My Silverado 3500HD has found a new home, hopefully one that’s mouse-free

Rob Siegel

I recently sold my 29,000-mile 2008 Chevy Silverado 3500HD dually Duramax diesel (a.k.a., the sort-of formerly mouse-infested truck). Like most automotive moves. I thought it through very carefully. It was not an easy decision.

I had a long and curious history with the truck. It was my former work vehicle when I used to do field geophysics (detection of unexploded shells on old military training ranges). The company I worked for bought it new in 2008 and spec’d it to tow a 32-foot trailer containing a geophysical survey system (a small Gator-like UTV that towed what looked like a carbon fiber boat trailer loaded of metal detectors and high-resolution GPS). We ordered the truck with a utility body on it to house tools and parts and provide a work space if need be. As I was the one who designed the geophysical equipment and kept it running, I needed to be in the field with it. Initially we had a guy with a commercial driver’s license (CDL) who drove the truck for us, but I eventually took the helm. I was never able to do the block-traffic-and-back-up-to-the-loading-dock-in-one-try thing, but then again I never needed to. Nearly all the driving was interstates and very rural areas.

Siegel Dually Diesel Silverado trailer
I logged thousands of miles driving this rig for my former engineering job. Rob Siegel

Unfortunately, the bulk of the geophysical work went away by 2013, leaving the truck with only 22,000 miles on it. The company closed the big building I worked in and relocated my group to much smaller industrial space. We parked the truck and trailer in the parking lot, but it turned out the landlord didn’t have permits needed from the city for overnight parking of commercial vehicles. This kicked off a repeating annual cycle of my needing to find new digs for the truck and trailer, then getting kicked out of it when the landlord needed the lot space. Around that time, the company I worked for split in two, its paperwork was never transferred to the half of the company the truck actually belonged to, and I was the only one who paid attention to its annual insurance, registration, and inspection needs.

In the meantime, my work load at my old engineering job spiraled down to near nothing. I left in 2015 and became a full-time automotive writer but remained a consulting employee and had an unofficial quid pro quo with them regarding the truck. I kept it legal for them by taking it in for its annual Massachusetts inspections and renewing its registration. In return, they let me use it for occasional errand-running, such as moving my kids into and out of college and hauling cars, as these uses also helped keep the truck exercised. I sometimes emptied the 32-foot trailer of geophysical equipment and strapped a car inside, but it was way more trailer than I wanted to be towing, and I usually opted for renting a U-Haul auto transporter (open trailer) instead.

Siegel Dually Diesel Silverado trailer
Borrowing the truck (and a trailer from a friend) to drag home Hampton, my 49,000-mile BMW 2002, in 2019. Rob Siegel

When there was only one employee left in the small industrial space, the company closed it and liquidated the equipment inside. Since the truck and trailer were parked elsewhere, they were spared the liquidation axe. The truck, incredibly, had only 28,000 miles on it. However, it had been sitting at the edge of a parking lot that backed onto a wooded area, and by that time, mice had gotten into it and done a lot of damage, infesting the headliner and the heater box.

Siegel Dually Diesel Silverado rear three quarter
The truck in 2020, beginning to look the worse for the wear after spending most of its time in a parking lot. Rob Siegel

Knowing the large amount of work necessary to abate the gag-inducing smell, I sent the company photographs of the rodent damage and made them an insultingly-low offer for the truck. The combination of the fact that I appeared to be the only one left who knew exactly what the truck was, the old paperwork snafu over which part of the company owned it, and the 100-percent-accurate photos of the mouse damage worked to my favor. It took a few months, but eventually I was the owner of a running, driving, rust-free, dent-free, 28,000-mile 2008 Silverado 3500HD dually Duramax diesel with a utility body for a practically-stole-it price. Except, of course, for the fact that it smelled like that episode of Mythbusters where they put a dead pig in a Corvette and left it in a cargo trailer for six months to see if anyone would still buy it.

