According to USAToday, Ford Motor Company is all but giving up on the cars they used to make, opting to up the production of trucks and SUVs instead. “Ford Motor Company announced that it will discontinue the Fiesta subcompact car, the Fusion mid-size sedan and the Taurus full-size car in the U.S.,” USA Today said. While automotive manufacturers aren’t always known for giving the public what they want, there’s no doubt the average American driver has shifted away from the family sedan and into SUVs, trucks and crossovers. And, where Ford goes, General Motors isn’t far behind. “GM will ax the subcompact Chevrolet Sonic as soon as this year and may kill off the Chevy Impala sedan in the next few years,” the Journal added.
With the paradigm shift to a far more truck-centric world, you can expect the number of trucks on the road to increase dramatically. So, what’s a truck owner who wants their ride to stand out from the crowd supposed to do? It’s simple, really, mod your truck and change it from a factory basic, plain old truck into a king of the road, car crushing machine set to rule the blacktop, dirt path, hunting trail, beach or anywhere else you choose to go. But, before you whip out the wallet, take a look at our most and least recommended mods for pickup enthusiasts.
20 Do: Wheels and tires
With literally dozens and dozens of aftermarket truck wheel manufacturers out there, the ability to personalize your rig is seemingly endless just in the wheel category alone. From murdered out blackness to gold plated bling to more traditional chrome or modern anodized blues, reds and beyond the color choices alone give you plenty to pick through. Then once you’ve landed on a color option, whether it’s to complement or contrast your truck’s body and trim, you get to choose the wheel design. From spoked to center-lined, negative offsets, low-profile and more.
You could literally spend days pouring through wheel catalogs and websites searching until you find “the one.” Just like true love, you’ll know it when you see it.
A word of caution though, looks aren’t everything. Before dropping your hard-earned cash on those killer wheels, make sure to get a good sampling of reviews. A lot of popular wheel and tire outlets sell a wide range of quality and the ones on the cheap end tend to break if you use your truck, well, like a truck. And, nothing will end your trip faster than a broken wheel. With that in mind, we recommend checking reviews not only on the model but the brand as a whole, then double check what the retailer has to say about them as well. Once you have that, do the same with the tires to get a great matched set.
19 Do: Lift Kit
Nothing says King of the Road like a full-size lifted truck. Not only does putting some distance between the body and pavement help with overall clearance, it just looks cool. But, just as with the wheels and tires, you need to do some research before dropping a lot of dimes on a lift. Kits run from simple body spacer sets (essentially four to eight rubber donuts that slide between the frame and body of the truck to lift it up one to four inches) to full-blown entire suspension replacements. So, begin with the end in mind so you make sure the wheels and tires you bought work with the lift kit as well. There’s nothing more emasculating to a great truck than having a big lift kit sitting on small wheels and tires.
Another thing to learn, just as with the wheels and tires, is the wide quality range of kits. It’s best to stick with the bigger name brands and make sure the kits come with a solid warranty. And, if you’re not going to do the install yourself, verify the shop who does mod your truck offers a solid warranty on their work as well. A broken control arm or misaligned pitman arm can take your off-roading adventure into the ditch real fast.
18 Do: Step Bars
Once you’ve picked your pickup off the ground with a phat lift kit, put on those gorgeous new wheels and tires and bolted on some shiny new shocks you’ll quickly realize getting in and out of the driver and passenger seats isn’t as easy as it was when the truck was unmodified. But, don’t worry, that’s one of the easier fixes on this list.
To add the fun factor to this one as well, the choices for step bars (sometimes called running boards, nerf bars, side steps or truck steps) is also seemingly endless.
From the basic factory style running boards that are usually either black or body colored to the standard black or chrome step bars all the way to multi-colored stowaway steps that slide under the body of the truck when the doors are closed, you can get lost looking for a set that matches your ride. Something to keep in mind when making your choice: just like the other mods on this list, there are wide-ranging quality differences from one to the next. Just because the local parts store has a set that looks neat on sale for $200 doesn’t mean they’ll still be bolted to your truck in six months. The cheap ones bend, crack and ultimately collapse taking your investment with them.
