As I sip my First Coffee Of The Day …
Just an FYI to folks that “I’ve bought my tow vehicle”. It was not the one I expected. Monday it goes to The Mechanic for a checkup and spruce up.
I’d set out to get a used Truck. Especially a Dodge Ram Cummins Diesel 4×4 (or possibly FORD Powerstroke). When those were priced insanely high for their age due to unobtainum silicon for new Trucks, I moved on to “quasi-Trucks” like the Dodge Durango, Lincoln Navigator, etc. We’re talking $15k-$25k vs $5k-$10k for same age and condition.
Even looked at repurposed School Buses and Box Trucks. That was where I found out about the CARB (California Air Resources Board) rules forbidding any Commercial Diesel older than 2010 from operating in the State. LOTS of acceptable options in this bunch, except I could not register them in California OR use them in California if registered in another State. In Theory there is an exemption for “personal use of personal vehicle to move only your stuff”, but I had no desire to fight the DMV on the reg nor every border ag station, weight station, and random cop. Educating the world to an arcane point of law was not on my bucket list…
Oh, and the newer than 2010 Trucks were all going for insanely high prices as the old ones were sold out of State and the food fight over the remainder was going on.
The quasi-trucks and pickups proved a bit problematic in a couple of ways (often relating to spousal comfort and “step height” to get into them – arthritic knees not liking high steps). The Air Suspension of the Lincoln Navigator was a big plus in the smooth ride department, and the 5.4 L Hemi in the Durango (and Chrysler Aspen) gives it something like 8600 lbs Towing Capacity. But… the one Lincoln Navigator that I thought was in good enough condition to buy (for the price) had replaced the air suspension with coil springs. Rode like a big truck. Sigh. I learned a lot about aftermarket air suspension and retrofits to the Durango line. I also learned about 14 mpg freeway… less when towing. Both the Navigator and the Durango are “gas only” in my area ( I found ONE newer Navigator offered with a Diesel engine. WAY more expensive than I wanted and in black, which the spouse does not abide).
I had a “Preferred Features” list that included 4×4 or all wheel drive, Diesel, and towing capacity for a mid-sized Airstream (in case of need to buy & bug out…). I started trying searches with various bits left off the list, like no Diesel in the Durango / Navigator used market. Or no 4×4 drive.
We’be become quite fond of our 4Matic wagon (Mercedes) and the Subaru Forester all wheel drive. It just changes the whole risk profile in sloppy weather or just slop in general. Then the extra 20% to 30% fuel economy of Diesel… Decisions decisions.
I was almost ready to by an old Durango (for about $5000 – California market has a LOT of “old but still fine” cars with zero rust issues owned by low mileage drivers…) and accept that the low price to buy it would cover the gas suckage. I got to go down the Rabbit Hole of “SKIM” – the Engine Interrupter device. Since about 2000 many cars have had a device in them that kills the engine if it gets unhappy. The Durango & Jeep have one that can be removed and reprogrammed, the Navigator not so much. But they tend to fail around 10 years old+ and make the vehicle a brick for a week or so.
I managed to find ONE listing of a Mercedes ML320 CDI (not BlueTec). This is what I’ve bought.
It has a 7200 lb Towing Capacity. This is just 100 lbs shy of the GVWR of the 25 foot to 28 foot Airstreams and well over the dry weight. So, OK, leave out 12 gallons of water or drain your grey / black before moving; or just buy a 23 footer instead. Heck, we’d not be loading up 1000+ lbs of stuff in it anyway for a “bug out”. It, 7200 lbs, is way more than enough for the box cargo trailer I’m looking at to “move my stuff”. I’m not going to stress about GVWR for a trailer I don’t have. Just buy smaller or a different lighter weight rig should that event arise.
Sidebar on Bug Out: The issue here is that we’re going to be Bi-Coastal for a while. New home in Florida being set up, spouse having medical procedure and recovery through about February before she gets to do the move. What happens if, say, the Austria Rules come to California in January or February and “all our stuff” is in Florida; except the bed, used recliner, camp cooking, and one old TV (just enough for ‘recovery’)? Do we just get locked into the house here and God Only Knows what happens to the house / stuff in Florida? Nope. It’s “load up in a trailer and bug out” time. I can be in Arizona in about 10 hours. Nevada in about 3, maybe 4 towing. So wanted a vehicle able to do that job “For That Day”… while hoping it remains a theoretical. Seems crazy to need to prepare for an “Escape to the Free State of Florida”, but it’s clearly prudent these days. Heck, we could even do the Bug Out over rural back roads sans trailer and buy one “along the way”. Route planning for that already done and the 4×4 helps on the dirt roads… but I’m not expecting that level of policing.
