An existential crisis for the Mercedes GL

When I bought the Mercedes GL320 in 2009 to be our new tow vehicle, I knew I was taking a big risk.  At $66,000 (out the door, tax included), it was almost double the price of the most expensive vehicle we’d ever purchased.  Mercedes has a reputation for expensive repairs and maintenance, and their dealer service network is small compared to just about any other brand.

The justification for taking this risk is complicated, but the major factor was the diesel powertrain.  At the time, only the European brands (Audi/VW, BMW, Mercedes, Land Rover) offered diesel SUVs, and they rack up impressive performance stats.  In 2009 when we made this purchase, we were planning on many more years of Airstream travel, so it made some sense to invest for the long term. I felt confident the Mercedes 3.0 liter turbodiesel could last for hundreds of thousands of miles while carting as many as 7 people in comfort and delivering fuel economy (not towing) in the upper 30s.


In the past decade the European diesels have also been impressive for their emissions improvements and quietness. I can start my diesel dead cold in the morning at a campground and hardly anyone will even notice the sound, while the exhaust is scarcely more offensive than baby’s breath.


That’s all very nice, but there is one thing that a tow vehicle must be able to do to justify its existence: tow.  Our GL320, despite having 127,500 miles on it, has done as good a job of that as it ever has—until this week. One tiny problem this week managed to cripple it, rendering the GL entirely worthless as a tow vehicle.

We had a gentle rain on our last night at Beachside State Park on the Oregon coast.  Over a period of hours, a drop or two of water managed to work past the gasket on the right rear taillight, wick through some insulation on the inside, and drip down to a black plastic cover below.  This cover has thin vent slits in it because it houses a very expensive electronic device called a “Signal Acquisition Module” (SAM).

The water dripped through the vent slits and down to the exposed circuit board inside.  When the SAM gets wet, it behaves like any other electronic device when wet: it malfunctions spectacularly.  This SAM happens to control most of the functions in the rear of the vehicle, including trailer lights and brakes. Just one tiny drop of water in the right spot means no trailer lights or brakes.

This has been a recurring problem.  It first cropped up in February 2015 at Alumafiesta after a heavy rain, with the symptoms being taillights that didn’t work for a few hours. I didn’t find the cause until May 2015 at Alumapalooza when it happened again.  I dried the computer with a hair dryer and took it to a northestern Mercedes dealer in June.  The dealer service tech glopped everything up with black sealant and pronounced it fixed, which it wasn’t.

Water hit the SAM again in January 2016, so I dried it again and took the car to another Mercedes dealer (this time in the southwest) and they replaced the right taillight, noting this the leak was a known problem. They said the magic words that they say every time I have to buy an expensive replacement part: “This is an upgraded design, so it won’t have that problem again.”

That was a nice warm and fuzzy thought, but three weeks later the SAM decided it had suffered enough from the prior repeated water intrusions, and it died without warning—while towing in downtown Castro Valley, CA.  Imagine the fun: suddenly, no brakes and no lights on a 7,500 pound trailer in heavy traffic.

This time the hair dryer trick wasn’t going to work.  I had to tow the Airstream through city traffic for a mile with no brakes, signals, or lights to a Walgreen’s parking lot large enough to dump it.  Then I had to convince the manager of the pharmacy to let me leave the Airstream overnight.  Then I had to find a Mercedes dealer and pray that they had the part I needed—on a Friday afternoon. Fortunately Mercedes Benz of Pleasanton had the part and installed it the same day, for $1,300.

All was well until last week, when mysteriously the upgraded taillight assembly let in just a couple of drips during an Oregon sprinkle, and our expensive new SAM got wet for the first time.  You can imagine my reaction when I got into the car and the dash lit up with five warning messages—and of course, no trailer brakes.

After I ranted for a while, Eleanor and I got to work.  About 45 minutes of the hair dryer treatment got everything working except the left turn signal and taillight.  We decided to start towing toward Eugene OR (nearest dealer location).  Two hours later the left turn signal began working again.

In Eugene I had a friendly chat with the service tech, in which I explained that intermittent lack of brakes and lights means the car can’t tow. That triggers what I would call an existential crisis for the Mercedes GL320.  If it can’t tow reliably after a light rain, I can’t use it. He understood the conundrum, but had little to offer other than tearing apart the interior of the car to look for other possible leak points—at $140 per hour, my expense.

