Multipurpose Pickups

Sept. 28, 2010

As the consumer market for light-duty trucks continues to cool off thanks in part to recent spikes in fuel prices, truck accessory manufacturers are becoming increasingly fond of the worktruck market. When we attended the recent Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) Show in Las Vegas, the truck section of the exhibit area looked more like a construction job site than the typical off-road/racing/outdoors theme of shows past.

As the consumer market for light-duty trucks continues to cool off thanks in part to recent spikes in fuel prices, truck accessory manufacturers are becoming increasingly fond of the worktruck market. When we attended the recent Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) Show in Las Vegas, the truck section of the exhibit area looked more like a construction job site than the typical off-road/racing/outdoors theme of shows past.

While toolboxes and pickup-bed covers have always had a spot in the SEMA truck exhibits, these industry standards are quickly being joined by an expanding array of work-specific accessories at an event that built its reputation as a showcase of "big boys' toys."

Owing at least partly to the current economic conditions and the need to do more with fewer resources, many of the accessories that caught our attention were those that enabled the ever-versatile pickup truck to fill an even wider range of roles, on the job site as well as off.

From suspension systems that improve towing stability and help a 1-ton truck ride better when empty or full, to fifth-wheel/gooseneck trailer hitches that disappear entirely when not in use, to utility bodies that can be removed when not in use, this newest batch of accessories will let a pickup serve family needs on the weekend, and multiple jobsite roles during the week.

Here's a look at some of the highlights of the show:

Firestone Industrial Debuts Hybrid Suspension For Pickups

Firestone Industrial Products, the air-spring division of the well-known tire company, has joined forces with SANLUIS Rassini to produce a hybrid air/leaf suspension system that enables high-capacity pickups to ride smoother whether loaded or empty.

The R4Tech, which replaces the factory leaf-spring suspension, includes a Firestone air spring and SANLUIS Rassini's leaf-spring suspension to create a system that delivers an improved ride at all times by utilizing the variable spring rate of the air spring to stiffen when the truck is loaded and soften when unloaded.

Using a torque link similar to those found on heavy-truck suspensions, the R4Tech increases axle control during acceleration and braking for improved torque management and reduced wheel hop. The design allows the suspension to move at all load conditions, isolating and absorbing road impact for passengers and cargo alike.

The complete R4Tech system comes with the Rassini foundation suspension, the Airide air spring and an air compressor control system that maintains the proper air level in the spring for the exact load being carried.

Firestone Industrial Level-Rite & Ride-Rite Systems Offer Bolt-On Ride Improvement

Dodge Ram — Whether it's added weight on the front of the truck from a winch or a plow, or an uneven load on the rear while hauling heavy cargo or towing an equipment trailer, the factory suspension calibration on many pickups may not be optimized for these adverse conditions. Air-spring systems from Firestone Industrial can be added to many late-model pickups — typically without drilling into the frame — to ensure safe, comfortable operation under all load conditions.

The heavy-duty Level-Rite air spring over damper suspension for 2003–2009 Dodge Ram 2500/3500 4x4s features a fully protected, reversible sleeve air spring paired with a high-performance Bilstein monotube shock absorber. It helps level the front end of vehicles that carry a winch, snow plow, or any other situation where extra weight is placed on the front of the vehicle.

The Level-Rite is designed to reduce suspension fatigue by preventing factory torsion bars from sagging under heavy loads. Additionally, Level-Rite increases vehicle control and stability, improves the ride quality, reduces suspension fatigue and bottoming out, and provides control of front ground clearance, such as during off-road situations.

Ford F-Series — The no-drill Ride-Rite air helper spring kit for the new 2009 Ford F-150 mounts between the truck's frame and the suspension to assist in maximizing the pickup's safe load carrying capacity, stability and ride quality. The air helper springs are also designed to help level off-center loads by using individual inflation valves for separate side-to-side or front-to-rear adjustment.

The Ride-Rite kit is designed to work on all cab and box configurations of the 2009 Ford F-150, complementing the towing and payload capacity by using air pressure to increase vehicle stability, reduce tire wear and maintain brake effectiveness. Firestone also offers the Air-Rite air accessory system that enables drivers to make instant air pressure adjustments with the push of a button installed on the dashboard.

Chevrolet Silverado And GMC Sierra — Firestone Industrial Products continues to expand its line of Ride-Rite air helper springs with a new kit for the 2007–2008 Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra 1500 Series pickup trucks, fitting two-wheel drive, four-wheel drive and all cab configurations. The '07–'08 Silverado/Sierra Ride-Rite kit is a no-drill application that uses existing mounting holes on the truck's frame.

The Ride-Rite system mounts between the truck's frame and the suspension to maximize the safe load-carrying capacity, stability and ride quality, both side-to-side and front-to-rear. By using air pressure to adjust the air helper springs, the Ride-Rite system maintains brake effectiveness, reduces tire wear, levels off-center loads, and increases vehicle stability.

SpaceKap Comes South

Already popular in Canada, the SpaceKap utility body line is now available across the U.S. through dealers for the popular A.R.E. truck cap line. Manufactured by Canadian-based Fibrocap, the SpaceKap is best described as a workday version of a pickup camper. Just like the typical pickup camper, the SpaceKap can be easily jacked up and removed from the truck, allowing the truck to fill other roles and providing secure storage when the SpaceKap is left on the job site.