17 Do: Grille Guard
Not much says “this is one mean looking truck” like a big old grille guard. Brands like Ranch Hand and Dee Zee provide a distinctive look that gives your truck that locomotive cattle catcher “don’t take a bull by the horns” vibe that sets your pickup apart from the pack. Don’t forget to research quality before spending anything. Prior to picking your grill guard (often called a brush guard), you’ll want to consider a few things.
First off, consider how much clearance the guard will provide. Some guards sit so close to the grille and hood that the slightest tweak will make it nearly impossible to open your hood without scraping the front of it against the guard. Next, what exactly do you want to guard the grille against? If it’s simply for looks, then go with that. But, if you spend time on the ranch, out hunting, on a construction site or other environments where the truck’s front-end encounters obstacles, choose a guard that offers the proper coverage. Third, consider access to the engine. Some grill guards are integrated front bumpers that offer a solid step for you to stand on while you’re under the hood while others actually make engine access much more difficult.
16 Do: Back bumper
Now that you’ve put a facemask on your truck to protect the front grille and let the Smart Car in front of you in bumper-to-bumper traffic know they should get out of the way, it’s time to look at the back bumper. Quite a few grill guard manufacturers offer matched sets for the front and rear of your truck so you can have some consistency from stem to stern. But, before you pull that trigger you need to decide what features you want in a back-bumper upgrade. One with a Rhino Liner style coating on it offers slip resistance which is great for climbing in and out of your truck bed with muddy or wet boots.
You can also opt for a back bumper with additional tow hooks, trailer hitch, trailer light and brake connections and more.
While there isn’t a lot more to say about a back bumper, you will want to make sure it’s hardcore because you just never know when the person driving behind you will opt to forgo using their own brake system and use your new back bumper to stop themselves. A solid aftermarket truck bumper will often make the difference between replacing your entire truck bed and simply feeling bad for the person who totaled their car by scratching your back end.
15 Do: Bed liner
Most truck owners who actually use their truck like, well, a truck, need to find ways to protect the truck bed from scratches, dings, and dents that occur from regular bed use. Thankfully, someone dreamed up the idea of a bed liner a long time ago for this very purpose.
Bed liners fall into two categories: drop-in or spray in. The drop-in style is usually made from some sort of high-impact plastic that can absorb a lot of abuse without transferring it to the actual bed itself. The major pro of this style is that it can be removed and/or replaced any time you want in a matter of minutes. The con is that often water will get trapped under the liner from rain, the car wash (or dunking your truck bed at the end of the boat ramp) and that water will rust out your truck bed – you know, the thing you were trying to protect when you had it installed. The spray in liners are permanent, don’t allow water intrusion and can take substantially more abuse before passing the damage to the bed itself. The downside is the same, spray ins are permanent solutions, although you can have them redone or simply painted if they ever need to be freshened up.
14 Do: Shocks
While a lot of full-blown lift kits come with shocks, most don’t. And, while some truck owners don’t feel the need to replace the factory ones when they do other suspension modifications, they should. The original equipment (OE) shock absorbers are designed to work with the original size wheels and tires, the OE chassis and suspension parts and OE gross vehicle weight. When you start changing out parts you change the OE parameters the original shocks were matched to work with. Thankfully, there are several high-quality shock manufacturers out there and getting a new set of matched shocks for your truck should be a piece of cake.
Modern shock manufacturers also offer a wide variety of color options to further add visual distinction to your pickup.
Most shock absorber manufacturers recommend replacing shocks between 40,000 and 60,000 miles depending on how you drive, where you drive and what you drive. Adding additional weight to your truck will take that OE shock’s lifetime and drop it significantly. When purchasing upgraded shocks, check with the supplier and shock manufacturer to make sure they’re rated for your needs and won’t prematurely wear out once you start adding more mods that increase the truck’s weight like those detailed below.
13 Do: tool box
Every truck needs a toolbox – where else are you going to put your gear since you don’t have a trunk? Most toolboxes integrate with either style of bed liner and come in a variety of sizes and designs. From chromed-out diamond steel to matte black or body colored there are enough choices to further your pickup personalization plan.
The most common toolbox sits up on the bedsides, straddling the bed from driver’s side to passenger side, right behind the cab. But, there are other styles from ones that sit down inside the bed hugging the rear wheel wells, to ones that cover the whole bed floor and have a litany of sliding out, compartmentalized drawers.
