Why Society Has Deemed A Crappy Truck Cooler Than A Crappy Car

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David likes to call me up and ask about the old 1989 Ford F-150 he bought for me, because even if he decided he didn’t have the time/space/energy to deal with yet another old beater (well, we know how long that lasted) he can definitely enjoy it vicariously through me. So, he’ll call and just want to know how the truck is doing and when I drove it last and how it felt and speculate on the issues with the clutch and have me describe the feel of the vinyl seats in detail or the smell of the exhaust. If he could just say “hey, put the F-150 on the phone” and talk to it directly, I think he would, and I think it would end up in one of those “no, you hang up first” kind of situations.

Anyway, during one of these calls, David and I were talking about the truck and realized something significant about trucks and the culture we live in: when it comes to level of shittiness, cars and trucks are not judged the same way. Trucks get a pass for coolness in ways that cars simply don’t, and this is an idea worth exploring, because I’m not entirely certain what’s going on. In simplest terms, it’s this: a beat to shit car is embarrassing, but a beat to shit truck is cool. Why?

Just so we’re all on the same page here, let me break down exactly what I’m taking about, using my own truck as an example, a 1989 Ford F-150 with a lot of wear and a very clumsy and peeling hand-brushed purple paint job. Let’s just break down some basic facts about this truck: it’s rough in a lot of places, it has broken trim parts inside, it’s scratched up and dented and as I mentioned, the paint job was done by hand and is peeling so badly on parts of the hood it looks and feels like stucco.Marshall2

This truck is also common as boogers in nostrils, a Ford F-150, the best-selling vehicle in America for years and years. It can make zero claims of exoticism or rarity. Everyone has seen these, all over the place, all the time. Seeing one is a non-event.

The transmission is agricultural and grinds going into reverse and first, and, let’s be honest, potentially any gear, of which there are only four. There are all kinds of evidence of weird fluids that have been spilled in the bed. It’s the opposite of elegant or refined or sleek, it doesn’t telegraph wealth or overt status or anything like that at all. Oh, and the muffler is currently banging around loose in the bed.

And yet, somehow, it’s cool.

Now, let’s compare this truck to another vehicle in Ford’s lineup from 1989, something non-truck but as close as we can get in other ways, another mass-market big-selling car, like the Taurus. The Taurus sold for a bit more than this F-150 did (the F-150 went for about $11,000 in 1989, while the Taurus started at about $15,000) but we’ll call that close enough. If you had a 1989 Ford Taurus in exactly the same condition as my F-150 – a common, non-exotic or inherently that interesting car, runs basically well, transmission makes awful grinding sounds sometimes, some interior trim broken off, dents, hand-brushed purple paintjob, muffler banging around in the trunk – and you pulled up somewhere and got out of that car, nobody would think you were cool at all. They would think look at that poor bastard, and they’d spend a moment imagining all of the miserable life decisions you’d made to get you to the point where you were rolling around in a sloppy purple Taurus with your muffler in the trunk.

6186661 1989 Ford Taurus Std

Keep in mind, in this thought experiment everything else about these two vehicles is the basically the same – same manufacturer, same badges, same condition, same color, same everything, except one is a four-door sedan and one is a truck. And one immediately casts you as a loser who probably does weird shit like eating ketchup sandwiches or drinking beer through a straw while the other subtly implies you may be a cool sort of person who does interesting things in their spare time, possibly including chain-saw sculptures.

Still not convinced? Okay, look at this picture I took of my truck yesterday:

F1501

It’s just my shitty truck. But it looks kind of great out there in the verdant greenery, basking in the sun. How would this exact same photo look with that Taurus? Or a similarly-battered Honda Civic or a Nissan or Chevy or whatever non-truck? It wouldn’t be nearly as appealing, it’d just be some shitbox rusting in a field, as opposed to something that manages to evoke ideas of carefree summer nights and honest work and the occasionally intoxicating smell of sweat on skin any number of idealized, romanticized ideas about a life that we may never have even ever experienced.

This isn’t unique to Ford or any particular carmaker. Here’s another example: I went to Copart and looked for two late-1980s Toyotas, one a car and one a truck, and grabbed two of the first results I found. Here they are, a 1989 Toyota Camry and a 1987 Toyota Pickup, both in about equally shitty condition:

Toyotaexample

Which of those would you rather be seen in? The Camry feels like a car you’d be driving because you had no other choice, and the truck feels like something you might drive because it helps you do things you want to do. The truck feels intentional. 

Of course, this isn’t really rational, though we can come up with some reasons why it may be the case: trucks are, ideally, designed to do rugged, hard work that can have the side effect of taking a toll, visually, with scraped and dents and other evidence of use and wear. Our idea of a truck is one that can accept physical imperfections and consider them character, while our idea of conventional cars like sedans or hatchbacks or even SUVs and Crossovers is one that regards any wear or visible damage as an actual flaw, something that only devalues instead of adding charm or character.

If you need more evidence that this double standard is real, think about fashion shoots you may have seen with cars, in catalogs or on billboards or wherever. Cars do show up in these shoots as backgrounds or props, and those cars are either charming, interesting, usually vintage cars like classic Minis or Beetles or Fiat 500s or Citroën 2CVs, and those can sometimes be in rough condition, but their unusual, appealing looks and relative rarity give them a pass.Fashionshoots

 

There is also plenty of fashion photography that uses lovingly-maintained vintage cars, or even rougher ones, but only if they’re old enough or interesting enough to have a following. If it’s a mainstream, common vehicle in fair to crappy condition, no fashion photographer is going to use it. Nobody is draping a model over the hood of a 1991 Chevy Lumina with surface rust and mismatched door.

But they might get a model to perch on the open tailgate of a slightly rusty 1991 Chevy C/K 1500 truck with t-shirts for seat covers, and that would be just fine.

