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Preferred vehicle for SNOW COUNTRY Freelance DPs?

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Ned Miller
Preferred vehicle for SNOW COUNTRY Freelance DPs?
on Sep 3, 2009 at 3:25:38 am

Ugh !!!! I have a Suburban for shooting and a Jeep for a personal run around vehicle and for talking head shoots. Lately the Sub needed: $3800 trans repairs, $200 shocks, $1200 crapped out AC, $300 brakes and (the reason I'm posting) now the blower won't blow and they want $450 (I'll keep the windows down thanks). The front windshield detergent squirter and rear wiper don't work and I am afraid to ask the cost of repairs.

It's a 2003 with 160,000 and being based in Chicago I need something strong to blast through snowdrifts, hold a big size Soundman in back and a big male client up front. I have been shooting 33 years and come from 2 full size Chevy vans, then an Astro (which I loved) for 6 years, now the Sub which seemed to be preferred by news shooters. I specialize in non-fiction TV shows ala Discovery, Nat Geo, Hist Chan, etc., docs and lots of corporate and tend to bring more than necessary although I have no HMIs. I am often having to work out of the vehicle doc style. I usually use full size cameras and I don't have anything unusually large like a jib, just 6x6 net frame. Perhaps I can tell the client he or she must take their own car? And no, I can't pick up the make up lady...

I fantasize about being able to squeeze into a Honda Pilot (if I have a pro carpenter make some shelves and flip down the rear seats). I do not want to be seen in a minivan (I know, I know). So my question is: have any snow country DPs who do what I do successfully configured a Pilot, Explorer or similar in size vehicle? If you've built custom shelving can you share a photo? I'm thinking of a beefed up roof rack carrier (I also kayak).

I'm interested in finding out what other shooters like me in snow country are using. The Element and other boxy vehicles look interesting but may not carry the weight nor clear midwest snow drifts. I have always gotten at least 200,000 from my biz vehicles. I had NO IDEA Suburbans were this expensive to repair and have learned that the engine will last forever, it's just everything else will crap out and cost a fortune. I feel unpatriotic but am thinking that Japanese vehicles have designs that won't crap out as much. The price of gas is not much of a factor since I bill the clients for travel. SO what are you using that I should consider and I'll bring my measuring tape to the dealer? I have to do SOMETHING, I can't afford repairs like this and they seem endless...


Ned (

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Mark Suszko
Re: Preferred vehicle for SNOW COUNTRY Freelance DPs?
on Sep 3, 2009 at 3:29:12 pm

What about going to a pickup with a shell on the back? Floor's higher than a van, but maybe not that much higher than a Suburban. Get one with a Crew Cab, you have room for clients and some "need-instant-access" stuff, and all the heavier stuff goes in the cargo bed on racks and shelving you can weld and bolt right to the sheet metal. You have the high ground clearance and 4wd.

Best car in snow I ever had was a SAAB 900 with front wheel drive. With the sticky but short-lived Pirelli tires on it, that thing could climb walls like Spiderman, I'm convinced. (jk) Rear seats folded completely flat, excellent cargo room, though not as much room as a Suburban. In Maine I'm told, you take the back hatch and seat out of a SAAB, and it qualifies as a pickup truck:-)

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Tim Kolb
Re: Preferred vehicle for SNOW COUNTRY Freelance DPs?
on Sep 4, 2009 at 2:59:07 am

Don't like minivans...hmmm.

I get 26 mpg highway when the rear end is squat with gear load on my Ford Windstar. Current model Toyota Siennas have more space and I bet an AWD model would get you through anything you have any business driving through...

On the other hand, any off-road would take you back to the crew cab pickup...I think I'd prefer Ford or Chev full size because the down-sized pickups don't gain gas mileage for the loss of space and the Tundra is almost absurdly bad on fuel efficiency.

Director, Consultant
Kolb Productions,

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Ken Zukin
Re: Preferred vehicle for SNOW COUNTRY Freelance DPs?
on Sep 6, 2009 at 4:44:08 pm

Maybe you should consider a newer Suburban. Since gasoline costs aren't stopping you, it's probably a great time to buy something that's a couple years old with not too many miles, since families are dumping their full size SUV's. Maybe a lease return. I think you are going to be miserable in a smaller vehicle, esp. if you have to haul around crew in addition to equipment.

I currently am driving a 10 yr. old Ford Club Wagon which has been really reliable, but expensive to operate these last years as it gets about 13 mpg. I may look into a Ford Transit, which has been in use as a delivery vehicle in Europe for many years and recently brought to our shores -- not 4WD though.

Chevy makes a 4WD Express van, which has sliding doors on both sides. I'd probably look at what plumbers, electricians and the like are driving in your snow-belt area.

It's too bad Toyota or Honda hasn't produced a full size cargo van domestically -- they'd probably sell a bunch of them.

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