Do You Know What's Good For Your Truck and What's Not?
By: Justin Cupler
Image: LeoPatrizi / E+ / Getty Images
About This Quiz
Pickup trucks have a long-running history in the U.S. that began around the time of World War I. Henry Ford, legendary founder of Ford Motor Company, took a liking to the truck-style vehicles the military used in WWI and thought they may be useful in the civilian world. Though Ford began designing pickups first, Chevrolet beat it to the production punch with the 1918 release of the Model 490. The Chevy Model 490 was a frame-only pickup that buyers customized to their liking with different bed and cab designs, but it was still technically the first-ever production pickup.
Since then, the pickup truck has exploded into popular culture in the U.S. thanks to their incredible versatility. Of course they still haul payload and tow trailers better than any sedan or SUV, but they provide great daily transportation in the process. Modern-day pickups have even seen themselves turn into near-luxury vehicles, with most major pickup truck manufacturers offering a few models with loads of premium features.
Despite their popularity, there are plenty of misconceptions on how to care for these useful machines. Do you know what's good for your truck and what's not good for it? Take this quiz to find out how much you really know.
What impacts can large wheels and tires have on my truck?
They do nothing but make it look better.
They always increase fuel economy.
Big wheels and tires mean a more comfortable ride.
They can throw off the balance of the powertrain and cause long-term issues.
Manufacturers engineer vehicles with their standard features only. The braking system, transmission, suspension, axles and so on are all calibrated to handle only a small variance in the size and weight of the tire-and-wheel assembly. Opting for large wheels can throw this balance out of whack and cause vibrations or decrease these systems' effectiveness.
Will removing your tailgate help improve fuel economy?
No, leaving your tailgate installed is best.
A truck's bed is designed to create a separated bubble, which is a bubble of air within the bed that deflects faster-moving air up and over the tailgate. Lowering the tailgate eliminates this bubble, thus creating aerodynamic drag and reducing fuel economy.
Yes, I should see a 15 to 20 percent boost in fuel economy.
Removing the tailgate is not a good idea, but you can get a mileage boost by driving with it lowered.
Will using the highest-octane fuel available make your truck run better?
Yes, use rocket fuel, if it's available.
It won't make the truck run any better, but it will improve fuel economy.
No, running a higher-octane fuel than the manufacturer recommends does nothing but cost you more money.
The octane rating is nothing more than the fuel's ability to resist preignition in the combustion chamber, which can result in engine knocking. Generally, manufacturers engineer mainstream pickup trucks to run on regular or mid-grade gasoline -- you can find this recommendation on the fuel cap and in the owner's manual. Running higher-octane fuel will not enhance performance or efficiency.
Actually, it's the opposite: A lower octane rating is better for a truck.
Are towing and payload ratings really all that important?
They are mere suggestions the manufacturer makes. It's cool to exceed them.
They simply protect the manufacturer from towing-related damages. You can haul whatever weight you're comfortable with.
They are the keys to remaining safe while towing and hauling.
Truck manufacturers must consider safe driving conditions when towing, which is why they issue payload and towing capacities. Exceeding these weights can overload the braking system, suspension or chassis, causing failure or unsafe on-road operation.
They are important, but it's OK to exceed them by 10 percent or so.
What PSI should you inflate your truck’s tires to?
Until I start feeling like they may pop ... then a few more pounds
To the maximum PSI on the tire's sidewall
Depends on if I am towing or just driving around town
To the exact cold-tire specification on the placard inside the door frame
Tire pressures are calculated based on the vehicle and its specifications. Failure to inflate the tires to the exact specifications listed on the tire-information placard in the door frame cause a rough ride, poor fuel economy, uneven tire wear or even a blowout.
If my truck came with LT tires, can I swap them for P tires?
Sure, it's just a few letters off.
As long as the P tires look good, you're fine.
No, if your truck came standard with LT tires, you should always replace them with LT tires.
Tires play a big role in the overall payload and towing capacities of your truck. Changing to P-rated tires, which are only rated to haul passengers, can significantly decrease these capabilities. LT-rated tires also generally have deeper tread to better handle off-road driving.
Yes, but the tire company will need you to sign a waiver.
Is it safe to switch between synthetic and conventional oil in a truck?
No, you risk turning your truck into a rolling hand grenade by switching between the two.
Yes, you can switch between them and even mix them if you like.
There is a common misconception that you cannot switch between synthetic and conventional oil, but this is nothing more than a myth. Both are from the same natural petroleum source, but synthetic oil goes through additional processing to enhance its ability to flow and lubricate. You can even mix them without issue.
Yes, but only once. Any additional changes can cause issues.
Do miracle fuel-economy boosters (ionizers, vortex generators, water injection, etc) work?
Yes, my aunt's best friend's sister's brother installed one and saw huge gains in performance and efficiency.
Yes, but only if you follow the instructions perfectly.
No, many tests have proven they do not work.
There have been numerous studies on these magic fuel-economy boosters, and every test shows they either do nothing or actually decrease horsepower and fuel economy. Some tests showed up to 20 percent decreases in power and economy.
Yes, but you have to visit a shop to have your blinker fluid and flux capacitor replaced too.
Will driving in Tow/Haul mode while towing make your truck last longer?
Yes, it prevents transmission damage and prolongs tire life.
Yes, this magical button summons a separate towing truck so you can cruise to your destination with no trailer behind you.
While it will make towing easier, it will not prolong the life of your truck.
The Tow/Haul button will make small electrical changes via the truck's computer system to make it hold gears longer and stay out of its overdrive gear. This helps the engine better manage the heavy load without becoming bogged down. While this can make towing a more enjoyable experience, it has no direct impact on your vehicle's longevity.
No, this button does nothing. It's just a placebo to make your truck feel more powerful.
Engine braking to slow down and pressing the brake pedal in slow pulses to avoid excess heat
The engine can use its own resistance to slow the vehicle down without ever touching the brakes with just a quick downshift. When it comes time to bring the truck to a full stop, slow brake pedal pulses gives the brakes a split second to cool down before applying full friction again. Cool brakes wear slower than hot brakes.
There is no way to prevent excessive brake wear when towing. It's just part of the deal with towing.
Is dish soap a great option for washing mud and grease off your pickup?
No, dish soap will dull your paint and eat away at any wax coating.
Dish soap works wonders for getting off stuck-on food and grease, but it uses abrasive qualities to clean your plates. This abrasive liquid can act as a fine sandpaper on your truck's paint over time and make it look dull. It also removes the protective wax coating you spend hours applying every few months.
Hey, it got last night's dried-up lasagna off the plates, so it must work on my truck.
Yes, but only certain brands
Yes, it also includes a wax so you never have to worry about waxing your truck again.
After a day of muddy off-roading, what does your pickup need?
Nothing, leave it as is so everyone knows you actually use your truck as a truck.
A good photo session to show off all the mudslinging you did
A comprehensive wash, including all the undercarriage components
As it hardens, mud turns to dirt, which has a sand-like consistency. Over time, its abrasiveness can wear down moving components or even contaminate the lubricants and greases that keep things moving freely. A comprehensive undercarriage cleaning will help avoid these issues.
Can driving around in four-wheel drive all the time hurt your truck?
It's fine, but you have to drive slow.
Yes, driving on dry pavement in four-wheel drive can cause expensive driveline damage.
Switching your truck's part-time four-wheel drive on and locking the hubs forces all four wheels to spin at the same time. On soft ground, the small variations in wheel angle and tire diameter are forgiven by the flexibility of the ground. Dry pavement does not provide this forgiveness, and even the slightest variation in tire pressure or wheel angle can cause the driveline to bind and result in major damage.
It's fine as long as you don't encounter any tight corners.
As long as you return to soft soil quickly, it's OK.
Of course! If the suspension can handle more, load it up.
No, the suspension only plays one part in its total towing and payload capacities.
While the upgraded suspension may make the truck feel more stable at capacity, there are many other factors that affect towing and payload capacities. These include frame strength, tires and wheels, engine and transmission, and even the brakes. Though you may upgrade one component, your truck is only as strong as the next weakest component.
Yes, but only if the new suspension is rated for more weight.
Yes, every small upgrade increases your truck's hauling capabilities.
Which is more important in towing, horsepower or torque?
They are equally important.
Horsepower is king.
Torque is the number to look at.
Torque is the most important powertrain number to consider when towing. This is the engine's ability to move a heavy load from a complete stop. Horsepower is great for top speed, but unless you're drag racing with a trailer, it is not nearly as important as the ability to get that load moving.
