Thursday, November 29, 2012

25 Years In The Rearview Mirror

25 Years In The Rearview Mirror

Well like it or not, I just finished my first 25 years in the truck accessory/automotive electronics business.  I guess the miles on me is starting to show, but I'm still here plugging away at it everyday.  I had a conversation with one of my employees the other day about how things have changed since he started working for me 10 years ago, and it started me thinking of how much things have changed, since I started 25 years ago.  So here are a few of my observations of change in this business over that span.

Mobile Audio...  25 years ago cassettes were king.  The first CD car stereo by Sony had just come out and it was hot, if we could get them we could sell them, even at the $800 dollar price.  These were 2 piece units with a hideaway control module and did not do even as much as units that sell for $100 today, but that was state of the art then.  Amps and woofer were commonplace but much less versatile.  For example, while today virtually every amp sold has some sort of crossover built in, in that time a crossover was a separate unit you had to buy in addition to your amplifiers.

Car Alarms...  Car alarms were very basic with most models being passive systems meaning they had no remote controls but instead armed a preset time after leaving the car and gave you so many seconds to get in and put in the key to disarm.  Remote control units were the high end selling for around $500 and were the equivalent of todays basic remote control alarm systems if that.  Alarms of that day had so few outputs, as installers we often had to figure out ways with relays and other parts to get the parking lights to flash from the siren output for example.  Impact and motion sensors were truly mechanical devices and were finicy to adjust and prone to false alarms.  Remote start was a dream way in the future.

Truck Accessories...  Plastic bedliners was a good as it got, there were no spray in liners yet.  Light duty and chrome grille guards were the norm.  Stainless steel was not yet being used in truck accessories, so chrome was king and we regularly had to deal with the accompanying rust problems that come with chrome.  Heavy duty grille guards and bumpers were just starting to show up here in South Texas and definitely had not spread to other parts of the country.  Common features of todays grille guards like wrap around ends and design that followed the trucks body lines were unknown...  they were flat and square.  Nerf bars were new and just round pipe with no step pads.  Running boards were the king of the day.  Bug guards were flat plastic mounted on metal brackets that stuck out from under the hood and window visors were stamped metal.  A very popular accessory was chrome plated steel tailgate protectors and there were no side bed caps yet.  Tool boxes were steel and mostly white.  There was a lot of thick real wood center consoles, overhead consoles, and door trim to deck out the truck interior.  "Sport truck" gear was hot like ground effects, headlight covers, convertible conversions, nose bras and guys were putting this gear on their compact trucks.  Overall there were no where near the options truck owners have today.

So there are a few of  my memories of life in the truck accessory business in 1987.  And since I have been selling car stereo equipment for almost  40 years, I leave my tales of 8-track sales for another day.



Sunday, November 11, 2012

The Prepared Pickup

Basic preparedness and safety takes just a little thought and a few minutes, and you will have the basic emergency gear stashed behind the seat or in the toolbox, you might need if that drive in your truck takes a bad turn.  Here is what I think are the basics you should not be driving around without.
Can you and should you have much more?  Yes and probably, but these things I am going to list cost little and should be there.

1) Your cellphone.  Goes without saying that this is your lifeline.  In today's world we usually all have them with us... just make sure when you leave you have it and it is charged.

2)  Flashlight.  No vehicle should be driving around without a flashlight inside.  Spend a couple bucks more and get a LED flashlight so you can get hours of use on one set of batteries.  An extra set of batteries in a plastic bag is a good backup as well.

3)  Jumper cables.  Again, no vehicle should be driving around without a set of jumper cables.  Have them and know how to use them.  These could help you or someone else get unstuck.

4)  Fix-a-flat.  These are several brands of tire sealer on the market and for about 8 or 9  bucks, you can have a can in your truck.  This might make the difference between changing a tire in adverse conditions, or being able to limp back to a better location.

5)  Basic tools.  Lots of truck people are driving around with massive amounts of tools in their toolbox, but if you are not one of these drivers, this is what you need to do.  Go to one of the bigbox hardware stores and get a basic tool kit in a plastic carrying case for under $25.  Will it have everything you need for every situation?  No way, but at least you have a chance for the basic emergencies

6)  Coat or jacket.  You have an old one you don't wear anymore somewhere in your house hanging in a closet.  Get it an put it in your truck instead where it can be of use if you were to need it.  An old  blanket works well in this capacity as well.

7)  Raincoat.  Get one and stash it in your truck.  A cheap plastic poncho is also good... Or at least a plastic trash bag you can put a hole in for your head and now you have a poncho.

You are driving a truck so by default you have lots of storage space to stash these items.  Behind the seat, under a back seat, in the toolbox, and so on.  Buy a cheap plastic portable toolbox, get the items on the list and put them inside, find a good storage spot in your truck, and now you are ready for most of the minor emergencies that may befall you as you truck down the road.

Can you get more gear for emergencies?  Sure, and it is a great idea whose limit is only up to you.  Flares, road reflectors, tire pressure gauge, jacks, foul weather clothing, lighting, compressors, emergency radios, and on and on.  It is all up to you and your comfort level.  But all the items above can be had for way less than $100 if you don't already have them, and might make a bad situation safer and easier for you and your passengers.