I talked with Andy Thomson of Can-Am RV about possible replacement vehicles. Andy has been a very reliable source of information over the years, despite his tendency to terrify Americans with his non-truck towing suggestions. He listed the Audi Q7, BMW X5, and the new Durango (based on the Mercedes platform) as possible replacements, but pointed out that my GL has relatively little trade-in value.

Worse, there are no suitable new diesel SUVs available.  VW screwed us all on that one. Friends at Mercedes dealerships have told me that Mercedes has quietly suspended shipments of new diesel SUVs to the US. Audi and VW of course are out of the question, and BMW’s X5 might be available but it’s too small for us.

So we’ve taken the path of least resistance. The taillight assembly has been replaced again but I’ll never trust it.  We are going to rig up a plastic shield over the SAM to block the water droplets. It’s a low tech, easy fix that will probably work just fine for the life of the car.

And, despite my momentary lapse of confidence, I think we’ll stick with the GL.  Hopefully the SAM will survive this one episode of water intrusion. To be sure I’ll test it a week or two before every trip. I still want to see the odometer turn over 200,000 miles before we re-consider getting rid of it, and more miles would be nice.

On balance the car has been everything I hoped it would be: a comfortable, confident driving, capable tow vehicle. It’s amazing to me how something so small—a drop of water— can entirely destroy the practical value of the car.

[Nerd Alert]  I’m reminded of that scene in “The Fifth Element” when the evil Zorg chokes on a cherry and Father Vito Cornelius says, “There, you see how all your so-called power counts for absolutely nothing now, how your entire empire can come crashing down because of one little cherry.” [/Nerd Alert]  We live by a tenuous thread all the time, and little moments like this make that thread briefly visible.

I guess there’s nothing for it but to keep on towin’. We’re heading to the California redwoods next.

Our tow vehicle repair budget, 2014-2015

People ask me all the time about our experience with the Mercedes GL320 as a tow vehicle.  I think half the people who ask truly want to know if they should consider it for themselves, and the other half are hoping I’ll admit that I really can’t tow my Airstream with anything less than a 3/4 ton truck.  I probably disappoint a lot of people, because I tell the first group the brutal truth about the cost of Mercedes parts and service, and I tell the other half that it has done just fine towing “that big Airstream” for over six years.

It’s time for an update.  The Mercedes now has 107,000 miles.  Probably 80% of those miles were traveled with our 30-foot Airstream Safari in tow, so we’ve certainly worked the Merc as much as we can.

When I bought this car back in 2009 I said it had better give me 250,000 miles of service or I’ve made a big mistake.  To date, I’m encouraged. It hasn’t been amazingly more or less reliable than our previous Nissan Armada, but overall it hasn’t been terrible. There were far too many instances of “Check Engine” lights a few years ago, but all the bugs seem to have been worked out and lately our visits to the dealer have been either routine maintenance or other repairs that are associated with high mileage or age.

The warranty is long gone now, as is the extended warranty.  I pay for all the repairs, so I’m watching the expenses carefully. Here’s what it has consumed (other than routine maintenance like tires and battery) since 2013:

June 2014: Blower motor (for climate control fan) wouldn’t shut off. It was corroded and had shorted out. Replaced at a cost of $539.  Mercedes parts ain’t cheap.

July 2014: The air conditioner had been intermittently failing for years.  It finally got bad enough to replace the compressor, at a cost of $1,289.  Ouch.

October 2014: I tried a shadetree mechanic to save a few bucks on replacing the rear shocks (worn out), right front lower control arm and engine mounts. He screwed it up by failing to tighten a nut on the wheel hub, resulting in a destroyed hub bearing assembly. He also couldn’t get the left engine mount in, so he handed me the part and said, “It’s OK, the right one usually wears out first anyway.” Later I discovered he’d left a wrench under the third row seats, which jammed them until one day the wrench rolled out.

The car ended up at the dealership to finish/correct the work.  Between the hack mechanic and the dealer, the total cost for this debacle was about $3,500 in parts and labor. That included a lot of parts, but still, double ouch. I kept the wrench.

February 2015: The front air struts finally began to leak. This is pretty typical around 100k miles on these cars, sooner if they are driven in the city a lot. Front struts were about $2,000 installed. The rears should be good for a while longer, since they get less stress. We also replaced the battery for the first time.