Whatever is going on here says a lot about our society, because it doesn’t stand up to a lot of empirical scrutiny. A beat-to-shit hatchback or sedan can have accomplished as much tireless, important work as a pickup truck, and there are plenty of pickup trucks that have spent lives hauling nothing more rugged than grocery bags. But the truth doesn’t matter here, it’s all about perception, because cars and trucks aren’t really rational things.

The fact is that wear and tear and evidence of hard living turn into character and dignity on a mainstream, common truck, and shame and disgrace on mainstream, common car. One suggests a life of honest, gritty work that ends with the driver squinting into a sunset, satisfied and at peace, and the other suggests a life of poorly-paid jobs, indignities, and a day that ends drunk and asleep face-down in a bag of Cheetos. I’m not saying it’s fair, I’m just saying that’s how it seems to be.

So, the take away here is that if you don’t have a lot of money but are sensitive to how your car makes people perceive you, you can get away with a hell of a lot more with a shitty truck than a shitty car. And all it costs is more gas money and everyone asking you to move their couches.

Not the worst deal.

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118 Responses

  1. Going even further on this, imagine you had an equally rough ’89 Ford Econoline. Odds are pretty good that the condition was earned through exactly the same hard work as the F-150, but ride around in the van, and mothers pull their children closer, old people give you dirty looks, and the police run your plates and trail you for a few minutes before they even realize what they’re doing.

    I’m also not sure this will hold up for more modern trucks – the early 2000’s Rams just look like they’re driven by the “That thing got a Hemi?” guys who lusted after them in the early ads, rather than a truck that’s done any serious work. The jellybean F-150’s don’t seem to be aging much better.

    1. The 2000’s trucks have yet to climb out of the valley of “just a crappy old truck” too new to be vintage cool and too old to be seen as “nice”, the GMT 800 Chevy’s (both the soap bar and cat eye trucks) are the same, as is the ’04-’08 F-150. I’m not that old but as an avid truck enthusiast all my life I’ve noticed this happen to plenty of other trucks. Not more than 5-10 years ago Bricknose Fords like Jason’s were one of the least desirable Ford trucks ever, I remember when a half decent Squarebody could be had for pennies, Dentside Fords were nothing but farm trucks and the Second Gen Dodges were just unreliable junk no-one would touch with a 10′ pole. Every one of these has come around to being popular to the point that even crappy ones are expensive, the same will happen to newer trucks as well.

      Also, as a fan of the Jellybean F-150’s I’m obligated to defend them. The styling certainly stands out, not modern, or even the foundation of modern design, nor is it blocky and square like traditional trucks (which I’ll argue aren’t even fact traditional, just recently popular/trendy, there are loads and loads of rounded style trucks) but I’d argue that it has aged very well, far better than the generation that proceeded it, and they actually have quite a following. On top of that they’re really good trucks overall and quite reliable.

    2. It’s not whether a vehicle did any actual work that matters. That’s not why white-collar middle-class suburban dads buy Ford F-150 Raptors. It’s all about the image. And in contemporary America, a pickup truck is associated with tough, tanned, muscular, burly men doing work outdoors under the sunshine. It’s more or less the old romanticized cowboy trope, updated to replace the horse with a pickup.

      The Econoline doesn’t get the same treatment, because you don’t see ads featuring ranchers driving their vans out on the range. Counter-intuitively, the classic van might be TOO much of a working vehicle, associated with delivery guys and repairmen and plumbers and mobile dog-groomers. It’s too common and utilitarian for us to develop a romanticized image of it and the people who drive it. If a pickup is the modern version of a cowboy’s horse, then the van is like the modern update of a cart – much more useful, and definitely a common vehicle for workers out in the old West, but we don’t make movies in which John Wayne rides off into the glorious sunset on a wooden cart drawn by a couple of mules, as the orchestra plays.

      It doesn’t matter whether or not an F-150 pickup was ever actually used for real work, or if the owner ever carries anything in the bed besides a cooler for family picnics. That’s not what makes the F-150 “cool.” What makes it “cool” is that when the owner of the vehicle is cruising down the highway with the window rolled down, he’s imagining himself out on the open plains or working under the beating hot sun. And when he pulls up next to an old Taurus in a parking lot, he looks at that thing and imagines the repressed, unsatisfied, 9-to-5 white-collar working stiff suburban dad driving that vehicle looking at him with envy and awe.

      Then he rushes inside because he’s only got his lunch hour to pick up the kids and take them to soccer practice and Karen’s busy with her friends or something I dunno I don’t ask these days what your mother is up to, I just leave her to it, maybe we should give marriage therapy a try again – son, did I ever tell you I wanted to be a cowboy

      1. “he looks at that thing and imagines the repressed, unsatisfied, 9-to-5 white-collar working stiff suburban dad driving that vehicle looking at him with envy and awe.

        Then he rushes inside because he’s only got his lunch hour to pick up the kids and take them to soccer practice and Karen’s busy with her friends or something I dunno I don’t ask these days what your mother is up to, I just leave her to it, maybe we should give marriage therapy a try again – son, did I ever tell you I wanted to be a cowboy”

        THIS!

        So much need for even imagined envy and awe coupled with the frantic desire to somehow be *better* than the exact same guy in the beat up Taurus the 12-15 mpg and shitty ride quality of an older truck is totally worth it.

    3. This is a pretty good addition to the question – I would wager that a van (like an Econoline) is actually MORE likely to have worked than an F-150. But, maybe it’s the fact that it’s doing paid work rather than ‘leisure activity’ work? The vans tend to be used by ‘low-class’ tradespeople, but, the pickup is seen as a rancher driving around their property, a farmer moving stuff around the farm, etc. Wait – is it that people connote pickup trucks with horses?

      I also think the newer trucks are just too new. Any of them that are in that category are just extremely used, trashed, and beat up, rather than just ‘old’. Even ‘cool’ old trucks can cross a line into ‘just a piece of crap’ if they’re in poor enough shape.

