Friday, November 23, 2012

Truck envy

I still think of my car as "my new car," although it wasn't new when i bought it, but it was new to me. And, i've only recently concluded that it's not new to me anymore.  When i consider buying a vehicle i try to see what i think we'll need for the next
10 years or 100,000 miles or so. And so it was with a start when i realized that i bought my car 9.5 years ago, and yes, i need to consider getting something else.
I can still keep my car, as i don't drive a lot of miles these days, and she's wonderfully fuel efficient. But not great in snow, and we get enough snow here
(100 inches/250cm per year) that i need to consider having a better way of navigating snowy roads. Himself is gone often enough that i can't always rely on his all wheel drive vehicle if i need to get someplace, and we have the boat now, too, which we didn't have a decade ago.

Himself's vehicle could most likely tow the boat, but he doesn't think so and doesn't want to try. I needn't rehash the futile conversations we've had about that; i'll say only that i'm still not any more convinced he is right, and he's not any more convinced that i am right, and moreover, is most emphatically unwilling to test the theory to see who is correct.

A few months back, i started noticing trucks. We had a small pickup truck many years ago, and it was quite handy. It had an extended cab, so if you had a bunch of groceries and a passenger, you could put the groceries behind the front seats. There was a small jump seat in the back (think of the little pull down seats flight attendants sit on for landing), and of course, the bed was handy for hauling all kinds of stuff.
At first i just noticed the trucks but after Hurricane Sandy and the Nor'easter that blew through here about 10 days later, it went from just looking to downright truck envy. So, as i do whenever i think we may need to consider a new or new-to-us vehicle, i make a list of what we need to have, what we'd love to have, and where we'll compromise.

The list looks something like this:
  1. something that can tow the boat (4 WD most heartily recommended);
  2. something that can haul the kayaks and/or dinghy along with the boat;
  3. something a bit better in snow than my car (4 WD a logical choice);
  4. something that can plough the driveway (currently a neighbour does this with the plough on his truck if i haven't gone out with the snowblower. I can do a whole blog entry all about planning for snow and how to position it so you have space to dump the ploughed stuff come late winter and in fact tried to write one, but it was too boring--not that this is exactly edge-of-your-seat sort of stuff).

The first three are what i'd consider needs for the next vehicle, and the 4th a really nice option.

And so, i found a few used trucks for sale, and some came with ploughs. I started looking and grew disheartened. Used trucks that have ploughs were used for ploughing. Ahem. And a lot of them may have had still somewhat shiny outsides but underneath showed a goodly amount of corrosion and rust. The price point i thought reasonable is barely getting me into the wheel house. And pointing me to most of the rust buckets. There are those people who want a truck because they think guys should drive trucks and they do very little hauling or ploughing, or they've got kids or hunting or fishing buddies, so they opt for the crew cabs where a few homeless guys would have enough room to be very comfy, and the bed is a good deal shorter to make room for the passengers. As 99% of my driving is me alone, that's a bit of overkill.

Speaking of killing, i'm small enough so that most of the larger trucks require me to pull the seat very close to the steering wheel so i can reach the pedals. If the airbag needs to deploy, i'll most likely die. Some have the option (more money of course) where you say how big the driver is, but most larger trucks assume people are at least four inches (8 or 9 cm) taller than i am, and carrying a bit more heft. Death by a safety device. Hmm, not exactly appealing.

When we first met, Himself and i both drove standard transmissions. I'm still in the standard school, but Himself has gone over to the dark side and really loves having an automatic transmission. Very few US trucks offer standard transmissions, and for every 100 trucks you see at a car dealer, you'll be lucky to find one with a clutch. I think a standard transmission offers more control, although there are those who argue that when you're towing and more importantly launching a boat into or pulling it out of the water, automatic is much, much easier.

The little truck we had all those years ago was a standard. It had a V6 so enough to tow stuff if we needed to do so. And i thought about looking at little trucks once again. Only they really don't make little trucks anymore. Ford stopped making the Ranger. I saw a used one (automatic transmission) that fetched a price about a thousand less than a brand new smaller truck.

I've always bought used vehicles and have had a lot of success with them. And this Ranger was more than several thousand above my threshhold price, but i began to reconsider. If i were willing to bump up my price by five or six thousand, how many more options would i have.

Turns out, the answer is many, many more. As in, do i want new or used. The Internet being the handy research tool that it can be, i researched trucks with all sorts of options. I test drove a few, and have a few more models i can test drive, but the conclusions i have so far are these:

  • If i insist on a standard transmission, then i'm looking at foreign trucks, and not many of those are offering lots to choose from. Guess most Americans really don't want a clutch or aren't willing to say it's a deal breaker for them.
  • If i insist on wanting a smaller truck, then i have more new options with foreign trucks.
  • The airbags on most smaller trucks won't kill me if they need to be employed.
  • A smaller truck will most likely fit in the garage. (The barn has been converted to a garage, but the doors hang a tad low in part to allow for the beams and automatic garage door opener. The beams are a structual necessity, the automatic garage door opener a very nice feature. If  i lose the latter, i can gain a few more inches clearance.)
  • A smaller truck is more fuel efficient.
  • Most used smaller trucks have not had a rough life as a work truck, so the corrosion/rust factor tends to be less.
Many smaller trucks have gotten much larger over the last few years, so they look more like a mid-sized truck. My research also shows that most can tow some weight, but there are two standouts in the small truck crowd that can pull over 6000 lbs
(3 tonnes or 2728 kg) and only one has a manual transmission option, and it's one of the models i test drove. It drove very much like Himself's little truck of yore, so i know both of us will be able to drive it all right.

