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Full Sized Vans

jpcjpc Posts: 10
Hi. I'm new to these discussions. I had browsed
around some, but have not yet seen a topic which
addresses full sized vans. These seem to be the
step-children of the auto industry, though I'm not
sure why. I'm wondering if anyone else out there
shares my interest in more information on these
vehicles.

My particular interest is in the big
factory-equipped passenger vans (as opposed to
conversion vans). These would be the Ford Club
Wagon, the Dodge Ram Wagon and the Chevy Express
(and its GMC counterpart).

Dealers rarely stock them, they are reviewed in
the press about once every 10-15 years, and it's
difficult to find anyone who can even answer
questions about them.

The main reason for my interest is that I have
been trying to get info on the 1998 Dodge Ram
Wagon. Last February, there was an announcement on
Dodge's web site that the Ram Wagon (and Ram Cargo
Van) are getting their first serious makeover in
quite some time. There was some new front and rear
sheet metal around 1993 or 94, but the basic
structure and interior go back to around 1979
(which was the only serious attention that the
vehicle received since it came out in 71).

Since last February, I have tried twice to get
literature from Dodge's 800 number, and have seen
nothing yet (although I was sent literature on a
Ram pickup, once). Dodge's web site will tell you
all you want to know about a Durango or a Caravan,
but the Ram Wagon featured as a 98 is clearly the
old one.

My wife and I have 3 kids, and we do a pretty fair
amount of carpooling and family travel. Even the
biggest minivans don't have much cargo room when
there are 5 people inside. We bought a 94 Ford
Club Wagon Chateau. Although we have had quite a
few problems with it, we love the basic vehicle and
would not consider anything but another large van.


I don't know why they are not more popular. It
can't be the price. Any decently equipped
extended-length minivan costs as much or more. It
can't be the size or fuel economy. People are
lining up to spend an extra $5,000 or more for a
comparably equipped Suburban, which isn't one whit
more maneuverable or less truck-like than a van.
Ever watch people with Suburbans on vacation? If
they use the rear seat, the luggage and pillows are
always stacked up to completely cover the rear
windows. And my friends with Windstars only get
about 3 more mpg than I do with a 351 V8 and a 3.55
axle.

Anyway, this is a long way of saying Help! I
would like to hear from people who have lived with
the various large vans to see what they like and
don't like about them. Also, does anybody know
anything about the 98 Ram Wagon yet? I thought
hard about one before we bought our Ford. Those
Magnum V8 engines are a delight, but the rest of
the vehicle was hopelessly outclassed by the more
modern Ford. Also, I would be happy to share my
experiences with my 94 Club Wagon with anyone who
cares.
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Comments

  • Hello club wagon owner! Yes you could be very helpful with any info you could give us. My husband and I 3 kids and another one due in January. We started off looking at the Suburban-- TOO expensive! Then we moved on to the Ford Windstar-- to small --especially if we have another one after this. We liked the Caravan better than the Windstar because it seemed bigger (even though they claim it is not as safe), but it even didn't seem like it would have much room for traveling. So now we are debating between a regular full size van like a club wagon or a conversion van. The full size van makes more sense but a conversion van with a TV especially seems it would make for a pleasant long trip. I have been having difficulty finding any safety info on either-- crash tests and such. Plus every dealer we talked to seems to think that their conversion company does the best job-- I'd like to know how safe they really are especially the high top ones--since they cut off the tops of the vans to make room for the TV and more headspace. The price of both vans, as you said, is just as good or better than the Dodge minivan that we liked the best. I see that you have had troubles with your club wagon and that is the one we are considering. Could you tell me more about the problems you have had and if they have been corrected over the years, if you know. Also how your wife likes driving the van. Did it take her long to get used to driving such a large vehicle? Also do you like the big engine in yours or do you think a V-6 would do good enough? And finally if you have any info on conversion vans, companies who do the conversions or any safety info about them? Good luck to you in your search for info and please pass any useful info on to us. THANX!!
  • jpcjpc Posts: 10
    Hi, Lisakay. Let me see if I can give you some answers.
    1. I have a personal preference for factory equipped vans over conversion vans, although I may be in the minority. The ratio at every dealer I go to seems to be 20 conversion vans in stock for every factory version. First, I am a diehard used car watcher. It seems to me that properly equipped Club Wagons, Beauvilles and Ram Wagons are hard to find used, and expensive when you find them. It has also been my experience that the value of conversion vans drops like a rock when they become used cars. I have always suspected that the trim work in less expensive conversions have not been very durable in service, but I have no evidence to back this up. Also, all of the conversions that I have seen recently have the rear seats way back next to the back doors, which causes the same luggage capacity problems as in the minivans.
    Safety? Good question. My experience may not be representative, but here it is. I am a lawyer who defends personal injury lawsuits for a living. Several years ago, I was involved in a case where my client drove into the side of a conversion van at relatively low speed (20-25 mph?). The van had one of those big windows in the side, and both that window and the passenger sitting next to it wound up on the hood of my client's car. I will say that the passenger was not belted in, and I suppose that this could have been a fluke, but it has been my attitude ever since that I see no reason to try that experiment with my own family. This may just be the uninformed ramblings of a budding curmudgeon, but it is my belief that the engineering departments of the Big 3 have more resources and that the companies have more at stake, and therefore outfit their vehicles with stronger stuff than do the relatively small converters.

