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10 Tips for Trucks

How to get more out of an invaluable hunting and fishing "partner."

By Slaton L. White

Getting to your favorite hunting or fishing spot may be half the fun, but you don't want truck trouble to deny you the pleasure of getting home again. Knowing your vehicle and taking care of it can mean the difference between a trip whose memory you savor and one you can't wait to forget.

  1. To take full advantage of a maximum-traction offroad tire, deliberately alternate right and left turns of the steering wheel. This will gently pinch the tire against the edges of deep ruts, allowing the shoulder lugs to claw at the sides of the ruts and pull the vehicle forward.
  2. Periodically check the condition of the windshield wipers. Don't think this is important? Try driving five or six hours in bad weather with worn-out wipers. It's bad enough during the day. At night, when you're tired, forget it; you're an accident waiting to happen.
  3. If you submerge the axle of your 4x4 at a boat ramp, creek crossing, or mudhole, remove the differential cover plate as soon as possible and look at the fluid. If the fluid looks milky, it's been contaminated by water and must be changed as quickly as possible. Generally, running the truck 20 to 30 miles like this isn't so bad; but if you put on more than a couple of hundred miles, you'll damage the gearset as well as the bearings.
  4. Running the air conditioner full tilt while towing in hot weather or grinding up steep offroad trails can tax the cooling system to the max. Many boilovers are actually the result of hot transmission fluid overwhelming the vehicle's cooling system. The fix? Install an auxiliary transmission fluid cooler.
  5. When securing the drawbar/ball-mount into the hitch receiver, slip the pin in from the driver's side of the receiver. Roads are crowned, which means the surface is slightly higher in the middle (this helps the road drain faster). Inserting the pin from the driver's side takes advantage of this and will help keep the pin in place if the safety clip falls off.
  6. Wheel spin on dirt trails or in mudholes (the result of a heavy foot on the throttle) usually means that you're not in control of the situation. Slow down. You want enough momentum to carry the vehicle through mud or sand but not so much that you can't completely control the vehicle. Try feathering the throttle instead.
  7. To spot problems caused by worn-out suspension parts, have a buddy drive while you ride shotgun. (Suspensions degrade slowly over time, and regular drivers often don't notice the problems.) Run the vehicle at highway speeds and then slowly over a bumpy road. Be alert for shakes in the steering wheel. This could be due to an out-of-balance tire (not serious) or a slowly disintegrating ball joint (big trouble). In an empty parking lot, turn the vehicle in slow circles, with the wheel cranked hard right, then hard left. Look and listen for anything out of the ordinary.
  8. The lowly dipstick remains a great diagnostic tool-if you know what it's telling you. After checking the oil level, look closely at the color. Though oil discolors over time, it should not look like tar. If it does, and especially if it smells "burned," change the oil immediately.
  9. Before starting a vehicle recovery with an electric winch, lay a blanket or tarp over the wire rope about halfway between the winch and the anchor. This will help direct the rope to the ground should it break under the load.
  10. Pickups and sport utilities that routinely negotiate wet terrain are prime candidates for corrosion damage. Clean off mud and other crud after every trip. You can also place an oscillating lawn sprinkler underneath the truck and drive back and forth over the sprinkler to wash away road film and salt.

Excerpted from May 2001 Field & Stream.

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