Part-time truck a waste of money

Dear Car Talk:

I have a 1999 eight-cylinder Dodge Ram four-wheel-drive crew cab truck that has served me well towing my one-ton pontoon boat. What would you recommend to replace it that might get a little better gas mileage and still provide a comfortable ride for four people? I tow only every other year or so — 800 miles round trip. Thanks! — Kevin


Dear Kevin:

I’d recommend that you replace it with a Toyota Avalon Hybrid, supplemented by a U-Haul rent-a-pickup once every other year.

A lot of our customers make the mistake of buying a car for something they do very infrequently. You know, they get an SUV that’s capable of seating eight people for the one trip per year they take to Grandma’s with Cousin Itt. And here you are, driving around every day, getting 13 mpg as penance for a chore you have to do only every two years.

An alternative is to get a comfortable family car that you can enjoy 103 out of 104 weeks every two years, and then just rent a pickup (or, even better, borrow one) for your biannual week at the lake.

I mention the Avalon Hybrid because I drove it recently and was impressed by its roominess and ride, and the nearly 40 mpg it got, city and highway. But you can get any car you like.

And then, when you want to haul the boat, you rent a pickup truck and put the towing wear and tear on that. It’s not cheap to rent a pickup; you might spend $500-$1,000 for the week. But do the math:

If you drive 20,000 miles a year and you’re getting 13 mpg, over two years you’ll spend $9,228 on fuel (assuming gas stays at $3 a gallon, which it probably won’t). If you drive that same 20,000 miles a year over two years in a car that gets 40 mpg, your fuel cost will be only $3,000.

So, even counting the pickup truck rental, you’d still come out ahead by $5,000 every two years! And you won’t have to pass over nearly as many parking spaces that you don’t fit in.

There are other options, too. If you really do need a pickup truck, or just want one, for whatever reason, I like the RAM 1500 with the V-6 diesel engine. That gets a combined 22 mpg, with an impressive 27 mpg on the highway, and it handles well, for a humongous beast.

Or you could check out the new aluminum-bodied 2015 Ford F-150, which I haven’t driven yet. But reportedly it will get similar mileage.

Or, keep your old truck around just for that one vacation week if you really want to.

But if it were me, I’d get a car, Kevin, and live it up. Let us know what you decide.

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