You have my interest…

When gas prices were at their previous all-time high, way back in 2008, I walked out of the local Toyota dealership in Memphis with a gas sucking 5.7 liter V8 Tundra. They had at least a hundred of them sitting on the back lot. They might not have been paying people to take them away, but it was awfully close. That original Tundra of mine came with four or five thousand dollars off sticker and 0% financing. They were just happy, it seemed, to get it off their books.

I knew then that the price at the pump was going to be painful, but not necessarily less painful than buying one of the small, fuel-efficient econoboxes that were flying off the sales floor. Sure, I was paying for fuel, but a pretty significant percentage of that was offset by the lower cost of the vehicle, “no cost” financing, and the preventative maintenance plan they threw in. As far as I’m concerned, I took my savings all on the front end of that deal rather than spreading it out over the life of the vehicle through lower fuel costs. 

The same math doesn’t work in today’s environment. Getting into a new truck with the same trim level I’ve currently got comes with an eyewatering price, well above zero percent financing, and about a one mile per gallon improvement in fuel efficiency that does nothing to offset increasing prices. If I had to be in the market for a replacement vehicle right now, I’d be hard pressed to justify the purchase and operating costs.

I hope I’m not forced into a position of needing to replace a vehicle any time soon. In the meantime, I’ll be keeping an interested eye on the roll-out of more hybrid and all electric truck and SUV platforms. I always said I wouldn’t be interested in alternative fueled vehicles until they were every bit as comfortable for my fat ass as my big Toyota pickup. It feels like we’re nearing an inflection point where these options won’t be limited to “toy” compacts and bland sedans. True to my word, I’m beginning to get interested.

That math can’t be right…

My Tundra is 12 years old. It’s in fine mechanical shape. Aside from a few chips and minor scratches the body looks great. It’s been in one major and one minor incident. Thanks, most likely, to fanatical devotion to preventative maintenance, it still runs like a top even as it closes in on 140,000 miles on the clock. At some point, though, I know I’m going to need to buy a new truck.

Just out of sheer curiosity, I recently used the Toyota website to price out what more or less replicating exactly the truck I currently own would cost if I were in the market right now. It came out to $61,103… before taxes. So, we’ll figure a nice round $65,000 all-in cost for a middle of the range Tundra here in 2022. 

I’m sorry. What?

Part of the trouble, I know, is it’s been 12 years since I bought a truck… and back then it was in the middle of “all time high” gas prices and they were almost begging people to take the big V8s off the lot. Add in 12 years of inflation, plague related supply shortage, and the general growth in popularity for the pickup form factor. Intellectually there’s no reason I should be surprised at where the price points are now.

Emotionally, though, I’m stunned. Maybe some of it is just age. I’m old enough now to remember when $60,000 was the price of some of the most luxurious vehicles then widely available on the market. Way back in 1995, my used ’91 Chevy Cavalier cost the princely sum of $5,700. Sixty grand would have put me into a brand-new Cadillac Deville with $20,000 to spare. It would have put me in a C-class Mercedes and still left me with $5,000 or $10,000 in change.

I’m having trouble getting my head wrapped around it. Sure, I mean I could buy something that isn’t a truck or look for something coming off a lease, which leads to many other considerations… or maybe I’ll just keep Big Red on the road until the wheels fall off and the floorboards rust through. I damn near bought a whole house in 2001 for what a new truck would cost me 20 years later and just the thought of it is making my brain hurt.

Birth of the (not) cool…

Sunday night I saw an advertisement for the Chrysler Pacifica siting its onboard vacuum cleaner as a feature… as if a shop vac or a stop over at the neighborhood carwash is just too hard to figure out. But fine, if people don’t have enough appliances in their homes and need to start carrying them in their cars full time too, I’m not going to judge. Well, I am going to judge, but I’ll do it quietly at least.

Add to that advertisement the several social media posts I’ve seen singing the praises of minivans as the new “cool,” all I can do really is shake my head and disbelief. A 68 Chevelle is cool. A 59 Caddy with its enormous fins is cool. A McLaren P1 is cool. Anything rolling out of the shed at Koenigsegg is, by definition, cool. See where I’m going with this yet?

I get that people drive minivans for very good reasons. They’re excellent at what they were designed to be – small, personally owned busses. People carriers. Chances are you bought one because it was very good at what it was designed to do. That’s the same reason I drive a full sized pick up truck instead of a 137 pound Smart Car.

What I didn’t do was buy a pickup truck and then try to justify myself as now driving a cool car. I bought a truck because I have two dogs that occasionally get filthy and from time to time I have the need to haul large or awkwardly shaped things from Point A to Point B. I didn’t buy the truck because it was cool any more than you minivan drivers bought your ride because of its cool factor. I bought it because it was vehicle that would get the job done.

If you’re driving a minivan, embrace it for what it is. Celebrate its capability. But for the love of Pete can we all agree to stop pretending that it is any way “cool?”