      1. Pickups have fewer secrets. The beat-up old windowless van has uncomfortable “Free Candy” associations and the same is true with once-plush conversion vans, which lead one to now assume there’s something like a meth lab behind those velour curtains.

    4. I think it applies to other stuff. Old worn jeans or a worn out hat? Cool. Worn out suit? Not cool.

      Rusty and worn out tool box? Cool. Worn out suitcase? What are you, a hobo?

      Beat up fridge in a garage? Cool. Beat up fridge in your kitchen? Gross.

      Maybe some sort of romanticized viewpoint of manual labor.

      1. 100% true, but the dynamic extends further. The signifiers of a workin’ man’s life (truck/jeans/etc) become luxury/status goods. See designer jeans, $80k luxury trucks, $1k cowboy boots.

      2. Great observations! I think you hit the nail on the head. I think that most of us live our lives in a sanitized world where we don’t do much of any manual work.
        Since the industrial revolution, we have been romanticizing the agrarian life of the past. Tolkien pitted the simple, pastoral hobbits and elves against the industrial(ish) orcs with their mass produced weaponry.
        I have lived both lives, I grew up on a small farm and then moved to the city to work in a lab then as a manager. There is something nostalgic about going back to the farm and helping out. A few weeks ago my wife and I were at the farm and she got to meet a calf that was about 4 hours old. Of course, the mother was there munching on the placenta.
        For every good moment, there are equally bad ones. Watching corn wither for lack of rain, or not being able to plant because there’s too much rain. Having a tractor break down far from the shop in the middle of winter.
        Anyways, I’m rambling at this point.

      3. It’s 100% this. It’s fetishization of the ‘working man’ earning a living with his own two hands, hard work and sweat. His beat up jeans, truck, tools and garage fridge just show how HARD he works. When it’s a worn out ill fitting suit and suit case, you’re clearly a lazy poor trying to pretend you’re a white collar worker.

      4. I meant to post that not as a reply but it lives forever now.

        I was also going to say that the jellybean F150 has graduated to work cool, I think it might be because the look is dated now so it doesn’t look like it’s being trendy anymore.

        The 2006-2008 Rams might not be at that point and I’m not sure why. Like later Rams – especially with the cheap black plastic grilles – are completely there, as are the older ones. The facelift with the bigger headlights though, it just doesn’t have any cool.

    1. This has to be the most existential question posted on a contemporary automotive site to date. I personally know 6 people who have had both of these cars and I am sure, wholeheartedly, that every single reader of this site knows at least 1-9 people that have had any vintage Taurus or F150, bravo, Mr. Torch for getting our juices flowing. Bravo.

  2. Oh no, now I also want a pick up truck!
    It would be perfect, since we usually only drive 3 maximum three people, scratches from small street parking booths would be a non issue, and transporting boat cradles or sofas or scrap bicycles or pianos would be a lot easier.

  3. Because a truck isn’t meant to be “pretty” to begin with. It is meant for work, meant to be beat up. When it is beat up and 25 years old, it is “job well done”.

    The beat up Taurus is just a beat up car that no one cared for.

  4. Torch, just wait until DT starts sending the truck mixed tapes.

    I think that we put more stock into taking car of one’s own car more than we do one’s own truck. As you said, trucks were made to be banged around and take the abuse. Cars, which can be just as utilitarian, are considered more of a reflection of the people who drive them. If you can’t keep it neat and clean, then you’re probably a bad person who kicks puppies and launches cats from a slingshot. You got a beat up truck? Well, you’re probably a hard worker and the kinda guy I’d like to get a beer with. Never mind your meth addiction and always loaded hair trigger gun collection.

    Years ago, I went to visit a friend that I had not seen for a while. He’d started his own house painting business. We got into his 90’s era Firebird to go grab a drink and meet another friend. I was horrified to see that he was using a sports car as his company vehicle. There were paint splotches everywhere and paint cans in the back. Outside of the obvious bad choice to put paint cans in an enclosed space where you’re operating a moving vehicle, it just seemed abusive to me to use that particular vehicle in such a manner. He didn’t care. He got the car for a cheap price, so it didn’t bother him that he was totally ruining it.

  5. This really only applies to 80s or later economy/commuter car shitboxes and 80s pickups. Doesn’t apply to clapped out muscle cars, like the cars on the show Roadkill for example. Take the General Mayhem 1968 Dodge Charger, and David Freiburger’s 1974 Chevy C10 muscle truck for example. Just about every body panel on both is a different color, aside from the windshield the Charger has no glass and no interior. Both are fan favorites on the show.

  6. This whole thing makes sense when you bring pants into the picture.
    Think of these vehicles as pants.
    You can get pants anywhere. Any time.
    Buy a pair of jeans. Work in them. Watch them fade. Wear holes in them. Do you still wear them? Yep. Do people dig them? Yep. Because you earned those wear marks doing honest labor. And when you didn’t, people either still dig it or they can tell.

    Now go buy a pair of Khakis. Same year. Same store. Wear them to work at the office every day for a decade. When they finally fade and become threadbare, wear them out. People will think you are too cheap to buy a new pair of pants or you’re down on hard times and don’t have the means to work your way out.

    Old Khakis suck. Old jeans rule.

    See? Everything can be understood better when you look into someone’s pants.

  7. Comes down to looks…no matter what trucks will all stay relatively the same forever… A cab followed by a bed. Where as cars from the same era can be all over the board boxy land barges, swoopy sedans with a sea of grey plastic and fabric. Wedgy sports cars that if you lined them up would eclipse each other…

    Yet the truck remains the same for the most part. Easy to visualize fixed up and modify… Once again cars sometimes of the same era just look like shit… I mean I can’t look at a 1990 cutlas ciera and think ” man this thing would be awesome fixed up” it allready looks like garbage….

    Trucks will always get a pass.

    1. Trucks can also be ugly and drive like crap, but be perfectly fine for doing their job.

      The 1990 Olds Cutlass Ciera is a passenger car. Its purpose is to look good and drive well. They are supposed to be a pleasure to be operating; either through performance, comfort, or some combo of the two. The Olds arguably failed at that in 1990, but it certainly fails compared to all the other options out there.

