The Truth About Cars » Towing The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Wed, 16 Jul 2014 16:33:07 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » Towing Piston Slap: The Express’ New Mission? Tue, 15 Jul 2014 12:12:47 +0000

(photo courtesy:

TTAC commentator Celebrity 208 writes:


I have been sitting on this draft message for a couple weeks now and I just saw your call for questions so here you go. I just bought a ’05 (Chevrolet) Express 3500 12 Passenger Van with 185kmi. It was owned by a Catholic Mission College where they maintained it as part of their van fleet and the maint. history is pretty clean. It was a good deal even if I have to do something dramatic like replace the transmission.

I’m going to use it for towing a boat (w/ trailer it’s 6500+lbs and the runs are ~15mi round trip), delivering kegs to Pamela Elsinore’s birthday party (“at the bottom of the big hill”), hauling visiting family and friends around when visiting (I live in DC which is a vacation destination for some weird reason), and likely Christmas road trips back to Cleveland because my mother goes hog wild with large Little Tikes stuff.

I have seen some of the B&B suggest that renting would be the best solution for these needs but, rental trucks/vans 1) don’t have the towing capacity, 2) usually explicitly forbid towing, 3) aren’t fitted with hitches & 4) are not always available on a whim/at my convenience.

To be sure I don’t use it a lot and hence that’s why I bought one that is 9yrs old and hi mileage. If I wanted new then renting might have met the bill for everything minus towing. At this point you should be laughing. Don’t. This is a step up for me as it is replacing my rusty ’88 G30 Sport van which had 78kmi, or 178kmi, or278kmi, or… (No 100,000 mile digit in the odometer). The ’88 G30 was a beater. It towed ok but it looked like crap and couldn’t be used as a backup daily driver b/c there’s no place to put two+ car seats whereas the ’05 does. The new one has the LQ4 6.0L v8 and the 4L80e trans. So, to my questions:

  1. When I finally get it home what service do you suggest I perform (oil change, trans fluid change etc., timing chain replacement, shocks, 3+ cans of sea foam, etc.)?
  2. What are your and the B&B’s opinions on towing and loaded and unloaded ride performance improvements such as: rear sway bar [this makes sense to me and it's on my to-do list], Roadmaster Active Suspension [this product seems like a gimmick], air suspension kits [I understand how these would increase my load capacity but unless I remove a leaf spring I can't see an air kit improving my unloaded ride quality and allowing me to raise or lower the rear end i.e. adjust the spring rate]?
  3. What are your an the B&B’s opinions on slippery ramp performance improvements such as replacing the open diff with a locker or limited slip [what type? ARB Air, OX Mech, Limited Slip, eLocker, etc.]?

I’m a GM guy but props to the Panther love and props to the site. You guys kick ass. You’re a multiple times a day refresh for me. You keep it up and I’ll keep clicking on some of the ads.


(Note: I’m not really a narcissist; a Celebrity 208 cc was my first boat.)

Sajeev answers:

Thanks for the kind words, I always admire and appreciate the diverse backgrounds, attitudes, styles, etc of our Best and Brightest.  It’s been the cornerstone of this site’s longevity for more years than I can remember. No doubt, your new van is light years ahead of the old G30, and having a two-time Chevy vanner such as yourself amongst our ranks…well, it’s an honor.

Definitely someone like you should never rent a van, this is the perfect spare vehicle for your lifestyle.

Question 1: Changing all fluids (and the usual worn rubber belts, hoses, vacuum lines, tires, etc) is a great idea, even if we’ve spilled a ton of digital ink over the utility of high mileage ATF service in any transmission.  If the fluid is fresh and the transmission shifts fine, don’t bother changing.  Even if it has a factory tranny cooler, consider putting the biggest aftermarket cooler instead: certainly not a pleasant task, but it’ll be worth it.

Question 2: That Roadmaster kit always intrigued me, just never enough to buy and try.  Definitely get a rear swaybar if that’s an easy swap using junkyard bits from another GM product.  But honestly, all you need are fresh shocks of the high performance variety to get an amazing bang for the buck.  Oh, and replace whatever else in the suspension is worn out after all those miles.  Your eyeballs and basic tools are your guide.

Question 3: There are superior limited slip differentials from the aftermarket, but they are brutally difficult (or expensive) to install.  Why go through all that when–with a little researching–I betcha there’s a complete GM axle assembly in the junkyard with fewer miles and a posi that you can swap in an afternoon?  That said, I couldn’t find a suitable swap candidate, but what the hell do I know?  I’m a Lincoln-Mercury Fanboi.

Perhaps a suitable axle lies in a nearby junkyard, complete with a rear swaybar?  And perhaps addressing the normal wear items and switching to premium shocks will make this van cool enough for even the most jaded reader ’round these parts.

Send your queries to Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice.

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New or Used: Can One Car Last Through Five Kids? Fri, 18 Apr 2014 22:58:29 +0000 brady1

I currently have three cars and I feel a hankering to buy a fourth. My wife has bought into the idea, now it’s just a matter of what to get.

The particulars:

- Five kids between the ages of 5 and 15…

- Active duty military with seven (7!) moves since 2005 with a couple more likely over the next several years
- Three current cars are all paid for
- Commute is 35 highway miles each way and will be that way for at least the next 18 months and maybe longer
- Car #1 – 2006 Honda Odyssey with ~120,000 miles (bought new)
- Car #2 – 2007 Honda Accord 5 speed with ~83,000 miles (bought used)
- Car #3 – 1969 Jeepster Commando that’s been in my family since 1973.

Our oldest turns 16 in a few months and we’d like to get a vehicle that the kids can all drive over the next 13 years. Note that I said ‘a’ vehicle as we keep our cars a long time and don’t intend on getting another car for the kids to share. One and done.

What should that fourth vehicle be? I see really only two paths that make sense.

First option: Get a car that pushes 40+mpg to ease the pain at the pump my commute causes. Possible vehicle: my Dad is selling his 2011 Jetta TDI 5 speed wagon this fall and I have dibs, if I so choose. This option would mean that the kids would drive the Accord, which we’re fine with.

Second option: Get something that can double as the kids’ car and that we can use to tow the Commando on our future moves. This means I would keep commuting in my Accord, which is also fine. Budget is about $7K max and we’ll pay cash.

We are leaning strongly towards getting a third gen 4Runner (’96-’01) with a V6, 4×4 and tow package as the min requirements. Manual is highly desired but not required. There are several for sale where we live (north of LA) and examples with 150-175k miles can be found for around $5k, although most are automatics. Reviews and 4Runner forums seem to portend good news regarding longevity with relatively straight forward maintenance required. My fear? My vehicle aperture isn’t nearly wide enough and that there are lots of other good options out there that we’re not considering. Whatever the fourth vehicle ends up being, there isn’t a requirement that it be able to carry all seven of us.

I leave it in your capable hands. What does your magic 8 ball say? (It better not say to buy a Panther, ’cause it ain’t happening!)


Steve Says

I like your first option the best.

If your kids learn how to drive a stick (good move there!), they will eventually get a far better vehicle in the marketplace as they get older and more independent.

As a car dealer circa 2014, it amazes me how so few people know how to drive a stick these days. When it comes to older vehicles, I find that sticks will go for about 15% to 35% cheaper than their automatic counterparts with a few notable exceptions

I still buy a lot of em’ for retail, and although they sit at my lot for longer periods of time, they also attract customers who are far more conscientious about maintenance and upkeep. This helps me when it comes to financing these rides. Since a car that is well kept tends to have fewer issues.

As for option 2, yes, the Toyota 4Runner has an excellent long-term reliability record. But let me throw in an alternative that will cost thousands less and have a solid reliability record as well.

I would consider a Mitsubishi Montero  from the early 2000′s. If you buy one with the 3.5 Liter, they are virtually bulletproof, and the kids will benefit from a higher seating position.  The gas mileage will remain abysmal. But in the real world the 3.5 Liter in the Montero will get you a vehicle with about half the miles of the 4Runner for the same price, and the reliability of that particular powertrain is solid (<—click).

Maintenance history is critically important when buying older SUV’s because a lot of them are neglected and inevitably hot-potatoed in the used car market . So get it independently inspected and only opt for ones that have a strong maintenance regimen. Otherwise you will also be buying someone else’s problems.

Good luck! Oh, and if you decide to not buy an older SUV, I have a beige on beige Toyota Solara with a V6, no CD player, and a hand shaker in between the front seats. I’m thinking about naming it, “The Rolling Leper” in honor if it more or less being an unsellable car.

If you don’t have to tow, go find the west coast version of a low-spec Solara. In a non-rust climate like central California, I think a car like that would probably be the optimal fit.

All the best.