Rolling over…

Early in the commute this afternoon, Big Red’s odometer rolled over 100,000 miles. That’s not quite as big a deal with these fancy new vehicles as it was say with a 1986 Oldsmobile Cutlass, but it’s a personal milestone for me. It’s the first time I’ve ever held on to a car long enough to rack up that kind of mileage.

It’s one of the few times in life I can honestly say I’m not really even interested in looking for a new car (though I wouldn’t say no if someone dropped a Ferrari or a Koenigsegg in the driveway). I thoroughly enjoy driving this over sized red beast of mine. Sure, she’ll never sip fuel like a Prius and there’s the occasional rattle of indeterminate origin, but I just plain like the old girl. I don’t suppose it hurts that she’s bought and paid for either.

It’s inevitable that at some point something new and shiny will catch my interest and replace Big Red as the objective of my automotive affection. Until then, though, I think I’ll be perfectly content traveling the highways and byways in my Tundra/living room on wheels and watching the Smart cars scurry out of my way.

The payoff…

I could weave a yarn about doing the right thing and everything working out or how sometimes being kind is it’s own reward, but that would be so out of character that no one would believe it anyway. No, I’m going for “payoff” in a much more literal sense. As in I have a big red truck and it’s paid off. A few months ahead of schedule.

That’s a surprisingly big deal for me. There was a while there between 2002-2010 when I was swapping out rides every two years or so. Hanging on to one this long is something that hasn’t since I was knocking around in the old trusty Wrangler. Of the seven cars I’ve bought on my own, if memory serves this is only the second that survived long enough to see the note vanquished before I was ready to test my luck with something different.

Fact is, five years on I still like my big red Toyota. I like the room, the ride, and the fact that everything is basically worn in the way I want it. It’s the automotive equivalent to comfy couch. At this point I don’t even mind that it’s a thirsty, thirsty beast – of course that bit is variable based on the prevailing price at the pump.

I’m not fool enough to think there will never be another vehicle in the garage, but just now I’m more than content with a little extra cash flow and letting the Tundra live out her golden years right where she is.

Matchbox…

I grew up in a generation that still played with toys rather than electronics. For a large part of my childhood, my toys of choice were cars. Matchbox, Hotwheels, Micro Machines, you name a brand of toy car in the early to mid-1980s and I probably had it. Come to think of it, I probably still have most of them packed away somewhere. While matchbox cars made great toys, what they don’t make is great transportation for a full grown human man.

How do I know this to be a universal truism? Well, for the last two mornings, I’ve jammed my 6’2”, 300# frame into a Hyundai Elantra. Since I’m use to driving the automotive equivalent of an aircraft carrier, I feels a little disingenuous to proclaim my powder blue rental the worst car in all of human history. I’m sure for those who are more slight of build and a foot shorter they’re probably just fine. Sadly, all I see is what it’s lacking; minor things like power, and handling, and storage, and a driver’s seat that doesn’t feel like sheet steel. It does, however, have satellite radio, came iPhone ready, and doesn’t swallow a quarter tank of gasoline in a day’s commute, so I’ll give credit where it’s due.

But even with those good points, it’s basically a matchbox car… and I can’t wait to get out of it. Or maybe I just can’t wait to get my Tundra back in the driveway where it belongs. I can already feel the neighborhood judging me because of the adult go-cart sitting out front and I’d like to get this dark chapter behind me as quickly as possible.

Magnetic…

From the time I got my license in June 1994 until October 2011, the only accidental damage I ever had to a vehicle was the occasional cracked windshield. Admittedly, the Jeep’s flat glass seemed to have an unnatural attraction to rocks kicked up at highway speed, but still that was just the cost of doing business. Since October 2011, the tide has turned. I can’t unnamedseem to go six months without the telltale screech of rending sheet metal. A parking meter jumped out and tagged my left turn signal, a crease appeared in my rear bumper shortly thereafter for reason or reasons unknown, an old man in an F-150 faked me out with his turn signal and cost me a new front end, and today I’ve got a softball sized dent on the left bedside from an unfortunate run in with the grill and hood of a Chevy.

Big Red is a trooper, though. Dents, dings, a new front end and she just keeps doing her thing. Now we’re off tomorrow morning to the body shop for the latest repair estimate. Given the relatively recent completion of my new front end, I’m trying to keep this one off the books at the insurance company. Unfortunately I can already hear my credit card screaming in protest. 2013 was basically punctuated by one headache after another. It’s becoming more obvious by the day that 2014 isn’t going to offer much in the way of relief, but just more of the same.

I love my Tundra, but she’s a rolling accident magnet… and if she wasn’t so damned close to being paid off, I’d think hard about trading her in on something that might not have so much bad mojo attached.

The taming of the American truck…

Note: Over in the “About” tab, I once promised that this wasn’t going to be a place you’d necessarily want to come to hear a discussion about “how big my engine is.” I hope you’ll forgive this one small exception to policy without demanding that I redefine the blog, its purpose statement, or who I am as a writer.