    2. That’s a big part. They styling of cars varies a lot more than trucks. No one wants the ugly jelly bean cars that make up most of the shitboxes we are talking about. Trucks can’t have a bad style if you don’t have any.
      Of course that’s changing now, I doubt in 20 years anyone is going to look too fondly on a beat to shit 2022 Silverado.

  8. There are scars in the paint on the bed of my truck that I can point to and say “in 2005 my buddy Brandon borrowed my truck for a weekend to haul some band gear across the state for a gig because his broke down. Right there is where the guitarist didn’t lift high enough and one of the feet on an amp dragged the top of the bed. He offered to pay to fix it and I laughed and said it was no big deal.”

    I can also point to my wife’s CX-5 that I’ve been driving for 4 months since it gets so much better MPG than the truck (and she is working at home) and honestly say “Other than the armadillo mark on the front valence, I have no clue where any of these dings or dents came from.”

    Part of it is that the truck isn’t an appliance to me, but there’s something more to it as well.

  9. Man I loved that 1st paragraph had me loling. It’s an interesting topic and I’ll post a few different possibilities.
    1. Trucks are popular right now, cars much less so. So used trucks benefit from this millieu.
    2. As you stated trucks are work vehicles. Cars are transportation. So some patina on a truck is proof of a life well lived doing what you are supposed to do. A car is not purchased for a life like that so it showing a rough life is like a $20 hooker rode hard and put away wet.
    3. Perhaps a 3rd example trucks are seen as masculine, therefore cars feminine in comparison. Why do we expect women to shave 90% of their body, wear high heels, dress fancy, smell nice and behave politely? And men can grow hair anywhere dress down, fart on public, and take pride in silver hair and scars?
    That’s just the way it’s always been.

    1. “That’s just the way it’s always been.” – at least ‘recently’ after men stopped wearing tights, wigs, makeup, couture jackets, and frilly-everything to establish status and social acumen. And after every man had a tight, waxed haircut and wore a 3-piece suit everyday.

      You’re correct in that our social construct establishes what is deemed fit for the sexes, but incorrect that Western cultures always have set a very low standard for men’s physical appearance and behavior.

  10. There are a few cars that can match an old truck for the scruffy-cool factor. Volvo 240s look pretty good with some wear and tear, as do ’70s American land yachts. And anything British, Italian, or French driven daily gets a pass. But typical ’80s-90s plastic-bumpered snoozefests, yeah, they don’t age well at all.

    Maybe that’s part of it: all the plastic. Trucks have metal bumpers that acquire character with some dents and scratches. Plastic that’s beat-up just looks like junk.

    1. I would argue old side curtain Triumphs rival trucks in the shoddy chic vehicle category. A scruffy TR3 still looks like a lot of fun. Similar to an old truck, they seem to have an essence of raw mechanical purpose.

  11. Well, neither of those Fords looks cool to me. They’re both tired, worn-out vehicles. Maybe because I come from a time when you bought a truck to do work, not as a daily driver, but I don’t find worn-out trucks to be any cooler than worn-out cars.

    1. Eh, I’ve bought trucks to put to work my whole life. I think you’re hitting on something with the grocery getter aspect but I feel the opposite: a truck that’s clearly put in hard hours and hard miles has my respect and gets my “cool” points way faster than new and shiny.

      My current truck is an 05 F250 V10 with 250k on the odometer. It’s been through hell and back with me and I love it, despite the fact that it’s a rusty, gas guzzling dented up monster. My old man just bought a 22 F250 and I just… Don’t like it? No character. Unproven. Looks an awful lot like he could be using it for Costco runs.

      Nothing gets to the age Torch’s truck is without it’s knocks, and that’s what gives old trucks their cool factor.

  12. I have been waiting for another article about this truck. It inspired me to go get my own shitty truck. I picked up an 86 F150 last week. Its a 351w with a 4spd and known bad alternator. Its probably somewhat shittier than Jason’s truck.

    I picked it up from a town about 20 miles way. Made it two miles back before it sputtered and died and wouldn’t restart. Guy a bought it from is awesome and came and towed me to the next exit and we got it running again and followed me home. Took a different way home so we could get off the highway sooner and promptly got pulled over for no tags. We both pulled over and produced the paper work and the officer was pretty cool about it. I left the car running. As soon as the officer handed my license back, literally his hand on it and my hand on it, the truck died again. We tried to jump it for about 15min with the cop blocking traffic before he told us we could tow it up the road to a parking lot. Got it running and made it the rest of the way home with out issue.

    The truck came with a new alternator, and I went to put it on the next morning only to find out it had a cracked housing. Called the guy I bought it from to see if he still had the receipt and he’s getting it swapped out for me. (again, really good dude).

    So now I have a rusty truck out in front of my house in a decently nice neighborhood that I can’t really do anything with and so far, three people have stopped to tell me how cool they think it is.

    1. David Tracy and Jason Torchinski! You read that reply above and think of what you did! With all the stories and reflections about Paos, Yugos, Changlis, VWs, XJs, ZJs, and everything else. What vehicle did npg latch onto? The Marshal. Not the easy to park/economical stuff. Not the kinda economical and kinda compact SUVs. The full sized, gas slugging pickup truck. I hope you are happy with yourself.

      I am because it’s a great article, full of insights and deep thoughts. (Plus, I’ve owned five pickups throughout my life as well.)

      This post does beg to ask which vehicles you own do have the most influence with us readers.
      Hmmm.

        1. When the dandelions really get to you, just remember that they’re often the first food bees get coming out of winter and therefore justified.
          Plus, what do you care what ol’ man Jones thinks?

