Armstrong Ratcheting Wrenches and Customer Service Part 2

As detailed in my first post about Armstrong Ratcheting Wrenches Customer Service I purchased a new, surplus tool kit that included a good selection of Armstrong reversible ratcheting wrenches. The 15 mm wrench was missing its guts, making it only an open-end wrench.

The surplus USMC tray pieces (NSN # 5180-01-553-6556).

These tools were purchased when I learned of a good deal, and except for the cursory initial inspection, they sat in their shipping box for a few months in my garage. When I continued working on organizing the new kit, I found more defects as I laid out the tools for photographs.

Armstrong obviously has a problem with quality control. In this one tool set I received one wrench with no ratcheting parts, and this 1/2-inch wrench with a substantial bow in the tool. The 5/8 wrench had much less bow, but also was not flat. (I didn’t ask for the 5/8-inch wrench to be replaced.)

Look at the arc in that defective 1/2-inch Armstrong wrench?

Again I called Armstrong’s customer service phone number and explained the situation. Not only had I purchased these tools from a surplus retailer, but also a few months had passed. I offered to return the defective tool, or take it to a local outlet, but apparently I don’t sound like a person trying to get something for nothing. The customer service lady said she would send out a replacement without asking me to return the bent tool. It took more than a week, but little padded envelope arrived in the mail containing a new and flat 1/2-inch ratcheting wrench.

Slightly bowed 5/8-inch Armstrong wrench.

Kudos to Armstrong Tool for being very reasonable and helpful. Though the quality of the tool kit left something to be desired, their response was good, even generous, compared to what one might receive from other companies. It’s also worth noting, that while assembling this new tool kit, I was trying to purchase made-in-USA tools when practical and affordable. Aside from the possible benefits of buying American made tools, I’ve been pleased that every time I called Armstrong I spoke to someone in the USA, working directly for Armstrong/Apex Tool Group.

Copyright © 2012 James Langan

Eezi-Awn 1600 Roof Tent Review

Second Time Winner: Choosing an Eezi-Awn Series 3 1600 Roof Tent
By James Langan

We have a pop-up camper for luxurious overland travel but there are times when the tracks are too rugged or we want to travel lighter and leave the trailers and big rigs at home. We could rough-it and sleep in a ground tent, but the earth is not always clean, level, or dry, and isn’t very appealing after experiencing more comfortable backcountry accommodations. Our solution was an Eezi-Awn roof top tent (RTT). Buying a RTT is not an inexpensive proposition, but in the spring of 2010 while preparing for a two week Utah overland excursion over challenging and rocky trails, I asked myself, “how much is one good nights sleep worth?” My answer was at least $100.00. Of course a good nights sleep can help you feel like a million bucks, and a poor sleep can resemble the national debt. I found it relatively easy to justify a new Eezi-Awn.

Beautiful, remote country is more enjoyable when you can get a good night’s sleep.

Why the Eezi-Awn?

There are a few good roof tents for sale in North America, and the Eezi-Awn is regarded as one of the best. The Autohome hard shell tents are appealing with their aerodynamic profile, but their narrowness, relatively short length, and price have prevented a purchase thus far. With many sizes and configurations from which to choose, Eezi-Awn offers a Series 3 tent to fit many applications and needs. From the narrowest 1200, T-Top models, the Family Rooftent or the Globetrotter Trailer Tent, take your measurements and pick the tent that is right for you. Choosing an Eezi-Awn was also a safe decision because we previously owned a Series 3 1800 which lived atop our Chaser from Adventure Trailers. Our 1800 provided several nights of good sleep before the Chaser and RTT were sold in favor of different off-highway platforms.

Eezi-Awn 1800 RTT carried by an Adventure Trailers “Chaser”, heading up to Laurel Lakes in California.

1400 or 1600, That Was The Question

Though smaller tents have their place most of us would prefer some extra shoulder room. Because roof tents are often smaller than ground tents, size matters. Larger Eezi-Awns are not proportionally more expensive than their smaller cousins, so going big is not an economic decision but one of fit and weight. If the weight and physical size of the RTT are not critical concerns, I suggest going with a larger model. It’s not often that you hear a camper complain that their tent is too large.

