Pickup Trucks On a Budget: I Love to Have One But It's Hard to Keep One
Why a budget pickup truck is both the best and the worst at the same time.
As a 19 year old college student on a very tight budget who is not making a lot of money, having a nice vehicle is difficult. My current vehicle is a massive Ford F250, as shown in the main picture above. How did I go from having a small V6 Mustang to this? It's a long story, but I'll try to simplify it.
In short, I sold the Mustang to buy a truck that I needed for work. I loved the car, but it wasn't practical and it wasn't big enough to fit a lawn mower inside. That's not entirely true, actually, it was big enough for the mower. However, it required partial disassembly of the mower and bungee cords to hold the opened trunk in place, as well as weed eaters and the rest of the equipment in the cabin with me....clearly a bad idea, clearly not worth it. Hence, the pickup truck.
The first truck was great at first minus the gas mileage. I thought 11 MPG in the city and 14-15 on the highway was bad, but I wouldn't have complained if I knew what the F250 would get. I did miss the Mustang, so I bought an older, junkier one to fix and sell while I had this truck. Unfortunately, all in one week, the alternator, battery, a tire, the AC compressor, orifice tube, dryer, and condenser all broke and had to be replaced (and I had to vacuum and recharge the AC). It was a bad week. More importantly, though, it was an expensive week...especially for a 19 year old truck with over 200,000 miles that was worth roughly $3,000. The truck was sold and I moved on.
I loved the next truck. It was clean, powerful, and comfortable, although something on it would break on a somewhat regular basis. But I lost a job when everything shut down this Spring, courtesy of 2020, and was already beginning to be low on cash before that happened...so it only made the problem worse. I sold the truck, paid my tuition bill for that semester, and bought the current F250 with the leftovers.
The F250 is great (sometimes). It has tons of space on the inside, it has power leather seats, it has a V10, and it has not had any problems as of right now. Yes, I know, 5 months really isn't a long time to go between something breaking, but this actually might be a new record for me and pickup trucks. Since the truck is 21 years old, it doesn't look great. There is hardly any body damage, but the paint is awful. Peeling clear coat, scratches, and scrapes cover the entire body. In my opinion, the paint condition is the least of concerns on a 21 year old work truck that used to be a farm truck. It runs great and the inside is nice, so I am content. The F250 does have one serious flaw, which makes it a disaster for in-town/city driving on a budget. This probably will not surprise anybody, but it gets a whopping 8 MPG, 8.5 on a very good day. During highway driving, I can get 9.5 MPG...assuming that I keep it under 70 MPH and there are no hills to go up. Otherwise, it's back down to 8 MPG. To most people, a 25 gallon gas tank would seem big, but that means I get about 215 miles per tank of gas, which is terrible. I have to buy gas a lot.
You definitely couldn't (shouldn't) do that with a Mustang (or even a Ranger). I think that box was longer than the Mustang was.
The trouble with owning a truck on a budget is that they are expensive to drive and expensive to maintain. The insurance can also be more expensive for a truck than for another type of vehicle like a sedan, coupe, hatchback, crossover, or SUV, and this has certainly been true for me personally. Furthermore, parts for trucks can be rather expensive, which makes them difficult to service when you are on a tight budget like me. Trucks that people with budgets like mine can afford also typically get bad gas mileage. If you want a truck with good gas mileage but don't have a lot to spend on a truck and all the associated costs, you are limited to an old Ford Ranger or an old Ford Ranger. I am, in fact, aware that there are other cheap trucks to that get decent gas mileage like an old Frontier, but the point of buying a Ranger in this situation is to avoid some truck ownership expenses, but those Frontiers break a lot which defeats the point. So, you could buy an old Ranger. However, if you want to take more than 2 people anywhere (comfortably), store (many) things in your backseat, have a decent size truck bed, have decent ground clearance from the factory, and pull any sort of trailer, the old Ford Ranger is not enough of a truck for most people. It's gas mileage is 24 MPG combined, but the maximum tow capacity for the most highly optioned 1999 Ford ranger is a measly 2,400 lbs. Ouch. To sum up, a cheap truck will either barely be a truck or be expensive to maintain. This is why it is hard to own a truck on a tight budget, which is tragic because I love owning a truck.
Having a truck is great, I can't imagine (assuming that I can afford to own a truck) not owning a truck ever again. After driving them for 2 years now, I can say first hand that there is nothing as usable or practical as a truck. Sure, your friends ask you to help them move stuff, and if your truck is tall then sometimes it won't fit inside a garage. But, at the same time, you can carry anything and do not have to ask for help to get things. If you need a new fridge, you can carry it yourself. It saves time and it saves on delivery fees. No such luck if you drive an old Ranger. Corolla. I meant Corolla. Sorry. One night my roommate called me and said he found a free dinner table for us on Craigslist and asked if I could go get it. He sent me the phone number and address, and I was actually right in the area and would be passing by on the way to his house. It took me no less than 5 minutes extra to stop at the house with the table, load it up and strap it in, and get back on the road. If I still had a Mustang, we would have had to find somebody with a truck or rent a truck, go back out to get it, and then either pay rental fees or pay somebody for gas and time. At that point, it may not have even been worth getting the free table. I solved that problem by driving a pickup truck. Additionally, you can fit so many things in the backseat. I have 2 toolboxes, lots of other work stuff, and a large gym bag just in the floorboard of the back, and there is still space leftover. Having a pickup truck is just useful. That is the best way to describe it. Useful. It is practical and helpful and I love having one. We'll see how long I keep this one around for. It definitely has its pros and cons (mainly the gas mileage), but it is vastly more convenient and handy than any other type of vehicle I have driven.
My F250 looking good while picking up a trailer to help me move. Because I had a truck I could do exactly what the side of the trailer suggests.
Disclaimer: I actually like the old Ford Rangers from the same time period as my F250 and I have seen some seriously cool Prerunner style builds on them, but they just aren't enough pickup truck for what I and most people need.