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Pickup Makers Agree On A Common Standard For Rating Light Truck Towing Capacities Tue, 11 Feb 2014 10:00:25 +0000 OTGAppAd2

General Motors, Ford, Chrysler will be joining Toyota in implementing a common standard for rating the towing capacities of their light-duty pickups. That uniform standard will allow shoppers to more accurately compare vehicles’ towing capabilities and reduce some confusion caused by truck makers with differing standards. Bear in mind, though, that for heavy-duty pickups, automakers will still rate their vehicles with their own standards.

Spokesmen for Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler Group acknowledged last week that starting with 2015 model year full size light duty pickup trucks they will be joining Toyota in using a towing standard originally adopted by the industry in 2009. GM said that it would join the other companies in using the new standard. Some of the delay was because companies were concerned that the new standards would mean rated towing capacities reduced by several hundred pounds. The new voluntary standards were originally going to be implemented for the 2013 model year but Ford decided to not go with the lower ratings until it introduced the all-new 2015 F-150. After Ford delayed using the standard, GM and Chrysler did likewise.

Toyota so far has been the only company to implement the standard, known as SAE J2807, lowering the ratings on its Tundra pickup by 400 lbs for the 2011 model year. Nissan has said that it adopts the new standard as its trucks are redesigned. The next Titan is due in 2015.


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Piston Slap: Travel Well, Work Well? Wed, 16 Oct 2013 11:54:03 +0000 Click here to view the embedded video.

TTAC commentator wstarvingteacher writes:

I have been lurking on this site for at least three years. Comment some but mostly subscribe without commenting. I have been spending some time thinking about what I’m going to buy for my “jack of all trades” second car. Life changes so your needs change also.

I live on five acres just north of Houston. I have had a standard cab pickup that I like a lot more than I ever thought I would. The problem is that we have a need to send my Granddaughter off to school in another state. She said she wanted to buy my truck and with some trepidation I agreed. Now I have to replace it. I think I needed to anyway. Have grown tired of stolen spare tires and tools so I need something with inside storage. I figured a king cab truck would work as would many SUVs. Thought about a minivan but it seems they all have fragile transmissions. I tend to keep cars a long time.

Just to complicate things my wife has a car with a CVT transmission and a trailer hitch voids her warranty. Because of that we need to take longer trips in mine if we need to take anything (canoe etc) along. We will be taking an increasing number of trips. Therefore, mine needs to get over 20mpg on the highway and be able to tow 2000 lbs, (bare bones minimum) locally or highway. I am getting to the age where my eyes dictate I pay others for most of the work I do on vehicles. Therefore, dependability is very important.

I owned Lincoln Town Cars in the past (5.0 models) and they did all that I asked very well. I will have about $6k to spend on this second vehicle. Having a huge trunk while getting over 20mpg and being able to tow over two tons is a strong combination. I know that the Panthers run a long time and there are lots of parts. I also know that the CV(PI or no) and MGM frequently show up for low dollars. My truck will disappear next month and I can get hay or whatever, delivered for the short term. I guess my question(s) is/are:

  • What years panthers should I avoid for known problems such as spitting plugs and plastic intake manifolds?
  • Am I just looking at the panther because it worked for me in the past? Am I missing a good working, long lasting, cheap to fix, long trip vehicle that can work?

Seems like some vehicles travel well and some work well. I can’t think of anything that does both as well as a Panther. I think it is probably the last second car I will buy. Has to last for about 5 years when we will buy another first car.Hope the B & B will see this as fit to chew on for a while!

Sajeev answers:

So you want something that’s durable, gets over 20+ MPG highway, and can tow at least 2000lbs on a somewhat-regular basis. I can hear the Panther Haters among the B&B cringing already. If they even bothered to click on this article…but I digress.

There’s a chance that a minivan (if maintained right) or similar unit-body CUV with a V6 could fit the bill for both towing and efficiency, but they are a bit risky for a long-term owner. You could bite the bullet and buy a real body-on-frame truck or SUV, but they are rather expensive/valuable here in Texas. And their fuel economy stinks, even the compacts/mid size models with the necessary V6 power for your requirements.

Which begs the question, how could you NOT get a Panther? Set the cruise control to 65 mph and you can break 25 MPG, my best is 27 MPG with the A/C off on a 2006 Townie with an aftermarket computer tune. Add a big transmission cooler + trailer brake controller and it’ll safely tow just about any load implied by your letter.

I recommend getting a 2003+ model (doable with your budget), as they come with non-explody intake manifolds, better steering/suspension, hydroformed chassis bits and most will be new enough to avoid excessive wear and years of neglect.  The big brakes came in 1998, so you are set there. I don’t believe the 2003+ models ever spit spark plugs, that was a problem with congested Ford truck engine bays, sloppy tune up work (i.e. not a problem when carefully installed) and a different cylinder head design.

Go ahead and find the Panther with the most service records you can find.  It’ll travel better than anything else, and it can work hard when needed. Man, I miss not seeing this platform in new car showrooms/rental car lots: it really did it all, even with complete and unrelenting neglect from its maker.


Send your queries to Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice.

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Piston Slap: Say “Audi 5000″ to your Tow Vehicle! Mon, 16 Sep 2013 12:17:44 +0000

TTAC commentator Trend-Shifter writes:

I have a 1984 Audi 5000S Avant that is used as the wife’s car and our traveling/towing vehicle. Here is my dilemma…

  1. The air conditioning works as designed in 1984 (still using R12) but it is not to the standards of a modern “Merican” car. It is only comfortable at freeway speeds and without too much sunlight in that expansive greenhouse. The wife complains loudly all summer!
  2. The engine is only 110 horsepower. So when the air is turned on it dramatically impacts drivability. If I pull any kind of grade I need to turn the air off as not to impact drivers behind me.
  3. Right now I tow my jet ski with the car. It pulls it great at any speed as long as the air condition is off. (Refer to item 2, Wifey is not happy when the air is off!)
  4. I also have an 18 ft boat that I will need to tow in 2~3 years as my Grandsons get of age.

So based on the fact that the Audi 5000 Avant will not pull the boat, I think my best plan is to replace the Audi 5000 Avant in the next two years to fix all the problems I identified rather than modify the air conditioning or the engine.

I have looked at various SUV’s for towing. I want just real RWD, not some wannabe FWD disguised as AWD. The big ole freighter SUV’s are really expensive, not good at high speeds, and suck a lot of fuel. So I started to lean towards a 2006~2009 Cadillac SRX with the Northstar V8. (engine issues resolved in 2005) I think a 2000~2010 low mileage (under 40,000 miles) Lincoln Town Car is the best choice for all my problems. (Can’t handle the Grand Marquis & Crown Vic styling)

The Lincoln Town Car is RWD, has a V8, sits lower, cuts the wind, is very reliable, and gets decent mileage compared to other RWD frame SUVs. A set of plus wheels, Michelin Pilot Sports, and a transmission cooler should complete the package.

Does this sound crazy –OR- crazy as a fox (I mean Panther). If you agree, what years are the best?

Audi 5000 pair

BTW… My other car is also an Audi 5000. It is an 1987 Audi Quattro. (I drive it 110 miles round trip everyday to work on the Deeeetroit freeways) So the RWD Lincoln can sit in the garage on those snowy days.

Sajeev answers:

I’m impressed with your Audi 5000 collection (sorry I couldn’t do a Vellum Venom remotely) but I had no clue der avant was a tow vehicle! Good to hear this rig is saying Audi 5000 to THAT job! And your wife has the patience of a Saint to put up with situations that inhospitable for 110 horsepower. But I digress…

“The Lincoln Town Car is RWD, has a V8, sits lower, cuts the wind, is very reliable, and gets decent mileage compared to other RWD frame SUVs.”

I found this quote interesting, as I should also find it appealing. So you need a tow vehicle for bulky things, but you want one with a design aesthetic as your 5000. Longer, lower and wider than an ordinary truck?  More fuel-efficient too, right? So why not?

This is a fool’s errand. You WANT a bigger and taller nose/face when towing to punch a bigger hole in the air for your trailer! A Panther can do the job adequately, but it will struggle more because the boat will make it its bitch. I’d recommend a full-sized conversion van to maximize the size of the hole punched for that 18ft boat.

Not that you NEED a conversion van to punch an adequate hole for a boat that small, but why the hell not?  SUVs and real pick-em-up trucks lack the aero of a van, are overpriced, and vans are so frickin’ great for road trips. Keep the 5000 Avant for your wife’s normal commute, buy a nicely depreciated custom van for towing.

A 1994-2003 Dodge Ram Van, 1996-present Chevy Express Van and the 1992-present Ford Econoline are the proper successors to your Audi 5000 tow vehicle.  Find one with a towing package and the options you’d like.  I’d go with a mid-90s Econoline for it’s most Bauhausian Styling to appeal to your Audi-conscious style, get it with the torquey (but thrifty!) 4.9L big six, modernize/upgrade the brakes/wheels/transmission cooler for light towing duty and lose the conversion van paint job for a stark, Germanic gun metal gray. Yummy.

