Just like researching and choosing the trailer was a puzzle, the truck was as well. We had a set budget for something we could buy outright - not wanting to take out another loan. We knew we needed a crew cab to seat us all comfortably while on this adventure. We initially sat in crew cabs from the big three - and could immediately rule out Dodges as their rear seat just wasn’t big enough. We liked the styling of the Ford but found that Ford seats just weren’t comfortable. I didn’t immediately rule out Fords based on the seats knowing if we found a great deal on a truck I could purchase an aftermarket seat - but that looked to add $1K - $1500 to the deal. So we settled on the Chevy/GMC as our ideal target - a crew cab version with a short bed and 4WD would be a great puller, keep the overall length down, be more maneuverable in city environments, and allow for some mild off-roading.
From there the question of drivetrain comes up. I think the longest running and hardest-argued debate among truck guys (once you get past Ford vs. Chevy) is one of fuel type - “gas or diesel”? Diesels are great pullers, lots of torque, and get better fuel mileage. But diesel trucks fetch a higher sale price, diesel fuel costs more, and the trucks are more expensive to maintain and repair. Personally I have little experience with diesels - having only owned one for a short while years ago.
The current truck market is tough as well - especially in used GMs. We heard the same story from multiple salespeople - the diesel Chevys are harder to find and when you do they are fetching prices above NADA.
I looked on eBay, Craigslist, and Autotrader.com considering buying a truck from out of state. I’ve done that with past cars - but for some reason with trucks felt less comfortable with this approach especially when looking at diesels. There’s more to look at with trucks and considering we’d be practically living out of this vehicle for a year I really wanted to see the truck in person and be able to test drive it.
As it turned out this was a good choice. We visited a few trucks within driving distance that looked great in their online ads but in person were disappointments with smoking engines, rust showing, broken mirrors and door pulls, unmentioned modifications (like lift kits), and just in general feeling like they had been driven hard. After a few of these disappointments I started to question what we needed vs. what we wanted. What we needed was a truck that we could afford, that would seat us comfortably and that would pull the trailer down the road. Every thing else was a want - 4WD, diesel, etc.
Ultimately what it came down to was this - we simply didn’t have the budget for what we wanted, so re-factored our search criteria for trucks that fit what we need. That search turned up this truck - a 2002 Chevy crew cab in 2WD, with GM’s large 8.1L (496 c.i.) gas engine with 84K miles, priced enough in our budget to also allow some extra margin for things like new tires, etc.
The truck was at a dealership just over an hour away - but based on our previous failures I called first. I wanted to know if there was anything about the truck that wasn’t showing in the photos - broken mirrors, interior rattles, body or frame rust, etc. The salesman assured me that this one wouldn’t be a disappointment - it was a Florida truck so didn’t have the undercarriage rust an 8 year old Michigan truck would have, and the rest of the truck was clean and well-kept as well.
So we made the drive, took a test drive, and just had that immediate sense of “rightness”. The truck really feels tight, drives well, and doesn’t appear to have been used for heavy towing - at least not with a gooseneck or 5th Wheel type trailer. We then made an appointment at a local trusted mechanic and had the it inspected. It turned out to need a couple of repairs typical to this platform but estimated out to roughly $750 worth of work. The seller agreed to make the repairs for the same selling price, so we made the purchase and picked up the truck the following week.
So no - it’s not the ideal. Our fuel mileage will be roughly the same as a motorhome, and being 2WD we might be prone to getting stuck in the right conditions (wet grassy campsites etc). The truck will also depreciate faster than a diesel would. But I feel good that we stayed in budget and we’ll just try to be smarter about where we decide to park the trailer. I figure the vast majority of RV’s are 2WD so we won’t be any kind of special case. Overall - based on a 1 year trip - I can’t believe the additional fuel costs would justify the diesel from a purely financial perspective, and this truck should have plenty of power even in hilly areas.
If at some point we decide to sell the stick house and go on the road full time then we’d be reevaluating our entire setup anyway.