  13. How about this: Lets compare them to people. I think most would agree that trucks are masculine, and cars are feminine. Or, at least, that’s how most people see them. Now, which gender is allowed to age, and which one is constantly chastised for each passing year? Yep. Of course, it’s commonly written as ‘men age better’, but, that isn’t true – they get the same wrinkles and saggy shit that women do, but, for some reason, society doesn’t have a problem with it. And, yeah, I think the old truck thing is that trucks are seen as ‘manly’, and thus, like men, are allowed to age. Sure, there are exceptions – just like some older women are seen as ‘hot’, some older sedans are still seen as relatively desirable. But, on the whole, sedans, like women, are seen as washed-up and useless when they’ve got just a little bit of age/wear on them.

    1. This is a terrible take. You’re just projecting your personal gender roles onto a situation that doesn’t call for them. I don’t think you’re even right when it comes to gender roles (other than you’re parroting a stupid and generally incorrect stereotype). But it definitely has nothing to do with a truck.

      As a society we – IMO rightly – hold expectations for things and people when there are faults of choice and tolerate and accept things and people when there are faults outside of people’s control. Able bodied but oblivious teenager screwing around and getting in the way of you doing some work? You’re pissed off. Same delay because there’s an elderly person with a cane taking a long time to get out of your way? You might even help!

      The truck may or may not look the way it does because that’s what happens to a truck when it is doing the job it has to do. But the car looks like that because the owner didn’t give a shit and didn’t take care of it. End of story.

      1. Easy with the terrible takes. Read what was written and think about why this elicited such a strong response from you.
        I think this is a commentary on society, and it has interesting parallels to society’s take on gender roles and vehicles.
        I also think Mthew_m shares your view on stupid and generally incorrect stereotypes. (one good indicator of this is the quote “Of course, it’s commonly written as ‘men age better’, but, that isn’t true – they get the same wrinkles and saggy shit that women do, but, for some reason, society doesn’t have a problem with it”).
        The reality is this is a somewhat illogical double standard for both the vehicles and the gender roles and your last paragraph kind of reiterates that and misses the question being asked and discussed in the article: why is that? Interesting how expectations get ingrained in us and we try to retroactively assign logic to them (behavioral psychology and economics shows some interesting irregularities when it comes to views on policy, herd mentality and especially us vs. them mentality in a two party system. I remember reference to a study where people had a view, then changed it based on an article about their party endorsing the opposing view, and the follow up interview the same people had directly opposite views to before and were coming up with a logic behind it, despite the only change being a statement of where their party stood on it. The takeaway being they changed their view on a policy to align with their ‘in’ group. Fascinating stuff…)

    2. Completely disagree. I think it is as others have said: a beat up truck is a reflection of work well done. It’s a farmer or a construction worker or a outdoors person who used a truck as intended. It isn’t pretty because it wasn’t meant to be pretty. It was intended to haul stuff and pull trailers and go off road and to work.
      On the other hand, a Taurus was designed to comfortably carry a family. It’s supposed to be the “nice” vehicle to carry the kids to school and extracurricular activities. It’s the one you jump in and go on a summer vacation. It’s the one you meticulously maintain to ensure everyone who travels in it is safe and comfortable. It’s the desirable one to drive while the truck is the one with busted A/C, an AM radio, and odd smells from chainsaw oil to lawn mower gas.
      To see a ratty truck is to see a vehicle that has lived a rough life yet still soldiers faithfully on, while to see a ratty family sedan is to see a vehicle that has worn out it’s welcome and is being neglected. The truck has been around while the family sedan has likely been replaced twice over by new SUVs.

  14. I’m here for this:

    “If he could just say “hey, put the F-150 on the phone” and talk to it directly, I think he would, and I think it would end up in one of those “no, you hang up first” kind of situations.”

    I’m not sure if I have greater appreciation for the fact that one of you would plausibly do this or that the other knows that’s exactly how it’d go down.

  15. Hearty laugh at the thought of DT talking to his beaters and saying “no, you hang up first.”

    It’s pretty simple – if my Suburban gets dinged it’s likely because it was doing something useful like hauling gear and people, going off-road, etc. If my Fiesta ST gets dinged it’s because I done screwed up and for no other reason. The Suburban wears its battle scars with pride while anything wrong with the FiST is a source for shame and regret.

  16. My 1994 Ford F-150, Fire Engine Red and bought from my 88 year old neighbor a year before he died, laughs at my other two cars. Seriously. Late at night I can hear it in the driveway making fun of my 2009 Camry (a gift from my mother when she quit driving – praise the lord) and my wife’s 2010 VW Beetle Convertible. The truck laughs at them until they are crying.

  17. “… and the other suggests a life of poorly-paid jobs, indignities, and a day that ends drunk and asleep face-down in a bag of Cheetos.”

    One does not have to live a life of poorly-paid jobs and indignities to wind-up drunk and asleep face-down in a bag of Cheetos. Not that I’m speaking from experience or anything. Nope. Not that.

  18. Counterpoint– in the 2020 doldrums (have those ended?) I bought a 1995 Oldsmobile Cutlass Cruiser (the wagon) in fairly rough shape. Non-running, faded paint in places, Buick roadmaster wheels, etc. Basically just an old forgotten Oldsmobile.

    I got it running nice, and now, without any real cosmetic fixes, I am complimented at least once a week on my car and I see joy in peoples’ eyes when they see my wagon. Perhaps some people think I’m broke and just getting by, but when most see it they just assume it’s my intentional choice (which it absolutely is)

  19. As the owner of a 94 F-250, a lifted 4th gen 4Runner, and a hard top convertible, I get into more conversations and admiration toward the F-250. Every one loves it. I mean, everyone is fascinated by watching the hydrolics do their thing on the vert and gasp as the tuned power. The 4Runner is not over the top but has cool wheels for those who don’t understand all that was entailed to get it where it is. But the regular cab long bed gets the most looks. It has faded paint, original steelies with the hubcaps, really good condition interior…and 84k original miles. It just looks like it is ready to tackle anything.

