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storm chasing and tornado spotting

My Sport Utility Vehicle Headache
(or the money pit redux)

by Matt Ver Steeg, WeatherEdge, Inc.

Well, I think I've come to a change of heart regarding storm chasing vehicles. After my last nightmare, I'm headed back to a minivan for my future storm chasing exploits. Here's where the saga begins...

Last winter I purchased a used sport utility vehicle, with the hopes that it would come in handy during the 1999 storm chase season. I had a mechanic check it over thoroughly before I purchased it, and was assured that it was in good condition. Being used, the SUV did not come with any kind of warranty. Two days after I brought it home, things started to go seriously wrong.

First of all, the air conditioner failed, which cost $600 to repair. Two weeks later, the bearing in the water pump decided to commit suicide, with its innards scattering inside the engine compartment. After the pump was replaced, the increased coolant pressure in the system caused the radiator to spring a leak, and it was replaced. Being cautious and wanting to play it safe, I decided to replace all of the hoses under the hood, along with the serpentine belt. This little episode cost about $800 to correct.

During the first major chase of the season, the engine decided that it was thirsty, and started to consume a quart of oil every 200 miles once we entered Oklahoma. Following the chase, the truck made another visit to the shop, and I was told that it needed the cylinder heads and valves restored. Once they began to perform the surgery, the mechanics decided that the patient needed a transplant. So, we found an engine with 20,000 miles on it in a boneyard, and replaced it. That little item set me back a cool $1,700.

Thinking that I had conquered the beast at last, I was foolishly confident that the rest of the storm chasing season would come off without a hitch. Heh heh. After we had bagged a couple of 'naders near Bassett, NE, I thought the truck was overly excited with our catch of the day when it screamed and howled just outside of Omaha. Oops....the tranny decided that it didn't want to go out and play anymore. But hey, that was an easy fix, with a quick trip to the transmission shop, and parting the waters with another $1,500 bucks. Let's see now, our total is up to $4,600 so far. No, no...that's not quite right. I forgot the new tires, wheel bearings and brake pads. That was another $800, which brings our stormy SUV season to $5,400.

Well by now, I'm really certain that we're over the hump, and that nothing can impede our chase season any more. After all, I've fixed about everything that could possibly be fixed, right? Wrong. About a week after the tranny job, more grinding noises decided to emanate from the beast whilst going down the interstate. The verdict, you ask? The transfer case was bad. Another trip to the boneyard to find a suitable donor, and it was fixed for a measly $250 dollars. About this time, I'm beginning to consider taking the truck to a fire and brimstone type preacher, because I'm convinced that it surely has to be demon possessed or something. But are we done yet, you ask? Nooooooooo......

Next in the 'dead truck rolling' failures are alternator, coil pack, heater fan, and fuel injectors. I'm not even going to divulge the final tally, as it's totally obscene.

The short of this whole mess is that this sport utility vehicle has to be the biggest nightmare that I've ever owned, plus it gets lousy gas mileage, and the ride comfort isn't exactly the greatest.

I give up...the truck clearly is in need of an exorcism, and I'm not qualified to do that.

I'm going back to a minivan.

-Matt Ver Steeg

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Storm chasing is dangerous. You could be hurt or killed in its pursuit, especially if you have little or no knowledge of severe storms and their environment. Chase hazards include but are not limited to heavy rain, flash flooding, lightning, high winds, large hail, tornadoes, and flying debris. Hydroplaning on the road and traffic accidents also occur. If you desire to chase, get informed and educated about weather. Contact your local National Weather Service Office, and enroll in a SKYWARN training class. Read and view all of the published information regarding severe weather, thunderstorms, and tornadoes that you can. You are responsible for educating yourself. Next, contact an experienced chaser in your area, and arrange to travel with them, until you've gained sufficient experience to go it alone. Even at that, veteran chasers get caught in harm's way from time to time. Play it safe. This page is for informational and educational use, and the authors disavow any responsibility for actions you may take.

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