Siegel Dually Diesel Silverado mouse piss headliner
The brown fluid oozing down from the headliner looked bad, but it turned out to be just the tip of the mouseberg. Rob Siegel

I wrote several pieces about the abatement of the mouse damage. Serious trigger warning: I don’t recommend that you click on any of the following links unless you have a strong stomach. The first piece was on the purchase of the truck and the overview of the rodent problem. The second dealt specifically with replacing the headliner (I found a used headliner at a junkyard in Woonsocket Rhode Island, about 45 minutes south of me for $150,  drove there in my little Winnebago Rialta RV, and picked it up).

Siegel Dually Diesel Silverado interior
The truck in the middle of headliner replacement. Rob Siegel
Siegel Dually Diesel Silverado headliner
Ah, that’s better. Rob Siegel

The third piece detailed my efforts at cleaning out the contaminated heater box without taking the quoted 20 hours needed to pull the dash to get at it. Instead, I bought another heater box to use as a test mule, figured out where to drill inspection and cleaning holes, snaked in an inspection camera, and located and removed the nest and mouse carcass. This was never going to be as complete a decontamination as would be achieved with the box removed and disassembled, but with repeated flushing with enzyme-based cleaner, occasional running of an ozone generator, and lots of fresh air and sun, the smell abated to the point where my wife—she of the exquisitely sensitive nose—would ride with me with the windows up and the A/C on. The heat was a big more fragrant, but it was easily tolerable.

Siegel Dually Diesel Silverado dead mouse
The arthroscopic removal of a dead mouse from the still-installed heater box. It’s now taught in med schools around the country. Rob Siegel

With the bouquet of the abattoir largely gone, and with the truck’s original dry-rotted tires replaced with a not-inexpensive set of Michelin LTX Defenders, I was a man with a big bad and presumably highly-reliable truck. Naturally I assumed that I’d become a towing madman, dragging home any number of sweet, new, hunted-and-killed automotive prizes. At a minimum, I knew that my long-time storage of five cars in Fitchburg, Massachusetts, was ending, and that I’d need to move them to a new home, possibly in winter.

Make no mistake, it was incredibly handy owning a truck like this. Some friends dissed the utility body, but when it was pouring rain and I needed to move my niece into her new apartment, it was fabulous. During the period when my sister and I were cleaning out our mother’s house prior to its sale, the truck was in near-constant use. My sister would say, “Ariana wants the sofa and chairs, and Elena wants the swing set,” and my sons and I and the truck would make it happen. Plus, the body’s shelves and cabinets swallowed multitudes of car parts given to me by estates of deceased motorheads.

But with regard to the truck being an enabler to me buying and dragging home every stupid car that caught my eye, it just didn’t turn out like I expected. There were a few reasons why.

Understand that, in addition to having access to the Silverado before I bought it, I’ve owned six Suburbans, so I’m familiar with both the flexibility and limitations of owning a vehicle you can tow a car with. I’ve generally followed the framework that, on the short-haul end, buying a long-dead car with flat tires and seized wheels 10 miles away is usually worth throwing a hundred bucks to someone on Craigslist moonlighting with their employer’s roll-back flatbed, and on the long-haul end, it’s hard to make the economics of towing a car a thousand miles work, but for a running vehicle a few hours from home, sure, rent the U-Haul auto transporter for 60 bucks, show up, drive the car onto it, and drag it back. But the problem is that a) U-Haul is sometimes sold out of auto transporters the weekend you need one, and b) the logistics of going to U-Haul, waiting in line, hooking the thing up, then having to off-load the car and return the trailer by the end of the day adds a surprising number of hours to the exercise, enough that one begins to think that, unless they can own a truck and a trailer (for which I simply don’t have the room), the car-towing utility of the truck alone is less than you’d think.

In the two-and-a-half years since I bought the truck, I’ve used it exactly three times to tow cars. And none of those were new purchases. Two were moving my own cars between storage areas. The other was taking delivery of a widow’s car that I was helping her sell.

Siegel Dually Diesel Silverado trailer
Towing the “mitzvah 2002tii” last year. Rob Siegel

But even if I did suddenly increase my use of the truck to buy cars, the dually Duramax would still be massive overkill. This is the kind of truck you use to tow a ramp trailer with six cars on it. I have no need for a tow monster like this. I could do occasional short-run towing with just about anything.

