COAL 17: 1999 Ford Expedition – Plus Doing My Bit for the Environment

When I see someone rolling in a 460 cubic inch Lincoln Town Car I heartily approve, though I wonder why they didn’t just quit fooling around and go for the 500-inch Cadillac Eldorado. For myself I’ve always liked a lighter vehicle. I’m a frugal sort sometimes and I like some fuel economy. Which makes this giant heavy Expedition an anomaly in my modern car buying history.

I had been at my desk job for 3 or 4 years. Still had a Honda Civic, an Explorer and the White Truck.  The Honda was an uncomfortable but reliable vehicle while the Explorer was finally getting a bit elderly.  We had a major trip planned in the summer and had restarted some outdoor pursuits.  I can’t for the life of me remember why we looked at an Expedition.  Gas prices were high at the time so the prices on these were low and I figured since Expeditions were related to the Jellybean F-150s they must be mechanically robust. A local used car lot had this one and it drove like new with 180,000 kms on it. We picked it up from the used car dealer in the morning, did an errand or two and then hooked up the camper trailer and set off on our trip.  In the first 15 minutes I had two thoughts.  The first was “this is a fine way to pull a trailer.”  The second was “wasn’t there 3/4 of a tank of fuel in this thing this morning?”  The 5.4 Triton was fond of gasoline around town it seemed.  The 3:23 to 1 gears at least made it efficient enough on the highway with the 4R100 transmission having an overdrive.

About an hour into the trip we came to realize that we had been doing car travel wrong all those years. Travelling in this oversized SUV was not unlike sitting in your living room on a comfy couch except you were wafting along the road with the little trailer not even noticeable behind.  The whole trip was just exceptionally pleasant with twin air conditioners, huge legroom and comfy seats. When we got back and started to use the Expedition for family duties around town I noticed the fuel consumption again. Like it had a hole in the tank.

The Expedition had two things that annoyed me no end.  The first was that the Auto 4WD only kicked in when the rears were spinning.  Not when slowing down. The locked 4WD setting would make the front push out on corners. The rotary 4WD dial was always being twisted so the truck could do the right thing. There was no 2WD setting.  I put studded winters on anyway but some kind of centre differential would have been preferable.

The second was the way it would shift down at the slightest provocation.  A slight uphill in the road would be accompanied with a downshift to D from OD.  It was quiet enough but I like to see less than 2000 RPM when I’m driving a truck. No real reason for it, I just find it more satisfying.  Eventually, I started to associate it with burning more gas.  The old White f-150 with its little 4.2 V6 was happy on the same slight rises in 5th.  Of course it weighed a heck of a lot less.  The Expedition seemed to be geared for 110 kms. and up.

I had been commuting 25 miles each way to work using the Honda Civic so it wasn’t costing too much.  But I started to resent how much time I was losing to the commute plus I was sure I’d eventually hit an elk which is never a good idea in a Civic.  This caused us to move closer to work and by the time we bought the Expedition we lived only a few miles from my office. An Expedition going 5 miles a day will use a lot less gas than a Honda Civic going 50 miles a day.  I didn’t even insure the pickup all the time, if I needed to do a dirty job the Expedition could do it, particularly when I rented the trailer from Home Depot. Plus most days fuel was not really an issue with me at all.

I think I had only tangentially referred to cycling in previous COALS which is a bit of an underrepresentation of how important it is to me. Some years of my life I spent more hours on a bike than in a car.  Certainly more hours than I spent doing yard work or finishing the house I suspect my wife would say.  Anyway this was an interest that started early as my dad had cycled all over Britain and he made sure I rode a bike.

I started with CCMs and then moved on to Peugeots as my rides got longer.  I owned the classic cycling (and used cars incidentally) movie Breaking Away on Laserdisc and would watch it often. It remains a favourite today. Cycling movies that aren’t about doping are a bit thin on the ground so lately I added the BMX movie RAD to the rotation as well.  At University I had the pleasure of racing in a Little 500 event like the one in Breaking Away.  My BMX career hasn’t taken off quite yet, but occasionally I’ll hit the BMX track on the way home from work.

Back when I was in my late teens some fellows in California went and invented the mountain bike and that spelled the end for my road riding.  Once I was living in Vancouver I hit the North Shore when I could, but if not the University Endowment lands were still good riding back then. I have so many fond memories of pedaling to the liquor store for essential supplies or down around Stanley Park just to clear my head.  The whole impetus for having those mini trucks in earlier COALS was as a way to get my bike to the trails.  When I was near a mountain I’d ride up it. Or at least push up it. There were no 24 tooth chainrings in those days or 50 tooth cassettes.

