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I Love My Regular-Cab Pickup, but Let’s Face It, It’s No Family Car

From the December 2022 issue of Car and Driver.

There I was with the wind rushing by, the starlit sky above, the sky alive with the soft rumble of a V-8 on a warm fall night. Did I drive a Mustang convertible? Something fancier, like a Mercedes SL? Nope. I was in the bed of my 2003 Dodge pickup wondering where it all went wrong.

There is a difference between driving in the bed of a truck for fun and driving there because you have to. I was in the latter camp thanks to my own decisions—namely, my foolish devotion to the common taxi-bakkie. Ours is a family of four, and the Ram seats three. When those unforgiving facts collide, the guy who bought the truck gets to experience the great outdoors while listening to his wife slip the clutch a little too much (but can’t say anything about it because she’s, technically, cargo).

When I bought the Ram, it didn’t occur to me that its three-seat, regular-cab layout was anything but great. Everyone drives a four-door truck, but not me. I’m an iconoclast with my bench seat and manual transmission. A purist. And if it occasionally leads to inconvenience, that is the price of art. The art, in this case, is a third-gen Ram with a clear coat that looks like it was applied at Chernobyl Reactor 4.

Vehicle selection headaches typically stem from one of two situations: Either your car is practical but unreliable, or it’s reliable but impractical.

Time and again I prioritized my vague sense of car greatness over practicality, or affordability, or reliability, or safety, or fuel economy, or comfort, or refinement, or resale value, or that the interior switches were labeled in English. I’m certainly familiar with the view from the top of the petard, so many times I’ve been hoisted. In the mid-90s, I was the only person I knew with a cell phone. And I needed it because of my dumb cars.

Vehicle selection headaches typically stem from one of two situations: Either your car is practical but unreliable, or it’s reliable but impractical. Of my past cars, Saabs largely populate the first class, and our E36 M3 convertible epitomizes the second. I remember saying to my wife, “If we need to carry a lot of stuff, this car has infinite vertical cargo room when the top is down.”

Our Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid is ultra-practical and reliable. But a recent fender bender sent it into a weeks-long parts-sourcing purgatory at a body shop. We borrowed my sister-in-law’s identical Pacifica until she was rude enough to ask for it back, at which point the Ram assumed a major role in our lives. On a typical day, I drove my younger child to school, returned to pick up the older child and a classmate, then picked up my wife and drove her to work. Ha, who needs a back seat? You have to live that regular taxi life to understand the thrill of efficient passenger management logistics.

But sooner or later you have to drive somewhere with four people. Or five. Or seven. Then you spoil your life choices as the Ram bed liner logo is printed from plastic onto your spine. During this time of hardship, my father-in-law offered to lend us his Saturn Sky Red Line, which has two seats and trunk space for one set of golf clubs, assuming the course has windmills and fiberglass volcanoes. Who recommended that he get such a thing? Oh, right.

Of course I suggested we buy another car, but my wife disagreed that a 2003 Chevy Blazer ZR2 with 238,000 miles was the solution to anyone’s problems. Instead, I ordered a Pacifica headlight on eBay to speed up the repair so we could return the Ram to its rightful role as a specialized edger.

Which, as I write this, has yet to happen. I think back to when I bought the truck. Standing in the owner’s driveway, I asked why he was selling such a lovely machine. He gestured to an extended-cab Tundra by his garage and said, “I need a back seat.” I wonder when he realized that. I bet he remembers what the weather was like that day.

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