My Girl: Gettin' After It!!

My Girl: Gettin' After It!!
My truck on her maiden voyage in Moab 2012

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The first thousand miles

Playing peek-a-boo with the truck from behind the building. Really, I just didn't want the work crews to see me taking shots of my own truck.

They've definitely been interesting. I got the tires mounted during a Saturday work shift on 12/15. Drove the 40 or so miles home and largely sat that weekend as I didn't have anything planned besides chores around the house. That next week, it rained more often than it didn't. Temps ranged between 43 and 60.

The tires handled very well in the wet. I felt very confident in turns and curves. My stock tires had done well, until about the 30K mark. Maybe it was psychosomatic; I had read that around that point, the tires could be downright dangerous. Many on the forums attributed the poster's remarks to driver error. However, I can attest that, upon entering an intersection at less than 10 mph coming from a stop at a red light, by back end fish-tailed out like I was an extra in the latest installment of Transporter 4. It had been a light but persistent rain for maybe an hour or so at that point. Given that I generally am a pretty conservative driver and the amount of weight I have in the back, I found it surprising that the back end broke free like that with the stock tires. Since then, I tended to drive even more conservatively in the rain.

With the new tires on, however, and the rash of wet weather we received, I intentionally reversed the trend to see if I could, this time, intentionally elicit that same response. Nothing doing. The Nittos grip the road surfaces with confidence.

On the day of my posting this update, 12/26/12, we received a bit of a wintery mix, approx. 2-3 inches of snowfall accumulation thus far now being topped with freezing rain. I went uphill, downhill, and through curves in 2WD with no issue on a quick run to McDonalds. Really, I was anxious to get out there ahead of the plows and salt trucks to see how they'd respond. No slipping whatsoever within the parking lot. I decided not to push it too much on the roadways, as there were a few sedans and coupes out being driven by drivers who ought to have opted to telecommute today. When I got back, I had hoped to tear through the parking lot, but a salt truck had started making its rounds by that point. Oh well.

First official review isn't due for another 2500 miles, but I thought it best to start compiling notes before I lose track of dates and observations.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Nitto Tires- First Thoughts

 Veronica got put up on the lift to change her shoes. I was really  happy with the decision to stay at 265/70/R16. Right before the Grand Canyon Trip, I had the factory spare mounted onto one rear wheel and purchased a brand new tire to be mounted on the other rear wheel to replace the one that has had a slow leak since I got back from Moab in May. That leaky tire got patched, and along with the other rear, both became spares. I had thought initially that I would need to buy more rims so that each set of 4 tires (I want to get some Mud Terrain tires at some point) would have two spares of the same make. But this is not necessary. I feel as long as the spare is a full-size truck wheel of the same size and rating, it should be fine for emergency purposes. I would thus have put these two tires to waste if I was seeking to buy two more Nittos on my own. And then go out and buy 6 more of another brand or type later. Even this provides an example; should I wish to continue sampling and testing out various wheel and tire combinations, with each change I'd be leaving behind potentially two new/newish wheels that were under-utilized.

I'm also starting to think that it was likely less the shortcomings of the stock tire and more the shortcomings of the driver when it came to my unfortunate White Wash Sand Dunes debacle in Moab. I've done more reading on the topic of driving in soft sand, and I probably could have been a bit more liberal in dropping psi before heading out. Otherwise, they weren't "bad tires" and are more than capable as a backup to limp out of most sorts of terrain.

I did a tire rotation upon my return since the fronts had been upfront for quite some time. So technically, today the fronts (previously from the rear) were retained as spares to the Nittos. Not sure what to do with the other four though. I'd love to get them retread as M/Ts, but I'm not sure if the economics will pan out. I'll have to look into those options.
 This is Veronica right out of the service bay. Aesthetically/cosmetically, the tire tread pattern looked just "OK" when they arrived. Yes, I was tremendously excited to get them. I did miss having the 'pop' of the white sidewall lettering, as the Nittos have a subdued raised profile on one sidewall and a striated or distressed profile on the opposite sidewall. I went with the distressed and like that arrangement.

However, once they were mounted, they did start to make my truck look a heck of a lot tougher. It may be owing to the sidewall construction which features raised ridges. They are not nearly as pronounced as those from the Nitto MudGrappler line of tires, but having not had them present on my previous set of tires, I was unaccustomed and pleasantly surprised at the difference they made in the appearance. The tread pattern itself looked a bit more imposing than when the tires were merely a stacked column of rubber sitting on my garage floor awaiting install.

