Are Ford Raptor frames too weak for off-roading?

Illustration for article titled Are Ford Raptor frames too weak for off-roading?

When a group of 14 Ford Raptor owners took to the desert for an off-road run in the spirit of what has become the quintessential hot-rod pickup, ten came back with bent frames. Is the Raptor too weak to play in the desert?

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The $42,000 Ford SVT Raptor has won plaudits from enthusiasts across the spectrum for offering the excitement of a desert race-ready truck in a factory-built, dealer-warrantied vehicle. Nearly four years after its debut, its only true competition comes from a bolt-on kit Dodge sells for $19,000 on top of the price of a Ram pickup.

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But last month, experienced owners complained on the RaptorForumz.com that a Nevada desert run had left a majority of their trucks with a frame bent in exactly the same location. The owners all had the same diagnosis: a rear frame and bed tilted a few degrees upward, due to a poor location for a "bump stop" — the rubber cushion that prevents the suspension from crashing into the frame. While Ford advertises the Raptor as having 12.1 inches of rear suspension travel, Raptor owners say at speed on a road, the suspension has only four or five inches of space before it hits the bump stop.

Illustration for article titled Are Ford Raptor frames too weak for off-roading?

When the original poster took his Raptor in for service, Ford engineers examined his truck and took photos of its underside. After much back-and-forth, Ford ruled the damage was due to "extensive customer abuse," and denied a warranty claim for the $765 estimate to put the frame straight. Other Raptor owners with bent frames received similar verdicts from Ford, leaving some outraged:

14 Raptor owners on an outing drive fast down a gravel road and 10 come back with bent frames.... no other damage - no broken axles, no flat tires, no leaf spring problems, no smashed body panels or skid plates, no wheel bearing problems, etc... That is a design flaw - bottoming out your truck should NOT bend the frame and leave no other damage unless the frame is very delicate.

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But how fast is too fast?

Performance car and truck enthusiasts generally know what to expect from their vehicles — and what goes beyond the limits of their warranties. Jeep owners have decades of experience with off-roading, enough to suggest that those who want to speed through water need to install an engine snorkel before tackling waves. Just last week, Ford triggered another dustup with Mustang owners after warning dealers to be on the lookout for go-fast mods to new V8 engines that would void the warranty. In each case, there's a well-stocked pool of enthusiasts who've been tinkering with their cars for years and generally understand the boundaries of what a dealer and automaker will fix.

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But the Raptor is so pioneering there isn't a huge user base, and there's never been a vehicle meant for high-speed desert travel — the most destructive form of auto racing — with an automaker's warranty. When video finally emerged of the Nevada run showing the bump that bent the Raptors (the last in the video here) many owners sided with Ford's call — including one of the drivers in the group of 14 who didn't suffer a bent frame:

If Ford fixes these, I will be surprised. Why? The trucks were driven past what they are capable of. You do not buy a GT500 and expect it to drive like a race car, why would you buy a Raptor and expect it to handle and take the abuse of a trophy truck?...While it was not a challenging route we took, we caught quite a bit of air, jumped the road, hit numerous G-Outs at faster than anything sensible, hit speeds off road in excess of 125mph (I did) and had a shit load of fun doing so. How were most of the bent frames caused? inherent weakness in the frame and over driving the truck. Is there mods to fix this for those of you who are scared? Yes. Drive slower in the desert and know the road you are driving.

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Mike Levine, editor of PickupTrucks.com, says while the owners have responsibilities for knowing what their off-roading courses hold, Ford should have offered driving classes similar to what Land Rover provides for new customers to give Raptor owners a better sense of their vehicle's limits. "For Raptor owners trying to figure out what the capabilities are, this would be a lot better than going out in groups and finding out what the design limits are in the real world. I can't fault these guys for getting upset."

For those who wish to attempt a similar run, the company that set up the first one has another round scheduled for later this month, advertising speeds of "110+ mph." They should explore one of the several firms offering to reinforce the rear frames of SVT Raptors for hardcore use, and maybe chip in for the $785 tuition in hard-earned lessons.

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Hat tip to Josh and everyone else who sent this in!

Keep up with Justin Hyde, the author of this post, on Twitter. Email him here.

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DISCUSSION

Desu-San-Desu

I'm so glad I've always bought old and used and thus have enjoyed the freedom to do whatever the hell I want to do to my car.