With prices ranging from just over $100 all the way to several thousand, taking budget into consideration should be the first step in choosing a toolbox. After that, security should be your next consideration, that is unless you don’t care if some kid with a screwdriver can come along and jimmy the lock in under 15 seconds and help themselves to your tools, equipment, and other cargo. However, if you find your needs at the intersection of high security and low budget, you can install some hardware store hasps and a padlock or two to add to the armor on your box.
12 Do: Exhaust
With so many people wanting to get more from their trucks powertrain, it might seem the “do this” part of our list would have more in the way of engine and transmission mods. However, modern trucks have highly sophisticated powertrains and it takes a lot more than some article on the internet to guide you to the proper way to do those things. However, adding exhaust to your truck is a fairly straight-forward, universal way up the performance of your pickup.
Not only that, but it adds to the overall impressiveness when a lifted truck with bigger wheels and tires, grill guard and matching rear bumper has that awesome exhaust note every time you hit the gas pedal.
From the tried and true companies like Flowmaster and Magnaflow to more specialized ones such as Gibson and Bully Dog to race ready companies such as Headman and Borla, the options are many for you. Before you have the exhaust swapped out, you need to stop and think big picture though. If you plan to do other engine mods, figure out how the exhaust and other mods will work together to achieve what you want. But no matter your end game, upgrading your exhaust offers great bang for your buck.
11 Do: Floor Mats
Some trucks are not-so-affectionately referred to as “pavement queens” while others are sheer off-road warriors. Many spend most of their time on construction and job sites, while still others are busy racing over dirt hunting trails. No matter whether you’re simply wanting to keep your trucks interior immaculate or you’re tired of having mud everywhere or you just don’t want to ruin the factory carpet, companies like Weather Tech, Husky Liners and more make a wide variety of floor mat options for your big beast.
Weather Tech is widely considered as one of the leaders in the floor mat industry with their “FloorLiner” line. From their site, “FloorLiners are laser measured to protect the front, back and even up the sides of your vehicle's footwell. For ultimate strength and dependability, FloorLiners feature high-density core materials and are engineered with advanced surfacing that carries messes away from shoes and clothing.” Husky Liners offer X-act Contour, Weatherbeater and Heavy Duty lines to suit the needs of a wide variety of truck owners.
Other companies up the variety of offerings as well. Each of the floor mat manufacturers gives options for color, design and the choice to go with cheaper universal or more expensive custom mats.
10 Don't: Aftermarket air filters
Companies like K&N, Air Raid, and others offer no end of aftermarket air intake systems. The marketing arms of these companies make all sorts of grandiose claims ranging from major horsepower and torque increases to fuel economy improvements and hair loss prevention (ok, that last one we made up, but you get the idea). But, before you buy into the claims, remember the famed words of The Greatest Showman’s P.T. Barnum “there’s a sucker born every minute.”
Independent tests have shown that most of these claims are just that: claims. Just like our made up one about hair loss prevention, it’s easy to make a claim that a product can do all sorts of amazing things.
But, when put to the test, the proof is hardly aligned with the marketing. Beyond that, these style air filters require regular maintenance in order to even perform at the level of the cheapest factory style filter you can get at the local discount auto parts mega-retailer. That’s right, a cheap $3 filter you bought in the zone works better than a dry, dirty, unmaintained K&N or Air Raid style filter. If your truck has a diesel, these “upgrades” can not only lead to turbo failure, but full engine failure as well. Do yourself a favor and stick to the OE style.
9 Don't: Slammed suspension
Very few things look as backward as a slammed pickup truck that can’t even clear your run of the mill speed bump. Trucks are supposed to be big, brawny, high-clearance machines meant to climb hills, rocks, roads, and mountains. It’s hard to do that when you’re stuck on the ground because one wheel went into a pothole and frame is dragging along next to it. Now, if you’re doing it strictly for some niche car show crowd then maybe, maybe it’s understandable. But for the rest of the world, it really makes no sense whatsoever to replace your factory pickup suspension with a lowering kit – especially considering the amount of money it costs to do it.
