Iceland's Arctic Trucks Knows Extreme Cold

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By Tim Esterdahl

The recent cold snap across the country left many Americans shivering. This kind of cold weather takes a toll on everybody and everything, including pickup trucks. So we wondered: How much cold can a truck really take? For the answer, we turned to the experts at Arctic Trucks International (located in Iceland); they just landed a team at Novo Airbase in Antarctica for the 2014-2015 expedition season. If anybody knows what happens to trucks in extreme conditions, it's these guys.

An Icelandic firm with 24 years of cold-weather experience, Arctic Trucks has made trips to Antarctica for years, helping to support a variety of expeditions. The company's Toyota Hilux trucks sit out in the extreme winter for months on end. During these expeditions employees have learned many things about how to adapt their trucks to the cold.

CEO Emil Grimsson said the company chose the midsize Hilux because it knew the vehicle well, and it needed the 3.0-liter diesel engine (169 horsepower and 265 pounds-feet of torque) for fuel efficiency and its ability to use special jet fuel. Arctic also needed a light truck capable of carrying cargo.

For its expeditions, Arctic modified the trucks to haul 3,306 pounds, which is quite a bit more than Toyota's 1,764-pound payload rating. The trucks also tow a 2,866-pound trailer for longer expeditions. This extra capacity puts a strain on all the mechanical systems and tires.

Why Not Use a Full-Size Pickup?

Grimsson said Arctic looked at larger trucks, but larger vehicles would need still bigger tires to get the flotation needed. Plus, trucks like the Ford F-150, which Arctic considered, don't come with a diesel engine. This creates a logistical problem since there are limited places to get gasoline.

Another factor working against newer vehicles is testing them at extreme temperatures. With a new Ford pickup, for example, Arctic would have to start with shorter routes that have support stations in case things break. These routes would also need air-support options to have parts delivered.

Finally, since Arctic has lots of experience with the Hilux it has a collection of spare parts to fix things on the go. Instead of going larger, Arctic created a 6x6 Hilux to handle Iceland's and Antarctica's challenging terrain and conditions.

Antarctica Driving Challenges

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While ice and black ice seem to be key winter problems across parts of the U.S., driving in the winter conditions of Antarctica creates a whole new assortment of problems. When planning an Antarctic expedition, Grimsson said, the company faces several challenges.

  • Antarctica isn't just flat terrain. There are mountains filled with icy crevasses. Many routes cross thin snow bridges that span thousands of small and large crevasses. A driver error, blown tire or mechanical issue can mean life or death.
  • Fuel is a constant concern. Fuel stations are few and far between, so vehicles carry extra fuel and that becomes a balancing act. You want enough fuel to make the journey, but carrying too much extra weight causes the truck to burn more of it and could increase the risk of breaking down.
  • How do tires handle the cold? Arctic Hiluxes are outfitted with 44-inch tires that are often driven with the air pressure below 3 pounds per square inch, and there is concern a tire could simply break if drivers stopped long enough for the tire to cool down. These tires have such low pressure and so much rubber you could drive over someone's arm without fear of injury, according to Grimsson.
  • Lubrication choice is of paramount importance. The pickups face extremely cold conditions during which the engines are floored for 20 hours straight while hauling gear. This really puts a strain on the drivetrain and other mechanical parts; Arctic uses Helix Ultra 5W-40.
  • Arctic was concerned about how the Hilux engine would cope with the thinner oxygen level in Antarctica (it's 13,123 feet above sea level). Less oxygen means the engine loses power even when running on jet fuel.

'On Thin Ice'

All of these concerns were addressed during Arctic Trucks' most notable expedition, which occurred in 2008-2009. While being filmed by the BBC for "On Thin Ice," Arctic helped support a 1,500-mile ski competition to the South Pole. The trucks, working in two different teams, provided support for the last 500 miles to the South Pole.

Throughout this expedition the Hilux trucks faced all of the obstacles described above, as well as being overloaded. Grimssom said neither the film crew nor the Arctic Trucks team would compromise on the amount of gear they needed. So they brought everything.

All of this extra gear forced the Arctic Trucks support teams to choose between leaving behind spare parts and tools or fuel. Ultimately, they left the spare parts and tools.

