Sway Control – Tough Love – Beating On and Babying an Old Truck
Caring For and Being Carefree with an Older Truck
A few months ago, I introduced you to the latest addition to my vehicular stable: an ’04 Chevrolet Avalanche 1500 Z71 that was a long-overdue addition for this staffer that’s spent more than a decade writing about trucks and SUVs. As outlined in my original column, the purchase reasons were many: having some semblance of credibility with my peers and within the industry as a “truck” guy, having a platform to build from, and having a multi-purpose utilitarian workhorse in the family for odd jobs, towing, carrying a bike rack, and more. I also got it to have fun.
Several of the other Truck Trend Network staffers have JK Wranglers or Jeeps of some sort, and truthfully, they make much better off-roaders. The Avalanche is compromised in this regard due to its size and its torsion bar suspension design.
But for relatively mild off-roading, it gets the job done just fine. Under the suffocating regulations of the State of California, certain off-road trails are closed to off-highway vehicles (OHVs). For better or for worse, the desert recreational areas of Southern California are literally swarming with the likes of the Polaris RZR, Yamaha YXZ, and Can-Am Maverick. In the dunes and other areas open to these types of vehicles, you have to be constantly vigilant for other OHV drivers and riders.
For other trails open to “On-Highway Vehicles Only” on the other hand, there’s relative serenity. You’ll hit the occasional convoy of Wranglers, CJs, Tacomas and 4Runners, but many trails are wide-open and sparsely traveled. Exploring some of these trails in the Avalanche opened up a whole new desert off-road experience to me. Prior to the Avalanche, I was usually a passenger in my father-in-law’s sand rail or my brother-in-law’s RZR. The limitations of the Avalanche became painfully clear once we ran into a narrow, rocky pass that could have been easily traversed by a mildly modified Wrangler or CJ—or even a near-stock Samurai or Sidekick. On the other hand, the sandy trails around Anza-Borrego and Ocotillo Wells were easily and confidently traveled with the Avalanche in “Auto 4WD” mode, even with the slightly mushy surface thanks to recent rains. In some sections of the trail, the Avalanche scraped up against brush and bushes, which made my father-in-law wince. He had just paid more than $50,000 for a Wrangler Rubicon Hard Rock edition, which hasn’t left the pavement since he purchased it. He said “Don’t you care that it’s scraping the paint!?” To which I replied, “I paid $6,000 for it off Craigslist. I bought it as a beater.”
So it may seem somewhat illogical that as soon as I got home, I took it to the coin wash to clean it and blast off any residual desert dirt and mud, and gave the interior a thorough vacuuming with my shop vac. Since I bought it, it resides comfortably in my garage, while my daily driver ’11 Sonata sits out most of the time. Why do I pamper this old beater? It’s hard to describe, other than that the Avalanche can do a lot of things the Sonata can’t, and as the saying goes, “You don’t hear country songs written about compact hatchbacks” (or midsize sedans, for that matter). Yes, the Chevy holds a special place in my heart. Even though I’ve only owned it a few months, it feels like an old friend—the one that never comes up with lame excuses to why it can’t help you move or haul stuff. It’s there when you need it and is game for any project. Although I’m a relative rookie to the Truck Guy fraternity, I can say now that I “get it.” I think the Avalanche will be the first of several trucks and 4x4s to be part of the family.