Saturday, September 22, 2012

Keep That Truck Secure

I have been  selling and installing alarm systems on cars and trucks for 25 years.  And because I also sell truck accessories, most of my alarm customers drive trucks.  So here are a few things I have learned along the way about protecting your truck and its contents. 

Most quality alarm systems on the market today when installed by a skilled installer will give you the basic protection you need to serve as a starting point for a pickup truck security system.  But unlike a sedan style car which the standard alarm system protects very well, pickup trucks generally have several other areas of concern that need to be considered.  A few concerns may include a toolbox with hundreds of dollars of tools in it, your tailgate probably can be removed without any tools, your spare tire is on the outside of the vehicle, or you have a bed cover with valuable cargo underneath.  We can talk about how you protect your truck with a few of these scenarios in mind.

Let's start with the tailgate.  The tailgate on most trucks can be removed without any tools...  meaning a thief can walk off with yours in minutes and you or your insurance company are left looking at close to $1000 to replace it.  So in my opinion, every truck needs a tailgate lock.  Some trucks come with them, but most still don't.  What kind of lock depends on how you use your truck.  They basically come in two varieties.  The first locks the handle so the tailgate can not be opened and since you have to lower the tailgate to remove it from the truck, these are pretty effective at preventing tailgate theft.  An add on lock to the existing tailgate handle is available for most trucks without dramatically changing the tailgates looks for $50 or less.  The are even electronic ones that automatically lock the tailgate when you lock your truck doors and unlock it when you unlock the doors.  The second type of tailgate lock secures the bottom hinge to the truck bed, so the tailgate can not be removed.  You may have seen people put a hose clamp around the bottom hinge of the tailgate to keep it from being removed easily, and that is basically the idea for these types of tailgate protection, just more secure and high tech.  These are a couple types of locks that go around the hinge that work well, and there are also hardened steel plates that cover the gap where the tailgate slips out and secure with a security type bolt.  These types of locks are generally $30 or less.  The advantage to these types of locks is that they are always there protecting the tailgate without you doing anything once they are installed.  But they do not keep the tailgate from being lowered, so if you have a bed cover and want the whole back end of the truck locked, you probably want to consider the type of tailgate lock that locks the handle.

Next let's talk about your spare tire.  Suffice to say when you really need it, you expect it to be there and that's not a good time to find out someone stole it.  Most trucks being sold today have a full size spare tire under the bed, making them an easy target for theft.  Most hang from a manual winch mechanism that raises or lowers them.  An easy job to walk up with the right tool and lower down the tire and walk away... even on some new trucks that have a coded tip for the lowering tool because they are not exactly high tech anti-theft equipment.  What I recommend here is a heavy steel cable and waterproof lock with the cable run around the truck frame and through the spare tire.  Think of a bicycle type lock except since it is under the truck it will get plenty of water and grit on it so make sure the lock is waterproof and preferable has some sort of cap over the key hole, so that lock works well when you need it to.  There are also vehicle specific locks that hang through one of the lug holes on the tire that work well, but you generally are going to have to lay on your back under the truck to remove them when the time comes.  Choose a plastic coated cable so you don't create a rattle in the back of the truck.

Protecting under the hood can be important as well in some situations.  If a thief can gain access to under the hood, he can then disable the siren or battery to get around the alarm system.  Most trucks are not easy to get the hood open without releasing it first from the inside, but there are some that can be opened easily.  In my experience, many Chevy and GMC trucks can be opened with just a coat hanger through the grille by an experienced person and so extra protection may be needed.  There are hood locks and metal guards that can be installed.  A good option is a pin switch on the hood to trigger the alarm system if the hood is opened.  Another good option is a battery backup for the alarm system, that will keep it operating even if the vehicles battery is disconnected.

Protecting the door handles and locks is vitally important on today's trucks.  In my store, in dealing with the aftermath of vehicle break ins, we very seldom see broken windows any more.  The preferred way to break into today's trucks is through the door handles.  This is because in most cases the handles are made of plastic and screwdrivers and such can be forced in around the edges to manipulate the rods that unlock or open the doors.  And often times the actual lock cylinder is pushed back through it's plastic housing and then it can be manipulated with a screwdriver to unlock the door.  If you have an alarm system, when the door opens the alarm will trigger, but it only takes a few seconds for a thief to grab your gear and be gone.  So I recommend steel plates on the inside of the door handles that protect that vulnerable area of the door.  The most common brand is called Jimmi Jammers.  These install on the interior of the door behind the door handle and in most cases prohibit someone from successfully breaking in through the door handles.  Does not mean they won't try and tear up your door, but chances are they won't be successful at getting in.  Many people also replace their door handles that have key cylinders in them with rear or passenger door handles without a keyhole,  and just use their remote control to unlock the doors.  This is fairly effective, but you need to consider what you will do in the case of a dead battery before you do this.

Now on to protecting tool boxes, tonneau covers, and camper shells.  In my experience, a properly installed old fashioned pin switch is the best protection in most cases.  Care needs to be taken as to how the wiring from the pin switch is run as it needs to be concealed or it will do you no good.  Other choices could be a mercury tilt switch on a cover that raises from one side or a radar or microwave sensor to detect movement inside the cover.  I still think a pin switch is the best choice when properly installed as far as providing proper protection and freedom from false alarms.

