Modern-Day Trucks, Collector Trucks and “Backyard Mechanic” Necessities

Greg Zyla
Modern-Day Trucks, Collector Trucks and “Backyard Mechanic” Necessities
Question: Hi Greg and I enjoy your columns in Truck Round-Up Magazine. I have overhauled a few engines and transmissions in trucks along the way, as I own a 1964 Dodge pickup and also an old 1954 Chevy pickup that I’m just starting to play with. My daily truck is a 2015 Chevy Silverado which is one very fine truck.

Here in Pennsylvania where I live, 4x4 trucks always make sense. I have my Silverado serviced regularly, and I change oil every 3,500 miles which I still do myself. I've replaced things like rear taillights, but to do much more on these modern trucks is really a problem.

I've heard that in order to change things we could do really quick on a 1954 Chevy truck, like an air filter and spark plugs, is now a really big task on the modern trucks. I guess what I’m trying to say is that everything is so easy to get to in my older trucks, but the modern day trucks are nearly impossible to work on unless you are a professional mechanic with the right equipment.

So, how are people who enjoy doing their own work going to do that in the future? The way trucks are being built nowadays makes just about everything impossible. I feel that there is a need and will be a need in the near future for a “modern farm truck” that would offer the simple necessities. Thanks. John T., Athens, PA

Answer: John thanks for your kind words and interesting letter. What you write about I discuss with my car and truck friends every week with many opinions on the subject.

Let’s start with the basic backyard, do-it-yourselfer truck or car mechanic, of which there were many who fit this description right on through the 1970 decade.

Back then, when I opened the hood of my Dodge Club Cab with a 318-V8 (or whatever truck you might have had then) you could see everything! The spark plugs were easy to change, and you could even remove the cylinder heads with not much problem if necessary. If you had to change a cam, an ignition or put a set of headers on it wasn’t really that big of a problem if you had even a mid-level understanding of mechanics. You could perform all of the needed oil changes and fluid changes easily to keep your truck running in tip-top shape. You and I probably fit the “home mechanic” category as we lived it and enjoyed it.

Perhaps the biggest knuckle scratcher of the early 1970s era was the addition of the government mandated “clean air” pumps and air/fuel/exhaust re-cycling mechanisms that weren’t there on the cars of the 1960s and earlier. Even with the pumps and government mandated “clean air” parts, it was still fairly easy to work on your truck, car or station wagon.
Today, as you have found, it is in most cases impossible to work on modern day computer controlled engine and transmissions unless you are in the business full time.
Needed today are expensive engine diagnostics “high tech gadgets” which are a must as they pinpoint everything going on with these modern engines and can cost big, big money. As for the average Joe backyard mechanic, they are all pretty much gone and we’ve become washers and waxers of our trucks with the oil change usually the only real thing we can do that’s not that difficult (if you have the special tool needed to get the oil filter off). As for changing spark plugs, most today are 100,000-mile plugs and in some cases, you have to jack the car up to get at some of the plugs if you can at all.

To summarize this column, today’s manufacturers really don’t want you doing your own mechanical work on your truck, especially with the extended warranties they offer.

Most of the mechanics who work in the dealerships are now highly trained individuals who have to go through extensive schooling to work on these forever evolving new trucks. The dealers also have to invest thousands of dollars to make sure all of the necessary tooling and computerized tech machines are on hand at his service center and absolutely necessary to work on new trucks.

Still, you are 100-percent correct in your entire well-put example of what has happened to the modern day vehicles. I also agree with you that instead of making things nice and easy, the cars and trucks today are all “power this and power that,” and most don’t even start with a key anymore. In my time, I never had one problem inserting a key or cranking up windows, too. I also dislike the finger “touch screen” features that control everything from stereos to heated seats, but all of that is here to stay.

I can’t end this column without giving a pat on the back to the independent mechanic stores/garages, like your area totally independent mechanic to the chains like Pep Boys, Auto Zone, Monroe, NAPA and a host of others that can help as best as possible with the minor problems.

I’d love to own one of those old “farm trucks” that were sold from the 1940s to 1970s, notably stripped down work trucks sans all of the amenities. But I have to admit that today’s new trucks, even with all of the high tech computer and mechanical features, are way better built, much safer and give better fuel mileage. They ride like comfort coaches compared to the trucks we drove in the 1960s to the 1970s…we just didn’t know any better.

But thankfully you have two collector trucks to keep you happy on those weekends where you can go into your garage, put in a set of plugs or whatever and then spruce it up and restore the truck to the best of your ability or whatever your economic condition can allow.

Today’s trucks are like the evolution of the 45 RPM vinyl record, then cassette tape, then CD and now Google or Amazon streaming of music via your cell phone to your car’s stereo system apps. We just can’t stop progress, no matter how complex it might be.

Thanks for your letter John. Be assured the reason the collector truck hobby is so big and booming is because we love our trucks and can still do our own work, be it pull the transmission, change valve covers or change the carburetor and intake manifold because we always enjoy spending time in our garages on a nice Saturday morning. 
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