June 2015: I noticed some weird electrical symptoms following a big rain at Alumapalooza, and went hunting. Sure enough, there was a rain leak around the brake lights that was letting water drip on to one of the very expensive computers that run the car (called a “rear Signal Acquisition Module”). I dried it out and protected the area with a towel until we could get it to the dealership for leak testing and repair.  The tech found two leaks and fixed them at a cost of $247.  Fortunately, the rear SAM survived.

September 2015: During routine service the techs discovered the front propeller shaft (part of the all wheel drive system) had a torn boot and was leaking grease.  There was also an oil leak from the engine.  The oil leak was fixed by replacing two missing screws, but the propeller shaft had to be entirely replaced.  $1,300 for both jobs.

We also finally had to replace the front brakes. They were original brakes!  Normally on a GL most people get about 35,000-45,000 miles, so the Service Advisor did a double-take when he saw we had 107,000 miles on the car. It’s because of the towing, actually.  The Airstream’s excellent disc brakes do most of the work, saving the expensive Mercedes brakes. The dealer price for the front brakes was $551.

OK, so are you falling over with sticker shock or not? The reality of traveling as much as we do and maintaining this car to a high standard is that there’s a definite cost. We spent $5,328 on repairs in 2014, and $4,098 in 2015 (so far), not counting tires, oil changes, battery, etc. That’s over about 17,000 miles of travel, or about $0.55 per mile. It’s a high number but keep in mind we work this machine hard.

Also, the car is paid for, and we like it. Having no monthly payment compensates for a lot of repairs. Realistically, I couldn’t replace the GL320 with anything comparable or more reliable for what we spend on repairs currently*, so economically it makes sense to stick with it.

* For reference, our current repair budget is equivalent to the payment on a $22,000 vehicle financed at 4% for five years.

For me, the key factor is overall reliability. While the car has spent some time in the shop getting replacement parts, those have been planned services. It has never failed us on the road. That’s my personal Rubicon to cross; if the car fails to get us where we are going, I’ll take it out behind the barn and shoot it.  I don’t mind maintenance and replacing worn parts as long as it continues to perform as good as new, but becoming unpredictable and unreliable would put an end to our friendly relationship.

Interestingly, none of the repairs we have had in the first 100,000 miles can be attributed to the “stress of towing.”  A lot of armchair/Internet experts will claim that towing is terribly hard on a vehicle. Our experience has been the opposite. All the highway miles have only lengthened the time certain parts have lasted (front struts and front brakes in particular), and we have had no repairs that can be attributed to towing.

The engine and transmission have yet to show any significant problems at all despite pulling a trailer that typically weighs about 98% of the manufacturer’s suggested tow rating. I have gained a lot of confidence in Mercedes’ design for this V6 Turbodiesel engine. It will probably be the last thing to fail.

I do expect we’ll probably be buying rear air struts and front suspension components in 2016 just due to age and miles, so the budget for annual maintenance will likely stay around $4,000-5,000.  If it gets substantially higher, I’ll start thinking about options for replacement. But for now I’m still aiming to hit 250,000 miles.

A Grand Tour

I’ve been looking forward to this week for a long time—and wondering if we could really pull it off.

It started on Saturday, when I was in Vermont after the 6-day motorcycle trip to the Adirondacks. I only had a couple of days to catch up on work and re-pack for a trip out west. From Sunday morning on, I had the singular experience of waking up somewhere and knowing that I would be going to bed somewhere entirely different that night.

In the Airstream, this is fun. You can roam where you want, knowing that each night you will end up in your comfortable rolling home and familiar bed. But when the travel involves airlines and hotel rooms, the charm tends to slip away quickly.

It began on Saturday night when Eleanor and I relocated to an airport motel, so that on Sunday morning at 3:30 a.m. she could take me to catch a flight from Vermont to New York City, and onward to Sacramento CA.  I met Brett at the airport in Sacramento, to drive around California’s beautiful countryside. (We were scouting a site for Alumafandango 2016, and things went very well. We’ll have an announcement about that in July.) That night we split a room at some nondescript motel off Rt 49, in an area of California that was once known for gold mining, and now is known for wineries. That was our 27-hour Day One.

Monday morning we scouted some more, visited the state capitol, and caught a late flight to Tucson, getting in around midnight. We settled into my house for the night. That was Day Two.

Tuesday morning we picked up a shiny new Airstream Interstate Grand Tour on loan from Airstream, at the local dealership (Lazydays), loaded it up with about 100 pounds of gear and food (much of which Eleanor had set out for us a month ago) and launched immediately toward Arizona’s Mogollon Rim. We spent that night at Fool Hollow Lake State Park in Show Low.  Day Three.

