars are or aren’t the answer or the future. They say, “different strokes for different folks.” What I AM saying is that the argument for one or the other is typically made without the entire picture.

I think the emissions crackdown is important in some aspects; however, there is a fine line between saving the earth, restricting the people’s freedom, and restricting modifications to increase longevity on any person’s vehicle. However, this not only has implications for the diesel guys, as even tunes on performance cars have been “cuffed and stuffed,” if you will. Many tuners have now ditched custom tuning for fear of EPA fines, which were their way of life or livelihood in many of these shops. So, where will the line be drawn in the sand?

It seems tires are also being regulated, as many tire brands it seems will not be shipped to the states soon. The Department of Commerce has added tariffs to tires being shipped overseas to prevent what they call “anti-dumping.” Anti-dumping is when an overseas company ships a product somewhere else for a “less-than-domestic” price point. From first reading this, you may be thinking, “America hell yeah!” but look at the bigger picture. If we are not seeing many foreign tires, and domestic companies (the few we really have) will be much of the only tires we can get. We have some excellent tire companies in the US, including Goodyear, Cooper, Perelli, Michelin, Bridgestone, and others. But really think about the options you have for new rubbers for your vehicle and their price compared to just the American brands. With foreign brands going away, US companies will raise their prices without worrying about foreign competition. Companies like Federal, Attruo, Hankook will have to raise their prices a ton if they want to stay in the United States market, assuming they actually pay the tariff prices to ship here. It doesn’t look too good for anyone into modifying right now.

I would be lying if I thought the car scene wasn’t in danger. The fact of the matter is, the whole modification industry is currently on the verge of a massive revamp or shutdown. Whether you agree or disagree, this battle looks like it is going to be messy and controversial. If the EPA gets their way, there may no longer be any freedom to do what you would like with what you drive. It will worsen before it possibly gets better, so all we can really do is sit and watch.

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Reviewing the Nascar Bristol Dirt Race

A lot of my writing is about country music, but I am more than a one-trick pony. I have been a Nascar fan my entire life, so when I heard that they were racing in the dirt, I knew that I had to watch it. I had no idea what to expect; I wasn’t sure if the dirt would make the race slower or race like the modified cars and drift. I quickly got my answer as I got to watch forty cars slipping and sliding sideways throughout the corners of Bristol Motor speedway.

           People who were trying to watch the races over the weekend saw the torrential downpours that hit Bristol. The truck race lasted about two laps, but the trucks’ grilles and windshields were caked with mud. Nascar decided to delay the race because they didn’t want every motor in the event to explode. The result was two races on Monday, the truck race was at noon, and the cup race was at four. That meant that the track had minimal time to be re-prepped between the races.

The result was having a concrete strip in the center, surrounded by two dirt groves on the track’s higher and lower parts. The concrete was still dirty, so it was slick, but it wasn’t pure dirt. It’s hard to blame Nascar for this; forty cars doing 100 miles per hour for three hours straight will do that. This created humps in the track, and as a result, there were a lot of cars rear-ending each other because they hit the hump and slowed down quickly. The top lane had issues, and multiple cars just spun because they lost control and couldn’t recover.

Like Christopher Bell and Kyle Larson, the traditional dirt racers were favored at the beginning of the race; however, the dirt proved that a favorite doesn’t mean shit. In fact, Bell and Larson even came together on lap 51, knocking Bell out. The less favored cars, Martin Truex Jr. and Daniel Suarez, showed up to race.

Coming to the end of the race, it looked like Joey Logano had it easy. He checked out on Truex and Suarez, with Denny Hamlin being his last main competition. However, with just five laps to go, Hamlin hit the wall, and Logano was all alone with lapped traffic between him and the trailing Hamlin. However, with three laps left, a car spun out, causing Logano to have to hold off a pissed-off Hamlin in second and a fast Martin Truex in third in a shoot-out restart. When the green started, though, Hamlin tried the high line outside lane, and Logano was able to checkout without much of a problem. At the end of the day, the Connecticut boy won the dirt race on the Tennessee red dirt.

I think that Nascar learned a lot from this weekend, and although it wasn’t perfect, they should absolutely do it again. The beginning of the race wasn’t very exciting; there were too many cautions and many spins. However, the third stage was excellent, the cars were absolutely whipping, sliding all over, and it capped off the race in a great way. I hope that it doesn’t rain next year, and Nascar can take everything they learned this year and do it even better in 2022. Congratulations again to Joey Logano for winning the first dirt race in 51 years, and I can’t wait for the next one!