A perfect machine for one’s Piston Slap pragmatism and one’s Audi 5000-worthy Vellum Venom demands.

And for you Best and Brightest peeps who thought I’d take the Panther Love bait: I never did, son!


Send your queries to Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice.





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Vengeful Scam On Legit Repo Man or Crooked Repo Man Selling Stolen Car? You Decide! Thu, 11 Apr 2013 16:30:08 +0000 The world of towed-away cars can be a harsh one, as our very own Steven Lang often points out. Today I heard the latest in a long series of tales from the often-penumbral world of towing and repossessions, a Craigslist ad that purports to be selling a mistakenly-repoed Crown Vic. A phony ad meant to drag a clean business and its owner into a world of pain— an all-too-common occurrence in the maddening world of Craigslist cars-for-sale listings— or something that will soon have the constabulary asking a lot of pointed questions in a certain Maryland tow yard’s office?
24 Hours of LeMons Legend Speedycop, who happens to have a day job as a Washington DC police officer (and never looks for potential race cars while he’s on duty), found a too-good-to-be-true ad for a 1998 Ford Crown Victoria with free bonus ’99 Crown Victoria as part of the deal.
Hmmm… something about this doesn’t smell quite right. Let’s read the text of the ad (redacted in case this is a burn job by a vengeful ex-girlfriend and/or business rival):
“1 1998 crown Vic with title n runs great and. 1999 crown Vic with no title. The second was repossessed my my company ■■■■■, but was the wrong repoed and we never took back. Car runs great n in mint condition. Can get up a title by swapping vins easily. 100.00 for both. I own ■■■■■ REPOSSESSION COMPANY. IF WANT TO BUY ASAP CALL 410 ■■ ■■■■, my name is ■■■■■. Best time to reach me is at night or here’s my address to stop by n look at em. ■■■■■ ■■■■■ rd. fallston md. Both must go ASAP. Feel free to stop by anytime at my residence. TY. Ill be home all night at furnace rd or my business at ■■■■■ ■■■■■ rd. Nottingham md. Please rush”
So, Speedycop has informed his law-enforcement colleagues in the Baltimore area about this ad, and let’s just say that they’re verrrrrry interested. Mistakenly-repoed car being offered with the suggestion of a VIN swap, or reprehensible burning-bag-o-dog-poop-on-the-porch prank? The “I’ll be home all night” and ridiculously low selling price suggests the latter, but who can say? We’ll let you know what happened, once the dust settles.

PleadingNote1_1280 38 - Spirit of LeMons Racing Cessna - History Craigslist Sketchy Tow Ad- Picture courtesy of Craigslist Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail ]]> 13
New GM Trucks Will Beat EcoBoost At Towing – But Only With A Special Package Thu, 04 Apr 2013 14:58:07 +0000

Remember GM’s boast about how their new trucks could tow a segment best 11,5000 pounds? Turns out there’s a big ol’ asterisk that wasn’t expanded upon. reports that the 11,500 pound tow rating will only happen when a special package is ordered.

The maximum towing capacity for the Silverado and Sierra is 11,500 pounds, but that will be only with trucks outfitted with the max-trailering package (special note: the gross combined weight rating is said to be 17,500 pounds). The highest tow ratings without the max-tow package for regular cabs is 10,200 pounds; for crew cabs it’s 9,700 pounds. And all max-tow package-equipped trucks will be running 3.73:1 ring and pinion gears; 4.10:1 gears will not be offered for 2014.

Despite the slightly misleading claims from GM, Ford’s own site is a convoluted mess of different wheelbase lengths, engines, axle ratios and different towing packages that doesn’t tell nearly the full story either. For now we can say GM has the win in towing capacity, but nobody has the moral high ground in making things clear.

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Piston Slap: What is The Poor Man’s TARDIS? (Part II) Wed, 13 Mar 2013 17:26:50 +0000
TTAC commentator horseflesh writes:

Hi Sajeev!

I’m sending you the third installment in a series of linked Piston Slap queries. A while back, I hit Piston Slap with a question… what’s the best way to unload Grandma’s Buick? Now I’d like to share the story of how one large, white, wallowing ride was replaced with another vehicle, also white, but more enjoyably absurd in every measurable dimension. This new addition to the motorpool is the conclusion to my second Piston Slap query–What is the Poor Man’s TARDIS?

My Piston Slap followup is also a roundabout way to get the B&B’s advice on how to care for the new addition to our garage, which I have taken to calling … the Beast. After the sale of Grandma’s Buick, I was chatting with Ron the Used Car Lot Manager and I mentioned that I was looking for some kind of affordable cargo hauler. “Keep your eyes open for something big, boxy, and cheap,” I asked him.

You see, like any guy, I hate borrowing or renting a truck when I need to move something big, such the pinball machines I collect. More importantly, the woman and I have a lot of hobbies that require hauling gear around. Packing her Mini Cooper Clubman with scuba gear for two is an advanced test of spatial reasoning skills, one which I usually flunk.  That’s just an excuse, though. In truth I think I suffer from a suburban male’s mental malady, Vehicular Volumetric Capacity Anxiety. Reasonable or not, I don’t feel completely comfortable unless I have the ability to move giant things at a moment’s notice. You’ll find VVCA in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition, listed with Electric Vehicle Range Anxiety and the horrifying disorder that makes people buy Land Rovers only to keep them free of mud.

Once again, Ron the Used Car Lot Manager came to the rescue, with an unexpected call on a Saturday morning. “You still looking for a cargo van or something?” he asks. “Because you won’t believe what I’m looking at…” An hour later, the woman and I are at the dealership standing in front of the Beast. “It’s a 2003 Ford E-350 Econoline Extended cargo van,” Ron says. “And it has the 7.3 liter diesel.”

There’s no one around, but Ron’s voice is hushed in the shadow of the gigantic white van. The Beast does have that effect on you, being around 18 feet long and almost 7 feet high. It doesn’t just cast a shadow–it produces a solar eclipse. Appropriate, I suppose, for a well-used vehicle with 258k on the clock, more than the distance from the Earth to the Moon.  “I’ve been in the business for 20 years, and this is the first time I’ve seen one of these vans with the 7.3,” he adds. Ron says “7.3″ like it’s some kind of talisman. I reckon a guy who’s been in the car business for two decades is likely to lay it on a little thick, even among friends, but my morning Googling confirmed that the oil-burning E-350 Beast is a rare breed. The 1999-2003 Ford 7.3 liter diesels also have a cult-like following.

We start walking away from the Beast’s gravitational pull, towards the service bays, while we look at the Carfax and Oasis reports. Things look good–one previous owner, no red flags.  “I asked our diesel mechanic to check it out and give you a no-BS rundown,” says Ron. He introduces me to a fellow who, for some reason, reminds me of the comedian Patton Oswalt. “This is Eric.”

I spend a few minutes with Eric, getting a list of things the van needs. The news is all good–it’s basic stuff like radiator hoses, batteries, and an axle seal. The transmission fluid looks good, and more importantly it shifts well. “There’s even plenty of meat left on the brakes. It has an exhaust leak, though,” Eric tells me. “Fix it if you start getting headaches. Don’t sit in it and idle for hours and you’ll probably be OK. I knew this guy once, he did that too long with an exhaust leak and almost died… But, uh, you’ll be fine. Probably.”

I thank Eric, fill out a form for Ron, and the woman and I take the Beast for a test drive.

I used to drive an ’83 Cadillac Coupe de Ville. I thought I knew big. At the moment I goaded the Beast into motion, I realized I that I knew nothing about big. Nothing at all. But the engine is clattering happily, the turbo is whistling, and the vast cargo bay is soothing my VVCA like it came with a prescription. I see a Jeep Liberty pass by, far below, and I swear that my very first thought was, “what is that tiny little thing?” I feel like I’m going to need to scrape Fiat 500s and Minis out of the grille with a rake when we get back to the dealership. I don’t get carbon monoxide poisoning, but I do get a big smile. We’re gonna take this kissin’ cousin to a tractor home.

Ron sells us the Beast for wholesale. Massive overkill, bargain priced? Anyone who knows me knows that’s my kind of thing. Irresistible. I sign on the line which is dotted while the talkative Finance Guy prints forms and tells us about how he met his wife in church choir. One credit card swipe later, the Beast is ours, and we go find Ron.

“Check this out,” says Ron, pointing to a giant Ford pickup on his lot. “Look at that bedliner. You’re going scuba diving, right? You want the inside of the van lined? It’ll look awesome, like Darth Vader’s van. Let me make a call.” A few minutes later, Ron has cooked up another deal for us. The van’s cargo area will be sprayed up to the roofline with a durable and wicked-looking polyurea liner. I don’t even have to drive it to the shop. It’s being handled.  After the liner is applied, the Beast’s next stop is to Andy, a shadetree mechanic’s shop. The Beast gets new hoses, fluids, filters, batteries, and an axle seal. It’s ready for another quarter million miles–with regular maintenance, of course.

