Truck or trailer?
October 2, 2012 9:02 AM   Subscribe

Keep the pickup or get a trailer? I bought a Ford F-150 pickup truck about 9 months ago for using out at a rural property I co-own. It's been helpful for moving materials, towing travel trailers out there, picking up straw, transporting heavy machinery, but I feel like I might be able to get by with my Subaru and a 6x8' or so utility trailer.

I was successfully able to tow a 1600lb travel trailer with my Subaru, but it smelled like burning transmission fluid once I got it to the farm. I have a transmission cooler I could install if I was going to tow more heavy stuff.

Pro-truck ($2200 into it):
1) It can carry way more stuff. It has a rack which allows me to carry 20 ft pieces of lumber or metal (I weld, uh, recreationally, for artsy purposes). I could build myself a wacky roof rack for the Subaru that would let me carrier longer stuff, but it'd still protrude pretty far in front and back.
2) It can tow heavier stuff. While I think we have all the travel trailers we need already in place, we could, say, pick up a small excavator with the pickup.

Pro-trailer (would cost $400-$800):
1) There would be waaay less maintenance with a trailer. While the truck only has 70,000 miles on it, and I'd be putting maybe 100-200 miles a month on it, I know cars slowly degrade and I don't want to get hit with major repairs. That said, I don't feel like the few thousand I'd get from selling it would make my life more awesome in any way. I've also already performed some repairs myself.
2) There would be waaaay less insurance. Although at the moment my insurance company seems totally fine with me adding and removing the truck from my insurance whenever I need to use it. Having to pay $150-$300 and then getting a check back from them a few weeks later when I cancel is a little inconvenient, but not terrible.
3) My co-owner has said she would share the cost of the trailer. She was opposed to me buying a truck and did not contribute to it, yet has benefitted from the truck in terms of my transporting her heavier trailer and transporting machinery we co-own. She has purchased gas for it a few times.

Future activities at our farm will include putting up gutters, building a shower house, building a fireside structure, probably getting a few more large-but-not-ride-on lawn machines, and other similar activities.

Also, if I sold the truck (and my diesel Mercedes which has sat unused for 2 years), I might could buy a BMW 2002tii, which is my dream car, since I'd have enough driveway space to not look crazy
posted by MonsieurBon to Travel & Transportation (9 answers total)
By chance did you just read this article or this one?

Honestly, I'd keep the truck. I have a similar situation, although it'd be a stretch to call my property a farm, it's a bit rural and I sometimes need to carry around mulch or wood or haul stuff to the dump. My truck is an '85. It has over twice as many miles on it as yours does. I drive it about the same amount as you drive yours. I'm not really worried about it developing costly problems because 1) I barely drive it so it's not wearing out very fast, and 2) it's an old simple truck that's easy to fix.

I recently pulled some tree stumps out of my front yard with it. You going to pull tree stumps out with your Subaru?

I find your pro-trailer list to be a bit alarmist. A truck that you barely drive doesn't require any special maintenance. You are just imagining a hypothetical worst-case scenario where it does. Even if it breaks down, so what? You can wait to fix it, it's not your primary mode of transport, right?

Also, it costs me something like $17/month to insure my truck (I carry the minimum amount of insurance that is legal on it) because I barely drive it.

It sounds like what you really want is to get a BMW, not a trailer.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 9:13 AM on October 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: You'll destroy the Subaru doing that, they don't tow heavy things safely at speed or do well with hills. I've tried it! Old American cars could do what you want because they were tanks with huge engines, the Suby is not. Keep the truck.
posted by fshgrl at 9:22 AM on October 2, 2012

Best answer: I have a truck and a trailer and I wouldn't give up either of 'em. Sometimes you want to carry stuff in the truck AND the trailer. Looking at a covered cargo trailer now.
posted by unSane at 9:29 AM on October 2, 2012

Best answer: Your little Subaru sounds too light for the job. A utility vehicle will inevitably accumulate dings and scratches. Might be that you could leave the truck parked in the barn in the country? Anyhow, a truck is much handier than a trailer. It is more costly. I'm not sure what your partner's obligations to the project are, but it seems that, in any case, the truck will be yours, so it might be good to not worry too much about trying to make the truck a part of the deal you have. I guess she should be on board with dump fees and other similar costs, so maybe there would be a way to log the use of the vehicle for certain tasks, rather than as an ongoing fee. This way the truck would be yours, and you can use it to go fishing whenever you like, and won't have to account to her for personal use.

I recently sold my pickup and got a small trailer. I think I did the right thing, but I should point out that I no longer live in the country. For the first time in over thirty years I am without a pickup. Now and then I have tasks that I'd rather perform using a truck than my trailer.

Bottom line: Keep the truck.

(you can get a bumper sticker for it: Yes this is my truck. No I won't help you move)
posted by mule98J at 9:45 AM on October 2, 2012

My parents have a utility trailer that we use ALL the time (with a Subaru and a slightly heavier-duty mini-van). It can take longer stuff than most trucks, can be flatbed or leave the sides up, and has proven so helpful for so long that they've rebuilt it 3 times over 35 years (it's an old car chassis with wooden bed and sides). That way they get way better gas mileage when they Don't need the capacity, but they can take a lot when they need to.

