Truck Lovers Unite!
One of the first items on our pre-full-timing to-do list was purchasing a tow vehicle. I honestly thought this would be pretty easy. I’ve always enjoyed negotiating and finding a good deal on a vehicle, so what would make this any different? To make a long story short, the process looked a lot like this: research, search, repeat until you feel good about your decision (months and months for us), then finally purchase and fall in love with your truck <3.
For those of you searching for a tow vehicle, maybe you can learn something from the process we went through to end up with our Chevy Duramax. Everyone’s needs (and opinions) are different. Maybe you think our truck is overkill, maybe you think it’s perfect for what we’re doing, or maybe you even think it’s too small (one Uber driver felt the need to tell me our truck is way too small to tow an Airstream - when our Airstream is actually about half the towing capacity of our truck). It really doesn’t matter, as long as you do your own research and make the decision that is right for your towing needs and finances. There are a lot of good options out there!
If I have learned one thing during our search, it's that people are quite opinionated about trucks. No two people seem to share the same opinion on the right brand, type of engine, cab size, and bed size for the job. Just do a Youtube search for the best tow vehicle and you’ll quickly see - it’s a whole different world out there with truck lovers! Nick and I tried to stay objective so we could find the best option without relying on anecdotal opinions. Still, after months of searching and finally purchasing what we consider to be the perfect truck, it seems we’ve officially become “truck people” complete with our own strong opinions.
“This baby can tow anything” - private party truck sellers
Nick and I first thought we wanted a used Toyota Tundra or Nissan Titan with a gas engine and without many miles (less than 80k). So we started looking around and quickly realized buying trucks from people who LOVE their trucks is tough. I’ve always bought used vehicles and it’s not new to me that people love their vehicles. They always think they are in “excellent” condition unless there is something glaringly obvious wrong with it. This rings especially true with truck owners.
For example, when I would ask for the VIN number to look up the specific towing capacity based on that particular truck’s setup, most people told me “my truck can pull whatever you need it to.” To which I would respond with “Okay thank you, but the actual rating is really important because we’re going to be towing full time for a year through a lot of different terrain.” They didn’t seem to get it. There was always the explanation of “my truck can do anything”, “it’s invincible”, “it’s never let me down”, etc. Not helpful!!
Also, having a hitch does not mean the truck has a “tow package.” We ended up frustratingly empty-handed since we wanted a truck that could tow at least 2000lbs over our trailer’s GVWR just to be on the safe side and to avoid overheating. All the ones we found were very close according to standard towing capacities we found online and without the VIN number we couldn’t see the specific towing capacity of the truck to see if it was higher or lower than the standard.
This got to be frustrating, and after about a month of searching and coming up empty-handed we decided to go back to the drawing board.
There’s a lot to learn about trucks….
In retrospect, it was a good thing these didn’t go anywhere, because after doing some more research online and talking to others who tow, we started realizing we may want a diesel. This wasn’t a great revelation for us, because diesel trucks are significantly more expensive than gas-powered ones. They also seem to hold their value really well over time, meaning it’s tough to get a good deal on even a high mileage diesel.
When I started looking into the pros and cons of both types of trucks, I realized just how much I didn’t know about them. There are many more factors to consider when shopping for a vehicle you are going to use to tow a trailer full time than one you mainly use to drive around town.
We decided the extra expense would be worth the peace of mind we would have with a diesel. When towing in the mountains, we would have less worries of whether our truck was overheating, and would never have to doubt if it had the power to tow our trailer comfortably for long periods of time. Also, diesels tend to get much better gas mileage than gas trucks when towing, so that was a plus. So just like that, we started looking for used diesels instead of Titans and Tundras.
Annnnnd this search came with even more challenges than the used gas trucks!!! Diesels typically last a long time, so people don’t seem to sell them until they are pretty high mileage. For us, we didn’t want a high mileage truck for towing because we weren’t sure what it had been used for, how it had been cared for, and what kind of strain/wear and tear on the engine and frame had occurred. Again, peace of mind was key for us in this decision!
But we said we’d never buy a brand new vehicle….
Despite our attempts to be super conservative with the truck we bought, after this set of events we ended up test driving brand new trucks. We both had always said brand new vehicles aren't worth buying because they depreciate as soon as they leave the lot. We also had never financed anything outside of a house and a small amount of student loans in our lives. Our plans had been to be debt free and buy the truck and trailer in cash. So what changed our minds? Once we looked into financing options, we realized you can get such a great rate on a vehicle loan that you can take the cash you would have spent on the vehicle and invest it at a higher rate of return than the interest rate on the loan. So that got us thinking, we could buy the Airstream in cash, (because interest rates on RVs are much higher than vehicles) but finance the truck and have that money we would have spent to invest. We also realized the value the warranty that comes with a new vehicle had for us (have I mentioned peace of mind? haha). Finally, buying new came down to the fact that we could get exactly what we needed without all the bells and whistles for a similar price to some of the used diesel trucks we were seeing that had a lot of extras we didn't need or sometimes even want. So we decided new was actually a decent option. Although we were really leaning towards a diesel at this point, we still couldn’t shake the thought of getting a Toyota Tundra (which has no diesel option) because of their awesome reliability ratings. So we ended up trying to decide between a new Tundra with a gas engine, a Nissan Titan XD Cummins (diesel), and a Chevy Silverado 2500 Duramax (diesel).
