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Today I started looking for a new truck.

The reason is rather simple. My old Chevrolet S-10 is on its last legs. The fault is not the S-10s, in fact it has been a poster child for the things Detroit does well. It has been reliable, economical, asked little of me and performed when I asked it to. I bought it new when my old car failed and I needed to be at work Monday morning, and it really, really has been a good car. Rather it's death lies rooted in a parking problem. A few years ago I bought a Ford Focus SVT, a sweet handling little hot hatch which provides still a superb balance between performance, comfort and economy. And that's when the problem began because my driveway is precisely one car wide and my neighbor's house means it's not getting any wider. I adapted by parking it out front, and taking away a bit of front lawn. Then I recieved a blessing. My employer decided to let me start driving the service van I use at work home at night. He did this because I am often on call, and may need to rush off and fix something at any time, but also saves me a good deal of money, wear and tear on my own vehicles. But now I have three vehicles and a one car driveway-- something that got worse when my girlfriend came to visit. I tried putting both trucks on the lawn, but that sucked and frankly I got really tired of playing automotive musical chairs. Something had to give.

Then the City of Columbus decided to line off designated parking areas on my street, something of artery on the north side. Also cool. After a while, I decided the thing to do was to move the S-10 out onto the street, so I could still have my choice of available cars. And for many months all was well. My S-10 saw duty during winter, when I needed to move something large, and once a week to keep the seals and other such things flexible and free of leaks (hint, bring a car or truck up to full operating temperature once a week if you want it to last). The truck was happy. I was happy.

Then somebody sideswiped my truck, amputating the driver's side mirror. No, they did not leave a note. Then it happened again. Finally, about four months ago somebody ran smack into the truck's rear end, hitting it hard enough to push it in front of my neighbor's driveway. Ever since then the truck has missed, and missed badly, and none of the fairly simple things I have tried improve the situation. When I let down the tailgate, the bed had flexed so much it can no longer be closed. Now rust holes have appeared behind both door sills. Oh, and a brake line blew, requiring replacement and nearly causing a crash. The combination of body damage/rust and an increasingly unhappy engine has made putting more money into the truck a losing proposition.

So I need a new truck? But that presents further problems. I liked the nimbleness and economy of my old S-10, but no street truck can touch my Focus in the fun-to-drive category-- at least not without a bunch of expensive mods. The 2.2 four gave good economy, but didn't produce enough grunt to tow a pop-up camper, much less a race car. On the other hand, I do not currently own a race car, nor am I likely to in the near future. So while towing capacity would be ideal, a major towing capacity would be expensive and rarely used. For most of what I use it for a full sized truck would be overkill. And fuel mileage does matter, even in a vehicle I expect to drive around 3-4,000 miles per year. So it's a tradeoff, capability versus economy and costs. Trucks are better at loads, but a mid-sized SUV has more interior room and comfort, and up to 20% better fuel economy.

And then what to spend. The truck I really want would run about $30K and there's no way I'm dropping that much into a truck. New cars and trucks lose a ton of value the moment you drive them off the lot. No reason not to take advantage of depreciation. After about six weeks of searching the ads on Craigslist I noticed something. Full sized American trucks hold their value really well, at least when gas prices are reasonable. So does almost everything Japanese, except their big trucks, but not many Titans or Tundras come available. What seemed to drop in value the most was the Chevrolet TrailBlazer (or its twin, the GMC Envoy). They aren't well loved by the automotive press, except for the engine, but it's more a case of cheap materials and a live rear axle then major reliability issues. Each and every one of them comes with nice amenities, like power windows and a trailer hitch pre-wired for brake controls. And dual-zone air-conditioning. They are rated to tow 6,500 pounds, enough for a light race car on an open trailer. Or a small camper for weekends at Mid Ohio or Nelson. True a full-sized pickup would tow better, but size is everything in towing and I'm not towing to California! Three hours is the longest tow I contemplate. I've seen 2002 TrailBlazers offered for under $5K at a dealer. You won't find a decently-equipped full-sized truck for that! At least one that isn't a lot older.

But going that cheap has its own disadvantages. I could pay off the $5K car in a year without breathing hard. But I'd also be getting a vehicle with 100,000 miles, a notorious maintenance milestone. My friend Chris thinks I should think about spending more like $8-12K. He argues I'll be getting a car with much less wear and tear, one that could conceivably last me for fifteen years, while the cheaper vehicle will go away much sooner, even with my low mileage. He has a point whose value would be magnified if I lost my work van, and had to take the Blazer to work. But I don't need to decide now. Better to enjoy test driving a whole lot of trucks and cars while salesmen schmooze me.

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