Ode to a beater truck

Chris Bateman
By Chris Bateman September 1, 2015 13:49

Where some see evidence, others see art

It happened in a Sonora parking lot. The Subaru’s driver obviously didn’t see my truck, because her Outback was heading for it full tilt – in reverse.

By the time I hit the horn, it was too late. The SUV slammed into the right-rear fender of my 2000 Toyota Tundra.  It was the kind of crunch that makes the future flash before your eyes: a future of accident reports, insurance claims, repair estimates, body-shop visits and, perhaps, a hike in your annual premiums.

The Outback’s driver jumped out of her SUV and looked at the garish dent at the point of impact. “Oh my God, I am sooo sorry,” she said. “It’s hard to believe I did all that damage.”

That’s when her day took a turn for the better.

“You didn’t,” I said. “In fact, it’s really hard to tell what damage your car did, so why don’t we just forget the whole thing?”

Ms. Subaru looked at me in disbelief. “You’re kidding, right?”

I wasn’t: Previous dents, most inflicted by retaining walls, rocks, posts, fences and other inanimate objects, made it impossible for me to determine where the Subaru’s dent ended and others began. Both of the truck’s rear fenders are dented, nasty scratches run the length of the right side, the tailgate is bent out of shape and the front bumper is askew. It looks like the loser in a blindfold destruction derby.

“You hit the right truck,” I laughed. “You’re free to go.”

So that bleak future of claims, estimates, body shops and rate hikes didn’t materialize for either of us. Which is just one of the many joys of owning a beater.

The others? Glad you asked:

You don’t worry about parking-lot dimples, sideswipes, near-hits, near-misses, errant deer, fender-benders or bumper-benders. You don’t buy collision insurance, waste time at the car wash or worry about your truck’s resale value – because you’ll be running the thing into the ground. And, really, who’d buy it anyway?

cb2Registration and insurance premiums decrease every year.

You park wherever you want. And usually there’s plenty of room to load groceries because nobody dares park near you.

You can take it off road, through mud and over rocks boulders and stumps.

You can lend it to the kids, though they might be ashamed to drive it to school.  You can give the keys to your 15-year-old and tell him, “Go teach yourself to drive.”

You can carry pretty much anything in the bed. If you spill coffee on the upholstery, who cares?  If there’s a rip on the dash after years in the sun, so what?

You can park it in a bad part of town, and it won’t be stolen. It might be vandalized, but odds are you wouldn’t notice. Valet parkers won’t expect tips – or expect that you’d use their services at all.

It will make your other cars look good.

You don’t need a garage.

You can drive it in really bad weather, and you’ll likely be the only one who makes a pizza run after golf-ball-size hail begins to fall.

You can carry dogs, cats or even potbellied pigs in the cab. Your answer to air freshener is lowering the window.

If you park in front of the fanciest country club in town, the manager just might pay you a few bucks to
move it.

You might be wondering how you can get a great truck like mine.  cb3

It’s not easy.

When we bought the Tundra 15 years ago, it was a shiny, graceful, powerful thing of beauty. It got a lot of looks from everyone and a lot of questions from friends who’d never seen Toyota’s new full-size pickup before.

My wife, the truck’s primary driver for its first five years or so, washed it regularly and didn’t hit stuff.

When I took over, I had been driving a tiny convertible for years and the Tundra seemed like the Titanic in contrast. And, apparently, I had no real grasp of the truck’s far-flung dimensions.

I didn’t hit any icebergs, but I hit a lot of other stuff and at some point the idea of going back to the body shop for yet another repair seemed crazy. That decision amounted to the birth of a beater.

In the years that followed, the truck got far fewer looks and, ding by scrape, a lot more “character.”  But I changed the oil regularly, adhered to Toyota’s maintenance schedule, and my beater still runs just fine.

The only crisis came about four years ago when I briefly entertained taking the Tundra to the body shop and having every last scratch and dent repaired – at a cost of about $3,000.

With the pride of owning a like-new truck (never mind the 150,000 miles on the odometer), I irrationally figured, I would be a far more careful driver.

“Don’t do it,” said Billy, the boss over at Buck’s Body Shop in Sonora. “That truck is barely worth what it would cost to fix it.”

And, he gently suggested, my driving habits were unlikely to change.   cb1

To this day I’m thankful Billy left my $3,000 on the table. It was the best three grand I never spent – and I’m sure the owner of that Subaru agrees.

Copyright 2015, Friends and Neighbors Magazine








Chris Bateman
By Chris Bateman September 1, 2015 13:49
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  1. JJ September 2, 10:48

    A truck of true character and worth! And, alas, far too many parallels to humans of comparable vintage.

  2. Old Guy September 2, 11:13

    Chris, love the mix of humor and reality in this article!

    I can relate, old guy

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