Robyn asked me why after 40 years of buying old, beat-up vehicles and nursing them along to the bitter end, I had suddenly bought a brand spanking new Toyota Tundra pickup truck. Good question, and to explain I had to track a chain of decisions which had slowly but inexorably lead me to such revolutionary behavior. I just retired from George Mason University after 26 years and made the decision to travel extensively around the US and Canada with Monika. To see all of it will, of course, take years of travel, and to travel for a long time on our fixed income meant we needed to camp. A side benefit of camping is that the scenery is generally better in state and national parks than in motels.
Anyway, to camp for 2-3 months at a time you have to have a reasonably-sized trailer—we looked at trailers at RV shows and found we would need about a 24’-26’ trailer or 5th wheel to avoid getting completely claustrophobic after a few weeks. That size trailer weighs between 5,000 and 7,000 pounds, and the only vehicles that can pull loads like that are pickups or SUVs with V-8 engines. Since we didn’t know if we would get a trailer or 5th wheel, the only vehicle that would tow either one is a full-sized pickup. The only full-sized pickup that will pull 7,000 pounds and had a good rating from Consumer Reports is the Toyota Tundra. I tried to find used Tundras, but they have only been manufactured since 1999 and the used ones were all priced in the low 20,000s, and they all had 30-50,000 miles on them. Since it would only cost a couple of thousand more to get a brand new vehicle with 0 miles, it seemed reasonable to try to get a new one cheaply. We tried to get a leftover 2002 model this fall, but all the V-8s had been sold. So I bided my time and waited until they had a “$1700 under invoice” sale at Kay Jennings Toyota. They happened to have one with a V-8, 4wd, off-road suspension, limited slip differential, and tow option already installed. We test drove it, liked it, and then bargained with the sales manager over the next couple of days before buying it for $25,900.
Having only purchased used cars before, I expected the sale process would be for me to write out a check and for them to hand me the title, after which I would be on my merry way. So I walked into the “document handler’s” office with my checkbook in my hand. It stayed sitting in my hand quite a while because I found that buying a new car has much of the folderol they put you through when buying a house! We had to sign countless forms declining special extended coverage or warranties, and decline the financing options offered until they finally would let me write the check and drive away with the car. After all that, I was mildly surprised that they didn’t even call my bank to check if I had the money or demand a certified check for that amount. I don’t know if they were just unnerved by our atypical approach to buying the truck, but they just accepted the check and we drove off with the new truck.
After that, it was a race to break in the truck before our planned big trip to Florida. Since it was not broken in, we used Monika’s Spirit to drive to Wisconsin for Thanksgiving. Then it was nip and tuck to get in the required 1,000 miles of easy driving with constantly varying engine speeds. We used it on a quick trip to Williamsburg for some Christmas Volksmarches and on our return took Route 17 up the Northern Neck of Virginia so I could drive along while constantly varying my speeds and not drive all the other drivers crazy! Not being able to use the cruise control during the break in meant that I got a horrendous leg cramp after about 2 hours of driving, but otherwise the break in period was marked only by the pleasant surprises of the nice little touches Toyota had designed into the truck. The one I like best was dual sunshades so you can have one on the side and front windows at the same time! That prevent the usual flipping of the shade from front to side as the road turns, and like many things you don’t realize how irritating that really is until you can stop doing it. What with that and the “secret” coin trays, storage bins, and 8 cup holders scattered all over the cabin, we really liked the truck, but we were coming up on our planned day of departure with only about 970 miles on the truck, so I still had never even used the cruise control or tried driving it at sustained high speeds. So that was the situation as we set out for “Key West or Bust”.
Copyright 2002 by Robert W. Holt