 A couple of my favorite vantage points of the truck. I didn't take any from the rear as the branding of my spare tire is obviously visible for the one mounted to the tailgate. I intend to pickup a wheel cover to mount over that spare going forward.
Up close look at the tires now mounted.

I really want some inclement weather to happen. I probably won't be able to get anyone to commit to going wheeling until after the holidays. Bad weather, thus, will likely be the first test/challenge these tires will face.

The return trip home from the jobsite was about 40 miles or so of primarily highway driving on asphalt. Ambient air temperature was about 53 degrees. Handling was well-mannered. I've driven a buddy's lifted Suburban years back where he was running something 33+, maybe even 35s; I'll have to check. I wasn't yet as much into trucks as I am now. Anyway, he had some very aggressive M/Ts on there, and you could feel every...single...lug as you rode along. The sound from that big rubber more than hummed, it darn near roared at times...which I of course thought was awesome at the time being a na├»ve young man. But more sensible considerations of minimizing further degradation of fuel economy and also concern of the longevity of the tires themselves (given the typically high capital investment) has imbued me with a  greater level of concern for rolling resistance and suitability for the terrain which is to most likely be encountered by the vehicle.

Bearing that all in mind, it is a truck. If I were greatly concerned with fuel economy, I'd drive a Leaf (trying to stay in the Nissan family). So I do feel a truck should feel and perform like a truck. (There are other ways a driver of a truck can still be an environmental steward: for example, consolidating several errands/trips into one, carpooling, limiting idling time, etc.) That being said, a more alto-toned serenade could be heard from the tires once I reached highway speeds north of 60mph. It was a more pleasant, harmonic tone than the baritone drone I recall from my buddy's Suburban. In no ways was it deafening. In fact, I only noticed it because I deliberately had the HVAC off, radio silenced, and windows up to listen for any perceptible road noise. (By comparison I did this periodically with the truck when new so I could be attuned to what the truck sounded like when operating at presumably peak mechanical performance when new versus after years of service. It was a bit quieter). And once the stereo was brought to level 7 (far lower than my normal listening setting), the tone all but faded into the background. I anticipate that over time, with wear, this will all but cease to be present. For me, it was not objectionable at all. Again, this is the kid that LIKED the drone of mud tires. As an adult though, I'll make that tradeoff either by dragging the M/Ts in a trailer, hauling in the bed, or just finding a more local mud hole to romp in to minimize time on paved roads. Any M/Ts I get will not be a full-time set unless a manufacturer is testing a longevity compound in their new tires and I get another opportunity to be a tester.

That said, so far so good.

Going forward, I'll try to be a bit more scientific. I have a set of calipers with the plunge-depth thing-a-mah-jig on there that can be used to monitor the tread depth. I also have an infra-red thermometer; it may be worth noting the temperature difference between the tires and the ambient air or road after a certain length of driving. Not that I'll be able to ascertain anything from it, but maybe it'll prove useful to the folks at Nitto in reviewing the performance of this set on my truck. I'll also have to get this heavy girl on a scale to get a sense of the cumulative added weight above stock so that the additional stresses of the auxiliary components can also be factored. Pretty fun stuff to be involved in.

Only about 40 miles into the testing. Time to start racking up some mileage.


Mounting the Nittos

Sorry no photo of this in action. I went out in the parking lot to get a shot of the truck with the Nittos loaded in the truck, but they've already got it back in the shop and I can't get a good shot of it from the lounge.

I wouldn't even say that the truck is 'heavily modified' in the traditional sense, but maybe "highly-messed-around-with" is more suitable. In either event, I feel like a parent whose kid has a laundry list of allergies and special conditions. "Well, Billy can't have peanut butter or any other nut-based products for that matter. Gluten is questionable. . If the nap time mats are wiped down, a non-ammonia based solution must be used. The room needs to be regularly dehumidified or his asthma flares up..."

Essentially, I'm just coming to have four new tires mounted. But then the clarifications started needing to be made.

"Well, I have two spare rims and I would-..."
Tech- "You have TWO spare tires?"
"Well, yes. The other is down below in the stock location. I'd like to have the two front tires with the higher tread mounted onto the two spare rims."
Tech- "And put the spares on the front?"
"No sir. The four new tires go all around. The two fronts go onto the spare rims. The former two spares and the rears I'll be taking with me; they have a little life left."
Tech- "Ok, any special tools needed for the lower one"
"Well, yes. The original tool is in the truck, but the body lift shifted the alignment of the portal and the lowering mechanism. It's probably best that I lower it for your service crew."
Tech- "OK. Anything else?"
"Yes. The tailgate-mounted bracket is now ungodly heavy with the weight of the tire. I have the gate locked so that no one accidentally drops it on themselves. When you're ready, I can come and lower the gate so you can access the tires in the back."
Tech- "So what is it that you do?!"
"Umm... I work in construction, but that actually doesn't explain this."

