No Fixed Abode: The Secret Second Life of Gilded Trucks.

Jack Baruth
by Jack Baruth

You know it’s true: When you have a particular car on your mind, or when you’re driving a car that you don’t normally drive, you’ll see more examples of that car on the road than you would otherwise. The mind’s funny like that. Good thing it is; the ability to ignore things most of the time is all that keeps us sane.

Last week I found myself driving a previous-generation Chevy Tahoe, a 2009 model, quite a bunch. It was an LTZ with all the trimmings, robust and healthy after ninety-four thousand miles under the Albuquerque sun. There was a lot to do. A lot of things to move in, and out, and around. Eight truckloads of trash and cardboard, which would have been six in a Suburban but it would have been fifty in an Accord Coupe so I knew better than to bitch about it. The sheer ponderousness of the thing depresses and annoys me, the space it covers on the road. The last full-sized truck I drove on a consistent basis was a 1996 F-150 XL Supercab five-liter, bright red, loaned to me as a dealer demonstrator for 5,750 miles then returned to dealer stock. It must have been half the size of this pearl white elephant. Driving it in traffic is like swimming in thick mud.

Still, the Tahoe occupied my mind as the failure-prone five-point-three listlessly groaned it through traffic, and I saw all sorts of GMT Nine Hundreds. Escalades finishing out their leases, Suburbans with a hundred-pound mother flailing behind the wheel and a child the size of a roast turkey in the middle of the middle seat, gloss-red regular cab Silverados doing cable installation. By the time I saw the fiftieth black-with-tinted-windows Yukon Denali, my sensitivity to them had almost slipped back beneath the waterline. But there was something different about this one.

It was… scruffy. And not in the neglectful-country-club-mother way, either. These are the station wagons of Ge,eration X and so a lot of them wind up with door dings and floppy dealer-installed running boards and a couple too many clear-vinyl prep-school stickers on the back window. No, this one had been ridden hard. Every panel had damage, some of it nontrivial. The windshield was cracked. The windows were rolled down, which was unusual in itself, and there were at least five people in the thing. All of them were short, weathered, dressed in Carharrt, Hispanic. Were I twenty-one and fanatically left-wing again I’d ostentatiously pretend to think that they were Argentinian graduate students or Goldman Sachs bonus babies on the way to a spiritual resort near Taos, but now that I am twice that age and firmly seated in reality the way old brake pads weld themselves into a rusty sliding caliper, I can say without too much self-consciousness that they were obviously some portion of a Mexican construction crew. I loitered near them as we traveled north on State Route 315 and I could see the outlines of various shovels and implements through the limo-dark rear side windows.

The driver turned his head towards me and gave me a look that is universal across every North American border: hey, moron, why are you driving right next to me on a nearly empty freeway? So I called up a reluctant downshift from the Tahoe and pulled away, resentfully aware that my man there in the Denali almost certainly had the 6.2L and could have dropped me without a problem.

“Hey,” I noted to a cabin primarily occupied by thirty-something collapsed guitar-sized cardboard boxes, “that was a work truck. A Yukon Denali work truck.” Then I laughed.

I’ve known quite a few Mexicans in Ohio, many of them workers in the building trades. It’s not uncommon for them to own the very nicest full-sized truck they can find. They’ll use said truck to visit job sites and to haul things when necessary but by and large their F-150 Lariats and whatnot are at least as clean as my recently-detailed Nine Eleven most of the time. This Yukon wasn’t one of those. It wasn’t someone’s pampered ride. It was there to work. Dirty inside and out. Had I been able to get a good look at the interior, I’m certain that the leather would have been cracked, filthy, worn through the dye on the outside bolsters where short people struggle to get up and into the seats. The steering wheel would be shiny at best and crinkly at worst. Why would you use a Yukon Denali for this sort of thing when a crew-cab Silverado or an LS Tahoe would hold up better?

Well, maybe he wanted that guaranteed six-point-two. I sure would, after a week of listening to the mouse motor in the Tahoe struggle to turn those big off-road tires. But I’m guessing that he chose the Denali based on cost. It was cheaper than a Tahoe or even a regular Yukon SLT.

Remember the Grand National Problem? The sporting variant of any car eventually assumes a resale-value advantage that utterly dwarfs the original difference in price between it and the “cooking” version. My Accord V6 six-speed cost a bit less than a V6 Touring automatic sedan but if I wait fifteen years to sell it I bet I can get two or maybe three 2014-model Tourings for what mine will fetch on Craigslist. The people who buy used cars are younger, poorer, more aggressive, and more excitement-oriented than the old folks who take delivery of new ones. (They also want their Porsches to have a steel top, which leads to used 911 Turbo S convertibles with all the options going for considerably less than stripper 911 Turbos.)

To the Grand National Problem, we can add the Yukon Denali problem. New-truck buyers want Yukon Denalis to carry roast-turkey-sized kids to tumbling class. Used-truck buyers want something entirely different. They want work trucks, because they’re planning to work with them. As a consequence, genuine heavy-duty work trucks fetch GTI-vs.-Golf money on the secondary market. If you buy a Big Three diesel 3/4-ton truck and take even the most cursory care of it, you can expect that it will be worth serious cash more or less eternally. In particular, the Dodges seem to retain insane value even with half-a-million miles on them. There’s someone out there who needs to haul something to a job site and he really wants that truck, as long as it’s mechanically sound.

