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Shopping Guide -- How do I
Test drive an old truck?
By Glenn Foster

       Okay, you've kicked the tires on a few trucks and now it's time to test drive the potential dream truck. ALWAYS take a seller up on an offer to test drive a vehicle, and ask if it isn't offered -- an old truck will tell you volumes about itself if you understand it's "language." Be wary of running trucks that you aren't allowed to test drive as even unregistered, brakeless trucks can be driven a little (BE CAREFUL!!!!). Make sure the seller has a really good reason for not letting you "fly before you buy."

        SAFETY NOTE: If this is your first time behind the wheel of an antique truck, start out SLOWLY. These large, underpowered (compared to modern vehicles) vehicles demand more skill and attention than today's modern marvels of comfort and ease.

        Here's Glenn with some advice on how to separate the keepers from the parts trucks....

Before you go

        Before you hop in and roar off down the ole dusty trail, give the ole truck a once over to make it looks up to the task. Check simple things like tires, oil, etc. Look up underneath the fenders, running boards, and such. Dirt is ok but rusty holes and bubbling metal mean future work. Look at the oil and the grease (in the spring shackles). Now, some hawnyock can take a grease gun and go out and pump the fitting full for the first time in ten years, but anyone who doesn't do basic maintenance on a truck just ain't gonna figger to take the time to do that.

        Do the tires look good without a lot of dry rot cracks? Enough air and tread?

        Open the hood and check the wiring. On older trucks with cloth-braided wiring harnesses, check for tangled messes and bare wires. If you see a real mess, you may want to forgo electrical system function checks and just assume it's bad.

        All these may seem a little obvious and overly cautious. In the excitement of buying an old truck, you might overlook something that could cause problems on the road. The seller might be confident but you should still check -- it's your life. Always saddle your own horse.



        If the owner will go with you and let you drive the truck, I would suggest you check the brakes FIRST!!! Start out slowly and make sure they even work at all. Later, you can test them at progressively higher speeds to see if they pull to one side or fade. You can also do things like stop while going down a hill (not a steep one, just downgrade), then put the old girl in reverse and back up (you can even test the emergency brake--will it hold, let a little off the clutch and slowly release the emergency brake). A smooth start is nice; if it bucks and kicks backing up, think, maybe, clutch problem.

        Be sure to check every gear, too, if you can. Shift into each gear to check that it can, indeed, shift into each gear. Gears that are difficult to get may indicate a problem with a synchronizer. Not a huge problem, but again, one more thing you'll have to fix sooner, rather than later. While in each gear, listen for whines or other noises from the tranny that might indicate problems with the individual gears. On 4-speeds, it is not all that unusual for 2nd gear to make a little more noise than the others (because it gets the most use) but it shouldn't be bad.

        If this is your first time driving an old truck, remember to keep your speed down and don't over rev the engine. If it's a pre-'67 with the 4-speed, and you're on a level parking spot, try starting out in 2nd gear. If you do, don't forget to test 1st gear at some point.



        While you are driving the truck around on a straight road, do a series of wedeln turns in the lane (if you are a skier, you'll understand -- editor's note: "Stem Christies" for us Eastern skiers). Great for checking the feel of the control slop in the steering, caster, and camber.

        Don't forget -- This is an old truck and there will be a different feel from a new vehicle, and wear in the steering as well as tires will let the truck wander and hunt a little, but, if you have to "chase" the truck with the steering wheel to keep it in your lane, well, maybe it ain't bad, but it ain't great, either.


Vacuum and Electrical Systems

        Once you and the ole girl start getting along okay, start checking every system you can. If it has a switch, flip it. If it has a knob, twist or pull it.


        Check the windshield wipers -- if they're vacuum, they should start and go pretty good. On vacuum systems, though, they may be a little sluggish when you accelerate. Be warned -- Most old, unrestored trucks with vacuum wipers generally have slow, sluggish wipers. If the truck has working wipers, bonus!

        If you're testing a big 'Bolt (ton and a half or up), don't forget to test the 2-speed rear axle (if it has one) and hoist mechanisms. They are pretty straight forward and they either work or they don't. Familiarize yourself with the instructions first, though, or have the seller demonstrate their functions for you.


        Check all the lights -- head lights, parking lights, dash lights, interior lamp, under hood lamp* and turn indicators.* Go back and forth between high beam and low beam a couple times, anything you can think of. Check for function as well as if there is any hint of electrical smell coming from shorts or other problems with the wiring. None of these items are deal killers, but it helps to know what you may need to work on first.

*If installed


Post Drive

         Once you park the truck after a test drive the engine and driveline will be at operating temperature (hopefully) and this is a good time to check for leaks. Look under the hood as well as under the whole truck to check the engine, transmission and axles for vigorous leaks. Some seepage is to be expected out of an old driveline but you shouldn't see gushers. Likewise, you shouldn't see steam gushering from the radiator.


The rest of the truck ...

         What should you look for in the rest of the truck? Woogeroo has written an excellent buying guide for that.

Good luck and happy hunting!

       Be sure to check out our extensive Forums discussions -- from General Truck talk, Electrical Bay, Big Bolts, Panels and Burbs, Engine and Driveline, Paint and Body, Interiors, Tool Chest -- The Stovebolt Collective can help in your quest and walk you through the mire and magic of working with old iron. ~~ Editor .

v. July 05

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