November 13, 2019

Four by Four?

Was I sleeping or out of town when they changed the definition of the term “4×4”?

I first wondered about this when a few years ago I noticed an all-wheel drive, one-ton “dually” pick-up  with “4×4” painted on the flared rear fender that is so distinctive of the breed. At first I thought that I was mistaken or the owner had transplanted a fender from a different truck, but then I saw another one a few days later. Not long after that I noticed another manufacturer had it painted on the tailgate. Finally, the last of the three U.S. truck makers had followed suit with “4×4” on the fender. This is wrong.

“4×4” is an army term that means a four-wheeled vehicle with four-wheel drive, hence a “four by four.” There are millions of legitimate 4×4’s on the road, but they all have four, and only four, wheels. These one-ton, “dually” pick-ups have two wheels in the front and four in the back. That adds up to six, so they can’t be “four by” anything, they must be “six by” something. In the case of all wheel drive, they become “six by sixes” or more fondly, “six-by’s.” And by the way, they were six-by’s long before they were “duallys.”

Proof of this fact comes in the practice of referring to two wheel drive pickups as “4×2,” meaning four wheels with two wheel drive. If you enter a car dealership and ask for a “4×2,” you know what they’ll show you, but what if you ask for a “4×4”? How could anyone possibly show you a vehicle with 6 wheels and keep a straight face?

I know from experience that you don’t have to dig very deep into any major corporation before you find somebody who doesn’t have both oars in the water, but up until now it’s been fairly well hidden. Barring some notable exceptions, there has always been a collective intelligence that has prevented things like this. Whenever someone makes a suggestion that is not well thought out, there is usually at least one person in the organization that knows why it shouldn’t be done. This intelligence has always prevented this sort of gaffe from being painted on the sides of one hundred thousand trucks for the entire world to see.

This error has been adopted by all three of the major U.S. truck makers, ruining a hundred years of truck-making tradition.

What about the people who buy these trucks? What does it tell us about them?

Initially, you have to like them just because they want one of these honkin’ big trucks, but then you start to wonder. Why are they willing to tell the world they don’t know what “4×4” means? I personally would not buy one of these trucks (unless the dealer agreed to paint over the “4×4”), anymore than I would buy one that identified me as a member of Congress in the current political climate.

Three factions have to share the blame for this situation: Congress who abolished the draft and effectively broke the chain of passing this commonsense knowledge from one generation to the next through the camaraderie of sharing a ride in a six-by through a bug-infested Georgia swamp. The major corporations who have pushed the gray, (or balding), heads of reason into early retirement to make way for the younger, cheaper, engineers with their laptops, cell phones, and websites–a breed whose only experience with a truck was the rental, (probably a 6×4), they used to move from Southern California to Michigan. And we, as consumers, allowing such a corruption of a term that is so steeped in tradition.

If this is allowed to continue who knows what will be corrupted next?

We can stop it. Step one is: Don’t buy any vehicle that has something written on it that is not true. If you see one on the road or street, point and laugh (unless it has a gun rack). If a friend or relative comes to your house driving one, make them park at least a quarter of a mile away. If he’s come to help you move, however, just drape a blanket over the “4×4”; there’s no sense being fanatical about this.

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