    2. Although I love my Club Wagon, it is true that I have had more problems with it that a fellow ought to have. I will tell you that I bought mine at one year old from a local Ford dealer which has a rental car business. I bought it with the understanding that it had been used in the rental operation, but it drove properly and looked quite good. Here is my experience.

    a. an engine knock which turned out to be the air pump (an emission system component). There was a service bulliten on this, which was apparently a problem with the 351 V8 engine. It was fixed under warranty, although the knock returned. I now consider it in the category of petty annoyance, and haven't fooled with it since.

    b.I have had complaints that the a/c air isn't as cold as it should be. I was told that it checked out ok, but then that the compressor failed while they were testing it. (something always sounded fishy about this to me, but Ford paid for it and I didn't care).

    c.On the same visit a the a/c compressor, the service advisor told me that the fuel pump was noisy (it kinda was), that the brake rotors were warped (they had pulsated a bit) and that the lower ball joints were bad (I had not noticed any problem here). All were replaced under warranty.

    d.I have complained about a periodic squeal from the rear differential. The differential was rebuilt and the axle bearings were replaced, all under warranty. This may have been paranoya due to my lack of prior experience with limited slip differentials, but I wanted to make sure it was on Ford's dime and not mine. The noise is still there, and is apparently just a petty annoyance.

    e.At about 50,000 miles, I went in for an alignment and was told that the upper ball joints were shot and needed replaced. About $300.00. Afterwards, I complained that the steering didn't feel right. The dealer got me a steering gear at no charge, and I paid about $150 for labor. Problem solved. It seems to me that if there is an achilles heel to these vehicles it is the front suspension and steering. I ran into a guy with a 95 Ford conversion van who has had constant front end alighnment problems. He claims that two independent shops have told him about an "experimental front end" on some vans, and that it has proved troublesome. I cannot confirm or contest what he says. But Ford did give me a free power steering gear for some reason.

    f.A couple of minor problems - a vacuum diaphragm for the rear a/c controls (warranty) and a fanbelt tensioner pulley (about $50). Also a gear shift lever ( about $150) because of the broken wire inside which controls the overdrive cutout.

    Some additional comments: virtually every complaint has been repaired with no recurrence, so there have not been nagging, unfixable problems. Second, I have often wondered whether the indicated 20,000 miles at the time of purchase was an honest figure. I believe that odometer tampering is still possible in the 1990s, but I have no proof of it. Finally, it uses no oil at all between changes, always starts in the coldest weather and has never left us stranded anywhere.

    I like to think that my experience has been unusual. Several people in my circle of family and friends have had good to excellent service records on other models of Ford cars and trucks.

    3. My wife likes the large size just fine. She got used to it pretty quickly (even after dirving a Honda Accord before) and would not be interested in anything smaller in the forseeable future.

    4. I would not get a V6 in a vehicle of this size. Mine weighs about 5000 lbs, and needs all the engine it can get. Some may find the 351 to be overkill ( the new versions have a 5.4 liter V8 now), but I can't stand underpowered cars. Anyway, I have no fear on an entrance ramp to a crowded highway.

