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Thinking about buying a new(used) truck

My husband and I currently own a '98 Dodge Dakota 2-wheel drive truck with 110k miles on it. We have had it for 7 years and it has been a good truck. However, for the last year, we have been thinking about trading it for a 4-wheel drive truck. The Dodge just doesn’t serve our purposes for a truck anymore. It was great while my husband worked out of it, but now that he has a job that is close to home and requires no use of his truck, we want a truck that we can use for camping and wheeling a little, and towing, and road trips when we can afford the gas.

So yesterday we found a '96 Chevy Silverado Z-71 in a private lot for about $7k. It’s very clean with 135k on it. It will be a bit of a gas hog (okay, a lot of a gas hog), but it will only be driven about 8k per year because it will be primarily a toy and something for my hubby to drive to work everyday, which is only a mile or so away. We like the Chevy because it’s a CHEVY. Parts a dime a dozen and easy to work on.

So I guess what I want to know is, does this seem like a wise choice and a good deal? Does anybody have anything to say about these trucks?

As always, thanks so much to anyone who provides feedback.


I’m a little in the dark as to why you need 4 wheel drive. For all the things you mention you want to do, a full size 2 wheel drive truck with perhaps more horsepower will do.

The maintenance and operating cost of a 4 wheel drive vehicle are considerably more than a 2 wheel drive. Parts are not "a dime a dozen " for those models, although threy are readily available.

I have friends who do just what you want to be doing, and they have heavy duty 1/2 ton full size trucks with transmission coolers.

I would ask for comments of other posters on this; I would also suggest you talk to shops that install hitches and coolers as to what you really need for trailer towing.

We want something that gives us the option to go off road when faced with it. We’re not (currently) 4 byin’ enthusiasts, but we could be. We just want the possibility to be there.

Personally I think it is a little nuts to get rid of a “good truck” that you know the history of to buy an older, higher mileage truck with more things that can go wrong, that you don’t know the history of. While I appreciate the wanting a Chevy over a Dodge (I prefer GM to Cryco as well) I don’t think there is anything so inherently flawed with the Dakota that it cannot be a serviceable vehicle for many years/miles, with the proper care of course.

I used to only have 4x4 trucks because I thought I NEEDED them for camping. Now I have a small 2 wheel drive ranger and have only had one instance where I really could have used 4 wheel drive.

Bang for the buck I would say keep your current truck and find a couple of used small atv’s and a trailer for wheeling around in, and keep the truck at camp. If need be at a tranny cooler to your truck. Even the 4 cyl should be able to tow a couple (a 250cc atv will usually weigh in at under 500 lbs).

Things we don’t like about the Dodge:

It has a super long bed which makes it a pain in squirrely conditions.

It’s a manual tranny which is just boring in a slow truck, pointless IMO. An auto is much more comfortable to drive in a truck. (Our other car has a manual too, but it’s a MazdaSpeed and it needs one for the zoom-zoom factor)

Well, unless the Chevy is a regular cab/short bed it is going to have a longer wheel base than the Dodge.

All I can say about man. vs. auto is that less people will ask to borrow the truck if it is a stick shift. The rest is just preference. I like my 4 banger with a 5 speed.

Are you crazy? the only thing easy about a Chevy is it breaking down. GM has been depending on it’s name for the past 30 years - the last time they made something dependable. Chevy has to be easy to work on, cause you will be working on it all the time. Every time I look at my 2000 P/U I regret buying it. I have had continuous problems with the transmission
I am currently looking at an F-350 which will pull a 28 ft Kodiak trailer. I like what Consumer Report has said about Ford Trucks. There must be a legitimate rason why Ford trucks have been the #1 seller for 31 years.

Also…if you feel you MUST buy a new (used) truck, a good compromise is a 2 wd with limited slip diff in the back. With a little weight back there, you would be surprised how well they scamble. I believe the Baja is run with 2 wd LS vehicles. It works for them. We have 4 wd on all our vehicles because of where we live. We did well camping with 2 wd trucks when we were urbanites. Personally feel a 2 wd truck is under rated for it’s function and is a better by long term than 4 wd unless you really need it on a regular basis.