We pick up the van from Andy’s home shop in Puyallup, Washington. It’s a serious operation, not so shadetree after all. There are 2 lifts, gated parking with at least a dozen vehicles inside, and an appropriate assortment of manufacturer and motorsport signs. “First diesel?” asks Andy. I have to confess. “Yes. First Ford, first van, first diesel.” Andy talks me through what’s under the hood and how to take care of it. I pay attention like it’s my first day in the dojo, learning from the master. I’m hoping to be anointed with a smudge of Amsoil 5w30 on my brow, indoctrinated into the cult of the Ford/International Harvester 7.3, but I just get an invoice.

As I count out the cash for Andy’s services, he says, “so, I hear you two are scuba divers? Really? What do you see down there?” Andy says “scuba diver” the way some people say “astronaut.” Well, it’s a fair trade–mechanics do amazing things, as far as I am concerned. We chat about the life aquatic for a minute and part ways.

Next stop: the bedliner shop, to pay them for services rendered. Aaron is our contact, and he remembers the “scuba van” well. “Wow, scuba diving. You guys really do that?” Generations from now, folks in Puyallup will be talking about those crazy scuba divers and their van that passed through in the spring of ’12.

I hand Aaron a wad of bills and thank him for the great job they did–and the work does look tremendous. The acres of interstellar black, non-skid, chemical-resistant liner armoring the walls and floor look serious. Futuristic. Military. Our Ford cargo van now looks like something from a William Gibson novel, at least on the inside. I’m thinking we need a matter-of-fact sign on the back of the Beast: the interior of this vehicle is impervious to abrasion and bodily fluids. Free candy inside!

The Beast is now being put to work, hauling our scuba gear and mountain bikes and heavy, messy things from the hardware store. For a rig that can tow close to 10,000 lbs, it’s a cushy retirement indeed. While the Beast slumbers in the third bay of the garage most of the time, I know that it likes to work, and I’ll loan it out when friends need it. If you should find yourself operating the Beast, I only ask two things. One, pay for your diesel. Two, try not to get too much blood on the outside, as it is not impervious to abrasion and bodily fluids like the cargo area.

But as a new diesel owner, and one who is totally new to heavy-duty vehicles, I know there is a lot to learn about the care and feeding of my new oil-burning rig. So my story is really an appeal to the B&B–what do I need to know to keep the Beast happy for another quarter million miles?

Sajeev answers:

Well said, and congrats on your purchase!

Aside from the obvious items to address as any vehicle ages (shocks, tires, belts, etc), I only know of two big problems: bizarre Cam Position Sensor failures (buy a spare from an International Dealer, leave under the seat) and electrolysis/cavitation from the cooling system.

Some have mentioned that adding a metal ground strap to your cooling system, wedged between the heater core plumbing and the rubber hose attached to it (yes, really) helps with cavitation.  Sounds like overkill, provided you keep the coolant mix correct.  But I am not a Diesel Tech by any stretch of the imagination.

My only other advice is to engineer an intercooler to work in the Econoline’s cramped engine bay, so you’ll get the same performance (potential?) of the 7.3 Powerstroke equipped trucks.  And then go ape shit, like this guy:

Click here to view the embedded video.

OMG SON: what I wouldn’t do for a 7.3 Econoline that runs a sub-14 second quarter mile!!! Fastest free candy on the planet!


Send your queries to Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice.
]]> 38
Rent, Lease, Sell, Or Keep: 2000 Chevy Silverado Wed, 03 Oct 2012 17:21:03 +0000

I stole it.

At least in the purely metaphorical sense. This 2000 model Silverado went through the last of a sparsely attended sale in Acworth, Georgia. For $1350 plus the $95 auction fee it was all mine.

The body was banged up a bit on the left hand side as you can see, which helped in the acquisition price quite a bit. I called a few automotive recycling centers and the best bed and drivers side fender I could find with the same fender would cost $700. Since the truck had 187k and the regular cab, I thought to myself,

“Well, maybe I could just take it the way I got it?”

The question now became… “Which road would lead to that pot of gold?”

Rent: I see these UHaul and Home Depot trucks all over the place and on the surface, I found it a bit hard to figure it all out. Home Depot seems to primarily use their trucks so folks can pickup appliances and scoot them back in record time. That may work. Given that they use heavily modified F250 diesels for the job I could see their fleet working for a long time.

But the UHaul deals seemed to be one of those death by a thousand cuts arrangements. $19.95 for two hours… then $63.00 for each additional hour. Or you could have it for $84.95 a day and 29 cents for each additional mile beyond 100 miles.

There certainly seems to be a healthy profit in this type of arrangement. But here in North Georgia everybody has a father, cousin or former roommate who has a pickup truck. I definitely wouldn’t be renting it out every day, that’s for sure. Still, I could see renting out a truck that is already a bit beat up cosmetically for $50 a day flat for the metro-Atlanta area. Throw in a utility trailer for $50 a day and the profit would potentially spring eternal.

Lease: If you look real close around those rear wheels you will also find something else unique about this truck.

Just one look at the rear axle told me that this vehicle shares the same rear end as a Z71 that is equipped with the towing package. Throw in a solid towing package and dual exhausts, and I have a truck that can now haul around 8000 pounds. If I lease it, I will likely be looking at $500 down and $55 a week.

Chances are I will also have two types of customers for the Silverado.

The first is someone who needs it as an everyday work truck. Contractors. Owners of small construction and tree cutting businesses. These buyers will use the truck for the reasons God rightfully ordained the pickup as the all-American road machine. Utility.

The second type of customer will be someone who needs to haul a horse trailer during the weekend, or some other type of trailer that requires a bit more towing capability than the typical midsized SUV.  There are still plenty of farms in the county and I wouldn’t be surprised to see an older fellow on a fixed income picking it up for that intended purpose.

Either way, it’s not going to the poser crowd or the country Yuppie. It’s too damn ugly with all those dents.

Sell: The cornucopia of the quick buck. The Silverado would probably have a $2995 asking price and a final selling price between $2300 and $2500.

The funny thing is there are already a pretty big glut of old pickup trucks in my neck of the woods. Title pawns (they loan money in exchange for a lien on the vehicle) end up repossessing quite a few of them. City and county governments. Larger construction outfits. Heck, even the voluminous trade-in volume of every day retailing contributes heavily towards the supply.

One other thing that helps is that tastes are changing. Folks are forgoing the regular cabs for trucks that will seat a full family for extended cabs and crew cabs. $4 gas? Doesn’t matter. If the general public wants to have a truck that can be used for all practicalities and possibilities, you damn well bet that an automaker will make it. $20,000 small pickup ‘tools’ already have a smaller market than the $40,000 truck with a cab and a long bed. They also have far smaller profit. Guess what trend will continue to take hold?

Keep: I went to a tool rental auction this past Saturday and could have bought a nice utility trailer for about $550. So for about $2000 I could have hauled a massive amount of goods whenever the mood or need struck.

But I am not into having stuff, at all. As an avid auction traveler in my late 20′s, I got the sense that a lot of people out there buy simply for the sake of buying. They have a barn. They fill it. They have a shed. They fill that too.

I like not having stuff. Except cars… and maybe a truck.

So I guess the question now is, “Should I rent, lease, sell or keep?”

What says you?

]]> 34
New or Used: Yo Dawg, Listen Up this Time! Tue, 22 May 2012 11:15:10 +0000


Mark writes:

Hi Sajeev and Steve,

Sajeev tried to save me once before but I didn’t listen. Maybe this time I will. Last year, I bought a bomb of a project and he did his best to scare me away. He saw the monstrosity in person. That monster being the 1995 Ford Bronco I bought on a whim. We talked on the phone before I purchased the OJ Bronco. Sajeev told me to avoid it like the plague. Yet, I didn’t listen. I got burned. I owned it for less than 6 months (3 of those months being spent in my garage) before selling it to an offroader in Ohio.

But, now I am in a different situation…

I am back in Canada where gas is significantly more expensive (very unlike cheap Houston Texas gas). My girlfriend and I will be in the market soon for a vehicle and we have the following criteria:

1) Fun to drive: must be a manual, preferably RWD or AWD, and a bit chuckable (not in the “chuck it in the garbage” sense of the Bronco).
2) Practicality: I don’t need a gas guzzler. Something efficient. Two doors are doable. Four doors are better. Wagon or hatch is best. However, it must have enough room for my girlfriend and I, plus two black Labrador mixes (see cute doggy brothers picture).
3) Utility: It needs to be able to tow two motorcycles (~400lbs each) and trailer. Also, we need another room for camping gear, even when the dogs are with us.
4) Realistic: We have finite funds (like most people) so we would definitely be going for something used, under $8000. I couldn’t care less what badge is on the front.


Steve answers:

If you fold down the rear seats, most any modern-day AWD wagon should do the trick.

