Q: My rotten Dodge Dakota (2007) came with a plastic front bumper. (I knew body panels were being made of that flimsy substance, but was horrified to find out that so were bumpers.) Now, this is a "work vehicle," which can be expected to bump into or push things around. But just rolling to a stop in a parking lot and barely touching a wooden post, I heard a sickening "cracking" sound. Drat! I asked our Chrysler dealership if Dodge or Mopar offered an optional steel bumper (they don't). So, then I checked a local off-road parts house. The best it could come up with was a "Bull Bar," which is even uglier than one of you guys (no offense). Do you know of anyone who offers a reasonably close to stock, steel front bumper? Dave
Ray: We don't.
Tom: But you do have a steel front bumper, Dave. The plastic is just the bumper cover; it's there to improve the vehicle's aerodynamics, and therefore its mileage.
Ray: Underneath that piece of plastic you cracked is a piece of ugly steel that does what it's supposed to do, structurally, to protect the truck.
Tom: Unfortunately, those plastic bumper covers are easy to break and expensive to fix - as I found out recently when I tried to test the turning radius of a brand-new Acura in an underground parking garage.
Ray: Needless to say, the turning radius was greater than zero, and my brother implemented yet another unplanned exterior redesign.
Tom: Anyway, there were years in which the Dakota came with metal bumpers, so you can check with your local auto-recycling facility (a.k.a. junkyard) and ask if the bumper from another year will fit your truck. They've got all that information on computer.
Ray: If you can't find one, then I think you need to go custom. Find a metal fabricator or a custom body shop in your area, and ask it to make you something that will sit in front of the plastic cover, but will attach to the steel bumper itself. You can go chrome, you can go cross-hatched, you can have your name etched into it if you like. It'll be like a gigantic belt buckle for your Dakota.
Tom: Or, you can have it fitted with raised letters: Y-R-R-O-S. That way, when you bang into someone else's plastic bumper cover in a parking lot, you'll puncture a message right into the bumper that says "Sorry."
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Forget used police car
Q: I am looking for a used vehicle for less than $10,000, and I was curious about used police cruisers. I have heard that they are built for durability. But how reliable are they as used cars? A company I am looking at sells them with 71,000 miles on them, at a year or two old. Are they going to be money pits, or does their build quality offset the beating they probably have been put through? Matt
Ray: I think I'd head in another direction.
Tom: It's true that police cars - most notably the Ford Crown Victoria Police Interceptor - are beefed up to some extent.
Ray: They come with sturdier suspensions, for when officers have to drive up onto sidewalks to cut off or apprehend suspects.
Tom: They have beefed-up frame and body mounts so that when cops go over speed bumps at 80 miles an hour during a chase, the car won't come apart.
Ray: They have bigger engines. And their transmissions allow the engines to rev higher in each gear so that when the police need to pursue suspects, they can make jackrabbit starts.
Tom: And most important, they have external transmission coolers so the car can idle for hours in front of crime scenes. Or doughnut shops (apologies to our police brethren reading today, but we're contractually obligated to make that joke whenever we write about idling police vehicles).
Ray: These examples of how police cars are driven are all very good reasons not to buy a used one.
Tom: And 71,000 miles is a meaningless number. Most police cars never get shut off. When's the last time you saw a police car that wasn't idling? When one officer finishes his shift, another one gets right into the car and takes off. So the odometer reading doesn't account for the huge number of hours the engine has been running.
Ray: They do have the advantage of being relatively easy and inexpensive to fix. That's why cab drivers use these cars as well. In fact, they buy most of the used police cars. But unless the car is, say, half the price of a comparable nonpolice Crown Victoria, I'd stay away. They've just been driven too hard.
Tom: For $10,000, you should be able to get a decent used car, Matt. One that's been used only occasionally in high-speed chases.