The 6 Most Effective Upgrades on My Highly Modified Truck
I added comfort, safety, convenience, and cold drinks with these unexpected additions. Here's how you can, too.
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I see my pickup truck—a 2021 Ford Ranger—as the ultimate outdoor lifestyle enabler. It’s one tool I can always count on to get me, my dogs, my wife, and our stuff to where we want to go. With it, I have a comfortable place to sleep, change clothes, or get work done, no matter the weather. And using my Ranger as a base camp means I can leave the crowds behind—often far behind. After one year of ownership, and 10,000 miles, these are the favorite changes I’ve made.
Old Man Emu BP-51 Suspension System
Last May, I joined a few friends for a camping trip on the north rim of the Grand Canyon. Taking the 13-hour, scenic, two-lane route from my home in Bozeman, Montana, down to St. George, Utah, I cruised comfortably—even across the often broken pavement—and tackled high-speed corners with safe, predictable handling, even though my truck is lifted about 4.5 inches between the suspension and tires.
And the same merits remained true off-road. Day-long drives across rutted, rocky tracks overheated my friends’ name brand shocks, and even broke components of their expensive, custom suspension systems. But no such problems for me, since every part of BP-51 was developed as a cohesive whole through real world testing on each vehicle it’s designed for. Thanks to weather-resistant materials and long, 50,000-mile service intervals, it’s the gift that keeps on giving. After days of dust, my friends’ trucks were all squeaks and rattles. But I drove another 13 hours home from the trip, then put a full summer’s worth of use on mine, and its suspension is still totally silent.
Other drawer options may be made from high-end cabinetry wood, and custom-fit solutions may take better advantage of every square inch available inside your truck bed, but Decked’s recycled high density polyethylene material is utterly indestructible. Plus, the brand’s expansive ecosystem of equally practical accessories more than makes up for any volume its drawers leave unused.
Decked’s D-Boxes and Crossboxes, for example, exactly fit the drawers’ dimensions, provide a convenient top-carry handle so you can easily lift them in and out—even when loaded with heavy gear—and the O-ring gasket installed in the lid makes them just as practical to use outside the drawers as it does in their weather-resistant confines.
I recently added the new SeaDek traction pad to the top of the drawer’s totally flat load surface (by covering the wheel arches, the drawers actually make it easier to carry wide cargo). SeaDek is an adhesive-backed closed cell foam pad that provides cushion and traction. Since it’s designed for marine environments (think: boat decks), it’s as rugged as the drawers themselves. My dogs can now ride back there more comfortably and more securely, and it also provides a nice place for bare feet when my wife and I are standing up inside our GoFastCamper.
Ford Performance Tune and Magnaflow Exhaust
While the 10R80 ten-speed automatic transmission the Ranger shares with the Ford F-150 is widely accepted as the best truck gearbox out there, its mechanical effectiveness can be limited by its software programming. Facing pressure to meet ever-tightening Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards, and to advertise the most efficient numbers, Ford leaned toward economy in the Ranger’s programming, at the expense of drivability.
Adding big tires like mine reduces the transmission’s effective gearing, exacerbating the problem. The transmission is constantly fighting to get into tenth gear as early as possible, which the driver then has to counteract by using more throttle than would otherwise be necessary. Driving becomes frustrating, and the truck isn’t able to operate as efficiently as possible. Built like you see it here, before adding the tune, my real world average fuel economy fell to just 15 MPG.
By re-programming the transmission to prioritize responsiveness, and setting the engine up to run 91 rather than 87 octane fuel, the Ford Performance tune cures the Ranger’s transmission woes and adds 45 horsepower and 65 pound-feet of torque. That extra performance means I use less throttle overall, so I’m actually able to spend at least twice the time in tenth gear, and that’s improved my average fuel economy to over 17 MPG.
Turbocharged engines like the one in the Ranger really benefit from additional air flow. The tune includes a less restrictive K&N air filter, improving the intake side of the equation, but does nothing for the exhaust side. There, I added a three-inch, stainless steel exhaust system made by Magnaflow. Running from the catalytic converter rearwards, it retains all the vehicles’ standard emissions equipment, and while it makes the exhaust note a little lower, it doesn’t increase its volume. More importantly, by reducing restriction on exhaust gas flow, it’s helping me take full advantage of the tune’s extra performance and fuel economy.
