Frankly, It’s a Truck

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Thank you for your patience last week! It’s been a difficult period, but I’m coping, and it’s starting to reach the stage where everything comes together.

Have you noticed that about travel planning, or other big projects? If time is nature’s way of ensuring that not everything happens all at once, it doesn’t work! The development process doesn’t happen smoothly, with one thing after another getting checked off. Instead, it feels like nothing is happening and nothing is happening and nothing is happening… and then everything comes together at once and the whole project snaps into place like a Lego construction. But it isn’t just happening in that moment, as much as it feels as if it is. It’s happening because of everything you did during the period when it feels as if nothing useful is getting done.

So here’s what has been happening the last two weeks:

C and I drove down last weekend together to Portland, and spent two days looking at every used truck lot we could find. One of them, a place called Dream City, was a little higher priced than he’d intended to spend, but the trucks were mostly better as well. Be that as it may, we almost walked out in the first ten minutes, because the first salesman who spoke to us irritated us no end by refusing to accept our stated price limit and trying over and over again to show us trucks which were more expensive than we wanted to see. Finally we told him flatly, “If you’re not going to respect our boundaries, I think it’s time for us to leave.”

He rapidly backed off, begging us to wait just one moment, and then he disappeared and sent somebody else over to see us. This was a big bushy-bearded guy named Cody. Cody introduced himself, apologized for the previous salesman’s misunderstanding, and then asked us what we were looking for. We explained, and at that point he asked us if we would be willing to at least look at trucks that were very slightly higher than our limit, with the understanding that the prices weren’t set in stone.

We thought about it. At least this guy was telling us the truth and leaving it in our hands. So we said we’d look at them… though I warned him that if we found something we liked, I intended to twist his willingness to negotiate the price until it squealed in pain. He laughed and said he considered himself warned, but I don’t think he did. His mistake. I’m a tough negotiator.

C really liked one of the trucks, and when he looked it up it got good reviews and the engine they used in that model got raves as one of the ten best made in that period. The truck was an early 21st century Ford F-150. It had an excellent back seat in the cab, that could carry adults with no trouble; and a tool box installed in the bed.

C standing next his new pickup truck, a large black truck with white trim.
C proudly beside Frank, in the hotel parking lot

We test drove it and C decided he liked it enough, along with a couple of others, to want to get it inspected. So we went to the nearest local mechanic who did inspection… and they laughed at us. It was Memorial Day weekend, the guy reminded us. Did we understand how many people there were out there who wanted mechanical work done that weekend? Well, evidently we didn’t, because we talked to every mechanic in the nearby area, and all of them said the same thing. The nearest time we could get was Tuesday.

C was becoming deeply concerned. With only a couple of weeks left before we intended to leave in the truck, he still didn’t have a truck, and he didn’t want to wait any longer. We stopped for lunch and he began to look through the reviews for this dealership, trying to determine whether they were honest enough with their information about what was and was not wrong with their vehicles to be worth taking the risk of buying without an inspection.

What he saw heartened us both. Most of the reviews were good, and the bad ones largely weren’t about issues we were concerned with. Cody was mentioned by name in a couple of good reviews. We were told to watch out for spray-in liners because one reviewer claimed they’d used it to hide rust, but the truck we were looking at had little in the way of places where rust could be hidden that we wouldn’t have seen it (though one of those few is the under-carriage, which is the most important). If it were around we’d probably have seen it. We didn’t, nor had the truck ever been in the states or countries which salt their roads, making serious bottom rust less likely.

By this time, C had talked himself mostly into buying this truck without an inspection, though I was still hesitant. I asked about warranties, which one of the other dealers we spoke to had mentioned were a possibility. C conveyed the question to Cody, with whom he was texting back and forth, and was told that they didn’t come with the truck but that he could sell us a third party warranty rolled into the truck loan.

That was enough to decide us to go back and talk more in person. C was pretty well decided by that point that he was buying. I still wasn’t sure it was a good idea, but it’s his truck. I get a voice but not a vote, and I’d already said what I thought. So I went along prepared to back up whatever C wanted to do.

And then we hit a snag which proved to be the key to the whole thing: C realized, while filling out papers for the loan application, that he had left his social security card back at our hotel room and couldn’t remember the number. We asked if there was any way to get this started without it and call it in when we went back to the room later. Cody told us there was not, but offered an alternative: would we like to take the truck for an extended test drive, to our hotel so C could collect his card and back?

I jumped at the chance, and so did C. It was a highway drive, so I was going to have to be behind the wheel, and I knew I would feel a lot better about this truck if I had put it through its paces for a good deal longer than a drive around the block. So we and Cody piled into the truck and set off.

Within six blocks, an odd hissing noise came from the back, worrying all of us. We stopped in a parking lot and looked at it, but couldn’t find anything. When we started up again, though, it was gone and there was nothing wrong that we could tell. I drove it to the hotel with no trouble, and we continued with no trouble until halfway back to the dealer’s when the noise started up again. This time, I was on the highway and couldn’t stop, so I drove nervously through it, until it began making the steering feel funny, and then I took the nearest exit (one earlier than the one we’d intended to use anyway) and paused to examine the thing again.

