Thursday, August 23, 2007

Don't you buy no ugly truck

That used to be the tag-line of a local used-car/truck dealership in town. I haven't heard it in years, but it leapt forth in my mind today.

Backstory:

I've had the desire to buy a truck for a long time. 4 years ago, I missed my chance to own one for $450 at a silent auction. The inherent utility of a truck is such that almost every household ultimately needs one: bringing large things home where delivery is cost-prohibitive (sometimes 15-20% of the total purchase price!), hauling stuff to the dump, moving, and if you get a 4x4, getting around in the Winter. To say nothing of the ability to tow your own car to the shop for long-term work, and then being free to keep on motoring.

Recently the Miata's transformation into a race car was completed, and with that came a number of concessions to the race track that make street-driving very unpleasant, like a roll-cage that's hard to climb over, an extremely loud exhaust, and the utter lack of ventilation inside the car. Oh, yeah, and the windows don't roll down: they're either on or off.

So the two have been converging: I still want a truck, and I still want to race, but now it's not really all that much fun (or safe) to drive the Miata on the street.

Real story:

I've been looking for older 1/2 ton trucks so that I can tow, but with A/C and a radio for those long trips. I started with hope, saw a bunch of clunkers, and eventually found the truck I wanted. It was a retired VDOT truck with 151K miles. That sounds like a lot, but diesels run forever. Specifically, it was a 1992 GMC Sierra 1500 with a 6.2L naturally aspirated Duramax diesel. It had a tow package, A/C, automatic transmission, and for that touch of ultra cool: the VDOT light-bar was still on it!

Did I mention it was orange? Like exactly the same orange I want to paint the Miata?

So I made an offer, that offer was accepted, and today I went to test-drive the truck. In a rare moment when luck and logic meet, I called my buddy Jay at Elliott Tire and asked if, since he was already doing some work for me, I could bring the truck by for a look-over.

I got to the dealership and found the hood up with a battery charger connected. The dealer told me that he'd had to install a new alternator, and that he "was losing more and more money on this deal" (like that was my problem!). Anyway, I took the truck and drove it over to Elliott Tire. It was a slow and laborious drive as I figured out what was where, how to do stuff, and I was excited.

Things took a turn when I parked the truck. I got out, handed the keys to the mechanic, and heard with horror the sounds of a dead battery. They tried to jump it. They tried to jump the other battery (it has 2). They tried to charge the battery, whereupon the 2nd battery started smoking. We're talking 5-packs-a-day kind of smoking, with battery acid bubbling over the side.

Yeah, I'm not buying the truck at this point. We're just in "salvage the day" mode.

Ultimately we wound up leaving the truck in place (another dude who's very familiar with that family of engines pointed out a fuel leak, and we'd already identified a possible oil leak) and went back to the dealer. He wouldn't make eye-contact.

See, that battery wasn't a truck battery. It really wasn't even a car battery. Jay's mechanic suspects it was a lawnmower battery! He also said something was putting a massive electrical load on the battery, even with everything disconnected. They further suspected that the starter had destroyed itself in all the efforts to get it started.

Another guy in the shop was telling me about horror stories he's heard about some of these cheapo dealers. One evidently put sand in the transmission to mask slippage!

So Jay's going to give me the number of a place that rents trucks by the day, but for considerably cheaper than what I've seen elsewhere.

Yeah, don't you buy no ugly truck.

2 comments:

anitra said...

Sir Alec (the truck) is for sale if you're interested. Although I'm guessing its not exactly what you're looking for! =)

Anonymous said...

The Husband's daily driver is a 1964 short bed ford pickup that has a frankenstein motor in it. he thinks it's from an old cop car. it hauls ass and needs lots of care. and welding. and fluids. and spray paint. and tires...
you get the idea. he loves that ugly old truck.
-V