Power Tank and Indeflate Two Hose
Off-road, you need to drop your tire pressures to increase traction and improve ride quality. Of course, that means you need to increase them when you return to pavement. Because I run heavy LT tires, I’m reducing pressures to 17 PSI off-road, and running 40 PSI back on the street. Inside a 285/75-17 tire, that’s a lot of air.
To save time, I’m running a compressed CO2 tank rather than a compressor, and using an inflation-deflation tool that doesn’t require me to remove my valve cores.
The 15-pound Power Tank holds enough CO2 to air up all four of my big all-terrains 30 times before it needs a refill, and it inflates all four tires in just 36 seconds thanks to a high-pressure air tank and its accompanying fittings. Why CO2? It’s widely and cheaply available at any welding shop, and it’s an inert gas that won’t add fuel to a fire. CO2 only costs about 8 cents per pound, but fill-up prices vary widely, depending on shop charges. I’ve paid as little as $5, and as much as $40.
Do you need a tank this big? My swingout tire carrier gives me a great place to carry it, and I appreciate the large volume on longer trips and for helping friends who need it. Most people will find a ten-pound tank easier to store.
By simply clipping to the valve stem on two tires at once, the Indeflate matches the deflation speed of a valve core removal tool, with much less hassle. It also balances pressures across the axles while inflating, which on big tires like these, helps make on-road handling much more predictable.
Dometic CFX3 35 Refrigerator and PLB40 Battery
Twelve volt fridge-freezers like my Dometic deliver less external size at a given volume than rotomolded coolers. They also reliably maintain a set temperature, which helps keep your food safe.
While its 35-liter capacity isn’t large enough to take my family camping for more than a single night (my dogs alone consume four pounds of raw chicken every day), it does fit behind the front seats, lengthwise, and operates with extreme efficiency. Strapped down to my Goose Gear rear seat delete, it’s easily removable, so on long trips I can still devote that entire space to dogs, and carry a 95-liter, two-compartment CFX3 in my bed.
I run the CFX3 35 using Dometic’s PLB40 battery, plugged into a 12-volt auxiliary socket in the dash. So far, I’ve managed to leave the fridge set at 34 degrees for up to five days in summer heat, without driving. Because the PLB40 only draws power when the engine is running, I don’t have to worry about depleting my starter battery, or installing a complicated, expensive dual battery setup under the hood.
What do I use the fridge for? Visiting a hot spring the other day with friends, it hauled a picnic lunch, two bottles of champagne, and a six-pack of beer. Driving around to various shoots and meetings and activities, I use it to carry a healthy lunch, and a variety of snack bars, iced coffees, and cans of coconut water. Running errands, it means I can buy ice cream or meat at the grocery store without making that my last stop for the day. And I do all that without having to worry about buying ice or soaking food with meltwater. The sure temperature means I can bring food home from camping trips without throwing it out.
Lightforce Rok 20 and 40 Work Lights
Powerful driving lights mounted on your front bumper increase safety by helping you see farther down the road at night. But they can’t help you see what’s to your sides or rear. Enter these work lights, which I mounted to the sides and rear of my GoFastCamper.
Operated by a set of Lightforce switches that integrate seamlessly with the Ranger’s dashboard, the Rok work lights provide a broad spread of flood light right where I need it when negotiating tight squeezes, or backing up after dark. They also allow me to see house numbers on dark streets, illuminate an entire campsite, and help me to easily fix a flat tire or hook up a trailer without a headlamp.
An afternoon rafting trip ran three hours longer than expected a couple weeks ago when we faced a strong headwind, which meant I had to back a trailer down a tight, twisty boat ramp, and load the raft onto it after dark. Due to spring flooding, that ramp and the shores of the Yellowstone River were partially washed out and strewn with boulders. But with two Rok 20s mounted high up on the back of my truck, my family and I were able to see what we were doing. Those, plus all the other modifications listed here, meant we also had fresh food for dinner, an easy comfortable drive, and saw no loss in fuel economy while towing the raft home over a mountain pass later that night.