Let me add, that I have never lived farther north than central Texas, so I have no practical experience with harsh winter driving conditions.  I feel sure there are things that y'all northerners keep in your trucks to be prepared in the winter.  Feel free to comment and educate me on this!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Choosing A Truck Bedliner

Time to talk about bedliners.  With most people this boils down to plastic drop in liner or a spray in liner, but there are other alternatives out there.  So let's talk some bed protection today.  In the interest of full disclosure, let me say as I have before, I own a truck accessory retail store so my opinion of these various products comes from that point of view and my experience with these products over a good number of years.  I have sold plastic bedliners for 25 years and spray in bedliners for 15 years.  I have met many people who will only consider one of these alternatives (like some only buy Fords and some only buy Chevys), but in truth there are advantages and disadvantages to each depending on how you use your truck.  So here is what I think...

Plastic drop in bedliners. 
These are staples of truck bed protection.  They have been around for decades and probably everyone has seen one.  Good value for your dollar as far as protection you get for your truck bed versus the price you pay.  The chief advantages are lower price relative to spray in liners, impact resistance due to high ribbed design, and quick easy installation.  The impact resistance is the biggest advantage over a spray in liner.  Because the bottom of the plastic liner has raised ribs, when a heavy object is dropped into the truck bed, the ribs tend to absorb the shock and help protect against bed dents better that spray in liners which have the material bonded to the bed sheet metal, so if the metal bends, the spray liner goes with it.  The other purpose of the ribs is to allow water to drain from under the liner.  Most manufacturers make both over the rail liners to protect the top of the trucks bed rails and under the rail liners for use with bed covers, bed rails, or other add on items.  Features to look for if you are shopping for one of these are skid resistant coating to minimize items sliding in the bed, holes for access to bed tie down points (preferably with removable caps to keep debris out), and built in UV protection to keep the new look for years.  Price varies according to brand and market, but in general one of these liners should be about $150 (probably more at a new car dealer).  You can have any color you want, as long as it is black.  A couple of criticisms of plastic liners I hear often are that water will get under the liner and cause the bed to rust.  In 25 years of selling these, I have not found this to be the case.  The ribbed design allows for air flow underneath and water to drain, and I would add that all new car manufacturers sell these as well, so apparently they don't feel this is a problem either.  The other criticism I often hear is these liner damage the paint on the bed under them.  I have seen a lot of paint wear when liners are removed from older trucks, generally just damage to the clear coat due to the liner moving around just slightly and rubbing the paint.  I would add that compared to a truck of the same age that has no liner, that this amount of damage is small in comparison.

Spray in bedliners.
Spray in liners are the high end of bed protection.  They offer advantages over other bed protection method and also generally cost much more.  The primary advantage over other bed protection methods, is that a spray in liner provides a continuous form fitting durable coating bonded to the bed sheet metal.  Theoretically most brands when properly applied, provide permanent protection to the bed that won't crack or peel and locks out rust ,abrasion, and chemicals.  The rubbery textured surface provides a non-slip surface for your cargo.  And most brands offer colors including some that offer exact paint match colors (expect to pay more for color).  Most brands require no maintenance and are repairable if damaged.  Spray in liners even provide a level of insulation from road noise and vibrations.  All in all, spray in liners are probably the best system of bed protection available.  Again, price will vary by brand and market, but expect to pay about $400 for a short bed truck, maybe more for a longbed or spray on top of the bedrails, and more at a car dealer.  Spray in liners are also an excellent choice for older trucks that already have bed damage, as they seal the damaged areas and provide a like new looking bed.  But any dent or large holes will still be there, just better looking covered with liner material.  Here is a couple other things to know, despite what any liner salesman tells you, all spray in liners can be cut or gouged by sharp and heavy objects.  If this happens, is this covered or not covered by the warranty and if not, what does repair cost?  Ask before you buy, because if you use your bedliner for heavy work, you may run into this, and different companies handle this different ways.  Also by their very name...  spray in... means a human sprays the material onto your truck bed.  So it is a good idea to see some other work they have done before you commit. 

Other bed protection.

A couple other options for bed protection are bed rugs which are heavy duty outdoor carpet type bedliners.  These are good choices for trucks with bed covers since when you crawl in and out of the bed since they are easier on your knees.  Another choice the the basic rubber bed mat.  These do a good job of protecting the bottom of the bed but offer no protection for the sides and are fairly inexpensive,

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!

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Let me share some thoughts and knowledge with you on how you can make your truck work harder and better with the both the lastest and the classic truck gear.  Let me begin by saying I got my first truck in 1978 and have pretty much had one ever since then . And I live and work in the land of trucks... Texas.   I started in the truck accessory business in 1987 and now own and run a 25 year old suceessful  truck accessory retail store.  So trucks have been an everyday part of my life for decades.  And I hope to share some of that practical knowledge here for other truck users to use and learn from.  I currently drive a 2008 Ford F350 with a flatbed and I also own a 1999 Ford F250, but at my store we work on dozens of trucks every week of every brand and model.  I will share how I use my trucks for my everyday doings, my life as an avid horeseman, and my career as a truck gear seller.  Join me as I share my thoughts and knowledge on trucks and how to put them to work to make your life easier and better.  Thanks for reading!