    5. I have no info on conversion companies, other that several are located in northern Indiana.

    I hope this message was not too long. All in all, I have been happy with my Club Wagon in spite of its problems. If I had it to do over, I might have looked for one with the 2 rear bench seats instead of the Chateau with the 4 captains chairs. The bench seat version seats 8 instead of 7, and the benches may work better with small kids (mine are 5, 3 and 2).

    I will also confess to a long term love affair with the big Dodge van. However, I elected not to buy one because shoulder harnesses were only provided on the drivers side of the rear bench seats. Also, the inside was kind of on the antique side, convenience wise. I'm waiting to see what the 98 will be like. I have learned that the official intro date on the 98 dodge is late December.

    Hope this helps. Good luck.
  • PeggyPeggy Posts: 8
    Welcome to you Full Size Van folks! Good to have you here to expand our van
    discussion. Although I can't recount personal experiences involving ownership of larger
    van types, I did pull together articles covering some of the vehicles in which you are
    interested . Notice that all of these do not cover '98 models but I included them anyway.
    Hope this is of some value.

    For info on
    Dodge
    Ram Wagons
    ,
    Chevy
    Vans
    ,
    , or
    GMC
    models
    .
  • PeggyPeggy Posts: 8
    I forgot to mention that when you go to the links in my note #3 they will spawn a new window. To return to this page just click on the "X" in the upper right hand corner of your screen.This will get you back here.
  • seluselu Posts: 2
    Hi, I own an extended-length Ford Aerostar 1991,
    which I understand is just about the size of a full
    sized van. I love my van, at least the size of it,
    Although we found out after we bought it that it
    was made in a lemon model year. It also doesn't have
    sholder harness seats in the back benches. But it
    has a great amount of head room and good storage.
    I can get a stroller and two bicycles in the rear
    without taking out a bench.
    I would love the 1997 Aerostar, but my husband and
    sister feel that since the recall, and since it's
    the last model year anyway, that I should get
    something else. It's also very difficult to find!
    I saw the Ford Mark IV in the showroom and it had
    less storage than my van! The Caravan and the Windstar
    are too small.Even the Expedidtion doesn't have any
    storage! (As If I could buy it anyway!)
    Is the GMC Safari Passenger as large as an Aerostar?
    How about some of the others?
    In 2 1/2 years I have had the starter recalled, the
    transmission and air conditioning worked on twice,
    the exhaust system done; oil pan, brake cylinder,
    wiring system replaced. At 77,000 miles, I think
    it's the time to sell, but what to get?
  • We are looking into my first full size van purchase. Our mini-van has finally outgrown our 4 dogs and us. Our thoughts are on a Ford Club Wagon XLT Super. Has anyone had any experiences with the new V10 engine offered by Ford? Also any comments on this vehicle in general would be appreciated. i.e. should I add tranny coolers for towing? How does it handle towing say 9000GVW? We await any and all replys.
    Thanks
  • tbobtbob Posts: 1
    I am considering the purchase of a conversion van--a Dodge Ram--and am wondering if the dual heat and ac is a desirable option. Some of the vans do not have it and others do. Any opinions?
  • jpcjpc Posts: 10
    Yes yes yes yes yes. Rear heat and a/c is an absolute necessity in a big van. I have known people who have owned big vans not so equipped (and have ridden in some of them myself). Without the rear heat/air unit, the back passengers never get adequately warm or cool (not even close, on very hot or very cold days). I have a 94 Ford Club Wagon with rear heat and air, and would never, ever get a van without.
  • My wife and I have decided to buy a Ford Conversion Van, we have been looking at Glaval's (sold under the Universal brand name) conversions, and like the looks and price of them.

    If anyone here has recent experience, good or bad, with any Glaval Vans (Universal (Ford), Gladiator(Chevy), Autoform (GMC), or Travel Time (Dodge)) your input would be appreciated. We are more interested with stories of the quality of the conversion components rather than the vans themselves.

    Thank you in advance!
  • PeggyPeggy Posts: 8
    mviens, I have taken the liberty to start a new topic in the Vans conference with your question. I thought that it would receive more attention this way. It is called Rating Conversion Vans and Their Component Parts .

