Avoidable Contact #76: The easiest 60 grand you’ll ever spend, and you’ll get most of it back

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Avoidable contact chevrolet silverado z71 bed full of furniture
Jack Baruth

Five months ago in these virtual pages I discussed the increasingly popular idea of pickup-truck-as-cultural-signifier. In the long, hot summer between then and now, the privately-owned half-ton has taken a best-supporting-actor role in our (mostly) cold civil war drama: targeted by crowds of protesters, driving through impromptu roadblocks, festooned with flags in motorized counter-demonstrations. Chrysler/Stellantis/whatever’s recent introduction of the Raptor-chomping, 702-horsepower Ram TRX can only be seen as an “agree and amplify” mockery of the people who decry the environmental and social impact (whatever that is) of pickup trucks. At the same time, the staggering rates being quoted by truck rental companies for the privilege of leaving California, combined with the ever-present images of wildfires that can block all paved routes out of an area in the blink of an eye, have no doubt caused even the bluest of Blue Tribe members to at least briefly consider the virtues of Chevrolet’s “Z71” package, along with the Silverado to which it might be attached. Maybe owning a truck wouldn’t be such a horrifying choice after all.

Ah, but coming around to the idea of a pickup purchase is only half the battle. The second, more difficult half involves raising the scratch to actually buy the thing, which is no small feat. It’s the “Red Tribe” equivalent of the terrifying rents paid by “Blue Tribe” urban-dwellers. Your Country Mouse type expresses astonishment at the fact that his City Mouse cousin pays two grand a month or more to live in an uptown shoebox, and the City Mouse in turn openly wonders at the wisdom of financing a $60,000 (or more) truck over 60, 72, or even 84 months.

Surely this is money down the drain in both cases—or perhaps it isn’t. The City Mouse pays exorbitant rent for something he will never own, but in exchange he has easy access to all the highest-paying jobs, all the best restaurants, and the longest list of potential Tinder matches. What about the Country Mouse? It’s no trick to spend twice the price of “the average new vehicle” on a truck—an average that is, ironically, dragged kicking and screaming up the hill by the tremendous popularity of high-cost pickups. What’s the return on investment here?

To answer that question, I kept a rough diary of everything I did in the past 30 days with my 2017 Silverado LTZ Max Tow 6.2, about which Hagerty readers are no doubt long past tired of reading. (Sorry, folks.) Here are the highlights, in no particular order:

  • My wife towed her MX-5 Cup car to a race at Mid-Ohio. This was close enough that we could have handled this task via a rental truck and trailer; it would have cost perhaps 500 bucks and required significant advance planning. Worse yet, in the event of a local rental-vehicle sellout (which happens), we would have had no other options. So we saved a few bucks and we had the absolute certainty of being able to go.
  • I moved my mom, who is in her mid-70s, to a place with no stairs. This, too, I could have rented for, but not only did I save a few hundred dollars by using the Silverado, I was also able to make it happen at a time that worked for both me and my brother.
  • Eight or nine times during the month, my son and I took our bicycles to local mountain-bike trails. This is something we could easily do with a car, and in fact I use a Hollywood hitch rack on my Lincoln for this purpose if our truck is required elsewhere, but there are a few advantages to using the truck. We don’t have worry about the bikes falling off the rack, no small risk when your Trek Session 29 9.9 Carbon is longer front-to-rear than a motorcycle, heavy enough to flex 1-inch steel arms, and shaped in such a way as to make racking-up a truly involved process. We also don’t have to worry about cleaning our gear, our tools, or our cooler on-site. It all gets thrown in back and hosed off at the house. Using the truck saves me at least half an hour every time we ride.
  • One of our rides involved some light off-roading to get to the trailhead. I managed to rip the airdam off the Silverado in the course of doing so, thanks to my arrant stupidity in assuming that a knee-high stand of grass didn’t contain a calf-high tree stump. It’s a $183 part, and if I’m willing to spend an afternoon with a few tools I can probably repair it. Had I made the same trip with a car, I’d have punched the oil pan out.
  • We also drove 800 miles to Snowshoe Mountain and back. Could have done it in a car, but the truck was much easier for all the reasons above plus the ability to leave bags full of muddy clothes in the truck bed on the way home.
  • Last and least, I ran two of my race cars back and forth to the prep shop on short notice. Doing this didn’t save me any money but it allowed my race mechanic to free up a space in his garage that he could then use for another customer, which helped him out and cost me very little hassle.

We have five or six months like this every year, and as a consequence we have put 56,000 miles on the Silverado since June 2017. I’d say that’s about half of the use I expect to get out of it; I plan to sell or trade-in when it is seven years and 125,000 miles down the road. Now here’s where things get interesting. Based on the sales results I can see in Ohio, it would be highly unlikely for me to not get at least half of what I paid for it when I go to sell. As a 4×4 with the largest available engine, it might do better than that. My total depreciation over seven years is probably going to be something along the lines of $27,000. Four grand a year.

That’s not as cheap as, say, my Accord coupe, which I bought for $28K seven years ago and which would fetch an easy $13K now, but it’s much better than what I’ve spent on any of the luxury cars or SUVs I’ve had. I’ve owned four different brand-new Land Rover products and never managed to escape with less than $1200 per month in depreciation. This Silverado might have been a $59,500 vehicle when it was new, but that doesn’t mean the actual cost of ownership is equivalent to, say, that of a $59,450 BMW 540i sedan.

Depreciation, of course, isn’t the only way to spend money on a car. I’ve spent about $200 on out-of-warranty repairs, but we are still on the original brakes and tires. Try that with, say, a Benz SUV. Fuel economy has been decent enough—about 22 mpg on the highway, 19 mpg in around-town use, and 14 mpg when towing. Much better than that of my 2009 Audi S5, if nowhere close to what I get in the Accord. Most of today’s turbo 2.0-liter luxury vehicles return horrific mileage in actual daily driving; doubly true if they are shaped like a wagon.

This is the case for the modern American pickup in a nutshell: it is vastly more capable than a $34,000 “average” car or crossover while offering an actual cost of ownership that belies its sticker price. The comparisons to E-Class Benzes and Shelby Mustangs you always see in the darker corners of the Internet don’t hold up when you look at the facts of the matter. There’s a reason the Country Mice don’t flinch at spending 50 grand or more on their trucks, and that reason is the combination of overall cost and daily utility.

The more committed members of the Blue Tribe will point out that nobody needs to have race cars, and nobody needs to drag oversized mountain bikes around, and so on, and so forth. Objectively this is correct, but the world would be a much poorer place if we only had what we needed. Alternately, we could make the core assumption that most people are at least vaguely justified in their desires. I want to drive around a track and ride a bicycle down a mountain; you want to eat foie gras, spend all day in a spa, and travel first-class to Tuscany. What if we started the conversation by asking how we could help other people do what they want, rather than by asking how we could restrict their freedom of choice? Wouldn’t that lead to increased empathy with “the other side” instead of this perpetual “un-personing” of the truck owner, the urbanite, the conservative, the liberal? In this spirit, I extend a friendly paw to all the City Mice out there, a devout plea that we should all live and let live. Judge not, lest ye be judged, all that business. And if you need a truck, now you know a Country Mouse who has one.

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