I think me trying to go out into the shop and take pictures might push the envelope, but why not.

I'll publish now and see if I can get a snap of it in progress.

Ok, we'll not very visual, but she's in there getting worked on. Maybe I'll take another with it in action.

I almost forgot, there are two different options for the outer pattern of the Nittos. I think I'll go with the striated portion mounted outside. Hopefully it's not too late. No one asked me for my preference yet.


Tuesday, December 11, 2012

I'm a test driver!

So I responded to an invitation to be an official reviewer of the Nitto Terra Grappler all-terrain tires a few weeks back while perusing Low  and behold, the selection committee chose me to receive a free set of tires to review. I was a little worried maybe I was being Phished or that maybe there'd be some hidden catch. No catch. I provided a gentleman with my address over email and the tires arrived just yesterday. I was so AMPED. Anyway, I need to get these bad boys mounted and start driving.

I'm supposed to post a review every 3,500 miles and have them rotated at that frequency as well. That portion is on my dime. It's a bit more frequently than I would customarily rotate my tires (usually at oil changes closer to every 7,000 miles. But maybe that's why my stock tires are so beat. I've racked up just under 50K miles in this first 15 months or so of ownership. It might have been one of the selling factors to the committee...this young man puts some MILES on his truck.
So once I heard of the selection, I ordered these decals. They fatefully  arrived the same night as the tires. I took this as a sign that I needed to immediately wash the doors, windshield, and tailgate in order to affix these decals. I left the rest of the truck filthy.
Can't wait to get the tires mounted.
I'm nearing 1000 page visits, which is pretty cool. Spread the word to a friend or maybe leave a comment. I'm hoping to turn this into like a Travel Channel thing where I've got some sponsorships and am road-testing equipment. That would be a lot of fun. Here's to hoping...and grinding.
Not evident in the above photo is my latest endeavor. Although the Swing-Out Carrier was 'functional', in practice it was a bit cumbersome to operate. I had to unlink the safety chain, swing out the arm, lower the gate, pull the cargo box out and then repeat the reverse essentially to load things back in. That might not be so bad, except for the fact that the whole assembly was VERY heavy. I'm already eyeing an additional add-a-leaf, but to carry that added weight would have made it an absolute necessity. So to shed some of that weight, I've been working on a tailgate mounted rear tire carrier and jerry can mounting bracket. Now, the tailgate will need some sort of lift-assist to resist the added weight when letting it down. But other than that, it helps to shed significant weight while still giving me the option to have a secondary location to mount a spare. I'll do a build thread once I'm done. The project is installed, but I haven't finished the bracket for the jerry can. Also, none of the welds are ground and I haven't painted it. I need to get to it soon before it gets all rusted out.
It's the end of the semester and holidays are right around the corner. I'm looking to finish up that build up by my birthday hopefully.
Keep on truckin'!

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Day 7- 11/18/12 We're coming home

After Memphis we drove towards Nashville and then veered off of 40 towards Spring Hill, TN where Jenn's cousin lives. I had a great time playing Go Fish and I Declare War with two very energetic and precocious toddlers before again heading out onto the road to drive all through the night back home. This half day is just some of the familiar sights from the road headed up from 40 to 81 to 66 and then our neck of the woods:

 Drove well over 5, 265 miles roundtrip at all hours of the day and night... and the one traffic backup I encounter is here on 495. Really, DC. On a Sunday there's traffic?

 Driving is also a lot more courteous everywhere else that I've been in the  country (excluding New York City...and I was too young to appreciate traffic near LA). As soon as we got back within 60 miles of home, the "Me-First" mentality of other drivers started to manifest itself.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Day 6- 11/17/12 Graceland

Neither of us are necessarily Elvis fans, but we had the chance to pass through Memphis and visit Graceland. Why not? Now, I'm a bit of a cheap-o. Reasonably so given the expenditures on outfitting the truck and then driving it cross-country with the frequency at which I do. Well, for an adult it is a minimum of $32 each to walk through the house. So we decided to just see what we could see from the road while we awaited my good friend Lumumba's availability to meet us for lunch. Now, probably 90% of my friends on facebook were probably like "Yo, Will is blowing up my newsfeed posting his every move". Part of that was so I could have a quick reference for updating the blog later. The second added benefit was that people could let me know if I was in there vicinity for the chance to meet up. Well, we did get to meet up with Lumumba and tour some historic areas along the way. Here are some of the photos of the day:

 It wasn't too long from here before we made it into Arkansas.
 This was another scary roadside, but fortunately Jenn did not cause me to go into panic mode like what happened in Arizona. Not my finest moment.

