Let me tell you something you already know: Buying a car sucks. Shopping sucks. Dealing with salespeople really sucks. (The fake “supervisor” that the guy talks to, I mean, seriously?) Knowing that you’re getting ripped off sucks. It’s a sleazy process.
You know what’s worse? Buying a car on Craigslist.
At least when you go to a dealership, you know that nobody is waiting to stab you when you get there. Or worse, the dealer doesn’t call you asking you to send a deposit via Western Union.
Buying our 1987 Dodge Ram W150 “Shop Truck” was about a five month process, and I can’t stress this enough: Do not rush. Just like buying a new car, take your time. Don’t fall in love right away. See a lot of vehicles before committing. Even if you know the make, model, and year of the car you want — or even if you’re buying a new car — drive more than one.
I’m generally a Mopar guy, but I kept an open mind on this one. I actually set out to buy a early 80s Chevrolet K10 because the replacement parts are insanely easy to find and rather cheap from places like LMC Truck, which doesn’t sell Mopar parts from anytime before 1994, when the second generation Ram came out.
We’re going to be working on this project for a while, and while some parts will be donated or given as sponsorships, most of the restoration is going to come out of the vast Blast Cars advertising revenues, of which there are none right now. So I gave myself a $3,000 budget for the truck and the initial mechanical parts/labor. My goal was to get out of this summer with a working 4×4 with a solid engine and transmission with wheels that wouldn’t fall off. Lofty, I know.The first car that Corey and I checked out was an 87 K10 on the South Coast of Massachusetts. The price? $1,800. Firm. It had a strong 350 V8, but it had no reverse gear, the bed was completely rusted, the tires were bald, the rear window was broken, the tailgate did not function, and it was full of Bondo. I offered him $800. That was a short conversation, and I’m glad because $800 was probably too much. It had also been used as a plow truck and to carry firewood.
Unless you have a deep wallet and a lot of time, stay away from any trucks that had been used to plow or tow. Those are hard miles.
There was a 1982 K10 for $3,500. Looked nice, but I wasn’t big on the lift job or the price.
Then I got a lead on a 1985 Dodge Ram Prospector 4×4 in New Jersey that appeared to be in beautiful shape. Again, $1,800 firm. Also checked out a 1984 GMC High Sierra that the guy wanted $7,000 for, unrestored.
Lots of K10s in New Hampshire and Maine, but the ones in my price range were pretty far gone. Most would require a tow truck. Not a great start to this mission.
Then, bingo! A 1983 Ford F-150 4×4 with no rust, a solid engine, under 120,000 miles. The price: $1,100. Called immediately. Set up an appointment to go see it. By the time I got there, it was sold.
Then I started to look at K20s, the 3/4 ton version of the Chevy 4×4. Same truck, different suspension package. 1985 K20 in Western Massachusetts. All new u-joints, all new brake lines, new rocker panels and cab corners. $4,000. Pass. Plus, that wouldn’t give me much to write about.
I almost gave up on this whole thing after I got a call about a 1983 K20 in Connecticut.
It had minimal rust. Good bed. Good frame. Good 350 engine, but the reverse gear wasn’t working. Asking price was $1,500, which I figured I could work with.
I had a lengthy back-and-forth with the seller. I asked a lot of questions, spoke to him a few times, texted a few times. We came to a price, and then he hit me with the bombshells. He offered to deliver it, and he wanted a deposit via Western Union before I could have the car.
Game over. If there’s one thing you should know about buying something big online, it’s this: No legitimate seller uses Western Union or any other wire service. In fact, Craigslist warns you in big, red letters: “How to recognize a vehicle scam attempt on CL … Payment by Western Union or a money wire is requested – only a scammer will ask for this, and any funds sent will be lost.”
So that’s it. Restoring a truck was a stupid idea. It’s a waste of money. Everyone’s an asshole.
And then I found this not-so-great photo in a poorly-written listing:
1987 Dodge Power Ram W150. 318/5.2 engine, with a 3-speed automatic and working 4×4. It has some body rust and electrical issues, but it looks decent. The seller says his daughter is off the college, and they need book money. Whether that’s true or not, we settled on $500 plus delivery after I spent some in-person time with the car.
After taking delivery and registering it in Massachusetts, I’m $800 into the truck and very happy … so far.
Now the car is in the able hands of my friend, Kevin Hipolito of Associated Equipment Service in Boston. The initial results are good. The original owner seems to have brought it back to the Dodge dealer for every service — all the parts are genuine Mopar. We checked the air conditioning, and some basics were next.
The next story will detail belts and hoses. After that, we dig into gaskets. Then fluids. Then the engine. Lots to do!
We are also going to put together a story on the exact order in which you should tackle this kind of project. I’ve never done this before. I don’t have any formal training. I’m a Gen-Y kid like you, and I’ve always wanted to “do” a truck project. There are ways to do this project without breaking the bank, and we’ll take our time to make sure we are all learning something along the way.
That said, you’re not going to agree with everything I do, especially if you know a thing or two about cars. Feel free to comment, Tweet, or otherwise reach out. I’d love to hear your ideas too!