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A growing young family soon dictated a VW Dasher station wagon, followed by a full-size, gas-sucking GMC van and later a more fuel efficient Dodge minivan, which I drove until I joined the staff at AutoWeek magazine and suddenly discovered the joy of driving cars with manufacturer’s plates.
Not long before I left AutoWeek for the Arizona desert, I’d driven a Frontier crew cab from Michigan to Nashville, where my son was going to college. I hauled much of his worldly goods in and on the truck on the way down, and was impressed on the trip back how the back end of this truck didn’t bounce like a basketball when the bed was empty.
A few months later, I moved to Phoenix. Not knowing the condition of the local press fleet, I decided to buy a car, which turned out to be my truck.
"But you hate pickup trucks!" a former AutoWeek co-worker shuddered when I told him I’d bought my Frontier.
"I didn’t buy a pickup truck," I responded. "I bought a lifestyle vehicle."
He was right: I was the AutoWeek staffer who least liked driving pickup trucks. But I also was right: I was buying a vehicle that fit my new lifestyle. I also was buying a new house and needed a vehicle that could haul gravel and other stiff, that could take me out to explore the desert -- and bring me back safely – and that was comfortable on the highway, and not only for the driver but for anyone sitting in the second row.
I bought the truck in January 2000. It turns out the press fleet here in Phoenix is much better than I’d anticipated and the truck got to spend a lot of time in my garage – at least until my son borrowed it. He’s probably accounted for a third of those 100,000 miles. His miles were rolled up commuting to various jobs. My miles included some wonderful drives through the desert and on mountain trails as well as cross-country trips to Seattle, Minnesota and Michigan, sometimes for business, sometimes with the truck bed full of stuff that got moved to Arizona but needed to be moved to one of my daughters’ houses.
For the record, and I’ve kept a notebook recording every fill up, I can report that my Nissan – V6 and automatic -- has consistently averaged between 19 and 20 miles per gallon over the course of its first 100,000 miles.
Lately, the truck has become sort of the neighborhood hauler, with friends and neighbors borrowing it for everything from moving furniture to runs to big-box home improvement stores for remodeling materials. By the way, I have good neighbors; they always bring the truck back with the gas tank filled and usually they’ve had it washed as well.
So I guess I should amend my previous statement about not imagining life without a pickup truck. You might be able to live without one as long as a neighbor has one you can borrow.
While I haven’t been diligent about keeping my truck clean on the outside, I have been faithful about trying to keep it clean on the inside – the inside of its powertrain, that is. Oil has been changed every 3000 miles, and so has the air filter. Not long after I bought the truck, I was at a press event at General Motors, which was introducing its new inline five-cylinder engine by staging an engine-building competition involving teams of engineers and journalists.
My team was led by the head of the laboratory that does engine durability tear-down and examination for GM and when she heard where I lived, she explained "Arizona dust!" I asked her what she was. She explained that the Sonoran desert has perhaps the most abrasive and invasive dust in the country, so abrasive, she said, that GM engineers worked a long time to reproduce it in the lab so they could incorporate into all engine durability tests. Be sure, she said emphatically, to change your air filter every time you change your oil. You’re engine will last much longer.
That’s the plan. A hundred grand down. A hundred grand – or more – to go.
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