The CDI is NOT subject to the Blue Goo emissions scandals and lawsuits. It isn’t just VW. Mercedes BlueTec and some FORD Powerstroke are caught up in it too. IMHO they ought never to have “settled” but instead stood the ground of “You said to pass the test, we did, you don’t like the way, then specify a new test.” But whatever… It is, IMHO, the best Diesel engine Mercedes has made since the 240D (4 cylinder in-line iron block and iron head million mile engine). The 320 CDI is a V6, turbo, with Common Rail Injection.
In theory it gets about 24 MPG on the freeway (if not at insane speeds ;-) and the on-board computer says 19.x combined in actual use. Claimed to drop to about 16 when towing. Still pretty good. Plus the height to step in is acceptable and the ride quality is pretty good too. Price is about double that Durango, but it’s a vehicle that hits all the marks. Diesel – Check. All Wheel drive – Check – 4Matic. Towing Capacity – Check. Just enough, with the requirement to buy a smaller Airstream IFF that need ever shows up.
So now I can move on to the next step. Buying a cargo trailer and “moving my stuff” to a place in Florida. Meaning Yet Another Road Trip is in my future before too long.
This process has taken a couple of months longer than I expected. Largely due to “Lessons Learned” being large and CARB screwing up vehicles. Oh Well.
1) Every vehicle year, engine, model, etc. has a different Towing Capacity. You can’t just say “ML” or “Durango” and be done. Over the years, to meet ever higher Fuel Economy Standards, vehicles were made lighter with smaller engines and towing capacity drops. Jeep especially shows this (there were fewer Durango models). The Diesels have much higher Towing Capacity than the Gas Engines for any given size, but Diesels can be harder to find. (i.e. any Gas ML was not good enough.) This site was helpful in that regard:
You can put in other make / model / year selections at the bottom of the page. This is just one example.
Year Make Model Engine Tow Capacity 2006 Dodge Durango SLT 4WD 4.7L V8 5700 lb Notes: Automatic transmission 3.55 axle ratio 2006 Dodge Durango SLT 4WD 5.7L V8 7150 lb Notes: Automatic transmission 3.55 axle ratio 2006 Dodge Durango SLT 4WD 4.7L V8 7200 lb Notes: Automatic transmission 3.92 axle ratio 2006 Dodge Durango SLT 4WD 5.7L V8 8650 lb Notes: Automatic transmission 3.92 axle ratio
Yeah, towing capacity can range from 5700 lbs to 8650 lbs and to know what you got, you need to know the axle ratio, transmission, and exact engine size… Things like “Durango with V8 Engine” are not enough to know.
Similarly these folks:
As it runs to several pages, I’m just going to give some excerpts showing the big range that happens:
Year Make Model TowLimit Notes
2020 Jeep Cherokee 2000 lbs. See additional tow rating details for 2020 Jeep Cherokee
2020 Jeep Cherokee 4000 lbs. See additional tow rating details for 2020 Jeep Cherokee
2020 Jeep Gladiator Overland 4000 lbs. See additional tow rating details for 2020 Jeep Gladiator Overland
2020 Jeep Gladiator Overland 6000 lbs. See additional tow rating details for 2020 Jeep Gladiator Overland
2020 Jeep Gladiator Rubicon 4500 lbs. See additional tow rating details for 2020 Jeep Gladiator Rubicon
2020 Jeep Gladiator Rubicon 7000 lbs. See additional tow rating details for 2020 Jeep Gladiator Rubicon
2010 Jeep Grand Cherokee 2WD/4WD 3500 lbs. See additional tow rating details for 2010 Jeep Grand Cherokee 2WD/4WD
2010 Jeep Grand Cherokee 2WD 7400 lbs. See additional tow rating details for 2010 Jeep Grand Cherokee 2WD
2008 Jeep Grand Cherokee 2WD 7400 lbs. See additional tow rating details for 2008 Jeep Grand Cherokee 2WD
2008 Jeep Grand Cherokee 2WD 3500 lbs. See additional tow rating details for 2008 Jeep Grand Cherokee 2WD
2008 Jeep Grand Cherokee 2WD 6500 lbs. See additional tow rating details for 2008 Jeep Grand Cherokee 2WD
2004 Jeep Grand Cherokee 2WD/4WD 5000 lbs. See additional tow rating details for 2004 Jeep Grand Cherokee 2WD/4WD
2004 Jeep Grand Cherokee 2WD/4WD 6500 lbs. See additional tow rating details for 2004 Jeep Grand Cherokee 2WD/4WD
2004 Jeep Liberty 2WD/4WD 2000 lbs. See additional tow rating details for 2004 Jeep Liberty 2WD/4WD
2004 Jeep Liberty 2WD/4WD 3500 lbs. See additional tow rating details for 2004 Jeep Liberty 2WD/4WD
2004 Jeep Liberty 2WD/4WD 5000 lbs. See additional tow rating details for 2004 Jeep Liberty 2WD/4WD
It can become a “Whack-A-Mole” problem with each used vehicle trying to figure out the actual towing capacity of it. Most owners do not know their “Axle Ratio” for example, and many don’t know about other options either.
