I was hoping it wouldn’t come to this, because I think we should all be free to make our own choices. But with the recent oil boom and bust, and the even bigger housing boom we are just starting to roll with here in the ‘States, there’s a big chunk of your money at stake, and I’d rather see you hold onto it instead of seeing it go up in smoke. So I’m just going to put this out there nice and clear:
Your Work Truck is Killing You, and making you look like a Big Dumbass in the process.
Now don’t get me wrong – not every work truck is a money-burning rolling clown circus with a 24/7 fireworks show shooting out of its roof telling the world how dumb you are. Only about 99% of them. So if you’re fortunate enough to already be in that top 1% who knows how to buy and operate a real work truck, you can just laugh along with me and then share the lesson with our other Brothers* when you get out of class.
“So what’s wrong with my truck?”
I know how you feel – trucks are fun, and everybody has ’em. How could this be wrong? To figure it out, let’s review the basics of what a truck is really supposed to accomplish.
- To make you money.
- To make you look good in front of other people.
You could get more complicated and start talking about horses and cupholders, but if you break it all the way down, those two points above are why we buy trucks.
You could say a truck needs to carry you and your crew to work, or haul your tools, materials and trailers. But why are you delivering yourself to work? Why are you bringing the tools and materials in the first place? To make money. These machines are business tools, designed to make us a profit.
And you could pretend a truck is only a business tool, but that would be ignoring the fact that your choice of truck says something about you – to the ladies, to other men, and to your employer. Or if you’re doing well, to the customers of the business you own yourself. What message do you want to convey to these people?
So Where’s the Problem?
The problem arises when you don’t understand the Two Commandments of Truck Ownership, and buy yourself something that doesn’t really meet those goals.
A truck makes money by carrying as much shit as possible, safely, to your destination. This allows you to earn a good day’s pay. But the truck also costs you money, which is taking back a portion of that paycheck. The amount you get to keep for yourself is your profit. Since your goal is a nice fat profit, you obviously want to pick the truck that burns the smallest amount of your hard-earned cash.
The Looking Good
But you also want to enjoy the driving, right? You want good handling, a comfortable interior, and you want other people to see how well you are doing. Maybe some flashy accessories and huge off-road tires, because hey, why wouldn’t you want to give your truck superpowers?
And this is the downfall of most truck-owning men. Because a truck that makes you a lot of money, and a truck that handles and accelerates (or climbs 45 degree boulder fields) and has the comfort of a car, are two completely opposite things. In fact, they are so far apart, that the more flashy and comfortable your truck becomes, the more obvious it becomes that you are not using it to make money.
In other words, you are telling the world you’re a big fake. Or at least that you’re too dumb to know the difference. Neither of these is a very impressive message to send.
How to Choose The Right Tool for the Job
So now we know a truck is a tool. It’s a tool for carrying heavy shit, and making money. We can take the emotions of vehicle ownership out of it by just comparing it to a drill.
When I need to make a small, precise hole in something, I’ll grab my smallest drill – currently this little Ryobi 18V deal. It’s the perfect tool for the job: lightweight, plenty tough as I’ve built quite a few houses with these things, and it only set me back about 50 bucks.
Of course, sometimes you need more power. To drill through a concrete foundation, I use this hammer drill. It does stuff the little cordless could only dream of, but in exchange it is so big you have to angle it properly to even carry it through a doorframe.
Then when things get really tough, I use the drill press. I have a Ridgid 15″ machine, which is the largest one I could find. With this thing, I can drill 50 half-inch holes through half-inch steel plate without breaking a sweat. On the downside, it weighs 163 pounds.
Now, when I need to drill a few small holes to set some hinges, which of these drills do you think I grab? Of course, I use the little Ryobi.
And yet, when a man buys a 360-horsepower pickup truck and uses it for anything smaller than hauling an excavating machine, this is what he is doing:
See, when you buy a truck, you look smart only at those moments you are maxing that thing out. Payload and towing load at 100% of rated capacity, 16-foot lumber on the roof rack, and the cabin full to the limits of comfort. At that moment, the truck is earning the money you paid for it. Unfortunately for most gentlemen, this moment is Never.
At all other moments, you’re showing you bought too much truck. You are using the 163 pound drill press to countersink tiny screws in a door frame. You are wasting your own money and looking to the rest of the world like a dumbass who can’t choose the right truck. And unfortunately for most truck owners, this is Always.
For every inch you raise the suspension or every bump in tire size, you’re burning up thousands of your own dollars. For every extra horsepower you have on tap, the story is the same. If you want proof, just look at what the professionals use: real trucks that make millions of dollars for the owners who run fleets of them look like this:
Note the design of this real truck. As low to the ground as possible. Tires designed to roll easily on pavement, because pavement – not dirt – is where you make money. An engine big enough to haul the most profitable load, but no bigger. Fully loaded, these things take well over a minute to get to 65MPH – so why are you paying so much to get your work truck there in under ten seconds?
