What's your take on sandbags in the beds of pickups to improve handling and stability?

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Feb 01, 2002

Dear Tom and Ray:

I own a 1998 Ford Ranger regular-cab truck. My folks, who own an earlier-model Ranger, tell me that my truck will drive better if I put a sandbag or two in the bed to add weight. They say it helps prevent rear-wheel spin and makes the truck handle better. They live in the snow belt, and I live in Texas, where snow and ice are rare. But my folks still insist that the sandbag trick will improve my handling on both rainy days and sunny days. My roommate, who owns a 1996 Ranger, says my folks and I are a bunch of idiots, and if we put sand in the back, we might as well bury our silly heads in it. What's the deal? -- Stephen

TOM: I think your roommate is just ticked off about the jackhammering-as-cathartic-therapy you practice while he's trying to sleep, Stephen

RAY: Your folks are right. Pickup trucks are very weird vehicles. Think about it. Most of the time, they have absolutely no weight in the back. Everything -- you, your passengers, the engine -- is up front. That in itself makes for very weird handling.

TOM: But then add to that extremely stiff, heavy-duty springs in the back. They have to be stiff enough to support hundreds of pounds of stuff if you decide to load up the bed.

RAY: So what's the result? When the bed is empty, the rear end of your pickup truck tends to bounce all over the road and spin its wheels at the slightest provocation.

TOM: And there's not much the manufacturer can do about it. If the manufacturer adds weight to the back, that eats into the payload you're able to carry. The weight would also reduce your gas mileage and would eat into performance.

RAY: Of course, if your bed is empty anyway, you probably don't care about payload. And the tiny penalty you pay in mileage and performance might be well worth the improvement you get in handling and traction.

TOM: And you will feel an improvement. With three or four bags of sand all the way in the back, the truck will be balanced better when cornering, and you'll get less bouncing around and improved traction in the rain.

RAY: So tell your roommate that, despite his advice, you WILL be looking for a few hundred pounds of dead weight to put in the back of your pickup. Then ask him if he's available.

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