Truck Update

I finally got estimates from the shop on repairing the truck. I’d pretty much written it off already but their response pretty much confirmed it.

A new engine, if and when they can find one, would run about $8k. The truck’s pretty beat up…I own a truck because I use and abuse them, not as a status symbol…so even with a new engine, it wouldn’t be worth near that much, and there’s no telling what else could give out down the road. There are already some iffy things on it that I’ve been thinking about getting fixed pre-emptively. I just don’t think it’s worth it to sink that kind of money into it.

Plus it would still be the same type of problematic engine that has a tendency to blow spark plugs under stress.

I could get the head replaced, but then I’d still have another head and the entire block with 250k+ miles on it and I don’t think I’d trust it to tow the camper after this experience.

And it would still be the same problematic engine that has a tendency to blow spark plugs under stress.

So, I decided to start looking for another truck.

I’ve had a problem for a long time with the trend in trucks. They used to be utilitarian work vehicles that could be had for a reasonable price.

Now, they’re basically luxury vehicles and finding one without all the stupid expensive extras is pretty hard. I don’t need a 7.1 surround, bluetooth enabled, Blu-ray capable entertainment system with voice control navigation and integrated Sirius/XM receiver,  I need to be able to hook up and tow a 6,500 lb trailer up a mountain reliably.  I don’t need Corinthian Leather power seats and power windows and power door locks and power sunroof and power headrest, I need to be able to throw a ton of gravel or dirt in the back and not have to worry about staining the seats or getting the carpet muddy after I’ve unloaded it at my job site.

You get the picture.

At any rate, I started looking at what I could find. I also started doing some serious research into diesel engines because diesel is king when it comes to towing. Basically, what I found was that Dodges and GMs have, until recently, had lots of problems with dependability and long term reliability. I hear that their newest offerings are as good as any, but I can’t afford the newest offerings of anything. I found very few models of any make newer than 2015 that were in my price range and they were “baby” trucks that don’t have the payload or towing capacity that I need.

I’m sorry if that offends any Mopar or GMC fans, but it is what it is. Personally, even though I’ve always had Fords, I’m not wedded to them emotionally and would have snapped up a Dodge, Chevy or GMC had I found one for a price I liked and had good reviews for dependability. Sadly, they just weren’t out there.

What I found for Ford was that the engines to get (for 3/4 ton trucks) are the 1999 – 2003 7.4 liter and the 2015 and earlier 6.7 liter (that one has a great rep and makes an astonishing amount of torque). Obviously, I couldn’t afford anything new enough to have a 6.7 so I tried to find an older 7.4 that I could afford. The added bonus with those is that the winch mount on my 2004 is compatible with the 1999-2003 trucks, so that would save me several hundred dollars in buying a new winch mount.

Unfortunately, I just couldn’t find anything that was in decent shape, within my distance limit (I’m not flying to California to buy a truck) that I could afford. many of them with lower mileage (less than 250k) were almost as much money as a 2015 model. I understand that considering the excellent reputation the 7.4L powerstroke has, but it didn’t help me out any.

After a week or so of futile looking I decided to expand my horizons and add gasoline engine trucks to the mix. Apparently they fixed the problem with blowing out plugs in 2007, but from 2007 to 2010 there were other reliability issues to contend with. In 2011 they introduced a 6.2L V8 16 valve engine that makes an impressive amount of power for a gas engine and has a very good reputation for reliability. The only bad thing people mentioned about that engine is that it has 16 spark plugs…an upper and a lower for each cylinder. Makes it an expensive PITA to change spark plugs, but that’s the only negative I’ve seen about it.

I quickly found a 2011 F-250 within (right at the edge, but it was barely in there) my price range. Part of what got it into my price range was that it was a commercial truck with few of the “normal” bells and whistles. It has shift on the fly electronic 4WD (I’d have been fine with locking hubs and manual shifting), it has A/C and cruise control, but that’s about it. Two speaker plane jane AM/FM radio, industrial style vinyl floor coverings instead of carpet. Manual windows, manual seat adjustments, manual door locks, manual mirror adjustments. Vinyl seats. Perfect.