The biggest problem for the overloaded trucks turned out to be fuel shortages. For this expedition, the teams had to stick to a schedule to arrive at an airplane-delivered fuel dump. Pushing the trucks harder, with the excess gear, meant they burned more fuel than planned. Fuel turned out to be such a concern that one of the teams had to leave a trailer (which carried extra fuel) in order to drop weight, thereby improving fuel economy.

One truck team also had to deal with snapping rear axles due to the weight. These axles were replaced en route with temperatures hovering at minus-50 degrees.

These trucks will again be put to the test during the 2014-2015 expedition season that is just beginning in Antarctica. Arctic Trucks will support several different missions that include servicing a fuel depot and supporting Manon Ossevort, a "tractor girl" from the Netherlands who plans to drive a Massey Ferguson MF 5610 tractor to the South Pole. Dubbed Antarctica2, that expedition began Nov. 24.

In the end, the things the Arctic Truck teams learn about how trucks deal with long-term exposure to cold weather may become a part of future truck design and engineering. We are just glad they are out in the cold and not us.

Arctic Truck images


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While I don't live in Artic conditions I have started my 95 Tacoma in 30 below possibly even in closer to 40 below where the truck was parked outside for several days without being plugged in. I've always know so long as I can get the 3.4L gas engine to turn over at least two revolutions it will always start.
They are more reliable than most people ever find out.

I grew up in North Dakota back in the and 70's and 80's and we had plenty of -40+ winter days and nights. I still remember starting my 13 year old 67 Cougar up at -44 one day with no block heater. And now living in the Pacific Northwest I have never been so cold, because it's such a damp cold. But still pity the parts of the US that are getting so cold. Blame global warming.

They broke the axle tube and the axle itself. Tiny snapped off axle seen pointed at the sky, in 4th photo.

Way too much weight and stress. Plus monster truck tires. They absolutely need 3/4 ton fullsize axles, full floating (housing, leafs, U-joints etc) in the very least!

It's a little ridiculous otherwise. Running that much cargo makes the extra size/weight of fullsize trucks irrelevant.

"also had to deal with snapping rear axles due to the weight." - Tim Esterdahl

These mid-size trucks are just toys.

I thought the Hilux was at least on par with the
one-ton Chevy Colorado the U.S. is NOT getting.

I agree the F150's would be way unreliable. Payload max on the Hilux is 2,300lb for the DualCab, so 3,300lb, is stretching it, still these are built to be overloaded.
Hilux is now very ancient technology, but incredibly reliable, it is to be replaced by a brand new model in 2016

Yes on par with the I Ton Global Colorado, the Chevrolet Colorado, has the same last name , but little of the capabilities

"Running that much cargo makes the extra size/weight of fullsize trucks irrelevant."
Very Irrelavant. Only Full Size they would consider is a F350 Diesel Then you have reliability problem ,

Correction , 1700lb for the DualCab. Hilux lags well behind newer vehicles that have 2,300-2500 for a DualCab.
Extreme Cold and severe ,use oversize tyres would have put a lot of strain on the axles.
The 6x6 version, would haul a lot more payload. Towing abilities of the Hilux pretty limited as well, not recommended as a towing vehicle for even many light Caravans

it doesn't take any special skill to drive a pickup in the cold, but it DOES take skill to drive in rough off-road conditions.
I bet those same guys have the go-nads to follow me where I take my truck! I bet they are afraid of heights!
I admit I was afraid at first but thru peer pressure I did it !

@Robert Ryan - Same cheesy axles no matter where you're at. The US, OZ, Antarctica, or the Congo, it doesn't matter. Their payload "ratings" are completely different, but the trucks stay the same.

A 1-ton Colorado is laughable!!!

A US 1/2 ton would be a HUGE improvement, but might as well do the 3/4 fullsize with full-floating axles. It's stup!d to overload a little truck. Use the right tool for the job.

You can't blame the cold for the snapped axles. You've heard of "Ice Road Truckers?" Do they ever snap axles???

Great article Mark.

Those Hilux's have really done okay. They are really overloaded! In off road conditions you should have half of your rated payload as a load.

So, I would say a 1 500lb pay load would have been about right. This would leave many US 1/2 ton pickups with anything from a 400lb load up. This really displays the Hilux. Agricultural and reliable able to do the work of a US 3/4 ton pickup.

