Home » What They Drive In A Small Town: 2003 Chevy Impala vs 2005 GMC Sierra

What They Drive In A Small Town: 2003 Chevy Impala vs 2005 GMC Sierra

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Good morning! How was everyone’s weekend? My wife and I saw John Mellencamp in concert this weekend, which has inspired me to look for today’s choices in Indiana. But first, let’s head back to the Twin Ports quickly and finish up with Friday’s winter beaters:

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Looks like the Sonic takes an easy win. I mean, it’s orange, and it’s a stick; it should be able to beat out a gray crossover. But I wouldn’t dismiss that Torrent entirely; basic GM vehicles like that just chug along for eons. Everything will rattle, half the stuff in the interior won’t work, but by golly, when you have to get somewhere, you get there.

Which brings me to today’s contestants, both from Bloomington, Indiana. Not quite the “Small Town” that Mellencamp sings about, but not exactly a bustling metropolis, either. For those unfamiliar with vehicular choices in Midwestern small towns, it’s simple: Every household has, at minimum, a truck and a sedan. Both are domestic brands, always, and both are often from the same parent company; it’s uncommon to see someone who has a Silverado and a Taurus, or an F150 and a Dodge Stratus.

With that in mind, here are just about the two cheapest cars for sale in Bloomington right now, and check it out: it’s a sedan and a truck, and both GM. Let’s see which one you prefer.

2003 Chevrolet Impala – $2,500

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Engine/drivetrain: 3.4 liter overhead valve V6, four-speed automatic, FWD

Location: Bloomington, IN

Odometer reading: 170,000 miles

Runs/drives? Yep!

What can I say about the W-platform Chevy Impala? No, really – I’m drawing a blank. This four-door sedan is about as exciting as a pair of socks. And not cool socks either; we’re talking the ten-pack of plain white ones from Wal-Mart. But there’s something comfortable and familiar about the W cars; they hung around so long that everyone either had one or knew some who did, especially in the Midwest, where domestic cars are still kings of the road. You can walk down any main street in any town between the Appalachians and the Rockies and find at least one W-body, even now.

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This Impala is in neither good nor bad shape, it looks like. It’s a little scruffy around the edges, but basically solid and straight. The seller says it drives well (in two languages, even!) and has new front tires. I do see a yellow light on the dash, which could be a check engine light. But down-state, Indiana has no emissions testing, so fix whatever’s wrong at your leisure.

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I’ll admit it: I always kinda liked this era of Impala. It’s a handsome car. Yes, the driving experience is the automotive equivalent of plain instant oatmeal, but there is a reason these sorts of cars are so common in the heartland: they’re cheap and easy to fix, and you can get parts anywhere.

2005 GMC Sierra crew cab – $2,850

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Engine/drivetrain: (Probably) 5.3 liter overhead valve V8, four-speed automatic, part-time 4WD

Location: Bloomington, IN

Odometer reading: 209,000 miles

Runs/drives? Sure does

Pickup trucks are, of course, as much a part of the Midwestern landscape as church steeples and water towers. They were used as normal everyday transportation on the plains for years before they hit the suburban scene. And they work for a living. No shiny garage queens here, no sir; trucks are parked in the yard, filled up with stuff, driven through fields, and generally knocked around. That’s how they get looking like this one.

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This GMT800-chassis GMC Sierra has been around the block a few hundred thousand times, and never washed or vacuumed once, from the looks of it. The seller says it runs and drives fine, but has a slight water pump leak, and needs new rear tires due to broken belts. They don’t specify what engine is in this one, but it’s almost certainly a V8, being a 4WD crew cab, so I guessed a 5.3. Whatever displacement it is, it’s a good solid engine.

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Rust is, of course, a problem in this part of the country, and this Sierra has its share. The passenger side isn’t pictured, but the driver’s side rear cab corner is gone, and the rocker panel is sagging. I’ve seen worse, and we’ve featured worse on here, but it still ain’t pretty. But it’s a running and driving truck with working four-wheel-drive for under three grand; a little rust-through shouldn’t scare off too many folks who are used to it.

