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Truck Hunt 2016: Wherein We Buy An Excursion and Break All the Rules

2002 excursion powerstrokeThree hundred eleven thousand miles, lifted, tuned, and salvage-titled, for sale in notoriously sketchy part of Sacramento for almost exactly what I sold my Wagoneer for. In short, this thing is everything I was trying not to buy this time around.

“I kinda really like it” she said with a self-conscious grimace, sitting back in our car after the test drive. “Like, I kinda want to buy it”. I’d been working hard to channel my grandfather, a guy who loved cars but could never allow himself (or my dad or uncle) to buy something truly awesome or ridiculous. Ray definitely wouldn’t have approved of this rig, and I was mentally prepared to just write the whole thing off as just too much. Here we were, having driven two Suburbans and our third* Excursion and my wonderful wife is ready to spend too much money on a truck that’s too tired, too modified and too tall.

(*For those keeping track, there’s a boring one I’m not even bothering to write up)

“The rear seat slides like it’s supposed to, the AC works great and the kid’s obviously doing his best to keep it up”. She did have a point there. Despite all the ridiculousness, the young-enough-to-make-me-feel-old-at-33 owner had recovered the worn driver’s seat, replaced the crapped out CD changer deck and was using it daily as a tow rig in his job at a boat repair shop.

Against a background of peer pressure nudging to “just get the diesel” and with a tailwind of spousal enthusiasm, I texted the guy an offer.

Negotiations happened and I dropped off a deposit on my way home from the vacation we were on, leaving The Missus to drop off nearly nine grand in cash and pick up an eight thousand pound, eight foot tall SUV of only partially known roadworthiness. It behaved fine for her over the next three hours of driving, aside from an AC system that seems to default to FULL BLAST regardless of setting.

So what did we actually get ourselves into here? Rather than attempt prose, here’s the bullet list:

  • 2002 Ford Excursion Limited with a 7.3l Powerstroke diesel
  • 311k miles and a salvage title from a minor front collision requiring body work
  • A least a 6″ lift of unknown brand, but all springs. No lift blocks besides factory 2″ block in rear.
  • 315/75 R16 (about 35″ tall) tires with about 20% tread left
  • Remanufactured 4R100 transmission somewhat recently installed (clearly cleaner than the rest of the undercarriage)
  • 3.73:1 axle gearing with limited slip differential in the rear
  • A pile of about $2000 worth of Banks Engineering parts: tuner, complete 5″ exhaust, intercooler, wastegate controller, etc
  • Interior in “fair” condition: one rip in the middle row seat, needs a thorough cleaning, new driver’s seat leather
  • Bluetooth touch-screen stereo head unit powering stock speakers

After about a week, here’s what we’re up against for maintenance and fixes:

  • Steering is heavy at low speeds and super loose once moving. This means:
    • Ball joints and/or front wheel bearings
    • Steering box adjustment or replacement
  • Boost is really low unless you’re really stomping on the accelerator, then maxes out just under 20psi. Depending on who you ask online this is normal for a 7.3 or a sign of wastegate issues or a boost leak.
  • Minor oil leak coming from the driver side valve cover…or turbo?…or something in that vicinity? (really looks like the corner of the valve cover, though).
  • Windshield is cracked top-to-bottom right down the middle
  • The AC system is moderately demon possessed: some combination of button presses will lock the fan speed to MAX, but the some combination or OFF/ON will get it functioning normally. Luckily it’s always cold.

More importantly, this thing is hilarious to drive. You’re eye-level with most truck drivers and the hood lies parallel with most cars’ roofs. It’s shockingly pleasant behind the wheel: the diesel clatter is minimal and it has remarkably good sight lines. Between the front window notches, fisheye-equipped towing mirrors and some other magic at late-90s Ford, the thing just seems to shrink around you. Power is adequate if you put your foot into it and it stops impressively for a four ton machine. Long ago I reminded everyone to find a project car that, regardless of neediness still makes them grin. This thing makes me grin like an idiot.

That said, I’m probably going to get it looked-over by a local diesel shop before driving it much more. I know enough to know I’m nearly clueless on the specifics of this engine and poorly calibrated on what’s normal or indicative of major issues. With an informed and prioritized To-Do list, I have no problem spinning wrenches as necessary.

So, the obvious question: did I “Buy the 4Runner” or another Wagoneer? To some extent, obviously. I sold my pretty Jeep to spend too much money on something The Internet tells me is super awesome. Maybe the biggest difference this time around is I’m not deluding myself?

  • P161911

    Make sure your car insurance has zero deductible comprehensive coverage. This adds very little to your premium. Call in a week or two to get a free windshield.

    • Alff

      Can you get comprehensive on a salvage title?

