Why gas guzzlers make sense (again)


As I write this, the price of regular unleaded is hovering around $5 a gallon. Diesel is about a buck a gallon more. All of this is headline news on a daily basis. Fuel prices are affecting every industry, every business, and every consumer.

Yet as of late, buyers seem to be fighting over some immense, heavy-duty, sub–15-mpg gas-guzzling SUVs. Some are even selling for many multiples of what they did a few years ago, when fuel cost a fraction of what it does now. But the people buying these things (including yours truly) might be on to something.

Here I’ve focused on two gas-guzzlers with ever-increasing cult followings: The 2000–05 Ford Excursion and the 1998–2007 Toyota Land Cruiser.

The longest, heaviest mass-produced SUV ever, the Excursion was essentially an F-250 Super Duty wagon. With the optional V-10 gas or Power Stroke diesel engines, they tow up to 11,000 pounds. Never mind how many people, pets, and suitcases you can stuff inside an Excursion at the same time.

2003 Ford Excursion rear cargo

J100-series Land Cruisers, however, are not 3/4-ton pickup-based towing machines. Nor do they offer a variety of drivetrain choices. But they do have Toyota’s silky-smooth 4.7-liter V-8 and full-time 4WD. And they were built to last forever. Literally.

The average combined fuel economy for these trucks is about 14 mpg. But their collective inefficiency hasn’t seemed to slow down values. In the past 36 months, Excursion prices are up an average of 46 percent, while J100s are up 85 percent. More telling is the fact that both of these had heavy Gen X demand until the past 24 months, when millennial (and younger) interest came on strong.

J100 Land Cruiser Front Three-Quarter

Here’s why I think this is happening. First, they just don’t make stuff like this anymore. There were no hybrid powertrains, no kowtowing to CAFE standards, no considerations beyond just being rugged and unapologetic in their mission. Both are old enough to be “cool,” but not so old that they aren’t usable in today’s world.

Then there’s the COVID factor. These are vehicles that allow people to load up the whole family, tow the Airstream, and head out to places that help you forget about reality for a weekend or four. That’s especially attractive to millennial buyers looking to introduce their young kids to something beyond screen time. The work-from-home phenomenon also plays into this, because you can work from that camping spot.

Additionally, there’s a certain satisfaction to the analog feel of these machines—an unplugged vibe with no LCDs and no lane-keep assist or other electronic nannies constantly dinging at you.

As for that awful fuel mileage, let’s pencil that out. A new $52,000 Chevy Tahoe gets 16 mpg combined. A new $39,000 Grand Cherokee is rated at 23 mpg. Driving 10,000 miles in a year, the difference between a 14-mpg rig and a 23-mpg rig equates to about 279 gallons. At $5 a gallon, that’s an extra $1395 a year. Factor in the significant savings in the purchase price, and the additional fuel cost doesn’t seem insane.

2020 Ford Expedition Limited

Which is why I recently decided to replace our 2020 Ford Expedition with a “vintage” Excursion. The Expedition is a fine vehicle, but a boat or car trailer of any significance drops its comfy independent rear suspension to its knees, and towing in crosswinds was, um, more exciting than I expected. So I went on an Excursion excursion and landed on a clean, 50,000-mile 2000 Limited with the V-10. I paid $27,000 for it. Since then, I’ve done some needed maintenance and installed new tires. I’m currently in the truck for about $35K. We’ve put 2000 miles on it so far, primarily pulling a trailer to my son’s go-kart races every week, which it does as admirably as hoped. Thanks to the towing, I haven’t broken into double-digit fuel mileage yet, but the tank is big, so the refueling intervals don’t rub my nose in their thirst.

I have to say, I’m pleased with the decision to step back 22 years of refinement and technology for a rig that better fits my needs. Who says whistling past the graveyard isn’t rewarding?