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My Experience in the Auto Industry

            Many people think they know what they want to do for their entire life, only to start working in that field and learning it isn’t what they expected it to be. For me, that was the auto industry, and being a mechanic. I learned in just six years that service repair isn’t what I expected it to be, between garages overcharging customers, and underpaying employees, it’s not hard to see why many are packing up their toolboxes and going towards another industry.

Now, I feel like I need to preface this because fixing cars for a living is not by any means a bad career. I have many personal friends that have done it for years and have been very successful doing so. I have 6 years of holding a wrench for a living, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world. A lot of my closest friends came from my time as a tech. There are tons of other upsides to it too. Instead of paying ungodly amounts of money for someone else to work on your car, you buy parts and do it yourself. You would be amazed what kind of money you save doing that.

Furthermore, since I’m now into the performance side of automotive a lot more, all of the parts changes, custom applications, or anything else I may need become far easier with my background. Also, I can own older, more involved vehicles due to my set skills and keep them running longer. I have a 1998 Ranger that now has over 300k miles, and I don’t plan to fix it. I do have a much newer secondary vehicle, my 2017 Focus ST. Still, I can take on long, intensive projects that maybe the average owner couldn’t. Even if repairs exceed, say, $1,000, I have a lot of time to fix it. As I said before, I don’t really have to pay someone to do anything with it other than mounting and balancing tires and alignments. Personal gain can be had with knowledge. Still, the industry in its current state is struggling, and it will continue unless it totally gets revamped.

It’s tough to figure out where to start, as some aspects have left scars physically and mentally. But if there was one aspect that needs immediate attention, it’s warranty work. If you’re a flat-rate tech, you want to see warranty work as infrequent as you possibly can. Dealership almost never pays for the amount of work it usually takes. Manufacturers want to pay as little as possible to fix newer vehicles under warranty. As a result of this, the techs are the ones who usually take the financial hit when doing a warranty job. Basically, the billion dollar giant who built the shitty part wants the average Joe to pay when the part beaks, essentially passing the financial loss to the tech. It seems if they find techs making money on certain warranty jobs, manufacturers will lower the book time on the job, making it pay less despite it still taking the tech the same time to complete it. A prime example of this is the Takata airbag recall a few years ago. Almost every manufacturer in the world used Takata, but they were able to escape huge losses by lawsuits and screwing the little guy fixing the car. This, in turn, takes money out of the pockets of the very people that are changing parts to make you and your family safe.

Another problem is how skewed the labor rates across manufacturers are. I worked for a BMW dealership, the labor rate was $235 an hour, and I made $13 an hour as a B tech before I finally had enough. After that, the Ford dealer I worked for slightly better, as I made $16 an hour and charged $115 an hour for labor. I understand that upkeep on an auto repair shop gets very pricey, with oil removal and other environmental restrictions, but techs were always lower paid on average than the rest of the staff by job title.

It’s even more complicated when the price of good, reliable tools continues to go up. Ask any tech you know that has 5+ years in the auto industry, and 9/10 will tell you they have spent over $50,000 in tools or will tell you they won’t add it up because it makes them sick. I spent right around $60,000 in tools in about 6 years, and now I use my tools and box for my own stuff and my part-time business detailing cars. Between all that and the simple fact that it is very hard grueling work, dealers have a tough time finding and keeping technicians. Look at Indeed or another job finder website and see how many positions are being filled for repair/service technicians. It’s crazy to see, as it was much harder even for me now 8 years ago looking for a job in the industry. Until something gives, or something changes, the techs will slowly die off, and dealers will get desperate for new blood. Most dealers do offer special training classes for their brand, which costs nothing to the tech. But most dealers require some sort of background in the industry to work on cars. You can utilize a technical high school or college to “get your foot in the door” per se, but they may not show you the full spectrum of what you’re going into in the real world

         If you’re totally passionate about cars, no matter what specifically you’re into, the automotive industry can be an exceptional place for you. There is a ton to learn, and no one workday will ever be exactly the same. I would never tell anyone not to fix cars for a living, as it ultimately shaped me into who I am today, and I’m thankful for that. I did end up leaving it entirely after I worked at Ford and entered the manufacturing industry at a $22 starting wage, and now work as a Power Plant Operator for more money. The auto industry just didn’t fit me anymore, and it’s a shame because I absolutely loved what I did. Unfortunately, at least to me, the money did not match my aspirations. The auto industry just didn’t fit me anymore, and it’s a shame because I absolutely loved what I did. It is very possible that a different state or area could have been a different story. Still, here in Connecticut, that’s just not the case. 

