Trucks are extremely popular in America. Last year, Ford sold over 1.1 million trucks in the US, compared to less than half a million cars. People want trucks, and they’ll pay whatever it takes to get one.
Call me old fashioned, but I think trucks should be used for actual, heavy duty work. A novel concept, right? But it seems like 95% of truck owners really just use them as luxury vehicles, rather than their original purpose.
A truck is an integral piece in the proverbial DIY pie. It’s a tool (just like any other tool in your toolbox) that serves its intention well: hauling large, heavy stuff, whether it’s a pile of dirt or a new water heater you’re taking home and installing yourself. Without my truck, a lot of projects I’ve done around the house would’ve been much more cumbersome.
But here’s the thing: you don’t need an expensive, fancy truck for your DIY projects. You’re better off with a basic, boring truck that can get the job done. There are a number of reasons for this.
Boring Trucks Are Cheaper
While advertisements and salespeople push gigantic trucks with more features than some luxury sedans, my keep-it-simple mindset led me to purchase a used 2007 Silverado for $11,000, with a cool 76,000 miles on the odometer.
It had no power locks, no power seats, no power windows, and no CD player—an FM radio is the marquee console feature in this truck. It did have cruise control and air conditioning, though, which are must-haves when it comes to the long, boring, humid highway drives here in the Midwest.
It’s so basic because it’s equipped with Chevrolet’s “Work Truck” trim package, aimed at businesses who operate fleets of trucks and other vehicles—power companies, telecoms, lawn care businesses, and the like. It’s a way for these companies to buy trucks without features they’ll never need (or that won’t distract their drivers) and to save a little money in the process.
$11,000 may feel like a lot to pay for a basic, no-frills, older vehicle, but a similar 2019 model sells for about three times as much. And if you really wanted to, you could spend $70,000 on a fully-optioned Silverado—which is absolute madness. Even with a 2019 work truck, you get a touch screen and a nifty backup camera, but it’s a work truck—how fancy do you really need it to be? If it has a cab, a bed, an engine, and four wheels, that’s a good truck in my book.
They Still Have the Power You Need
The powertrain is the main “feature” you should care about in a truck. It can be the fanciest truck on the block, but if it doesn’t have a powerful engine and tough frame, it may as well be a Corolla.
My truck was perhaps the ugliest thing known to man, painted an ugly shade of brown and had strange proportions. The two-door cab made the bed look comically long, and the body just looked oddly tall—I’ll just be honest: it kind of looked like a turd.
But it had a powerful enough engine and a spacious eight-foot bed that provided the perfect combination for DIY activities. Its 4.8L V8 engine produced 295 horsepower and 305 pound-feet of torque, with a towing capacity of around 5,000 lbs. That was enough to haul 2,200 lbs. worth of river rock for a landscaping project—technically beyond the maximum cargo capacity by about 600 lbs., but the ugly brown box handled it with aplomb.
They’re Easier to Repair
Not only are older, basic work trucks cheaper, they’re easier to work on when something breaks.
Body panels, headlights, mirrors, and other parts are simple to replace compared to newer trucks, which can be a complicated mess—my neighbor, who’s an assembly line worker at the local GM plant, has regaled me with stories of how much more difficult and time-consuming newer trucks are to assemble. All of the parts attach in more complex ways than before, and there are more bolts and clips holding it all together—which means at some point, replacing those parts will be just as difficult and time-consuming. Older, basic work trucks also have fewer electronics and other bells and whistles, meaning fewer things that can break in the first place—no fancy tailgates here! (and I can’t imagine how much an automated tailgate would cost to fix or replace out-of-warranty.)
Granted, there’s still a case to be made for newer trucks (and newer vehicles in general), especially when it comes to safety. Car manufacturers are making vehicles safer year after year, and if there’s ever one good reason to buy a newer vehicle over an older one, it’s for the safety features.
1997-2003 Ford F-150 Power Side Mirror Replacement
This guide will allow you to replace the powered side view mirror of a Ford F-150, saving you precious time and money at a mechanic.
Just have a look at this crash test video where—at the 0:44 mark—they compare a 2015 Ford F-150 to a 2016 model. Just that one year jump using newer technology makes a huge difference in how the impact affects the cab’s structural integrity.
Plus, when you get into a really bad car accident in an older vehicle, your first thought probably won’t be, “Well, at least it’s an easy car to work on!”
You Don’t Have to Baby It
When you don’t spend a lot of money on a truck, you don’t feel bad when you throw a hunk of construction debris in the bed. It’s liberating to let a truck be a truck.
Less free is your friend, the one with a $50,000 truck who needs your help loading up a lawn mower. “Don’t scratch the bed!” they yell as you help lift it into their tricked-out truck. When I hear people talk like this, my eyes roll so far back into my head they circle all the way around.
I understand wanting to keep your truck looking nice, but keeping the bed looking nice is weird and confounding. Plus, it’s not going to win you any points. Take a look at any well-worn work truck and you’ll notice the bed is dented and scratched into oblivion—no one is going to pat you on the back if your truck’s bed looks better than theirs.
It may hurt resale or trade-in value, but you’re using a truck for heavy-duty work, not to keep it clean for when you sell it down the line. And again, anyone interested in your basic work truck won’t really care if the bed is scratched up—they’ll likely expect it.
Bottom Line: Buy a Truck for Truck Things, or Don’t Buy A Truck
Trucks are naturally heavy-duty vehicles, so it’s not surprising that they’re the first thing you think of when you want something with a powerful engine, a beefy frame, and four-wheel drive. But if you’re rarely or never going to use it as intended, there are a ton of other options out there.
Plenty of SUVs come with the same power and ruggedness that you might crave from a truck, like a Toyota 4Runner or the Jeep Wrangler. If you want something more luxurious, the Chevy Tahoe uses the same powertrain architecture as the Silverado. Either way, you get a cargo area in the back larger than a full-size sedan’s trunk, and you can fold down the seats to make your own covered truck bed of sorts.
Not that large SUVs are much more essential than trucks; most people probably don’t need that much power and ruggedness to begin with. But if you absolutely do, there’s nothing wrong with going the basic and boring route.