Doctor's Orders

Tom Bodett

Tom Bodett | May 30, 2012

My doctor is always telling me I need to exercise more. When I say always I mean whenever I see him, which is every year or two. If you're a man of a certain age - mine, for example - and you are only seeing your doctor every year or two; you are doing okay. I come from a place that believes if you need more exercise, then you're not working hard enough. It is with this same rock-solid logic I greeted the admonition from my mechanic that I have to exercise my work truck more. I'm not kidding.

My truck is a 2005 Ford F350 Super Duty turbo-diesel 4x4. It is what God meant when he said, Let There Be Pick-up Trucks. It is stout, fearless, noisy and large. I live in Vermont and can spark spontaneous candlelight vigils just by driving it through town. It is not as crass and in-your-face as a Hummer, but not too far down the list. I use it for hauling brush and logs and mulch and dirt and rocks around the place, often without entering a public road. And I use it for trips to the lumberyard, sawmill, and Big Ugly Tractor Parts Store. I also like to take it to the food co-op whenever possible just because I can. Hopping out of a 350 with an organic cotton shopping bag can make the Crocs and Birkenstock tribe's heads explode, and I never get tired of that.

What prompted my mechanic to give me this health advice for my truck is the new turbine he had to install, which puts the turb in turbo-diesel. Turbos, he explained, need to be worked or they will... I stopped listening after that. He said, Drive it every day and drive it like you stole it. Or, what? Cholesterol will begin building up in the fuel injectors? Arterial sclerosis will make it suck wind on the way up the field with a load of topsoil?  I'll go out some morning to find a dead, swollen truck laying on its side in the yard? I don't think so, but I can't be sure, so I've lately found myself obsessing over the health of my truck.

Before it came to me it was a plow truck. What this means is that for the first three years of its life it was rode hard, put away salty, and parked in the shady spot behind somebody's barn all summer long. There is so much rust on the frame that I have to wear goggles to go underneath it. The slightest tap and rust flakes will rain down like powdered death. After installing side steps I crawled out looking like a Chilean miner. But, I choose to look at falling rust as a positive thing. It is, after all, rust that is no longer on the truck. I had it oil undercoated last year and that helped for awhile, then all the rust fell off with oil attached to it. Time for another coat.

I put less than a thousand miles on the truck last year and most of them were 1/4-mile trips up and down the field. If the tractor gets stuck somewhere, the truck pulls it out. If the truck gets stuck, the tractor pulls it out. If the tractor and the truck get stuck - which happens more often than you might imagine - well, that's why God made neighbors with bigger tractors.

This is all good honest work for a work truck, but not enough exercise. So I'm resolved to find ways to drive it more. I could take the boys to school in it, but I'd have to lower them from the cab with ropes and that would hold up the drop-off line. It would also undoubtedly get me disbarred from the Green-Up Day committee.

I would start driving it on date nights if it did not mean I'd be dating someone other than my wife. I could take it to the airport when I travel, but it won't fit in the parking ramp. The one time I tried it I had to get out and untangle the hanging Maximum Height 6'10” sign from the lumber rack and back out. Parking it in the other lot would require me to exercise more than is probably good for me.

I will continue to take it to the Co-op, and I'm sure the wife will not begrudge me doing that more often than I do now. I will buy organically grown groceries and on the way back, I will go that extra mile to the bio-diesel pump so that the truck and its guardian are running on nothing but the healthiest fuel. I suppose I could loan it out to truckless friends more often, but they usually return it to me clean and swept out and I find that disturbing.

We are a pair of mid-career slobs, my truck and I. Too young to die; too old for spandex. So we will work as hard as we possibly can and just hope the turbos hold on as long as we need them.  And there is one more place I can drive it to - my doctor's office. In a year or so, maybe. Just for a second opinion.


(photos courtesy of Tom Bodett)

Get the Car Talk Newsletter

Got a question about your car?

Ask Someone Who Owns One