Our Series 3 1800 on the Chaser was very spacious for two, even when using large, quilted, rectangular sleeping bags, but I knew I didn’t want to put such a large and heavy tent on our 2006 4Runner. The 1200 was quickly ruled out, as it would be very narrow for two adults who are accustomed to sleeping in queen beds. For a couple months I deliberated whether to purchase a new 1400 or a 1600. The Series 3 1400 tent weighs exactly what the stock roof rack on our 4Runner is rated to carry. The 1600, at 132 pounds, is about 12 pounds over Toyota’s stated weight limit. Though the primary duty for the Eezi-Awn is comfortable sleeping on challenging solo trips, would my wife and I use the RTT together at times? How often? I reasoned that we would be more inclined to use the Eezi-Awn together if there was more room for both of us. I decided the additional 12 pounds of the 1600 was too little to worry about above our very well balanced 4Runner with its relatively low center of gravity. A new Series 3 Eezi-Awn 1600 was purchased from Equipt Expedition Outfitters. (http://www.equipt1.com)

Yakima’s Universal SNAR mount on a Thule bar, secures the Eezi-Awn to the car.

Mounting

Our 4Runner neither has nor needs an aftermarket roof rack. In an effort to keep our roof load light and low, we added Thule cross-bars and mounting feet to the stock 4Runner rails, and used Yakima Universal SNARs to mount the tent to Thule bars. It’s often advisable to use three cross bars when mounting a 1600 or larger tent, but we wanted to keep things as light and simple as possible. We decided to try only two crossbars with the standard Thule kit. This set-up has worked flawlessly for thousands of miles, including hundreds of miles off-highway. Neither the crossbars nor the tent have loosened a bit and the tent opens and functions perfectly.

After the first night in the new Eezi-Awn 1600.

Field Use

My initial test and use of the 1600 on the 4Runner involved two weeks of overland travel, mostly off-highway. The tent performed as expected and there was little to complain about. Of course I was a repeat customer so I knew what I was getting. First the niggles.

All tents can be noisy in heavy winds and a RTT is no different. On one occasion when it was very windy the rain fly was caught by the wind, lifting it and loosening the spring poles. This can cause one or both poles to fall to the ground and allow the rain fly to flap uncontrollably. It did. One fix for this might be to simply remove the rain fly if it’s not needed, though we typically prefer to be prepared for all weather conditions. During the second windy night several days later, I simply opened the door of the tent and secured the fly in its closed, travel position from the inside, greatly reducing the flapping.

Many tents are noisy in the wind, including the Eezi-Awn roof tents. See how the rain fly is acting like a sail?

Early one morning a storm blew in while camped at Lake Powell. The winds were fierce and when it started to rain it was raining sideways. I experienced a couple water leaks at the corners of the tent where water dripped inside onto the corners of the Eezi-Awn mattress. At some point no rain fly is going to prevent the tent material from being soaked when the rain is not falling from above, but instead is flying horizontally. I later learned that the owner of Eezi-Awn sometimes recommends a soaking and drying of a new Eezi-Awn tent to condition the seams, threads, and fabric on a new tent. I have performed a similar ritual for other canvas products and this is on my to-do list.

After the Lake Powell storm, drying out after an early camp on the Hole In The Rock Trail.

Loving It And Sleeping Better Than Home

The above concerns aside, I really like, maybe even love my Eezi-Awn tent. Opening it after a long day on backcountry trails is easy and fast. Unless I need the airflow to keep the tent cool I often only insert the rain fly poles on the ladder side of the tent, this makes set-up and pack-up even faster. I haven’t timed myself but I’m pretty good at packing up the tent. Closing the tent and breaking camp doesn’t take me any longer than my traveling companions, many of which sleep inside their wagons instead of tents.

Sleeping preferences are personal, like politics and religion. I like to sleep flat on my back and my wife generally likes to sleep on her side. Both of us prefer a firm bed and we both find the Eezi-Awn mattress comfortable. The Series 3 Eezi-Awn tents provide plenty of length for my tall frame, 96-inches long when opened for sleeping.

Bedding not sleeping bags.

