Let’s talk trucks


Enough with the politics. Let’s talk about something important.

One of my pen-pals I quoted on this post said,

You seem like a nice man Brad– but you need an education in real people.  Put down your latte, your copy of the NYT, and park your Saab.  Now take a walk somewhere around real people, the real other side of America.

Well, I drink my coffee black, and I don’t drive a Saab. In fact, I need me a truck. I need a truck on account of what happened to me last year. See the above photo. My ’89 Ford Ranger was tooling along up I-77, just short of the Forest Drive exit, when all of a sudden it caught fire for no good reason.

This happened to me because I was doing a bad thing: I was on my way to play golf during the working day. I had never done this before. I have certainly never done it since. All of a sudden, a mile or so short of the exit mentioned before, I lost power — the truck just couldn’t mount the hill. Smoke starting billowing from under the hood.

I stupidly assumed the smoke was steam, and that it signaled a busted hose. But it was smoke. After I pulled over, I made a couple of phone calls to let folks know I would be late for the golf game (which in truth was in a good cause — a golf game with Executive Editor Mark Lett and me had been auctioned off for United Way, and surprise of surprises, a couple of people had actually paid for the experience), and to get a tow truck on the way.

Anyway, after I’d made the calls, I noticed the "steam" was still pouring from under the hood. So I got out, and opened it — there was a fire around one of my spark plugs, bigger than the flame from a candle, but smaller than a flaming breadbox.

So I did what anyone would do — I blew it out. And it worked. Then I poured a bottled water on it. That meant I would be quite thirsty as I waited for the next two hours. You can see in the photo at right where a portion of the actual engine block burned away around the plug. Ugly.

Anyway, I’ve been making do with a sedan that I’m about to turn over to my wife, and seeing as how we don’t have a subway system around here (which we should, but nobody listens to me on this), I need transportation, which means I need a nice, small, used pickup.

So I’m looking at two, and I’d like your advice. I think I’ve made up my mind, but I haven’t quite, so your advice might be helpful. I’m going to buy one of the following (both advertised in The State by their owners):

  • Photo_080407_002A 1999 Toyota Tacoma, single-owner, "lady-driven" (I loved that detail), 175,000 miles, but in beautiful
    condition — not so much as a speck of rust on the undercarriage. Being sold from a parking lot of a Food Lion; the owner’s ex-husband meets me there for tire-kicking and test-driving. No toolbox or hardcover over the bed, but a plastic bedliner $5,995
  • 2002ranger004
    A 2002 Ford Ranger, second-owner (current owner has a Carfax report from first owner), 74,000 miles. Owned by a state official (I didn’t figure out who he was until after my second test drive, which was embarrassing, because he has an important job). Beautiful paint job. Hard cover over the bed, which I don’t need, but could use or remove as I saw fit. $5899

I test-drove the Ranger first, and felt like I had a little trouble getting it into first and second gear smoothly. I didn’t know whether that was the truck or me, as my last truck (unfortunately) had automatic transmission, and it had been seven years since I had driven a stick regularly. (Both trucks are 4-cylinder manual, 5-speeds, which is what I’m looking for, seeking the best possible gas mileage.) Other than that, it seemed fine, although I’m used to an extended cab and bucket seats, and this had neither.

The Toyota seemed to shift more smoothly for me from the start, reinforcing my impression that the Japanese are better at trannies than Americans or Germans (my wife’s 1982 Mazda GLC shifted much better than the ’78 Rabbit I was driving at the same time). But I keep worrying about the mileage. Yeah, I know you can give a Toyota at least 100k over most American cars, but that’s still a lot of driving during which something that is thus far undetected could go wrong.

I went back and drove the Ranger again, and guess what? It shifted beautifully, so it was just me the first time (I think). Also — I took it on the highway, and it stayed smooth in fifth gear. The one place where the Toyota was NOT smooth was over 60 mph ("lady-driven," and the lady never went over 55, I’m told), when it developed a very noticeable shimmy — you can see the steering wheel shaking.