Subarus tend to be fully priced. A Mazda 6 Mazdaspeed version would be rare and priced too high for your budget. Hondas have stiff price premiums and no real wagons in that price range… at least in the states. Nissan only offers wagon-like SUV’s with AWD, although a Versa hatchback may be just enough to fit the two pooches with the rear seats down.

But that Versa is front wheel drive as well. To be frank, most of what I usually recommend would be front wheel drive because precious few hardcore enthusiasts would ever get the virile satisfaction of actually using the capabilities that come with a good RWD or AWD setup.

This is not an easy deal. You need to figure out whether FWD coupled with a great set of tires can already take care of your sporty needs. If so, let me offer a real dark horse to this race. A 2007 Ford Focus ZXW. Surprisingly chuckable. Great fuel economy. Cheap to maintain. Plus with the seats down in the back, it should be enough to transport the two labs. You should be able to get a very low mileage one and keep it until the Blue Jays win a pennant.

Yes, I am aware that it probably fails the ‘fashion du jour’ test. If you must have AWD and a stick there is always a Subaru Legacy, a Saab 9-3 or a Volvo S60. But I have owned and/or driven all of these cars from the 07′ – 08′ time period and I believe the better bang for the buck can be had with a domestic. Consider the Astra XR AWD as well. Good luck!

Sajeev answers:

Oh man, did I ever try hard to show you the reality of your situation!  Then again, I shoulda known better.  Nobody learns their lesson until they burn their finger on the waffle iron. Many people like the notion of owning a cool old vehicle and think they can make it work, but even I had to give up on that notion and buy a new vehicle to get to work.

I like Steve’s recommendations, except for the towing part.  Then again, you are probably towing 1500lbs or so, and any of these vehicles can make it happen…stopping at highway speeds is another concern.

If you insist on a stick, a Subaru Forester does it all.  Find one with your manual trans, a long service history and scan the forums for potential problems with that particular year and powertrain. Also keep your fingers cross it wasn’t abused.  Not that I’d recommend this option, especially they can be awful thirsty…but it does make sense considering your requirements.

A Focus wagon is great for your budget.  Maybe a Toyota Matrix XRS or a Mazda 6 wagon, too.  None of these are great for towing, but maybe you can overlook that. Just like you and the laughably horrible Bronco I saw many moons ago, you want a vehicle that doesn’t exist at your price range.  Time to make some compromises (fuel economy, manual transmission, budget, tow ratings) and see what you REALLY need in a vehicle.

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Piston Slap: Crossing over into Minivan Tow Ratings? Thu, 19 Apr 2012 11:35:07 +0000


Mike writes:

Dear Sajeev,

I have been a fan of TTAC for a while now. I am motivated to write by the recent responses to towing with a 2005 Odyssey. Two years ago I bought a 2008 Toyota Sienna and a 21 foot (actual total length) travel trailer. The trailer has a GVWR of 3500 lb, which the Sienna is rated to tow with its towing package. I had an independent shop install a fluid-to-air ATF cooler, unfortunately, perhaps, choosing the smallest model as it was recommended for a 3500 lb tow. I was concerned about getting too much cooling in the winter. The van already had an ATF cooler in the radiator. I had them put in an ATF temperature gauge (before the radiator) at the same time. The towed weight of the trailer is several hundred pounds below the GVWR, but it has a front profile that is basically vertical. I have towed the trailer about 20,000 km (yes, I’m in Canada) and done what Toyota calls an ATF change three times. That’s actually a drain the pan and refill with 4 L of ATF, not really a change. Of course, I have no way of knowing how accurate the gauge is, but the highest it’s been on the highway is 220 F on a couple of grades in the BC mountains (Coquihalla highway). The temperature went down as soon as the grade did. It went up to 240 F or so for a few minutes while backing up a steep hill and around a bit of a corner into a storage yard. The van had 38,000 km on it when purchased and is now at 82,000 km.

Enough background. I am writing to ask why it is apparently okay to tow a larger trailer (5000 lb rating) with a Highlander but not a 3500 lb trailer with a Sienna. As far as I can tell, the engine, transmission and weight of the vehicles are basically the same. The internet is rife with posters who advise against towing with a minivan but seem to have no qualms about doing so with a SUV, except the very smallest.

What do you think?

Thanks very much for helping me out with this. I can find no answer to my question on the internet.

Sajeev answers:

Wow, you actually put an ATF temperature gauge (among other things) in a minivan?  This is why I love TTAC: our readers do some rather brilliant and enlightened things outside of their computer time.  Well, at least some of you.  I kid, I kid!

There are crucial elements that go into a tow rating: the vehicle’s weight, braking capacity and rear spring stiffness.  The 2012 Sienna is about 200lbs heavier than the 2012 Highlander, for starters.  Who knows, maybe the brakes aren’t good enough for a Highlander sized trailer and the Sienna body.  Ditto the rear springs.

I never had much faith in manufacturer tow ratings, until the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) came up with their Surface Vehicle Recommended Practice J2807: which supposedly standardizes these figures.  Is J2807 is be all, end all of towing standards?  Maybe so, but this terribly formatted article gives you more insight.  Definitely cut and paste this one into Word before reading.

While this many not fully answer your question, hopefully this will tow you (sorry) in the right direction.

Send your queries to Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry.


]]> 23
Commercial Week Day Two Review: 2012 GMC Savana and Chevrolet Express Tue, 17 Apr 2012 18:28:03 +0000
The Nissan NV may be an exciting newcomer, but the tried-and-true GM and Ford vans are the staple of the commercial market. Our own Mike Solowiow took exception with the 2007 Chevrolet Express passenger van as a passenger hauler back in 2008. Will the no-frills cargo hauler variant find favor with us here at TTAC? More importantly, can GM’s smorgasbord of configuration options dethrone Ford as the volume van seller during the upcoming T-Series transition?

There’s not much styling to discuss when it comes to GM’s full-size vans, but is that important in a work truck? When you’re buying a fleet of work trucks, or just one or two vans for your delivery employees to drive, repair costs are a critical factor. (Seriously, have you seen how cargo-van-drivers drive?) If this describes your employees, buying a Nissan NV with it’s large shiny chrome bumper could be a bad business move, as bumper covers for the Express and Savana go for $75 online. The story is the same from stem to stern eschewing expensive aerodynamic plastic headlamp assemblies (available on the passenger vans) for sealed-beam halogen units, acres of easy-to-Bondo panels and a rear end that’s as discount as it gets. Shoppers have their choice of four standard paint colors, four $150 optional colors, or the ever so popular full-body vinyl wrap. If you’re shopping off the lot, expect to get any color you want so long as its white. 1500 models get a 17-inch steel wheel while 2500 and 3500 models get a 16-inch wheel wrapped in 245 width 75 series rubber for added load capacity.

Nissan’s NV is clearly designed for owner-operators, and it shows with driver oriented features, comfy seats and the positioning of human-room over cargo room. If you thought the last van sporting engine access inside the cabin was driven by the A-Team, think again. Because cargo is king for the GM vans, the engine is pushed as far into the cabin as possible maximizing interior volume and minimizing the external footprint (that’s all relative of course). Having the engine located between the driver and front passenger footwells both limits legroom and cooks the driver’s right leg on long drives. It also means the transmission is under the van between the seats resulting in a fairly high step-in height. On the flip side it means the Savana and Express can swallow 13-foot items in short wheelbase form and the long wheelbase version can schlep 15-foot goods. (The E-series comes in at 12.5 feet and 14.6 feet). Standard equipment includes seats and a steering wheel but stops short of in-dash entertainment of any variety. Buyers have the option of an AM/FM radio, a mid-level unit with a CD player and a higher end unit that brings basic iPod/iPhone functionality. Sadly no navigation system is available in any model.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Let’s be honest. If I’m buying a van for my business and my employees are the ones driving it around, all talk of driver comfort is comparatively less important than the rest of this review, so let’s talk hauling. No other commercial vehicle comes in as many variations as GM’s vans. From 8-15 passenger versions for Zeta Cartel affiliates, two different wheelbases, and cab-only cutaways for shuttle bus and ambulance duty all of which can be had with a variety of engine and transmission choices, there are more variations than you can imagine. As you would expect, payload capacities range from 2,000lbs 1500 models to 4,184lbs in 3500 models. The only area where the Nissan NV clearly trumps GM’s offerings is height with it’s optional 6’2″ interior cargo area. Although you can have a conversion company extend your roof, it’s not as clean as Nissan’s solution and usually the doors left at their regular height, making it difficult to load large cargo. GM fights back with hinged side doors and a considerably longer cargo hold in the extended version.