In our previous 1800 we used large bulky sleeping bags on top of the mattress. These needed to be pulled out of our Chaser each night and packed away each morning. To make set-up and packing chores faster, with our new 1600 we decided to use traditional bedding. We use the fitted bottom sheet that came with the tent, a king top sheet, covered with a down comforter and optional wool blankets for cold nights. I loved this sleeping arrangement on my two week Utah excursion. All the blankets and a small pillow were folded into the center of the stationary side of the tent before closing. I like having less to pack and unpack and this configuration makes climbing into a bed more like home.

Handling and stability haven’t been problems on my heavily modified but moderate height V8 4Runner.

Adverse Handling

None. On the tent’s maiden voyage with several other Toyotas in Utah, the 4Runner was the lowest car, but it’s not light. It weighed 6,500-pounds gross at the beginning of the trip. The V8 4Runner still has the front anti-roll bar attached but the rear has been removed. This rig was built to be a very stable platform and it remains so even with the bulky RTT above the roof. Challenging off-camber obstacles that had others in our group nervous were of no concern for this 4Runner with the Eezi-Awn attached.

There is some added wind noise while driving, though not nearly as much as I feared, crosswinds seem to create the most noise. Strong crosswinds will also move the car a bit more because of its larger profile, but again the car was inherently stable before the RTT and remains so with the Eezi-Awn mounted. The tent’s heavy-duty construction should allow it to live atop many overland vehicles in the coming decades if the 4Runner is sold. Most importantly, my wife likes the tree house.

Copyright © 2012 James Langan

My favorite LT255/85R16?

Check out my current favorites below

Link: Mastercraft CXT and Cooper S/T MAXX

 

I was asked about my favorite 255/85R16 tire these days. Favorite? Just one? Singular? This was a tough assignment for me. All my buddies know it’s impossible for me to have only one set of truck tires in my shop. It depends on the application, but what’s my final answer?

For most of us price is at least somewhat of a consideration, if not a major factor, when choosing tires. I’ll give cost some consideration, though I prefer to buy the rubber I want, and think of the relative value over 40,000 miles or more. Sometimes a little faster rate of wear is a fair tradeoff for performance.

Maxxis Bravo MA-761 and Toyo M55 in 255/85R16

Mostly Muds

While I wish there were more all-terrain or commercial traction treads in the 255/85 size there are only a couple. The Toyo M55 is one commercial traction tire that comes to mind, and the load-range D, 3-ply sidewall Maxxis Bravo MA-761 is a the only stout, low-void tire in this size. The rest are essentially mud-terrain tires.

Regional availability varies and I suggest considering this before a purchase. With few exceptions, most stores will need to order a set of 255/85 tires. In my part of The West, 255/85R16 Toyo M/T, M55, and Maxxis Bighorns can be found at many Les Schwab Tires stores, and if not in stock, will arrive a few days after an order is placed. I’d be willing to bet cash that few (if any) local tire stores stock the BFG Mud-Terrain. However the online tire giant, Tire Rack, has a warehouse nearby, and a short drive any business day would put a set of 255/85 KM2s in my pickup.

LT255/85R16E BFG KM2 treads on a 2006 4Runner

Toyo M/T 

If you’re looking for very heavy-duty construction (and heavy), smooth running on pavement, and a reputation for balancing well, the Toyo M/T is a top choice. Tread wear can be very good, or lousy depending on the rig and the driver. Their tendency to pull, often right, on (my) Toyota 4WDs and many Dodge trucks has made me reconsider my praise for Toyos in recent years where I used to swear by them. Their cost is a little scary too, though the 255/85 size is small enough to be affordable; all tires have become more expensive.

When the stoutest tire is not needed, I don’t like the extremely low pressures needed to make the Toyo M/T ride nice and flex the way I prefer off-pavement. At normal pressures on-highway ride is also firm, this is the price that must be paid for extreme-duty construction, the 3-ply sidewalls, and 7-ply tread. Some dislike the appearance of the Toyo M/T, but I think it’s a sharp looking tire. Noise is moderate for a mud terrain tire.

The previous BFG KM Mud-Terrain and the Toyo M/T in 255/85R16.