Denver is correct about using a 3/4 ton. Except they are way to heavy and large on the ice and would find themselves on jacks for repairs more often than these Hilux's ever were.

Also, why would you use a 3/4 ton? Don't you think these guys would of researched this? Especially regarding a life and death decision.

Plus as noted and like I mention quite often these smaller diesels are good on fuel. If they weren't and gasoline engines would be used as well as a US pickup.

Iceland has one of the largest per capita following of US vehicle in the EU. So they would be very aware of what the US has to offer as an alternative.

Also look up how the Icelandic people race off road! Awesome off road racing.

The payload that Mark has entered must be a Taco load???? I have never seen a half ton Hilux with such a low load rating.

Looking at the loads with the trailers the Hilux's would of been traversing relatively flat country as well. I suppose the biggest obstacles would be a crevice or two. That'd snap an axle.

Good on the guys who do this. It looks like a challenging and worthwhile occupation.

So, what these guys needed was quite a specific FE with the load and tow capability. The Hilux appears to be the best.

Oh, I'm not a Hilux supporter. But when a reliable vehicle is needed the Hilux is okay.

The Global Ford Ranger is available and it has Diesel . , It could have been used, just apply the same modifications .

@Den Mike,
You have no clue as usual. A US 1/2 ton is not a diesel. The max payload is 3000lb for a HD version of a F150 and I would hate to go over that Artic Trucks has modified F350's, but even they are not that reliable,
a U.S. 1/2 ton as you agree elsewhere is basically a "lifestyle vehicle" they are not built for punishment

Problem of extreme reliability. Global Ranger already has reliability problems

@Robert Ryan - So what if an F350 is modified? You don't think these Hilux were modded? 3/4 tons were made for this type of abuse. And they come in diesels.

@Louis o
Looking at the those Hilux's they have a considerable amount of modifications done.

I would think they would even be running Landcruiser gear in them. That's why they are loaded as they are. To start off with looking at those tyres dimensions you would be using a different diff ratio.

I do know you can buy, like I did suspension mods to "manage" your off road payload to on road specs.

Even with my suspension I wouldn't attempt to off road with my BT50 with it's 2 500lb rating.

The Hilux's here used would also have much better support than a Ranger/BT50. That is there is so much after market gear available to the Hilux in comparison to the Ranger.

The Ranger is relatively new. The Hilux has been around for twice as long. Also, engineering advice would be more available for a modified Hilux.

These trucks are moved around the world as well. A Hilux with more capability than a HD in this situation would be the perfect solution.

So, I would think it came down to costs. Hence, not using an HD to do the job of a midsizer.

Truck on tracks.

@Big Al from Oz,
The Ranger has been getting reliability issues from people in the Industry. Early Days, but see how that pans out.
Hilux has extreme reliability reputation, so first choice fo this sort of expedition work.
Lack of parts for anything else, a consideration, but not the only reason

@Robert Ryan,
Geez, you have me worried!

I have yet to encounter any show stoppers with my BT50.

We currently have the 2.2 Ranger Hi Rider dual cabs at work with a 6 spd auto. Ford has really screwed up with them.

The turbo lag is atrocious. It takes a couple of seconds from a standstill to even get the vehicle to move forward!

Our motor vehicle and transport department stated the 6spd auto's are a real dog and a couple have been failing.

I do know the shifter in one of our Rangers broke, but my guys being who they are "fixed" the problem.

I'm glad now I bought the 6spd manual in the BT50GT. There must only be one or two of them around. As most highend utes are all auto's.

The 3.2 is a much better engine than the 2.2. It has the torque off idle to move the vehicle and off road with ease. The 2.2's have very little until 1200rpm. This is where the lag in the vehicle is. Also those new "eco friendly" 6spd auto are crap. We use them in "manual" and shift the gears ourselves.

The only real problem I've had with mine has been the climate control valve actuator. It made a clicking sound.

Other than that the ute is going really well.

The best I've done so far is drop the ARB Old Man Emu suspension in it. It really surprises me that the auto manufacturers just don't put a suspension like these and charge an extra $1 000 for it.

