Fall’s the time of year that SUVs and trucks hit the road as rolling food and beverage containers.

It’s tailgating time again in South Carolina (and most everywhere else nationwide).

That means prepping for college or pro football games on Saturdays, Sundays and perhaps a few Thursdays. The more cosmopolitan types may throw in a “futbol” (soccer) match now and then.

Indeed, the vehicle carrying hot wings, cold cuts and liquid refreshments one minute and serving as an impromptu snack table the next must be properly conditioned for the rigors of the tailgate party down South.

Barbecuing isn’t for the faint hearted.

“We have a manager who does a lot of tailgating,” said Richard Cooper, vice president and new car manager with Jones Ford. “He has an F-150 and his wife an Expedition. He takes the cooler, gas grill, boom box.”

According to Cooper, three Fords stand out as tailgate troopers: the Expedition SUV, F-150 pickup and the Flex crossover.

The manufacturer took tailgating into account when designing the 2014 Flex (Models are on order at Jones Ford).

A tailgating favorite is sitting on the back bumper or lift gate to eat, drink and socialize. The Flex offers an optional third row seat that faces rearward “just for occasions like that,” Cooper said.

On certain 2014 Flex trims, the carmaker supplies “1-Touch PowerFold & Tumble 3rd Row” seating with a fold flat bench, he said. The design makes it easier to retool the cargo area on the fly, from using the back seats for road tripping, to laying the seats flat for handling food dishes, to clearing out space post-game for carting accessories home.

“That’s new. I had a (customer) who wanted it,” he said.

Most any vehicle can be a road warrior, although some are more fit than others. Cooper recommends “something with a rear hatch, rather than operating out of a trunk. Everything sits down in a trunk. Something spills,” he said, and it can create a mess.

Tailgating may reach its peak during football season, but the practice isn’t so intoxicating as to make families run out and buy a vehicle solely for its food- and drink-hauling prowess.

“I’ve not noticed people (buying) specific for tailgating,” Cooper said, nor has he seen a surge in purchases just before football season starts.

At the same time, trucks are the workhorses of tailgate excursions, and fall “is when a lot of trucks are sold,” he said. The overlapping truck and tailgate blitz periods aren’t lost on manufacturers. Ford just rolled out its Great American Tailgate Party Aug. 23-Sept. 9 in which dealers hold barbecues and similar tailgate-friendly events.

Greg Messenger, general manager at Dick Smith Chevrolet in Moncks Corner, said bigger is generally better for hauling food stuffs, flatware and cookers many miles.

“Probably our big sport utilities are fan favorites,” he said. SUVs offer rear hatches and plenty of cargo space. They typically claim electronic features that make it easier, say, to hook up a flat-screen television.

“Some of our crossovers, like the Traverse, have 12 volt plugins,” he said.

Messenger offered another possibility for the tailgate hobbyist.

“If you are really hard core, (choose) pickup trucks: The ones that carry grills into games,” he said.

Tailgaters don’t impulse-buy based on the time of year, Messenger said. “I’ve never noticed a (sales) uptick right before football season.” But that doesn’t mean hard core fans have ignored the topic.

Messenger recalls customers at various times of the year saying, “‘This would be great for tailgating.’

“It’s always in the back of their minds, right?”

In the past year, surveys by online automotive websites have tapped certain SUVs and trucks as top tailgating brands.

Kelley Blue Book’s kbb.com website last September listed its top 10 tailgating vehicles in order. Then earlier this month, Edmunds.com automotive site released its picks.

They are:


1. Ram 1500

2. F-150

3. Honda Ridgeline

4. GMC Yukon

5. Flex

6. Toyota 4Runner

7. Mitsubishi Outlander

8. Mazda CX-5

9. Kia Soul

10. Mercedes-Benz G-Class.


1. Flex

2. Ridgeline

3. Soul

4. Land Rover Range Rover

5. Lincoln MKT

6. Mercedes-Benz E-class wagon

7. Outlander

8. Ram 1500

9. Scion xB

10. 4Runner.

If a new vehicle isn’t in the cards, automotive suppliers and retailers offer equipment to assist the tailgating buff.

Peak Electronics, for one, can fix up tailgating aficionados with mobile power outlets. “Not close to a power outlet? No worries,” it said. According to Peak Electronics, the outlets convert vehicle power into 110/120 AC power to juice up “cell phones, radios, televisions, grills and all other tailgating necessities.”

Rechargeable spotlights represent another Peak gadget. “Later games mean later tailgate parties,” the company said. A lit-up tailgating site allows family and friends to safely enjoy the game as well as makes it “so you can see the grill and avoid burning the burgers,” Peak quipped.

Reach Jim Parker at 937-5542 or jparker@postandcourier.com.