Gas Guzzler vehicle values infographic

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    My paid for 15 F350 diesel and 05 Denali XL applaud your logic. I was considering a newer Expedition to replace the Denali until your comment about the IRS. Was a former F350 V10 gas owner for 10 yrs and my experience was laden or empty, idling or floored it just didn’t matter–10 mpg always. Good rig, the body rusted off of it from too many WI winters. Darned tin worm!

    Right on Colin! Way to buck the trend and push back with facts and strong opinions. Sometimes something old is new again. I drive old cars, everyday, because I love them.

    I’m with you! My collection consists of 24 vehicles, most 25+ years old and several are guzzlers. All are paid for in full, most have collector car insurance so that’s cheap, too. My best is a 2016 F150 FX4 with a 5.0 which I just paid $20K for. It gets 13.5 mpg at 80mph but gets 20.2 at 65. A 2022 was going to cost me $70,000 and the fuel economy is not that much better. I saved $50K and have a killer machine that takes regular, not premium.

    I tried to get collector insurance for 2 of my older “gas guzzler” vehicles through Hagerty. They would be parked at the end of a long driveway next to the garage and protected by electric gate and fencing , floodlights and alarm. Hagerty declined because they were not in a garage. As you have quite a few vehicles I wonder how you manage. Thanks

    Nice article and I agree! In addition, I’m not driving to work everyday, so why should I sell my ’08 Hemi Dodge Ram? There is no reason. We also have an ’05 Hemi Grand Cherokee. We did a 300 mile round trip the other day and averaged 18 mpg in the GC. The trick to OK gas mileage with an MDS vehicle is to keep it under 65 mph. The Grand Cherokee also has electronic limited slip axles, as well as ABS, traction control and stability control. Oh, and it will pull 7500 lbs. We had a 1970 Airstream and I could do a U-turn on any 2 lane road with the GC/Airstream, but I admit pulling it with the truck was more comfortable. Like the Expedition, the GC requires load leveling, and the short wheel base allows the trailer to push the Jeep around more than the truck.

    Colin, I guess you know how luck you are to find a 22 year old Excursion with ONLY 50K miles. Most I have see have 120-200K miles and have been run hard and put away wet. The is an outfit in Texas that will build a new one from and existing wore out unit or a 3/4 regular cab long bed, but you need to ad a 2 in front of what you have in yours.

    Bought a 2015 Audi Q7 TDI with 35,000 miles for $27,000 . Will tow a small house when needed and gets 30mpg+ when just cruising. Cost of diesel is obscene but with a range of almost 700 miles the fill ups are infrequent.

    Have owned 3 Excursions, all V10’s. Hands down my favorite truck of all-time. Tow anything, bring everyone, with room to spare and fear nothing. Man, I should look for another. My commute just dropped to about 12 miles – 2 gal of gas a day and I am loving life!

    A few takes here:
    I just got gas on 11/1/22 and premium was $3.54/gallon in Virginia, so you must be in overpriced CA or somewhere, as regular unleaded is almost $3 here in VA.
    Your anecdotal reasoning for why these vehicles are in demand is not accurate; nobody is buying the toyota crusier b/c of covid – they are buying them b/c they are cool and b/c they are actually affordable now – get 90,000 mile vehicle for $25-$28k and the engine is barely even broken in. The majority of excursions that I see are pulling land scaping equipment….

    Just did the same thing, flew out to AZ and bought a stupid clean 300k mile suburban with an impeccable service history. After doing some repairs it needed, did a trans and transfer case. I have a completely rust free, dependable 4×4 suburban for somewhere around 6 grand. Ya its $150+ to fill the tank but i only fill it up every other week. Saves me at least $750 a month on a new truck payment, plus its dirt cheap to insure. Will serve as my winter truck for the next decade.

    I understand your point about the comparison to buying something new. Makes sense to buy a used, dependable, fairly indestructible rig which will last as long as today’s new ones, and hopefully keep total cost of ownership way below these overpriced new units. However, does one really need an Excursion to tow around a kid’s go-cart? I’ve had a classic car business for 20+ years and find a sturdy domestic half ton truck and a good aluminum trailer will readily haul almost anything with four wheels I can load onto said trailer in comfort. And my 13 yr old GMC Sierra Z71 half ton will also get 13-14 mpg doing it as long as I stay out of the mountains.

