It all started when my wife was shopping furniture for some incoming NCDOJ interns she would be managing from the NC State surplus. She then sends me a text asking:
- Didn’t you say you would like to have an old Crown Victoria once?
My first thought:
- Who does not? Yes.
She updated me that it was an old Trooper car and within 24 hours or so this was in our driveway:
Self install a stereo from Crutchfield…
…and add a WalMart sourced $50 armrest to keep me from falling over during hard left turns…
…and add some wheels from Discount Tires so I stop accidentally transforming interstate traffic to a cluster of suddenly law abiding citizens when I come out of an on ramp for fear of being pulled over…
…replaced a decrepit sun visor and broken ashtray sourced from eBay and Dadmobile mark 1 is done.
All has not been roses, but relative trifles if I am honest.
1. Was so unused to driving something this wide (since the boats I piloted in HS) that I literally knocked off a mirror day 1 after dropping the kids off at school on a trash can put out too close to the road in a shadowed blind turn. But that is the beauty of such a car. I sourced a body color mirror from a local salvage lot for peanuts, sanded and painted it matte black to match myself, paid someone else peanuts to have it installed and I was back in business.
2. The heavy duty police unit alternator went. But the massive heavy duty police unit battery supplied enough juice to get me to my destination. After a short tow to a nearby Pep Boys they had me out the door by the end of the day.
3. After the transfer of ownership outlined below the emergency braking mechanism packed it in. Replaced by Ford for a fee and that was it.
My Dad fell for the car along the way so we gave it to my parents.
Literally the least we could do for those that have done more for me than anyone. Fast forward a bit and I had need of a Dadmobile once again. So back to the State surplus.
Picked out a Hemi with a car attached and we had Dadmobile mark 2.
Initially this car was a real good time. Took off, turned, and stopped far better than any car this size had any business doing. Dodge really made the most of these many years old Mercedes E Class components. Cost a bit more than the Ford, but the stereo was sufficient, and came with the necessary ports to offset the lack of bluetooth.
The five spoke bolt on hub caps were sufficiently stylish so as not to require replacing. Plus unlike the Ford I had trust issues. More on this later, but this car would need to prove itself before I threw any more money at it.
An armrest was needed like the Crown Vic so as not to fall over in hard left turns.
Initially it was all Hemi glory…
…and unwittingly scaring friends and strangers on the road.
So now Dad and I both had our own silver Dadmobiles.
Then it started.
Ranged from some things that were kind of ridiculous at first and then some pretty pricey stuff started jumping off.
1. The first warning shot was the windshield wiper sprayer motor. It went. I have owned many, many cars from many manufacturers over the years of varying vintage. Never have I ever had a windshield wiper washer motor go. Ok. A one off perhaps. Replace it and keep it moving. Hemi!
2. Had an engine light come on when aggressively applying Hemi one day. Was told by the dealer that it was a cylinder misfire. Likely a bad coil… so I had it replaced. Ok. No big right? Hemi?
3. Developed a bit of a radiator fluid leak. A hose I figured. Nope. The radiator failed. Again. I have owned many, many cars from many manufacturers over the years of varying vintage. Never have I ever had a radiator go. The radiator part was not that much, but to make things that much more painful the way the Hemi is packed in the entire front clip has to be removed. Yay labor prices. Add in the usual suspect “while you are at it” add ons and such and we are at a bit more than a grand at the dealership. Local shops did not offer up enough of a savings to offset the warranty that the dealership was providing. Conferred with my accountant and better half and we proceeded given the reasonable surplus entry price. hemi.
4. and 5. A few more rounds with the engine light. Maybe plugs the dealer says? Sixteen you say? Had our local shop do it. They first introduced me to a larger potential issue. After some research on YouTube that had popped up since purchase the culprit was likely a now well known issue…. This is where I put a pin in it for now. Due to tragic external variables outlined below and I no longer cared that it had a Hemi. To be continued…
Alongside the decline of the Dodge something far more significant was occurring in my family’s life. My Dad’s health was in decline.
Dealing with Dodge took a backseat while I dealt with the loss of the most important man in my life.
During this horrible time my Dad saw fit to leave me his signature vehicle. The “pretty blue truck” as it was known amongst family, friends, and acquaintances. I never shared the Dodge issues with Dad because who cares about a car considering what was going on. Even in the end he blessed me as he always has my entire life.
