The Ford Raptor might be the most over hyped vehicle ever built- hyped by people that have no idea what it really is. It is the first of its kind, a new breed of sport off roader and people often saw it as something it isn't- a trophy truck.
The Raptor is not a race vehicle. It is the first only factory built truck designed to go off road at high speeds, and as with all firsts it was met with some misunderstanding. The Raptor is a sports truck, not a race truck. It was built to go off road racing like a Porsche Cayman is built to go to Le Mans from the factory- it wasn't. It is extremely fun to go driving off road in a sporty manner, but if you push it too hard it will break. It is advertised to jump and take rough roads at speed, like Porsches are advertised as being able to corner at high speed. If you drive a Porsche around a unfamiliar track with your foot to the floor you don't blame Porsche when you end up in the tire barrier.
The perception problem people have is that compared to everything else on the road, the Raptor is a pretty extreme prerunner. It has nice suspension components, and it is so easy to drive at speed in the desert it makes you want to go faster and faster. It never feels like it is being abused, and that is part of the problem. You never know when you're approaching the limit until you've already passed it. Another problem is when owners that are new to off road driving try to push their trucks.
The Raptor is not a long travel truck, despite advertising and journalists saying it is. It's a mid-travel truck that has been set up very well by a team of professionals from Ford and Fox. The triple bypass dampers mean the truck rides smoother the faster it is driven, and it rides smoother over large bumps than small ones. This makes it very easy for inexperienced drivers to start over driving the truck. The truck has around 12" of travel, and at rest or driving down the road it sits in the middle of that travel. This allows the wheels to fall into dips, and rise over bumps. Remember the Raptor has 34.5" tires and only 6" of uptravel available when sizing obstacles in the road.
Dirt roads are unpredictable and hard to read unless you know what you're doing. Bumps and dips hide in certain light, so knowing the course you're on is very important. The Raptor is more than capable of completing the Baja 1000 or the Dakar rally in one piece and has done both. There is a reason trophy truck teams spend a week pre running the Baja 1000 course, marking obstacles and setting up their trucks for the course and then many of them don't finish the race. Off roading is hard on vehicles, and high speed off roading compounds that abuse so knowing where you are and what you're doing is very important to safely driving a truck like the Raptor at speed.
When the Raptor hit the streets in the middle of 2009, everyone loved it. It made truck people out of people that hate trucks. Nobody can deny the cool factor of the Raptor. Two years later, the bent frame scandal began. A company that specializes in Raptor aftermarket parts organized a "Raptor Run" that owners bought into and the course went from Barstow to Las Vegas on a power line access road. The Raptor is more than capable of driving this road, as is any 4x4 truck. It is long and remote, but easy to do. It is a good road to let the Raptor stretch its legs. The organizing company, pre ran the course the week before the run at high speed and bent the frame on their truck. They also had Lawrance off road GPS in their truck and were marking the course. They did not inform the Raptor owners they damaged their truck and did not give course maps out. They ran all the trucks at racing speed and advertised running at over 100 mph. The Raptor is electronically limited to 100 mph from the factory, so these trucks had modified ECUs that allowed them to go faster. None of the owners had been on the course before and they were being led down it at high speed with no course notes, no maps, and no communication between trucks.
Since this first run, changes have been made to how they are organized and no problems have occurred since.
Many Raptor had of aftermarket leaf spring packs, which made the ride softer but also made it easier to bottom out due to the softer spring rate. All trucks running aftermarket springs during the run bent their frame, and of the ones that didn't all were stock. The stock trucks that did bend their frame were much less severe than the modified trucks.
One of the owners that went on the run had this to say about it
If Ford fixes these, I will be surprised. Why? The trucks were driven past what they are capable of. You do not buy a GT500 and expect it to drive like a race car, why would you buy a Raptor and expect it to handle and take the abuse of a trophy truck?...While it was not a challenging route we took, we caught quite a bit of air, jumped the road, hit numerous G-Outs at faster than anything sensible, hit speeds off road in excess of 125mph (I did) and had a shit load of fun doing so. How were most of the bent frames caused? inherent weakness in the frame and over driving the truck. Is there mods to fix this for those of you who are scared? Yes. Drive slower in the desert and know the road you are driving.
What more can be said than if you drive off road irresponsibly, your truck is not going to look good at the end of the day. It doesn't matter if you're in a Raptor, a Jeep or a Trophy Truck that costs half a million dollars, has three feet of suspension travel, a chromemoly chassis and a helicopter chasing it. It doesn't matter how strong the frame is if the person behind the wheel doesn't know when to lift. And the Raptor has a very strong frame. It doesn't bend easily.
Jumping the Raptor isn't what bent the frames. The Raptor can fly high and far as long as the driver knows what he is doing and makes the landing, as proven here by a pro driver on a course designed for trucks.
Done right, the Raptor will happily fly all day long and then take you home in comfort, like a Porsche after a track day. If you land the jumps properly, that is. Jumping the trucks isn't how the famous Raptor Frame Scandal began. Hitting dirt kickers at speed is what bent those trucks, and it is far harsher on the truck than jumping it where the suspension is at full droop and all the available travel is there to slow the fall. Kickers on dirt roads are sharp rises, like curbs or speed bumps, that cause your suspension to compress very quickly when taken at speed. The one on the road to Las Vegas that caused the scandal was about 8-12 inches according to people that went on the run. Best case scenario, it will demand the tire move up 8" in a fraction of a second since they were going so fast. If you have 6" of uptravel (likely less, since the trucks were carrying passengers and gear) and you need to move the wheel up 8" almost instantly while traveling at speed. The axle has nowhere to go after the suspension is fully compressed, the tire has given as much as it can and the bump stop mount has broken. The truck frame gives. The truck doesn't lose control, nor does it break in a way that strands the driver. If the frame didn't give out, the axle would have kicked the rear of the truck into the air, which could cause the truck to lose control. That's a very dangerous situation in the desert, particularly to inexperienced drivers in trucks without roll cages or safety harnesses which would be required by any racing organization which allows you to do the exact same thing but with a number and a time.
The cost to straighten the frame was around $800 at the Ford dealer. The warranty is not voided, although it doesn't cover the damage cause by irresponsible driving that causes a bent frame. The cost of a single rear Raptor shock is around $700, so breaking those instead of bending the frame would have crippled the vehicle in the desert and cost more to fix.
Is the Raptor a truck without flaws? No. The Raptor uses polyurethane bump stops, which are nothing like the hydraulic bumps stops it deserves to have. The poly bump slows the axle down too fast, too late and allows a high G load to impact the frame upon bottoming out. A hydraulic bump stop, like what professional pre runners and race trucks have, would make bending the frame much harder to do, so if there is anywhere the Raptor needs improvement it is with the bump stops.
Ford did strengthen the frame in 2013, by doubling the thickness of the frame material in the rear area. Does that mean they acknowledge the previous frames were weak? No, it is just them improving the truck, which they have done every year since it came out. They've added things like bead lock wheels and a Torsen limited slip front differential to make it better off road, and those things were no more necessary than reinforcing the frame. The Raptor's frame isn't "Too Weak For Off-Roading", but it is not fool proof. Don't be a fool, and the Raptor and its frame will do anything you can reasonably expect a factory stock truck that costs $45,000 to do.