A few other things factored into my thought process. One was that, despite my history with the truck, I didn’t really enjoy driving it. I often say that part of the joy of owning a vintage car is simply using it to run errands—it turns the mundane into an event. The truck was the opposite. If I needed to run out on a Sunday morning to buy milk and the truck was at the top of the driveway and I took it, I’d think, “This is a completely ridiculous vehicle to be driving.” Between its length, its horrible turning radius, and the extra width and poor visibility imparted by the utility body, it certainly wasn’t the vehicle of choice for parallel parking or tight parking lots.

Another was that, although its oodles of ground clearance provided ample access when I needed to replace its stolen catalytic converter, in general the truck’s size and weight was daunting to this guy whose soft spot is 1500- to 3000-pound 1970s European cars. I didn’t own a floor jack that I felt safe using to lift it, and even if I did, thinking about dealing with the torque on the lug nuts and the size and the weight of the wheels felt like stretching what my 65-year-old body could comfortably do. I realized that, when the time came for pads and rotors or front-end work, I’d probably need to pay someone else. I’d be happy to do that if there was a good reason for me to own the vehicle, but the more I thought about it, there wasn’t.

Lastly, despite the truck’s low mileage potentially buying me trouble-free towing, there was the specter that if and when it needed work on the injection pump or the injectors replaced, I’d cry.

Siegel Dually Diesel Silverado beside lotus
If nothing else, the 11,000-pound truck was a great counterpoint to the 1600-pound Lotus. Rob Siegel

So I thought about it carefully. With the sale of my mother’s house, the truck’s window of usefulness had passed. If my wife and I resurrected our desire to find a car-centric property out in the country, the truck would again be a godsend. Was that more likely or less likely to happen within the next year? The answer seemed to be the latter.

As far as value, when I bought the 28,000-mile 2008 Diesel Emission Fluid (DEF)-free Silverado with the utility body during the pandemic, I had folks telling me that supply chain issues made it so you couldn’t buy a new truck like this if you wanted to, so if I could make the mouse smell livable, it was worth crazy money. I’d only put a thousand miles on it, and between the purchase price, Massachusetts taxes and fees, the new Michelins, the lift pump, and some other odds and ends, I only had seven grand in it.

So I cleaned it, shot it, wrote up a highly-detailed ad documenting the low mileage and fully disclosing the rodent history, and put the truck on eBay with a $25,000 opening price, a $37,500 Buy It Now price, and a $32,500 reserve. I linked to the eBay ad on both Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist. I had no bids and only a handful of interested messages. I began to think that if I had to sell it for less than $25K, I’d just keep it until it needed work.

But then I was contacted by a local guy up in Gloucester, Massachusetts, who owns a concrete and gravel company and has two other Duramax diesel work trucks. He was the kind of buyer you just wanted to hug—messaged in complete sentences, showed up exactly when he said he would, followed through on every part of the process with great communication. When he test-drove it, we rolled up the windows and turned on the A/C, then the heat. I nervously awaited the odor verdict. He shrugged and said, “Smells like every other work truck I’ve ever owned.” A few days later he offered me 30 grand for it. I realized I’d be out of my tree not to take it. The deal is done.

The truck is still in my driveway, but money and papers have been exchanged. The buyer is coming this weekend to drive it off to a life of real labor. Maybe it’ll love that. Or maybe it’ll think, “Remember that guy who rescued us and de-moused us and then just left us alone in his driveway most of the time? That was awesome.”

We’ll see whether or not I buy something better suited to my habits. For now, the little Winnebago Rialta RV has enough interior room to move things, provided they’ll fit through the narrow side door, but it has zero towing capability.

I’ll miss the truck, but what I’ll miss more is the idea that I could use it whenever I needed it. I think I may have liked that part even more before I actually owned it.

Siegel Dually Diesel Silverado rear three quarter
Goodbye. You were always more than I needed. Rob Siegel

 

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Rob’s latest book, The Best Of The Hack Mechanic™: 35 years of hacks, kluges, and assorted automotive mayhem is available on Amazon here. His other seven books are available here on Amazon, or you can order personally-inscribed copies from Rob’s website, www.robsiegel.com.

