Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Energy Crisis Update

If you look closely, there is a classic British sports car hidden somewhere in this picture.

Oh, there it is! And whadaya know, there's a Jeep Cherokee there, too.

As someone whose preferred summer driver is a Triumph Spitfire —

Is that a Minnesota thing? To own two vehicles: a nice car that you only drive from May through mid-October at the latest, and a POS that you drive from October through April?

Anyway, it was tough to pull the plug on the Jeep. The Beast and I have been through a lot together, although in hindsight a lot of those "adventures" were situations I wouldn't have gotten myself into in the first place if I hadn't been fairly confident the Jeep's 4WD low-range would get me out of them. The engine was still running strong, as is typical of that terrific state-of-the-1950s-art cast-iron Kenosha Straight-Six, and I was really hoping to roll the odometer over to 250,000 miles before I finally gave it a decent burial. It was getting close.

But the transmission was going, and the iron moths had chewed completely through the floor pans and gotten into the frame members, and so it was only a matter of time until I jumped into it one day and rode the driver's seat through the floorboards down to the pavement.

That actually happened to me once, in the legendary AquaBeetle, about which so much as been written. I jumped into it one day, and the driver's seat went right through the floorpan and ended up on the pavement. And then I pulled the seat back up out of the hole, and drove it home, and continued to drive the car for several more months afterwards.

But that's another story.

At first I thought I might be able simply to get rid of the Jeep and downsize the fleet, but circumstances made it clear that I needed to replace it with another crap hauler. I don't need a crap hauler often, and don't necessarily need to put a lot of mileage on it, but when I need a crap hauler, I need a crap hauler. And so the Quest began...

I started out intending to find another Jeep Cherokee, albeit with lower miles and less rust. For some strange reason they were suddenly hard to find, though, so I expanded my search parameters. I looked at pickups. I looked at smaller SUVs. I looked at Fords, GMs, Mazdas, Toyotas, Kias, Hyundais, Saturns — I first spotted this monstrosity on the local Saturn lot. Very clean; low miles for its age; at first I was mildly interested, and probably would have considered buying it at the asking price, if it'd had the diesel and the manual transmission. But the price they had it tagged at was much too high for one with a gasoline engine, an automatic transmission, and power everything. And of course, Saturn never budges on price, and so the Quest continued.

But as I slogged on, I noticed a strange thing. A few weeks later circumstances brought me back to the same Saturn dealer, where that Suburban was still sitting exactly where I'd last seen it, and when I looked again, I noticed the price had dropped! But Saturn never wheels and deals on price, or so they say, and when I checked their web site, it was still listed at the original asking price. Hmm. So I decided to check on it again a week later, and sure enough, the price had dropped yet again.

Ahah! This was something I understood; a chase, a hunt, a reverse-auction! On their web site, the Suburban remained priced at what it was when they'd first listed it. But on the lot, thanks to $4/gallon gasoline, the price posted on Truckzilla itself continued to drop week by week, plummeting, diving, plunging towards crush depth...

Two weeks ago it hit my strike price, and I bought it, for less than one-third the price they'd originally listed it for — which by the way, was still the price on their web site. Thus I am now the slightly chagrined owner of one of those terrible, evil, massively oversized, gas-guzzling dinosaur SUVs that's destroying Our Mother, The Earth.

I don't expect to drive it often, or put a lot of miles on it. (Although I will confess, as this July turns into another global-warming scorcher, that central air-conditioning sure is nice. What do these things come equipped with, anyway? Carrier? Trane?) And as someone whose preferred summer driver is a vintage Triumph, I also must confess that operating this thing does not feel like driving a car so much as piloting a cabin cruiser. Every time I approach an overpass, I feel this profound desire to slow down, honk three times, and wait for them to raise the drawbridge.

Still, if you're in the market for a crap hauler, they don't come much bigger or better than this. The next size up is yellow and has the name of a school district painted on the side.

After taking the new monstrosity on a shakedown cruise, we took a few days to clean out the Jeep, and then donated it to Goodwill — where ironically enough, there were two other Cherokees already on the lot. The car donation guy assured me it would find a good home. "Oh yeah, the off-roaders just snap these things up as fast as we get 'em on the lot. As long as the engine runs, they'll rebuild everything else." This was followed by a few anxious days in which it seemed to me that everywhere I looked there was a Jeep Cherokee for sale, staring at me, accusing me, mocking me.

But the Suburban has settled into its place in the driveway now, and reached its accommodations with all the other cars, and so just one more question remains: what do we name this thing? All of our cars have pet names.

The current leading contender for this one is Spaceball One.

Your thoughts?