Neither, it is a complex calculation of the two called torquepower.
Is running straight water through your truck’s cooling system OK?
Hey, water is cool, and this is a "cooling" system, so it's all good.
Only if it is alkaline
Yes, but you have to mix it with food dye to detect leaks.
No, you must use a mixture of distilled water and the coolant the truck manufacturer recommends.
While water may work in a pinch when you're out on the trail and have nothing else, you must use the precise mixture of coolant and water the manufacturer recommends in normal operation. The coolant not only helps prevent freezing, but it also acts as a lubricant for all the moving parts within the cooling system. Each manufacturer has its own recommendations for types of coolant, so check out the owner's manual to find out the type your truck uses.
Ah, yes, the magical "tune-up." That will cure everything.
The term "tune-up" implies maintenance, which rarely fixes any running issues.
The term "tune-up" is a subjective term that has many meanings. A tune-up usually means replacing the spark plugs and ignition wires, which is a maintenance item that rarely fixes any running issues. It's best to allow a technician the opportunity to diagnose any running issues before simply requesting a tune-up.
Only if said tune-up includes spark plugs and ignition wires
Can I change my truck’s oil every 3,000 miles on the dot?
Sure, but you may be wasting money.
The 3,000-mile oil-change interval is a myth pushed by the quick-lube industry. In modern pickup trucks, manufacturers recommend various intervals depending on driving conditions, the powertrain options you select and towing frequency. Sure, it will not hurt your truck if you change the oil early, but you are wasting money.
No, you should do it every 10,000 miles.
Is there oil on the dipstick? No need to change it.
When performing routine maintenance, what else should you do?
I'm doing my duty of maintaining my truck. I'm doing nothing else.
Pull every spark plug and re-gap it.
Do a complete inspection on all the wearable items, like belts, hoses, filters, tires and brakes.
Maintenance time is the perfect moment to dig into all those wearable components to make sure they are in good condition. Though you may not notice anything different when driving, many of these components offer little or no warning before failing. The last thing you want is a belt or hose failing out on the trail or while towing a camper across the country.
Remove the tires from the wheels and rotate the 180 degrees.
You’re stuck in mud, what should you do to get unstuck?
Gun it! The more wheel spinning the better.
Put a rock on the gas pedal, then get out and push the truck by yourself.
Gently rock the truck back and forth with four-wheel drive engaged by slowly shifting from drive to reverse and turning the wheels left and right.
While it doesn't work all the time, a gentle rocking motion and the side-to-side movement often gives the truck enough traction to pull out of the mud. Make sure you engage four-wheel drive and lock the hubs first. If this doesn't work, you may need to call a friend.
Remove all the weight from the vehicle and try again.
Yes, even four-wheel drive pickups need winter tires.
While four-wheel drive is great for getting your truck moving in snow and ice, winter tires play a big role in keeping it on the road and safe. They not only have the microgrooves and studs to help keep traction while driving -- something four-wheel drive does not help with -- they also have special construction to keep the rubber softer in chilly conditions.
Four-wheel drive is more than enough to handle the winter.
Skip the tires and add a few hundred pounds of gravel in the bed instead.
Nope, they're all black, round and rubber. We're good.
As long as the front ones match, you're good.
Yes, they can cause powertrain, chassis and tire-wear issues in the future.
Tires have a large number of variations, including size, tread patterns, traction ratings, speed ratings and even rubber compounds. Mixing up tires on the same axle (front or rear) can result in more drag or a different rotation speed between two sides of the axle. This uneven drag or rotation speed can cause long-term strain on the powertrain, chassis or tires, resulting in potential damage years down the road. Always at least match the tires on each axle.
Lug nut torque is an oft-debated topic, but there is no gray area in the science behind it. Manufacturers have precise torque ratings for the truck's lug nuts for a reason. Too tight, and you can stretch the threads, causing the wheel bolt to snap while driving. Too loose, and the lug nut could fly off, sending your wheel rolling down the highway without you.
When should you inspect your truck’s brake pads and rotors?
When they start grinding
When they start squealing
When rotating your tires
You should rotate your tires every other oil change to help them wear as evenly as possible. While the tires are off, this is the perfect time to check out the brake-pad thickness and look for any unusual rotor wear. Do not wait for the brakes to start squealing or grinding, as this is a sign of potential damage that's already been done.
