Ask Jack: Tryin' to Love Two

Jack Baruth
by Jack Baruth
ask jack tryin to love two

John Le Carre’s superb A Perfect Spy opens with a curious quote, attributed to “Proverb”:

A man who has two women loses his soul. But a man who has two houses loses his head.

I’m not so sure about the first part of that. The virtue of dating two (or more) women is that you don’t expect that any one of them will fulfill all your requirements, which prevents you from becoming overly demanding or difficult with them. As to the second part, all I can tell you is that when I’ve owned rental property I’ve found it to be more hassle than it was worth. I suspect the original author of the proverb was not talking about that situation. Nor was he referring to our blessed above-one-percent crowd who frequently own domiciles on both coasts, or vacation homes in sunny spots. Rather, he probably meant that a man who operates two separate families will lose his mind. This sort of thing was more common in the days before Equifax and cell phones, mind you.

The question becomes: Is owning two cars like loving two women, which is often a good thing, or is it like maintaining two households, which is almost always a bad thing? Before we fall back on the truthful but unsatisfying “it depends,” let’s consider today’s questioner and see if we can’t keep him in sound possession of both soul and head.

Nick writes,

I drive a lot. I live 35 miles from my place of employment and split commuting between a three-banger, 70 mpg Honda Insight and a loaded Charger R/T currently on Yoko IceGuards. My son may get deep into karting, and I race in my spare time, which means I will eventually find a 24-foot trailer and a race car or two in my life.

As I get older, the Insight’s lack of safety is starting to bother me. I’m thinking about reshuffling cars, as I may need a tow vehicle, and am considering an Accord 2.0T 6MT (as I really liked my ’14 Accord Sport 6MT). Or a Civic Si. For a tow pig, I’ve had a soft spot for Ford 300 inline-sixes and you can still find them in decent F-150s roaming around here.

But old trucks require a lot of work and I wouldn’t want to wreck one. Do I split the difference and get a new-ish work truck and a cheap-ish sedan? Or a really nice truck and see if I can find an old Miata? The race car goes on the race track so I wouldn’t be ‘tracking’ anything. Total budget is $40-50k, and I would like something that isn’t a truck to handle daily commuting.

Knowing Nick’s situation personally, I’d start by advising that he not plan too much around the idea of a future 24′ trailer and/or race car. Right now he’s doing enduros, and with an enduro team it almost always makes sense to rent a truck and/or trailer because you can split the expense a few ways. It’s not until you are pulling your own car to weekend after weekend — or pulling your son’s kart plus a complete toolset and kart stand — that the self-owned truck/trailer starts to make sense.

Let’s put that aside for now, though, and move to the second part of the question, which concerns the appropriate divvying-up of between forty and fifty thousand dollars between truck and car. This is the sort of hypothetical situation which gets a lot of play on the kiddie-oriented forums and always ends up with a bunch of people suggesting the unbeatable combination of perfectly-restored Grand Wagoneer and V8-swapped Miata. The problem with that combination, and similar make-believe fantasy exercises, is that it’s not terribly compatible with reality.

The real world has a few immutable laws. One of them concerns resale value. Some vehicles retain value well; you should buy those new if you can afford them. Some vehicles retain value poorly; you should buy those used, if you can deal with the hassle.

In $THE_CURRENT_YEAR, we see that pickups retain their value absurdly well, while sedans and (most) sports cars do not. This suggests the combination of a new pickup and a used car, regardless of one’s fondness for the 300-cubic-inch straight-six that disappeared with the arrival of the “aero” F-150 in 1997 and the discontinuation of the “F-150 Classic” later on in that year. Only a loon would tow a race car with a 20-year-old truck, and only an extremely optimistic person would put his young son in one for a freeway trip. I say this with some self-awareness because, for quite some time, my race team used a 1995 F-350 with a PowerStroke for towing purposes. It ended as badly as you might imagine, hundreds of miles away from home.

