Mr. Picky on Fender Flares
Rant time! Okay, maybe not so much a rant as expressing an opinion parading as a pseudo-fact. Aftermarket fender flares for trucks. They are plastic attachments that emphasize the wheel openings in vehicle fenders. They’re fairly popular as a way to make one’s pickup look like an off-roading titan. They often look good. Sometimes they look bad. Really bad. I’d seen individual samples here and there, but whilst pigging out on a heavy-duty ice cream confection at Whippy Dip in Silver Lake, Michigan (which is not entirely unlike a pilgrimage to Mecca), I saw two pickups parked near each other that illustrated the far ends of the fender flare universe. I was motivated to take photos with my ever-present iPhone.
Now, you may not think that fender flares are worth writing a blog post about, and you’re right. I’ll give you that. It’s decidedly a waste of electrons, especially since half of my readers are of the female persuasion, and I have yet to discern the topic of fender flares when walking by any conversation on the street. But some things just need to be noted, and although this isn’t one of them, I’m writing about it as if it is. Personal quirk.
At any rate, the truck in the above photo has fender flares that work well visually, mainly since the truck is also wearing larger-diameter, wide tires which fill the space. Mind you, the resulting fender openings are no larger than stock. The needed extra clearance for turning the front tires is achieved with a frame lift. But visually, it works, especially since the replacement wheels have a ton of offset and push the tires further out. This is far from a good setup for longevity, but it looks nice.
The truck above is also a Chevy. Although the longer wheelbase (distance between the front and rear axles) exacerbates the problem, a shorter version would still make the tires look like little casters. Thus we learn that fender flares, in and of themselves, rarely improve looks on their own. Original equipment flares usually look fine, but this is because a stylist controlled the design and had some related factory equipment options he/she could also require as part of the mix. Above, the flares serve only to visually decrease the tire size, particularly since they, being black on a white vehicle, make the fender wheel opening look larger than they are. The extra fender width they provide is not used in any way, either. The vehicle’s owner probably thought that his purchase would make his plain-Jane white pickup look not quite so plain, and I wonder if he now considers them to be an improvement, now that they’re installed. I would like to think that they are adhered in place, with the screw heads being fake. Sheet metal screws bugger up both paint and zinc coatings, and on a white color, rust stains will one day show. If this is in fact a factory option, I’d be surprised and very disappointed at whoever gave the desperate production okay just to pocket another few bucks. In all, the end result of this mod is to make the onlooker remark that the wheels now look small, perhaps like a Hot Wheels toy. Swing and a miss, much like a plain old skinny-tired Plymouth Duster with stratospheric leaf spring mounts shoving the rear end ridiculously high into the air. Its owner thought it made his economy sedan look like a dragster. No one else in town shared that perception, and in Illinois, the sudden exposure of the car’s gas tank to collisions prompted laws to dictate bumper height limits. Sometimes you have to save people from themselves.
While I’m on a design rant, I might as well use up the last vehicle photo I’ve got and get it out of my system. Look at the Chevy Tahoe above. This is an SUV which is available in both 2WD and 4WD versions. Although most modern SUVs have relatively poor ground clearance in the front end, this one’s front end clearance is actually worse than the frame behind. (The black bars you see are optional steps to make passenger entry easier.) You kinda need that clearance for curbs and steep driveway aprons, if not on common camping trails where deep ruts and rocks live. Perhaps it’s for an aerodynamic improvement for highway fuel mileage, to which my reaction would be, “But it’s a utility vehicle, and should keep its clearance priorities, right?” The need to keep fleet fuel mileage averages up can be a cruel taskmaster. Anyway, I’d like a cogent explanation by the design team. There usually is one. Sometimes it makes a lot of sense, coming from an awareness of considerations which the average mortal is not privy to. Sometimes it’s just a management decision (or override) based on a perception that it just looks better or is more car-like.
After all, both reasons are why the modern crop of SUVs can honestly be mistaken for the station wagons of old. They still bear a few of the iconic SUV traits, now in vestigial form, as they evolve their way into becoming standard passenger cars. As real station wagons came to be considered corny and old-fashioned by both automotive writers and consumer fashionistas, they died out amidst yawns and ridicule. But now they have been dug back up and resurrected in several forms, becoming the hottest-selling segments in the passenger car market. A little taller, a tiny bit higher off the ground, and usually with an option providing 4-wheel drive in some form. We don’t call them by their purged name however, since that would prompt a defensive, insistent denial. That branch of evolution has been pronounced dead and gone. We proudly call them by their new names, SUVs and Crossovers. As everything, including pickup trucks, become more car-like and are actively promoted as being such, I wonder if a modular universal chassis will someday appear, with attachments to vary the functionality. I think that idea dates back to the 1940s, as far as I’m aware. But now I’m beginning to bore even myself, so I’ll quit here.