I’ve been a Jeep Liberty fan for as long as I’ve been nomadic.
When I first started living on the road in April 2006, I traded my beloved Toyota Prius with a friend for her 2002 Jeep Liberty. Her Jeep was the perfect match for the small Tab Trailer that I had set up to be my nomadic home, and no matter how much I wished otherwise – the Prius was just not meant to tow.
As fate would have it, the farewell post I made about my Prius in an online Toyota Prius community is what prompted Cherie to first contact me – starting an online friendship that eventually blossomed into our ongoing life partnership.
Meanwhile, I fell in love with the size, style, and practicality of the Jeep Liberty during my first year on the road. It was the perfect small go-anywhere SUV. But I never loved the awful 12MPG fuel economy I would typically get while towing. The Liberty’s gasoline engine just wasn’t up to the task of pulling around a trailer full time.
In May 2007 the universe conspired to push Cherie and I into upgrading to a 2006 Jeep Liberty CRD Diesel, and my love affair with the Liberty began anew. The awesome little four cylinder diesel engine in this rare Liberty (only manufactured in 2005 & 2006) was amazing, getting 27+ MPG around town, and nearly 20MPG while towing our Tab.
The new Liberty served us well for the past 2.5 years and 40,000 miles. We have had amazing off road adventures, our photos have been featured in Jeep newspaper advertisements for embodying the “true spirit of Jeep”, and our Jeep was even shown off in a YouTube marketing campaign.
It wasn’t all wonderful though… We have had more than our share of odd glitches and maintenance issues over the past two years, including needing the transmission overhauled twice (our extended warranty proved to be a wise investment).
And ever since upgrading from the small Tab to the larger and heavier Oliver last summer, our Jeep has occasionally struggled. We still often managed an amazing 17 – 19 MPG while towing, but the engine would sweat more on long hills, the transmission was always working harder, and over time the trailer hitch was beginning to develop a slight downward bend from holding up the Oliver’s tongue weight.
The hitch problem is what proved to be the real killer. The Jeep carries its spare tire on the back door, requiring an extended ball mount to reach out from under the tire to hitch up with our Oliver trailer. This extension was putting too much leverage onto the Jeep’s hitch receiver, and the bending was actually starting to damage the Jeep’s frame.
After consulting with some trailer supply places and body shops about what it would take to continue towing our Oliver safely, the conclusion was that the only way the Jeep could do it was if I removed the spare tire to avoid needing the extension. Otherwise, any repairs made to the bent hitch would end up being just expensive temporary band-aids.
Our Jeep and Oliver were just not made for each other. It was time for something new…
One of our ongoing annoyances with the Jeep has been that it also doubled as our storage closet, and to carry passengers we would have to shuffle cargo from the Jeep into the Oliver to make space. It also always felt cluttered having so much “stuff” just a few feet away from us in the front seats.
To remedy this, we decided to start searching for a Crew Cab pickup truck with space up front for passengers, and a camper shell providing secure “closet space” in the back. This way we could easily carry around passengers without needing a major reshuffling, and we would also end up with even more storage space than we had before.
Because there is seemingly a conspiracy to keep small diesels off the market in the US, we knew that we would have to give up on the joys of having a fuel efficient diesel engine unless we wanted to go for the overkill and expense of an overly large F250 sized truck. Large SUV’s were also quickly ruled out – we liked the idea of having a clearly separated cabin and “garage” in the back.
Cherie had two additional requests – that we find something red to match our Oliver, and that we get something with more than two easily accessible front seat cup holders. Tall demands indeed!
After a quick survey of the options, we both found ourselves drawn towards Toyota – perhaps not surprising considering our Prius-catalyzed history. We spent an afternoon checking out Toyota Tundras and Tacomas at a nearby dealership, and left impressed with both – but not at all with the traditional dealership games around price and trade-in value. We actually felt as if we were being held hostage until we insisted we were NOT open to “making a deal today”…
Next we decided to check out the San Diego CarMax location, and we were very honestly blown away. As their tag-line says, the CarMax experience is indeed “the way car buying should be”.
Our sales consultant (Clinton Land – awesome guy, ask for him) had no biases towards any particular brand, and he did not try to push us towards more expensive options. He was refreshingly knowledgeable and patient, and he spent an entire afternoon with us showing off a range of vehicles. Best of all, we never felt any pressure to rush into a deal.
The CarMax appraisal for our Liberty came back thousands higher than the Toyota dealer had offered earlier, and we were impressed that CarMax’s policy is that they will buy your trade-in whether or not you purchase a vehicle from them. The buying and selling parts of the company are totally separate – the way it should be. And I loved the very reasonable no-haggle prices on all the CarMax listings. It never felt like they were playing games with us, and the contrast with the more traditional dealer was striking.
One of the first trucks we checked out on the CarMax lot was a red 2006 Toyota Tundra SR5 Double Cab, in perfect condition. Unlike almost all other used trucks, it came already equipped with a matching camper shell. And to Cherie’s delight, it had a total of eight cup holders!
It was almost as if once again the universe was serving up our perfect next vehicle on a silver platter. The price was exceedingly fair too.
I was most concerned about giving up our 4×4 off-road ability (this Tundra was 2wd), but seeking out a Tundra with 4WD would cost us thousands more, and we would pay a constant extra price with an overall reduced fuel economy.
I also knew I would miss the Jeep’s amazingly nimble turning radius and ability to zip around dense cities. The Tundra may not be huge, but it is still a pretty BIG truck compared to the Liberty. The Toyota Tacoma was a compelling slightly smaller option, but smaller trucks are in higher demand right now, and used Tacoma’s were selling for thousands more than comparable Tundras. And while the smaller engine in the Tacoma would be more fuel efficient around town, my research indicated that it would have no fuel economy advantage while towing.
In the end after a further night of research, we returned to Clinton at CarMax to complete the transaction. Having the ideal color with a camper shell already installed was just too perfect for us to ignore.
So far we have driven from San Diego to Lake Havasu City, AZ. We love how the Tundra cabin is so quiet and comfortable, and so far it has proven to be exceedingly easy to to drive. And the Tundra seems to be able to tow our Oliver without breaking a sweat at all. The engine temperature gauge didn’t even budge on the long climb up I-15 heading north from San Diego.
Of course our fuel efficiency has been nowhere near what we used to get with our Jeep. Our first tank was a distressing 11.53 mpg, but our second was a much improved 13.62 mpg. I expect that as I get used to driving the Tundra conservatively, things will improve even more.
One final note of praise for CarMax… When they noticed that we would be registering the Tundra in South Dakota, they offered to transfer it to a CarMax outlet in Las Vegas so that we could avoid California’s mandatory sales tax since Nevada does not tax vehicles purchased to be registered out of state. In the end though, the hassle of routing through Las Vegas and waiting a week for the transfer was just not worth it. Still – we are amazed that they offered it!
The entire CarMax purchasing experience exceeded our expectations in every way. I could not recommend them enough. Their website rocks too!