When I get back from the EU, Florida, NE next year I'll being driving up to Cape York and around the Gulf back to Darwin. I'll let you know then how good my setup is.

It will be an expeditionary operation.

I'll be loving every moment! 3 000km completely off road. As you know this is a relatively common pastime up or should I say down here.

The only one you're foolin' is yourself, when asking a small truck to do a big job. Team hilux ended up with broken trucks and the fuel consumption of big rigs. There's no real reason for it. The plan sounded better on paper, I'm sure.

@Big Al from Oz,
Have done Central Queensland, up to Frazer Island,beyond that to Cairns hire car and coach, not much off road stuff

No opposition , so no scrambling

You are really clueless today. Normally you sound a bit brighter
Posted by: Robert Ryan | Nov 30, 2014 3:12:37 PM

Scratch that. Small truck alliance is using personal attacks because it cannot deal with a weakness that was encountered with its trucks. First step to success? Admitting failure.

Arctic Trucks does do 3/4 and I Ton conversions. For expeditions it is the Hilux

@Robert Ryan,
I've been setting up my pickup for this run for a while now and doing some testing.

I've been doing river crossings and some steep climbing on loose surfaces with a load. I've researched suspensions and suspension articulation, wheels and tyres, even what would be the better oils.

I still need to get a decent UHF and fit the 150 litre air compressor.

The snorkel works well and the AT BFG's are doing a great job. The "standard" off road tyres that come with the Ranger/BT50 are quite poor off road performers, but to their credit do a reasonable job on road. Sort of like those tyres fitted to the F-150 in the previous article.

Unlike these guys in the Arctic and Antarctic I'll be using a slightly heavier oil.

I've decided on making a roof top tent setup with a canopy extending out 3 or 4 metres, a retractable one.

I'll have the "kitchen, water, frig and fuel on the bed. I'll rip out the back seat to make a "wardrobe" and a secure storage area.

It should work out well. I'll be looking at some stuff in the US in a week or so when I'm over for Xmas. The problem in the US is 4x4 shops are few and far between, at least in the NE.

I do find a lot of Chinese stuff, like driving lights and accessories, but not much US stuff.

@Robert Ryan, BAFO - Again, it's 'apples to oranges'. That's SAE J2807 payload ratings vs markets that don't receive it.

You're comparing the 'static' load holding capacity of the springs vs SAE payload that accounts for that plus rates with heavy consideration given to a trucks brakes, parking brakes, drivetrain, gear ratios, cooling, bearings, bushings, ball joints, U-joints, lug nuts, tires, and of course axles.

Despite what's represented here, I'm sure most Aussies know better that to push a midsize truck hard, with anywhere near what it is payload "rated" for.

The overloaded Hilux' are just an example of what overloading does. To ANYTHING! On the highway, losing a wheel can be deadly. Not that being marooned in sub zero temps is a picnic..

Stop arguing with these fruitcakes. I see guys driving half tons and larger trucks in far rougher conditions without breakdowns. The problem with these small trucks is their small components. The reason they're supposedly reliable is because they are lightweight and underpowered. Overload them or increase power and you'll have all sorts of problems. Notice they said axles, not axle.

Nobody here continually looks more foolish than you, from trying to prove your knowledge of various subjects to calling people by others names. Every one here has your number, and WTH does numpty mean, or tyre for that matter. If you're gonna post on a foreign site, at least have the knowledge to use correct dialect.

@BAFO - All you're saying is compromises were made. Obviously there is no 'perfect truck'. It would take a Frankenstein bastardization of old diesel tech, full floating HD axles and so forth.

But you've gotta admit it was fairly stup!d running that much weight on those broomstick axles!!!

When are people going to stop blaming global warming for natural weather fluctuations. Everyone knows it's a political scam in an effort to justify more government control over the population. Wake up!

When reliability counts--the smart always go with a Toyota.

This has been beaten to death on here--the "global only" guys do think that their pickups are just obviously the heaviest duty stuff out there (cause that is all they get).

Some of us live in border states/travel, and see countries where BOTH are sold, and know better than the hype.

While they are not BAD vehicles, my 1/2 ton has running gear that dwarfs the stuff on the global pickups, yet they have similar GVWs... So either my pickup is vastly underrated or the global pickups over... .