BFGoodrich KM2

With enough saddle time above a set of 255/85R16s and 285/75R16s to know how they perform off-highway, the BFG KM2 has impressed me as a load-range E, 3-ply sidewall tire that flexes well when the air pressure is dropped. BFG claims this in their advertising and it’s true. So while I’m not a BFG fan, this flexibility has my respect because I like flexible tires that are tough enough.

BFG also deserves credit for their commitment to the 255/85R16 size, as they made it for many years in the previous Mud Terrain design, for years now in the KM2 pattern, and offer essentially the same 17-inch tire, a 255/80R17. I’ve not had any failures with BFGs, but they’ve also never been my favorite tires, so I never put more than a few thousand miles on a set.

Most seem to be satisfied with how KM2s perform and last, but for years I’ve heard reports of inconsistent balance with BFGs. I experienced this myself with a set of 255/85 KMs (not KM2), which were only slightly worn and started to require more lead to balance after a few thousand miles. BFGoodrich deserves credit for taking chances when designing the KM2 which is a nice, different looking tire that has plenty of sidewall tread. A good price for a set of 255/85 KM2s should be much less than Toyo M/Ts.

Maxxis Bighorn load-range D and BFGoodrich KM2 load-range E LT255/85R16 tires.

Maxxis Bighorn MT-762

When Les Schwab Tires started selling the Bighorn a few years ago, including the 255/85R16 size (blackwalls too!), I was quick to buy a set. At the time they did full-time duty on my built 4Runner and were an exceptional value, about $150 per tire. On many occasions I was thoroughly impressed by the grip the Bighorns delivered. Part of their traction advantage comes from the relatively soft, flexible tread compound, which also results in pretty fast wear. Bighorns are also a little loud, not howling ‘swamper’ loud, but a typical mud tire hum, a bit more to listen to than either the Toyo M/T and KM2, particularly as they wear. As I mature, I’m less tolerant of everyday tire noise, and actually prefer something quieter than all three of my examples here. If you’re not averse to a little mud tire noise, the Bighorns are a great tire. They are still a load-range D 255/85, only a 2-ply sidewall design, though I’ve yet to rip one open. I’d like to see Maxxis update their design and add thicker tread material on the upper sidewalls.

My first set of Bighorns made me a fan of Maxxis light-truck tires, when they balanced with very little weight. This spurred me to purchased a set of Bravo all-terrains, which also required little weight to balance and were great on the road. My second set of 255/85 Bighorns also balanced well, but never saw much use before being traded. A third set of Bighorns, used 285/75R17s, that I acquired for testing a few months ago also balanced very well even though they had some uneven wear. A little noisy and fast wearing they may be, but they are still a decent value if you don’t have to pay full retail, and even better if you’re able to use them mostly off-highway.

Copyright © 2012 James Langan

Dick Cepek and Mickey Thompson Change Load Range D For E

Some of the great load-range (LR) D enthusiast tires are going to be improved to load-range E designs. This is only an improvement if one needs the higher load rating, and can be a negative if you don’t (see Wheels, Tires, and Sidewalls from Jan. 2012). I understand manufacturers’ position, if they make all or most of their heavy-duty light-truck (LT) tires load-range E, the tire can be used for stoutest pickups down to the smaller, lighter rigs. I argue that these stiffer, less flexible tires are not ideal for many lighter 4WDs which are typically daily-drivers that rarely haul or tow maximum loads, and would benefit from the better ride and off-pavement traction that more flexible tires offer. There are many applications where a load-range D or C (remember those) are the best choice. I view the reduction and possible elimination of the LR D tire choices similarly to the needless super-sizing of everything in the USA.

Bed full of load-range D, 255/85R16 tires.

I also see similarities to the slow death of the LT255/85R16 size. There is still a small market for this fantastic 33×10-inch tire, and many 255/85 tires that were all LR D five years ago, have become LR E designs. In support of this 255/85R16 change, I do think most trucks running this size are heavy-duty, full-sized pickups that are used as such, and the added capacity and reduced flex is a positive. Unfortunately narrower tires don’t appeal to the masses (strike 1), few new trucks are made with 16-inch wheels (strike 2), and the perfect 17-inch 255/85 replacement, the 255/80R17, is available in one tire (strike three), the BFGoodrich KM2 mud-terrain.