      • P161911

        I don’t think that it matters. Comprehensive just basically covers damage that is not your fault or another driver’s fault. If you can get collision, don’t see why you couldn’t get comprehensive. Salvage title usually means that the vehicle has been repaired to road worthy status. In Georgia an inspection is required to get a salvage title.

        • Alff

          I have been told, but have not confirmed firsthand, that insurers will not provide full coverage on a car with a salvage title.

        • dukeisduke

          You mean a rebuilt title? A salvage title is usually what it goes to the junkyard with.

          • jeepjeff

            In California, any vehicle that has been totaled by the insurance company gets a salvage certificate. Then it goes up for auction, at which point it can be scrapped, parted out or brought back to roadworthiness and re-registered. For the latter case: it gets a salvage title once it’s been re-registered. The process involves making sure the vehicle runs, passes smog and has all the required safety gear for its model year. Cars get a bit more of an inspection than motorcycles, but not by much. Once you’ve got the repairs settled, it takes a couple trips to the DMV and a stop by a CHP station.

            Whether you can get comprehensive on a salvage vehicle is up to the insurance company, but generally you won’t be able to get the full gold-plated plans for a salvage vehicle.

            • Sjalabais

              A guy I play badminton with works for an insurance. He has a dead pan knack for filtering out the “I want the full plan for my beater”-guys. If he has the slightest of suspicion that the car has an existing fault, he will ask for an inspection.

    • …shhhhh…

    • Actually, on a lot of my old/janky/modified vehicles I go with a comprehensive “stated value” policy. I don’t want to argue with some adjuster that’ll tell me my Falcon’s worth $800.

  • Andrew_theS2kBore

    Given that my daily driver’s roof is lower than this thing’s bumper, I feel almost obligated to hate it, but given the joy it clearly brings you, and the fact that you intend to actually use it for the purpose for which it was designed… congratulations, that’s a heck of a lot of capable machine for the money.

    I reserve the right to renew my objection in the event of LED light bar installation.

    • I’ll make sure it’s aimed at eye level 😉

  • GTXcellent

    Everything I can say or add can be surmised with one simple word … “AWESOME”

  • Sjalabais

    Congrats, you do now own the road. Equal measures cool and scary!

  • Dabidoh_Sambone

    Another happy diesel Excursion owner here:

    Sadly, he’s pretty upset that someone’s trespassing on *his* driveway.

  • If you’re making 20 psi, there can’t be much of a boost leak.
    If, on the other hand, you ever blow off the main turbo v-band, you’ll know as soon as it’s floored and doesn’t accelerate for a minute until it downshifts.

  • Congratulations!

    There’s still a bright yellow fourth-generation Travelall sitting not far from my place, should you change your mind. Or should you need an additional vehicle. Or specifically an additional LeMons vehicle, although Nick Pon already strongly discouraged me from pursuing this, in light of its curb weight….

    • 1977ChevyTruck

      A Travelall and a Comanche? Looks like you have some interesting neighbours…

    • Scoutdude

      That looks like the same color as my 72, Yuma Yellow.

      • Perhaps, although I recall it being brighter than this. It’s been a couple of months since I last checked on it, but I’m not sure the camera did it justice.

        I left my name and info with the shop well over a year ago; apparently the owner had abandoned it when learning the cost of repairs. Nobody has gotten back to me, though, and I must admit a loss of enthusiasm after Nick strongly hinted that LeMons HQ would prefer not seeing it on track.

  • Alcology

    Nice Canyonero!

    • I sing that song in my head every time I get in. Tragically, “CANYNRO” is already taken as a custom plate.

      • P161911

        CNYNERO?

  • dukeisduke

    Do all the power door lock actuators work? That’s usually a common problem for Excursions and Super Duties, though the later versions of the actuators were better than the originals.

  • dukeisduke

    If it were mine, I’d take off the lift kit, and get it back down to stock height.

    • If it were mine I’d need to bulldoze the houses of three of my neighbours to fit it on the driveway.

      • jeepjeff

        Well. Just need to mount a dozer blade to the front of it and go to town.

        • Sjalabais

          Make sure to wear dark shade glasses though.

    • Yeah, I want to bring it down a little (35″s aren’t that big under this thing), but oddly enouhg, that’d cost me as much lifting a stock one, so I’m procrastinating on it.

  • CherokeeOwner

    You’re a braver man than I am. 311k, and a Salvage title?

    This will be entertaining to read about in the coming months.

  • jeepjeff

    How Tim parallel parks his new rig:

    Congrats on the purchase. I think going with the diesel was a good call. Probably another “paid too much, got too much to fix”, but I suspect they’re always going to be that.

  • engineerd

    Congrats! This thing is about 3x my XJ Cherokee. It can also double as a second home.

  • OttoNobedder

    Have to agree with Andrew about Bumper height. Definitely un-safe for ‘normal’ vehicles …Calif has a lift limit but it’s rarely enforced.

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