Trucks with slammed suspensions also encounter the potential for catastrophic engine damage. When your chassis and drivetrain are inches off the ground in a truck that weighs several tons, it only takes one bump to hammer your oil pan into the pavement. At highway speeds, total oil loss can occur in seconds leaving the most expensive part of your truck without the lifegiving lubrication it needs to not turn itself into a four to five figure paperweight. A quick price scan shows replacement gas engines range from $2-8,000 while diesel engines can run you close to $20,000. So, if you want to slam your ride, start with a Civic or Eclipse or some other car meant to hug the blacktop.
8 Don't: Big wheel spacers
The further your wheels are pushed out from the body, the more strain is placed on wheel bearings, hugs, tire rods, control arm bushings, ball joints and other components related to the wheels. Not only does this excessive strain lead to premature component failure it also often results in that failure happening in a rather sudden, violent manner. There’s not much that can make your trip exciting for all the wrong reasons like having a wheel break loose from the truck at highway speeds.
You can bet you’ll regret the choice as you watch your pickup get dragged onto a rollback tow truck on its way to a repair shop where the bill will easily be four figures.
Another downside to greatly offset wheels is the mud and such they fling all over your truck sides and onto surrounding traffic. In this day of road rage and hyper-stressed drivers, you really don’t want to be the one who peeves off the angry guy in the car behind you just because you think having your wheels stick out from the wheel wells is cool. So, save yourself the cash, headaches and potential payback from other drivers and avoid this bad idea.
7 Don't: Big lift small wheels
As we said upstream, there isn’t much on the road that looks as silly as a truck with a big lift kit but small wheels and tires. It’s like watching an NFL linebacker take the field wearing dainty pink ballet slippers – imagine how ridiculous that would look, then know these trucks look the same.
From the trucks like this I’ve encountered over the years of fixing vehicles, the usual reason is the pickup owner simply didn’t do that math and count the cost. They had a fixed budget for truck mods and blew the whole thing on a fancy lift without thinking about what the wheels and tires would cost. Often times they’d tell me they were saving to get the wheels and tires late, only to see them again in a year with the same sad truck situation. Life happens, unexpected expenses arise and sometimes the money just doesn’t make it back into the truck mod budget.
When that happens, what comes next is usually counter-productive to the truck mod process: they sell it to someone who can afford to finish the job. So, make sure you’re not that pickup owner, parting ways with your ride simply because you didn’t think big picture before pulling the trigger.
6 Don't: ground effects
The sole purpose of ground effects is to improve a vehicle's aerodynamics, allowing it to accelerate better, top-end higher and hug the road while maneuvering by restricting the amount of airflow that gets between the chassis and the pavement. And… they often look cool – at least when they’re installed on the right vehicle, the right way.
With a pickup truck (at least the non-slammed variety – which we don’t recommend) all the ground effects in the world can’t restrict enough airflow to provide the benefits listed above. Not to mention, who buys a truck so they can hug the road? So, why bother investing in something that won’t actually make your truck do more of what you bought it to do?
Now, there are some trucks that have come from the factory designed to do these things, most notable the Ford Lightning, offered intermittently from 1993 to 2004. The Lightning package was supposed to be Ford’s truck answer to the question of consumers wanting street racing machines. Sadly, all they managed to do was make a quick, decent looking truck that sucked gasoline so fast you could literally watch the gas needle plummet every time you put your foot to the floor.
5 Don't: Spoiler
This one comes in fairly close behind the lift kit without wheels entry for one of the silliest looking things anyone could ever do to a truck. The main purpose of a spoiler is to benefit a vehicles aerodynamic footprint, with a secondary purpose of providing additional downforce to the rear wheels. Since most trucks are about as aerodynamic as a brick, trying to improve that is like trying to make water less wet. The downforce part doesn’t come into play until the vehicle the spoiler is bolted onto is moving faster than most trucks are designed to go.
A true spoiler is essentially an inverted airplane wing. When the wing on an airplane has air move across the top and bottom, the air across the top must move faster to reach the back of the wing at the same time as the air going across the bottom. This produces lift, which allows the plan to take off. For demonstration purposes, a 747 has to hit 160 mph to get off the ground.
By turning the wing upside down on the tail of a car capable of reaching speeds in excess of 120mph, it has the opposite effect which increases the transfer of power from the rear wheels to the ground, enabling the car to go faster. Obviously, there’s no chance the average pickup is going to need to break the 120mph barrier.