As an added bonus it already has a front grille guard that will accommodate my 12k winch. That’s a savings of about $700 right there.

The only downside is that it has a topper (the kind that replaces the tailgate in the back, so if I take it off, I’ve got to find a tailgate from a junkyard somewhere), but I’m actually undecided on that at the moment. It’s got a ladder rack on top that I don’t need and I’ll definitely lose that, but it has upward opening doors with easy to access toolboxes on both sides. Those toolboxes are very convenient. Much better than having to jump into the bed every time I want to get something out of the toolbox. Also, the topper is tall enough that I can still put pretty big things in there, I just can’t “dump” things into the back like you can with an open bed. Unfortunately, I seem to do that a lot so I may end up having to pull the topper and sell it if I just can’t get used to it or it’s in my way too much.

At any rate, as a company truck it was a one owner vehicle and has surprisingly low miles: 141k. The carfax shows regular and complete maintenance records and shows that the spark plugs and coil packs were just changed at about 120k so they should still have 80k or so on them which is a plus.

It also has a class 5 receiver hitch and factory trailer brake controller. The truck/engine combo is capable of towing 12.5k which is comparable to what I’d have been able to handle with a 2003 and a 7.4L diesel, so I don’t think I’m compromising on performance.

I went and took a look at it last weekend. Drove it around for about an hour including taking it up on the highway. It ran great, drives well, handles smoothly (for a truck), has great power is just a comfortable truck. While I had it I tested the 4wd system, it shifted into 4wd smoothly and quickly and worked as advertised. Basically seems to be a solid vehicle. I made them an offer after I got back and now I have a new (to me) Emergency Escape Vehicle.

(click to make bigger)

One thing I’m going to do is get the transmission serviced and inspected. I’m taking it in for that on Monday. I’m thinking about having the timing chains replaced as a pre-emptive measure, but that won’t be cheap so I’m still mulling it over. I may do it myself but it will take some time as I don’t have the best place to do it (garage is too small) and you basically have to take the entire front end of the truck apart to get to it. Oh, and I definitely need tires with more aggressive tread to get up onto the property in TN.

The one thing about this that feels strange to me: every time I’ve ever bought a vehicle in the past, it’s because it was “time” and I was excited about getting a new vehicle. This time, even though I’m happy with my purchase and think I made the right decision, I’m not overly excited. In fact I’d describe myself as “ambivalent” about it. I really, really liked my old truck and although I still believe that from a practical standpoint, it’s the right decision to let it go, it just makes me sad. I’ve had that truck for about 15 years and we’ve been through a lot together. All things that have a beginning also have an end.

At any rate, now that the personal truck shortage has been alleviated, the next question is what to do with the old one. It’s still in Salem about 285 miles away, it has a lot of stuff on it that I want to get off and transfer to the new truck (winch, CB radio that I’ve had in every vehicle I’ve ever owned, 2500w power inverter, all the stuff in the toolbox, etc.) plus the mechanic that it’s at pretty much told me that there’s no place local in Salem that would give me a decent price for it, most likely about $200 for scrap. Heck, the winch mount on the front is worth probably $500. It cost $700 brand new and it’s in perfect condition. Plus it’s still a fully functional truck minus the head that needs to be replaced. I wouldn’t trust it to tow what I need to tow any more, but if someone needs just a general hauler for local use, it would be great for that. I’m thinking take off the winch mount and sell it and the truck on Craigslist. I think I can get $500 from the winch mount and probably $1-2k for the truck “as-is”.

The problem is getting it back home. I initially thought I could get get a car dolly from U-haul, but unfortunately, they don’t make one big enough to handle a 6500 lb truck. They also don’t have a trailer that can handle that kind of load.