    When you click on this link you will create (spawn) a new window. To return to this page click on the "X" in the top right corner of your screen. You can also reach this discussion by going to it directly from the list of topics featured in the Vans Conference.
  • I am looking into purchasing a conversion van. So far I am finding the Doge vans to be the lowest costing chassis. I'm looking at the 97' vans for a bigger rebate. Any suggestions?
  • JPC... thanks for all the info on the Club Wagon. I have been trying to decide on a 92 that is on a car lot here in Alameda CA. Your information plus some reasonably favorable ratings in Consumer Reports has helped me decide to purchase this vehicle.

    (I am trading in my Olds Silhouette, 160K miles essentially trouble free, which we have outgrown)
  • MJKMJK Posts: 4
    Info on '98 Dodge Ram Wagon. They're scheduled to be assembled starting Jan'98. You Dodge dealer should have literature by now. I have it and here are some of the improvements: Both Driver and Passenger Air Bags for '98, Also double sealed driver and passenger doors to shut out weather and noise. The engine cover has also been moved forward to provide for more room. And the spart tire is now mounted under the floor! Higher GVW's and R/E ratieos now standard. The RAM 2500 has 7700 and 3.9. The 318 has 225 horsepower!

    I have a '95 Dodge RAM Wagon I am trading for a '98. Just closed the deal a few days ago. My van has 41K miles and no major problems in the last three years. And I think the new double sealed front doors will eliminate the air noise I experienced when it was windy. But the vehicle has been reliable! It has NEVER failed to start on the first turn of the key . The 225 horsepower engine provides plenty of power . And I'm sure the Dodge will give you as more quality for less the Ford or Chevy.
  • I agree fully with the original poster's comments about full-sized van buyers being a neglected market. We're planning to purchase a new 12-passenger GMC Savana, twin to the Chevy Express, for our large family. I haven't found any information about GM full-sized van reliability, but overall we prefer the GM vans for various reasons - one of which is that the Savana in particular is equipped with 2nd generation (depowered) airbags. It's tough finding GM owners out there, too - I've searched Usenet/Dejanews and have only found a couple of people who own them. If you want, write me privately and I'll give you their addresses. Also, if anyone is interested in reading some articles/reviews about the GM full-sized vans, I've bookmarked several URLs from my surfing safaris over the last few months. I'd be happy to e-mail those to any interested parties as well.
  • I'm afraid I'm also new here with too many questions. But I'd appreciate any responses anyone can offer. I'm seriously considering the purchase of a 1994 Conversion Ram Van with only 7800 miles from elderly private seller. Seller wants $15000 (she raised it from 14,000 because of sentimental value/loss of spouse/all the work put in) Interior is completely refinished but seating was replaced with a bed---whcih I would have to remove to re-install one or 2 bench seats (at my expense of course) for sake of family. It has tow package and has high roof, custom paint, fridg, very nice throughout--like-new condition. Would anyone make any suggestions on fairness of pricing, reliability of vehicle and and so forth. My mechanic will be looking at it soon. He wants my 1988 Grand Voyager but he's offering to low a price at 1000. Mechanically sound (though always a problem, still we loved the ride) with paint primer problem. Kelley's notes value at 2700 under fair condition. Thanks very much, Charlie.
  • gcr4gcr4 Posts: 3
    I am also in the market for a full-size van. I currently own a 1986 Club Wagon with a 5.0 liter V-8 and 150,000 miles. I've been quite happy with it (for the most part), but it is time to replace it with a new one. We will be doing a lot of traveling with our six kids in the next few years, which will include towing a tent trailer. Therefore the 5 liter engine will not be powerful enough.

    We will most likely buy a 98 Club Wagon HD XLT (the 12 passenger version) because of its heavy duty suspension. My wife insists on the Ford because she doesn't like the looks of the Chevy (and I agree.) Because no dealer has these vans in stock (and a search has found none), I will be ordering one soon.

    This raises a dilemma for me- I am considering ordering the V-10, rather than the 5.4 liter V-8, because the V-10 has a lot more torque and about 30 more horse power. However, I haven't been able to find any Ford vehicles with V-10s to test drive. So it looks like I'll have to make a buying decision before I drive the vehicle.

    Does anyone out there have any info on the V-10 that would help me make my decision? Thanks.

