23 April 2010


This from a concerned (some would say radical) environmentalist -- in the spring of 1995 I bought a new Ford Explorer XLT, a midsized SUV, straight from the factory. Because a previous dealership in suburban Philadelphia had played fast and loose with me on a used Explorer, I'd written directly to the president and CEO of the company, who was willing to negotiate a deal on a new one that was satisfactory to all parties -- from a different dealership. I was allowed to choose the options I preferred in wheels, color (forest green), interior (tan), et al. After several weeks' waiting, I took delivery of what has turned out to be the best vehicle I've ever owned.

Contrary to my son's kidding reference to the Ford "Exploder", and contrary to adverse publicitiy related to tire failures and rollovers (caused both by driver recklessness and by the use of Firestone tires), my vehicle has been utterly reliable, versatile, and a pleasure to own. It has carried everything from lumber, to kayakers and their gear, to luggage on a long trip (including two cat carriers), to groceries -- and is easily adaptable for car camping.

From time to time SUVs come under fire for somehow being dangerous because, by virtue of their size and weight, in an accident they protect their passangers, while the occupants of smaller vehicles in a collision don't fare so well. I'm thinking, this is the SUV's fault? Shouldn't ALL vehicles be crashworthy, regardless of size? Don't point fingers at me just because you were too impulsive or too stupid to buy a safe car. Talk to the car manufacturers, and the government.

SUVs have also (and rightly) been criticised for being gas-guzzlers. That's MY beef with car manufacturers and the government. We know the technology has been around for decades for improving gas mileage -- if only so many corporations (auto industry, steel industry, oil industry) didn't have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo. Not too long ago I rode in a friend's Toyota Prius, which gets 50 mpg on the highway, and even more in town, since at city speeds and especially at stop lights, it switches to its electric motor. There is no possible justiification for comparable mileages not being attainable on private vehicles of all sizes. I'm waiting for big business to catch up with reality and start manufacturing cars and SUVs with hybrid engines, or other alternatives to the combustion of fossil fuels. But I have no regrets about driving my Explorer. It has greater cargo capabilities than smaller vehicles. There's always a trade-off.

Two days ago my Explorer turned over 150,000 miles, after 15 years of faithful service. The average of 10,000 miles per year is somewhat lower than the average of 12,000 miles per year which I drove in my youth. The old beast (like me) is starting to show her age, but (also like me) still has a long way to go before making the last departure for that great highway in the sky.

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