Idle thoughts about a pickup!
February 5, 2019 5:57 AM   Subscribe

I, a country squire, have started to feel stifled by my Subaru Forester. I’ve started thinking that my next vehicle should be a light duty pickup. Am I right, given the uses and requirements inside?

This isn’t a near term thing—just the start of a longer investigation.

I’m big into DIY and have a number of projects in mind that will require transporting sheet good, long boards, etc. Dear Wife and I also do a lot of gardening and transport a fair amount of plants, mulch, and stuff in the trunk of the forester. Lastly, I’d like to get a small trailer to take stuff to the dump, or the lawnmower and snow thrower to their respective caregivers. Never will I pull a boat, car, RV, ATV or anything like that.

Constraints: I’ve never driven a pickup and know nothing about them. I am aghast at the fuel economy numbers (though I don’t anticipate putting a lot of miles on it, as we have a second car that’s super comfy). And I’d definitely need a four-door cab to accommodate a child seat easily. As we just bought that second car, I don’t actually anticipate buying this truck for another two years—so kid could be 7 by the time Truckasaurus comes into our life.

Is this a feasible plan? If so, can you give me the 101-level intro to owning a pickup as a DIY dad? For instance it has only just come to my attention that the light trucks often come with short bed! Who knew! Was idly looking at the Honda Ridgeline or the Toyota Tacoma, but had not done significant research.
posted by Admiral Haddock to Travel & Transportation (31 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I don't know if it meets the four door requirement, but one can find a 2013-2014, 4-cyclinder Toyota Tacoma that gets 25 mpg, according to Fuelly. It will cost you $14-20k.
posted by mecran01 at 6:13 AM on February 5, 2019 [3 favorites]

You may also want to consider a minivan. My diy spouse/coparent drives a minivan with a trailer hitch. With no kids he can transport sheet goods and 8ft lengths of lumber and the rest of the time he can drive big carpools or our whole family and large dogs. The van doesn’t get great mileage, but definitely better than his last vehicle, which was a truck.
posted by ElizaMain at 6:25 AM on February 5, 2019 [2 favorites]

One of my summer jobs was at DOT, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in the public affairs office.

I also walked away from a low speed crash in a Ford Focus, that was totalled.

When you're ready to buy, please check the crash test results. Trucks are not as safe as SUVs and cars in an accident. I would not buy one, myself.
posted by MichelleinMD at 6:25 AM on February 5, 2019 [5 favorites]

Are you considering minivans at all? I'm in a similar position as you (do a lot of DIY and gardening but also need to transport children) and our Honda Odyssey fuckin rules at it. I've transported every single element of this tree house home in that van, and just last weekend I got an 8 foot magnolia tree in to it, no problem. Fuel economy has been surprisingly reasonable (around 20 in town but comfortably above 30 on the highway) and overall it's been so convenient and nice. I don't know anything about towing capacity but I know I've definitely seen a guy in town who trailers a little flat-bottomed bass boat on the back of his Sienna so it seems like it's at least possible.

Maybe not the answer you were hoping for but man, if you haven't considered a minivan I'd encourage you to at least give them a look. They're a lot more capable and versatile than you'd imagine.
posted by saladin at 6:30 AM on February 5, 2019 [3 favorites]

Sure, it's a feasible plan. You've started to run into the main problem already - 4 doors + long bed + light duty just isn't really a thing. 4 doors + long bed + full size + decent gas mileage is only a thing if you pay up for a reasonably new model.

There are probably two paths forward: (1) Get a 6' bed truck that has a decent mechanism for bed extension (tailgate down etc). (2) Get a long bed 1/2 ton truck.

Regarding the doors, there are usually two kinds of doors - extended cab and crew cab. Crew cab is 4 full size doors, for adults. You do not want that, since you're basically looking at something the size of a boat once you add a decent size bed. Extended cab usually has two tiny rear facing doors with a backseat that's perfectly fine for kids. They used to make extended cab trucks with only two doors (like a coupe with a backseat), I don't think they do that anymore but I'm not sure.

I went the latter route and got a 20 year old F250 long bed; it was huge and got 10 miles to the gallon, but it was probably driven no more than 1000 miles per year, and it was indispensable for our heavy DIY period. I'm currently truck-less but it was great to have at the time. Kids loved riding in the backseat. If I did it again I would heavily consider getting something as newer; better fuel economy and higher safety standards.
posted by true at 6:35 AM on February 5, 2019 [4 favorites]

We’ve owned pickups, trucks, minivans, and passenger vans over the decades - i’d highly recommend a gently used (off lease/rental use) Dodge Caravan.

