Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Automotive Review – U-Haul EZ-Loader 17 Foot Moving Van



Background

Those who doubt whether the big three American carmakers are going to make it through this tumultuous economic period may be overlooking one of the U.S. auto industry’s most important core competencies – the moving van. Foreign cars may have taken over the consumer market and are even becoming more prominent as taxis and delivery vehicles, but when was the last time you saw a Nissan moving van? With this in mind, I decided to experience firsthand what a 17 foot U-Haul EZ-Loader, built on a Ford F-350 platform, had to offer. And let me tell you, I was not disappointed.

Review

I picked up my EZ-L-17 in the worst area of Roxbury, one of the worst neighborhoods in Boston, next to a building that my wife recognized from jury duty as an active crack den. Used U-Hauls are often put up for sale and might run in the vicinity of three grand for a well worn but nicely repainted model. More common is to rent the truck. The approval process is minimal. I told the guy at the counter that I was legally blind, wasted and had been having visual hallucinations all morning. He asked if I had a credit card and a valid driver’s license. I said yes, and we were on our way. I opted for a three-day, one-way rental which, with a dolly, half a dozen packing blankets and extra liability insurance (ALWAYS get extra liability insurance; I’ll explain later) came to $465.50. The model I chose, a 1997 with 438,000 miles on it, came equipped with windshield wipers and heat. The i-X-SLC-Vanden Plas model also includes an AM radio, but that was a little upscale for my budget. In order to get the full experience, I filled the ample cargo space with all of my possessions and moved from Boston to Washington, DC.

The EZ-L-17 handled like most large trucks. The only real clue that I was moving at all was the almost unbearable noise coming from the engine and the leaky windows. The six gazillion horsepower engine moved the truck from zero to sixty in 237.3 seconds. The turning radius was just under a quarter mile and the truck could brake to a complete stop in around 180 yards. The oversteer was terrifying. I filled the tank with low, low, low grade Sunoco unleaded and got an average of 6 miles per gallon on the highway.

The interior styling of the cab was modeled on the “impenetrable” school of design, exuding a sort of masochistic “abuse me” kind of aura. I couldn’t tell whether the interior was made out of rubber or some kind of incredibly thick yet flexible plastic, but there is nothing – no bodily fluid, no carelessly flung power tool, no voluminous amount of tobacco juice – that could have harmed the interior of this truck. Putting aside the issue of whether I would get charged an additional $35 cleaning maintenance courtesy fee, I felt like I could have my way with this truck. The bench seat could comfortably accommodate three average-sized (i.e. grossly obese) Americans and the single beverage holder could hold one, six-hundred ounce Dunkin’ Donuts coffee. There was no glove compartment, but the trough attached to the middle of the dashboard seemed designed to handle about two cubic yards of I-have-no-idea what.

There’s not much to say about the exterior of the EZ-L-17. U-Haul trucks are huge, boxy and orange. Some of the newer models have decals covering the sides of the truck highlighting interesting tidbits about some state, but that’s ridiculously lame and, I’m sure, will be discontinued soon. The “Grandma’s Attic” compartment – a bit of additional storage space that creeps over the top of the cab – virtually begs to be ripped off by a low-hanging tree branch or tunnel. This feature may have been included in the design for the very purpose of instilling in the driver a sense of danger and excitement.

But to focus on the performance and styling of the EZ-L-17 is to overlook the most essential element of a U-Haul truck – the attitude it exudes. Those who try to convey a message of aggressiveness with “No Fear” bumper stickers, badass-looking wheel rims or Hummers are entirely misguided. Driving a U-Haul announces to the world, infinitely more powerfully than any other vehicle or accessory ever could, “YOU JUST ABSOLUTELY DO NOT WANT TO FUCK WITH ME.” It is universally known that a person driving a U-Haul 1) has probably never been behind the wheel of a truck before and has no idea where the end of his hood leaves off , where your freshly-polished bumper begins or what lane he is in, 2) does not give one molecular iota of a shit if the truck gets dinged, scratched, side-swiped, banged up or totaled and 3) got so hosed by the salesman with unnecessary insurance that there is a little part of him that actually affirmatively wants to destroy the truck, just to get his money’s worth.

Bottom Line

If you’re into comfort, acceleration and FM radios, you should probably keep shopping around. But if your idea of a dream drive is to careen recklessly down the road and have every car in your path zip fearfully out of your way, an EZ-L-17 is the vehicle for you. Plus, with all of your worldly possessions in the back, you’ll always feel at home.

Specs:

Model: 1997 Ford F-350 U-Haul 17 foot EZ-Loader with 438,000 miles.
Price: Buy for $3,006, plus tax, title, registration, delivery and dealer prep. Rent one-way, Boston to DC, for $465
Engine: V-12 all-American monstrosity. No turbo, no fuel injection, just huge.
Highlights: All the trunk you could ever want. Dual rear wheels. S&M upholstery.
Zero to 60: Yes.

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