You may recall the 2015 BMW 328iX GT I wrote up a couple of years ago. The BMW was sourced from CarMax in late 2018, and has been a great car. It took our youngest son through high school, and now it is off to college in the Northeast with our oldest son. He is living off campus, so the all wheel drive will be handy this winter. We have taken it from 20,000 miles to about 45,000 in two years, in the hands of two young male drivers. A pretty tough gig if you are a car, and it hasn’t asked for a thing but oil changes.
You know how plans go, especially during COVID. Sometimes they don’t go at all. Thus, a week before move in day for the youngest son for the 2020-21 school year, his college said it is all online, no one can live in campus at all. And if you want to defer your freshman year, we will let a limited number do so.
That’s what he elected to do, and he got a deferral slot. We are happy to have him home longer, and he went back to work at an engineering firm he spent the summer at. He is also working at a blacksmith and knife-making shop, about an hour each way from our house.
So, of course, he needed something to drive since he was unexpectedly home for another year. Our smart fortwo was OK for the drive to the engineering firm, it’s about 15 minutes across town. For the two hour round trip drive to the blacksmithing, though, I wanted him in something larger. And it is down a ruddy dirt road, really more of a cart path, something the smart does not excel at.
My son started dropping hints that what he really wanted was a cheap old truck to knock around in. We live in a mostly rural area, and a lot of his friends have old trucks. And most of them (the trucks) are pretty unreliable too, but teenage boys don’t care so much about that, I guess. The gas tank fell off of one, another one uses a screwdriver instead of a key in the ignition, and so on.
I started looking on the local dealer websites, looking for an older truck. I wasn’t having too much luck, when my son suggested Facebook Marketplace. “That’s where my friends found their trucks”. Not exactly a glowing endorsement, but we started scrolling through. We set up a search for pickups in a 10 mile radius, and we had a couple hundred trucks at our disposal.
Most of them were junk, to be blunt. “Ran when parked”, “just needs an engine and transmission, otherwise great truck”, “no title but my cousin can get you one”, that sort of thing. I cautioned him that my main concern with a cheap pickup off Facebook was that it be safe, and you can’t be sure of what you are getting when you are looking at buying a truck off a stranger with 200,000+ miles.
As we scrolled through, we came upon a truck that sure looked familiar. “Huh, that looks just like Mr. Rogers’ (*the names have been changed to protect the innocent) truck”, my son said about one in particular. It looked like a contender: a 2000 GMC Sierra stepside extended cab, 230,000 miles, clean inside and out for the age, and described as “same owner since 2004, good tires, cold air, all receipts”. It was only two wheel drive, which neither of us really minded for an old work truck. My son goes mountain biking and camping in state and national parks with friends, but he didn’t think he needed 4WD where they go.
We clicked on the listing to contact the seller and it WAS Mr. Rogers’ truck! The family lives about a mile from our house, goes to our church, and his two daughters are the same grades as my sons. So we knew the truck pretty well, as it was Mr. Rogers’ daily driver. He was the kind of guy that would have kept it in good shape.
The asking price was $5,000.00, which was a little high. Looking at various online sources, about $3,800.00 was the average private party value. But, we knew the seller, and knew the truck had been cared for, so I figured that ought to be worth a little premium.
We connected through Facebook and arranged to see it the next day. Mr. Rogers’ was thrilled we were interested, because as soon as he put the ad up he decided he didn’t like the idea of strangers coming to the house, or driving it either. We were the first people who had responded to the ad.
We went over there with $4,000.00 in mind for our offer. He gave us the walkaround and pointed out the highlights, good and bad.
THE GOOD: The truck has been in a carport, and with some buffing the paint is in good shape for the age, though plenty scratched here and there from carrying bikes in the bed. Over $9,000.00 was spent on the truck in the last few years, with all the receipts. Rebuilt transmission; new radiator; new fuel pump; new alternator; head gaskets replaced; new brake calipers and rotors front and rear; tires, brake pads and shocks about 15,000 miles ago; spark plugs replaced every 30,000 miles (in excess of the 100,000 mile recommendation). The CarFax shows just about every oil change since new, which I found incredible for that many years. Every 3,000 miles or so since new, starting with the first four years of GMC dealer maintenance in Florida, and continuing through his 16 years of ownership after it came to our local Chevrolet dealer as an auction vehicle.
THE BAD: hood release handle is broken and barely working; radio works but doesn’t light up; power door lock actuator on the driver door inoperable; headlights very cloudy despite attempts at polishing; left turn signal flashes rapidly (new bulbs didn’t fix), tailgate latches worn out and sometimes refuse to latch; LED odometer/gearshift indicator sometimes goes dark; and a modest area of rust-through in each rocker panel, despite the underside being very clean and rust-free. Google says this is a common problem on this generation of GM truck.
None of that seemed like a deal breaker for a work truck, so off my son and I went for a test drive. And first impressions were great; the air was indeed ice cold, the brakes worked well, and the engine fired right up and had plenty of pep. It tracks straight and true, with no play in the steering wheel, and the cabin is quiet. Does it drive like a new truck? No, it seemed worn in areas. The driver door in particular sags on the hinges, and the driver seat is “sat out” and sits too low. But if the odometer said 150,000, I would have believed it. It was an impressive truck to have almost a quarter million miles.
