Lessons Learned on the Great Truck Hunt - Tire Review Magazine

Lessons Learned on the Great Truck Hunt

Know how you start searching for something, but end up disappointed?

A couple of years ago we downsized the Smith vehicle fleet and went all sedan. Gas prices forced us to re-evaluate owning a SUV, which was handy to have for family trips and the typical home center runs.

I started keeping one eye open for what I referred to as a “$500 pick-up truck,” something that could make Home Depot runs and haul lumber or bricks or drywall or most large objects. The stuff that wouldn’t fit in my Lancer – which is pretty much anything bigger than a paperback.

Every so often I’d come across an older truck parked in the front yard and sporting a “For Sale” sign. Most were out of my desired price league – nowhere near my somewhat facetious $500 – despite their age, mileage and general appearance. A few were barely drivable, but had still been priced well past even a reasonable starting point for serious negotiation.

I hadn’t even bothered with car dealers, who over-price everything and then cry that they aren’t making a dime on the sale. Yeah, right.

After about a dozen sudden roadside stops – and resultant disappointment – that “$500 pick-up” moniker became more of a pipedream. I’m reasonable enough to know that my $500 level was a stretch, but all I was looking for was something that ran reasonably well, had most of its body panels, and a solid bed upon which stuff could be hauled. I didn’t want a $2,000 repair ticket to make it serviceable; that would have defeated the concept.

Last weekend I came across another lawn ornament, this one a 1994 F-250 that apparently had once been in the local city fleet. An attached bull bar had been modified to accept a snowplow, and the bed carried remnants of a small road salt machine. The body and undercarriage had apparently bathed regularly in that salt, though, and those parts that hadn’t been eaten by rust bugs were well dented by careless driving. The interior was an ode to duct tape and grime. The engine worked, but the automatic tranny couldn’t get from first to second without a manual assist. The tailgate was missing anything that would support weight.

It was perfect.

But the owner wanted $1,500, exactly what he had paid two years prior. And he wasn’t budging.

Looking for some leverage, I went to cars.com and searched for pickups under $1,000 – stuff far off the Kelly Blue Book radar. And I found two possibilities. One was a 1993 F-250 and the other was a 1992 Ranger XLT. Both had caps, both had been sitting on their respective lots for some time, and both had reasonable asking prices that I felt comfortable negotiating down from.

The F-250 was far better than the private party one I had already checked out; the original owner had spent the money on under-coating and it showed. It even came with a contractor’s cap, with side toolboxes and a ladder rack. What it didn’t have was part of the driver’s side floor (no biggie), an engine that worked well or any gas. Thus an aborted test drive. Oh, and did I mention the soaking wet tranny case? I did make a semi-offer – slightly more than $500 – and the dealer wasn’t biting.

The Ranger was in better shape than the others, ran decent and had an easy-to-remove cap. Described by the dealer as “really rough,” compared to the others it was pretty solid and I could have gotten a couple of years out of that five-speed. Heck, the dealer had even put new rubber on it. But even after his harsh opinion of the condition and complaints about sales being really, really slow, the dealer wasn’t grooving on the price I had in mind. Which was barely above the cost of the tires.

All of them were still stuck in four-digit prices. You could have parted out any of the three and not recouped the investment. And, as my smarter-than-me wife pointed out, we really didn’t need to spend the money right now.

So I am back to my one-eyed search. Perhaps something will pop up. I have learned a few things from my recent travails, though, and the biggest is this:

No matter how utterly crappy something is, the owner still sees value in it. Usually twice what you think something is worth.

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