/The Great Towing Misadventure

The Great Towing Misadventure

After spending the last week packing Mayhem, giving away things on craigslist (hint: list it for free and 20 people will call before you can leave the room; list it for a fair and reasonable price and you’ll hear nothing but crickets chirping for days) and furiously cleaning our apartment, we turned in our keys and waved goodbye to our homey beach pad.

The plan was to have Kali drive Mayhem to the dealer while I followed behind in our Matrix to help provide a buffer when switching lanes.  In most places drivers are kind enough to move the hell out of the way if a big rig puts on their blinker, but in San Diego everyone takes that as a cue to speed up and pass… even if they’re quite a ways back.  Anyhow, ranting aside, we were heading to the dealer to pick up the towing dolly we had shipped to their location so they could assemble it and then show us how to hook it up and use it.

We’ve decided to tow a separate car because 1.) driving and parking Mayhem is a pain in the ass, 2.) our goal is to do a lot of exploring, which a 32-foot vehicle doesn’t really facilitate, and 3.) bikes are great, but then we couldn’t bring Koa (he can only run alongside the bike for a short distance).  The decision to tow having been made, we realized our highest priority when figuring out exactly how we wanted to do this was to find the easiest possible method (because if unhooking was overwhelming, we’d be tempted to forgo that side trip to see the lake/wildlife area/amazing thing, and that would negate the whole purpose of towing in the first place).

We had seen a lot of RVs towing, though, and thought it should be pretty straightforward… but because things are never as easy as they COULD be, our trusty Matrix doesn’t have the capability to be towed with all four wheels on the ground so we had to buy a dolly.  We bought this dolly online, which multiple people assured us was the best and easiest and lightest and most wonderfulest tow dolly we could find.  Skeptical but optimistic (and with really no other choice), we bought the thing and had it shipped to San Diego and assembled.

So we arrive at the dealer and see this behemoth for the first time and just cringe with how huge it is (the shipping crate alone was 12 feet/600 pounds).  Once Bill (our wonderful service guy) starts showing us all the steps to hook it up, the cringing intensifies.  By the time we try to drive the Matrix up onto the dolly and discover that the low-hanging airvents means it doesn’t fit without the aid of plywood, we’re almost in tears.  This dolly?  It’s the worst thing EVER.

Kali and I conferred and made the obvious decision that this just wasn’t going to work.  We paid them to immediately turn around and disassemble it, then had it shipped back to the company we bought it from for a refund.  It took many assertive (aggressive?) discussions with said company to get them to agree to this plan, but the person we initially spoke to on the phone had pretty severely misrepresented this thing, so I felt justified and persistent.  So, out the money for dis/assembly but really no worse for the wear, we still had a huge issue to deal with: what the hell were we going to do with our Matrix?

Long story short, we decided to sell it and buy either a scooter or a Jeep Wrangler, which is not only known as one of the best vehicles to tow, but is also one of the only options available if you don’t want to bother learning to drive a stickshift (*ahem*).  The scooter idea was eventually axed (again, not dog friendly), so we started looking at used Jeeps and posting the Matrix on craigslist.

Of course we have no stationary home at this point; inability to tow our car kinda cramps our original plan to immediately head up the coast, enjoying Pismo Beach and Big Sur before settling in San Francisco for a few weeks of visiting friends and getting the hang of RV-livin’.  Our first night in the RV we were hoping to find somewhere to park overnight and just chill, but everywhere we drove they restricted parking from 2-4am!  Eventually we drove back to our home turf in Ocean Beach, which we hoped would have enough space on the street because of street cleaning the next morning.  We luckily found a spot justbarely large enough for an RV (one block over from where we lived!), slept fitfully, then woke up at 6am to move before we got a ticket.  Needing more stability in our sleeping arrangements to be able to effectively deal with our driving arrangements, we found an RV Park in San Diego (which was beautiful and had some great sunsets!) and settled in for the next week.

Sunset in San Diego

Mayhem in San Diego RV Park

We began our vehicle search in earnest at CarMax, a chain selling high-quality used cars on a no-haggle, flat-rate-commission basis (if you’re buying a used car and there’s one in your area, I highly recommend it; after some of the used car dealerships we dealt with before getting the Matrix, we’d planned to never buy a used car elsewhere again).  Searching their full SoCal inventory online, we eventually narrowed the list of possibles down to two options, neither of which we were really happy with… but our time crunch didn’t really leave us room to be picky, so we had them both shipped down to San Diego (free shipping!) to compare side by side.

During the research process, though, we’d found that the steering wheel locks in place to prevent theft (which is great if you’re sitting in a driveway but not so great if you’re tooling along the highway at 55).  Because of this feature the towing procedure involves leaving the key in the ignition while driving, but after hearing not one but TWO RV-park neighbors lament about having had Wranglers stolen off the back of their rig while parked somewhere, this had us a little concerned.

We also read that due to a brilliant design decision somewhere along the line unlocking the wheels also turns on all the accessories, which means either dead batteries after towing, or installing weird 3rd-party parts to vampire electricity out of the towing vehicle, or opening the hood and disconnecting the battery (and then resetting clocks and radio and such after every day towing), or maybe disconnecting certain fuses, keeping track of them, and remembering to reinstall before driving.  Oh, and as an aside, some of those options MAY leave the odometer counting miles while you tow.

At this point we’re getting a bit desperate — add all this in addition to the tow bars and electrical connectors and whatever else, and it’s starting to look like towing is going to be such a hassle it might not even be worth it.  After much research, however, Kali started to find obscure references on various message boards which led him to look further, and after cobbling everything together eventually an interesting story emerged:

Apparently someone at Jeep HQ realized this wasn’t the brightest idea ever for a vehicle that was billed as being super easy to tow, and starting with the 2009 model year they removed the steering wheel lock.  Presumably this unnamed individual then bought an ’09 Wrangler to enjoy the fruits of their labors and moved on without bothering to tell anyone else; not only did Jeep not announce the change to their dealers, but they also failed to update the owner’s manual, which now (even 2 years later) lies to you about features (problems) that no longer exist.

This was somewhat exciting news, since it would drastically simplify the towing process, but it was hard to trust internet rumor over the official manual.  Internet FTW, though — we went by a Jeep dealership to see for our selves, and sure enough, no wheel lock. We really weren’t happy with either of the options we were interested in, and simplified towing was the entire point of getting a car in the first place, so we started looking at the ’09/’10 vehicle inventory in San Diego just to see what our options would be.  Long story short, we found an awesome wrangler for only slightly more than what we would have paid for the CarMax cars we weren’t really sold on, and as a bonus it comes with 0% financing.  We’d read about the benefits of going through fleet or internet sales departments if you already know what you want (they make their main profit on quantity-based kickbacks from the manufacturer, rather than markups on the lot), and I’d highly recommend it.  Two frantic days of decisionmaking later, we welcomed our as-yet-unnamed tow vehicle into the family (and since we went through the internet sales department, we managed to do so for the dealer’s invoice cost).

But, really, we just bought two new vehicles in less than a month?  My frugal side is sobbing uncontrollably (as is the part of me that swore I would never buy a new car because it was a stupid waste of money due to the immediate depreciation), but the bright side is that both of these loans will ultimately help build our credit and make it easier to buy that private airplane (I jest… mostly).  So with the Jeep purchased, a svelte and straightforward tow-bar and auxiliary brake system installed, and the Matrix sold on craigslist, we are FINALLY ready to leave San Diego.  About a week “behind schedule” (okay, we really don’t have a schedule, but still) we’re heading straight for San Fran with only a pit-stop in Pismo Beach.