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Chrysler’s Glorious Mindset

Chrysler has been walking to a different cadence lately, and it hasn’t gone unnoticed. It’s already been memed among car enthusiasts. While Ford and GM kill off their traditional cars and prepare for the inevitable electrified future, the glorious do-whatever-we -want minds over in Auburn Hills are probably measuring to see if the Hellcat motor can fit into their minivans. While that’s probably not something to hold your breath for, Chrysler (currently under the newly formed Stellantis) clearly has no use for the overly cautious eggshell walk that their larger counterparts so religiously follow. We’re all better off as a result.

In a world of downsized engines, e-assist everything, and promises to abandon recycled dinosaur-fueled transit within a dog’s lifetime, Chrysler’s core American brands seem more focused on ensuring you can own a real-life copy of the car you drew a picture of in elementary school. Here’s a toast to some of the craziest recent Chrysler vehicles or ideas. 

Ram TRX

Ford creates an F-150 for high-speed desert running. Names it after a badass dinosaur. RAM, not to be outdone, creates a truck with the same intended function. Names it after a dinosaur that we all watched eat Ford’s namesake dinosaur in Jurassic Park. Also, it has over 700 Horsepower compared to just 450 from its prey, the Raptor. 

Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk/Dodge Durango Hellcat

So, apparently, the “regular” SRT models of these two SUVs just weren’t enough. That’s more than 700 horsepower coming from family SUVs. Think about that. Imagine if the Toyota Highlander had a program onboard to measure lap times and g-force. Crazy, right. Well, these two have it. 

Jeep Gladiator

This truck hit the showrooms with love-it-or-hate-it styling, but it is what we’ve been asking for since the Comanche peaced out in 1992. Also, it’s a pickup with a removable top and a fold-flat windshield. 

V8 Jeep Wrangler

Jeep is dropping the 392 Hemi V8 in the Wrangler. Was it necessary? No. But that’s not how Chrysler works. With the Ford Bronco stealing the limelight in the off-road SUV realm, Jeep wasn’t about to sit in the stands at the game it invented; in fact, they announced the project the day after the Bronco was released. Prefaced in the 392 Concept, this a Wrangler complete with paddle shifters and capable of sub-15 second quarter-mile times. In a Wrangler. 

Dodge Challenger

Think about what this car really is for a moment. The current car dates back to the original Obama administration and has changed slightly over the years, but not enough to render it a new car since its 2008 debut. Since production started, we’ve seen countless packages and iterations, the most famous being the Hellcat, which has a diabolical horsepower output to match its name, and the Demon, which literally had Satan himself stitched into the seats. Oh, and it came with an awesome toolbox. 

Sadly, these days are limited. Time and progression eventually make everything obsolete, and Chrysler will eventually get on board with the pre-determined future of transportation. Dodge CEO Tim Kuniskis recently stated to CNBC that EVs will save what he called “the golden age of muscle cars,” which is PR-speak for “The Hellcat cannot live forever, and its expiration date is closing in fast.” While great creations will come in the electrified future (Tesla has a mode called “Ludicrous Mode,” after all), this era of old school analog performance is coming to a close in the near future. Let’s just appreciate it while it’s here and give Chrysler its due respect for having such a “hold my beer” approach to making modern automobiles. Performance cars aren’t going anywhere; they’ll just be evolving. But until then, Chrysler still owes us a Hellcat-powered minivan. 

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The Latest Ford Raptor has Arrived

Doesn’t it seem like just last year that Ford unveiled the first-ever Raptor? Well, here we are, now three generations deep with an all-new Raptor. Though subjective, you’d almost be forgiven if you mistake the latest iteration for the previous one, as the styling is mostly evolutionary. Not to worry, as this is not necessarily a demerit, given how well the F150 looks wearing Raptor guise in general. As a writer, I’m morally forbidden from using tired cliches, but you know what people say about things that aren’t broken! 