I raced mountain bike when the sport was still pretty new and when Honda Civic wagons were more common.

And big old motorhomes roamed the land freely.  They all kind of disappeared all at once it seems. Can’t say I’m that sad about it.

When we lived in Kerrisdale I commuted to UBC and then out to work in South Vancouver. I only got hit by one car while I was in the big city which seems lucky in retrospect.  I do follow the rules of the road pretty well.  Even I can’t really stand the way cyclists behave when I’m driving or walking.  And that is not even thinking about e-bikes which I 100% support in theory, but am certainly not getting one anytime soon.

Once University was over, working in the bush all day had cut into my cycling time. After that period there was the matter of having two kids less than five and taking upgrading courses.  I was doing more and more sitting at my new job.  So, in order to save gas, get some head-clearing time and add some exercise I decided to commute every day by bicycle. There was a bike path from my house to nearly the office which was very lucky for me.

After commuting for a summer, it was still bothering me that I was going soft.  A whole lot of my identity was tied to being able to handle all those challenging bush adventures, wearing Stanfields every day and doing physically difficult things. So as a poor and rather pathetic substitute for my past life, when winter came I put studded tires on the same bike I had commuted to University on 10 years before. I evolved to a $12 Araya bike found in a second-hand store and then built an ice bike special out of a Kona Dirt Jumper.  I’m pretty sure I could natter on about bikes forever so I’ll fast forward this story up to my absolute favourite wheeled device of all time, a Rocky Mountain Blizzard fat bike. After a few rounds of component upgrading addressed some weaknesses this became my 12-month-a-year commuter, my adventure bike and even a metric century road rider.  It’s been on the trails at Whistler, in the Yukon and many places in between.  Of course it’s a ponderous, slow moving, heavy inefficient thing. Not unlike the Expedition in fact. And truth be told not that unlike me now.

All of this means that most of my adventures for a while only involved the Expedition in a side role, a way to transport a bike or two. Snowboarding, mountain biking and hiking.

Or even all three at once as seen below.

I always like to hit snow on Canada Day. The Fat Bike and Expedition combined to make it happen.

Getting back to the monster SUV which is the subject of this story. Toddlers grow up and become active little people with more places to go.  A three-row SUV meant they could have a seat to themselves with plenty of dog room as well.

Of course with a bike rack the whole family could go for a bike ride.

Ski racing dominated our winters over this time and the Expedition was great for going to all the hills, as it easily swallowed all our gear and dealt with the snow confidently.  As they got older I let my daughters drive it across fields when they were old enough to see over the hood but still too young to try and text and drive.

I started getting out farther into the backcountry again.  I didn’t like the Expedition in the really rough places much.  The weight was such an impediment.  The rear coil suspension had a couple of attachment mounts that got hooked on everything. The rear articulation was nothing like the F150.  It was easy enough to turn around and it would go where it was pointed, it just didn’t seem happy.  It never broke as the driveline was sturdy in the 5.4 litre Expeditions.  It would go through deep snow pretty impressively but other than that off road was not its forte.

I think we had this for  9 years.  Over that time we used small cars and bikes to get around as much as possible.  We only put about 60,000 miles on it in all that time It just kept on running. It needed an alternator.  I know enough not to touch 5.4 Spark Plugs as long as they are still sparking so didn’t’t have that problem.  It was a bit hard on brakes as well.  After a trip to Washington State I noticed a weeping brake line.  I had the brake lines changed out but started to have thoughts that I should maybe start looking for a replacement.  We seemed to be driving more again and the fuel mileage was annoying as anything but steady state highway driving. I can’t say it was unloved, my wife absolutely loved this SUV.

If you are reading this Wednesday morning in North America, unless I’ve won the lotto or been fired, I’ve already ridden my bike to work and it didn’t matter what the weather was. I guarantee I enjoyed my ride since when I get on the Fat Bike I might as well be 6 years old again.  I’ve made it to work at 30 below a few times and always appreciate the chance to hit a new cold weather record.

The Expedition was sold to a colleague who passed it around his family for the last 7 years or so.  I hear it was getting a bit cranky in terms of misfires and the like.  Two weeks ago it was “traded in” at a dealer for another vehicle.  I figured it was heading to the scrap yard at last, but then I saw it a few days after with new plates and a new owner. I hope it serves them well.

Next week I go in a completely opposite direction.