4 Don't: Smoked Tail lights
This is one of those mods that falls into the same retail category as eye-liner and mascara. While its purpose is to improve looks, depending on the tastes of those looking (eye of the beholder and all that) it may not do much. Additionally, darkening the tail light lenses on your truck makes it harder for people behind you to know when you hit the brakes, which might lead to them using your new upgraded back bumper as a way to stop their own ride. Not to mention, it’s illegal to darken your tail lights in many states.
Beyond that, it just doesn’t make logical sense. The whole purpose of a tail light is in the name: LIGHT. So, spending your hard-earned money to decrease the tail lights ability to do exactly what it was designed to do just seems unwise, to put it diplomatically.
That would be like buying an air filter to lower your horsepower or a power steering pump that makes it harder to turn.
And yet, the road is littered with people who not only bought smoked tail lights but seem to think doing so makes them cool. It’s like they’re telling the rest of us “I’m cooler than you ‘cause I figured out how to make light dim.” And, the lights aren’t the only thing that comes off as dim…
3 Don't: Open exhaust
Having a great exhaust tone is one thing. Having an obnoxiously loud exhaust is quite another. Really loud trucks just draw all the wrong kinds of attention, not to mention the sound pollution can create a dangerous situation if something goes wrong and you can’t hear the person next to you honking, or the police, ambulance or fire truck sirens.
I knew a guy one time who was driving while listening to headphones, which is essentially the same as driving a truck with open exhaust as it puts the driver in a sound field that blocks out all other sounds from outside the field. So, he was driving down a road a few miles from his house he had driven on hundreds of times. Except, this time he didn’t hear the ambulance coming on the crossroad until he t-boned it. In one instant he destroyed his own car, did thousands of dollars in damage to an ambulance, injured the paramedics inside the ambulance and prevent them from going to the aid of a person who needed to be rushed to the hospital.
Don’t be that guy. Not only will it do all the things detailed above, it will make your life a living nightmare for a long time. Not to mention, if you know people like me, you’ll never live it down.
2 Don't: EGR Delete
Many diesel truck owners are very well aware of what the Exhaust Gas Recirculation (EGR) system does to a truck engine. While the EGR takes the pollution coming out of the tailpipe and greatly decreases it, it also robs the engine of some of its natural horsepower and torque.
Aside from the fact that we should all be worldly conscious enough to want to reduce pollution, removing the EGR system is a Federal crime and often creates new problems with the truck.
Once the system has been removed (hence the term “delete”) the truck’s powertrain control module (PCM) – often referred to as an electronic control model (ECM) or electronic control unit (ECU) registers the lack of input from the sensors that monitor the EGR and related systems. This triggers a check engine light that will stay on forever, or until the EGR system is reinstalled. When that light is on, you have no warning if another problem crops up because the light won’t turn on to tell you when it’s already on.
After that, the expense of having it removed and later reinstalled (try selling a truck with the system deleted and you’ll quickly find out the value of the truck has dropped by several thousand dollars or more) is usually far higher than just dealing with the truck as it was designed.
1 Don't: Cheap tuners
The aftermarket is flooded with tuner options for your truck. They all promise major performance upgrades from better throttle response, tip-in, higher top end and improved fuel economy. By augmenting or replacing the software in your pickup’s PCM, the tuner can then alter the parameters that the PCM uses to control your ignition, fuel delivery, engine management and exhaust systems in order to achieve these goals. A high-quality tuner, used by someone who understands all these parameters and how they work together, can bring all these promises to life with spectacular results.
But, a cheap tuner, especially one in the hands of someone with no clue how to use it or any inkling of the big picture of powertrain control can lead to a quick trip down heartache highway. Cheap tuners can often override manufacturer fail-safes that prevent damage to your truck’s powertrain. Additionally, they can often introduce bugs into the software (imagine having all the crashes and glitches of an old desktop computer, but in the one controlling your truck while you’re cursing at 70mph) that can lead to very expensive repairs. Cheap tuners and misguided use probably result in more PCM replacement (figure at least a thousand dollars for this one) than any other single factor.
Sources: USAToday, Ford Motor Company, Jegs