About the Truck

call me marty mcfly

A post shared by stephen o'grady (@stephenogrady) on

Friday afternoon, I got out of work a couple hours early and bought a truck. Or more accurately, I leased a truck, but I’ll come back to that. A lot of people have had questions about the truck, beginning with: why did you get a truck? So that seems like a good place to start.

Why a Truck?

The answer is mostly: our house. That’s not the only reason, of course – I spent almost a half hour trying to shoehorn our stroller into the passenger seat of my Volvo S40 last weekend because it didn’t fit in the trunk, for example. But it’s mostly the house. As has been documented here many, many times previously, we have done and will continue to do quite a bit of work on our home. It’s a lot better than it was when we bought it, but there’s a lot left to do.

Which means picking up everything from plywood to drywall to solid core doors to gravel to 8′ weather treated 4×4’s to fill. Taking construction debris to the dump. Picking up random free pallets to build a pallet wall. Trailering down my father-in-law’s Kubota. And on and on.

To his credit, my Dad’s been fantastic about driving down with his F-150 whenever we’ve needed him. But I could honestly have him down here two or three times a week, which is a bit much to ask given that he’s forty minutes up the road and that my parents have a schedule of their own (they are literally the world’s worst retired people).

A truck, then, is something we’ll get a lot of use out of. Having sadly failed to persuade Kate to get one when we replaced her car, then, the job fell to me. Even though I hate driving trucks and have always driven sports cars (Mustang/Thunderbird) or sportier sedans (Taurus SHO/S40).

Why not an SUV?

This is the second most common question I got. The short answer is that there are enough things I need to pick up (e.g. plywood sheets) that either a) wouldn’t fit or would be awkward to fit in an SUV or b) would destroy a carpeted rear cargo area (e.g. fill or gravel), that an SUV is optimal only for a subset of what we need it to do. A cargo space not constrained by a roof that I can clean with a hose has advantages for what I need it for.

Conversely, as a two adult and one baby household that also has a station wagon, we’re not in desperate need of additional interior storage space. The versatility of an open bed, therefore, was preferable.

Why a Midsize?

Theoretically I get better marginally better mileage, but really it’s the size. As someone who drives to and parks in Portland a lot, I was in the market for the smallest pickup that would work for what I need, and the midsize (Chevy Colorado/GMC Canyon, Honda Ridgeline, Toyota Tacoma and Nissan Frontier) are basically as small as it gets.

My Dad’s full size F-150 counterintuitively helped sell me on a midsize. His has a short bed – around the same length as my own – but still could handle 4×8 sheets that we braced and hung over the tailgate. Seeing that I could generally get what I needed in a more compact footprint made a midsize pickup seem like a reasonable option.

Oh, and it doesn’t hurt that the midsize trucks start at eight or ten grand less than their full size counterparts.

Why a Tacoma?

When I first started looking, I really thought I’d end up with a Chevy Colorado, as that is getting the best reviews in the class at present. But it was narrowly edging the Tacoma, for the most part, and Toyota’s truck offered two things the Colorado didn’t: a manual transmission option on any engine, and a moonroof.

The latter sounds dumb, but I’ve really grown accustomed to having an open roof, and it’s not available on the Colorado at all. Even on Chevy’s full size Silverado, the moonroofs are available only on models that start at $50,000 – far more than I wanted to spend on a pickup.

As for the stick, you wouldn’t believe how hard it is to find a manual transmission on anything these days. Basically zero full size trucks come with one, and the Chevy Colorado comes with a stick but only on the most basic models with a tiny four cylinder engine. Outside of Subaru, Toyota is one of the few vendors selling a standard on any engine you like – though it’s not available on their highest end Tacoma model, the Limited.

Car people will tell you that automatic transmissions have come a long way in reliability and efficiency, and that they are now superior to humans with manual transmissions in both aspects. I have no doubt that they are correct. For me, however, there is something profoundly enjoyable about how a manual transmission involves me in the driving process in a way that an automatic or even manual paddle shifters never could.

So yeah, I might be able to do without a moonroof, but once I found out I could get a stick with the Tacoma’s V-6, I was pretty much sold.

Do You Hate the Environment?

I don’t, and it’s unfortunate that the mileage on a pickup isn’t better. But the work that needs to get done on our house is going to be done by a truck, whether we own it or not, so the net loss to the environment by a truck sitting in our driveway is marginal. That being said, if Tesla ever gets around to making a pickup – a prospect which is reportedly not as crazy as it sounds given that electric motors apparently can produce virtually infinite torque – I’ll be first in line.

One other helpful development: bus service from Freeport down to Portland starts this Thursday, so wherever and whenever possible, I’ll be taking public transportation.

What Don’t I like?

Apart from the fact that Toyota puts reverse on the other side of the gearbox from Volvo, which means that I keep stalling out the truck while trying to back up because it’s in 6th, the most unfortunate thing about the Tacoma so far is its electronics package. GM has wisely, in my opinion, punted and acknowledged that they are probably not as good at developing consumer electronics systems as Apple or Google, so they support both Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. Toyota, meanwhile, has borrowed from Ford’s playbook and is attempting to outcompete the consumer tech giants. The result is Entune, a poorly reviewed – to put it charitably – app that patches your phone into the Tacoma’s electronics package, allowing the passthrough of apps like Pandora. It’s not Ford Sync bad, but it’s not great.

The good news for Toyota is that my S40 was literally the last model Volvo ever made that was incompatible with an iPhone adapters, so I’ve been patching my phone into my car stereo with clumsy Monoprice FM radio adapters forever. By comparison, Entune – warts and all – is a godsend.

Why a Lease?

Generally speaking, my preference is to buy a car, both because I have no interest in always driving a new car and because the years without car payments are really enjoyable. In this case, however, I’m leasing for three reasons. First, because my brother who’s in finance ran the numbers for me and told me to lease. Second, because I have no idea whether or not I’m going to be able to adapt to driving a pickup after spending years driving things that actually handled well, so limiting my commitment to three years makes sense. Last, because a lease allows me to hedge against factors I can’t predict right now. What’s the trajectory of gas prices three years from now? How much progress have electric vehicles made in that span? And so on. If I buy, particularly given the unnaturally long lifespans of Toyotas, I’m locked into the Tacoma for a decade plus. With a lease, I can reassess the landscape in three years and re-up if that makes sense, or head in an entirely different direction if gas costs $4 a gallon again and electric vehicles can make it from Maine to Fenway and back on a single charge.

What Did You Do With Your S40?

Normally it’s bad news when they don’t offer you much for your trade-in. In my case, it was something of a relief. I get to hang on to my S40 for a little longer, providing it continues to run, and hope against hope for some sort of last minute miracle that restores it to working order so we don’t have to donate it to charity.

As Kate said today, people may think it’s a little weird that the first thing I’d do upon winning Powerball would be to fully restore my ten year old car with a hundred and ninety thousand miles on it, but those people have never driven my car.

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Trackbacks

  1. […] About a month prior to this, I got the devastating news that my beloved Volvo S40 – my friend and companion on many adventures – was living on borrowed time,  with a head gasket that was ruptured. This began the search for a potential replacement, and while I would have happily bought the exact same car, Volvo killed off the model and no longer sells cars with manual transmissions. I ended up with a truck. […]

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