    P.S. I also had problems with the front suspension for the first three years that I owned my van. It would go out of alignment easily and wear out tires in no time. The solution was very straight-forward: I replaced the front springs and all shocks with heavy duty models at a Midas shop. Since that time, I have never needed an alignment and my tires wear evenly!
  • As a whelchair user, I am looking for a 1998 Ford
    Clubwagon (XLT, 705A, std. GVW)with a 4.6L V-8. Will order soon. The mods I will be making include a 4" dropped floor(to eliminate hi-top and have ability to drive from wheelchair if required later), wheelchair lift, reduced effort steering and brakes, hand control, etc. My questions are as follows:
    1) Does anyone in this forum drive such a vehicle?
    If so, is there substantially more road noise than
    a standard van?
    2) General maintainability - is the Ford reliable?
    3) How is the acceleration with the 4.6L? What highway MPG do you average?
    I rented a 1996 wheelchair-lift E-150 in New Orleans last summer. This was superior to my current vehicle, a modified 1989 Dodge B-250, which is loud and crude.
    Enjoy.
  • I would like to buy a dodge ram van 1550 2500 or 3500. Does anyone out there have any information on the reliability of this van?
  • MJKMJK Posts: 4
    vanwinkle,
    Go the the subject ''98 Dodge 2500 Ram Wagon' in this forum. MJK
  • yeahyeah Posts: 1
    I have an '87 Dodge B150 passenger van with 140,000 miles. It was just passed to me from my parents. Here's the story behind it. At about 120,000 miles my older brother and I started driving it, and as teenagers do, we like to have fun with cars. The van has done things it shouldn't have and has been where it shouldn't. It's been high centered on boulders, half-way submerged in a creek, and has been off 2 foot high drop-offs... and the van looks and runs great! (except for a little bit of peeling paint) It has been a tow vehicle for many years with my parents and is now towing a lighter 2000lb boat. At about 129,000 miles it started dying once in a while. (nothing has ever gone wrong until that date!) We got it looked at and it had and inch of oil in the air cleaner!! Nobody could figure out how it could run with that much oil above the carb. I then found out the bullet proof reputation of the Dodge 318 and 360. So, we bought a re-built 318 and now, just today... I found out it needs a new transmission because the clutch is worn out in the stock one. I'm looking forward to many more exciting times in this van.
  • Any word on safety and reliability of teh Chevy Astro AWD passenger Van for '98 or earlier?

    RW
  • gcr4gcr4 Posts: 3
    ewilmes:

    Thanks a lot for the info, especially about the new rebate program. I have been waiting to make my special order, because I had heard nothing about new rebate programs from Ford.

    I will also be making a special order and hope to be able to make a deal as good as yours. I plan to call around to the various dealers within a hundred miles or so and see who'll give the best price on my factory order.

    I intend to order the Club Wagon XLT HD because I want the 12 seat capability and stronger suspension. Mine WILL fit in the garage if I remove a 1 by 4 decorative header.

    I agree wholeheartedly with your comments of full-size vs. minivan. Although more costly at the fuel pump and difficult to park, the full-size are much more useful in every other way.
  • HOOVERHOOVER Posts: 1
    I own a 1996 Dodge Ram Van. I purchased the van after carefully considering the FORD and GMC products. Overall the Dodge projected the most value for the dollar. The Ford Club Wagon had the best fit and finish, yet the 5.4 V-8 engine is gutless and somewhat noisy for a new designed. Also several individuals informed me that the Ford Motor Company could careless about its' customers. The GMC/Chevy products fit and finish was very poor. I drove one GMC 3/4 ton Van that shook and rattled soooo much - I thought the interior was going to self destruct.
    The GM twins do have an extremely powerful and strong drive train (Plus for Towing), yet the fit and finish is unexcusable in a new vehicle.
    My Ram van has excellent power and is much more versatile than a mini-van. My only major complainant is the wind noise during high cross
    winds. The Bottom Line is - the Dodge Ram Van is just a good value for the dollar.
  • MJKMJK Posts: 4
    Hoover,
    I wish to echo your sentiments, right down to the wind noise during high cross winds. Mine is a '95 B250 Ram Wagon that I am really satisfied with. However, since the new '98 Ram Wagons promise many new innovations including double sealed doors and elimination of vent windows to aid in eliminating wind noise, I am trading in my '95 for one of the new '98's. It won't arrive until mid to late February and I will post the pros and (I hope there aren't any) cons on this board.
  • runnerrunner Posts: 5
    MJK
    I will be getting my 8,000 mile "used" 1994 Dodge Ram Conversion Van. It will have the 5.2 liter V8 but I have to put in the rear seating. Any recommendations? What kind of gas milage can I expect? Though discussed elsewhere on this list, how will the rear passengers do with only a front end a/c and heating source? (No one mentioned how the Dodge would do). Thanks for any info. I never had a full sized truck before and wer'e kind of excited (compared with minivan life we had before). Any more things we should be aware of? Thanks very much. compared to minivan travel?
  • MJKMJK Posts: 4
    Runner,
    First of all, you '94 should have the re-tooled 318 which included multiport fuel-injection and 220 horsepower. You will have plenty of power with this combination. You should be able to get 11-14 mpg in the city and 18-20 mpg on trips with this engine. Rear air/heat is a nice option to have, but in its absence, you/your passengers won't fry/freeze if you don't have it. Especially with a conversion van where the front vents heated or cooled air will flow directly back between the two front pairs of bucket seats!

