You know how you’re sitting around a camp fire after a long day on the trail, and as you recap the day’s events, the group comes up with all sorts of crazy inventions that would make the off-roading experience better? Maybe the ideas get wilder and more outlandish as the beverages continue to flow, and pretty soon you’ve concocted all sorts of overly complex solutions for relatively common, simple, and annoying trail-related problems. What about a retractable tailpipe to increase your rig’s departure angle? And how you all laughed, but in all actuality the guy sitting next to you really did smash the smithereens out of his tailpipe on that one technical section. Well, believe it or not, Ford has—in real life, no joke—filed a patent for said retractable tailpipe exhaust system. You and all your camping buddies deserve honorary patents for the idea.
Ford’s retractable tailpipe patent, originally reported on by CarBuzz, was filed in April 2020 but published in October 2021. As you can imagine, the patent outlines an overly intricate tailpipe assembly that sucks the tip in and out, transforming the traditionally less complex circular metal piece (that off-roaders have been know to hack off as their first off-road mod) into a science fair project of epic proportion. If complexity is your thing, then indulge on the fine print of the patent.
Check out the complexity of the project, as stated in the clear-as-mud patent abstract: ” The system comprises an exhaust tube mounted to an underbody of a vehicle, an exhaust tip slidably mounted to the exhaust tube, the exhaust tip having a plurality of extension shafts fixed on a second end, and an exhaust tip retract module positioned on the exhaust tube circumscribing an outer surface, the exhaust tip retract module having an actuator, a gear, and a plurality of bearings that mate with the plurality of extension shafts on the exhaust tip.”
Although we’re still trying to wholeheartedly embrace them, Ford’s retractable tailpipe must have its advantages. If nothing else, a now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t tailpipe is a great party trick; your friends will love it and thank you for introducing a feature they never knew they needed. For Ford’s tailpipes that exit out the back and under the bumper, retracting the tip would theoretically increase the departure angle. Instead of smashing or damaging the tailpipe, the bumper (or something else, like the hitch) would take the brunt of ground contact. That’s the why behind the patent. Anything that betters an off-road vehicle’s on-paper statistics (which include things like departure angle) is advantageous.
It seems logical that a retractable tailpipe could suffer when put to the test in the real world. A retracted exhaust tip might be protected from hitting the ground in certain extreme departure angle conditions, but what protects the whole mechanism from damage? It seems that the system would have to be insulated to some degree against rocks, water, mud, and debris to keep the sliding mechanism and electronics operational, which is a problem altogether separate from a physically damaged exhaust tip. We can’t help but fear that first encounter with thick sticky mud—the kind that binds indefinitely but manages to create a sand dune every time you park for the next year. And in the event of physical damage to the slide-ability of the system, would the tip still retract and extend correctly? And if not, what other related systems or modes would be affected? If, for example, the system engages when an off-road mode is selected, would a fault in the retractable tip trigger a wholesale fault for the off-road mode, leading to a loss of 4-Lo? Yes, there’s an exhaust tip that can get damaged, but now there’s also a ton of added complexity in an electronically activated, physically moving system—as if there aren’t enough of those on vehicles already.
A retractable tailpipe is certainly one solution to bashing the exhaust tip while some departure angle bragging rights—and maybe it kept a team of engineers entertained for a while—but is it the only solution? We doubt it. If the exhaust tip(s) get damaged and hinder the departure angle, why not route it anywhere but under the bumper, or tuck it up higher?
Easier said than done, perhaps, but other manufacturers have done it. Chevy’s new off-road truck, the 2022 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 ZR2, for example, tucks the exhaust up high, routes it on the driver side along the spare tire, and dumps it behind the bumper where the spare tire comes closest to the bumper. The spare tire hangs lower than the system, and the tail pipe does not interfere with the departure angle in any way. You could still lay the exhaust on a rock with a perfect hit, but more than likely the spare tire would take the brunt. You don’t see the exhaust system at all from the outside, and maybe that’s the “problem” with the ZR2 setup: people need to see a shiny exhaust tip.
The complexity of a retractable tailpipe system puts it all into perspective: Maybe a smashed exhaust tip isn’t so bad after all. Stay tuned for more details on this obscure Ford feature, if and when it ever becomes more than a patent. Like a turtle sucking in its head when it perceives danger, a retractable tailpipe is no laughing matter. Seriously.
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