So there you have it: two good old American beaters, ridden hard and put away wet for a couple of decades in the Midwest, but still kicking. Which one better suits your needs?

(Image credits: Craigslist sellers)

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27 Responses

  1. I DD an ’06 Sierra crew cab that I bought new. Mine is a 2wd, and my rocker panels rusted out, but I had them redone a couple years ago. If the frame is solid, and it very well could be because the rockers are the first to go, followed by the cab corners on this gen of truck, that’s a truck that will has easily another 100k miles left in it. Mechanically, these are some of the best trucks ever made. Other than the rust repair, mine has never hit me with a repair bill north of $600.

    My guy could probably fix the rockers and cab corners good enough to make it look nice for $2-3k.

  2. I’m going Impala. I can smell the interior of that Sierra from here. Chevy sedans aren’t really known for being engaging to drive but they’re rock solid. My boss for the past several years prior to my job switch in November drove a newer Impala despite the fact that he can probably afford anything south of 100 grand that he wants.

    I actually asked him as to why he didn’t want to upgrade, and he basically said “it runs, it has no problems, it’s paid off, and I don’t need anything nicer”. It was a bit eye opening for me as I stood in front of a new car I’d bought only 2 years after buying a different one because I felt like it. There’s value in having a car you never have to worry about and successful people don’t usually wind up successful by incinerating money on depreciating assets.

    …that being said I’m absolutely upgrading to a serious sports sedan (CT4-V BW, TLX Type S, S5 Sportback, etc) in a few years because I’m an idiot gearhead and I avoid spending elsewhere to keep extra money around for my car…because having a cool car is something that makes me enjoy the mundane a lot more. And as a someone who’s in recovery both from serious substance use and mental health issues who’s out here raw dogging reality all day, it’s hard to put a price on those extra little joys in life. They keep me from going back to the dark place.

  3. This is one where it’s hard to choose because they are both “desirable” in their own way.

    Thise impalas are extremely good at being what they were. Exciting? No. Sexy? No. Luxurious? No. But GM Oshawa kept pumping them out and GM sold every one of them they could make for a long time. They were simple, dependable, and had enough room for a family.

    The truck, rust aside, is a functioning 4×4 for cheap. The rust is repairable — many of those trucks rusted that exact way, so cheap patch panels should be plentiful.

    In the end, I have a pathological hatred of rust (sorry, David), so the Impala wins for me.

  4. I, too, voted for Impala after rust was noted on the pickup. I had some experience with an old gf’s f100 cab ‘settling’ due to rust—and the attendant shifting issues from the column 3-speed. That was enough to have me scurrying away from the GMC

  5. “This Impala is in neither good nor bad shape, it looks like. It’s a little scruffy around the edges, but basically solid and straight.”

    But is it? The first picture shows some interesting and/or concerning panel gaps at the leading edge of the driver’s door and along the hood-fender junction on that same side. There is dent ahead of the front left wheel which may account for some/most of the weird gaps, but there is also some buckling on the leading edge of the hood. (There is a good pic of that in the CL ad.) The sizable crack in the rear bumper covering speaks to yet another incident, which I believe brings the count to three.

    In this case I would take the truck, even if it does whistle when moving. There is a lot of utility there for a good price, and as others have mentioned a body shop can take care of the rust – along with whatever happened to the leading edge of its driver’s side front door.

    Yes, both crapcans have damage in the same spot. What are the odds?? 🙂

    1. In my experience that means the door bushings have progressed to the hinges being absolutely screwed and GM, in their infinite wisdom, spot-welded them to the A-pillar and door. So you get to do lots of chiseling and drilling and hope you get the things lined up or the door is going to sag every time you open it and be a pain to close properly. In addition to the obvious gaping hole at the rear of the cab looks like the rockers are splitting apart where they join. Wouldn’t be surprised if the bottom of the A-pillar is starting to part ways with the floor as well compounding the collapsing door gap.

      Then again as they say ‘a Chevy will run poorly longer than anything else.’

  6. Impala. Yes, the gmc can be fixed, but needing tires (high school burnouts?), rust repairs, and who knows what more. Plus, it may not be a 5.3. It could be the 4.8 as well. Still a good engine, but at the surface I trust the imp.