We nixed the Tundra purely because of towing capacity and payload ratings. We loved everything about the truck except there isn’t a diesel option yet. It just wasn’t “heavy duty” enough for our full time RV needs.
This year Nissan released their very first diesel Titan. And if you haven’t looked into it yet, it’s an interesting one. It’s smaller than the other diesel trucks out there as far as engine size, so it doesn’t have quite the towing capacities of the others, but the overall quality of the truck was excellent. One thing I have to let you know factored into this being an option was my husband’s 1990 Nissan truck he had when I met him. He kept thinking about how “it just never quit” and he kinda wanted to get the Nissan as an ode to that trusty (and super rusty) truck.
One thing we didn’t like about the Titan XD was how hard it was to park! The front end overhangs quite a lot in front of the wheels so your perception of where it is when parking is way off (although I can imagine once you drive it full time, you would adjust). Also, it didn’t have an exhaust brake which really knocked it below the Chevy for mountain driving. It also didn’t have the plug-in heat coil for helping to start your diesel engine in really cold temperatures. Finally, there’s not an option for a long bed Titan XD, which we wanted for storage space (and for Nick, because why not have a bigger truck? lol). All that combined with it being the first year of diesel production for them, and we passed on the Titan.
We did briefly look at Ford F-250 Powerstrokes, but for a similar price to the Chevy we saw slightly worse (although pretty similar) reliability ratings, no power windows, no power locks, and no Android Auto/Apple Car Play. Although very good-looking trucks with impressive towing capacities, we also weren’t fans of the new step ladder that pulls out of the tailgate - which seems like something just waiting to break. So we nixed these after just one test drive.
More truck, less glamour
One tip to make the purchase of a new diesel truck more financially savvy, is think carefully about what bells and whistles you really need. The shiny features are admittedly hard to turn down, but we were trying to be reasonably conservative with the finances of our adventure. So we decided to get the “Work Truck” trim level which in our opinion is almost better than the others for a heck of a lot less. Newer trucks are becoming more luxury vehicles, which is great if that’s what you’re looking for. But if you’re purchasing for comfort, power, reliability, and towing ability, you can probably go without many of the available features. Keep your mind on what you need for your lifestyle and be prepared to make compromises! Unless you want it and can afford it of course, then by all means - go for it! :)
Another thing we learned is do not buy a truck from the first place you walk into. The salesperson will try to create urgency, they will tell you the price will go up tomorrow, they will bring in the manager to try to close you. Don’t fall for it! Try not to make an emotional decision. Go home, think about it, and compare prices at different dealerships. Tell the salesperson that is what you are doing! It will pressure them to bring forward their best price possible to keep you from going somewhere else.
My other tip would be to be open-minded. Look at dealers in different states and inquire about the cost to have a vehicle shipped to you. Don’t settle for what you have within a 20 mile radius of where you live. You may be able to find the exact truck you want at an amazing price if you are willing to wait, look around, and delay the gratification of getting a shiny new truck.
We reminded ourselves throughout the whole process that vehicles are depreciating assets, so for every dollar we didn’t spend on the truck, we would have to potentially invest or use towards other needs for our trip. That helped us stay disciplined!
Our Chevy Duramax (2500 Crew Cab Long Bed to be exact - aka Big Ben)
After lots of rumination, the Chevy it was! I’ll have to update this once we tow the Airstream with it, because we’re headed to purchase that in New Mexico as I write this. So I can’t say much about that yet. But the crew cab long bed version we got has plenty of space for storage as well as room for the pups to sleep in the back seat! The back seats fold up completely, giving Zed and Baiden a comfy, flat area for their beds. We don’t even know they’re back there on long rides! They’re happy as larks :)
So what did we get in the Work Truck trim level?
- Carpet-free floors! This is a plus for us since we have two large dogs and because of all the outdoor activities we plan to do
- Power doors and locks (surprisingly this is not standard in all base level 2017 vehicles...)
- Screen for Android Auto/Apple CarPlay (so you can project Waze, Google Maps, Spotify, Podcasts)
- Backup camera (this is so essential for parking the long bed truck and also super helpful when guiding the hitch ball to the trailer tongue)
- Easy-to-clean vinyl seats (they look like grey leather!)
- Fold up back seats creating lots of space for the dogs!
Aside from that, we have 910 ft lbs of torque, 4 wheel drive, and a great warranty. Not too shabby!
The first thing we did was to get a Line-X coating on the truck bed and rear wheel wells to prevent dings which could cause rust to start. We also plan to outfit it with a truck cap for rainy days, more storage, and room for the dogs. We will also invest in some running boards, a grille guard, and a winch. Let me know if you have suggestions for these! Since we’ll be driving so much and this is our only vehicle, the grille guard will protect the truck in case of an accident (especially if we were to hit a deer :/), and the winch would be great to have to help others in precarious situations or if heaven forbid the airstream got stuck somewhere and we couldn’t pull it out.
This was our longer-than-expected process of buying our truck. We are very happy with our purchase, and we think for us it was the right decision for us. So far, we haven’t had any regrets! We’ll keep you updated as we journey around the country and share the good, the bad, and the ugly :) Thanks for reading!