By G.R. Whale
I'm a pessimist and a contrarian — I've been that way for years and I don't see imminent change on the horizon. I've also been playing with pickup trucks for 40 years. After recently having a few in the driveway simultaneously, I realized there are good reasons not to buy a pickup. Don't consider this a dismissal of anyone buying a pickup because they need one for work, plowing or trailering; think of this as a handy cheat sheet to give to people who don't need a truck.
1. Everybody Has One
For decades the "Big Three" pickups have been the best-selling vehicles in the U.S. February this year found the Ford F-Series, Chevrolet Silverado and Ram trucks in spots 1, 2 and 4 on the list of top-selling vehicles, more than a quarter-million sold between them. The year-to-date total full-size rate in February was more than 280,000 units with another 53,000 in midsize pickup sales. Four cars (212,000 combined) and a trio of crossovers (129,000) rounded out the top 10.
I don't want to see myself coming and going at every intersection or parts shop. Pickups make a great blank canvas, but even with aftermarket packages there's no way I'm getting the exclusivity I might from something way off the top 10 list.
It needn't be an exotic ride that costs a fortune. Mini offers countless permutations and sold only 56,000 cars last year. I wouldn't need blinking lights to find that in the stadium parking lot.
2. They're Heavy and Thirsty
Everything that tows and carries is. But when I ask manufacturers how much their customers really tow, the response always begins with words to the effect, "Of our customers who do tow anything … ."
I'd argue big utility vehicles are better than a pickup for towing because they offer more seats and can be used as a second car. Yeah, they cost more, but they deliver more flexibility. And with the same 3.08:1 axle ratio, a four-wheel-drive Chevrolet Suburban tows more than a Chevy Silverado crew-cab short bed.
If you don't tow a lot of weight, a minivan will carry as much weight as some pickups, even those with all-wheel drive, and they can tow as much as a small pickup with similar fuel-economy numbers. The base Honda Odyssey gets 19/28 mpg city/highway, has a 1,623-pound maximum payload and a 3,500-pound maximum towing capacity. The base Chevy Colorado crew cab gets 19/27 mpg city/highway, carries 1,460 pounds and tows 3,500 pounds (when equipped with the optional Z82 Trailering Package it can tow 7,000 pounds). The base Toyota Tacoma double cab 4×4 gets 18/21 mpg city/highway, carries 1,320 pounds and pulls 3,500 pounds. The base Toyota Sienna all-wheel-drive van rates 16/23 mpg city/highway, carries 1,210 pounds and tows 3,500 pounds.
And if you really need to haul things, a full-size van might work better than an 8-foot-wide pickup. A Ford Transit single rear wheel carries 2,610 to more than 4,000 pounds; a Mercedes-Benz Sprinter carries more than 3,500 pounds, and both weigh less than a pickup able to carry the same weight.
3. They're Space Hogs
I once got in an argument with a magazine editor about the height of a 4×4 pickup being lower than its 4×2 version. He didn't think it mattered; I didn't think he'd want me to scrape the roof of the pickup in the parking garage if it was a few inches higher like most 4x4s. I scraped the roof on the next 4×4 … in the magazine's parking garage.
Another editor from the same magazine later opined about the difficulties of maneuvering a 170-plus-inch-wheelbase pickup in places built for cars. He was less than amused when I spoke of getting a 45-foot bus that needed just 20 feet more for a U-turn than a big pickup through similar lots. Apart from performance cars with their fat front tires intruding on footwells, pickups are the least maneuverable things around.
If you've got a tract house, many pickups won't fit in your garage because of length, but to be fair, big vans won't fit under the door.
If you're buying a pickup for ego purposes, don't complain about how it doesn't fit in parking spaces meant for cars. After I folded the mirrors of a big crew-cab long bed I drove recently, it fit in a "compact" spot with 1 foot of nose sticking out. Most of the compacts were sticking out more.
4. They're Expensive
In some parts of the country, housing prices have risen faster than inflation — more than doubling in the last 25 years. The same has happened with pickup trucks, the cash cows of the automotive industry.
By averaging U.S. Bureau of Labor, inflation calculator and Bank of Canada indices, what cost $22,000 in 1990 should cost about $39,500 now. In 1990 that would have got you a Dodge W250 LE Club Cab diesel long bed with options; that was the fancy model with carpet, cloth upholstery (in more than two color choices), air conditioning, cruise control, vent windows and a cassette stereo. However, the closest current truck costs about $48,000 with vinyl upholstery, much of the cost driven by higher tow ratings, and safety and emissions equipment. For you poor blokes in Canada, that same truck is $60,000 Canadian.
If you believe the marketers and designers, pickup buyers have gone gaga for every feature they can think of, hence $60,000 half-tons and $75,000 heavy duties. Then there are the replacement part prices for the cool gadgets within these vehicles and insurance.
There are many vehicles that I'd rather spend this type of money on than a pickup — a near-luxury sedan, or a sports car and an older pickup perhaps.
5. Suddenly You're Everyone's BFF
The best reason for not owning a pickup is that everyone will want to use it — often with you behind the steering wheel. My own pickup has just two seats, remains covered outside and is a real nuisance to drive around town — so it doesn't get much action. But when I parked a new crew-cab long bed in the driveway I was everyone's best friend.
"Dude, my race car's running but my truck isn't. Feel like a trip to the track?" "Ya know, we have some trees being held for us at the nursery … you got any free time on the weekend?" "The boat battery's charged. Wanna go fishin'?" You get the idea.
Some of the test cars I drive garner amusing requests, but when I have a pickup the phone doesn't stop ringing, weekends evaporate since no good deed goes unpunished and all I want to do is hide it in the garage.
But it won't fit.
What, if anything, would you tell someone to stop them from buying a pickup?