Bare bones vehicles — a pox on those who make us suffer…like an ex-wife


By Al Vinikour 

As professional automotive journalists we get spoiled by vehicles we drive. Oh, sure, we may test a drive-to-work vehicle…but it’s generally equipped with every option known to the auto world. So whenever we are assigned a vehicle that’s less than stellar in the amenities department it becomes more noticeable.

Case in point:

This past week I was given a Ram 2500 heavy-duty pickup. When it was delivered the first thing I noticed was the “Hemi” logo on the front fenders. I thought I had won the lottery. However, then I noticed that it had hubcaps – surely a bad omen. Then I noticed how high it sat off the ground (it was, of course, a 4x4). No running boards!!!! I’m barely flexible enough to hoist myself onto a bar stool without help from a AAA tow truck let alone trying to propel myself into the front seat of a six-story-high vehicle (okay…so maybe I’m slightly exaggerating).

To attempt boarding for the first time I used an old trick I learned as a young child growing up in the great state of Indiana; I waited until dark and all the neighbors had their lights out before giving it a whirl. Good thing! I don’t think the legendary Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall in New York needed as much choreography as I did before perfecting a move I could use in broad daylight.

Once I mastered egress training (entering and exiting for you Navy guys) I went about adjusting the settings to my liking. (By now it was the next morning.) There was Sirius Satellite Radio so that made me happy. After locking in my usual settings of Howard Stern’s two channels, ‘50s Hits, Blue Collar Comedy, Raw Dog Comedy and Fox News Channel (and to think…my former wife used to say I was shallow) I went to adjust the mirrors — thus, my first surprise.

I looked all over the interior to find the adjustment switch for the outside rearview mirrors. I couldn’t find it. My neighbor is a former homicide detective and has never missed an episode of Law & Order in the 21-year-history of the show…and he couldn’t find it. (I know what you’re thinking…why didn’t either of you two dumb asses lo
ok at the owner’s manual? Well the jokes on you, Leo…there wasn’t one!) So, since the day was flying by I decided to bite the bullet, open the window and adjust the mirrors by hand. I could not find the window switches. Again, my neighbor and I looked for the missing controls. Not there!

As we were furiously looking for the window buttons I kept noticing this strange-looking crank-handle on the door panel. I had no idea what it was and didn’t want to mess with it in case it was some new technology. For all I knew at the time it could have been a primed air bag that would go off if the lever were fooled with. However, I finally had it and decided the worst that was going to happen might be my being ejected through the roof of the truck. At this point I didn’t care. I constricted my intestines, clenched my teeth, said a prayer to the Dairy Queen and began to turn the mysterious crank handle. I couldn’t believe it! The window began to open.

At first I thought it must be a coincidence but by this time I was fascinated and continued to turn the handle. Eventually the window rolled all the way down. I was dumbfounded! My neighbor – the ex-cop — pulled out his former service revolver because he smelled some kind of plot brewing.

Bravely, I turned the handle the other way…and the window rose! I did this several more times until I began to trust it. Another thing I noticed is that when the window was down I could actually reach the driver’s-side mirror and adjust it by hand. I gave up looking for the power mirror and window controls. I figured that when Daimler controlled Chrysler (and Dodge) they probably used some clever German engineering to hide the controls.

Two days later it suddenly hit me…this truck is barebones and is probably designed as a power-laden work truck. It had an extra long pickup bed, regular cab with a three-person front (and only) seat and other than some mandatory things like air-conditioning and headlights had less standard equipment than one of Hannibal’s soldiers as he was crossing the Alps.

I have this friend and colleague who used to demand that manufacturers give him barebones vehicles to test because he wanted to revue cars that the average person would drive and not receive one with every convenience since the Piltdown man first got his driver’s license. Some of these vehicles would be equipped just the way the truck I drove was. With all due respect, Rich my friend...GET SOME PSYCIATRIC HELP!

As for me, well I’ll find those damned power window buttons if I have to install them myself.