Whether it's the mirror, grill, tailgate or bumper, most trucks today have some customization. The Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) estimates that Americans spend as much as $1,800 customizing their pickup trucks. Why? Trucks are inherently utilitarian vehicles in need of sprucing up.
One of the more common accessories truck owners need is secure storage space, so many truck owners add a truck box to hold tools. Truck boxes come in a variety of sizes, colors and styles, and are useful for horse owners to store just about anything. Trailer space always seems tight, so a truck box can hold brushes, horse blankets for a sudden change in the weather, a first aid kit, or even some saddle pads.
Behind-the-cab locking toolboxes sold at auto parts stores work well for this purpose. Instead of toolboxes, think of them as tack trunks. They have built-in storage trays for easy access to brushes and hoof picks and come in multiple sizes and materials, from aluminum to weatherproof plastic. Some are shallow and easily removable. Others are more permanent.
Note that boxes placed behind the cab might be hard to get into if you're short and/or your truck is high off the ground. A new style attaches to the tailgate and swings out (called Swingbox). While that's highly convenient and accessible, you can't get into it if you have a gooseneck trailer hitched up (although it doesn't interfere with the hitch itself).
The 411 on Truck Accessories
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Before you install your box, though, you'll need a bed liner. The most popular truck accessory, according to SEMA, a bed liner protects the bed from scratches and dents. Truck manufacturers offer bed liners as an option on new models, but you can install your own using a do-it-yourself paint-on kit called Herculiner ($129.00). Another option is to buy your bed liner from Dualcomp and install it yourself in five minutes ($308 for long-beds, not including shipping).
A couple of accessories make barn chores a cinch. Moving hay is only a matter of flipping a switch and directing a forklift-style prong to lift bales. The Perry Company makes a fork attachment capable of lifting a 2,000-pound round bale.
If you use your truck for loading and dumping manure, consider a more drastic modification - having your bed converted to a hydraulic dump truck. Dump-Pro inserts into the truck bed in minutes, according to the company (www.dump-pro.com). No more shoveling or pitch forking manure into the dumpsite.
Several companies now make hydraulic tailgates that assist with loading heavy items onto the bed. One of the most popular is the Tommy Gate. The tailgate opens and lowers to the ground. Slide on your trunk, hay bales or other heavy item, lift the tailgate, and slide the load onto the bed.
Convenience and Safety
Let's face it: Trucks are not made for short people, or those who have a bit of arthritis in the knees. SEMA says that second to bed liners, the other hot accessory in the truck aftermarket world is the running board or attachable step. Some companies also make handles for the exterior so that you can hoist yourself in.
Running boards, some of which come with lighting, can cost anywhere from $100 to $600 or more. For the ultra deluxe model, PowerStep is a nifty retractable running board that automatically slides out from under the truck when the door opens ($1,250).
Rearview visibility is the biggest safety concern for horse-trailer haulers. Add-on mirrors aren't an option - they're a necessity. They can be as small and cheap as a stick-on disk to as complex as a power mirror that extends at the push of a button, is heated, and has a directional signal (Powervision, around $500, depending on model and options). A good compromise is a CIPA Towing Mirror kit, which slips on your regular truck mirror but adds several additional inches of reflective capability. It costs about $70.
Gas Mileage Goodies
In the days of gas at $2 or more a gallon, getting the most out of each tank is major concern for anyone who drives a truck. Improving miles per gallon, even just a little, can result in enormous savings. Several devices and truck accessories help the cause.
Consider improving your aerodynamics. When you're driving, air flows over your hood and cab, and down into the bed where, if you have a solid tailgate, it swirls around and creates drag. A solid tonneau cover that can easily be lifted off will flatten the airflow. A net or mesh tailgate allows the air to simply flow out the back end of the truck.
Engine changes you can make to improve your gas mileage include ignition box and exhaust modifications. Your local mechanic or auto-parts dealer is usually the best source of information for these improvements.
Of course, the ultimate in fuel efficiency is to trade in the gas-guzzler for a hybrid or dual fuel vehicle. GMC Sierra and Chevy Silverado are the first full-size pickups to offer hybrid options. Other manufacturers will undoubtedly follow, given the success of these two models, which were introduced in 2004. Most truck manufacturers now make dual fuel (ethanol/gasoline, compressed natural gas, or biodiesel) for their fleet lines.
For about $500 installed, you can watch your horses' every move while you're hauling. Video monitoring systems have become so advanced that they even offer color LCD and wireless reception. Most systems include a miniature camera, mounting bracket, color or black and white monitor, a cigarette lighter and/or AC/DC power adapter, and 30 feet of video/power cable.
We highly recommend not using your cell phone while driving, even if you have a hands-free option. Studies show that talking on the phone while driving, even on a hands-free device, causes many accidents. But if you must, consider a hands-free device that plugs into your radio, allowing you to talk as if you're on a speaker phone. These setups only work with Bluetooth-enabled cell phones, for now. Jabra makes a car-phone/speaker phone. Simply put the cell phone in the plug and talk.
You can find many hands-free car accessories at www.cellularaccessories.com. However, the best safety tip of all is to pull over in a safe place before making a call.
The Fun Stuff
As horse owners, we take care to assure our horses always look sharp, so why not our trucks? How to Custom Paint Damn Near Anything, written by the Discovery Channel's Monster Garage folks, can guide you on everything from pinstriping so that your truck matches your trailer to elaborate murals on your hood or truck doors.
Not a do-it-yourselfer? Most towns have custom paint shops with dedicated artists who'll be happy to embellish your ride.
You can also customize your tailgate. Cowboy Creations (www.cowboycreations.com) will weld a custom design, with your horseback riding discipline, your brand, or other design featured in the metal work.
And then there are the little things. Key chains in the shape of saddles and bits, or a small, plush horse to stand guard on the dashboard can spruce up even the plainest truck. Those are easy to find online at such places as www.statelinetack.com. Dressage extensions (www.dressageextensions.com) has a wide selection of interesting key chains, as well as magnetic horse silhouettes for your bumper or doors.