Sure, motor power is fun. But you know what is much more fun? Money power. Just by making different truck choices, you can end up with hundreds of thousands of dollars in the bank, or invested in your business making more money for you. At that point, your employees will be driving your fleet of slow trucks, while you can kick back with a fast car if you choose to do so.
Examples of Badass vs. Stupid Work Trucks
Now for the fun part of the lesson. All of this makes more sense if we go through a few real-world examples, and explain what they say about the man who drives them.
The Ridiculously Overpriced New Truck:
Trucks like this scream, “I am a sucker for shiny toys and am horrible with my money!”
The new truck market is such a racket. I recently biked by this Ford “Super Duty” at the local dealership, and was astounded at the price. At over $70 grand including tax, this thing is an insane money pit. The depreciation alone in the first year is more than most of its customers actually manage to take home from their jobs. Even if you need to tow 20,000 pounds, you can get an equally useful used truck, a trailer, and a Bobcat or small track-drive excavator to start your landscaping or concrete business for this much coin.
The Jacked up Boy Toy
A truck like this leads a predictable life. It starts out as a ridiculously overpriced new truck (see above). After taking a $50,000 depreciation hit, the original owner trades it for a newer truck with a bigger loan, and a younger man comes in and buys it for $25,000, also on credit. He then spends another $15,000 on customization, making the truck less stable on the highway and the cargo bed even more useless.
Next he blows $15,000 on gas, then eventually runs into money problems and tries to sell it. After months of fruitless advertising, he gives up and lets it go for $9,000, which doesn’t even cover the loan he has on it. He may go bankrupt. Meanwhile, the miniscule 6-foot cargo bed has never carried anything larger than a washer/dryer and a couch, as shown by its immaculate $450 decorator bedliner treatment.
The Millionaire Business Owner’s Workhorse
Meanwhile, quietly working in the background while this clown circus goes on are real trucks like this one. Notice how this W4500 (which costs less than a “Super Duty”) does not waste space on any bullshit. Instead of a 14-foot hood and cab up front with a uselessly small cargo bed in the back (all Hat and no Cattle), this truck reverses the ratio. These carry ten times the cargo of American-style pickups, while using less gas and being easier to maneuver into tight spots. You can also get them with dump or box beds, and they will haul a hell of a trailer as well. Depreciation is much slower with these, so you can buy a used one, and sell it many years later for almost the same price if you keep it maintained.
The Future Millionaire’s Truck
If you are earlier in your career or don’t frequently load and unload multi-ton cargo loads with a forklift, you can do very well with a truck like this:
This beauty is owned by one of the guys who built the foundation for a house I’m currently helping out with. Note the fully loaded cargo bed and the excellent roof rack. This truck has a 4-cylinder engine, 5-speed manual transmission and will deliver reasonable 30MPG efficiency if you drive it properly. Lower height means easier loading and unloading and better handling. Lower cost (under 5 grand on the used market) means much more money for you.
My own Work Trucks
At this stage with plenty in the bank, I have grown soft and have a bit more truck than I need. It’s a 1999 Honda van with 140,000 miles on it. I bought it for $4,800 four years ago, and current market value is maybe 3 grand. Less than what the juniors with no money spend on their wheels and tires alone.
And this thing can work. I have carried over 2,500 pounds comfortably, it can lock up a full selection of tools and keep them dry, and with the seats out you can close the rear door on 12-foot pieces of lumber or a stack of 20 full sheets of plywood. This is the truck I use now, but most of my carpentry career was done with something far less luxurious.
Back when money was tighter (I only had $700,000 in the bank but at least my house was paid off), I had this older truck – a 1984 Nissan compact pickup. This thing built multiple houses and kitchens, carried steel girders and landscaping materials, and protected me from weather of all seasons. It has an aftermarket cupholder on the driveshaft hump which is currently full of hardened surf wax and 10 Peso coins.
And I didn’t even own it. I borrowed it for five years (in exchange for upkeep) from a good friend, who had earlier used it to cross the Continental Divide and Death Valley on his way to Mexico’s Baja Peninsula, where the truck served as his beachside home for an extended surfing-based stay.
So heed my advice, men of all ages who are not yet millionaires and wish they were. Your truck may be the biggest obstacle in your way.
The size of your truck is inversely proportional to the size of your wallet. Which one of the two would you rather supersize?
Related Reading (now that you realize you probably don’t need a truck at all):
* I speak mostly to men in this article, because they are the primary victims of the pickup truck racket. But women are not immune – they just tend to fall into the “SUV and Minivan” trap more often.