The natural state.

 I don't want to make this up, but I think this is the Arkansas River. And it is beautiful. Everyone talks about the Mississippi, but I'd like there to be more conversations on this body of water. Whatever it's called.

 We drove through the night and arrived in Little Rock early in the morning. Just in time for breakfast at a Burger King. I stumbled in there, go breakfast, sat down. Jenn freshened up some in their restroom and also got breakfast. I had hoped to go to their bookstore on campus, but it is closed on the weekends for anyone else who might have made plans and been on the verge of a similar mistake. So I had to settle for this shot instead.

 I bought a sticker at a rest stop, only for it to turn out to be a paper sticker and not a vinyl one. As soon as I washed my car upon returning, that thing curled up like bacon frying in a griddle. Disappointing.
 This is Jenn driving back towards me. In setting up that prior shot, the light turned green and she had to leave me behind. That was her only chance to get rid of me. The fact that she came back with the truck to get me means that she loves me.
 Kampgrounds of America, you have once again saved me in my travels. I love, love, love, that travelers can do a day rental of their shower facilities for $5/person. Sean and I discovered this on the return leg of the Utah trip. I inquired about this again for our purposes such that Jenn and I could shower before heading into Memphis. This is the "Memphis" KOA which is actually in a neighboring town just across the border in Arkansas off of Interstate 55. Maybe Marion, AR. Can't remember. There are so many KOAs across the US and they generally are right there along major arteries and thoroughfares. In the spring, I'd like to do a shorter trip and camp at one of their campgrounds somewhere. TBD.

 This is us crossing the Mississippi which borders Tennessee.

 We've seen a sign like this before, haven't we, Rufus?
 Riverfront drive, I believe.

 Beale Street runs right down to the water. We went to Beale first but got there way in advance of when Lumumba was going to be freed up. So then we made the drive out to Graceland. There was a parade of some sort and we were driving all around Robin Hood's Barn to find an alternate way to get to Graceland. Just as we were ready to give up and head back, Jenn just asks the officer what are people supposed to do who want to go to Graceland. To that, he just stepped out of the way and let us drive up the road 200 feet to the parking lot. Are you serious?!

 I guess I got ahead of myself with the narrative up there. This is the Sun Recording studio. I read on Wikipedia about some of the sights. So as we headed to Graceland, it turned out we got to see a lot of them along the way. Some I missed as I wasn't expecting to catch so many on the same stretch of road.

 This is part of the parade that had everything shutdown along Elvis Presley Boulevard. I got so angry because there was like this terrace sign right along the roadway. I had just cued up my camera as we were passing through the intersection when this lady in a beater car rolled up and blocked the view while waiting to make a turn. Nobody told her to pull that darn far forward and ruin my shot in her busted vehicle. Uggghhhh.

 The tourist area of Graceland. Two guys immediately left their wives and made the pilgrimage over to my truck for photos with it. I thought it was really cool to be in Graceland, and have people stop taking pictures of Elvis to come get photos of my truck instead. My truck has arrived.

 Playing some mean Air Guitar outside of Graceland

 Jenn got right up near the house without paying. This is as close as us cheap-os can get.
 The dude had two jets. Who has two private jets?! The King does. We were debating this with Jenn's cousin when we got to her place outside of Nashville. I reasoned you might be in Abu Dhabi, chilling, eating freshly imported sno cones made from the tips of icebergs when one of your boys calls you up on your satellite phone. And he's all like, dude, I wish I was there. And then you're like, hold up, I'll get you here; get on my OTHER private jet. That's when you have transcended from merely "balling", to "balling out of control."

You know, the crazier thing is that now there's just two jets there chilling. Are they still operational? Could I buy one of Elvis' jets and start my own mini-balling enterprise myself? I may have to look into this.

 Alright, so we left Graceland and made our way to Beale street to take up residence in BB King'ss Blues Hall for lunch.
 Live Music
 Elvis Presley park
My camera was dying, but we had just enough juice to memorialize our rendezvous with Mr. Sroufe. It was really cool having him reach out and be like, "You're in my backyard; let's link up" based on having seen my facebook posts. As much as I can sometimes be anti-FB as I feel I might be a bit too old to still be on there, moments like this that enable you to reconnect with folks seems to make it a worthwhile tool more so than a necessary evil. I just wish it hadn't become quite so heavily commercialized. Brothers got bills though, I guess; so, I can't be mad at that.