Top 5 Truck Killers on a Typical Ranch

By: Molly Edmonds

Image Gallery: Trucks Come rain, sleet or snow, a ranch truck has to get the job done. See more pictures of trucks.
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As the old saying goes, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. And when a rancher looks at his truck, he is probably not dwelling much on the outer beauty of the vehicle. That's because ranch trucks take a lot of abuse in the course of a day's chores. The truck will get dinged and dirty beyond recognition. But what the rancher will care about is the truck's inner beauty; that is, how well it can withstand its grueling tasks without breaking down or dying.

Auto manufacturers work to ensure that ranchers see nothing but a beautiful workhorse when they look at a potential truck. The trucks undergo extensive torture testing to ensure they're ready for life on a ranch. What are the top 5 obstacles that the truck must be prepared to endure?


5: Weather

Unlike schoolchildren, ranch trucks don't get a day off for inclement weather. They have to be ready to go for upwards of 12 hours, even in conditions that would strain other vehicles. And depending on the ranch's location, trucks may have to endure both chilly morning temperatures and astronomically high temperatures by the afternoon. Both extremes compromise a truck's performance. Cold weather strains the vehicle's battery and affects the consistency of motor oil, making the truck difficult to start. Overheating, though, represents a greater challenge to engine components. High temperatures can cause the water within the engine to evaporate, while humidity can cause it to swell, blocking much-needed oxygen from the engine. Any of these conditions could leave a rancher stranded far from the homestead.


4: Heavy Loads

The load's not too heavy for these kids to sneak a ride.
The load's not too heavy for these kids to sneak a ride.
Ralf Nau/Lifesize/Getty Images

Ranchers have to haul a variety of things, including cattle, cleared brush and hay. Trucks come with certain load capacities, which means that they can safely haul a certain weight without compromising the vehicle. However, few ranchers travel with a scale, and they're more likely to fill a truck bed or a towed trailer until it's full. That means many trucks must travel long distances with over-capacity loads behind them, which can tax the engine, transmission and suspension. A heavy load could also put cracks in the structural frame of a truck. Ranchers should be particularly mindful of heavy trailers attached to the back of their trucks; such movable loads present special challenges to the truck's steering and suspension.


3: Improper Maintenance

As we've mentioned, ranch trucks aren't known for looking pretty, and few ranch hands have the extra time to wash down a dirty truck. But these trucks do have important maintenance needs, and without adequate tender loving care, they probably won't make it very long. When you stress every part of a truck the way ranchers do, you have to be ready to pony up for new parts on a regular basis, such as tires, clutches and filters. Skipping an oil change is a huge no-no, and the engine needs regular cleaning. If the ranch is miles from the nearest town, ranchers may take on the task of maintaining the vehicle themselves. With no disrespect to ranchers, an inexperienced, amateur mechanic could inadvertently shorten the life of a good truck.


2: Off-roading

Note the lack of pavement in this picture.
Note the lack of pavement in this picture.
Thinkstock/Comstock Images/Getty Images

A ranch truck spends very little of its driving life on a paved road; instead, ranchers must cover wide expanses of land on all types of terrain. On a typical ranch, there are all sorts of threats to a truck's tires and undercarriage. Trucks may have to traverse tall grasses or rocky patches. They may have to cross sand pits or pools of standing water. All the while, they must dodge scattered stumps, sticks and rocks. Ruts that could flatten a tire or trap a truck abound. A ranch, in other words, is littered with landmines that can take a truck down. And we haven't even gotten to the dirty and muddy terrain a truck must cover -- that subject deserves its own page.


1: Dirt and Mud

Even if your truck avoids the obstacles listed on the last page, there's one thing it won't be able to avoid on a typical ranch: dirt. Dirt is everywhere, and it will get inside a truck in places you didn't think dirt could go. When rain turns the dirt to mud, it does the same thing. That's why regular maintenance is so important; dirty engines and air filters will ruin a truck's performance. Dirt roads also frequently become washboard roads, which contain lots of little bumps and ridges. These types of road conditions really stress a truck's suspension system and tires. When the truck stops handling well, it's time for the rancher to seek a mechanic.

For more on ranch trucks and the conditions they endure, see the links on the next page.


Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

  • Deaton, Jamie Page. "How Ranch Trucks Work." HowStuffWorks. (Jan. 21, 2010)
  • Head, Calin. "Truck Suspension Basics." Sport Truck. (Jan. 21, 2010)
  • Hough, Harold "Dirt roads, washboards, and dust control." Miners News. February/March 2007. (Jan. 21, 2010)
  • National Ranching Heritage Center. Texas Tech University. (Jan. 21, 2010)
  • Ranch Hand. (Jan. 21, 2010)
  • "Tundra Deconstructed." Saatchi & Saatchi.