It is all I drive since my Dad passed. I would regularly break down when sitting in it. Inevitable. I continued to refer to it as Dad’s truck for the better part of a year until my Mother stopped me and said, “It is your truck now. Your Father wanted it to be yours.” I fell apart again and have done as she requested since.
Enough time then passed that I decided to finally deal with the Mopar in the room.
4. and 5. continued… And we are back. Dun, dun, dun, bad cam lifter design. Short version is that the cam lifter roller does not get enough oil, eventually seizes, wears down the cam lobe, which ruins the cam. After a few calls to my local Dodge dealership and some back and forth with Dodge proper what had been explained on the internets was confirmed. The fix? New cams and lifters. Here is the fun part. No one, including Dodge, wanted to confirm a price since there was no way of knowing how bad the situation was until they had it opened it up. And opening it up cost a small fortune in labor. So once you start you are out a princely sum before you ever get to fixing anything no matter the cost of the fix. This is where step 3 above comes back in. Like the radiator swap the parts were not that bad but the labor prices were astronomical. Some shops would not even take the job. I have NEVER had that happen. A problem so bad that a garage does not even want your money. One garage said that they have seen so many that they would not recommend Chargers. Thanks. What to do with this Hemi collecting dust in our driveway? I dare not drive it for risk of mangling the innards. After some additional research I confirmed that this cam ruining follower issue was now a known and common occurrence. This video and others came out after my purchase and would have been helpful.
Where were you on the internets when I researched this car before buying it? Ok, this one from earlier in the same year that I bought the HEMI might have saved me…
,,,if I had found it in time. And Dodge had no interest in doing right by Hemi owners. I finally found a shop that had done enough of these Hemi cam/follower fixes (A very common engine across Chrysler, Dodge, and Jeep.) that they could give me an estimate. But they said it could be even more once they open it up. $6,000. Oh Hemi…
I know the Charger is just an inanimate object. I know that the car’s decline was nothing personal and the timing was an unfortunate coincidence. I know Dodge, as a company, means no specific malice. But there it was. This was happening to quite a few owners regardless of vehicle model or age from what I could gather. Those of us not coddled in a warranty’s warm embrace were fresh out of luck. I was just one of many. And given the indirect provenance of my purchase I would be at the back of the line no matter what. While I had hoped they would do right by their customers like Hyundai did when their Hyundai and Kia V6’s failed they were under no obligation to do so. Some might say, “What did you expect from a surplus cop car?”, but the much older Ford had no such issues. So that is what I expected here. Bottom line. Hemi power is so intoxicating no one would care and they would sell no matter what. Why? What other relatively affordable, large sedan, powerful V8 engine, rear wheel drive option that makes these glorious noises and grunt is on the market? Exactly none.
To recap the main reason I bought the car, the Hemi, was failing quite spectacularly. We had already put in a grand for the radiator along with other less costly wear items. And if I pay $6,000 or more to fix the engine what prevents some other major system from failing after that given the poor track record so far. I have had much older cars with many more miles from other manufacturers last far longer than this without such a flaw bringing them to an end. Yeah. I am good. Uncle.
So off to CarMax it went.
Goodbye Hemi. Got a decent price. Makes for an 18 month or so low price rental when the dust settled. Truly glad I went this route. I cannot imagine having put new car or certified used money into a car and having this happen. All in all I came out of this pretty well.
The pull of Hemi is strong admittedly. The Charger was surrounded by potential buyers among the CarMax staff before the check was cut. I wish them luck.
Even with all the trouble I really thought I would miss it… I do not. There were long term ramifications. This was all a test run really. While previously drawn to Chrysler products for their advertised mix of looks, features, and value I have always been let down by them in the end.
First generation Dodge Intrepid. When we were newlyweds and needed a large family vehicle. Dark green ES model. Beautiful. Fine on dry pavement. Threatened to throw you into the rails on any highway ramp in a heavy rain. Awful in snow. Repaired transmission and entire air conditioning system replaced under a “Thank goodness I purchased it or this car would have ruined me.” extended warranty. Failed fuel rails on recall. Other things I cannot remember. I spent far too much time at this dealership during our brief ownership. Then when returning from the dealership in Yonkers after the mother of commutes (Walking/Subway/MTA/Taxi to the dealership from work.) from my workplace in Manhattan and finally arriving back at home at our parking deck in The Bronx the emergency brake foot pedal cable snapped once I pulled into the parking spot. I momentarily cackled like a lunatic. I yield. That was it. Once repaired it went straight to a Nissan dealership on trade for a quite nice, lightly used Mitsubishi Diamante that never gave us a moment’s trouble. Even bought some wheels for it.