@BAFO, you might want to recheck who you are responding to. I have no idea what you are talking about.

@BAFO - it doesn't matter that payload ratings swing so wildly from one market to the other. But when when you're comparing truck payload from different markets, side by side, that's when it gets totally sketchy.

Midsizer trucks are extremely similar in all markets, component-wise, but payload ratings, apples to oranges.

Those little very overstuffed Hilux mini trucks are silly. Obviously the Icelanders have been denied the almighty RAM Eco Diesel. Real manly axles not those wimpy sippy straws masquerading as tire holders. Want to get the job done get a RAM. Plus you get a great Italian engine in a RAM that should appeal to Icelandic Euo-centric leanings.

@Big Al from Oz,
You are getting more and more of the Global Pickups carting RV's the Cab Chassis variants of Vans are becoming RV bases or towing Rv's

This is the greatest snow-mud traction tire you can get for your truck, the last set I got 80K miles from them

Cooper Discoverer M&S

That's one heck of a 'bubble gum' fix on that rear end, so they could limp back to base. Swapping the rear end was clearly not an option.

That's a 'head bolt' with smoothed out threads and rounded hex, welded in as a brace to "fix" a cracked axle-tube or flange.

It's the kind of thing that likely goes on every day, when dealing with overloaded midsize trucks, middle of nowhere, and common to Australia. Their failure rates must be atrocious, unless they know to take OZ payload "ratings" with a grain of salt..

This is possible why bone-stock US pickups sell for up to and over $150,000 in Australia. And these have by far, the highest retained resale value of any (daily driven) vehicles in the world!

So cold makes the parts snapp like nothing.
there should be some sort of coating made to help the steel withstand the cold alittle better.

Those tu
Trucks need more power. So they burn less fuel.

@billybob - Freezing temps is factor, but when combined with parts, stup!d small for extremely heavy loads, it's no surprise things break.

What a shocker, right?

It's not just the insane overload condition, but oversize wheel/tire combos with crazy offset. Too much torque on parts clearly not designed for anything anywhere near that.

By the way, those are all 55 gallon drums of jet aviation. 6 on the trailer and 2 in the bed. Very heavy.

But with loose axle shafts and wheels flying around, one hits a drum, better run!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

It is all about PSI.

A HD weighing 2-3k or heavier with mods would need tires as big as a monster truck to distribute the extra weight.

They said they run 44's on the Hilux and a larger truck would need even bigger tires.


That is more a case of an Experienced Company using what they know works.

They already said that using another truck would mean starting from scratch.

Do you want to speed the money to do R&D in the Antarctic? Do you want to go into that environment with an unproven vehicle?

How many guys on this site have lived or worked ANY length of time in -45C environments? The Northern Arctic is nowhere near as cold as the Antarctic. The coldest Antarctic temperatures are in the -70Cto -90C range (-90F to -130F). The coldest Arctic Temperatures are in the -45C to -70C (-47F to -94F).
I've seen metal fracture due to cold making in more brittle. I've seen diesel jell, fuel systems freeze, brake systems freeze, you name it.
"and there is concern a tire could simply break if drivers stopped long enough for the tire to cool down."
Ever have a tire "break" due to the cold? My dad used to mention tire damage due to cold. I had a "hot tire" freeze to the ground and tear off the rim the next morning after a night shift. In a Northern town? “no big deal”, just miserable. In the Antarctic – YES, major big deal.

Here is a big point that everyone is missing.
Antarctica is over 8,000 miles (12,800 km) away from the USA.
A company running vehicle excursions in Antarctica are going to use what is most common in that region of the world. Argentina is the closest country.
They aren't going to use Ford PowerStroke HD’s or any other USA based pickup because of availability.
Where are parts going to come from?
Where are base vehicles going to come from?
The Hilux makes the most sense based on global accessibility of trucks and components.
The world knows them well.

We need to stop looking at this from our own narrow view points!

Why diesel engines?
We've already seen with Ram Ecodiesel that mpg empty and loaded is better than gas.

ANOTHER factor is access to fuel. Virtually nothing in the Antarctic runs on gasoline.

Diesel is THE fuel.

They mention Jet Fuel. why?

It is thinner than regular diesel and thinner than heating oil. Heating oil is similar to winter diesel in consistency (in some cases one and the same).