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Comments

    Rob, congratulations on the sale of the truck. The duramax’s of that generation were bulletproof and the suïcide opening haft door on the extended cab was great for accessing the rest compartment (been told buy knowledgable people that GM went to the regular doors because assembly of the suïcide slowed theologe down because they had to fit perfect everyone). You made out like a bandit as these vehicles hold there value and they typically go 150,000 miles with regular maintenance. Again glad you tripled you money and got to hang on to a connection to your past life for a little longer then most.

    If I were you I would consider a classic old 6 cylinder American truck. They are more fun to drive, will take you to Home Depot and around town, with that certain panache that everyone likes, are dirt cheap and simple to maintain and will easily move the family and even tow the occasional “find” home. The big reason there are so many around is they just don’t die!!

    My time of car trailer ownership is similar to your 1-ton ownership Rob. I also thought I would be picking up new wheeled toys but instead I ended up fighting to stay alive business wise starting with 2008 recession. Everyone at work (think about 10 people) all used the trailer over a period of years for hauling their cars and other stuff. I never ever hauled a car on it! It went a few years ago when I sold my factory buildings and I had no place to keep it. Unlike the crowded Boston area (one daughter works for Boston Childrens–traffic is terrible) up here in NW WI lots of room to maneuver an F350 Crew which works for me-

    One of the disadvantages of having a truck this size, or any size for that matter, is that family, friends, neighbors, etc WANT TO BORROW IT. I thought I had that problem solved by buying a truck with a standard transmission. So, when someone requests to borrow my truck I say “Sure-but do you know how to drive a standard?” This worked for a while. Now the requests are “Hey, can you move (fill in the blank) for me?” There is no escaping being the person with the truck.

    I never realized how many friends I had until I bought a car trailer. I found out how many were true friends after I sold it.

    I can relate to having to sell a vehicle that is so useful, but just not really needed in the household. My sister’s 2003 CR-V sat in my driveway for a year before I decided I just don’t have the need for it. A great little vehicle, though. Straight body and clean interior with only 107K miles, so it’s just getting warmed up. Started replacing the front struts and rotors to prepare to sell it, when only a week later the neighbor texted me to ask if she could buy it. Fixed “SRS” light, HVAC control backlighting, and some other odds and ends. Won’t make anything on it, as it’s not my car, but at least I’ll get to see it often.
    Glad to hear that you made out nicely on the truck.

    I understand about having more truck than you need…bought a 3/4 ton Silverado diesel crew new in 2018 with the intentions of travelling with our Corvette on a trailer to Corvette events and the like. Well…like many of us, work and other commitments along with the pandemic got in the way of that. We hauled quite a lot of garbage, furniture and “stuff” of all kinds around in the cargo bed but NEVER towed with the truck. As much as I enjoyed driving it (comfort, power and great fuel economy for it’s size) it was simply too much truck and became under utilized, 29,000 miles in 5 years. We have other vehicles and 1 company car for daily use. Last March, located a ’23 1/2 ton diesel (6 cyl) crew cab and stepped down a size. Will admit to loving the new tech and even better fuel economy but miss the sound of the big diesel firing up in the mornings…don’t tell my Beloved but I would buy it back in a heartbeat…

    But, your neighbors will love you now. My neighbor, really a nice guy, starts his PowerStroke Ford every weekday at 0530. Ask me how I know…

    Thanks for the stories and I’m glad you got a good return. I agree with the value of just having a truck around. My 2002 F150 was great for impulsive furniture buying off Facebook and the occasional moving job. I also enjoy simply lifting kayaks into the 8′ bed rather than faffing with a roof rack and tie downs. I’ve towed a few times with rented campers and a small excavator but mostly it’s like a farm truck waiting for harvest. Since Oregon registration and insurance are cheap a I can afford to have it on the shelf. I might feel different commuting in something 20′ long that gets 11mpg in town but not having monthly loan payment buys a lot of gas.

    If you miss having a truck, take 1/3 to 1/2 the proceeds and find a clean first generation Tundra. Slightly smaller than domestic full sizers but nearly as capable. It’ll tow 7500 pounds and run forever. Just need to find one that Toyota put a new frame under in the mid 2010s. A VIN search on the Toyota owner’s site will tell you.

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