  20. Think about the kind of song that includes the word truck or pickup truck.
    Now think about the kind of song that includes the words “old car”.
    I’m sure the former conjures up a lot more imagery than the latter.

  21. If you want to get philosophical about pickup trucks, see the below video from Regular Car Reviews. It’s all great, as are all of his reviews, but start at 10:54 for the literary analysis.
    Prior to that, “The American pickup truck gets romanticized as a symbol of freedom and patriotism, ignoring all the evidence of its basic function as a work vehicle.”

    Regular Car Reviews
    2000 Ford F 250 Superduty 7.3L Powerstroke Turbo Diesel
    Sept 13, 2021
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y__y3K1g7y8

  22. Trucks have that blue collar hard work aura, so a beat uo truck that runs is a champ. A taurus is just a bummer of a car. I feel like we see trucks as something that can get abused and the more beat up it gets, if it runs, we just want to cheer it on. We see an old beat up sedan and maybe we think it could be an ok car for a 16 year old to drive to school in. And sedans and such are kind of just people movers. Trucks are the everything mover work baby.

  23. Isn’t this a function of the current automotive landscape? Trucks are popular, while sedans (“cars”) are just a commodity. Look at the resale values of these comparisons – the trucks currently command a premium vs their equals. The sedan is an undesirable form whether new or used.

  24. An old truck is *supposed* to show some evidence of hard use. Hard use is the reason it exists, so that patina is expected. Not so much with a “nice” passenger car. Those are supposed to be well cared for and kept clean and shiny so the neighbors know how well you’re doing.

    Also weird: A pristine Taurus of that vintage would be a Cars and Coffee darling, as would the equivalent F150. It’s a weird double standard.

  25. Maybe you should look into latin american double cab and offroad family vehicles. Rastrojero and Ranchero and many others are easily advertising stars in 3rd world economies! The Rastrojero even made it from Argentina to Canadá and back using only 5000 liters of “gas-oil” (diesel) and had a lovely old pencil drawn add in magazines!

  26. Not true for me. I hate trucks. I hate looking at them. I hate driving them.

    I wish 3/4 or 1 ton SUVs were more common. Without having a wall between the passenger compartment and cargo area, either can be much larger.

    When I borrow a truck, it’s for the towing capacity (to tow a car trailer, really not pushing the limits). I do not want a 75 foot long barge, with the interior space of my Celica.

    I’ll admit, there are some people for whom they work well. But I do not think they’re cool, and most people who own them do not need them.

    When I make a run to the dump, or the scrap yard, or haul a refrigerator (the things that truck drivers brag about), I use a utility trailer. Lower deck height and easier access than a truck bed. And I can still easily bring both my kids, have a comfortable ride, get decent mileage AND have a reasonable turning circle.

    I am in the process of fixing up a conversion van, which should do most of those things. Except the mileage and turning circle.

    1. You are describing a van, Ford Econoline or similar.

      I’m not the only Econonerd on here, but speaking from experience the low deck height of van is so superior to the pick-up for loading things, especially the kind of things that you load for a dump run. You also enjoy the upside of keeping more delicate items from being subject to the elements as you do with a truck.

      As a bonus a removable bench seat or two and you have an excellent human mover, capable of moving the local little league team infield or Jedidiah and his team of barn raisers, with equipment.

      I’ve done all of the above, save for the last two, and moved sheets of drywall and plywood in the rain in a 45 year old Econoline, and while I cried when I sold my ’83 K10 it wasn’t because of any loss in utility.

      You’re a vanner, embrace it.

  27. Talked with DT about this when I visited with him Sunday. Like others have said the truck continues to be a functional tool well after its intended lifespan. I also think that media has made the old truck a cowboy cool item that has Marlboro man status.

  28. It’s not just cars, SUVs can fall into this also. A few years ago I decided I wanted 4×4 and actual power. Both things my 1998 Dodge Dakota Sport with a 2.5 four lacked. I really liked it (other than gutless and 2WD) so I looked at selling it and getting a 4×4 Dakota with a V-6. That dream died a quick death until I started looking at Durangos. (the result of a Dakota and a Caravan getting together one night) Ended up selling the stripped down (and I mean stripped. the only option other than the “sport” stickers was the extended cab) Dakota for $2200. I then turned around and picked up a fully loaded 1998 Durango SLT with 4×4 and a 5.9 and less miles for $2200. I basically did a straight across trade of a no option truck for a fully loaded SUV that was based on the truck I had. Similar Dakotas at the time were going for two or three times the price. The only explanation I can come up with is that the truck is seen as cooler than the SUV.

  29. I think part of it is that they literally don’t make them like this anymore. Stylistically, trucks got a lot rounder in the 80’s/90’s. I don’t think you can get a manual transmission in a truck anymore. And you don’t see a lot of trucks that are basic but maybe a little better trimmed than a white fleet grade truck with plastic bumpers and rubber flooring. You also don’t see a lot of single cab or even supercab trucks that don’t have a full size back seat and traditional door anymore.

  30. A beat to shit truck speaks to it’s purpose.
    An off-road 4×4 lowered onto it’s low-pro street tires speaks to the owners misunderstanding of this salient truth.
    A beat to shit car is just…..a beat to shit car…

  31. I was looking for a used Honda Fit or Kia Soul. What I actually bought was a 2004 Ford Sport Trac pickup because it was a good deal..
    Now interestingly I’ve always driven junk, an old Subaru wagon, an old Sienna minivan. In Douglas County CO these stand out as loser-vehicles. The cops are bored because there’s no significant crime in this rich white neighborhood, they spend their time harassing high school kids out after curfew (really, there is a legal curfew for under-18s here) and pulling me over to check that I’m not a criminal in my loser-vehicle. I’ve never been pulled over since getting the pickup.. although objectively it’s in worse shape than either of the previous vehicles.

    My wife gets the Sundance catalog. The models are frequently draped over old pickups, but I’ve never seen a car behind one of those skinny lanky girls..