@DenverMike -

"But with loose axle shafts and wheels flying around, one hits a drum, better run!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"

Dude......... you gotta stop watching cheezy action movies.

Which is more volatile:




Jet fuel is just a "lighter" diesel.

It does not ignite like gasoline. (and even in that case gasoline does not usually blow up unless in a BLEVE situation. An empty gas drum is much more dangerous than a full one).

The only real negative of jet fuel is that it can jell like diesel but at colder temperatures.

Great article! For a change.
So next time time someone says they need a bigger truck they need to come back to this and read it.

@Lou BC - Like I told BAFO, compromises had to be made. Maybe parts are harder to get, but US heavy duty pickups are much less likely to break an axle, and while carrying much more tools and goods. Spare parts too. Even if 50" tires are a must.

But they had to know those toy axles can't really do what was expected of them. They could have at least ran HD full floating axles in the rears.

AVTUR has a lower much lower freezing point than diesel. It also doesn't wax.

We have actually had guys who "experiment" with AVTUR at work. AVTUR has a lower cetane value than diesel. It's roughly 47 Cetanes, whereas diesel is around 54 cetane here and 40 odd in the US.

AVTUR actually is like diesel and gasoline and comes in many specifications. Because of these changes on aircraft the fuel control units need to have the metering of the fuel adjusted. These adjustments are made by using the specific gravity of the fuel. Even the "same" fuel or grade of AVTUR the specific gravity changes.

When I was supervising our jet engine test cell I was responsible for the measuring of the specific gravity of the fuels. After the "bedding in" runs of a jet engine scheduled runs were done.

These scheduled runs we to test the engines thrust, EGT, essentially all of the variable that bias the operation of the engine.

What we found running diesels on cetane is the abrasiveness or scar rate of the AVTUR is very high and your injector pumps, injectors wear at a much quicker rate.

The more modern CRD have the pressure at the injector very high and the very nature of the construction of the injectors also make them very unreliable with AVTUR.

Also, many of the older injector pumps where piston. Modern CRD diesels use a rotary pump very similar to how a hydraulic pump works. This is to gain the most efficiency in achieving the high rail pressures necessary for the injectors.

The rotary pump is a constant pressure, variable displacement pump. The operate in a similar fashion as does helicopter rotors function. The displacement of the pump is variable by the use of a swash plate which tilts changing the displacement of the pistons that are on the periphery of the swash plate.

Having an more intricate pump similar to a hydraulic pump operating under larger pressure can have issue using a highly abrasive fuel, like AVTUR.

But, the biggest issue will be the piezo injectors, by far.

The Toyota diesel injectors aren't as "modern" as the newer diesels since it's a much older engine.

As for the FSII. This is an anti icing additive that is used in AVTUR to reduce the creation of frozen water particles in the fuel due to extremely low temperatures.

Even if the fuel is at a slightly higher temperature than the environment can freeze. If fuel passes through a slightly convergent passage or gallery the fuel pressure will drop. What happens when there is a drop in pressure? Temperature drops. The fuel might be fluid, but the present water molecules freeze.

These frozen water molecules then block the filtration system.

The Toyota diesels are a better diesel with the use of AVTUR.

The Hilux like you stated is a far more popular vehicle globally than any US full size truck and spares are more readily available.

The person who is making those ridiculous comments should have his commentary assessed by the moderators for attempting create dissention. This guy uses many names and is a drop kick, a reject in our society.

I hope many who live in Winnepeg are different than him.

Since Denver Mike is a spokesman for Ford maybe he should get Ford to offer a special edition of the Raptor in a 3/4 ton package and a 500 hp motor that would get you through the Antarctic tundra especially if you like skating on ice. a monster truck would work perfect in the Antarctic you could call it "Ice Digger".

@BAFO - If it doesn't break, you don't need "spares"!!

And it's pointless anyways, if you have to leave the spare parts at base, when having to run extremely lean... because of the small trucks!!! It's double jeopardy.

And when the new parts are going to break again before you get there, triple jeopardy???

@Jeff S - When did I speak for Ford???

I was thinking Ram with the Cummins. Or at least run Dana axles. Ridiculous to run those broomstick axles though!!!

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