By Chris Hunt
Last spring, after a lengthy search, I found the perfect rig to haul my little camper up into the hills around home for weekend fishing get-aways. It was old. It guzzled gas, which encouraged shorter trips, and it didn’t leak or burn oil. It had good clearance, ran like a champ and it served me well for a summer in Idaho’s mountains.
And it might have served me well for summers to come, but when my daughter came home from her winter job in Colorado and started searching for a car of her own to take with her to her summer job in Wyoming, I slowly began to realize that the truck would likely be a hand-me-down for her. Fathers can be a bit protective of their little girls—after test-driving dozens of small to mid-size four-wheel drive vehicles in her somewhat modest price range and not finding anything either of us felt would be very dependable, I took a deep breath and offered up the truck.
When I brought the truck home last April, she giggled at me. It’s a beast, and she was skeptical that it would do what I wanted it to do, which was to essentially spare my real fishing rig from having to tow the camper, which tickles its maximum towing capability. I mean, there was no doubt the truck would tow the camper—if I tried, I suspect it could tow the house off of the foundation with its massive 8-cylinder motor that sports an appreciative growl that well-seasoned machines acquire with maturity. But, like me at first, she took one look at the dual gas tanks and shook her head. It would not be an economy vehicle
And then, after coming home this spring, I handed her the spare key and told her to use it while she was home. After a week, I suspected I’d never get it back. And I likely won’t.
But that, of course, leaves me back at Square One. I need to find that fishing truck to tow the camper and all the gear into the hills close to home so I can continue to spare the real fishing rig the misery. If I take care of my FJ Cruiser, it’ll take care of me for years. It’s been all over the country, from the Gulf of Mexico to the Arctic Ocean, and it did its part and towed the camper for a good chunk of that distance. When I got home from a long trip a couple years back and made a maintenance appointment at the dealership, I realized that I was torturing its 6-cylinder engine and stressing all the SUV’s necessary parts. I paid the painful repair bill, and decided to retire the rig from towing.
So I’ve spent the better part of a week driving trucks and trying to find a rig in the right price range with the right amount of power and the right amount of room for me, the dog and maybe a kid or a camping buddy now and then. At first it was fun. I learned a lot about 10-year-old trucks … and, sadly, the people who owned them before the vehicles ended up on a car lot with a “This truck won’t last!” sign in the window. And I re-learned the lingo that comes from the mouths of generally very nice people who know how much money the dealership has invested in their cars, and how much of a profit they’ve been instructed to make. Now, I see a used-car salesman walking with a purpose in my direction and my blood starts to boil.
I started doing research on particular makes and models. I looked online for trucks within a 500-mile radius of me, which means I was looking at trucks from Denver to Reno, and Rapid City to Bend. I compared prices, got pre-qualified to make the process easier and then started pricing trucks on the internet, printing reports and walking into dealerships with a purpose of my own. They don’t like that, by the way. They don’t like when you have empiracle evidence that the Titan on the lot is almost two grand above “fair asking price,” according to a popular online pricing tool.
“First of all,” one dealer said to me, “nobody in Idaho uses that site.”
“Oh,” I said with a sly grin, “that’s just not true. I use that site, and that should matter to you.”
No. They don’t like that at all.
I’m still looking for the truck that lands in that sweet spot. You know, the price I can afford with the miles I can live with and the dependability to get me into the hills and back. And last night, as I walked by my dining room window and looked out in the driveway at the big beast of a truck that served me so well last summer, I wondered if I’d ever find its equal.
I’ve got three weeks before the kiddo heads off to Wyoming.
Wish me luck.
Chris Hunt is the national digital director for Trout Media. He lives and works in Idaho Falls.