Anyway, with a new apex predator sharing the desert, Ford wasn’t planning on leaving its Raptor out in a cage like a goat to become dinner for an angry TRX. (Watch the original 1993 Jurassic Park movie if you haven’t yet seen it. It’s not my fault if you don’t get the references!) Not to be outdone by the mad scientists at Chrysler, Ford upped the testosterone with the new Raptor. First, and most notably, is the re-introduction of the V8, which will be available in 2022 in the Raptor R, this time with a rumored 760 horsepower. That’s what I’d call a last-minute Hemi-induced decision. If that sounds cool to you, but maybe a little north of what your daily commute demands, the 3.5-liter Ecoboost V6 is still an option and an excellent one at that. Other revisions include next-generation FOX shocks, a freshly redesigned running gear, and stock 37″ tires, which Ford claims is first-in-class. 

Just as the two generations before it, I’m sure Ford will have no problem selling the latest Raptor when it hits showrooms around the summer of 2021. With all performance editions of vehicles, the demand for the badass truck typically overwhelms supply.

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The Jeep Cherokee is in Danger of Losing It’s Name

As a result of recent events like the Black Lives Matter protests and the untimely death of George Floyd, America has been at odds with itself in redefining what social justice is. In the process, it has ruffled feathers on both sides. Companies and sports teams across the U.S. are re-naming brands and replacing symbols, names, and products that many deem to be culturally inappropriate for today’s climate. This has sparked controversy and backlash. From the re-naming of the Washington Redskins to “Washington’s Football Team” to the removal of rather insensitive names on bottles of syrups and rice, brands everywhere are rethinking their use of other cultures as a means for merchandising.      

The latest brand at this uncomfortable crossroads is Jeep. For the first time since 1974, the Cherokee Nation is peacefully calling for re-naming the Jeep Cherokee and Grand Cherokee models. Here is what Chuck Hoskin Jr., the Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation, said recently.

“I’m sure this comes from a place that is well-intended, but it does not honor us by having our name plastered on the side of a car, the best way to honor us is to learn about our sovereign government, our role in this country, our history, culture, and language, and have meaningful dialogue with federally recognized tribes on cultural appropriateness.” 

Jeep has responded to Mr. Hoskin’s request stating…

“Our vehicle names have been carefully chosen and nurtured over the years to honor and celebrate Native American people for their nobility, prowess, and pride, we are, more than ever, committed to a respectful and open dialogue with Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin, Jr.”

Now, right next to operating room cleaner and sperm bank attendant sits political opinion writer on the list of jobs you couldn’t pay me to do, so I’m going to look at and analyze this issue with respect to the one job that I’d do without pay, an automotive writer. The ultimate point of a car company (or any company) is to make money. That’s the bottom line. As for my opinion that nobody asked for: bury the name, Jeep. You already killed it, anyway. When Jeep launched the UFO-inspired 2014 Cherokee KL, it was the first time Jeep made a vehicle that’s style was as controversial as its name. Jeep didn’t really care about the Cherokee’s legacy but just wanted to exploit it for money. It looked absolutely nothing like its (automotive) namesake, nor did it even look like a Jeep. But buyers didn’t seem to care. They had a glut for egg-shaped blobs in their driveways, and the Cherokee could have sold just as well had it been called something like C3PO or R2D2. This was an attempt to draw attention to the latest crossover now for sale to the buying public in hopes that the Cherokee name would distinguish it from the rest of the competition. But here’s the thing: nobody who buys this car care about the name, nor do they care about the XJ, as none of its spiritual DNA has translated. Ask any XJ purist. Ford just did the same thing when it launched the Mustang Mach E and glommed onto the storied Mustang name to draw attention away from whatever Elon Musk was doing. Neither the Mach E nor the current Cherokee are bad vehicles objectively. However, they are certainly not made up of any secret sauce that made the “original” versions so revered. Here’s the deal, Jeep; just end it. 

There’s no point getting involved in a PR nightmare over a name that most Cherokee customers really don’t care about. Face it, anyone who does anything that resembles off-roading is just buying Wranglers and Gladiators. The devotees of the XJ are not going out and buying the KL model. The people who buy the Cherokee (and Grand Cherokee) mostly buy them for the other name. The four-letter one on the front. The storied Cherokee name means really little to those who buy the current vehicles carrying those names, who mostly cross-shop it with the Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V. Jeep has a decent bank of names to select from, especially with the recently discontinued Commander, Liberty, and Patriot names. What will Jeep do? That’s anyone’s guess. We’ll just have to wait and see, and hopefully, both parties can come to an amicable decision.

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