Getting by without owning a truck – a BlythBros. guide

For many DIYers, the pickup truck provides essential utility.  Find an RX-7 with a blown wankel on Craigslist?  You can either tow it home behind a truck, or if you’re in a salt state, simply punch your shoes through the floorboards and Flintstone it home.  Building a workbench for indiscriminate hammering of car parts in your garage?  Throw the lumber into the truck bed and haul it home.

But, for those who don’t frequently depend on that level of utility for their livelihood or hobby, is buying a dedicated work truck the best solution?  I’ll explain my hobby situation, and why I think I managed better without buying, say, a $5,000 work truck.

In the past year, I’ve been able to complete the following without buying a truck or borrowing one from a friend:

  • Drive 300 miles to buy a 12V Alfa V6 for my Milano
  • Tow my Alfa Milano 300 miles when I moved
  • Drive 75 miles to pick up a 12V Alfa V6 to rebuild for a friend
  • Tow a 68 El Camino SS 250 miles home after it died in Chicago
  • Drive 500 miles to bring home the entire drivetrain and subframe from an Alfa 164Q
  • Purchase lumber for two sets of 8’x8′ shelves, and a 16 wheel tire rack
  • Drive a refrigerator home
  • Pull my thrashed Alfa Milano off of the Tail of the Dragon

My method?  A combination of daily truck rentals, hourly truck rentals, AAA roadside assistance, and hyperloading my car.

The cheapest option for me is hyperloading either my 84 VW GTI or my 14 Fiesta ST.  Both have fold-flat rear seats, which make the rear luggage compartment vastly more useful.  I was able to load the 350lb 12V Alfa V6 into my 84 GTI with the help of my Diesel F-250 owning friend to transport the engine 150 miles back to my garage.  Yes, we left the F-250 home, because 1) the GTI rocks, and 2) a 300 mile trip makes more financial sense in a 30mpg, regular fuel-sipping hatch than it does in a monster truck.

For the 8′ lumber to build the various shelves, I made use of the cargo hold on the FiST.  Clever tie-downs and proper safety precautions make a small hatch a rather convenient tool for transporting lumber across town.

For certain larger, heavier, or messier items, an hourly truck rental from Home Depot makes more sense.  My buddy couldn’t drain the fluids from his Alfa V6 before I picked it up, so to avoid trashing my Fiesta, I just grabbed a Ford F-350 from Home depot for 75 minutes for $20.  We loaded the engine onto the slick, folding aluminum bed and got the engine home to my garage without any damage to my personal vehicle.  In another instance, a refrigerator simply wouldn’t fit into the rear aperture of my Fiesta, so I had to rent from the Home Depot again for $20.

For towing, and large items far from home, I rent a Ram 1500 from a car rental outfit at $60 for 24 hours.  Coupled with a $40 tow-dolly rental from U-haul, I’m able to run cars from state to state for $100 a car.  Using this method, I moved my immobile Alfa 300 miles from Indiana to Detroit in comfort.

When my dad’s El Camino broke down in Chicago on the way to Detroit, I got it towed to my friend’s house using AAA, then rented a Ram 1500 and U-haul car-dolly to tow it home for repair the next weekend.  Now, here I am sort of denouncing trucks, and all of a sudden I’ve brought an El Camino into the picture.  Think of the El Camino as a cheap way to own a Chevelle SS, rather than as a dedicated utility vehicle.  Also, ask a truck guy what he thinks of an Elky, and you might agree that my point still stands.

My brother even drove an Alfa 164 front subrame, and everything attached to it – engine, transmission, axles, suspension, brakes – from Knoxville to Detroit on a $60 Ram rental.  Just look at the bastard (the truck, the Camino, the engine, or the brother?  You decide):

Finally, when my dad thrashed the axle and brake rotor off of my Milano on the tail of the dragon, we called AAA to get the Milano back to Knoxville for a patch-up.

So, looking back on my year so far, I’ve spent a total of $340 on truck-related expenses.  Sure, owning a truck would require less planning, and allow for more leisurely trips, but I am spared from the negative aspects of truck ownership – parking/storage, insurance, maintenance, and in many cases, depreciation.  Fuel costs should be about the same in both cases, though that depends on the size of truck.  As far as towing and hauling goes, I’ve had a pretty eventful year, and really don’t anticipate spending more than $250 on towing/hauling next year, given that I can keep the Alfa count manageable…