PS…camping with 2 wd can be done safely with a winch on hand and good ground clearance.

PSS…IMHO as said above, the best bang for the buck for a truck that will be used occasionally and mostly for camping is a Ford RANGER. I have Toyotas because we use them ALL the time. Rangers are cheap, easy to work on, havn’t changed for decades it seems, and reliable for the money to begin with.

Also, I thought I wrote this before but it didn’t show, the cab on the Dodge is so small that two people feel crowded in it. My husband is 5’11" and has to push the seat all the way back and it’s still a little short. When I drive it, I’m 5’2", I even feel crowded and like I’m right up against the steering wheel. The seats are really uncomfortable and almost lean forward with no back adjustment to change that.

“Are you crazy?”

Litahni seems sane, but I’ve got my doubts about you, Norm.

Adding a limited slip differential to the Dakota was my first thought, but the cab is apparently too small for them. It must be a regular cab. I have a '99 Dakota club cab (not the one with rear doors) and, at 6’2" I have plenty of leg and head room.

I agree-- I used to own nothing but 2wd trucks out here in Montana, and I never ran into a situation in which I needed 4wd in the summer months. The only reason I got a 4wd is because I’ve gotten more into winter recreation and it is actually necessary for snow. I do on occasion go on extremely primitive roads, what one might call “wheelin’”, and unless there’s snow I never have to put it into 4wd. That said most 4wd systems, especially the non-electronic move-the-lever types that usually come with manual transmissions, are pretty darn reliable and so the only real drawback other than price to a 4wd is the reduced fuel economy.

And don’t listen to Beefy Norm-- there is no general overarching quality difference between the major domestic brands of trucks other than marketing. There are some recommendations that can be made on specific models, but the whole bumper-sticker Ford vs. Chevy. vs. Dodge feud has no basis in fact.

Everything costs more on a Z-71, like shocks for one thing. Remember to tell the parts people about the Z-71 part. I don’t believe it is suitable for off roading unless you use the $wd only when you get stuck and mostly straight. No fun is good fun. I just don’t think the $wd is very strong but the one I have is not Z-71. I have an 02 extra cab with AT and 4.8 engine. I filled up today from a quarter tank and 17.455 gallons cost $57.93. I got 13.7 MPG on that tank but on the highway it gets about 17 MPG. Parts may be cheap on the ordinary truck and more on yours. The price of the truck is too high too.

$WD i get it now. it took a while. good job. thats called subliminal suggestion!

Everybody’s right in that you don’t NEED 4 wheel drive. Hell, when I was a kid, my dad would take our '78 Oldsmobile station wagon, loaded w/ 7 people and a dog and all our camping stuff, and drive that thing offroad for miles through crazy terrain to find the best fishing spot. And he did it all while steering with one hand and holding a 40oz Schlitz in the other. We always got where we were going- and the adventure aspect was certainly upped a notch.

With that said, I don’t see why you couldn’t have a fun 4x4 whelling vehicle- so long as it’s not your primary vehicle and- like you said- more of a toy. And when it comes to toys, there’s nothing wrong w/ Chevys. If I were you though, I’d be looking for something a bit cheaper and older than a '96. If you’re planning on REAL offroading, then you’ll want something you can beat up w/o having to worry about the paint job. …Something like a 70’s or 80’s model Chevy Scottsdale or Dodge Power Ram <-trucks like those are tough, easy to work on, and look their best covered in dirt and mud.

Thank you all for your comments. They are greatly appreciated. I think I’m going to look and see if there are indeed any older trucks that might meet our criteria.

If we buy the Chevy we are also going to Sears to buy ourselves a service plan, i.e. a nice, new Craftsman tool set. LOL I’m sure we’ll need it, but that’s all part of the fun of owning a Chevy, IMO, especially since it won’t be our primary vehicle.