Monday, September 14, 2009

What's got 3 wheels, a 4' pickup bed and is legal in PA?

My quest for a minitruck is not over, but a promising new development in Pennsylvania has brought me one step closer to purchasing and licensing a pickup that fits my budget and my over-crowded garage.

The problem with conventional trucks is that they are big. Too big. Even "compact" S10s and Rangers are larger than I need. This over-sized design means that most of the fuel that goes into these trucks isn't being used to move the cargo, it's being used to move the truck.

The answer to this problem is the minitruck. Produced in Japan for decades and used sensibly across the globe, minitrucks are affordable and reasonable ways to transport people and goods for short distances. Subaru, Mitsubishi and Toyota are all reputable manufacturers who offer vehicles in the minitruck category.

I've long been frustrated because it is not legal to drive minitrucks on Pennsylvania roads.

Minitrucks can be purchased for off-road use in the US, but only a handful of states allow them on the road. The states that do not allow minitrucks on their roads cite collision safety as the reason. This could be the topic of another blog entry, but I'll leave it alone for now.

Reasons aside, Pennsylvania falls within the unfortunate majority of US states that do not allow minitrucks on their roads. Some states permit mini trucks on secondary roads. I commend the sensibility in this legislation and hope that Pennsylvania will soon follow in their footsteps.

Until then, there is a loophole. Wildfire, a Chinese manufacturer of scooters of ill repute has recently introduced a three-wheeled minitruck that is legal in all states when registered as a motorcycle. The WF650-T retails for just over $7,000, but isn't worth half of that.

I test drove the Wildfire at a local dealer in York, Pennsylvania. The 650cc motor and handling characteristics of the 3-wheeled critter are actually not that bad. It was fun to drive and even had a reverse gear.

The problem with the WF650-T is in the production quality of the vehicle.

The brand new 2009 model that I drove was already rusting in the dealer's lot. My business cards are thicker than the sheet metal on the cab of this vehicle which was apparently stitched together from scraps of aluminum foil that were heavily reinforced with surface bondo. Inside, the plastic components were falling off of the dash and the sliding heat controls had been replaced with a toggle switch. On or off. The doors closed, but did not fit or seal as tightly as the screen door on my parent's twenty year-old pop-up camper.

So hey, Kudos to Wildfire for bringing the minitruck to PA in a legal fashion. But how ironic is it that this loophole allows a very unstable and poorly built vehicle to travel on interstates and freeways while the better-built Japanese four-wheel designs are still not permitted on city streets?

My hope is that one of two things happens: A. Better manufacturers follow Wildfire's lead and bring a higher-quality trike to the minitruck market or B. The presence of the Wildfire on state roads prompts legislature to review the law books and make room for the safer and better built 4-wheeled mintrucks. Option C where trike are added to the list of banned minitrucks is not a good option.