Smaller vehicle, but much more importantly it did not break. I cannot recall a single thing that broke on it. Just regular wear and maintenance. We put well over 100,000 miles on it and sold it on for a solid price. Sold in a day or two. Swore off Chrysler after that… for awhile.
Dodge Grand Caravan. After we moved South we realized a change was needed. My small son had hit the age where he still needed assistance getting out of his seat, but had also hit the weight of a wet sack of cement. But I was initially against minivans. This required an awkward head up, leg back for balance, arms straight out technique for fishing the young man out of the back of our sedans. After the third time I threw my back out I decided we should give minivans a look. Got a great deal on a Grand Caravan (I really should have known better.) and I figured Chrysler must have sorted out their Grand Caravan because it was their bread and butter vehicle and there were a squillion of them on the road. (Wrong.) Once I first opened the power door and pulled my son out while standing perfectly upright I was sold on minivans. We have had a minivan ever since and we now have two. Back to the Grand Caravan. It did well for a while but then everything started to fail just like the Intrepid. The A/C failed including a nice drip in the front passenger foot well. Other odd items then started to fail. Then while we were contemplating our exit strategy it gave itself up for the occupant in a rare NC black ice event. While it had terrible reliability it is built like a tank thankfully. We bought a Mazda MPV for peanuts with 100,000 miles on it that I put over another 100,000 miles on over three years and then donated it to charity. I bought it because of the price and did not like it much initially, but grew to really appreciate that van by the end. It did daily commute duty as well as taking us on quite a few road trips across the state and to NYC and back more than once. A/C never quit. Started every time you turned the key. It had many miles to go when we donated it.
The Charger. As with the Grand Caravan I had hoped (Beyond reason in hindsight.) that Chrysler had sorted out the Charger because I wanted that Hemi. After past experiences I was not willing to try out this theory with a new or used model. The bargain basement surplus model was to be a test. Was hoping it would turn out well. If it did I would then try out a newer model down the road. But the Charger failed spectacularly. Add the unfortunate timing which will tie Dodge to the worst days of my life and strike three does it for me. I am personally done with Mopar. Three strikes and all that.
So for now and the foreseeable future my Dadmobile is my Dad’s Dadmobile.
What of the Crown Victoria?
My Mom’s all time favorite car was a land yacht we had in my youth. Specifically a beautiful dark burgundy 1979 Buick Electra 225 with an Oldsmobile 403 my Dad special ordered that was eventually passed on to me in its unfortunate rusting decline years. Upstate NY road salt and GM vehicles are not a good mix. The Crown Vic gives off those same land yacht vibes so it is now the newly dubbed Mom-mobile. She really likes it. Of the vehicles at her disposal it is her favorite. It has yet to put a foot wrong. And it still drives like new money. Good job Ford.
Down on HP compared to the Dodge but it is a fun drive, still stands, cost far less, and has been very reliable. Ford for the win.
And for me? For now I am set.
In the future? Crown Victorias are no more and there is no proper successor. Having been retired so long ago it is unlikely that I will find another Crown Victoria at the State surplus. The day I purchased it the office staff suggested I jump on it because they do not hang around for long and they were right. Glad I listened. I would not buy another Hemi Charger from them or anyone regardless of the price or current condition. GM gave up by discontinuing the Pontiac G8 and Chevrolet SS. As always the luxury brand options are much too expensive for my liking and likely not that much more reliable than the Dodge if I am honest. Hyundai and Kia V8, rear wheel drive options are relatively reasonable price wise but a bit soft and aspirational for my liking. So affordable four door, rear wheel drive vehicles with V8 power and a whiff of handling pretense are off of the menu nowadays evidently. Concessions will need to be made. Whenever I need a new Dadmobile there is always a good old Ford Mustang GT. Down two doors, but I can get an honest row it yourself manual transmission. There is another surprise addition. The Kia Stinger GT checks every box (Rear wheel drive!) but the V8 on paper. But I can forgive that given the pressurized twin turbo V6 with 365HP available. Only 5 less HP than the current Hemi with a lighter car to shuttle about. And a hatchback. No idea why but ever since the Mazda 626 and European four door hatchbacks back in the day I always liked five door saloons. A great station wagon compromise.
So in conclusion Dodge bad (for me), Ford good two times over, and the future is covered pretty well as far as I can tell.