Truck Performance 101 – A beginner’s guide

May 31, 2009 on 2:02 pm | In Truck Performance | No Comments

Today, the aftermarket gives truck owners more performance options than ever before. However, all the new products and gizmos can be a little hard to sort through. What you need for your specific truck will depend on what type of truck you have and what you use it for.

What is performance? Basically, it is the word used to describe speed, fuel consumption rate and towing ability. Performance is primarily measured in terms of horsepower (HP) and Torque.

Horsepower, or HP, is by definition, the power of an engine in comparison to horses. For example, a truck with 100 horsepower is as fast as 100 horses all rolled into one. Horsepower is often indicative of a truck’s top speed. Horsepower does not necessarily mean that a truck is fast from a standing start (see torque) but instead it is often indicative of the speed attainable by a particular truck. This being said other factors such as weight and grade will impact the final speed achieved. In more scientific terms, HP is the common measurement when rating an engine’s power. One horsepower equals 500 ft-lbs. per second, which is basically the power needed to lift 550 pounds one foot off the ground in exactly one second or the power needed to lift 33,000 pounds one foot off the ground in exactly one minute.

Torque refers to a truck’s ability to generate pick up. Torque is one of the most important factors at the beginning of any non-rolling start. It is the ability of the truck to send power to the wheels and turn them – moving the entire truck forward. The dictionary defines it as: “The moment of a force; the measure of a force’s tendency to produce torsion and rotation about an axis…”. The most important thing to remember is that torque is what gets the truck rolling and is very important in towing.

The basics of performance, of course, center on your engine. Think of your engine as basically a big air pump. It breathes air in through the air intake and breathes it out through the exhaust. The easier your engine can breathe the more performance it will deliver. The stock engine you received from the factory comes with OEM air induction and exhaust. Modifying these two areas is relatively easy and can deliver significant increases in both HP and torque. One other primary factor affecting your performance is the engines computer. The stock OEM computer your truck came with is set to a “safe mode” to protect the truck against virtually any driver error…e.g., redlining. Although these settings are meant to protect the truck, they can impede performance significantly. Tweaking your truck’s computer can significantly increase HP and torque while still providing safety to the engine. We’ll look at each of these three performance enhancements below.

Air Intake
The air intake primarily consists of your vehicle’s air filter. Stock air filters are made of pleated paper. The problem with pleated paper is it often tends to become clogged which greatly reduces the airflow. Fragments of paper are ingested or sucked into the intake system creating a hole for gritty contaminants to enter the engine. In addition, these filters have to be replaced often to maintain a basic level of performance. Aftermarket filters are made of cotton gauze or engineered foam. These filters, made by companies like K&N, Airaid, Green Filter and True Flow significantly increase the flow of air through the filter. In addition, these filters defend against dirt at twice the rate or more than their paper counterparts and most come with a lifetime warranty…that’s one filter for the life of your vehicle. Installation of these filters is super easy…just replace your existing factory air filter.

The second factor effecting air intake is the temperature of the air coming into the engine. You’ve probably noticed that your truck runs better on cold days. That is because the air is denser and denser air allows more combustion when mixed with fuel and ignited. Stronger combustion means more power to move your piston in the cylinder. Aftermarket companies…many of the same mentioned above…have developed systems called “Cold Air Intakes”, that move the point of air intake from the top of your engine, which is normally very hot, to a point outside the engine. The result is that the air being sucked into your engine is much cooler than it would be using the normal air filter location. Cold air intakes require a little more handyman skills that just replacing a filter. However, they can be installed easily by anyone that has basic tools.

Exhaust Systems
Exhaust is the “exhale” to your engines lungs. The more twists and turns in the exhaust, the less your vehicle can breathe easily. Exhaust systems come with three primary elements…the muffler, exhaust pipes and muffler tips. The first two are the main ingredients that effect HP and torque. OEM factory exhausts are well made, but not designed to deliver maximum performance. Aftermarket systems from companies like Magnaflow, Banks and Gibson are engineered specifically for each truck and are designed to get the most out of your vehicle. In addition to more power, these systems also deliver an enviable “roar” that will let others know you have tricked out your truck. I do not recommend installing an exhaust system unless you are a true gear head and are prepared for cutting and welding. Although most muffler shops do not carry these products, they will be glad to install them for you.

Computer Chips and Programmers
Your truck’s computer is technically referred to by gear heads as the Engine Control Unit (ECU). The ECU that controls the engine is very complicated. OEM’s program them to satisfy emissions requirements, meet EPA fuel economy requirements and protect the engine against abuse. The computer does this by controlling many aspects of the vehicles performance, but primarily controls the ignition, fuel injection and spark time. As mentioned above, the OEM’s set the default value of the ECU to an “ultra-safe” mode to insure adherence to government guidelines and to protect the engine from abusive driving. Aftermarket companies like Hypertech, Edge, Unichip and Superchips manufacturer chips and programmers that will either plug into your ECU or programmers that will alter the factory settings. Chip manufacturers set the products for each specific vehicle to a default performance setting. Programmer manufacturers allow more versatility in that they allow custom modifications to compensate for other performance add-ons like cold air kits and exhaust systems. These systems are relatively easy to install by anyone that has a little mechanical knowledge.