ALL the middle and rear seats fold down to give you a very spacious cargo area. And the mileage on the 2+ year old vans can be improved using “econ” mode and driving conservatively.

And, if you need to, it can be fitted with a low grade hitch for a hitch rack or small trailer; some even come with roof racks.
posted by tilde at 6:45 AM on February 5, 2019 [1 favorite]

I've owned two small pickups in my life (an Isuzu and a Toyota) and now I drive a Forester. I really miss my trucks and have been seriously considering getting one again.

Like you, I do a lot of DIY stuff, we haul garden mulch and firewood. When I owned my trucks I did a lot of camping and backpacking as well. Both my trucks had caps on them that I would occasionally remove, though that's a two person job.

A couple of things to consider:

If you have 2wd they're not great in the snow. Some people will leave a few bags of heavy rocks or concrete in the back to give the bed some weight in the winter. Both of mine had 4wd, which was engaged via locking hubs on the front wheels. 4wd is really good in the snow, though you're still prone to skidding if you're not careful.

For hauling 2x4s you can just toss them in the back. For 4x8 sheet goods the beds of small trucks usually aren't big enough to hold them flat. This can be ok for plywood but might damage drywall. You can usually buy or build a rack to hold them flat above the bed.

There really isn't much to know about driving them. Most of the small ones drive similar to cars. They're a bit more prone to blind spots (ten years of driving pickups and I still don't trust my side mirrors) but you get used to it. Driving 2wd in snow takes practice, but so does 4wd.

I personally would not get a truck if I had a small child to haul around. The full cab 4 door ones seem mostly useless and the two-door ones have very small, uncomfortable jumper seats in the back that don't seem very safe. I've only been thinking of one again now that my child is about to go off to school in a couple of years.

I have a set of roof racks for my Subaru that I use for hauling sheet goods. Worst case I'd rent a tuck from Home Depot or U-Haul if Needed to haul a lot of stuff.

All that said, trucks are fun. It's nice to be able to just toss a backpack or a 50lb back of gravel in the back and not worry about it.
posted by bondcliff at 6:50 AM on February 5, 2019 [2 favorites]

Since you're planning on buying a trailer anyway, depending on how old the Forester is right now, and whether you're planning on replacing it regardless, I'm not sure why you shouldn't just buy a trailer and hitch for the Subaru right now and start using it. If you buy a trailer with a suitable sized bed (i.e. big enough for a 8' x 4' board) you get the benefits of bed capacity with the modularity of keeping driving your 4x4 SUV with it's attendant safety and comfort benefits, all for the price of the trailer vs changing vehicles.

Or am I missing something?
posted by Nice Guy Mike at 7:03 AM on February 5, 2019 [5 favorites]

If you're used to driving a Forester, the Honda Ridgeline is pretty car-like to drive, and gets decent fuel-mileage for something with a bed in back. I believe Foresters are rated to tow up to 1500 lbs, so you can hitch up a small utility trailer no problem.

If the fuel economy aspect is making you choke, the big 3 truck mfgs are all now (or very soon) offering small diesel engine options. I have 2 coworkers that drive Rams with the V6 "Ecodiesel" and they report getting 30mpg on the highway and ~25-27 overall, which is pretty good for a 1/2 ton. Chevy sells a 4 cyl diesel in the Colorado mid-size, and Ford is coming out with a 6 cyl diesel F150 pretty soon. The caveat is that you can't get these engines with base level trim, and by the time you get to the right trim level + diesel engine you're looking at 40-50k for a goddamn pickup. So that probably doesn't help much, but idk maybe it does.

To echo previous posters, the most useful vehicle I ever owned was a hand-me-down Plymouth Voyager minivan. When you pulled the seats out the back it was positively cavernous, and with the seats in it could haul around 7 humans in some degree of comfort.
posted by dudemanlives at 7:25 AM on February 5, 2019 [2 favorites]

Caveat: a 2001 Ford Ranger was my first vehicle, and gosh darn do I miss it.

That said:
- You want at least a 6-foot bed. I had that, and it was fine - if something was slightly too long, it generally wasn't too long for the bed + tailgate, and then I could tie it down.
- You want tie downs - ratchet straps, rope, bungee cords.
- I had a soft cover that velcroed to the sides and snapped into place at the tailgate, and that was nice for not having people throw trash in the bed.
- My truck was very difficult to drive in wind and snow. Adding weight to the back helped, but not a ton. I especially noticed when passing tractor trailers on the highway - the wind hit me hard.
- I generally got around 24 mpg.
- I would not drive a small person in the truck with me. I think I drove my then-8 year old niece once, and I turned off her air bag for that trip. I only had a 2 door, no back seats, no jump seats, etc.
- We sold the truck because it wasn't practical for Chicago - it was a small engine stick shift, so very difficult to get up to speed on the on-ramps downtown. It was also pretty long and thus harder to parallel park in tiny Chicago spots.
- My uncle nearly died in a small pickup crash. The only thing that saved him was not having his seat belt on, and he ended up in the passenger side footwell. So yes, check crash ratings.
- My parents own a 1999 Dodge Dakota for things like dump visits. It has had a lot of maintenance issues. They bought it because they were tired of putting dirt, trash cans, recycling, etc, in their minivan with seats removed.
- If I were in the market for two cars, I'd buy another Civic (we have a 2003) and a new Ranger. Because I'm only in the market for one car, I'm looking at a CRV. If I had oodles of money, I'd buy a 4Runner.

So those are my idle thoughts.
posted by Ms Vegetable at 7:38 AM on February 5, 2019

In my opinion, the actual dream would be to have a 4WD Tacoma as a utilility vehicle and winter beater, and also an MX-5 as a more efficient and fun personal transport. Whether that makes any sense for your life is for you to judge, but it may make sense to get a very cheap and basic two-seat pickup for hauling large items, and keep a more normal car for daily use.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 7:45 AM on February 5, 2019

We had a Crew Cab Nissan Frontier which is their lighter-weight truck and the baby seat did fit (it fit best in the center position of the back seat) (Nissan's Snug Kids lets you search manuals and *know* if and how a car seat will fit). It was nice because it also included a bed extender which is like a small pipe fence thing that sits on your tailgate when the tailgate is down, so you can fit more/bigger stuff in the back. The gas mileage wasn't terrible (19mpg), the backseat is big enough for people and stuff, it came with 4x4 wheel drive and drove great in the snow and ice of Minnesota. It was strong enough to pull a boat. My spouse totalled it after almost 10 years and walked away with only scratches on his arms from the air bag. When we were shopping for his next vehicle, we tried out the Ridgeline and it had the same body dimension feel.

Nthing the above recommendation to add a cloth cover for the back.
posted by jillithd at 8:01 AM on February 5, 2019

You live in the land of ice and snow and it's gonna take some adjustment to start driving a pickup. Most of them have real wheel drive ( I think the Honda Ridgeline is the lone exception) so they handle very differently. You might end up having to keep a winter-long load in the bed to keep it from skidding. I'm a big fan of minivans myself, especially those with easily removable seats and roof racks. Add a trailer to that and you can do just about anything. I've used mine to haul trash to the dump (tons of smelly antique plaster and rotten wood), to haul lumber, and to camp in.
posted by mareli at 8:27 AM on February 5, 2019 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks for the great insights! My enthusiasm for a pickup is vacillating—maybe! Lots more thinking to do! I definitely did not know about how pickups handle.

To the commenter who suggested settling for a trailer—I don’t have room to store a trailer big enough to haul 4x8 sheets, but I could squeeze in a little trailer big doings for a lawn mower. Or get a ramp and carry the mower in the bed.

Bondcliff, what do you do to carry sheets on your roof? I’ve seen a few options, but the roof on a Subaru isn’t rated for a lot of weight.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 8:29 AM on February 5, 2019

The "just buy a trailer" poster was me; I have zero experience with trailers and towing (or pickups, for that matter), but I would point out that you can buy 8ftx4ft capable folding trailers that compact down to a much smaller space.

I'm not trying to badger you about this, it's just my engineer brain looking for "efficient" solutions.
posted by Nice Guy Mike at 8:35 AM on February 5, 2019 [2 favorites]

Bondcliff, what do you do to carry sheets on your roof? I’ve seen a few options, but the roof on a Subaru isn’t rated for a lot of weight.

I have a set of Yakima racks that fit on the Subaru rails. I think I've carried up to 3 or 4 sheets of plywood on it. I just put them up there, tie them tight, and go slow and stay off the highway. I'm not even sure how much it weighs or what the weight limit is on my car. I wouldn't put too much more up there.

Usually if I need plywood I just buy the 2x4 project panels. Costs a bit more but they're way easier to transport.

I've also managed to get a bunch of 8 foot long 2x4s inside the Forester, with the front passenger seat all the way down.
posted by bondcliff at 8:38 AM on February 5, 2019 [1 favorite]

I got a 4-door Honda Ridgeline for the exact same reasons and LOVE it. The short bed hasn't been a problem - nearly everything just goes in at an angle, or if needed we flip down the tailgate and tie it down. I used to haul things in a Prius but it's much less stressful putting something like mulch or muddy equipment "outside" in a bed.
posted by synchronia at 8:55 AM on February 5, 2019 [1 favorite]

I was checking out the Honda Ridgeline last time I got my car oil changed at the dealership, and OMG the interior is SO NICE. Like, you wouldn't expect a truck to have such a nice cabin. I don't know if that's important to you but it certainly would be to me; additionally, everything I've read about the Ridgeline indicates people freakin' love them. They are a little scoffed at by traditionalists as being too car-like, but those who own and live with them swear up and down they are fantastic trucks you can daily drive. mathowie got one and you could ask him what it's like to live with.

If I were buying a truck, that's the one I'd go with, ymmv. However, the safety aspects (mentioned upthread) would be something I'd want to research prior to my purchase.

Additionally, trucks hold their resale value very well, which may factor into your purchasing decision. Good luck, let us know what you end up with!
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 9:36 AM on February 5, 2019

Bear in mind that used trucks, especially small 4x4s, are obscenely expensive-even used. I think it’s due to Trump tarrifs on imports of new trucks, but i was seeming tacomas with 300-400 k miles still in the $10k range. Don’t bother with a 2wd pickup.
Source: just bought $4k pickup , tried to find a small one but ended up with a F150. Not my daily driver though. Consider a beater pickup in addition to the vehicles you’ve already got?
posted by genmonster at 9:37 AM on February 5, 2019 [1 favorite]

I own a Tacoma. My previous truck was a Tacoma, the one before that was a Tacoma.

I do DIY stuff. I used to work on radio tower sites in the mountains of Colorado where I would have to haul gear and stuff up bad roads and no roads to towers in the middle of nowhere.

The 6foot bed is not a constraint. Drywall and plywood fit just fine. If you are concerned about the material, put a couple of 8' 2x4s for them to ride on.

The Tacoma is hands down the best mid size truck available. They hold their value like gold and ammo because they are dependable as hell.

Every vehicle is a bag of compromises - you need to decide which compromises you are willing to live with. I can't fit a soccer team in my truck, and the mileage is not that great. It rides like a pickup when its empty. In exchange, it goes everywhere I point it, in all weather, and 1st gear in low range can pull stumps. The aftermarket support is amazing - it can become a project truck and adventure vehicle without much more investment.

You get a Prius if you want fuel economy, and a Supra if you want to go fast in circles. You get a Tacoma because you haul shit across terrain.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 10:02 AM on February 5, 2019 [5 favorites]

The tariffs on the nice little trucks you see all over the rest of the world are due to the chicken tax, first enacted in 1964.

I have found that the foldable, 4x8 utility trailer that you can buy from places like Harbor Freight is incredibly useful, and has scratched my truck itch at a fraction of the price of an actual truck.
posted by rockindata at 10:06 AM on February 5, 2019

I have a compact truck. Not great mileage and absolutely wretched in snow unless I use studded snow tires. Not nearly as much fun to drive as I had hoped. Useful for hauling stuff. I used to have a minivan; they usually have a roof rack. It was able to haul stuff, was better to drive, better mileage, safety, comfort, versatility. Your Forester can probably tow @ 1,500 lbs., though I would stop well short of that for any distance. But a garden trailer with a riding mower? Sure.
posted by theora55 at 10:15 AM on February 5, 2019

Since you're planning on buying a trailer anyway, depending on how old the Forester is right now, and whether you're planning on replacing it regardless, I'm not sure why you shouldn't just buy a trailer and hitch for the Subaru right now

On some of the Subarus, manuals I think, the rated towing capacity is zero. And it's super low on some other models. So check that out before decided on a trailer.
posted by fshgrl at 11:12 AM on February 5, 2019

Yeah, what Nice Guy Mike says. I borrowed my dad's folding trailer all the time when I was driving a Hyundai Elantra. They are the best of all worlds.
posted by metasarah at 11:15 AM on February 5, 2019

I have a Tacoma for similar reasons (it's my primary car, but I don't commute regularly). It has a 5' or 5'6" bed, but I've carried *14ft* pieces of wood in it, with an extender that goes into the trailer hook bit. It wasn't even that terrifying with enough strapping and flagging. It doesn't handle like a car, but it's still pretty friendly on the highway. Driving a RWD truck made me a better driver if anything, and in the winter I pretty much just drive around in 4WD -- if it's crappy enough to need 4WD, it's crappy enough to drive below 60mph.

I'm really happy with the versatility of something that I can do 14hrs on the highway in, and the next day attach a snow plow, and the day after haul plywood.

Never towed anything, but the hitch has been useful to pull stuck cars out (or get pulled out), drag logs, fell trees, etc.
posted by so fucking future at 12:46 PM on February 5, 2019

My 2003 Tacoma which I use to haul hay, sheep, and plow in Vermont still gets 20mpg -- ok, well, when i don't have the plow on for long periods of time, it does.

I am already saving for my next Tacoma, I love it so much.
posted by terrapin at 1:09 PM on February 5, 2019 [1 favorite]

You could also consider an 80 series Land Cruiser, which has full time 4wd and will fit sheet goods in the back with the tailgate down and seats folded/out. Definitely won’t hit your mileage target though.
posted by a halcyon day at 1:09 PM on February 5, 2019

I was going to suggest a trailer with your current vehicle, too. A really great trailer and hitch will cost way less than a truck, unless your car is needing replacement anyway.
posted by Gilgamesh's Chauffeur at 2:56 PM on February 5, 2019

I think that coming from the Forester, you may be unhappy with the less sophisticated (if better for heavy off-roading) four wheel drive system many pickups have. The Subaru AWD system puts the power down without having to mess with mode settings and no problems with torque bind (unless the car has a mechanical issue.) Regular 4wd systems on trucks require manually switching from 2wd to 4wd and rely on the tires slipping/breaking traction in 4wd mode to prevent torque bind in tighter corners. It's irritating when you're driving in mixed traction conditions- you don't want to just leave it in 4wd as you get all this chattering/binding in tighter non slippery corners, but if you leave it in 2wd you're going to slide when you hit slippery road. I think the Honda Ridgeline has a more Subaru like AWD system but the late model Tacoma I drove definitely doesn't.
posted by Larry David Syndrome at 5:59 PM on February 5, 2019 [2 favorites]

If you are looking to carry things like 4x8 sheets of building materials, note that the distance between the wheelwells is less than 4' on many smaller trucks. Sure, they have places in the bed to put boards across to make a min. 48" wide place, but the end of your sheet will not be sitting on the tailgate like it would on a full size 6' bed PU. Plywood? Probably no problem. Gyp board? Might break on a bump.
I drive a recent full size 2wd pickup, it has the option to lock the rear differential from the cab, which has saved me from getting stuck in mud a few times. Snow & ice are a rarity in these parts.
But if I leave it on, it does exactly what Larry David Syndrome talks about.
posted by rudd135 at 6:22 PM on February 5, 2019 [1 favorite]

I live in a rural area, and our next vehicle will be a Subaru forester. My husband does plenty of renovation, and we have similar lawn work efforts.
I'd encourage you to put a towing package on the forester (works up to 3000lbs, for some models), and have any giant sheets of building materials delivered to your home. Alternatively, you can build an appropriate lightweight flatbed trailer out of an old boat trailer, or a regular utility trailer - your 8 foot sheets can stand vertically in it. Check your local buy/sells for a pre-fab job.
I also have access to a 3/4 ton truck, and there is no way that I would ever trade the Subaru's AWD system for that of a truck . I just wouldn't - I'm lucky enough to have regular 4wd on my regular car, but it is subpar in snow conditions.

Comparing the poor mileage and relatively lousy handling of the pickup trucks I've driven, I'd take the Subaru any day.
posted by NorthernAutumn at 1:35 PM on February 6, 2019

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