My Toad

2003 Chevy Tracker ZR2
At "Drinking Cup" along the Yankee Boy Basin 4WD trail
near Ouray, Colorado - July 2011

After unknowingly driving my motorhome down the 22-mile mountainous, narrow, dirt road called the Apache Trail in Arizona a few years ago, I was convinced of two things:   I wanted to drive more fun roads like that, and I never wanted to drive one in a motorhome again!

Once back home, I began researching small 4WD vehicles to potentially tow behind my View.  I knew I needed a vehicle less that 3500 lbs (the towing limit for '06-'08 Views), and wanted one that could be "flat towed" (all 4 wheels on the pavement).  I also didn't want to fool with manual transmission, so only wanted an automatic.   That criteria narrowed my choices rather quickly to:  older Ford Escape/Mazda Tributes;  or older Jeep Wranglers, Chevy Tracker/Suzuki Vitarra, Suzuki Sidekick/Geo Tracker, Honda CR-V, or Toyota RAV4 (with an aftermarket lube pump).   Except for the Ford/Mazda, all would need to be much older, used cars as the newer versions all exceeded 3500 lbs.

As I did further research on 4WD trails in Colorado, many mentioned the need for true 4WD "Low" gearing (not simply an AWD vehicle in low gear). True 4WD Low gear is slower and has greater torque to allow you to "crawl" over rocks with less tire spinning, and descend steep mountain trails without as much braking.  So, after narrowed the list further to only truck-based frames with true 4WD Low gearing, I was left with the older Wrangler, Suzuki, or Tracker.

If I were to predominantly drive the toad on 4WD trails, no doubt, the Jeep would have been the best choice with it's higher ground clearance.  But since I also wanted a toad to be able to carry passengers on occasion, keep photo gear secure, and be comfortable in winter climates, the better "all-around" choice was only one vehicle-- the 1999-2004 Suzuki Vitarra/Chevy Tracker with it's beefier 4 doors/windows, and SUV-like body.

Upon further research of the Tracker/Vitarra, I learned they were assembled by Chevy but comprised fully of Suzuki (Japanese) parts.  Additionally, nearly all RVers that had them as toads raved about how dependable they were.

I found my perfect little yellow Tracker in May, 2011.  It had just under 70,000 miles, a 6-cylinder engine, leather seats, tinted power windows/doors, alloy wheels, and ABS brakes.  Best of all, it was 1/2 the price of a comparable 2003 Honda, Toyota, or Jeep!

Here are a few dealer pics (it will never look this clean again!):






So, far my Tracker has tackled a number of Colorado's 4WD trails (many over 12,000 feet!), and has managed to keep up with other Jeep Wranglers on the trail just fine.  It won't ever be capable of doing trails with a "difficult" rating, but frankly, those trails kinda scare me anyway, so I'm happy enough to off-road on the less demanding, more beautiful trails like this one!




14 comments:

  1. Two pictures describe the reason for a toad. Wanting to keep my 4Runner and take 3 hounds will probably be a huge factor in what RV I buy, while still in the decision stage.

    Great blog for a newbie looking for information and great pictures that make me want to buy a new camera. :)

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  2. Lynne, you're Tracker accounting is correct except for one detail. These were NOT assembled by GM or Chevrolet as you stated. They were built by a joint venture plant between Suzuki and GM in Canada at their "CAMI" plant in Ingersoll, Ontario Canada. This was a 49-51% split ownership plant. During the time this joint venture was in effect, they built the Geo Metro for the USA and the Pontiac Firefly for Canada also. Your statement about the parts was correct. They all were rebadged Japanese Suzzukis with very little North American content.
    The plant is now wholly owned by GM of Canada and builds the Chevy Equinox and GMC Terrain

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  3. Nice toad!
    Winter of 2013 in AZ, I wanted a small vehicle to go on the back desert roads south of Ajo. I found a '98 Rav4 in really good condition and tow it behind my '96 Minnie Winnie (26' long) with a Blue Ox tow package and Patriot braking system. Works real good for me and got me to parts of the desert I would have never seen. I am going out again in Oct to spend the winter roaming the southwest. My little Rav4 will be taken along.

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  4. Hi:
    I was wondering if you could give some insight on how your Chevy Tracker rides? I know its made by Suzuki but I had a Samaria and sold it due to the rough ride.

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    Replies
    1. I've never ridden in a Samurai, so not sure what it's like, but I have been in the 1st Generation (early-mid '90s) Geo Tracker and I think my '99-'04 generation is a smoother ride and more refined. It's certainly not as cushy a ride as a unibody SUV like a RAV4 or a CRV, but it's comfortable enough for me around town and certainly the most comfortable true 4WD off-roader (ie not AWD) that I've been in. Sure do wish Jeep would come out with a mini Wrangler or mini Cherokee that could give these aging Trackers a more current option...but until then, I'll do anything I possible can to keep my Tracker on the road!

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  5. Thanks for your reply. Sorry its been a while since I posted this but after getting our 2009 Itasca Navion we are now in a position to get a 2000+ Chevy Tracker or Suzuki Grand Vitara.
    I wonder if you could share a ballpark price for one that has lower mileage like yours?
    All I'm seeing in our area (89444 AC) are units with 100+K miles and they are in the $3-5K range.

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    Replies
    1. I bought mine 5 years ago with 70k miles for $7500. Now it has 105k miles and I think the BlueBook on it is about $4000 to $4500. Not bad for a 13 year old car. Just get one that's as rust-free and low mileage as you can. Still nothing being offered new that has true 4WD Low gear off-road capabilities that weighs less than 3500 lbs and can be flat-towed as an automatic.

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    2. We now have a 2006 suzuki grand vitara. Its a great car, since its 3600 lbs and our 2009 navion has the 3.0 V6, its capable of towing 5000lbs. I got a real shock when the RV shop told me it would cost $3300 to install a towing bar and hitch. I already have the reciever hitch and hookup on my RV. Can i ask what it costs to have your vitara towbar installed?

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    3. Hi Fred--
      The cost of parts & installation for my tow bar, braking system, and car baseplate was around $3000, and that was 6 years ago. So, $3300 is certainly in the ballpark if it includes the components and is not just installation.

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  6. BTW: Your research has been right on and very helpful in deciding on which to toad to research.

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  7. The 2005 and later models are around 400 lbs lighter than the 2006 and newer models. I may hone in on those years. Thanks for the quick reply.

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  8. "has greater torque to allow you to 'crawl' over rocks with less tire spinning." I don't understand that bit. I would think that greater torque would lead to MORE tire spinning,not less, because more rotational force would more often be able to break the frictional grip of the tires on the ground.

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    Replies
    1. Greg:
      Diesel engines which main characteristic is torque have been used in military applications for years. When rock crawling low speed torque is essential to keep from stalling out. Gas vehicles can be used but low range gearing is used to prevent this. Touque in the off-road world is your friend.

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  9. Thank you for a great blog.
    Are you come in to Chicago some time ?
    Best Regards
    Voytek

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