Although GM offers the widest selection of engines,shoppers should choose carefully as there are some questionable selections on the menu. Let’s start with the 1500 series vans. First up is the ancient 190HP, 260lb-ft 4.3L V6 delivering the best fuel economy at 15/20MPG (city/highway), a 310HP, 334lbft 5.3L V8 with variable valve timing is optional on the 1500 RWD (13/18MPG) and standard on the 1500 AWD van (13/18MPG). Both engines are mated to a light duty four-speed 4L60E automatic transmission. Buyers should know, our informal polling of several large GM fleet customers indicated the 4L60E is notably less reliable than the heavy-duty 6-speed 6L90 used in 2500 and 3500 vans since 2010.

All 2500 and 3500 models come standard with a recently revised 280HP, 192lb-ft 4.8L V8 with VVT mated to GM’s 6-speed automatic good for 13/18MPG. An optional ($995) 324HP, 373lb-ft 6.0L V8 with VVT is available should you feel the need for speed in your cargo hauler. If you believe in burning oil, GM is happy to sell you their 6.6L Duramax V8 diesel engine which is de-tuned from truck duty to 260HP and 525lb-ft (from 397HP/765lb-ft) and delivered 18.8MPG on average for us. Don’t expect the diesel to save you money however as buying it will set you back a whopping $12,000. Perhaps the most enticing option for the GM vans however is the factory built CNG version, one of only two factory built CNG vehicles on the road (the other is the Honda Civic GX). Based on the 6.0L V8 and putting down 279HP and 320lb-ft of twist in gaseous-guise the option will set you back $15,885 and provides a 300+ mile range at the expense of a 5 cubic feet reduction in cargo capacity. While the option seems best suites to markets like the San Francisco Bay Area and Los Angeles where there is a moderate CNG infrastructure (or if you install a “home” refill station), at $1.95 per gallon “equivalent” in the option will pay for itself before you hit 100,000 miles. (Based on current California gasoline prices)

Nissan does not release MPG numbers for the NV vans, but our high-top V8 averaged 14.2MPG and a 40 mile test drive in a standard roof V8 yielded 14.8MPG. From the blue oval competition their 4.6L V8 will do 13/17, the 5.4L V8 drops to 12/16 and the 6.8L V10 rounds out the bottom at 10/14. We average a solid 17MPG during a 90 mile mixed-driving trip with the 4.8L V8 in a base 2500 series van making it the best cost/performance ratio option in this segment.

Towing may not seem like an obvious consideration, but a quick check with the construction crowd confirmed it is important. While the V6 Nissan NV 1500 boasts a 7,000lb tow rating vs GM’s 4,300lb rating for their 1500 series V6 van, Nissan’s 261HP/281lb-ft V6 is probably best pitted against GM’s 4.8L V8 (280HP/296lb-ft) which starts with a 7,400lb towing capacity. We were only able to get our hands on a 5,000lb load to haul with the Nissan and GM vans, but  the difference was enlightening. (Note: tests with the 1500 series GM van were completed with a 4,000lb trailer because if its reduced towing capacity). With trailer attached, GM’s V6 van could barely get out of its own way, while Nissan’s more powerful V6 and 5-speed transmission performed well maintaining 55MPH on a 6% grade, but passing wasn’t really in the cards. GM’s hunt-happy four-speed automatic was as much to blame for this problem as the V6′s specs.

Nissan’s V8 (317HP/385lb-ft) proved a willing tow companion on the same grade able to accelerate from 50-60MPG without drama for passing uphill. GM fights back their 6-speed automatic making the 6.0L V8 the better tow partner, but most importantly making the 4.8L V8 a logical and economical alternative. For those considering the jump from 1500 to 2500 series vans to get the 6-cog transmission, our up-hill towing test demonstrated just how important extra gear ratios are with the less powerful 2500 series (4.8L V8) easily outperforming the 1500 (5.3L V8) due to the two extra gears. Should you need the maximum schlepping ability, GM’s 3500 van with the 6.6L diesel V8 is good for a class leading 10,000lbs of trailering and 4,148lbs of in-van hauling. Ford is of course the other major player in this market, but time and progress have left the E-Series behind. Ford offers only three engine options at this time: a 225HP/286lb-ft 4.6L modular V8, a 255HP/350lb-ft 5.4L V8 and a 305HP/420lb-ft 6.8L V10. Both V8s are available only with a four-speed automatic while the V10 gets a 5-speed.

As I said in our review of the NV, pricing commentary is difficult when it comes to a commercial vehicle. I was unable to get specific rebate numbers, but I am told that fleet buyers should expect around $1000 back with a purchase of five vans and around $2,500 for 25 vans plus the usual bevy of enticing freebies. Don’t take those numbers as gospel, fleet buyers should contact the manufacturers for ordering details as the configurations are near endless. While the NV 1500 is a hair cheaper than a Chevy Express 1500, GM’s 2500 series van is only around $755 more expensive than an NV 1500 netting the buyer the heavy-duty transmission, brakes, and increased hauling capacity. Compared to the present competition, GM’s Chevy Express and GMC Savana twins deliver high-capacity hauling, more variations, and thanks to the new 6-speed transmissions, class leading fuel economy making them easily the top pick for fleet use. If however you’re driving your own van, the slight reduction in utility  and observed fuel economy of the Nissan NV are offset by vastly improved creature comforts and more room for the driver at a very compelling price. Until the blue oval can get the new T-Series van online, the best hauling options on the market seem to be from Nissan and GM, check out our E-Series review for more on that tomorrow.


This is part two of a five-part series on commercial vehicles. Click the links below for the others in this series:

2012 Nissan NV

2012 Ford E-350

2012 Ford Transit Connect


General Motors provided the vehicle, one tank of diesel and insurance for this review

0-60: 9.4 Seconds

 Average fuel economy: 18.8MPG over 435 miles

IMG_4221 2012 GMC Savana Cargo Van, 6.6L Duramax diesel engine, Photography Courtesy of Alex L Dykes IMG_4224 IMG_4225 IMG_4227 IMG_4228 2012 GMC Savanna 3500 Diesel Cargo Van, Exterior, rear doors open, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes IMG_4231 IMG_4232 IMG_4233 IMG_4234 2012 GMC Savanna 3500 Diesel Cargo Van, Exterior, Side doors open, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes IMG_4236 IMG_4240 IMG_4241 IMG_4242 IMG_4243 IMG_4244 IMG_4245 IMG_4246 IMG_4247 IMG_4248 IMG_4249 IMG_4250 IMG_4251 IMG_4320 IMG_4321 IMG_4322 IMG_4323 IMG_4324 2012 GMC Savanna 3500 Diesel Cargo Van, Exterior, headlamps and grille, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 GMC Savanna 3500 Diesel Cargo Van, Exterior, Duramax diesel engine, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes IMG_4329 IMG_4330 IMG_4334 2012 GMC Savanna 3500 Diesel Cargo Van, Interior, Driver's side, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail ]]> 31
Piston Slap: If you must tow with a Minivan… Mon, 09 Apr 2012 11:50:32 +0000
TTAC Commentator 70Cougar writes:
Dear Sajeev:

My wife has a 2005 Odyssey with 50,000 miles.  To date, we’ve had no problems with the transmission, but I keep reading about how the transmission on the Odyssey isn’t cut out for a vehicle that heavy.  I’ve been contemplating getting a utility trailer for it (although, shockingly, my wife isn’t too hip on having a utility trailer in the driveway) and, in the course of my research, I’ve found that a transmission cooler is recommended if you’re going to haul a trailer. Is it worthwhile to install a transmission cooler even if I don’t get a trailer?  Is there any downside to transmission coolers (e.g., the trans runs cold for too long)?

My wife has a 5 mile commute (10 miles round trip) and we hope to keep the van at least another 5 years.

Sajeev answers:

Before we start, it’s time to change your transmission fluid.  The reason is twofold: transmission fluid has a finite lifespan, and it will die at the mere sight of a utility trailer attached to its minivan home. I love minivans for their efficient use of space and command seating position, but their transaxles are never good enough.

I think every minivan needs the largest external transmission cooler possible behind the front bumper.  That is almost as important as regular fluid changes.  If you plan on towing anything, carrying enough people/cargo to make the rear springs sag, and/or live in a climate that’s brutal on transmission fluid temperatures, both are mandatory. I’d consider annual transmission fluid changes on any minivan that tows on a regular basis, at highway speeds.

A downside to transmission coolers?  Not that I can think of. Because transmission fluid gets far hotter than engine coolant (hence why many tranny coolers are just a heat exchanger inside the engine radiator) the odds of being too cold aren’t a big concern.  But if you aren’t a Houstonian like yours truly, maybe you will need a radiator block-off pad for your front bumper…in the Yukon Territory.

Send your queries to Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry.
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Ford Wins Asinine Press Release Of The Week Award Sat, 17 Mar 2012 14:00:49 +0000

We get all kinds of silly and nonsensical emails at our TTAC inboxes, but when they come from a major OEM, it’s always a little more entertaining. Check out this absurd release from Ford, boasting the 2013 Escape’s towing prowess.