In conclusion, you can significantly increase your HP and Speed by just making these basic changes to your truck. Some all-in-one kits can deliver up to a 40% increase in overall performance. Finally, contrary to rumor, none of these products will void the warranty of your truck. There is a federal law called the “Magnuson Moss Warranty Act” that prevents automobile manufacturers from voiding warranties from the addition of aftermarket products. These are just a few of the many performance products available from the aftermarket. I will be covering more advanced performance products, like superchargers, in a subsequent article.

What Tonneau Cover is Right for You?

May 31, 2009 on 1:54 pm | In Tonneau Covers | 1 Comment

Until the late 1970s, no one had even heard of tonneau covers, also known as truck bed covers. A plastic tarp, the kind you buy at Wal-Mart, was what most of us used to keep the stuff in our truck beds away from the rain and wind. Then, in 1977 while working at a canvas company in Syracuse, Gerald Downey had an idea and constructed the world’s first aluminum framed tonneau cover. If you are considering a bed cover for your truck, this article will help you understand the benefits of a tonneau and the various types of covers available.

Benefits of a Truck Bed Cover
A tonneau has a multitude of benefits including protection of your cargo from the elements and theft. Those of you who have run into a down poor while hauling boxes, luggage and the like understand what a pain it can be. You load up your truck thinking, ”I’ll unload this before I get into rain”. The next think you know, you’re pulling to the side of the road fighting off the wind and rain trying to get your cargo inside your cab, if it will fit that is. How about those times you put a new purchase in your truck bed and ran into the grocery store for ”just a minute” only to return and find your new item was stolen. A tonneau can significantly help with both of these problems and is the primary reason they are purchased.

Another major benefit often overlooked is the savings a truck bed cover will deliver at the pump. That’s right….a tonneau will save you gas.  Between 5% and 10% according to several studies. Just do a little math and you’ll soon find your purchase will be paid for in just a few months. Take a truck that gets 15 miles to the gallon. If the driver travels, say 12,000 miles per year and gas costs $2.50 per gallon, he’ll save between $150 and $300 per year. Now considering that most trucks don’t even get 15 mpg and most drivers travel more than 12,000 miles per year, the savings can be even more substantial.

A tonneau cover can add substantially to the appearance of your truck and is a great way to hide your scratched up bed or the junk you haul around in it. I even use mine when I camp. I just roll out the sleeping bags under my roll-up tonneau. I can keep it unrolled to gaze at the night sky and quickly roll it up if the weather turns bad.

Finally, a truck bed cover adds to the resale value of your truck. In fact services like Kelly Blue Book indicate a tonneau can add anywhere from $100 to $200 to your resale value.

Types of Tonneau Covers
The benefits are obvious. The hardest decision is which cover is right for you. Your choice will depend primarily on two things: 1) Do you want a hard or soft cover; and 2) How much are you willing to spend.

Hard truck bed covers have traditionally been made of fiberglass. The benefits of fiberglass are appearance. Some of these covers, like those from A.R.E., are molded to include lines that complement your trucks appearance. In addition, fiberglass can be painted to match your vehicle. The downside of the fiberglass cover includes cost, proneness to damage, and weight. These covers typically cost between $800 to $2,000. In addition, they weigh between 80lbs and 150lbs requiring two men to remove them. They are easily scratched and can easily be damaged if dropped or if a heavy weight is placed on them, ie…your 5 year old son and his friends decide to play king of the hill.

A new breed of hard tonneau covers were introduced a few years ago and are made of a composite polymer (plastic). These covers have several major benefits over their fiberglass counterparts. Cost typically runs $650 to $800. These covers are also light weight. At around 58lbs, one of the most popular, the Undercover, can easily be removed by one man and hung on the garage wall. Finally, this new type of hard cover is very resistant to damage. I recently saw a demonstration where a sledge hammer was driven down on this cover and the only resulting damage were the sensitive ears of those around. They are super tough. Presently the biggest drawback to these covers is paintability. The first versions of these caps are black and come with a textured finish. They can be painted, but don’t have the smooth look of fiberglass. However, I am told that Undercover has recently introduced a smooth version of it’s top that can be painted and has the finish of fiberglass.

Soft covers, like those made by Extang and Downey, are the most popular of all due to their price and flexibility. If you’re not stuck on the smooth painted look of a hard cover, a soft cover is probably right for you. These covers come in a variety of styles starting with the traditional ‘’snap” or ”zip” covers. These products use detachable cross-bows to create a frame over your trucks bed and then the tonno is stretched and snapped into place. The snap cover is the entry level in soft tonneaus and comes with an attractive price tag starting at around $200.

The roll-up truck bed cover, like those made by Access Cover and TruXedo, offer much more functionality than a snap. The cross-bows of these covers ”roll-up” with the cover and secure to the front of the trucks bed in less than 20 seconds. In addition, they can be locked into place and cannot be opened without opening the tailgate. If you have a locking tailgate, the roll up provides much of the security a hard cover does. The roll-up has a clean taut look and uses ”tensioners” to keep the cover tight in all types of temperatures. If you’re willing to spend a little more, starting at around $350, I highly recommend this type of cover. In fact, it is the one I chose for my truck.

Other, less popular, varieties of soft truck bed covers including folding, aluminum and lift top to name a few.

In conclusion, the protection and fuel savings a tonneau cover offers are an easy purchase justification for any truck owner. The type of tonneau you should purchase will depend greatly on your budget and your need for looks and function.