2) Then I also got to learn about the CARB 2010 ruling, and how that screwed up the Box Truck options for me. But it did enlighten about the “Supply Chain” issues… Oh, and heard on a Sebastian Gorka radio segment, a caller claiming to be a Cargo Trucker in the Carolinas said that under Trump, they had suspended hours limits to avoid a problem, but Biden Admin had issued an order that he could only move ONE Container a day (when his normal capacity was 3 a day). IMHO that’s big “Dig Here!” that might show deliberate intent to damage supply chains.
3) Silicon Shortages and the ripple of prices down into the used market as used supply dried up since folks were not buying new and thus not selling used. This had big differential impact in work trucks vs “recreational trucks” like SUV things.
4) That the VW “scandal” had extended to others. I knew I was not fond of “Blue Goo”, but now was added the desire to avoid the whole legal quagmire that might also extend into registration issues and / or performance not matching “spec” post “fix”:
Companies based in the United States and abroad have found themselves accused of manufacturing trucks and cars that cheat emission standards. Volkswagen is the most commonly known example, though others have found themselves in legal trouble since. A later investigation involving Fiat Chrysler already reached a massive settlement involving nearly a billion dollars in fines and penalties. Ford’s Super Duty trucks still remain under investigation with a class action lawsuit rolling forward in the courts. But one emissions scandal that has not been on everyone’s radar involves Mercedes-Benz. The Mercedes-Benz emissions scandal, impacting thousands of the company’s BlueTEC diesel vehicles, involves the cloud of a governmental probe and class action case, not only concerning owners, but leaving a very murky future ahead for how the vehicles, their performance following any attempted “fix” and re-sale values will be impacted by class action settlements and governmental investigations.
The government set the test criteria, the makers met it. They ought to have just said “Then gives us a new spec to meet for the new model years”.
There were other things learned along the way, but those are the “big lumps”. Other littler things were that the Cummins used in RAM trucks comes in 12 valve and 24 valve versions, the 24 being newer and less robust. The FORD Powerstroke going steadily down hill in reliability from the 7.3 L Navistar to the 6.0 L Common Rail to the one today. More electronics dependency and blue goo issues accumulating over the years. Other vehicles having lower GVWR over the years to meet CAFE (Combined Average Fleet Economy) numbers giving lower towing capacity as a result. SKIM and related “security features” failing over time and bricking cars as the electronics fail – and different makers having varying degrees of recovery possible. So it goes.
Sidebar on SKIM: This module is used in Dodge Durango / Chrysler Aspen / Jeep Cherokee and related products over many years starting in the late 1990s. It CAN be “deleted” and looking for “SKIM Delete” is enlightening. FORD Navistar lookups claim their’s can not be deleted. Mercedes seems to work better and longer… But deliberately designing cars to not run seems, um, an issue.
I also learned that the Durango, Cherokee, and ML / GL from Mercedes shared a “platform” starting in 2011 and on to recent years. They are now starting to drift apart. Early Durangos built on a Dodge Dakota frame, then a RAM Truck frame (so they ride like a truck…) and then in 2011 going to the common platform. So mostly the same, but with towing capacity varying widely with exact engine, axles, etc. installed. Similarly MLs started on one platform, then went through generations until the 2011 common one. Best years after 2000; and before the Blue Goo for Diesels.
At any rate, now I’m on to getting a cargo trailer ;-)
Only compromise I had to make was “lower GVWR for a hypothetical travel trailer in the future, maybe.” I’m good with that.