Ask Jack: Time to shuck the truck?

Jack Baruth

Not since the Model T called it quits have we had a vehicle as perfectly suited for so many Americans as today’s domestic half-ton can claim to be. They last a quarter-million miles without significant expense, are gentle on their consumables, and are adaptable for most conceivable needs from suburban commuting to skilled trades. It’s not really a surprise that they tend to dominate the landscape outside the inner cities; the American consumer isn’t as stupid as the American media makes him out to be.

This durability and usability has long been reflected in staggering resale values, but recent events have cranked up the cash money even higher on these vehicles—to the point that some people are now looking at some pretty high-end German iron for the same kind of money. Which is the situation facing this week’s contributor to Ask Jack.

Brian writes:

For a year now, we’ve been told that we live in “unprecedented times.” Having spent most of the last 5 years or so knee-deep in the auto industry, I’m inclined to agree. We’ve heard a lot regarding the new vehicle inventory shortage and subsequent hot used car market. For once, I may be in the position to take advantage of this, and thus am seeking your input.

In 2018, I purchased a then-new Silverado 1500. The truck is what I call your typical “suburban dad” spec: Crew Cab, Z71, Short Box, 5.3, etc. Thanks to a host of incentives and an employee discount, I got the truck for about $20,000 under sticker all-in.

Three years and 45,000 miles later, the used truck market is red hot and I stand to pocket a decent chunk of change if I were to sell. Vroom/Carvana/Carmax all offered low $30s if I were to sell them the truck. My dealership has called twice since taking it in for service last month asking if I were interested selling. A quick check of KBB/NADA as well as online classifieds show potential retail values in the high 30s/low 40s range. With little effort, I could unload the truck for AT LEAST what I paid and pocket over $10 large in the process.

The only problem in this equation is a replacement vehicle. It looks as though I can lease a full-size German SUV for not much more than my present truck payment, a mid-size would be quite a bit less.

Obviously an SUV isn’t as capable as a truck in some departments, but I don’t think I’ll be giving up much in that department. The short bed isn’t exactly stellar in its ability to carry anything larger than a dishwasher, so most larger jobs already require me to tow a small trailer. Fortunately, both of the SUVs in question have a tow rating that is more than enough for me to haul few ATVs or a sports car with an open trailer.

On paper, this seems like a no-brainer: profit off of a used truck and drive a new luxury SUV for the same price. Is there something about this unprecedented situation that I’m missing?

I’ve met Brian, and seen the truck in question. He’s taken good care of it. Those buyout quotes are probably legit. I’ve also gotten some details on the German SUV on offer here; it’s very nice. I know what my brother would say in this situation, because I’ve heard him hand out the advice before: Get rid of the depreciating asset at top dollar, then lease what you want until the market recovers.

Before I co-sign that advice, however, I want to offer a cautionary tale. There’s a reason that lightly-used half-tons often punch above their weight in the resale market, even in normal conditions: you never know when you’ll need one. Full-boat luxury SUVs, on the other hand, often fail to deliver on all of their promises, and unless you need to park in the city they don’t have a lot to offer over something like a Silverado short-box. They’re also just not as happy towing, no matter what the manufacturers say. I’ve towed cross-country with the newest generation of Mercedes GLS. It’s pretty good. But it’s not as good as a domestic half-ton.

Brian, before you pull the trigger on that baller-status SUV and wave goodbye to your extremely valuable Chevrolet, just make sure your crystal ball is fully polished. How often will you wish for instant access to a truck bed? Will you worry about dents and scratches that can add up to thousands of dollars on a luxury lease but wouldn’t trouble a four-year-old Silverado in the slightest? When you’re riding your ATV across fields of mud, how much do you want to clean up outside the vehicle?

Anita Baker, whose Rapture album dragged me kicking and screaming through an emotionally exhausting college sorta-girlfriend, once said that “I say if it’s going to be done, let’s do it. Let’s not put it in the hands of fate. Let’s not put it in the hands of someone who doesn’t know me. I know me best. Then take a breath and go ahead.” If you want that SUV, Brian, then pull the trigger. But make sure that you truly know yourself, the way Anita does, before you let that hard-to-replace Silverado go.

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