I’ve driven two Fords over the years. The first was a ’68 Torino GT with a 302 cubic inch (4.9L) small block V8 and 210 horses under the hood. The second was a 2006 Mustang GT with a 4.6L V8 and 300 horses. Of course I realize nether of those are trucks, but they do speak to my general taste in engine size and configuration. My current ride is a truck (though not a Ford) and it weighs in at 5.7L and 381 horsepower. Sure, the gas mileage in all three of these V8 wonders was crap, but they all had just a little more “go” to give every time I put my foot to the floor and that made every fuel stop worth the few extra dollars it cost.

Now I see Ford is in the process of neutering the venerable F-150 line, offering a paltry 2.7L V6 for the green-nicks who for some reason want a full sized truck that’s also profoundly underpowered. Ford’s only V8 offering will be their 5.0L, turning 360 horse. It’s a fine engine, but not what you expect in a class of truck that use to sport 6.2L and 411 horses. And certainly not the size engine I’d want under the hood of my truck.

Maybe the days of the throaty, powerful V8 engine are doomed as the world seems happy enough to putter around in underpowered 2.something liter rattle traps. If that’s the case, the Tundra and I are going to be acquainted for a long time to come, because I’ll run it until the floorboards rust through before I think that dropping a baby V6 into a full sized vehicle is a good idea. Fuel efficiency is well and good and smaller cars absolutely have a place in the fleet, but for the sake of all that’s holy can we please not turn all our trucks into Rangers and S-10’s?

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Irons in the fire. If there was ever a recurring them up in this place, it would have to be that time is fleeting. There’s never enough of it and there’s always too much to cram into the hours available. I hit that wall once every five or six months – when it gets to the point when you’ve got to start making uncomfortable decisions about what stays and what goes; what you’re willing to invest time into and what you’re going to toss over the transom. It’s why I don’t golf any more – I loved it, but carving out four or five uninterrupted hours at a time eventually fell into the too hard to do column. It’s getting to be one of those times again and it’s just a matter of racking and stacking the things that are eating up my day and deciding what makes the cut and what doesn’t. I’m absolutely convinced that I can do it all, but I equally sure I can’t do it all at once.

2. Failure to lead. Once upon a time, the United States was the voice of reason on the international stage. Winning two world wars and forging an international economic order, we managed to keep the cold war from turning hot and kept enough of a lid on a dozen other regional conflicts to keep them from boiling over and dragging the rest of the world down with them. Now, with our oldest alliances fraying and our “great power” influence on world events waning, we seem more or less content to let others lead while we fall back. We’re in retreat from the world around us and our responsibilities in it; worse, we’re letting other countries call the tune to which we’re going to have to dance. I see the growing notion at home and abroad that the United States is “just another country.” Philosophically, I’m horrified by the very notion and know full well that the road we’re on doesn’t end well either for us, or for the generations who have looked for us to lead the way.

3. Modern convenience. I have a light on my truck’s dash that is supposed to tell me when one of my tires is low on air. It’s been on for six months because what it’s really telling me is that I have a bad air pressure sensor. When I was informed by Toyota that the pressure sensor was a $300 fix, let’s just say that after laughing at them my next question was whether I could get behind the dash and just take the bulb out of the idiot light. I’m sure some people consider knowing their tire pressure from the pilot’s seat an incredible convenience. I’m not one of them. Back in the dark ages when I got my driver’s license, we had to manually check our tire pressure from time to time with a $.99 handheld analog gage. If it means not spending $299.01, I’m happy going right back to doing that once a week just like I did from 1994-2008. I’m pretty sure this is a case of modern convenience being more trouble than it’s worth.

Traveling light…

It usually takes every bit of room in a crewmax pickup truck to move me and the dogs just about anywhere. In the intrest of having places to be and still not exact idea when the truck might have its airbags installed, we’re going to give it the good old college try in something a little smaller. The Chevy Impala is a fine car, I’m sure, but even with its respectable trunk I’m not sure it was designed with me in mind. I’ve been working on it most of the evening and think I finally have it down to what I’d consider the barest of essentials: A backpack of electronic “stuff”, a rolling garment bag, a medium tote of “dog stuff”, two large dogs, and me. Neither of my oversized crates will fit in the aforementioned trunk, so we’re going to see how the trip goes sans crates. Hopefully they will be at least marginally well behaved and don’t destroy anything while were there. If something goes badly wrong with this plan it’s possible that all three of us may be banned for life from the house where I grew up. I’m cautiously optimistic because they haven’t really destroyed anything in years now… but I’m equal parts horrified that they’ll see the new territory as a good excuse to, I don’t know, shred an entire living room set.

I’ve thrown over every bit of extraneous bit of clothing, equipment, and random odd and end that I can think of, but the dogs… the dogs are the wildcard in all of this. If there’s any mercy in the universe, they won’t make me regret gushing about how well mannered they are. Otherwise, I’ll be paying for this short trip for a very long time. For the record, I never intend to travel anywhere within driving distance without the truck again. Trying to economize on volume is just too nerve-wracking.