Now I have to say that the Airstream Interstate was a fantastic relief after jet planes and motel rooms. Not only could we slow down our pace of travel, but it meant that for a while we could sleep in a bed more than once. The Airstream, stocked with our food and gear, could be our home.

Airstream Interstate in AZ

And what a glamorous home it is.  The new Grand Tour floorplan of the Interstate is a big improvement for those who want more of a traditional RV. Bigger kitchen, double the fridge/freezer space, much more storage, permanent beds, a nice little desk, and many other small pleasantries make it really usable. If you read my blogs from last summer when I tried out a regular Interstate, you know I liked driving it, and the Grand Tour retains that fine handling and ride (and an incredible list of safety features).

Airstream Interstate Salt River canyonWhen Brett and travel together there’s always a little bit of a battle over who gets to drive, and with the Interstate there was no question we both wanted the wheel as much as possible. I had picked the most scenic route I could on our northward journey, from Tucson to Globe, and then up to the beautiful Salt River Canyon, and finally up the Mogollon Rim to Show Low where the pine trees are tall and the summer air is much cooler than the low desert below. Even when we were gaping at the scenery deep in the Salt River Canyon, Brett wanted to keep the driver’s seat rather than give it up to get a better view.

We averaged about 15.5 MPG on that trip, which is pretty impressive for a 25-foot long motorhome on a hilly climb that eventually ended well over 6,000 ft. Or at least we thought that was good until the next day when we averaged 18 MPG on more level terrain through the Navajo nation in northern Arizona.

The goal for this leg was Navajo National Monument, a less-visited national park near Kayenta AZ.  We first visited as a family on 2008, and hiked 5 miles roundtrip to the impressive Betatakin cliff dwelling. Ever since that trip, I’ve wanted to go back to visit the even-more-impressive Keet Seel cliff dwellings, and this trip was finally my chance.

You don’t just pop in and hike to Keet Seel. The trip requires a permit from the park, a mandatory orientation by a ranger, good gear, and some stamina. It’s an 18 mile round-trip on foot if you do it right, and considerably longer if you miss a turn in the canyons. (More on that later.) So you can see that getting to this point was the product of planning we’d done months in advance.

The Interstate turned out to be an ideal base camp for this trip.  We parked in a canyon view site (in the Navajo Nat’l Monument campground, which is free, no hookups), and spent the evening checking our gear and eating dinner outside with a spectacular view of the sunset on the red Navajo Sandstone. One nice thing about the Interstate is that it fits in places a travel trailer couldn’t go, and there’s virtually no setup after arriving. We just pushed the electric awning button and slid open the big side door.

Airstream Interstate Navajo National Monument

And that was Day Four.  Funny how the days seemed to be much more filled with adventure and camaraderie now that we were traveling at about 50 MPH instead of 500.

The next morning we hoisted our packs, loaded with about 30 pounds of gear and water each, and walked right from the door of the Airstream down a dusty road and began our descent into the canyons …

Keet Seel deserves its own blog entry, so I’ll write more about that in the next day. Stay tuned.

Tech updates in the tow vehicle

Airstreamers love tech. That’s a big change from a decade ago, when most Airstreamers were repelled by technology.  When we got into it in 2003 most of the Airstreamers we met didn’t own cell phones (“too expensive,” they said) and the very few who carried computers were considered radical pioneers.

How times have changed.  Airstream owners today consider their mobile phones as essential as oxygen, and most that we meet are carrying around a laptop or two, a tablet, and either a wifi range extender or a cellular hotspot.

But why stop in the Airstream?  It’s fun to load up the tow vehicle with cool tech, even after the manufacturer has already outfitting the dash with an array of colorful displays, trip computers, and a backup camera.

There’s a legitimate need for some good toys technological essentials in the cockpit. Obviously any Airstream needs a brake controller, but that’s pretty ho-hum.  Our Tekonsha Prodigy purchased in 2005 still serves us very well today, so it’s the only thing we haven’t updated recently. This deprives me of the opportunity to upgrade to the latest and flashiest, but on balance I am pleased that it has proven to be such a durable piece of equipment.  I never have to think about it, it doesn’t need software updates, and it just works 100% of the time. Silicon Valley, pay attention.