On a whim, I called up eBay and looked at what 2008 Yukon Denalis were fetching. Then I looked at what 4×4 Silverados of the same year cost. Guess what? The Denalis were in better condition, they had way less mileage, often well below 100k when the work trucks were at 125k or more — and they cost the same, or less. The older you get, the more advantage the Silverado gains. By the time they’re fifteen years old, the Yukons are going for about half what the Silverados cost.

Remember, dear reader, that a Yukon Denali is just a Silverado with nicer stuff. If you had enough time, you could make a Denalirado by bolting on the front end from the SUV onto the frame of the truck. People do it. Well, most of the time they do it with Escalades to make Escaladarados or something like that.

Speaking of the Escalade… Six-year-old Escalades are priced dead even with 4×4 Silverado Z71s. Unless you absolutely wanted the open bed — and most of the people who do physical labor with a variety of tools would rather have that space enclosed and lockable — why would you buy the pickup? The smart money’s on buying the SUV.

Construction laborers are pretty smart people by and large. I realize that’s not the common opinion but I’ve rarely met a long-serving laborer who didn’t have a keen understanding of the value of a dollar. For well over a decade now, these guys, particularly in the Midwest, have been buying used conversion vans instead of used plain-white vans. They pay less for them and they get better-condition vehicles with lower mileage. So what if the thing has stripes on the outside and velour on the inside? You’re just going to beat the thing to death anyway. It’s a tool. Get the best tool possible for the least money possible.

I’ll start looking out for Denalis and Escalades on job sites. I like the idea of it for a few reasons. The first is that it demonstrates just how thin the veneer of prestige is on these monster crapwagons. Were I fortunate enough to be having a new house built, I’d insist that the work crews drive used Escalades. Park ’em all in a row, with wiring and lumber and raw mulch seeping out from their open tailgates. Let the neighbors think about that for a minute. Let them think about what message they’re really sending by going to a Cadillac dealership and paying double the Silverado’s price just to get some pimp juice.

It’s also a testament to the strength of the GMT900 that it does pretty well in these applications, particularly with a decent powerplant attached to the transmission. If the images of HiLuxes carrying the Taliban helped further Toyota’s reputation for reliability, perhaps seeing a bunch of beat-up ‘Slades carrying toilets and ceramic tiles would get the word out to the people who are currently lining up to pay just under fifty grand for the cheapo variant of the Lex-GX.

Last and certainly not least, when I see a Denali carrying construction workers I’m seated just a bit deeper in reality as a result. The biggest challenge you’ll face as you enter middle age is reconciling your potential with your reality. As a kid they told you that you could do anything. As an adult you know what you’ve done and what’s left. Think of that showroom-new Denali as a spoiled child with “unlimited potential”. He could carry an ambassador or a starlet or a titan of industry, maybe that Christian Grey fellow that all the Vassar girls with the postgrad work in women’s studies wish would tie them up and smack ’em around a bit. The potential for a new Denali is limited only by the advertising and the available equity in one’s McMansion.

Six years later, which is like twenty-six years in human terms, you’re carrying construction workers to a rutted job site, and you’re wearing three different brands of tire, and there’s a distinct tang of urine in the air. That’s life for you. The untimely departure of your potential and the imminent arrival of your reality. Make peace with it; it’s all you deserve, and all you’ll get.

Jack Baruth
Jack Baruth

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  • Sector 5 Sector 5 on Aug 23, 2014

    Denali was my favorite Old Spice. Then I went to the dollar store and shopped generic which proved gentler on my hide & wallet. Don't they shuttle politicians around these days? You know Govenor's motorcade with dark tint & cherries.

  • Mechaman Mechaman on Aug 24, 2014

    It's been my experience that only racists think that everyone is racist. If that doesn't apply to you, bravo. There are a lot of better reasons to be pissed off at people .. going after a group, any group, is pretty damn lazy.

  • Leonard Ostrander Plants don't unionize. People do, and yes, of course the workers should organize.
  • Jalop1991 Here's something EVangelists don't want to talk about, and why range is important: battery warranties, by industry standard, specify that nothing's wrong with the battery, and they won't replace it, as long as it is able to carry 70% or more of its specified capacity.So you need a lot of day 1 capacity so that down the road, when you're at 70% capacity with a "fully functioning, no problem" car, you're not stuck in used Nissan Leaf territory."Nothing to see here, move along."There's also the question of whether any factory battery warranty survives past the original new car owner. So it's prudent of any second owner to ask that question specifically, and absent any direct written warranty, assume that the second and subsequent owners own any battery problems that may arise.And given that the batteries are a HUGE expense, much more so than an ICE, such exposure is equally huge."Nothing to see here, move along."
  • Roger hopkins The car is in Poland??? It does look good tho...
  • Kwik_Shift_Pro4X The push for EV's is part of the increase in our premiums. Any damage near the battery pack and the car is a total loss.
  • Geozinger Up until recently this was on my short list of cars to replace my old car. However, it didn't pass the "knee test" with my wife as her bad knee makes it difficult for her to get in and out of a sedan. I saw a number of videos about the car and it seems like the real deal as a sporting sedan. In addition I like the low price, too, but it was bad luck/timing that we didn't get to pull the trigger on this one.