  7. The truck owner leaves out information on half the vehicle yet still has more problems than the Impala. The Impala is as exciting as a Corolla but no where near dependable.

  8. The dash light on the Impala isn’t a CEL. It’s warning you that the ABS and traction control are disabled because the car has bad wheel sensors. They all have bad wheel sensors. You can’t get wheel sensors from the junkyard, because those were all bad as well. Last time I checked you couldn’t get one from RockAuto either, because they all went bad and the supplier was backordered for years out. That was years ago. Most people just accept that the car doesn’t have ABS anymore.

    I still voted for the Impala. Back when I was younger and single I learned just how spacious and comfortable that interior is. Find yourself a secluded corner to park in, adjust the seats back, and have fun. Trust me, you don’t even need to climb into the back seat.

  9. I really hate car sale ad listings that say “ABS light is on but doesn’t affect driving” or “Check engine light is on but I ignored it”. This is some seriously negligent shit.
    If the ABS light is on, then you don’t have ABS. Since everybody else does, you’d better watch it in the rain or snow, since you’re not going to stop when the car in front of you does.
    A check engine light is often an EGR valve or an oxygen sensor. Failure of either one will cause a modern engine to run like shit and get crappy fuel economy. On top of that, if you’re trying to sell the car, you’re telling a sizable chunk of the population that lives under emission regs to pound sand.
    If it’s broken, just say so. But adding in that “vice-signalling” bullshit is a swipe left every time.

    1. Especially when a $20 scan tool or a visit to a parts store will tell you what the light means. At least tell the buyer what they’re facing.

    2. Because nobody drove a vehicle without ABS? I agree it should be fixed, it is probably a wheel speed sensor, but I still have at least 3 cars that run and drive and were never built with ABS.

      1. Driving without ABS was no big deal when nobody had ABS.
        Driving without it in a heavy rain or snow, in heavy traffic, in a world where everybody else has ABS, requires a lot more attention and caution.

  10. As the owner of a 2006 Sierra . . . . . . . I’ll go for the Impala. The pickup is looking pretty tired and I have a good idea of the plethora of maladies it is, or will be experiencing. Sure, it will do what it’s meant to do, but it would be best to pay a little more for a nicer truck.

  11. At this price point, I’m thinking about which vehicle will get me to work tomorrow. I have more faith in the boring but sturdy W body than I do in a truck that needs a water pump and tires at a minimum. If you want a beater truck that doesn’t have to run every day though the GMC isn’t a bad deal.

  12. Impala.

    Just one look at the Sierra’s interior, (which looks like someone emptied a box of saltine cracker crumbs into ) I don’t have any faith that they even bothered to perform normal maintenance.

  13. It is the better years for the 5.3 simply because no AFM. But the price is indicative of the miles and the many thing that will need addressed if used often. the cab rust is pretty standard on these things. What is not shown is brake line condition. these GM trucks had an issue with that pretty bad. Also it would be good to check all the fluids as it looks like maybe this one missed a few maintenance cycles.

    1. the real thing is if you spend the same amount of money on repairs, cab on the truck hood and fender on the Impala, and then the likely myriad of other small things including the intake gaskets on that 3.4 the end product would be a more reliable Impala still worth just 3k. the Truck however is poised to be the next big OBS and in some instances already is. I literally sold a running 5.3 truck motor with 260K on the clock for 500 dollars last summer. the days of cheap 5.3 or 4.8 LS swapping material is fast going away, but I still snagged a much lower mileage 5.3 for 600 from LKQ 6 months prior to the swap.

  14. New tires vs belts? Impala for me. At least that’s showing some signs of maintenance compared to the Silverado. And active rust is a real downer. If it’s there it’s probably a matter of time before it needs new rear brake lines. GM was still using steel back then.

  15. As I’m reading this, Small Town by John Mellencamp came on the office radio. Just perfect stuff

    Anyway, gimme the Impala, neither car will ever die but I want nothing to do with the nastiness inside or rust outside of the Sierra.

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