When It Comes to Vehicles, Prepare to Pay for Hype

Dear Car Talk:

My question is, why is a pickup truck so much more money than a car when half the car is missing?

They seem way overpriced to me. Why? Thanks. -- Marie

Great question, Marie. There was a time when pickup trucks were cheaper than cars. They were considered bare-bones work vehicles, designed to get dirty and haul stuff, and not much more.

And they were priced accordingly. They had certain capabilities that cars didn't have -- like the ability to carry a lot of weight and, sometimes, four-wheel drive. But they were also missing lots of amenities that cars had -- like a comfortable ride, convenience items and certain safety features.

Well, as pickup trucks became trendy -- as fewer people actually used them for work and more people wanted to appear to be doing work -- the manufacturers discovered that if they loaded those trucks up with car-like amenities, they could sell them for ridiculous amounts of money.

And since companies are in business to make money, add amenities they did. They piled them on. And raised prices accordingly. They did it mostly by attaching desirable options to higher trim versions of trucks.

So if you want a basic, two-door, low-end work truck, you can still get it for a pretty reasonable price. If you can find one on a lot. But most people buying trucks now want them to be luxury, image-enhancing vehicles. So, they option them up with fancy wheels, leather seats, 15-inch touchscreens, power tailgates and running boards, parking sensors, heated and cooled seats, and optional butt scratchers.

That means it's not unusual for a well-equipped Ford, Chevy or Ram pickup truck to sell for $60,000-$70,000 now. Even without a roof out back.

And while a full-size pickup is bigger, more durable and has a heavier-duty suspension system than most cars, it doesn't cost twice as much to make as a car. Nowhere close to that. So, the difference is really pure opportunistic mark-up. They cost so much because people are willing to pay that much for them.

The same is true for crossovers and SUVs. They're very similar to cars in terms of how they're made. But the body styles are in high demand now, so you pay considerably more for a Corolla Cross than you pay for a Corolla.

So, if you want a bargain, zag when everyone else is zigging. Buy a sedan now, when salesmen are eager to get rid of them. And when everybody gets sick of not being able to fit their full-size pickup trucks into their garages and paying $80 to fill them up with gas, pick up one on the cheap. Then you can pay $80 a tank.

Do you love NPR? Want to support your local NPR station? Did you know you can do it with your old car? They’ll pick it up for free. It’s easy to donate a car to public radio. Here's how.

Todays Car-o-Scope

What the stars say about your car for 5/14/2022
Someone with blue hair and a forgotten turn signal driving a Chrysler product will bring ill tidings to your life. Proceed with caution.
Select your sign
  1. Aries
  2. Taurus
  3. Gemini
  4. Cancer
  5. Leo
  6. Virgo
  7. Libra
  8. Scorpio
  9. Sagittarius
  10. Capricorn
  11. Aquarius
  12. Pisces