According to the Blue Oval, the Escape’s hauling capability is “…best in class among small SUVs with turbocharged four-cylinder engines.” The Escape can tow 3,500 pounds, crushing the effete Volkswagen Tiguan’s 2,200 pound limit. Ford also compares the Escape to the Acura RDX (which won’t be available with a turbo for much longer) and the Kia Sportage, suggesting that it must have been a really slow news day for Ford to concoct this release out of whole cloth. Last time we checked, the turbocharged small-SUV segment was quite small, and Ford appears to have snagged a gold medal merely for showing up. Congrats!

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Review: 2012 Infiniti QX56 Take Two Mon, 16 Jan 2012 21:58:55 +0000 If you thought high gas prices and a questionable economy meant the era of big SUVs was over, you’d be wrong; 2011 saw large SUV sales in the US grow 3.7% with a 7.4% growth in the luxury SUV segment. If you are one of those people with six-figure salaries and snow-filled school runs, the Cadillac Escalade is probably on your short list. But what about the person who isn’t ready to look “gangsta” while dropping Jimmy Jr. off at softball practice? Infiniti might just have the answer: the all-new, all-enormous QX56. Michael Karesh snagged a QX56 from a dealer back in March 2011, and in December Infiniti tossed me the keys to a 7-seat QX to see what the behemoth is like to live with for a week.

The luxury SUV formula is simple (and almost universally applied); take a mass-market SUV, add bling, softer leather, and wood trim (real or fake, take your pick). The Cadillac Escalade is the best known example. The Caddy borrows so heavily from the Chevrolet Tahoe and GMC Yukon that it’s hard to tell them apart unless you’re looking at them head-on.  Toyota/Lexus uses the same formula to make the LX570 out of the Toyota Land Cruiser.  If this doesn’t appeal to you, Nissan/Infiniti may have been listening. While Infiniti’s last generation QX was a tarted up Nissan Armada, this time around the QX is a re-badged Nissan Patrol. Same story different names you say? Not quite, the Patrol has never been sold in America, and in all likelihood never will be. You see, the Patrol is not some budget Nissan, it’s Nissan’s flagship SUV in markets where Infiniti doesn’t exist. This sounds strange to the average American buyer, however it is perfectly normal (in many markets) for a single brand to compete in the budget-compact market and the full-size luxury niche at the same time.

Outside, the QX looks big. Really big. Infiniti attempted to put the QX on a visual diet by adding the Infiniti signature grille and “bubbly” hood treatment. The nip/tuck works to some extent and made me believe the QX56 is smaller than the competition, until I parked between an Escalade and GL550. At over 208-inches long and 80-inches wide, the QX56 is 6-inches longer and more than an inch wider than the Escalade (if want an SUV that rivals river-barges, Cadillac’s Escalade ESV is 229-inchs long). The QX is so large that while on the freeway I came too close to a pair of Smart Fortwos and accidentally pulled them into orbit. While I find the quarter-panel “portholes” an awkward styling job, the rest of the slab-sided QX is more attractive in my mind than the sedate LX570, the angular GL or the Escalade.

The super-size theme continues inside with wide, flat-bottomed front seats, a large center console between the front and second row seats (in the 7-seat QX) and large expanses of real wood trim. Anyone who owns or has driven a late model year Infiniti will feel immediately at home inside the QX as Infinit’s interior design department still chants the “same sausage, different sizes” mantra, and I’m OK with that. Parts quality inside the QX is extremely high with all the major touch points lacking the plastic feel the Cadillac is burdened with. Still, budgets are a way of life and back in 2010 when I reviewed the redesigned M56, I loved the “knurled” rings around the speedo and tach, the QX borrows the style but not the 3-D plastic bits opting instead for a painted-on faux knurl. Other than the painted gauge bling, the QX’s cabin is  easily on par with Mercedes’ GL and Lexus’s LX.

Under the QX’s bulbous hood beats but one engine option: the lightly re-worked 5.6-liter direct-injection V8 VK56VD. While the V8 is shared with the M56 sedan, exhaust differences reduce the output by 20HP and 4lb-ft to 400HP at 5,850RPM and 413lb-ft at 4,000RPM. Despite the downgrade in twist, the new engine is more powerful than all of the competition except the Escalade’s 403-horsepower, 417lb-ft 6.2-liter pushrod V8. Despite being down on displacement versus the Caddy, Infiniti’s direct-injection and variable valve timing tech help the QX’s V8 not only deliver its peak torque earlier than the Caddy’s 6.2L V8, but it doesn’t run out of breath as easily either.

As a result of the advantageous torque curve, high horsepower and a well matched 7-speed transmission, the QX56 recorded a faster 0-60 time than the 2011 Infiniti G37 convertible we tested recently. The QX boasts an 8,500lb towing capacity (slightly higher than Escalde), and in a back-to-back test with a friend’s 2011 Caddy and the same trailer, the QX felt far more composed going up steep grades with a 5,000lb trailer. The fast acceleration times and improved towing feel are largely due to the 7-speed automatic which spent less time hunting than GM’s 6-speed. Overall, the QX transmission’s shifts are fast and crisp like other Infiniti products (with rev-matched down-shifts), however the unit is programmed to be up-shift happy for fuel economy reasons. Fear not piston heads; romping the go peal will still trump the EPA. All 400 ponies are routed to the tarmac via the rear wheels or an optional all-time four-wheel-drive system with a two-speed transfer case. Sadly the terrain selection dial (ala Land Rover) from the Nissan Patrol didn’t make it into the QX.

Out on the road, the QX’s 121-inch wheelbase (5-inches longer than Escalade), independent rear suspension and standard 60-series rubber help the QX deliver a fairly compliant ride. Upgrading to the 22-inch wheel package drops the aspect ratio on the tires to 50 but improves the look of the vehicle whiel taking a slight toll on harshness over rough pavement. If handling is a priority for you, look beyond the 22-inch low profile tires and shop the   300lb lighter Mercedes-Benz GL550 or a crossover. Compared to the LX570, the QX delivers better grip than the Lexus, but slots firmly between the base Escalade and the Escalade with GM’s Magnetic Ride Control. Does any of this matter? I say no. Let’s face it – as long as a large SUV handles as well as a 1980s minivan it has succeeded in my book.

While Green Peace will never give a thumbs-up to any full-size SUV, the 5,850lb QX56 manages to win the award for the most fuel efficient “full-size non-hybrid SUV,” delivering 14 city MPG and 20 highway MPG. (The Escalde and GL450 both scrape the bottom at 13 MPG city/18 MPG highway.) During our 640-mile week with the QX56, we averaged a respectable 15.2MPGs in mixed driving and a daily commute over a 2,200ft mountain pass and our best highway mileage of 22MPG was achieved during a 48-mile run on level highway.


Lately Infiniti has been taking nanny state to the next level with “prevention systems” rather than just “warning systems.” As much as I may dislike systems that take control at any time (as opposed to systems that take control when you are inattentive), when you are driving a living room sized vehicle aroundm it’s probably a good idea for the nannies to kick in early. Sure, the Lexus LX has a pre-collision system and the Mercedes GL can be had with lane departure warning, but the QX takes electronic prevention to a whole new level. “Lane Departure Prevention” not only tells you when you cross the line without signalling, it will actually use the brakes to “steer” you back in your lane. Similarly, “Blind Spot Avoidance” will act (more drastically) to keep you from side-swiping that motorcycle or Smart car in your blind spot. While the Lane Departure system’s intervention is a gentle tug, the Blind Spot system is more of a shove back in your lane. I can hear HAL now: I’m sorry, Dave. I’m afraid I can’t do that.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Most luxury brands offer radar cruise control as an option, but Infinit’s packs a socialist twist: an accelerator pedal that fights back. The radar cruise control with “Intelligent Brake Assist” will brake for you [even to a complete stop] in many situations. The easiest way to describe the behavior is this: you are following a car on a surface street, the car begins to slow for a red light, if the QX56 sees that you are closing on the car in front of you it will begin pushing the accelerator pedal up at you to indicate your need to act, if you lift off the accelerator and you are close enough to the car in front, the QX will automatically apply the brakes taking you all the way to a complete stop. Once stopped the car will hold the brakes for a few seconds, then beep indicating your need to touch the brake pedal and then release it’s death grip on your stoppers. I will leave the debate over this making QX drivers depend too much on technology to our readers.

The QX56 shares its 8-inch navigation/infotainment system with the rest of the Infiniti lineup and as such provides excellent Bluetooth and iPod/iPhone integration. While the software has not been significantly improved since the former QX, it is fairly competitive with the Lexus and Cadillac systems. With an intuitive interface that combines physical buttons on the dash and steering wheel as well as a touch screen, navigating through your music device or the nav system is easy and can be done primarily via the steering wheel. While the Infiniti system allows voice control of the navigation system and Bluetooth phone dialing, it unfortunately still lacks voice command of your Apple music device ala Ford’s SYNC or Kia’s UVO. The large screen is also used by Infiniti’s “Around Monitor” system which takes images from four different cameras around the car and digitally manipulates the image to give you a bird’s eye view of your surroundings. While this feature is nifty in a mid-size luxury sedan, it’s a matter of wheel-life-or-death on large SUVs and thankfully it is standard on all QX models.