    I think you will really like your full-sized conversion van compared to a mini-van. I recall that '94 was the first year for the redesigned, more streamlined front end too!

    One more thing. If 8000 miles is the correct reading, the van was probably one used for vacation trips. It practically new!! I'd explore through Chrysler, the dealer or Warranty Gold, if you could pick up some sort of extended coverage. Why the original 3Yr/36000 mile warranty expired due to the Year factor! How often does that happen?
  • rwfrwf Posts: 2
    We looked at a '91 Ram250 Conversion van today. Conversion by "Classic Vans" I think? It has 31,000 miles and is very clean. The usual nicities like power windows, door locks ect. and a 10'' color TV, VCR, Nintindo. The dealer asking price is $12,900, which seems a bit high. I was thinking along the lines of $9,800. Does any body have a good idea where I can expect a price for this vehicle to fall in at?

    Thanks

    rwf07@aol.com
  • runnerrunner Posts: 5
    MJK, thanks a lot for your response to my (our) inquiry regarding the '94 Dodge Ram van. A "second" buyer can obtain the rights to the remaining power train and engine warranty (7/70) for $150. to the local dealer, which is obviously worth it. I have been enjoying reading other people's discussion of their vans though it is evident that there are a lot of question out there. I'll keep listening. One of the reasons our family chose a full size van is for comfort and space, and we hope longevity too. 'Ride on'
  • runnerrunner Posts: 5
    I'm writing to ask if anyone can us any further ideas on what we should be aware of in the purchase of a full-sized van, compared with a minivan? Any service issues in general? What about this thing I keep hearing about the loose rear end on a non-front wheel drive vehicle? (Sand bags behind the rear wheels?---I already have a tow bar, that seems heavy enough.) I getting the 1994 Dodge RAm Conversion van in a few days. My mechanic will look for seating in the rear for me since it was taken out. Mark III told me I could only replace the rear seating with their equiptment but my mechanic indicated otherwise, he said the original seat stays were punched out at the factory before Mark III got the vehicle. Charlie.
  • jboaterjboater Posts: 199
    To runner:
    If I understand your question concerning "loose rear-end" correctly, I believe your wondering about traction (or a lack of). Over the past 6 years I have driven a GMC Safari, GMC/Starcraft short wheel base, Chevy/Tiara regular wheel base, and for the past month a Ford/Coachmen regular wheel base. All four vehicles were/are rear wheel drive with standard rear axle differentials. I live in suburban Detroit. I have found that these vans are no more difficult to drive in snow, rain, etc. than the front wheel drive cars I drove previously. Additionally, when it snows in this area, the snow is cleared from the roads rather quickly. To maximize traction, I recommend using good all season radial tires. Avoid the sporty, high performance tires like Goodyear Eagles. The GMC Safari came equipped with these tires and I found they wear more quickly, and traction dropped significantly. The new tires I put on that van were all season radials and the difference was like night and day. Also, for improved traction, you might consider changing the differential to a posi-traction or limited slip differential. When I checked into it for the Safari, I decided it was too expensive. About $700.00. By comparison to minivans and cars, you will also notice that your full size van will have a greater sensitvity to wind, particularly cross winds. Use care when driving in windy conditions on slippery road surfaces.

    Jerry
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