Life on a Sprinter Chassis is both a blessing and a curse. The rig drives like a dream. Hardly more struggle than driving a regular-sized van. For a solo-RVer, it’s both comfortable to drive and easy to maneuver. But placing an entire 24 ft house on a van chassis also means we Sprinter squatters must “watch our weight.” Not only are we limited in how much we can carry on board, but also on how much we can tow. The maximum towing capacity is 3,500 lbs, fully loaded. When you consider weight, while also ruling out any and all cars where the manufacturer does not sanction towing “four down,” that leaves only a handful of options…the discontinued Trackers, Samurais, and all but the newest of Honda Fits.
Finally, I get a lead on what sounds like a “dream car” in Kalispell. A 2003 candy-apple red, hard topped Tracker with low mileage. I ask my brother Don to call the guy, as it is my experience that a male voice typically nets a more honest answer. The Car Fax checks out, and everything sounds perfect. Mitch, the used car salesman says “I’ve never seen a car this age in better condition.” I decide to go for it. But it means I must retrace my route back through Browning, MT for a third, and what I hope will be the final time…231 miles back to Kalispell. What else do I have to do on a Saturday? At least it will get me out of the oil refinery setting. Mitch says he will hold it until 6:00pm.
It’s love at first sight. I test drive it, crawl all over it, under it, and send a dozen photos back home, and receive confirmation that it looks like a great find. I tell Mitch, “I am 99.9% sure I want it, but I just need one night to sleep on it….please understand, it took me a year to find “The Perfect RV,” so I can’t buy a car in an hour!” The dealership is closed on Sunday, but Mitch tells me to call him by 10:00am, and he will take the ads down, and come down and process the paperwork. I can drive it away tomorrow. He leaves me the keys, dealer plates, AND, he tells me, “You can park here overnight if you want.”
That night as I am trying to get to sleep in the used car parking lot in Kalispell, MT, I begin mentally going over my towing checklist in my mind on how I would tow this model. Disengage the transfer case….Wait….where is the transfer case?? How could I have been so stupid not to realize this car is a 2WD, not a 4WD? I get up in my jammies and go out to glove compartment for the Owner’s Manual. There it is in black and white, beneath the dim light of the dangling string of “Used Cars!” lighbulbs overhead, it reads, “Notice. If your vehicle is a two-wheel drive model, do not tow it on all four wheels. If you do, your transmission could be damaged.”
Not only must I come to terms with the realization that I just drove 231 miles out of my way due to my own stupidity, but now I must break the news at 10:00am tomorrow to Used Car Salesman Mitch, a 6’3” body builder covered in tattoos, that he’s not going to make the sale. I consider just driving off like a thief in the night, but what would I do with the keys and dealer plates? Is that a strategy of the Used Car Salesman? You hold the keys, you own it?
I check the front door for some kind of a drop box. But then, I realize the low-hanging string of used car lightbulbs overhead is too low for me to clear in the Winnie. And, I can’t back up with the Blue Ox tow bar. I will have to get out, unhitch, and manually push the Tracker back to turn it around, not something I think I can do alone in the middle of the night. My fitful night is made worse by a skunk who crawls under the warmth of the Winnie and proceeds to share her fragrant perfume all throughout the night…
The next day, I call on two other Tracker listings, one in Spokane and another in Seattle. Both are already sold. One went sight unseen. There is a bit of a “cult following” for these cars due to their light weight, 4WD, and four-down towing capability. I am quickly learning that the phrase, “It would cost more to repair it than the car is worth” has an entirely different paradigm when it comes to Trackers, as they are selling for far more than their “worth” would appear. Plus, I have brand new brakes on the front and rear, a new battery, and reasonably good tires. Not to mention a few hundred dollars of towing equipment attached and the comfort level to go with it.
Throughout the past 48 hours, I have been in constant contact with my Einstein-like brother Don back in Texas, who has saved me from more perils in life than anyone else. He writes, “I have found you a replacement engine. Find some shade-tree mechanic to disconnect the drive shaft for you so you can keep towing it. It’s easy – four bolts. Then bring it on home; I will swap out the engine for you…”
I have family matters in Texas to attend to at the end of September anyway. Though I had planned to fly, that still means finding a place to stow the rig, airline tickets, and having to pack. Not to mention sleeping on an inflatable air mattress on the floor in my parents home. Maybe it all makes sense.
And thus begins my 1,769 mile, cross-country Walmart marathon…
(On a related note, I would like to thank each of my friends in the blogging community who offered to come to my aid in Montana. I am deeply touched by your kindness, hospitality, and generousity!)