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Bushwacker Street Flares

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Pickup trucks are like sports cars without a cloth top – really, really big sports cars. Unless you actually bought a truck to get some work done, you’ll probably want to indulge the inner sports car in yours. Some tasteful customization will be called for.

This having been said, there’s an ill-defined boundary between a few artful touches of plastic and steel, and what looks like the aftermath of an all-you-can-eat buffet at a local accessory shop.

Never attach anything to your truck bearing the chromed silhouette of a reclining woman.

Our new Ford F-150 came equipped with enough technology to reach most of the way into low earth orbit, but its exterior was somewhat unadventurous. Perhaps more to point, its exterior lacked the finish protection that a modest degree of customization could have afforded it.

It needed wheel flares.

Wheel flares are plastic crescents that attach to the inner surface of the wheel wells of a pickup truck. They serve to deflect stones, mud and ill-fated small rodents that would otherwise be thrown up by your tires and allowed to beat up your paint. Correctly chosen and competently installed, they can look seriously cool, too.

Wheel flares are typically a lot more durable than the paint they protect, and if a your truck does encounter airborne debris sufficiently dense and energetic to damage a flare – depleted uranium, perhaps, or the core of a collapsed supernova that someone’s inconsiderately left on the road – it’s a lot cheaper to replace a hundred-dollar flare than a thirty-thousand-dollar truck.

The historical downside of wheel flares is that until recently they were almost all designed by sadistic, sociopathic lesser primates envious of those of us with opposable thumbs and more than one eyebrow. Aftermarket flares rarely fit correctly without substantial modifications, and completing their installation typically involved drilling more holes in your vehicle than most elected officials have in their alibis.

Some of them looked pretty lame even when you did get them attached.

Bushwacker’s Street Flares cost somewhat more than generic aftermarket flares, but they’re worth beating up your credit card for. They’re carefully made for each truck they’re sold for, and they actually fit. They look like they rolled off the assembly line of whatever they’re attached to.

Perhaps more to the point, they don’t require that you drill any holes in the metal bits of your truck. At least, ours didn’t – I suspect that the installation details of these things vary considerably, depending upon the vehicle they’re attached to. Ours were a masterpiece of sneaky engineering that allowed the flares to attach themselves to the existing holes and protrusions of our truck.

There are several important considerations to scribble on PostIt notes and affix to your forehead if you’re considering springing for a set of wheel flares. To wit:

  • The Bushwaker flares are made of black plastic, and if you really want to, you can install them right out of the box. This will avail you of all the debris protection of wheel flares, but virtually none of their inherent coolness. It cost us a little over two hundred dollars to have a local body shop paint them to match the truck, and the result was easily worth the credit card damage and whatever unspeakable environmental consequences arose out of the paint.
  • You can have these things installed for you – the aforementioned body shop offered to install ours for 120 dollars. If you’re not unreasonably dangerous around hand tools, however, you can do them yourself. It took us most of an afternoon. The people who install truck toys for a living seem to have widely varying skill sets – if you bolt them on yourself, at least you’ll know they’ve been installed correctly. Discovering that this is not the case when one of them detaches itself at 80 miles per hour is distressing.
  • The prices for these flares appear somewhat variable, possibly based on market research that involved dice and a Ouija board. We first priced them here in Canada, where they cost about 750 dollars. Admittedly, that’s Canadian dollars, or what we like to refer to as “dollar-ettes.” This having been said, on the day we went shopping, the US exchange rate was just about par. Shopping several US on-line retailers was a lot more encouraging – we eventually bought them from AutoAnything, which was having a ten-percent discount sale at the time, and offered free shipping. The total damages was 364 dollars US. Be sure to shop around.

Installing a set of Bushwacker Street Flares is neither as terrifying as it could be or as easy as you might hope for. The instructions that accompany the flares consist of several sheets of laser-printed directions and some blurry pictures. They’re clearly intended for use by a professional installer – lay people may find themselves having to read some of the details twice.

As an aside, you can download the instructions for these flares as a PDF file from Bushwacker’s web page. This will let you see what you’ll be getting yourself into before it’s too late to change your mind. You can also print the PDF file – if you have a decent printer, you’ll probably find the results to be a lot more comprehensible than the printed instructions that accompany the flares.

Among the issues we encountered in installing the Bushwacker flares were:

  • You’ll need to remove the “christmas tree” fasteners that hold the existing rear stone deflectors on the truck – and the instructions lack any suggestion of how to do so. As it turns out, these things aren’t reused, and can be cut.
  • Seating the rubber gasket that edges the flares where they meet the fenders they’re bolted to is torturous until you notice the little white tool provided with the flares to handle this task. Scant mention of its function exists in the instructions.
  • Most of the mounting points for the flares are handled by “Tuflock” connectors, which are similar in concept to drywall plugs. In practice, they’re difficult to work with and prone to breaking while they’re being installed until you get a feel for how they behave. We snapped several of them along the learning curve. To their credit, Bushwacker couriered us a bag of replacement Tuflocks.
  • Bushwacker’s web page suggests that the flares can be installed without any drilling. The instructions for these flares illustrate a disembodied hand grasping a cordless drill, which seems to belie this claim. In fact, you will need to drill one hole for each of the front flares, but at least on our F-150, the holes were drilled into the polycarbonate front faring of the truck, not into a metal body panel. As such, drilling these holes won’t compromise the rust protection of your vehicle.

Nothing worth doing can be accomplished without some small lapse into profanity.

While more lucid instructions would have made installing the Bushwacker flares somewhat quicker and less likely to result in head-shaped dents in the garage walls, our flares looked stunning when tools had at last been downed amidst the gathering darkness. They’re subtle enough to make it initially unclear what’s been done to our truck to transform it into eye candy.

It’s probably worth noting that Bushwacker makes several other, more conspicuous flare styles, if subtlety doesn’t work for you. Their “Pocket Style” flares, for example, resemble the ears of a wooly mammoth, and will make even the tamest pickup look like an armored personnel carrier. Don’t go there without adult supervision.

The most notable aspect of the Bushwacker flares was the care that their manufacturer had expended to ensure that they really fit our truck, without the need for any additional filing, drilling, grinding or voiding of warrantees.

Honorable mention for this one goes to AutoAnything.com, which had the flares in stock and employed surprisingly knowledgeable phone staff to help us choose them. In the admittedly unlikely event that you find yourself anywhere near Bracebridge, Ontario with an unpainted set of wheel flares in your truck, Bracebridge Collision did an impeccable job painting ours, for ten dollars less than they quoted. Try not to step on the dog.