It’s been pretty well established that $40,000 will get you a well-equipped half-ton crew cab with a reasonable level of equipment. Which crew cab would be up to Nick; I’d personally want to see that 2019 Ram on the road before I spent my money. That leaves between $0 and $10,000 for the car. You can get a lot of Miata for ten grand, you can get a lot of used Mustang for ten grand, you can get a lot of W-body Impala for ten grand. There are plenty of deals to be had at pretty much all levels of the marketplace above the buy-here-pay-here fodder.

The best part is that owning a brand-new, completely reliable truck relaxes some of the requirements for that second car. If you want to try something that’s unreliable but relatively safe, like a W210 Benz, you could do that, secure in the knowledge that you could always tow it home on a U-Haul with your truck and then drive said truck until you get around to fixing it. It could be a labor-of-love type car like a 1.8T-powered Volkswagen or Subaru Impreza 2.5RS. Last but not least, we could add a third vehicle into the mix, spending six grand on a recent Hyundai Accent “or similar” and four grand on a motorcycle. Having one completely reliable vehicle in the stable gives you options.

That’s my generic advice. If I had to spend the money myself, I’d do a Ford F-150 XLT 2.7 Ecoboost for the truck and… hmm… a New Edge Mustang Cobra for eight grand… and a Yamaha FZ-1 like the one my pal Sidney and I own together for two grand. That’s a fairly aggressive lineup that should have a little something for everyone. In the end, however, this is one of those infamous “80/20” situations. Get the 80 percent correct with a brand-new truck, and you can afford to be lackadaisical about the other 20.

I truly believe that, heart and head.

Join the conversation
3 of 152 comments
  • Robert Robert on Jan 30, 2018

    There are limits to how much thin slicing you can do. Some combination of personal economics, garage space, local HOA nannies, and self image all impact that decision. For me, the answer is two cars for myself. Four for the household of a teen and a long-term lease with a walk away clean clause girlfriend. A Tacoma Double Cab does a remarkable enough job for #1, #2, and #4 on my list, where offroafing is limited to the poorly maintained fire service roads of the PNW. It is the only vehicle I've bought new, and the only one I will drive into the dirt. The other is a recurring progression of toys: Corvettes, BMW's, Porsche's, currently an SL550. Never new, always looking for the crossover point where deprepreciation shallows and before the inevitable "I can afford the payments, but not the maintenance" ownership cycle tanks the quality. For me, that balance works fantastically. #

  • 427Cobra 427Cobra on Jan 31, 2018

    I had two cars in my 20s... three in my 30s... and 4 in my 40s... in my 50s, I'm back to three... but that's because I got a dog & have less time to care for my "other" babies. It all depends on your priorities. I seem to rotate through vehicles constantly. Currently, my "daily" is an '08 Mercury Grand Marquis (34k miles)... a sentimental purchase (my grandfather's last car). For hauling the dog/camping/towing duty, I have a '16 Ram 2500 crew cab short bed 6.4L hemi. My weekend toy is a 2004 Corvette Z06 with 9300 miles on it. I'm always on the lookout for my next purchase. Would love to have another '86 Mustang GT convertible, but a Focus ST would also be fun... will just have to see how the finances work out.

  • Redapple2 C2 is the best. C3 next. Then C7 (looking at you jimII).
  • Jeff S Vulpine--True the CAFE rules are for ICE.
  • Gray I grew up in the era of Panther and Fox platforms. If only they developed a good looking two door Conti. The four doors became a cult in their own right. And kept the 351W as a top line option.
  • Vulpine ABSOLUTELY YES!!! Bring back the TRUE compact trucks. The demand for them is far higher than the OEMs want to admit.
  • Brn More likely, with Google having troubles, the money tree isn't as ripe as it once was and cutbacks are needed.I hope the overall industry continues to evolve. When I get the the point I can't easily drive, I would still appreciate the independence that autonomous vehicles can bring.