If You’ve Never Bought a Truck Before . . .

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Trucks, like high-performance sports cars – like minivans for that matter – are specialty vehicles. Which means they’re compromised vehicles.

Some things, they’re very good at – usually, much better at them than a jack-of-all-trades family car.

A high-performance sports car, for instance, can be driven faster around a race track (or your favorite winding country road) than a family car before it approaches the limits of its ability to hold the road.

But the flip slide of this extra capability here is less capability there.

To wit: High-performance sports cars are usually awful in the snow. And they are awful in the snow to a great extent precisely because of the design aspects and features that make them adroit high-speed handlers on dry pavement – such as sport-compound (and short sidewall) “summer” tires and being low to the ground (and so having a low center of gravity).

In this case, you can’t have your cake and eat it, too.

Same goes for trucks – and SUVs built on a truck-type layout.

In order to be extra-capable off-road, on-road handling and stability are usually at least somewhat compromised.

Trucks and truck-based SUVs usually have more ground clearance – they sit higher up off the pavement – which is exactly what you want if you’re heading out into heavy snow or thinking about attempting a trek up a rutted, rock-strewn dirt road. (The lack of clearance, by the way, is one of the chief reasons why low-slung sporty cars suck in the snow. They bottom out sooner – and ride up on top of the accumulating snow, which reduces the ability of the tires to bite through the snow to the pavement.)

On the other hand, riding higher off the ground also means a higher center of gravity – which is exactly what you don’t want if the object is high-speed handling stability, especially in the curves.

The higher ground clearance/higher center of gravity typical of truck/SUV design is one of the primary reasons why they’re inherently less stable – and more prone to rollover accidents – than are cars. The auto industry has worked hard to make trucks and SUVs handle more like cars, to accommodate the conflicting demands and expectations of consumers, but they’re still compromised – and will probably always be compromised  . . . so long as consumers expect vehicles to be rugged off-road as well as civilized on-road.

One method by which the car companies have attempted to crutch this Catch-22 is by fitting trucks and SUVs with car-type wheel and tire packages. Specifically, tall (and wide) wheels with short (and stiff) sidewall “sport” tires – as opposed to the Mud & Snow (M&S) rated tires – and not as tall, nor as wide – wheels you’d want if you don’t want to get stuck in the snow and mud. The end result is an automotive oddity. A truck/SUV that might actually be worse in the snow than a standard passenger car.

Again, you can’t have it both ways.

Same goes for the pros – and cons – of the truck’s (and truck-based SUV’s) four-wheel-drive system.

Most trucks and truck-based SUVs are rear-wheel-drive – with a part-time four-wheel-drive system optionally available. It is very, very important to comprehend the functional differences – and relative strengths and weaknesses  – of truck-type four-wheel-drive vs. the increasingly ubiquitous all-wheel-drive, which (very confusingly) is often marketed as “four wheel drive” (see, for an example, the 2014 Jeep Cherokee; reviewed here).

Both systems do – technically – send power to (i.e., drive) all four wheels. But truck-type 4WD only sends power to the rear wheels when it’s not engaged, whereas AWD normally sends most of the engine’s power (90 percent being typical) to the front wheels – with (second Big Difference) power being automatically routed to the back wheels in the event the front wheels being to slip. With a part-time, truck-type 4WD system, the driver must engage the 4WD for any power to be routed to the front wheels. Otherwise, all the engine’s power is going to the rear-wheel-drive – and when in RWD, trucks and SUVs (which are light in the tail) are more prone to slipping and sliding than a FWD car!

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