In prior blogs and one video I have documented some of the tech gadgetry we use while towing.  The IngoVision Airstream backup cam is still with us, although I don’t think Ingo is still selling them. If you want a backup cam, there are some good ones on the market at present. The electrical mod from Mid-City Electronics that makes the image appear on the built-in Mercedes display screen is still working just fine too.  The only change in this system was back in May 2013 when I relocated the video camera to the upper dome (instead of down low on the rear bumper) to get a better view.

The first two Garmin GPSs that we used (“Garminita” and “Garminita II”) gradually got flaky and was replaced by “Garmondo”, who also became unreliable after a few years, and so we are now on our fourth one. I would normally not have much respect for a device that has such a short life space (about three years per unit). However, the GPS suffers excruciating heat while sitting on the dashboard, gets dropped to the floor regularly, and is in operation for many hours each year.

Flaking out periodically isn’t ideal but I find that every time we get a new one, its capabilities are significantly better and so ultimately our convenience increases. This one provides lane guidance (really useful when towing a trailer in traffic), traffic reports, has lifetime map updates, and is a lot faster when searching. Plus the screen is big and the touchscreen works much better. I figure the $200-300 that it costs to upgrade every three years is just part of my fixed cost of being a frequent traveler. But Garmin #4 will not get a pet name. Real pets live longer.

Transcend dashcam installed outside
This “eye” will be watching for Stupid Driver Tricks

The latest addition to the dash is a Transcend DrivePro 200 Car Video Recorder. In short, a dashcam. Dashcams are a favorite with truck drivers, eastern Europeans (remember the great meteorite videos from Russia in Feb 2013?), YouTubers, and paranoiacs. I don’t think I fall into any of those categories, but I do see a lot of crazy stuff on the roads every time we cross the country, and now I’ll be able to document some of it for you.

The camera cost about $125. Installation added about $85, since I paid a local car electronics place to remove a bunch of the interior panels and run the power cord discreetly down to a hidden source. This was more of a hassle than it should have been, because Mercedes wired the car to keep all of the 12 volt power outlets “hot” even when the car is turned off. There’s only one outlet in the GL that switches off with the engine, and that’s the center cigarette lighter outlet. The poor guys at the local electronics shop discovered this the hard way.

Transcend dashcam installed insideIf you install one of these on your tow vehicle, I recommend thinking for a while before you finally stick it to the windshield glass. You want a spot where it can get a good view of everything (which means near the top and center of the dash if possible), but not in the way of the driver’s field of view, where you can get to the controls, and not where it will interfere with other things like the rearview mirror or toll transponders. It took two tries before I got the right spot for this one.

Speaking of toll transponders, we carry two of them.  One is a Florida Sunpass, and the other is EZ-Pass which works in a bunch of eastern states. The Sunpass is a permanently adhered windshield sticker that has the advantage of being postage-stamp sized and battery-free. The EZ-Pass is a clunky white box that takes up so much space I only put it up when needed.

If we had a transponder for every state that we drive through we’d have no room to see out the windshield at all, so we’ve resisted the temptation to get an Oklahoma PikePass, a Kansas K-Tag, a California FasTrak, a Washington Good To Go! pass, a Texas TxTag, North Carolina QuickPass, Georgia PeachPass, etc.  I am hoping that someday the states will manage to make them all interoperable. Not holding my breath on that, though.

We used to carry a Doran tire pressure monitor, but for various reasons I got rid of that one and switched to another made by Truck Systems Technologies.  This was after going through a couple of other brands and realizing what total junk they were. I like the TST unit so much that we are now carrying it in the Airstream Life Store—and if I may interject a brief commercial here, our price is pretty good so please buy one from us!

The other piece of tech that has been invaluable lately is my iPhone (or sometimes, the family iPad). Apps on smart devices like these are revolutionizing the way we travel. I have a slide deck that I keep updated with the latest apps that we find useful while traveling, and I present it occasionally at Aluma-events.  The presentation is always a hit, because everyone wants to know what works in real-world travel situations. It’s much better to talk to a fellow Airstreamer than to dig through the mostly-useless reviews in the App Store.

I keep 8 to 10 apps on my phone for road travel, and would prefer fewer. It’s more efficient to have a few selected and really capable apps than to have dozens that each have some niche functionality. (If you want to know my current list, come to Alumapalooza in Jackson Center in May. We’ll keep online registration open until May 15, and after that you can register on site but it will cost $30/site more.) So if you are looking for apps, I suggest you be ruthless and delete those that you don’t find very helpful.