Dick Cepek Mud Country LT285/75R16D, with 3-ply sidewalls.

The Sea Change In Load-Range Continues

Recently I noticed that two of my current favorite mud tires, the Dick Cepek Mud Country and the Mickey Thompson Baja MTZ, are losing their load-range D rating in favor of the LR E in a couple popular sizes.

The Mud Country in 285/75R16 and the MTZ in 285/70R17 are switching to a load-range E rating. Both of these tires/sizes were load-range D, with 3-ply sidewalls, a perfect combination for many enthusiast applications. I currently own a set of each of these treads and love the 3-ply sidewalls combined with a load-range D casing. The new LR E offerings will surely offer less sidewall and/or tread flex (bad off-highway, good for tonnage) and be firmer riding during lightly loaded daily use. How stiff is the question, as not all LR E tires are created equal. Some are pretty flexible like the BFG KM2, while others like the new Cooper S/T MAXX and Toyo M/T are quite stiff.

The LT285/70R17 Mickey Thompson MTZ: Stout 3-ply sidewalls, serious sidebiter lugs, and load-range D construction all in one package. I’ll miss this combination when my current set needs replacing.

If you think I’m some kind of tire nut who likes fetish tires (well…) there has been and likely still is plenty of market and demand for good, load-range D tires. The currently popular, practical, and useful 285/70R17 size has several load-range D offerings. A search on www.trierack.com recently listed twenty-eight 285/70R17 tires; 14 of which were LR D treads, 7 were LR E, and 7 were P-rated tires. These LR D designs were not duds, and included some of the best or most popular off-highway enthusiast tires currently offered, including: Dick Cepek F-C II, BFGoodrich KM2 and All-Terrain, Goodyear MT/R with Kevlar, and Goodyear DuraTrac. For years BFG has offered their ever-popular All-Terrain in both load-range D and E flavors in both the 16-inch and 17-inch 285 mm sizes. I respect BFG for seeing and filling this need, and not forcing everyone who wants a 285 to run a load-range E tire. There is a difference.

Does this mean that I will no longer buy certain niche tires once they’re not available in LR D? Probably not. While I prefer a LR D tire for most of my uses, my primary criteria for light-truck tires is that I like the tread and overall characteristics, they balance well, and the chassis I put them on likes the tire. All of these are equally important, any missing ingredient can make a tire undesirable for the specific application—a deal breaker. After these metrics I prefer and will take a load-range D if I can get it, but will accept a load-range E if it’s not overly stiff.

RoadTraveler, enjoying the tire wear to get there.

Copyright © 2012 James Langan

Ken Block-San Francisco-Gymkhana Five

Not a typical RoadTraveler post, but it’s all about location, location, location. This is one exception to my distain for low-profile tires, and this is not a truck.

There is a nexus as there’s some off (above) road travel. I particularly like the sideways jump and turn. Turn up the speakers.

Ford’s F150 3.5L EcoBoost V6 Succeeds

Ford Motor Company has a resounding success in their 3.5L EcoBoost V6 engine. In February 2011 the power plant was made available in the F150 pickup, and by April Ford sold 35% of their F150s with the little engine that could. By September Ford had sold 75,000 EcoBoost F150s and forecasted the take-rate would reach 45 percent. In December 2011 Ford was reporting they’d sold 100,000 EcoBoost F150s…fast-forward to July 2012 and Ford has now exceeded their sales predictions by 100,000 engines!

There were skeptics of this engine and technology, though I was not one of them, being a fan of both turbocharged forced-induction and Ford. The on-paper ratings of 420 lb-ft and 365 hp were, and still are impressive for a little V6; about the same torque one could wring from a similarly sized 4-cylinder diesel yet with more horsepower. The engine is capable of good V6 fuel-economy too. At inception I figured the only thing that could hurt this engine’s success would have been poor engineering or assembly, but it appears The Motor Company knows what they’re doing and I’ve yet to hear any bad press. Real-world high-mileage longevity is another question, and we will have this answer in a couple years after a few early-production trucks surpass the 200k mark with their original turbochargers intact; or not.

