Wednesday, November 18, 2009

I Want a New Truck!

Most anyone who knows me also knows that I like my Dodges. I have two of them: a 1994 Dodge Ram CTD and a 1990 Dodge Ramcharger. However, considering my family is growing, I've been looking at vehicle requirements. In my search for a suitable vehicle for my family and me, I've identified several requirements that we have. These are:
  1. Passenger space

  2. Towing capability

  3. Cargo area (hauling)

  4. 4x4 capability

  5. Cost (initial and long term)

  6. Ease of maintenance (overall simplicity/availability of parts)

  7. Safety (size)

My Ramcharger alone does not satisfy all these requirements. For instance, the cargo area isn't large. Taking the family camping would be challenging with even more gear for the kids than it is now when you consider we pack the cargo area to the rafters as is. Additionally, passenger space is a bit of an issue. Having only two doors, and the capability of carrying 5 people (max) is somewhat limiting in a vehicle this size. However, passenger space isn't so much of the concern; it's the access to the passenger area that is the problem. Lastly, towing isn't great due to the short wheelbase of the RC (limited at 5,000 lbs from the factory).

Enter the Cummins Diesel powered Dodge Ram. It can tow tow quite a bit (it towed the Ramcharger on a trailer at one point). It has the cargo space I need, and it is relatively easy to maintain. However, it fails in the passenger department (2 plus driver).

Both vehicles are safe, due to their large size, big engines, and strong frames, which should keep most vehicles from turning the sheet metal into a sardine can. So, what's the problem? I have two vehicles that satisfy all the requirements I have.

Here is the last requirement: Do it all with only 1 vehicle.

There's the rub. Neither the Ramcharger or the Ram satisfy all the requirements alone. With a growing family, I am finding that I need all these features to be in place on one platform. When it was just Lindsay and me, it was easy. You need to tow or haul something big? Take the pickup truck. You want to go camping and keep all your gear dry and secure? Take the Ramcharger. You want to make a trip to the dump? Take the pickup truck. You want to do a lot of shopping with multiple stops and want to keep your items safe and secure? Take the Ramcharger. The ability to pick and choose is there. Just pick a vehicle that will work for the application and go.

The problem is in just two months, we will have a second child to consider. We can't just leave the kids at home. We can't very easily use the pickup truck because it won't fit two adults and two car seats. So, unless I'm flying solo (which 99% of the time, I'm not) I can't even use the pickup. We use the Ramcharger a lot, but with the seat in place, the cargo area is only about 2 1/2 feet deep. You can't really stick a sheet of plywood or anything large in the cargo area when the seat is down. Even with the seat folded up, the cargo area is only about 5 3/4 feet deep - less even than a 6 foot bed on a small pickup truck! Additionally, with a tall lift, and only two doors (with a front seat that folds partially out of the way), it is kind of a pain to get kids in and strapped into the car seat or snug-rider.

This last point lends itself to another requirement than just sort of popped up after having Michael: Four doors. Gosh! That's evil to me! My Ramcharger is cool because it only has two doors! It's a total bachelor's vehicle - like a Jeep Wrangler but much larger and way cooler! However, I'm not a bachelor anymore. I'm not even one half of a married couple anymore. I'm a husband and father. Moreover, I will be the father of two children in just two months. For the sake of convenience and ease of travel (getting kids into and out of car seats and booster seats), four doors is not only necessary; it is a necessary evil.

This brings me to the situation at hand. What vehicle do I buy? I could buy a minivan, but minivans are gay and Lindsay vowed she would never own one, and neither will I. I could get a full size van, but 99% of them are only two-wheel drive and have poor traction in snow, ice, and even on wet leaves! I thought of sticking to the Dodge brand, but Dodge doesn't, and never did make a full size SUV with four doors. The Ramcharger was it, and it only has two doors. I considered a Dodge crew cab truck. With four doors and a full size bed (6 feet for the 4x4 models), it would work perfectly. The problem is that unless you want a total rust bucket, you will shell out massive bucks for a good runner. People want way too much money for them and when you consider off-the-shelf (OEM and aftermarket) parts availability for Dodges absolutely sucks, it's not worth it. No other Dodge works. The Durango has four doors, and even a third row seat, but it's only a seat in the academic sense. Have you ever sat in the third row? I have. Plus, there is only enough cargo space for a set of golf clubs inside. The trunk space in my wife's Saturn Ion is bigger than a Durango's cargo area.

