Old Trucks Never Die: Dad’s Overworked Sierra Lives On

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Old soldiers never die, they just fade away. At least that’s what American hero General Douglas MacArthur proclaimed during his farewell address to congress back in 1951.

Unfortunately for geriatric pickup trucks, drifting into oblivion is hardly an option. As years and miles accumulate, they may age with the grace and resilience of Betty White, but sometimes they go out in the twinkling of a silent moment like Amy Winehouse, rusting into oblivion, leaving little more than a trail of ferrous-oxide crumbs and fluid drips as the markers of their over-taxed existences.

2001 GMC Sierra Rear 02

My dad’s trusty rig, a remorselessly utilitarian 2001 GMC Sierra 1500, kicked the bucket a couple months ago, literally giving up the ghost in spectacular fashion, like its spirit had finally been broken by one last load, a final violation of its advertised GVRW. In a way, it’s as though after 14 years of faithful service, it got called home in an instant, with no warning or foreshadowing of impending doom. If vehicles have souls, this truck’s didn’t stick around for any funerary fanfare; it scooted off to the other side faster than its 4.3-liter V6 could ever carry it on earth.

2001-GMC-Sierra-Badge-02Dad’s Sierra suffered from the automotive equivalent of multiple organ failure. Seemingly all at once, the ABS pump seized, its transmission began whining like a famished hound, it was slipping badly in lower gears, plus we suspect a bearing in the rear end had flown south and not just for winter. On top of all these acute issues, the rig also had an inoperative fuel-tank sending unit, a broken fan-speed switch and a partially decomposed tailgate that required a careful lift followed by a forceful shove to latch shut, though you were never certain if it’d remain in that position once underway.

As lives go, this truck had a hard one. Evidence of daily struggle punctuated its carcass like the piercings of a body-mod enthusiast. Call them battle scars or badges of honor if you’d rather, they were the result of countless projects and thousands of miles accrued over many weary turns of the calendar. Its weather-beaten cargo box, the business end of any pickup, hauled more than can be remembered, from yards of crushed stone and palettes of brick pavers, to tons of firewood and a horde of flathead V8 engines for my sundry projects.

2001 GMC Sierra Side 03

The result of this hardship was obvious. The exterior sides of the bed had been strategically lightened by nature’s foremost specialist in the subject: oxidation. Several years ago, some large, rusty gashes opened up along the truck’s flanks, making it appear as though the whole thing could collapse into a heap of flaky crumbles if the wind changed direction too suddenly. These openings were painful to look at and, like the edge of a serrated knife, could inflict serious bodily harm if inadvertently grazed by an errant limb. Much of this decay is due to the fine state of Michigan, which coats its roadways with liberal doses of salt in winter months to cut down on ice.

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Driving on the bump stops was a common occurrence, though failure was not. About the only real trouble this pickup gave was a transmission failure shortly after the factory warranty expired. Against all odds, General Motors replaced it for a nominal out-of-pocket fee. That right there is how you stand behind your products and build long-term loyalty.

2001 GMC Sierra Grille 01Dad acquired his shiny new Sierra 1500 back in 2001, purchasing it from Pat Moran Oldsmobile GMC in Rochester Hills, Michigan, for a price he still groans about, around $18,000. Regrettably, this dealership has since gone the way of the Pontiac and Saab. A Lowe’s stands in its place today, selling French-door refrigerators and potting soil to well-off suburbanites instead of Motor City iron to blue-collar workers.

As pickups go, this one was about as basic as possible, every bit as Spartan as my grizzled father, a no-nonsense industrial worker who has spent his adult life twisting machine handles in shops across the Detroit area. His Sierra featured the most basic six-cylinder engine, manual locks, wrist-straining crank windows and no smiles. The only so-called amenities included air conditioning, a four-speed automatic transmission and, against dad’s whishes, carpeted floors. How vulgar!

Still, its oppressive simplicity had absolutely no bearing on how hard it could be worked. The truck regularly got pushed to the limit and beyond. Making its durability all the more impressive is my father’s lackadaisical attitude toward maintenance. Oil changes occurred on special occasions and wear items only got tended to when they outright failed; not surprisingly, dad is not acquainted with a vacuum or glass cleaner, as evidenced by the dirt-caked floor mats and dingy glazing.

2001 GMC Sierra Interior 01

When it was sent to the great parking lot up above, this truck’s mileage was uncertain because the instrument cluster’s digital readout no longer functioned, a defect that necessitated counting each gear while shifting to make sure you got the one you were looking for. I estimate it logged around 125,000 miles, though that’s no different than a meteorologist telling you it’s going to be sunny and 72 degrees on Tuesday; it’s purely a guess.

I was sad to see dad’s truck go, but its spirit lives on in the replacement he purchased, a second-hand 2010 Chevrolet Silverado. Like its predecessor, this rig also features a 4.3-liter V6 and four-speed automatic transmission. Manual locks, crank windows and vinyl floors are all accounted for. Call this decision boring, predictable or even absurd, but it’s one that will never die.

Discuss this story on our Silverado-Sierra Forum

  • Mike

    125,000 paltry miles? That’s nothing. A Toyota will do 400k with basic maintenance on a regular basis.

  • Craig M. Bryda

    225,189 miles on my 2000 Silverado, Z-71, rusted rockers, rusty frame, rusty brake lines, rusty fuel lines (replaced the rusty lines) bed didnt rust but the plastic panels have busted so its the equivalent of rust I suppose, replaced the trans many many miles ago, but that 5.3 still runs like a raped ape. Been cross country in it 3 years ago, stuck in 4wd now no matter what selector button you push, but I still love that truck to pieces.