I checked all the other rental places like Penske and Hertz and same story. Getting a little disheartened, I decided to check with commercial auto transportation places. I found a couple and got quotes. $550 to bring that truck home. That’s pretty much a non-starter. So then I started looking into equipment rental places. I finally found one in the area that has a trailer that will do the job. It’s $125 a day which is reasonable for an 18′ tilt bed equipment trailer. The trailer itself weighs 3200 lbs, plus the truck weight of about 6500 is a total load of 9700 lbs…well within the ability of my new truck. The trailer can handle 12,000 lb loads so it’s easily able to handle the truck.

They actually have a trailer that’s even closer to what I need that’s 600 lbs lighter with a load handling capability of over 7,000 lbs, but it’s only 16 feet long. The wheelbase of the truck is about 13 feet and the body is 20 feet long so I just don’t think that one is quite big enough. I may not have enough back and forth wiggle room to get the truck’s weight balanced correctly on the trailer and there would be a lot of truck hanging over the front and/or back ends of the trailer. I think the 18′ is a better bet even if it is a little overkill in the weight handling capacity.

Of course, one of the downsides of renting from a company that typically works with construction companies is that they aren’t open on the weekends so I’ll have to take a day off work to make the trip during the week. I made a reservation for Thursday and Friday next week. That will give me time to get the truck into the transmission shop to make sure the tranny is in good shape and up to the task.

So, hopefully within the next 8 days, the old warhorse will be back in town and I’ll be able to transfer all my personal gear to he new truck and sell the old one to offset some of these unplanned expenses at least a little bit.

So…..I know this was long and if you hung in there all the way to the end, thanks. I just needed to vent a little bit. Sometimes writing this stuff all out helps me review and solidify my reasoning to make sure I’m thinking it through all the way. Call it a sanity check. At any rate, that’s where we’re at. Hopefully within a couple of weeks this whole ordeal will be over and my household will be back to “normal”…such as it is.

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2 thoughts on “Truck Update

  1. Don’t be too hasty getting rid of the topper. I’ve got one on mine and it’s very handy for keeping stuff dry and *minimally* securing stuff. You probably want to modify it so it will work with a tailgate, whomever manufactured it might have a different back panel available. In a pinch you can even sleep in the bed under the topper (assuming it’s a real truck and not a 5 ft bed “city truck”).

    The pic shows a ladder rack on it – keep that, it’ll be handy both for ladders, pipe, odd lumber, etc. and topper removal/reinstall. Some day you’ll want to carry something too long to fit in the truck (pro tip: add a roof rack to the cab that lines up with the rack on the topper). The trick is a garage or barn with a ceiling-mounted pulley system. 4 pulleys, some rope, and a hand-crank winch – one from a boat trailer bolted to the garage wall works fine – back in, loosen the topper-to-bed clamps, hook the 4 ropes to the corners, lift topper, drive out. Reassemble in reverse order. Extra points for quick-release topper-to-bed clamps.

  2. I’m going to give the topper a chance for a while. I don’t like that my vision to the rear is very limited. The rear doors have windows so I can see a bit, but it’s very restricted. Maybe I’ll get used to it.

    It will all come down to how many times a day I say to myself “I really wish that topper wasn’t on there” vs “I’m glad I’ve got that topper”.

    I really don’t think I like the ladder rack. It’s too high to be convenient to put anything up there and you can’t put anything too heavy on it or you’ll crush or crack the fiberglass topper. Plus it just makes it look a bit too utilitarian. If I thought I’d use it, I wouldn’t care about that, but why have something on there that I don’t like the looks of it I’m not going to use it anyway?

    It is a long bed. One of my main criteria and one of the reasons I had a hard time finding something I wanted that I could afford. There were several trucks that I would have been interested had they not been short beds.

    This is probably a little harsh, but in my opinion, if you have to leave the tailgate open to fit a standard size sheet of plywood or drywall in the bed, it’s not a truck, it’s a fashion statement.

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