So how much does one of these babies set you back? Logically, full-size SUVs have full-size price tags and the QX56 is no exception. The 2012 Infiniti QX56 starts at $58,700 for the rear wheel drive QX and $61,800 for the four-wheel drive model. Aside from the all-wheel motivation, the $3,100 also buys the driver a windshield de-icer and a 260lb increase in curb weight. Strangely enough the 4WD system does not come standard with a reduction in fuel economy with 2WD and 4WD models scoring the same in the EPA tests (your mileage may vary of course). Our tester was a fully-loaded AWD model retailing for $75,140. Our options list included: the $2,950 “Theater Package” with dual 7-inch headrest monitors for the second row, wireless headphones, second row power-folding heated seats and a built-in 120V AC inverter; the $4,100 “Deluxe Touring Package” with heated and cooled front seats, semi-aniline leather, dynamic body roll control, climate control with air quality management, a Plasmacluster air purifier and burl wood trim; and the $3,000 “Technology Package” which includes all the safety nannies we covered earlier. While $75K sounds steep, the QX56 is actually a “bargain” in the luxo-hauler class. Similarly equipped, the Mercedes GL550 will set you back $89,818, the Cadillac Escalade Platinum  $82,035 and the Lexus X570 will ding you $89,356. It should be noted that despite the Cadillac of price tags, the Escalade lacks many of the advanced active safety features of the QX.

As much as I might like to think of myself as a mild-greenie, I have always had a strangely large place in my heart for large vehicles. You know you like ‘em big too. However politically incorrect it may be to drive a large SUV, and keeping the fact that few people really “need” a full-size SUV, the QX56 is a solid entry in this niche and 2011 sales bear this out with the QX outselling the Lexus LX570 fourfold. Indeed the QX outsells all but the Escalade, and for good reason, with a fresh new look, upscale interior and more electronic doodads than the competition for a lower price point, the QX56 should be at the top of your super-sized list.


0-30: 2.161 seconds
0-60: 5.61 seconds
1/4 Mile: 14.27 seconds @ 97 MPH

Infiniti provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review.

2012 Infiniti QX56 Exterior Front, Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Infiniti QX56 Exterior Front, Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Infiniti QX56 Exterior Front 3/4, Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Infiniti QX56 Exterior Front 3/4, Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Infiniti QX56 Exterior Rear, Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes I2012 Infiniti QX56 Exterior Rear Side 3/4, Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Infiniti QX56 Exterior Side, Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Infiniti QX56 Engine, Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Infiniti QX56 Engine, Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Infiniti QX56 Exterior Grille, Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Infiniti QX56 Headlamps, Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Infiniti QX56 Exterior, Portholes, Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Infiniti QX56 Exterior, Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Infiniti QX56 Exterior, Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Infiniti QX56 Exterior, Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Infiniti QX56 Interior, Infotainment / Nagivation Screen, Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Infiniti QX56 Interior Gauges, Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Infiniti QX56 Interior Gauges, Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Infiniti QX Audio Controls, Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Infiniti QX Cargo Area, Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Infiniti QX Cargo Area, Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Infiniti QX Cargo Area, Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Infiniti QX56 Exterior, Side. Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Infiniti QX56 Exterior, Side. Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Infiniti QX56 Exterior, Side. Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Infiniti QX56 Exterior, Side, Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Infiniti QX 56 Exterior, Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Infiniti QX56 Exterior, Side. Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Infiniti QX56 Exterior, Side. Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Infiniti QX56 Exterior, Side.Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Infiniti QX56 Exterior, Side. Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Infiniti QX56 Exterior, Side. Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Infiniti QX56 Wheels, Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Infiniti QX56 Interior. Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Infiniti QX56 Interior Dashboard, Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Infiniti QX56 Interior Dashboard, Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Infiniti QX56 Interior Dashboard 2, Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Infiniti QX56 Interior Dashboard 1, Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Infiniti QX56 Interior Second Row, Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Infiniti QX56 Interior Middle Row, Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Infiniti QX56 Interior Third Row, Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Infiniti QX56 Interior Seating - View from cargo area, Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Infiniti QX56 Interior Seating, Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Infiniti QX56 Interior Seating 2, Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Infiniti QX56 Interior Seating, Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Infiniti QX56 Interior Front Door, Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Infiniti QX56 Interior Center Stack, Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Infiniti QX56 Interior AWD Mode Selector, Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Infiniti QX56 Interior AWD Mode Selector, Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Infiniti QX56 Interior, Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Infiniti QX56 Interior, Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Infiniti QX56 Interior, Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Infiniti QX56 Instrument Cluster (gauges), Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Infiniti QX56 Instrument Cluster (gauges), Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Infiniti QX56 Instrument Cluster (gauges), Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Infiniti QX56 All-Around-View, Photography courtesy of Alex L. Dykes infiniti_qx56_thumb ]]> 60
Are You Ready For: The Hybrid Camper Trailer? Sun, 21 Aug 2011 19:51:50 +0000

We’ve heard about range-extending trailers which could allow EVs to become range-extended plug-in hybrids, but how about this: a trailer with its own battery storage, regenerative braking and even electric-drive assist. That’s the idea behind German camper trailer firm Knaus Tabbert’s concept, on display this summer at Düsseldorf’s Caravan Salon. And besides adding hybrid capabilities to the car that happens to be towing the trailer, the trailer itself can use the energy gained through regenerative braking for its climate control, refrigerator, lights and more. Autobild reports:

Here’s how it works: Two AC generators, each with 850 watts of power are connected to each wheel of the caravan. The energy generated during the drive is stored in lead-acid batteries, which add an extra weightof 70 to 80 kilos. Starting at a speed of about ten km/h the generators begin feeding electricity to the batteries, and the maximum charge power is available by about 35 km/h. If the Caravan’s electricity use is limited to seven hours per day (total power 100 watts), campers can take advantage of up to four days of independence from an external power supply.

Even if you don’t understand German, you might enjoy the video above, which demonstrates many of the promised functions of this system. Outside of videos though, the system still is not ripe for public sale, according to its developer. There’s still no word on when it will be ready or how much it will cost, but it’s one of many small ways that hybrid technology is seeping into nearly every form of transportation.

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Adventures In Flat Towing: Except For The Bad Engine, All Systems Go! Fri, 04 Mar 2011 21:00:18 +0000
I’ve become quite familiar with the burning-coolant/oil/misery-combo smell of a blown head gasket/cracked head, what with the scent being such a frequent olfactory treat at LeMons races, and so I knew what was happening on I-25 in downtown Denver once I got within nose distance of this scene.

Safety first! Got the auxiliary brake lights, everything’s hooked up safely, the works… well, except for the small problem that the tow vehicle’s engine is undergoing catastrophic failure. The driver seemed unconcerned (in spite of the frantic gestures from other drivers, the pegged-out temperature gauge, and the terrible noises from under the hood) and kept the pedal to the metal. I didn’t stick around for the final act of this cruel drama— the one that ends with the truck sitting in a puddle of oil and steam (and possibly on fire) in the fast lane during rush hour— but I’m sure it involved a great deal of angst all around.

SmokeyTowRig-6 SmokeyTowRig-1 SmokeyTowRig-4 SmokeyTowRig-5 ]]> 34
Incredible Transformer Motorcycle Wed, 17 Mar 2010 17:22:40 +0000

Umm, what’s that strange looking motorcycle up ahead?

A transformer obviously. And what does it transform into?

A tow bike!

Although these seem to be most common in China, the Retriever is built by a Swedish company, aptly called “Coming Through“. The benefits in clearing a stalled car in jammed traffic are obvious. But somehow, I doubt we’ll be seeing them in the highly tow-averse US.

(hat tip to Ray Charlton)

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What’s Wrong With This Picture: The Great American Towing Conspiracy Lives Edition Thu, 21 Jan 2010 20:31:38 +0000

A recent test by Autobild sought to find the German-market vehicle that could tow the most kilos per euro. Third place (at€13.36 euros per kilo) went to the AWD 1.6 TDI Golf Variant, which is tow-rated at 1.8 tons on the German market (first and second went to the Tiguan and CR-V). Though the American-market Golf TDI has far more power than Autobild’s value-hauler podium finisher, Volkswagen continues to send tow-rating curious Americans messages like this one:

Thank you for visiting the Volkswagen website. We appreciate your
inquiry regarding the capability of using your Volkswagen for towing

Volkswagen does not recommend a passenger vehicle be used to tow.

Bastards! Incidentally, this image is from a post on the British Caravan Club’s voting the Golf 2.0 TDI as “Overall Towcar of 2009.”

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