Perhaps I’m getting unimaginative, but I’m so happy with the tech I have that it’s hard to guess what’s coming down the technology pipeline that I would really find useful. Still, it’s undeniable that more is coming. That’s the fun thing about it; there are millions of brilliant minds working on the “next big thing” in software and hardware, and as travelers we get the benefit of that.

I don’t know what’s next, but I know this: I’ll probably be evaluating it. Look for my reviews in upcoming issues of Outside Interests news (subscribe via email for free; no obligation). Next week will mark the first official one: my full review of the Xantrex TrueCharge 2. I’ll also post a review of the Transcend dashcam in Outside Interests after I drive 2,000 miles with it up to Ohio this May.

100,000 miles on the GL320

We’re at home between trips, and it’s time to take care of our trusty steed, the silver Mercedes GL320 that has hauled us across the country and back at least seven times (plus many other trips).

I learned many things when we were full-time travelers, and one of them was that you don’t skimp on vehicle maintenance.  When you’re on the road, that car or truck is literally your lifeline.  When the tow vehicle ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy. So I tend to scrupulously maintain it and almost obsessively observe it (look, listen, sniff) for any hint of a problem brewing.

The GL is coming up on a milestone: 100,000 miles, to be specific.  This year in May the extended warranty expired too. This all means that the car is  transitioning from being a highly reliable creampuff, to being subject to the quirks and complaints of middle age. Without the warranty I’m now less insulated from the financial hits of future repairs.

This is exacerbated by the fact that the 97,600 miles on the odometer today are mostly the result of towing work—meaning that we’ve asked the car to do a lot more than the average commuter.  So when I brought it to the dealer this week for a routine service interval, I asked them to check out a few specific things.

There was “no cause found” for the strange power loss we experienced last week, but a software update was indicated which may alleviate the issue.  I’m not really terribly optimistic about that, because the car has had many such updates and not one of them has ever solved a problem. This is usually the first step in a series of “let’s try this and see if it helps” solutions.

But in the careful inspection the dealership did turn up a few things which are typical for a car of this mileage and use. One of the rear shock absorbers is leaking. They should be replaced in pairs, so that’s really two rather expensive shocks. One of the bushings in the right lower control arm (a front suspension part) is cracked and nearly worn out. The engine mounts, which on a Mercedes are filled with hydraulic fluid, have begun to leak and so they must be replaced too. And the battery is coming due for replacement.

The dealer of course uses Mercedes OEM parts and charges full retail for them, plus fixed labor rates, so the estimate for all of the above (except the battery) was a whopping $3,800.

I will not be paying that amount.  I will use Mercedes parts despite their rather high cost, because my experience has been consistently that they function better, fit better, and last longer than most of the aftermarket options. As a car reviewer once wrote, this is because “Mercedes parts have been dipped in gold and polished by trained unicorns.” But I will buy them through online parts stores at a discount and have my friendly neighborhood independent mechanic install them.  This will make the bill about $1,700—still far from cheap, but within the budget I’ve set for annual maintenance.

So far this year the car has consumed about $1800 in other repairs. The air conditioner compressor, which has been intermittently failing to cool for the past five years, finally failed sufficiently that we could diagnose the fault. We replaced that in July. The blower motor shorted out the month before, which caused it to keep running even when the car was off, and so that got swapped out too.

Annoying, yes, but not unexpected.  When I bought the car I had a plan to get it paid off before the warranty expired, because that’s when it could be expected to start getting expensive in repairs.  When the loan was paid, I immediately re-allocated the money that had been going to the car payment, to a savings account for future repairs. So at this point despite the expensive repairs, we’re still ahead financially (compared to a new car payment) and I expect that to continue to be the case for several years. When the equation shifts the other way, or when Tesla makes an electric car that can pull my Airstream at least 250 miles on a charge, it will be time to leave the old steed behind.

That’s not anytime soon, I think.  I like the GL better than the Nissan Armada we had before, even though it’s less roomy and costs more.  It took me five years and 97,000 miles to come to this conclusion, but at last I can say, “Yes, I recommend the GL as an Airstream tow vehicle” —as long as you actually maintain it.  It has proven to be a very capable tow vehicle. And it’s really fun to have people asking us “Does that little car tow that big trailer alright?” every few days. So we’ll keep it as long as it makes sense.