The crew cab's description states it can fit 5 passengers, and while it can, I'm sure taller people would still find it cramped in the back, and i'd rather have the extra room in the truck bed, so the extended cab with the jump seats in the back will probably be more useful, as we can use the space behind there for groceries or what have you. If we have passengers who want to go boating with us, Himself's car can accommodate 4 adults quite easily.

If we wanted it all, we could consider a crew cab with an extended bed. But i believe that's overkill. I much prefer to get something that will beautifully fulfill our needs 90 or 95% of the time than to have something that'll be perfect for those two occasions in ten years that may occur and go unused the rest of the time. Unless those two occasions mean saving someone's life, but hell, we're talking a seat upon which to sit for a ten minute car ride.

Since i'll be the one chiefly driving the truck, i've gone alone to look at what's available. The salesman who had the cream puff Ranger who told me that since they aren't making them anymore, all Rangers command a premium, and really nice ones even more so, lost me when i mentioned that i was considering getting a plough for the truck.

"What do you do now?"

"Usually my neighbour ploughs me out for a very low price."

"Cheaper to stay with your neighbour doing the ploughing," and he gave a knowing nod.

It stuck in my craw when he said that--actually it was the nod that got stuck--and wasn't until later that i figured out why. He was right about the Rangers, as every one i've seen for sale is within a thousand or two of something i could get new, even ones that look "rode hard and put away wet" as the saying goes. And, even in a very snowy winter, i'd still be ahead of the game money-wise having my neighbour plough for me or sticking with the snowblower. But it'd be nice to have the option of ploughing out myself, or if i got caught somewhere and thought to have the plough on the truck before heading out, i could plough my way home safely. And the light went on, then. I couldn't see this salesman telling a guy to stick with his neighbour doing the ploughing. What i could see was him having a convo about ploughs in general and which ones might be a great fit for a small truck. That nod was the nod i've gotten many times during my life--that "there's a good little girl, run along now" nod that automatically deducts points from your IQ or at the least doesn't take you seriously. At least the salesman who tried selling me the rustbucket with a plough showed me how to operate it, and he opened with "I don't think you'll want to test drive the truck with the plough on it, so we'll take it off," and proceeded to talk through the steps he took to do that.

I had a talk with my mechanic about three weeks back to let him know i was thinking of buying a truck. I told him the four items on my needs/very nice to have list, and he told me some pitfalls in some truck models. Since then, i'm leaning more towards the foreign one with the manual tranny, so i need to have another chat with him and get his view on the matter. With year-end clearance sales, i'm thinking i'll be able to find something new that will be more than i wanted to pay initially, but may save me $$ down the road with fewer repairs.

I went through similar angst when i got my dream car nearly 10 years ago. It took me awhile to find anyplace that had them, and then, as daft as it might sound, not only did i want a stickshift, i wanted the car to be blue. I did find one dealership that had three of the model cars i wanted; two were silver, one was blue. Both silver ones were automatic transmissions, and the blue was a stick. The silver ones were new; the blue one was two years old. The price difference wasn't all that great, and i'm sure there are some who would have argued the newer ones were better. But i've been happy as a clam in my little blue space car.

For the truck? If i do decide to go with new, i'm thinking red.


  1. I don't think that'll fit in the garage, Tom. And, white vehicles are harder to see in the snow.

  2. I only have two essentials on my list.

    1. Always buy new-looking second hand. Let someone else absorb the loss on a brand new car.

    2. Always buy a car that's been made in the country where you live. Buying foreign usually means the loss of about 5 jobs per car.

  3. Cro, i've had your number 1 item on my list nearly the whole time i've ever been in the market looking for cars. I have found, like you, that the most depreciation occurs the very moment the brand new car is driven off the lot by the owner. Twenty percent gone in one second. That's why i've been so surprised to find that the price difference between brand new and new-looking second hand is a slim margin indeed. Brand new costing 5% more, and usually carrying a longer warranty and extremely low finance rates (if one is not paying cash).

    I'm not as wedded to #2, although i understand the reasoning and i know many here who'll insist on buying only US cars or trucks. Historically, i've had fewer problems owning foreign cars than i have US ones. I believe in doing maintenance things (or rather having them done as i'm all thumbs with mechanical things), but i've found consistently that US cars nickel and dime me in a way foreign cars have not. When i've listed what i need in a vehicle or what i'd like in a vehicle, i usually find a foreign model fulfills more of my criteria.

    "Foreign" versus "domestic" is made a bit blurrier these days as many "foreign" cars are now being at least assembled here. Years ago, someone who was a died-in-the-wool US car buyer nearly had a stroke when he looked under the hood of his new US car and saw that many of the components were made someplace else then shipped here to be assembled by US workers.

    If i were to buy the new foreign truck that seems to be leading the pack, it would at least be assembled here in the US. If i were to buy a used model, i'm not sure, as it would depend on the model year.

  4. Wish we could edit our comments. My inner editor was asleep at the wheel when i typed "died-in-the-wool" ofr "dyed-in-the-wool."