Things were going well until we pulled into WalMart so my son could drive it. As I pulled into a parking space in a shady, lonely part of the lot, the brake pedal went to the floor. We rolled up onto the curb and into the bushes. I got out, and saw a puddle of brake fluid under the bed. I told my son to watch as I applied the brakes, and the fluid was gushing out of a metal line under the bed.
So, we had to call our friend and tell him what happened, and ask for a ride! I don’t know who was more embarrassed, me or him. He picked us up, and said he would have AAA tow it to his mechanic, who was also a member of our church.
I told him where we were with the price….that we liked the truck until this happened, and we were going to offer him $4,000.00, just so he knew our figure. I suggested he get it towed, see what the price to fix was going to be, and let me know.
A couple of days later, Mr. Rogers called and the report was that the metal lines were failing from the inside out. Seems the one thing he had never done was flush the brake fluid, and the accumulated moisture in the system was rusting the lines from the inside. One of those weak points burst when I pulled into the parking space. This generation of GM truck had a class action on the brake lines being prone to corrosion as well, I read later, though mostly in snow belt states.
The estimate was $200 parts and $600 labor, to replace the lines and bleed the system. Replacing all the metal and rubber lines was the only way to make it safe, given the age, according to the mechanic friend. I told Mr. Rogers that if the truck was going to have all new lines, I would do $4,250.00 for the truck. He can’t sell a truck with no brakes, but I’m getting all new brake lines for a reduced price. It seemed like a fair compromise. He said he would take the ad down and consider it sold.
So a week later, the truck was done. We handed Mr. Rogers $4,250.00, and he handed us the keys and all the receipts. So we have a 21 year old truck (built November, 1999) with 230,000 miles, a stack of receipts, and just the right amount of projects and patina to make my son happy.
We quickly found the parts needed were cheap on Amazon. We started with the hood release handle ($9) and all four headlight/turn signal assemblies ($80 for the entire set). In the stack of receipts, I saw no mention of cabin filters, so I picked those up locally ($30) and a set of wiper blades was sorely needed too ($30).
I took the truck for a ride that night, and the headlights indeed were terrible. So we started there, for safety.
I popped the hood with the broken latch, and got to work.
The lights in the Sierra are pretty ingenious; you can remove both headlights and both turn signal assemblies with no tools, and then easily replace them or change the bulbs. The headlights are held in place with two metal rods. I have rotated the right hand one out of the clip, then pull straight up to remove.
Once the old ones were out, the difference was pretty stark compared to the new. Both new turn signals and the passenger headlight clipped into place right away. The driver side headlight took some fiddling, though. The path for one of the attachment rods was warped, or cast incorrectly. These were cheap aftermarket assemblies, genuine GM would have been a lot more money, but would have fit. We tweaked it with a utility knife and small hacksaw, and got the rod in place, finally.
The four new lenses not only work much better at night, but certainly gave the truck a cheap facelift. In the course of all this work, I replaced the four headlight bulbs with upgraded bulbs that are still just halogen, but claim to put out more light. I also replaced the turn signal bulbs while we had things apart, but that did not get the rapid flashing on the driver side to stop.
We had to aim the new headlights, so I Googled the topic and found a great guide to DIY aiming using your garage doors, masking tape and a tape measure.
We examined the sockets and wiring for the rapid turn signal problem, and found that the new driver front turn signal bulb was not working. That socket was pretty corroded looking. Inserting and removing the bulb a dozen times or so got good contact established, and then it worked and flashed at a normal pace.
Next went in the engine air filter, and the cabin filters, which were surprisingly not too bad. Must have been replaced in the recent past. They were wet at the bottom, making me wonder if the condensate drain was partially clogged. I got an old turkey baster and shot some Clorox into the bottom of the drain pan to get any gunk cleaned out (and threw away the baster).
After seeing what a difference the front lenses made to the overall appearance of the truck, we went back to Amazon and ordered new aftermarket taillights and third brake light/cargo light, for about $150.00 total.
The hood release was easy to install and works great:
The gearshift indicator and odometer did come and go as the seller stated. After a few weeks though, it would not come on at all. Slapping the top of the dash did not make it come back on as it did on the test drive.
This was an issue as far as keeping up with oil changes, as well as making sure of what gear you were in. I looked online and found instructions for soldering back weak connections that tend to cause the issue. That’s not something I am experienced in though, and I found rebuilt clusters with a two year warranty for about $100 on eBay. So that’s the direction we went in.
A word of warning; the odometer reading in this generation of GM truck is not in the computer. It is in the cluster. I had to tell the seller what odometer reading I wanted programmed, and I was honest about the numbers. But for $100, a dishonest seller can take a lot of miles off a good looking but high mileage Tahoe or pickup.
This week, the truck refused to turn over. The alternator is only two years old, but the battery was four years old from the stack of receipts we scanned into a PDF. We replaced the battery and all is well.
We’ve put about 5,000 miles on the truck and it hasn’t missed a beat (except for the battery). It’s been a lot of fun to have an old pickup around the house, though it will never have the cool factor of a truck owned by a certain Oregon landlord!