    My second v-10 excursion just turned 285,000 miles. First one had over 200. Years of pulling a 24 foot race trailer and the transmission is still original. My ford truck guy Andy prefers the v-10. Much less trouble than the diesel. I will never be without one. I call it my family insurance policy. Super duties almost always win.

    I guess if you’re comparing it to a modern tugboat of an SUV, then it makes dollar sense, but as an overall good idea, I don’t see the benefit in light of our current energy situation.

    To Espo70:

    I’m with you.
    Humanity seems to be in a race to see how fast we can use up any resources, while jeopardizing Earth itself.

    To all you supersized vehicle owners, ask yourself an honest question:
    “How often am I toting a large cargo or towing something? How often am I the only occupant of it?”

    Grandchildren’s world?…

    Nonsense. The world was here before us and will be here after. I simply do not buy the hysteria bordering on a type of earth worshipping religious fervor. Read Bjorn Lomborg, Michael shellenberger, Patrick Moore. All have impeccable environmental credentials and can explain how things are not how they are being portrayed

    I’ve read this paragraph several times and it still doesn’t make sense:

    “A new $52,000 Chevy Tahoe gets 16 mpg combined. A new $39,000 Grand Cherokee is rated at 23 mpg. Driving 10,000 miles in a year, the difference between a 14-mpg rig and a 23-mpg rig equates to about 279 gallons. At $5 a gallon, that’s an extra $1395 a year. Factor in the significant savings in the purchase price, and the additional fuel cost doesn’t seem insane.”

    Additional fuel cost? It seems cheaper to purchase and uses LESS fuel. What am I missing?

    He’s comparing both the 16mpg Tahoe and 23mpg Grand Cherokee to the 14mpg Excursion. The 14mpg Excursion is the cheap truck here, the 23mpg Grand Cherokee is there expensive one.

    I don’t follow that comparison either as it relates to an older excursion VS a new Tahoe but I did get Wordel on the first try this morning.

    Keeping my 2007 EB Explorer 4.6 V8. Has 150 K and still runs strong. Pulled 28′ Travel Trailer over lower 48 in past 10 years. Has 7200 lb Tow Capacity. Sold Trailer but still have a 20′ Pontoon and Utility trailer. Now have a 2002 28′ Motor Home with V10.

    This article makes me miss even more our 2004 Toyota Landcruiser. We bought it new in Dec 2003 and it had 160K miles on her when we traded her in for a BMW X5 in the fall of 2012. It faithfully shepherded us to road trips, vacations and to numerous states and Canada for my sons’ hockey tournaments. Not to mention the midwest winters. At 160K miles everything still worked, the interior had a “patina” from use, but she still ran like the day we drove it off the lot. In that time it never required anything more than oil changes, brakes and tires. All of that pretty painless, even having it done at the dealership.

    Our justification at the time was that with our kids’ “hockey careers” behind us and them heading off to college, we just didn’t need something that big. Plus, the ‘Cruiser was probably going to need some well deserved maintenance, and if I did that, I would just have to keep it longer.

    I do regret giving her up and ours looked just like the one pictured. I’ve seen a few on BaT and I’ve been tempted to get in one or an LX cousin (avoiding the temperamental air suspension), but as the article states, prices have gone up and I doubt I’d find one that was as lovingly maintained as ours was. We felt like we lost a family member when it was gone. So many memories.

    I really do miss that truck and regret getting rid of it.

    I worked in the Middle East in 1987. Our company supplied us with diesel Land Cruisers.
    When I returned to the States, I was looking forward to owning one. But at that time Toyota decided it was better off making them luxury boats and doubled/tripled the price. Lost my taste for them.
    I’m not even interested in the retro FJ Series.

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