Turbocharged engines don’t complain in the mountains.

I’m not typically an early adopter of new technology or products, wanting things to prove themselves and have a thorough sorting before I spend my money, but I would have made an exception for the 3.5L EcoBoost. When I was shopping for a new half-ton pickup in April 2011, the field was quickly narrowed to the then new EcoBoost F150 and the 5.7L Toyota Tundra. I don’t regret my Tundra purchase (more on that later), but forced-induction would have been a daily pleasure at 5,000-ft.

Good on you Ford!

Now if you guys would just make an attractive mid-sized wagon, with a powerful EcoBoost and fuel-economy close to our VW TDI, maybe you can sell us a new car soon? Oh yeah, and I’d really like a manual transmission…remember those?

Copyright © 2012 James Langan

RoadTraveler’s 100,000 Mile Challenge Part 2

Real World Examples

1) 1996 F350 7.3L Power Stroke, 4.10 differential gears, 5-speed manual transmission. This truck was conservatively modified with thirty-three inch tires, heavy bumpers, and mild engine performance modifications.

It should be noted that the older (pre-Super Duty) Ford pickups had relatively poor brakes compared to the later 1999-up trucks with four-wheel disc brakes, though they’ve never been a problem for my use and driving style.

127,000 miles and counting…still running the original brakes.

This rig was a daily-driver commuter, long-distance road traveler, tow/hauling workhorse, off-highway toy, and magazine project for the first several years of its life. Additions to our fleet put the brakes on the rapid accumulation of miles, and is the reason this old truck has very low miles for its age.

During its 127,000 miles, Pull Dog has yet to need brake pads or shoes. Never. I used to clean and lube the caliper slide rails regularly to prevent sticking and improper wear (this maintenance is actually mentioned in the owner’s manual), adjust the rear brake shoes to keep the pedal up and the parking brake working properly, and the brake system was bleed a couple times…that’s it. When this old F350 needs brakes, you’ll likely read it here first, though I need to start driving it again before it’s going to need new friction material.

Dirt road lunch stop in the low-rider Golf TDI. Nevada. 150k on the front pads with tons of material remaining.

2) 2000 VW Golf 1.9L TDI (diesel), 5-speed manual tranny.

This little car has been my wife’s daily-driver for over ten years, and we take it on long car trips when a truck or 4WD isn’t required. She prefers to drive the suburban surface streets to work instead of the freeway most of the time.

It’s worth noting that while these little VW TDIs can make more power, and for some this is an enthusiast car, for us it’s just comfortable, economical transportation and it’s the one vehicle in my fleet that is bone stock. The car gets it’s recommended oil changes with premium 5W-40 synthetic oil every 10,000 miles, a new air filter every 10k because I’m a stickler for clean air, I’ve changed the transaxle lube every 50k as a precaution, and I’ve done the other minimum maintenance or repairs. Very little extra care, we just drive it.

2000 VW Golf TDI front brake pads during the 150,000 mile tire rotation.

The car’s odometer has reached 152,000, and we’ve logged all but the first 18,000. It needed rear brakes at 82k, but the fronts have yet to be touched. It’s not uncommon for moderately driven (and braked) vehicles to need rears before fronts. Based on the pictures I took when Les Schwab rotated and balanced the tires recently, I think the front pad might go another 100k; there’s plenty of meat on the pads! Maybe it will be two sets of rear pads to one set of fronts?

The RoadTraveler V8 4Runner with its Rocket 88 gears (4.88:1) has hauled a few loads in its 60,000 miles.

3) 2006 Toyota 4Runner 4.7L V8, 5-speed auto tranny, 3.73:1 gears when new and stock, before 4.88 ring & pinions were added. This car is heavily modified and very heavy, 5,500 pounds wet but unloaded, and has seen extensive off-highway use, including many technical trails, and plenty of towing miles.

With only 60,000 miles this wagon has some years ahead before I’ll be able to report if it attained the RoadTraveler.net 100k challenge. But at a little more than half way there, the brake pads are looking very thick. The odds are good.

With just a bit over 60,000 miles on the 4Runner, there is plenty of friction material remaining.

Copyright © 2012 James Langan