Shaky Jake
I have a '96 Ford Ranger pickup with a pretty badly oxidized black paintjob. The truck really needs new paint, but that just isn't in the financial cards at present. The truck is basically a driver, but I've lowered it and shaved all the emblems. I was looking through some old Hot Rod, Car Craft, and Rod & Custom magazines that my dad had in my grandparents' attic. I noticed some really neat custom '53-'56 Ford F-100 pickups. Many of the trucks had elaborate pinstriping. Some of the designs looked like animals. In fact, one truck was called "The Wildkat," and it had a pinstriped design resembling some type of jungle cat. My high school football team was called the Wildcats, so that idea really appealed to me. That got me to thinking about a way to personalize my Ranger without the cost of a new paintjob. I could get some steel wheels and paint or powdercoat them red. Then, I could get some wide whitewall tires. I could put lots of white and/or red pinstriping on the hood, tailgate, and around the wheelwells, and I'd have an old-school-style truck for not too much money. My question is regarding my ability to do my own pinstriping. I've seen articles on pinstriping and ads for how-to videos, but I'm curious about the reality of a beginner being successful. At a car show, I saw a pinstriping tool demonstrated. The guy was just whipping out trick designs on paper, but do those tools work as well on metal? I know I could just pay to have the striping done by a pro, but I'd like to do as much of this project by myself as possible. I also think it would be way cool if I could say I did my own pinstriping. I'd greatly appreciate your input.
Jacob Johnson
via e-mail

We like your idea of giving your Ranger an old-school custom look on a budget. Theoretically, you could do your own pinstriping. Realistically, you could end up with a very amateur job. Our suggestion is to try pinstriping on an old hood or fender (body shops often discard fenders and hoods that are only marginally damaged) before committing to striping your truck. We've watched many pro stripers ply their craft. It looks easy when they do it. We wanted to be the next Von Dutch, so we bought some paint and pinstriping brushes and tried our hand at it. Unfortunately, our hand was way too shaky. The sad news about pinstriping is that it really helps to have some natural talent and above-average hand-to-eye coordination. Pinstriping is the least expensive custom painting you can try. You can buy a can of One-Shot Striping Enamel (the industry standard) and a couple brushes for less than 50 dollars. One-Shot costs approximately $10-15, depending on the color, for an 8-ounce can. Striping brushes generally fall into the same price range. You should get some enamel reducer for paint thinning and general cleanup. Masking tape for guidelines is nice but not mandatory. A couple keys to successful pinstriping are properly loading the brush with paint and applying consistent pressure to the bristles as you pull the line. That consistent pressure is what keeps the stripe width uniform. You can use tape or inexpensive magnetic guide strips to guide your hand on straight lines. Complex designs depend on using your free hand as a support. When we tried to stripe we couldn't master pulling uniform-width lines. Our brother-in-law was watching and wanted to try it. He pulled beautiful lines right off the bat. He was a natural, but as a dentist he has superior hand-to-eye coordination and fine motor skills. We also tried one of those "precision" striping tools. We had more trouble with the tool than striping freehand. We couldn't get the paint consistency right. It was either too thin and ran or too thick and didn't flow right. We also got lots of little marks from the wheel that distributes the paint. We absolutely couldn't conquer curved lines. We did have a truck striped by a painter who used a striping tool. He did a beautiful job, but we suspect he could have done equally well with a brush. An excellent source for pinstriping supplies and instruction aids is the Eastwood Automotive tool catalog, 2263 Shoemaker Rd., Pottstown, PA 19464, (800) 345-1178, www.eastwood.com. Eastwood's catalog has several pages devoted to pinstriping paint, brushes, books, and instructional videos. One of the best things about trying pinstriping is that striping enamel is very slow drying. That means you can easily wipe off mistakes. Try striping. You may be terrible or you may uncover a hidden talent.

Heads or Tails
Please settle a bet I have with a friend. We can't agree on whether it's better to put two more worn tires on the front or back of a truck. In our hypothetical case, one pair of tires has 80 percent tread and the other pair has 30 percent tread. Also, does it matter if one rear tire is more worn than the other as to which side it should be on? Thanks.
Troy Warner
via e-mail

The ideal answer is to have good tires on all four corners. If new tires are bought at the same time and rotated according to the manufacturer's recommendations, wear should be approximately equal. We know that people sometimes buy only two tires at a time. At the risk of sounding like a politician, there are two schools of thought on where to place the best tires. The old standby answer was to put the best tires on the rear axle for better traction. Lately, more emphasis has been on putting the best tires on the front, because these are the tires that steer, and front brakes (and tires) provide more stopping power than rear brakes. Given that logic, our vote is to put the best tires on the front. In the case of unequal rear tires, we'd place the better tire on the right side unless the vehicle has Posi-traction. In non-posi vehicles, more torque goes to the right side.