The SpaceKap is a self-contained mobile unit constructed of double-sided fiberglass walls insulated to avoid condensation inside the unit. In addition, it has a reinforced floor and stainless steel hardware. Designed to increase efficiency, the SpaceKap features twin entry doors and a unique tie-down system that allows users to install or remove the cap in minutes. The cap, which can be customized with optional doors, windows, interior shelves, dome lights, ladder racks, and more, is built to spec for most compact, mid-size and full-size pickups on the road today.

Environmental Partition For Vans Saves Space & Reduces Noise

The new Environmental Partition from Wise Industries is designed specifically for cargo vans to provide superior heat and sound insulation while increasing floor space. The molded partition serves as a bulkhead to completely seal the cab from the cargo area.

By replacing the flat steel panel bulkheads frequently found in commercial vans with a molded plastic panel contoured to the shape of the back seat, the Environmental Partition saves floor space in a van, depending on the model. A roll-up door design allows the door to be stored within the headliner and out of the way of cargo and work space.

When closed, the Environmental Partition completely seals the cab from the cargo area, fitting the contours of the vehicle to eliminate all gaps, which allows drivers to better regulate cabin temperature. The roll-up door design decreases cabin noise, facilitating mobile phone and GPS device use.

Valley Offers Versatility With Under-Bed Hitch And Stow-A-Ball

For the contractor who needs a pickup bed to haul materials on one day, tow a gooseneck trailer the next day, and haul a fifth-wheel trailer on the weekend, Valley has improved its Under-Bed Gooseneck Hitch System with the Stow-A-Ball Gooseneck Hitch.

Using a custom mounting bracket attached under the bed, the Stow-A-Ball hitch allows full use of the truck bed when not towing. With Stow-A-Ball, rather than removing the tow ball from its mount until needed, the tow ball can be turned upside down and stored inside the ball socket, flush with the bed of the truck.

The Stow-A-Ball hitch is rated at 25,000 pounds, sufficient for most popular gooseneck towing applications. The tow ball rotates within the socket to eliminate coupler binding while the socket itself is offset to increase ball placement options. Safety chain loops are designed to be placed in the lower rib section of the truck bed and feature a spring-tension design that keeps the loops against the bed, not rattling, when the hitch is not being used.

For added versatility, the Stow-A-Ball version of the Under-Bed Hitch System allows an adapter plate to be mounted in place of the ball, enabling conversion from gooseneck trailer towing to fifth-wheel trailer towing in minutes.

Towing Information System Improves Trailer Safety

To meet the needs of contractors who frequently tow trailers and other equipment, Valley has introduced the Towing Information System to provide constant checking of trailer lights, including taillights, brake lights, and turn signals.

The system, installed on a trailer between the vehicle and trailer connectors, sends a wireless signal to the display/receiver unit to monitor the trailer lights and notify drivers if one goes out. Additionally, the system allows drivers to check trailer lighting on their own, without enlisting another person's assistance.

The unit is transferable from vehicle to vehicle and trailer to trailer with easy, one-step calibration. Simply plug it in, select the "What's Hooked Up" button and the system immediately understands how many lights are on the trailer. The unit is currently available for four-wire trailer lighting configurations, and a seven-wire application is being developed.

Swift Hitch Expedites Trailer Hook-Up

Another towing accessory of interest to contractors, the Swift Hitch system allows one man to safely and quickly connect to a trailer or other towed equipment. The Swift Hitch is a portable, wireless color backup-camera system with built-in night vision that simplifies hitching up any trailer in three easy steps. Mount the magnetic camera on the truck's tailgate, view the hitch alignment while backing up, then hitch up.

Battery Bug Takes Guesswork Out Of Battery Health

Perfect for worktrucks or any other jobsite equipment that relies on automotive-style batteries, the Battery Bug Deep Cycle Monitor (DCM) provides a clear, digital window into battery age. Rather than testing the battery once a year in the shop, it's tested once a minute, and the results are clearly displayed for the user.

The Battery Bug DCM series uses Large Pulse Resistance technology to measure the battery's internal resistance, and thereby its health. The battery can be used to the end of its service life without risk of failure. The Battery Bug communicates the percentage of remaining battery life, lost capacity, and battery charge level.

Designed for 20- to 300-amp-hour deep cycle batteries in 12-volt to 48-volt applications, the Battery Bug measures 2 inches square, mounts directly on the battery, and is waterproof. Once connected to a fully charged battery, it self-calibrates for the battery's size and begins displaying data.

The Battery Bug's LCD display incorporates an easy-to-read "fuel gauge" that indicates present battery capacity and charge level, with specific indicators for "recharge battery" and "replace battery." These indicators illuminate and audible alarms sound when the battery's state of charge drops to critical levels, when over/undercharge conditions exist, or when the battery approaches the end of its service.

A reset memory allows the Battery Bug to be removed and re-installed on the same battery without losing important battery history information. When the battery is eventually replaced, the Battery Bug can be installed on the new battery and reset by pushing a hidden button.