So, an alarm is just the first layer of security if you own a pickup truck.  Consider these other areas and you can have the whole package when it comes to keeping your truck secure.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Gooseneck towing

Lets talk about gooseneck towing...  Something I do a couple times a week, every week, and have for years.  Thats my rig pictured above.  There are definite advantages to gooseneck trailers but also drawbacks and equipment requirements that need to be considered.  And while I don't claim to be the worlds foremost expert on this topic, I do have lots of first hand experience as a gooseneck user and I have sold hitches for years my truck accessory store.  I'll be glad to share some of what I know with you.

Here are a few of the key advantages of using a gooseneck trailer as opposed to a bumper pull or receiver hitch pull:  1) gooseneck trailers pivot closer to the center of the vehicle so the turning radius is tighter giving you more maneuverability.  In fact depending on the truck being used, many rigs can turn the trailer beyond 90 degrees... something you definitely can not do with a bumper pull  2) gooseneck trailers distribute the weight of the load more evenly for greater stability, especially for heavy loads.  Thus they don't tend to sway or fishtail like a bumper pull trailer can do  3) goosenecks can be designed to carry much heavier loads, with many gooseneck hitches having up to a 30,000 lb. towing capacity.  That why you often see them used for towing heavy equipment, multiple cars, and livestock.  And the extra space over the tailgate area and hitch can be used for other purposes such as living quarters.

With all that being said, there are also disadvantages as well.  These include:  1) you have to climb in the truck bed to hook up the hitch and safety chains  2) this is not a versatile trailer that can be pulled by pretty much any vehicle with a bumper or receiver hitch.  You have to have a truck equipped with a gooseneck hitch that has the capacity to pull the rated weight  3) because gooseneck trailers are generally bigger and heavier, they are also generally more expensive and the towing truck has to be outfitted with a generally more expensive hitch.  3) some types of truck bed covers cannot be used with a gooseneck hitch  4) if the truck and loaded trailer exceed 10,000 lbs, it may be classified as a commercial vehicle.

One of the biggest considerations in thinking about towing a gooseneck hitch is "Can my truck pull that trailer".  Towing capacity and safety are two important considerations.  An easy way to get a quick idea of how much your truck can pull is to look up the truck models specs in the owners manual or online.  Find the Gross Combined Weight Rating GCWR which is the maximum allowable weight of the combined truck and trailer.  Then find the Gross Vehicle Weight GVW which is the weight of the truck.  Now subtract the trucks weight from the combined weight and you will have a good idea of how heavy a loaded trailer you can tow.  Note I said "loaded trailer".  My trailer in the picture weighs 5500 lbs. empty... but put in 75 gallons of water, 3 horses, and all my gear, and it gets up close to 10,000 lbs. pretty quickly.  Again using my truck for an example the GCWR combined weight rating is 23,000 lb. and my truck weight is 6750 lbs. giving me approximately 16250 lbs. loaded trailer capacity.  So my loaded 10,000 lb trailer is safely within the capacity of my truck.  Briefly, other safety considerations are the towing capacity of the hitch you are installing, correct wiring installed to operate the trailer lights and braking system, and familiarizing yourself with the operating capabilities and feel of the combined rig before you hit the open road. 

Gooseneck hitches come in a variety of styles.  The most basic is a flat plate with the hitch ball with bracing under the bed welded to the frame.  Fold down balls are also common with a flat plate and the ball folds down under a door when not in use.  There are gooseneck hitches that fit into 5th wheel rails if you need to tow both 5th wheel and gooseneck trailers.  Probably the most popular type of gooseneck hitches on the market today, are removable ball or turnover ball goosenecks.  This type of hitch allows you to remove the hitch ball when you need your truck bed for other things , usually by pulling a handle in the rear wheel well of the truck and lifting the ball out.  All you see on top of your bed is the trailer ball and safety chain hooks, everything else is on the underside of the bed.  With any of these hitches, the important consideration again is the rated towing capacity in relation to what your are planning to tow.

Lastly, lets talk about hooking up the trailer to the truck.  The gooseneck coupler has a latching mechanism, usually a handle, that needs to be put in the latched position to avoid the coupler opening while driving.  Hook up the safety chains!  They are an integral part of gooseneck hitch design and need to be used every time you tow.  Plug in the wiring plug.  You can plug it into the plug on the bumper but because of the inherent risk of the wire being caught on something or hanging up on extreme turns, many people have an additional plug installed in the bed of the truck so the wiring stays contained within the truck bed.  Alignment while backing takes some practice.  Aids to do this are cameras which nowadays aren't really expensive or magnetic rods that stick on the bed as indicators among others.  I have a friend who has a string stretched across his be so he knows where to stop.  I personally always pickup a small rock or something and put it dead center at the back of my bed to help me line the hitch up on the center of the bed.  There are lots of tricks but with a little practice you,ll pick it up quickly.  Hope some of this helps... Now get out there and have some fun or get some work done!