"You Don't Have to" Series, Finance

You Don’t Have to: Buy a Big Pickup Truck

In my home province of Alberta, the pickup truck is a call-sign of the modern Midwest Canadian, the symbol of the manly-man (or woman) dressed in a daily selection of flannel and blue jeans, ready to drop everything to hitch up a moving trailer or tow out a car stuck in the snow on a moment’s notice.

I’m not here to put down trucks or their owners, they are indeed a useful tool used for hobbies, projects and jobs that require, well, moving stuff. And with gas being relatively cheap, moving around these XL vehicles isn’t an enormous incremental cost.

But many trucks are bought for reasons I would argue aren’t worth the price tag; whether it be a testosterone boost, a more comfy ride, sought acceptance in one’s peer group, or bought to keep up  in the auto safety arms race (i.e. as more people buy big vehicles, than the logical choice is to outfit oneself with a similarly beefy automobile).

So in this “You Don’t Have to” series, I want to nip a few myths in the bud, and give some food for thought on why maybe you don’t need that Ram 3500 Crew-cab 4×4 with the Cummins 6.7L Turbo Diesel.

1. Watch any truck commercial: the auto industry isn’t selling trucks, it’s selling manliness.

We driving-loving Canadians have heavily bonded our personality with the car we drive. The yogi in the Prius, the pubescent teen in their parents’ old Civic, the bearded biker on the Harley.

It’s the same for trucks. Watch any truck commercial today, it’s the same formula. A rough, deep voice played over a truck driving down a back-country road, or moving obscenely large items like pulling a plane on a tarmac, or moving a felled tree. It’s a promise that in exchange for $75,000 financed over 5 years at 0.9% APR, you’ll receive in return a healthy dose of manliness.

This is potentially a pervasive and deep-rooted societal issue: maybe us men are struggling with esteem to some degree. Could it be that less and less of us work physical jobs and are more commonly store managers and graphic designers, that trucks are purchased to fill this void?

So consider if you’re simply falling to this very expensive consumer trap.

2. Trucks are really great at killing people

We show that, controlling for own-vehicle weight, being hit by a vehicle that is 1,000 pounds heavier results in a 47% increase in the baseline fatality probability.”

A study from the University of California, San Diego found every life saved in a large vehicle came at the expense of 4.3 dead pedestrians, motorcyclists and car drivers.”

“In essence, of all the consumer choices Canadians will make in their life, buying an unnecessarily large car is the one most likely to maim or kill a stranger.”

On top of simply being larger, heavier vehicles, pickup trucks are also typically designed with a flat front grill, large engine, and bumpers that sit higher than smaller vehicles’ bumpers and side grills. This bad design stew is then mixed with faster driving speeds: the perceived speed in a pickup feels slower as the driver sits much higher than in a car, so they tend to drive faster.

So these things are good at killing people. But it’s human nature to not so much worry about those strangers, so much as ensuring that you and your family are safe. However, is your family truly better off in a pickup truck?

3. You’re not safer in a truck than other vehicle types

Who remembers this band? Picture from here.

Michael Harley from Autoweb says “passenger safety isn’t the primary engineering goal for most pickups—what they can do (how much the can carry and tow, how durable they are) are instead the main concerns.”

Because pickup trucks have long existed as equipment to do work rather than passenger travel, they have until recently been exempt from federal safety standards, so they’ve been playing safety catch-up with SUV’s and cars.

Trucks therefore have yet to achieve full safety ratings from NHTSA and only 1 truck got top safety ratings from IIHS in 2015. (IIHS tested the 7 most popular trucks of that year, only 3 of 7 got ‘acceptable’ and above, the rest achieved ‘marginal’ or ‘poor.’)

A Cars.com article suggests that if you “frequently travel with small children, a pickup truck might not be the wisest choice. For one thing, a child-safety seat can’t be properly installed in a regular-cab pickup or in any truck that lacks a full backseat. Tall pickup trucks are more prone to rollover crashes, and they are generally less stable on the road.”

And a Driving.ca article says the forward-based weight distribution and driving dynamics of a pickup truck, “result in more frequents spins and rollovers — single-vehicle accidents account for far more fatalities in trucks than in cars: 62 per cent versus 45 per cent.”

Chart from this University of Michigan paper. It shows a clearly higher risk to pickup drivers and risks to those they share the road with. They do note that this takes in to account driver behavior, and pickup truck drivers are typically younger male drivers who statistically drive faster and don’t do up their seat belt as often.

3. That flat grill.

That is a cyclist and pedestrian-crushing machine if I’ve ever seen one.

Not only is this design terrible for gas mileage, it’s bad for pedestrians, children and cyclists. The problem is, truck bodies continue to be designed this way as it gives the truck a beefy, tough looking front end. A rounded hood has been tried, but was not received with wide acclaim:

I dunno ’bout you, but I like it.

Naomi Buck from the Globe and Mail summarized results from a University of Michigan study:

“A pedestrian hit by a passenger car will, with luck (a relative term), be struck in the legs and sent over the hood. An LTV (Light Truck or Van) will probably strike a pedestrian with its blunt hood – for adults, at the level of the torso, home of the vital organs; for kids, the level of the head. The LTV will then knock 65 per cent of adults and 93 per cent of children to the ground, where they have a good chance of being run over.”

Chart from here

8. What if I need it for my job?

There is a handful of professions that require regular use of a pickup truck. However, many highly industrialized countries outside of North America get by just fine without a large 4×4.

Even when I’ve worked on farms, the quintessential truck backdrop, any time something large had to be moved we drove (dramatic pause) a tractor. Or a Gator for smaller jobs. If there was a truck, it was pretty much just used to drive the short stretch of rutted gravel road on the way to town.

Here’s the typical truck I would see working on farms in Europe, if there was a truck at all.


9. But what if I need it for adventure hobbies?

If you base your logic on the commercials, a truck is the true instrument of freedom, that is, provided they’ve built a half decent road to it.

But I consider myself one of the more adventurous folk out there, and my Mazda 3 hatchback has gotten both myself and my swaths of gear, bikes, skis, and an adventure dog everywhere I needed to go.

10. ….But what if I just freaking want one, okay!?

Mr. Money Mustache has taught me that we should compare the amount of joy received from an item with the amount it costs to obtain that joy. For instance, a Porsche is incredibly fun, but is it $120,000 worth of fun?

I can ask the same about truck ownership. If it’s a hobby, which it most certainly can be, consider whether it’s ‘$100 tank of gas’ kinda fun. If the answer is yes, then great. If not, reconsider what that extra padding in your bank account could fund instead.

The other way to look at it is, for the cost savings of using a car for those 95% of tasks, you can rent a pretty sexy truck every so often when needed and still be way ahead financially.

Those are my thoughts on the subject but in the end, if you feel justified to need a truck, then who am I to judge?  I have lots of hobbies that require the use of a vehicle, and if your joy in life comes from tinkering with your truck or bombing around logging roads, then I can’t argue that.

Just consider the pros and cons, and decide accordingly. There are lots of other ways to look like a tough guy (or gal).

And now to finish with some memes I made:

Truck commercial vs. reality

Trucks: This probably isn't allowed

Trucks: super tough to parallel park

1 comment


    Nice one! We’ve obviously talked about trucks a lot, but the safety features is an aspect I never thought about.

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