  32. I appreciate that when you guys write articles like this, you actually give your answer for the question in the headline. Feel like a lot of corporate content mills would just ask the question and then leave it up to the comments, then do a slideshow about it later.

  33. Nah, old beat to hell cars can be cool, you just have to have the correct car. I think it mostly comes down to materials- that old F-150 is pretty much all steel, and it wears it’s dents and scars with a dignified patina that is characteristic of steel. The Taurus is a fantastic plastic mess, and plastic in any condition other than pristine looks like shit.

    I had a buddy in college with an early 90s Cadillac, don’t remember the model but it had the big V8 northstar, massive wings, and suspension that bounced for days. It was also beat to hell, with nary a body panel without an actual puncture. Most of the electronics didn’t work, the AC only functioned up front, and the radio was scratchy as hell, but it was cool. You could fit like 8 people in the back seat in relative comfort and trundle around town on an extended beer run enjoying the whole experience. The key difference is that thing was a beast new, and has aged into the cool old uncle, whereas the Taurus was always a bit dribbly.

  34. Why? Because it is a P-I-C-K-U-P T-R-U-C-K. You should know better than to even ask the question. Expanding of Immanuel Kant, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel probably said it best: It is because it is.

  35. I can see this in my driveway, the 2002 F150 with minor scrapes and a banged up bed is much cooler than the 2003 LeSabre with assorted dents. Oddly the truck is a comparative cream puff with only 118,000 miles despite being owned by a business for most of its life. Then again the tool value of the truck is much higher since it can tow and haul and spent most of May doing one or the other.

  36. Boils down to what you park in a garage (or under cover):

    Nice cars live in garages and only seen when driving. Crappy cars don’t live in garages so they don’t get any respect because they are seen as crap.

    Pickup trucks can’t fit or aren’t expected to live in garages. So crappy trucks are used to being seen outdoors and expected to be roughing it in the elements.

  37. Hell yes. A truck is always the answer. Except when it’s not? Actually have always preferred trucks til the last 20 model years. Just because most of us are obese does not make it a requirement for our trucks. We need decent small (think 1990s Toyota) sized truck again. Body on frame. A real honest type of vehicle.

  38. Its sort of like the difference between a durable good and a consumable. A durable good like an old power tool may be a little sketchy but it probably still does the job. Sure the chop saw comes on when you plug it in and you have to unplug it to turn it off, but it still cuts and its foundation is worth enough to replace a switch eventually (true life story). A consumable like boots don’t really do much for you if your toes poke through and the sole flops around. Just buy new boots already…you don’t look cool, you look homeless.

  39. I think there is something being overlooked here. These days a lot of car reviews go on about soft touch materials (or lack of) in interiors. Cars for decades have had everything from velour to squishy vinyl coverings and carpeting inside. Trucks, until recently, were pretty bare metal and rubber.
    If I’m looking at getting in an old used vehicle, the ick factor comes into play. What’s embedded in these nasty materials? A good old bare metal truck interior just feels like it would disinfect so much better. I’m thinking these modern luxo trucks are just going to be gross as they age too and the difference won’t be there anymore.
    Then again, truck drivers have probably done a lot more farting in their vehicles over the years.(citation needed).

  40. I think this has to do with the status difference between something you choose to drive, and something you have to drive. Plenty of people keep a well-worn old work truck around for weekend projects and whatnot–for all anyone knows, your other car is a Toyota Century, complete with chauffeur, and you just like to get your hands dirty on weekends to remind yourself of your hardscrabble origins.

    But you pull up in a busted old Taurus, it’s because you’re out of options.

  41. A truck is always inherently useful, most full-size pickups are powerful, and even when worn-down and on their last legs, they, for some reason, have a purposeful and rugged look to them. The vintage regular cab short bed variety in particular is always seen as the best looking, even though it’s kind of a typecast truck with limited versatility.

    This is not unlike Sam Elliot, Sean Connery, or John Wayne, all men that most women think aged like fine wine, even when everything that made them so handsome in their younger days had faded, and were primarly good at exactly one kind of role.

    Then there’s most cars. The Art LeFleur or Jeffery Combs of the automotive world, if you will. While incredibly versatile and useful, but they lack whatever it is that makes the other three men I mentioned a movie star, and most people are only vaguely aware of what they can do even though these actors are far more capable than the three stars I mentioned before.

    My entire driving life I owned two-door coupes or pickups until 2017, when I bought a Toyota 4Runner. It lacks that rugged handsomeness of a pickup, it lacks that sportiness of a coupe, but it makes up for that by being far more versatile than anything else I’ve ever owned, but to most, it’s just another SUV, and those that know me wonder when I’m going to get another pickup or coupe.

  42. I’m not 100% sure, but this might only be true for malaise era cars. A running bmw 2002 or 70’s muscle can get away with rough paint, body filler, etc. Beetles are a whole exemption of their own. And then there’s that Taurus in the pic. That’s no sedan sir. It is a WAGON, and therefore cool.

    1. So I got my kid from practice, ten minutes each way, all the while looking for rough cars and trucks. Suburbs, not very gritty. Roughest sedan I saw was a dented and sticker coated first gen Prius. More environmental cred than a brand spanking new BEV in my book. Roughest truck was a tie between an about 15 year old Dodge/Ram with dents, oxidized paint that struck me as neglected and disreputable and a Nissan PU with a shell, lots of travel stickers and badly peeling paint on the hood that exuded a worn saddle vibe. I did see 3 old tercels that gave off an honest, hard worked, return on investment feel, but they were too well cared for to call rough.

  43. Counterpoint: the sedan would be cool as hell if it was an SHO. I still reflexively check each and every shitbox ’89-93 Taurus in the hopes that someone doesn’t know what they have and I can convince myself that it’s worth fabricating parts for.

    Eh, who am I kidding–still one of my all time favorites, but wow, have they aged poorly. The only redeeming things is that glorious manifold, and it’s not visible. Probably wouldn’t even be able to open the hood on half of them these days.