It sounded like it was part of a hydraulics system, and Cody hypothesized it might be related to the hydraulic shift between two-wheel drive and four-wheel drive. That would explain the slightly odd steering, but also mean it was safe to get it back to the dealer. So we hoped he was right and started back up. This time, C drove, since we were past the highway part anyhow.

We got safely back, and were immediately treated to the benefits of a dealer who has their own mechanic shop. If we’d gone to an outside place, we wouldn’t have even known what was wrong for almost another week, because of the Memorial Day rush. But Cody had the mechanic at Dream City paged even before we got back to the lot, and while we started the negotiations on an “assuming all is well or he can fix it” basis, he had the thing up in the air within minutes of our arrival.

I kept my promise to negotiate his price down so hard it squeaked. The asking price was about $21,000, and I think he was expecting to have to get it just under $20,000 to get our business. C handled all the other details except the money and I negotiated that, and we eventually worked him down to $17,500, with $8,000 down and a loan for the rest in which the fairly comprehensive warranty was included.

All of this, of course, was happening contingently on the weird noises being adequately dealt with. Shortly before we finished discussing terms, the mechanic came in to talk to us. He explained that it was indeed a problem in the hydraulic system that changed over the drive between 2WD and 4WD — a part called the solenoid was wearing out. He had located someplace nearby which had a new one he could buy, and he intended to go there right then and pick it up, so he could have it installed that very evening before we were done with the paperwork and ready to take the truck away.

I was pretty impressed with that. It was already 6:30 at night; he should have been off duty half an hour ago, but he was planning to stay another hour or so to make sure our truck was in good condition before we finished buying it. I stopped fretting so much about buying without an inspection (though I’ll still be happier when I’m told by the mechanic who’s going to look at it tomorrow that it’s really all right), and just asked C, “So what are you going to name it?”

“Frank,” he fired back without missing a beat. “Because frankly, it’s a truck.”

I laughed openly and the name stuck. Frank he was and is.

A very cute dog, pale brown and white, looking up. The perspective makes his head look larger than his body.
Chester, the fluffy little dog at Dream City Trucks who occupied most of my time while C was filling out papers.
Three pieces of fried fish on a bed of French fries, in a white clamshell take-out container.
Fish and chips from one of our favorite obscure little greasy spoon places. We blundered into it on the way to Portland the second week, after years of forgetting it existed because we weren’t going out much during the pandemic. Couldn’t resist stopping for lunch.

We finished the purchase and my fosterling now owns a pickup truck. We brought the truck back to our hotel, and the next day we took it over to my friend L’s place. L lived within minutes of our hotel — I had chosen it so that I could squeeze in a visit with her during the weekend, and she’d agreed to let us park Frank in her driveway for a week until my husband and I could get down there to drive it home. C isn’t yet safe enough at Interstate speeds to drive from Portland back to Seattle by himself, and if we’d brought the truck he would’ve had to drive one vehicle… either Frank or the car we’d taken down there.

Trees and a strip of green grass under a grey sky, seen through a windshield covered with raindrops.
Rain and hail, through the windshield, on a rest stop on the way back from Portland. I didn’t intend to drive through that.

This weekend, G and I went back down to Portland. We stayed in the same hotel, and spent all of Saturday afternoon visiting with L, which made us very happy — aside from my brief visit the previous week, neither one of us had seen her in person since before the pandemic. Even though we were all masked, it couldn’t dampen the mood.

Sunday morning, we set out back to Seattle. G drove our car, and I drove Frank, because I was the one who would need to get used to him before we take him on a long road trip. I started out pretty nervous — I’ve never driven a pickup at speed before, and it felt all wrong to be maneuvering something that big — but I got the hang of it pretty quickly, and before I was halfway home, it felt like any other vehicle I was used to. Frank drove well and gave me no serious trouble, although the check-engine light came on halfway through the trip and he used up more gas than he should have. Since G tells me that one of the most common reasons for a check-engine light causes the engine to run rich, but is both an easy fix and not a danger, I’m not too worried. Although we will definitely need to get it fixed… at current gas prices, we certainly can’t afford to have him using more than he needs!

But that should be taken care of — last night, we brought Frank to Rick’s, our favorite mechanic. This is the guy who told us that the Canadian truck we looked at a few weeks ago was rusted out underneath. Their competence and honesty won us over, and C and I had already agreed before he ever bought Frank that his new truck, when he got one, would go directly to Rick’s to be checked over for every conceivable problem that might need to be fixed before we head to Colorado.

I’ll let you know how the post-purchase inspection goes next week, because this column has already grown very long! There’s also news on the Italy trip that I hope to be able to bring you by then. So stay tuned! Finally, everything is happening.

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