The Toyota’s passed the ultimate test — my mechanic looked at it a couple of days ago, and pronounced it good. I’m about to leave the office to go pick up the Ranger and take it to the mechanic. Assuming it passes, too, I think I’ve made up my mind.

But I want to know — what would you do?

12 thoughts on “Let’s talk trucks

  1. bill

    I don’t want to sound sexist,but “lady-driven” isn’t much of a recommendation.I know a lady pickup driver,and she’s the scariest thing on wheels.She has a bumpersticker on the rear that says-“If It Has Tires or Testicles,It’s Gonna Be Trouble”.If the Ranger passes the test,go with it.If not,find something else.

  2. kc

    But I want to know — what would you do?
    If I cared about oil dependency as much as you claim to, I wouldn’t buy a truck.
    But hey – that’s just me.

  3. Brad Warthen

    Yeah, I know, kc — except that I need a truck. I’ve got a garage full of stuff that would have been disposed with quickly in the past year if I’d had a truck. In addition, my daughter’s bought a house that she’s going to have to move into in increments as work as done on it, and she’ll need to BORROW a truck. I’m a truck kind of guy, trapped in the body of a sedan for the past year. I can’t help it.
    Did you miss the part where I’m going out of my way to buy the smallest, most fuel-efficient thing that still has a bed on it so you can haul stuff? Something I didn’t mention is that the cheap way out of this is to buy the perfectly trustworthy Dodge Ram 1500 that Hampton is offering me for $4,500 — taxes, tags and drive off. High-mileage, beat-up, but solid. And I could haul a LOT more stuff at a time. Even has a tool box on the back already.
    But that sucker’s got a V8 and automatic transmission, and the founder of the Energy Party doesn’t roll that way.
    Personally, I think we ought to raise CAFE standards and eliminate exemptions so that light trucks like what I’m looking for are more fuel-efficient. And then we need to make them affordable. I mean, I’d love to drive a Camry hybrid, but I can’t afford it, and it still wouldn’t get my stuff hauled.

  4. kc

    I’m sorry, but I’m just not buying your reasons for “needing” a truck. I don’t think you really do need a truck. You just want one. I think when a white-collar guy in Columbia uses a pickup truck to commute to work, it’s an affectation. He’s trying to prove something.
    That’s my gut feeling, anyway.

  5. Wallace

    Buy a fuel sipping car. Rent or borrow a truck when u need it. Far cheaper, and maybe we can fight fewer wars.
    I know your heart is in the right place…but if we don’t sacrifice…what is the point of all the talk.
    Everyone wants to use less fuel…but no one will sacrifice.
    Except me. I am a prince. But then u already know that.

  6. Bill C.

    I’d like to hear what KC thinks we have to prove. I use my truck a lot on weekends and also as my daily driver. Should I spend another $20-$30K to buy something that will get 50 mph and only be used to drive to work in? Because I sure as hell won’t be able to use it on the weekend. Unless I can borrow her Prius to tow my boat.

  7. Erin

    Be a real man and buy a real truck. Mine is an ’05 Z85 Silverado. Use it to pull my horse trailer and commute from Gilbert to Columbia.
    Buy the Dodge. Beat your chest. Come on over the dark side . . . us girls would welcome you with open arms.

  8. Bill C.

    So Ready to Hurl, what do you drive… a Schwinn? Is it really any business of yours what your neighbor’s drive? Do you think they care what you think of their trucks?
    I just sitting here waiting for my truck to cool down inside. 30 minutes of it idling in my driveway with the A/C on wide open should make it comfortable for my 3 minute trip to the grocery store.

  9. RTH

    Bill C., if you were trying to prove that you’ve a non-sensical clown in the above post, Mission Accomplished.

  10. Herb Brasher

    I suppose we should be an example, but the plain fact is, if Brad doesn’t buy the used truck, somebody else will. It isn’t going out of commission until it wears out, or is wrecked. He isn’t really helping global warming by not buying a used truck, is he?

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