There is a company that made a vehicle to suit my needs exactly. It still does, in fact. That company is Chevrolet. I can hear the jeers and boos now! All my Mopar friends are on the floor having a panic attack and reaching for the shock paddles because I must be having a heart attack. Did I actually point out Chevrolet as an option to my vehicular conundrum?

Indeed I have. Chevrolet did, and still does make the vehicle I need: a Suburban. Suburban fills my needs exactly. It has:

  1. Passenger space

  2. Towing capability

  3. Cargo area (hauling)

  4. 4x4 capability

  5. Cost (initial and long term)

  6. Ease of maintenance (overall simplicity/availability of parts)

  7. Safety (size)

1. Suburbans have the capability of carrying up to 9 passengers with an optional third row seat. That is 5 more passengers than I would normally need, but I do have friends, believe it or not.

2. Suburbans were made with a 3/4 ton option, which means towing. With a long wheelbase, a Suburban might as well be a crew cab truck with a permanently mounted canopy.

3. Cargo area is something Suburbans have. If you are only using the first two rows of seats, you have the equivalent of a fullsize bed (6 ft or so) behind you. That is good for 99% of my needs.

4. Suburbans came with two drivetrain options. Aside from engines, transmissions, and whatnot, the one that matters most to me is the option that includes a transfer case, and two solid live axles.

5. Suburbans are cheap. I see them for sale all the time and I see them everywhere. A solid runner can be had for just over $2,500 and with a few upgrades, I can modify one to suit my needs for less than $5,000. Since I am targeting vehicles between 87-91, the car payment will be non-existant. Fuel consumption will be high, but since I only drive my big vehicles on occasion, my carbon footprint with them is nill.

6. Suburbans of old are really simple in design. Much like my Ramcharger, they have similar design characteristics that allow the average guy, with basic tools, to do most of the work on the vehicle with nothing but a book and some mechanical prowess. I have both. Parts availability for Chevrolet trucks is nothing short of phenominal. There are many companies out there who have hard to find parts for a Chevy truck. The parts are available, relatively inexpensive, and it would be a breath of fresh air when compared to hunting down used parts at a junkyard for my Dodge Ramcharger.

7. Safety is a must and if you want to be really safe, you gotta go big. I've seen what full size trucks do to cars in a collision. Usually, the driver of the pickup truck walks away and the passengers in the car are wheeled away on a gurney - sometimes in a body bag.

All in all, I believe this vehicle will suit my needs. I'm getting to the point where I'm not concerned about brand loyalty so much as satisfying the needs of my growing family. Besides, Dodge hasn't made the Ramcharger since 1993 and I doubt they'd ever build a vehicle like it again. Chevrolet doesn't even make the new Suburban as rugged and capable as it used to. SUV's are like big station wagons anymore; they are status symbols for the rich and for those who want people to look at them. My needs are not as such. I want an old vehicle. I want something simple in design, easy to maintain, cheap to own, and overall, I want something that works when I need it to.

Of course, the Ramcharger won't be going anywhere. I've owned it too long and I have plans for when it no longer needs to pass emissions. However, the pickup truck hasn't even been on the road for over a year. It hasn't even left the garage! I just don't have a need for it anymore. As much as I love my truck, as much as I love that Cummins Turbo Diesel engine, and as much as I think it's cool, I just can't seem to justify it anymore. I need truck capability with SUV utility all wrapped in one. It seems that the Chevy Suburban fits.


I guess it's time for me to get a hat with a bow tie on it.

-James

3 comments:

  1. I like suburbans, there is nothing wrong with them. And you hit the nail on the head as to why they are superior. Four doors, you can fit the whole family in them, tons of cargo space, 4wd, tons of aftermarket support...what more could you want?? Besides what are your other options? Build a suburban style RC, try to find a Ford Centurian or buy an Excursion?

    Oh and I prefer the front end of the one in your pic over the others they had.

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  2. While I won't go as far as to say they are "superior", they do perform a function necessary around this house, and are pretty cool... for a Chevy. LOL! The 4-door RC idea is cool, but a little above my head, and Ford Centurions are too costly. Yep.

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  3. Ok, yea, superior might have been too strong a word.

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