Repairing worn-out brake pads means just replacing the pads themselves, right?
Yup, slap those pads on and let them ride.
No, you must inspect the rotors and calipers for wear or damage and replace or repair them as needed.
While the brake pads are the component most DIYers know how to replace, the rotors and calipers are equally important. Putting new pads on worn-out rotors or a sticking caliper can cause the new pads to wear out prematurely. These issues can also decrease braking performance.
As long as they stop without squealing, we're good.
No, you should also spin the rotors 180 degrees before putting the new pads on.
Will any engine oil will work in your pickup truck?
Sure, it's all the same, right?
You want to get close to what the manufacturer recommends.
Always put precisely the weight the manufacturer recommends for optimal performance.
In today's pickup truck engines, manufacturers go so far as engineering them down to the type of oil they require. Putting in the wrong oil weight will likely not cause any damage, but it can reduce fuel economy or power. Take the extra time to find out the exact weight and type of oil you need by checking the owner's manual.
When loading the pickup bed, where should the heaviest items go?
Closest to the cab
Experts recommend keeping the heaviest items close to the cab. This not only prevents the heavy items from shifting forward when braking, but it also puts the load near the center point between the front and rear axles. This prevents the rear end from sagging and reducing the front wheels' contact with the road.
As far back as possible
Directly over the axle
Who cares, it'll all get to the same place, right?
When loading a trailer, where should the heaviest items go?
As far back as possible
Directly over the axle
As close to the hitch as possible
The heaviest items should always go in the trailer first and be as close to the trailer hitch as possible. This not only puts the load on the hitch, which prevents the trailer from uncoupling from the truck when driving, but it also keeps the heavy items from shifting and falling on you when you open the trailer.
On the curb -- they can be someone else's problem.
What is the proper amount of grease in front-end components?
Until it oozes from the seal
Grease doesn't matter.
Until the rubber reservoir feels full but not seeping
The rubber grease reservoir should feel full, but not overflowing or seeping. If you overfill the reservoir and it seeps, wipe away the excess grease and seat the rubber reservoir back in place so dirt and debris cannot get in.
A squeaky front end is just how trucks age, right?
Yeah, my truck has squeaked for years. It's just a truck thing.
No, this is a sign of failing front-end components.
A truck that squeaks and squawks as you go over bumps and turn the wheels has serious front-end problems. These components likely have no grease in them and are rubbing themselves into oblivion. Eventually, these parts will fail completely, potentially causing you to lose control of your truck .
It's not normal, but it's also nothing to worry about.
Squeaking is a badge of honor for a truck that's been well-used.
Spray-in bed liners bond to the truck's bed, giving it a semi-permanent lining that protects it from damage and doesn't allow water to get under it. Drop-in bed liners tend to rip and allow water to sit under them, which can cause serious rusting issues .
While wet mud isn't a big deal, dried mud can cause serious problems. Once mud dries, it takes on an abrasive consistency like concrete, and driving around with it on your truck can cause scratching and scuffing on your nice paint job. It's best to wash it off while it's still moist to prevent any issues.
Mud is character, and character is good for a pickup.
Mud can act as a wax for your paint. Smear it on and wash it off the next day for the best results.
Will driving through deep water in a truck cause problems?
As long as I don't stop, I am good.
No, but you'll want to let the truck drip dry immediately after.
Yes, if you exceed your truck's water-fording capabilities.
While most trucks have some water-fording abilities -- the ability to travel through certain depths of standing water without causing damage -- manufacturers do not always publish these ratings. The safest bet is to always stay in water no deeper than the axles to avoid allowing water into the exhaust or onto sensitive electronic components.
Just bring a blow dryer with you, and you're good.
Will dumping leak-repair chemicals in my truck cure all leaks?
Only certain brands of leak-repair chemicals work.
Your results may vary.
Leak-stop chemicals have a well-earned bad rap of not working and causing more problems than good, but they have improved greatly over the years. Dumping a bottle of leak-stop in your radiator may fix the issue and save you big bucks, but you may also shell out cash for a bottle that does nothing for you because your leak was too severe. Regardless, they are perfectly safe to use -- just keep your expectations reasonable.