  44. I’ve noticed this too, but it doesn’t just apply to older vehicles. When someone spends $70,000 on a new pickup their friends and family will pat them on the back and endorse their wise decision of buying a wholesome, hard working vehicle. Let that same person spend half that amount on a coupe. Friends and family will whisper behind their back wondering when the hell they’re ever going to grow up?

  45. I think it’s because trucks don’t have a style to be ruined, they’re designed to look good with the bed replaced by diamond plate and a company logo on the doors, whereas cars are styled to look good on the showroom floor. Cars that have a more aggressively utilitarian styling will have a similar coolness to trucks, like GM G-bodies and Ford Panther body. I think it’s more so the fact that long straight lines and chrome bumpers look better all banged up and rusted out than bubbly plastics that once looked great at the showroom.

  46. It’s character. Real or imagined. Old trucks have it. Especially manuel shifted. (Sp but it works….). Taurus, Camry. Void of character (unless a SHO Taurus).

    With the eclectic collective that JT owns, I’m sure this is obvious.

  47. In our collective mind’s eye, pickup trucks have always been designed for work, for hard manual labor, not for driving well-dressed folks to the Met Gala. Remember the TV commercials of our youth, the Bob Seger “Like a Rock” campaigns for Chevy, or the “Built Ford Tough” ones? In those commercials you’d see actual boulders being dropped into the bed of a brand-spankin’ new truck, which would then crawl down a dusty washboard road and scrape by a few cacti on its way to a mountaintop to get to the construction worksite. They’d show off the ability and utility of these trucks by beating them up when they had fewer than 50 miles on the odometer, just to show off how unpretentious and capable they were from new. Most cars aren’t marketed the same way that trucks are. Cars are meant to be sensible peoplemovers, or flashy speedsters, or headturning luxury cruisers. There’s an idealized vision associated with them. You don’t see Jeep Wranglers marketed as sensible grocery-getters, and the marketed use-case for pickup trucks reinforces the notion that if they’re scratched and dented and weathered, they’re not neglected but rather hardworking and unpretentious and being put to good use. And the cultural parallel of men’s appearance vs women’s appearance in western society is apt. We don’t idealize the looks of women-as-hardworking-archetypes, but instead the more “decorative” aspects. Our cultures don’t idealize the natural condition of the bodies of women that have borne and breastfed several children, but rather we idealize the barely postpubescent ones who have yet to do anything physically demanding. In that sense, yes, we look at a beat-up old truck the same way we’d look at, say, a 50-year-old Harrison Ford, or a 60-year-old Sean Connery, or a 70-year-old Cary Grant, even if those guys haven’t done a lick of hard work since their 20s. We see their wrinkles and scars and gray hair as signs of experience, hard-won wisdom, fights won and opponents bested and dangers survived, as if those faces were the actual characters they portrayed. And we look at an old Taurus wagon and we see, I dunno, Roseanne Barr, or Kathy Bates. Lots of trips picking up and dropping off kids and groceries, but no glamour, nor any sweaty adventures, just unassuming and uncomplaining and undervalued “women’s work” that half the world engages in every day and nobody wants to write a movie about.

  48. Cool old trucks don’t have old car stuff. Carpeting isn’t cool. Infotainment systems aren’t cool. AC is “cool”, but not cool so much as tolerable. High sidewalls are cool. Lots of room in the engine compartment is cool (Straight six and room to stand!). Normal ride height is cool, lifted is uncool. Detroit locker rear axle is cool. Full time 4wd is not. Weird fleet paint colors from new are cool (US Forest Service green, FTW!) Custom rear bumpers made of diamond plate with a vice bolted on are cool. Chrome bumpers not cool. Ladder racks ( sure, put your kayak on it, I won’t tell) cool. Fake roll bars (show bars?) not cool.

  49. I actually just bought a (kind of) shitty pickup. And I know that not only did I know I would get a pass for dings and scrapes, I also realized how differently I judge things. I looked at an Infiniti SUV. Nothing major wrong with it, just a little bit of trim knocked off and a touch of rust. Then I looked at a Chevy pickup with rust bubbling under the paint in the wheel wells and an airbag light on.
    I didn’t buy either one, but I judged the pickup as being in a reasonable condition. In my mind, that luxury SUV should have been taken care of, but the pickup didn’t need to be.

    Admittedly, I was looking for something that would hold what was left of its value, and I know selling a dinged up luxury vehicle would be difficult, but I also just looked at them differently.

  50. I got you beat. What sold better than all of those in the 80’s but gets no love whatsoever? I have the quintessential 1980’s minivans (and an older example with the quad sealed beam headlights) and that poor thing gets no love whatsoever when I argue it deserves way more respect than it gets.

  51. Perhaps it’s because the Taurus is meant to be used and replaced, where a truck is meant to be used…and used again. A truck can become a faithful friend that never lets you down. A Taurus is a faithful friend until it lets you down. And because trucks are “simpler”, they can be fixed in the driveway to be a faithful friend again.

    As well, at least from the perspective of somone who was once a young boy, trucks are cool. Ask any boy whether they would rather ride in the Taurus or a pickup, odds are they will choose the pickup.

    Little boys, in my experience, love tractors and trucks. And those little boys grow up to become men, aka larger, hairier little boys.

    I love sports cars, but between the two presented options, I would take the truck every damn time.

    1. Old pickup trucks are cool because they still have utility. No one wants to haul grass, trash, dirt, gravel, or an old engine in their fancy $98,323 Suburban, but a beater 1989 F-150 is perfect, and lets you legit instead of looking like a garden center, mall crawling, city slicker poser.

  52. An old, worn truck looks like it EARNED that finish.. an old, worn Taurus looks like it was subjected to it.

    My ‘73 Dodge has rusty patches, sagging door seals and a bit of a DIY paint job but it gets a bunch of comments for the same reason, it looks like the automotive equivalent of John Wayne; grizzled, confident and just a little dusty.

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