I just picked up a free non-running 1989 Audi 80 quattro as a parts car for my 1991 80 quattro. I've pretty summarily taken what I need off of it, leaving a perfectly good chassis, seats, transmission and AWD system. It's missing a couple body panels and most of the engine.

Know what else I've got? A 1994 Subaru Legacy AWD station wagon with a bent frame, shot transmission and enough rust on the body to pretend it just came back from a nice Sunday drive on mars. And a perfectly good, strong-running engine.

Oh, and a friend with a machine shop for making custom engine mounts and bell housing adapters. Who is also a 24-hours of Lemons fan.

Many many many many many many many warranties would be nigh voided were these cars new.

In my opinion, warranties do naught but cockblock potential students of hooning and mechanical awesomeness.

"Oh my god! That is epic! I would love to do it, but...it would void my warranty..."

If any of my previous cars had never had warranties, I'd probably still not even know how to change a tire. Warranties create timidity and co-dependence in otherwise potential Jalops and car enthusiasts. Are warranties good for people who merely want to commute in their beige little toaster?

Yes. Because those people aren't enthusiasts. They have no interest in freeing up extra ponies by helping the car breathe better, or getting a higher torque curve by re-lobing the cam. They could care less about the weight balance or the torsion chassis stiffness or the fact that their goddamned headlights are aimed into oncoming traffic. And it's these people, the automotively illiterate, who need a warranty. They rely on it to safe them from their own passive ignorance and laziness.

But what about those who DO care? A cold-air intake is one of those things that is priced so effectively it's nearly free horsepower. A new exhaust? Sounds better and adds power at a reasonable price. Intercooler? Awesome. More power, better reliability. Adding a turbo? Sweet. Gobs of new power and better gas mileage. Tuned on a dyno? Very little work on your part to make your car all it can be. Do you know what else all of these things are?

Learning experiences. Education. Wisdom. The building blocks of becoming a true petrolhead and future Jalop. Toying with your car bonds you to that car. Emotionally and intellectually. It helps you become intimately familiar with what your car is and what it can and cannot do. If these truck owners had shown the initiative to just tinker a bit, they would have known that their frames had an inherent weakness before testing its limits blindly.

And if they weren't so co-dependent on their warranties, they could have fixed that weakness. They could have reinforced the frame right there for relatively cheap. And with that the would gain not only a better understanding of what makes their truck tick, along with confidence in it's abilities and the piece of mind that at least that part of their truck is up to the task at hand because they personally made damned sure of it.

I honestly believe that when people quit being enslaved by their warranties and allow themselves the freedom to customize and tune and tinker and play with their cars, it not only teaches them about their cars and all cars in general, it also make their lives easier and less stressful.

Wait, less stressful? Bu aren't warranties all about peace of mind and less stress? Yes. The same way abstinence is good for peace of mind about not having an STD or accidental pregnancy.

But so is responsible sex, except that's also fun as well as helping you be less stressed and have the peace of mind that hey, you are in fact capable to getting laid. The same way being a responsible car owner allows you peace of mind while also letting you have fun with your automotive ward.

Since you know how your car works and what's been done to it, when something goes wrong, instead of wondering what the mystery thing under the hood is doing and whether the magical almighty Warranty Gods will cover it, you instead pop the hood, pop open your Haynes/Chilton/Bentley manual and proceed to study the symptoms, diagnose the problem and, you know, do something about it. Not only do you save money by doing it yourself, you also get the peace of mind knowing that you can personally ensure that the problem is fixed, as well as be content in better knowing how to fix it next time. And if you must buy tools for the job, guess what:

They're you're tools. To keep. You own them. Forever. You don't have to pay each time they need to be used. You paid for them one time and every time after that, they're free to use for yourself. And you don't have to pay the dealership or service department triple-digit markups for work that, as an enthusiast, will do naught but enrich your own life and your own wallet.

I think warranties are the British Nannies of the automotive world. Yes, they're handy in a pinch when you've got to got out of town for a week and don't have the time or ability to watch your child (ie. car) for that period of time. But rely on the Nanny too much and eventually your 'child' will be too old for the Nanny to watch any longer and suddenly you're stuck with a burden that, while technically it is yours, you don't know the first damned thing about it or how to take care of it.

Except if nannies were actually like warranties, if at any point you decided to be a responsible, loving parent and take your child out for a fun day at the park or clothes shopping or to get a haircut, or hell, even to drop them off at school yourself, you would from that day forth no longer be allowed to ever hire that nanny again.

In my personal opinion...fuck the Nanny and do whatever you want to your car. It is yours, after all.