Monday, September 20, 2010

Doing the SUV Thing

I have been writing about the automobiles I have owned in my last three posts (part 1, part 2, part 3). At the end of the last post, I mentioned that our two most recent vehicles (that we still own) were acquired at the same time. One was our fourth sedan. The other was our first SUV, a white Dodge Durango.

We felt fortunate to pick up the Durango when we did. It had been a fleet vehicle and it had about 11,000 miles on it. But we bought it in its same model year, and the thing came decked out with some nicer extras that we hadn’t expected and that cost us little.

When we got the Durango, it was a substitute for what my wife really wanted: a Chevy Suburban, the traditional “Mormon assault vehicle” that is common in our area. But a Suburban with comparable features would have cost about two-thirds again what we paid for our Durango. We could buy the Camry and the Durango without incurring new car payments, but we couldn’t hope to do that if we were to buy a Suburban. So we settled for the Durango.

And the Durango has been a fine vehicle. It has had a few maintenance issues. Most of those were handled while the vehicle was still under warranty. It has full-time all-wheel drive and available four-wheel drive. You can shift between the two on the fly. The vehicle is very sure footed in all kinds of terrain. It works great on the freeway and on rugged off-road areas.

Our Durango was the first vehicle we owned that had a built-in audio-visual entertainment system. We only use this when we are going for drives of more than an hour or so. But it has been an amazing feature for managing children on longer trips.

Due to our positive experience with our Durango, my wife developed an interest in a decade-old black Dodge Durango that one of our neighbors was selling. She thought it would be good for us to have enough vehicles for all of the drivers in our family.

I was dubious about this old vehicle. It had lots of miles and I knew that the thing had been the domain of that family’s oldest son, who had not been gentle on it. I was opposed to getting a vehicle that was destined to require lots of mechanical work because I am not mechanically inclined. It’s one thing to buy an old junker if you can work on it yourself. It’s quite another to buy such a heap when you’re going to have to pay a mechanic to work on it.

We ended up buying the black Durango for my oldest son to drive, despite my objections. We paid nearly top book value. Over the next few months, we put as much money into the thing as we had paid for it. The transmission required major rework. We put new tires on it. And there were a variety of other problems. We discovered that the power steering system needed repair after my son got in a minor fender bender in a parking lot when the steering failed to respond.

About the time my son started driving this vehicle in 2008, gas prices started soaring like crazy. It got horrible gas mileage, so it was expensive to drive. But my son liked the vehicle.

This older model Durango was not like our white Durango. It was not sure footed at all. It was full-time two-wheel drive with optional four-wheel drive. But it was hard to get it in and out of 4WD and it tracked sloppily when in 4WD. The transmission never did work right, even after it was repaired.

One day as my son drove to school, the brakes failed as he approached a stop sign. In his panic, he was concerned that he might roll if he tried to turn. He looked at oncoming traffic and figured that his best bet was to go straight through the intersection and then try to figure out what to do to slow or stop the vehicle after that. It never entered his mind to shift down or apply the emergency brake.

Unfortunately, he didn’t realize that he couldn’t get a good view of traffic coming from the right due to the way the road is sloped there. As he blew through the stop sign, a fast traveling vehicle came over the rise and slammed into the passenger side of the black Durango. The Durango careened over onto the driver side and slid toward a truck stopped at the stop sign on the other side of the intersection. Upon colliding with the truck, the Durango popped back up onto its wheels. My son turned off the motor and the thing came to a stop.

On one hand, I was grateful that my son was driving that big gas guzzling SUV. He walked away from the crash with a minor scrape on his ankle. Looking at the smashed vehicle, it seems unimaginable that no one in the vehicle was seriously injured or killed. On the other hand, my son wouldn’t have crashed at all had he not been driving an old piece of junk that (we later discovered) had a history of intermittent brake failure.

The old Durango had to be sold for scrap, since it was not repairable. I disliked the thing even before we bought it, so I was not sorry to see it go.

And that is the final segment in my history of automobile ownership up to this point. Ten vehicles: some new and some used. A couple pretty great, some just adequate, and others detestable. This story will, of course, continue until we no longer need automobiles. I just hope that I have learned enough to avoid some of the problems I have dealt with in the past. We’ll see about that. I still have kids that will need to learn to drive as they come of age.

No comments: