Whether You Live In the city or out in the country, you're going to need a truck someday. But with the current price of gas and diesel it's really hard to justify buying a new $30,000 to $40,000 pickup and filling it up with $100 per tank unless you need it every day for your job. So how do you deal with those weekend projects where you need some payload capacity to haul stuff like an axle home from the junkyard? And what about when you need a tow rig every month or so to haul your gnarly trail rig out to the dirt? Well, we've got a solution for you.
There are tons of great old trucks for sale, most with a hearty V-8, plenty of load capability, and more character than you can shake a stick at. We know what you're thinking: Why buy an old beater when a nice new truck has so many amenities? Because an old beater can be used and abused, as well as purchased, repaired, and driven way cheaper than a shiny new truck. In fact we'd wager you would spend the same or less in a year if you bought an old truck and drove it every day than if you bought one of those new hybrid cars once you figure in the sticker price. Plus you would be signing up for the oldest environmentally "Green" program ever-recycling.
By reusing a truck and keeping it running for years to come, you can easily thumb your nose at those hybrid lovers who don't realize just how wasteful they are being. Yes, the weekly fill-ups are painful, and it may not tow as fast as your buddy's new diesel, but at least you're not sending off a new-truck payment and new-truck insurance every month.
Next stop was the local auto parts store. We chose CarQuest, where we stocked up on every lube, filter, and coolant, as well as a few mystery oils and sprays we could try. We also picked up some tune-up parts for the truck like new plugs and drainage pans so we can bring back our used oils and drained fluids to be recycled. A bottle of car-wash soap and an air freshener or two don't hurt when reusing an old truck that's sat derelict for years.
The fluids of your recycled truck's engine bay should be replaced first, so we drained the oil, replaced the coolant, and topped old gas with some octane boost and fuel treatment. Plus we check the differential level and added a quart or two as needed. Along with fluids you should change the fuel, air, and oil filters.
Since this is your beater truck, you don't need to get too caught up in fancy filters and synthetic oils. Sure, they might help, but remember this is an old truck that has probably been happily cruising with regular lubes for years. One area you don't want to skimp on is the brakes. Take some time to check the brake fluid (and clutch fluid if it's hydraulic). If the master cylinder is dry and rusty then chances are the whole system could need some service. But if there is fluid there, then top it off and give it some pumps to see if you have a firm pedal.
The suspension of an old truck is definitely not going to appeal to everyone, but there are ways to make it better. Check the shocks for big dents, excessive rust, or leaking oil. Grease or oil the spring shackles, and if you have time replace all the bushings with new ones-poly bushings will give it a firmer ride, rubber a bit softer.
Of all the systems on an old truck, the electrical is usually the most cobbled together and the scariest for most folks to take on. First, be sure there is power. We brought a power pack along to boost the battery. Then check the lights to see if the battery is getting power to the accessories (replacing burnt bulbs should be a priority). Check all the plugs going to sensors and switches. Oftentimes these simply fall off. Another thing is to look for burnt or melted wires. If found, these definitely need to be replaced, but don't tear them out until you know where they go.
Other things to check on an old truck include: the radiator cap. Is the rubber seal dry and cracked? Time to replace it. Also check the brake pads, rotors, and drums. If the material is worn away or there are scars in the metal stopping surface, it's time to replace. Finally, give all the grease fittings in the steering and driveshafts some squirts for a quieter, smoother ride.
To get your new old ride running great might involve a simple spark-plug swap (look for wet plugs showing oil getting past old rings), or a complete carburetor rebuild you either do yourself with a kit or have done by a pro. Remember this is your beater truck, so don't worry if it takes a little while to get it moving. You're recycling and that's a great reason to spend some time in the garage.