So if the heavy things you need to tow are in place, a great trailer will give you ton of flexibility at much lower gas and insurance cost. However, just like the truck, everyone will want to borrow it. But favor swapss are good!
posted by ldthomps at 9:59 AM on October 2, 2012

I come from a long history of doing stupid things towing a trailer. From my youth, I remember my Dad towing at least a yard of wet concrete in a utility trailer behind a Volvo sedan. With us kids in the back seat. Another similar instance with a load of concrete forms that left all sorts of funny smells in the crisp country air.

As an adult, I've had a moderately heavy trailer get away from me and whip the Land Cruiser I was driving around like the traction wasn't even there. I've towed a big-ass trailer home from Burning Man, with the clutch so hot that when I went up the hill past my driveway the car wouldn't go any further and I had to back down about a quarter of a mile, coasting, with no ability to pull forward again if I screwed it up.

Finally, at forty something, I bought a small pickup truck. What an epiphany. My life has changed. I mean, sure, I've still overloaded the thing enough that the mud flaps were dragging as I took a load of dirt across town, but...

The problem with a utility trailer is that I was way tempted to do really stupid things with it. And with the truck, the consequences of stupid things are a slightly longer stopping distance, and wear and tear on the suspension. With the trailer, the stupid things mean that the towing vehicle may get whipped around in ways that you can't possible foresee. Trailer loads can shift and lift your steering wheels off the ground, or slide and grab the back end before you know what happened.

So, yeah, the trailer makes better economic sense, but I am *so* glad to have a truck, and I'm pretty sure that it's not only good for me, but it lowers the chances that I'm going to do something stupid which ends up in an accident involving other people.
posted by straw at 10:22 AM on October 2, 2012

I have a Ford F250 with a transmission cooler that once spewed transmission fluid all over someone's driveway after pulling a trailer. I was apparently lucky and it all came out a pressure relief tube rather than blowing the seals, but the mechanic told me that mine was like the second time he'd ever seen the system work the way it was supposed to. Also, it seems like every time I've hauled something significant with my car, it's been roughly equivalent to hitting it once with a stick. Mostly scuffed paint, or small dents, but there was that time I cracked a window. I think you're way underestimating the abuse and increase in maintenance you're going to be experiencing with the Subaru. The truck, on the other hand, is built for this.

I can't speak for every trailer, but on the utility trailer I got, the suspension makes the cheapest cheesiest economy car look like a Ferrari. I anticipate one day having to spend a Saturday laying in the dirt at a junk yard to get the suspension off of a real vehicle to put on my trailer, so I'm not sure I'd bank on reduced maintenance there, just different or transferred (to the Subaru) maintenance.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 10:37 AM on October 2, 2012

Best answer: I would keep the truck until the major construction projects are done, then sell it and either buy a utility trailer, or just plan on renting a truck from Enterprise or U-Haul or whatever when you really need one in the future.

But since you already have the truck, I would not sell it now. Also, I'm surprised your insurance went up that much; I have a car and a truck, which I use for similar purposes, and adding the truck (collision only) did not substantially increase my insurance rates. I made sure that the total mileage summed across both vehicles was the same as the one vehicle had on it before, since the presence of a second vehicle certainly isn't going to make me drive more.

Also, you might want to look into regulations concerning "Farm Use" vehicles in your area, if you are legitimately using it on a farm. Farm Vehicles can typically be driven on the road for certain purposes, and the insurance might be cheaper. I've never actually had one but there has to be some benefit to them, since lots of farmers have the plates on their work trucks.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:04 AM on October 2, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks for the answers all.

1) Insurance: I checked the bill and it's about $150 per 6 months to have the truck. For some reason no insurance I've ever had in Oregon with any carrier has provided anything more than a very small multi-car discount. I'm the only registered driver! Do they really think I can drive 3 cars at once? At any rate, I can deal with adding it and removing it as necessary.

2) Neither is my primary mode of transport, really. I work from home, ride my bike to the gym, and only drive when going out to the farm, 90 miles round trip, once every other week or so, or when going on backpacking trips. But yes, I can definitely survive having one or both of them out of commission for a while should something happen.

3) Farm use in Oregon seems weird. It might be a little bit cheaper for me to register it that way. I'll call the DMV and ask. I remember selecting "Farm use" and 1,000 miles a year in my insurance quote-y-doodle, and the price was the same as "recreational use" and 12,000 miles a year.

Guess I'll keep the truck. It's a sweet 6-cylinder, full size bed, non-extended cab, manual transmission 1996 F-150 that I can milk aaalmost 23mpg from when on the highway.

I think some of this desire to get rid of it stems from spending weeks trying to replace the starter, which was affixed with non-hardened bolts with easy-to-round heads, one of which was in an absolutely ridiculously terrible location. Heat, cold, PB B'laster, impact wrenches, feet of extensions and U-joints, and finally JB-welding a socket on did the trick, but I just fear that if Ford made that so awful what else is there that is equally as poorly designed?
posted by MonsieurBon at 5:59 PM on October 2, 2012

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