Pickup Trucks 101: Synthetic or Conventional Oil?

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By Matthew Barnes

Changing fluids in a pickup truck has been necessary since the first one rolled off the assembly line more than 100 years ago. Vehicles — and what goes into them — are constantly changing and improving, especially in the last 20 years. With so many types of oil available, we're focusing this installment of Pickup Trucks 101 on the best motor oil to use for pickup trucks.

Keep in mind that many of the strategies that apply to motor oil carry over for most of the lubricants used in your pickup. The types of available gear oil, transmission oil (for manual transmissions), transmission fluid, transfer case oil and even grease for greaseable joints will have performance advantages similar to the types of motor oil discussed.

The Purpose of Oil

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For most vehicles, oils are used for lubricating and dissipating heat; grease in mechanical joints are the main exception to this, as their focus is on lubrication with cooling being an extra property. Having clean lubricants is imperative for a vehicle to function properly.
While there is a variety of differences between oil and grease brands and ratings, there are two main properties to look at: viscosity and base oil.

Oils receive single-grade and multigrade ratings, with multigrade being the more common option today. Multigrade oils contain additives that allow them to have a winter and summer rating. For example, in 10W-30 oil — in which the "W" means "winter" — behaves like an SAE International 10 viscosity rating at low temperatures and an SAE 30 viscosity rating at high temperatures.

Some vehicles today require or recommend the use of synthetic oils, but if a vehicle doesn't, is it OK to use synthetic oil? What are the fundamental differences between synthetic and conventional oils? Do synthetic and conventional oils have different oil change intervals.

Conventional Oil

Conventional oil has been used for almost as long as internal combustion engines have been around. While conventional oils have improved considerably over time, they still use the same crude oil base as they did 100 years ago. Crude oil has a lot of naturally occurring, unwanted compounds that remain after processing. These impurities can be detrimental to the oil's function. Additives in new conventional oils override some — but not all — of those impurities and they function much better than the oils of yesteryear.

The main benefit of using conventional oil instead of synthetic is cost. Conventional oil is significantly less expensive than synthetic. If conventional oil is changed on a regular schedule, it will work fine for most vehicles.

The downside is that conventional oil breaks down quicker than synthetic and doesn't hold up in high-heat applications. And for pickups used in rough terrain, for heavy towing or those that experience long intervals between oil changes, conventional oil will not provide the same level of protection as a synthetic oil.

Synthetic Oil

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Synthetic oils have been around since World War II, but they've started to boom in the last 10 to 15 years. Synthetic oils are made from more refined raw materials such as mineral oil.

The benefit of synthetic oil is that it is purer and allows for a wider viscosity range. For example: While 0W-40 is readily available in a synthetic, the biggest range commonly found in conventional oil is 5W-30. Synthetic oils also don't degrade as easily at high temperatures, they flow better at low temperatures, have better shear properties and hold their properties longer than conventional oils. Synthetic oil also reduces friction within the engine, promoting better fuel mileage, and you don't have to change it as frequently.

Both conventional and synthetic oils have additives to reduce sludge buildup, keep the engine clean and reduce corrosion. Because synthetic oil holds its properties longer, the additives will also last longer. All of this equates to better engine protection and longevity.

The downside is that synthetic oil costs significantly more than conventional oil. If you consider only cost, synthetic oils will be more expensive; however, when you factor in better fuel economy and reduced engine wear, synthetic has the potential of saving you money.

Which Oil Is Best?

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There are many opinions about which oil you should use in your pickup. Always use what the grade the owner's manual recommends or better, and follow the manufacturer's oil change interval.

So, is it OK to switch between conventional and synthetic oil? Again, if the oil in the engine meets the specs laid out in the owner's manual, you can use conventional, a synthetic blend or full synthetic oil, and switch between them as desired. The oils can even be mixed, if needed.

When doing an oil change, you should use one type of oil, but if you are a quart low and the gas station doesn't have your favorite brand of oil, pick one that meets the specs listed in the owner's manual and you should be fine.

Some consumers have complained that after switching to synthetic oil their vehicle began leaking more oil. While this is possible, it only happens when there is an underlying condition, such as a bad seal that blocked the used conventional oil, but doesn't block the new synthetic.

AAA found that synthetic oils outperformed conventional oils in eight ASTM International tests by 47 percent. In short, it's almost always better for the engine, and other components, to use synthetic oils and greases for all the lubrication needs of a pickup. Also, be aware that some oil filters are specific to synthetic or conventional oils.

If you are on a tight budget, then conventional oil may better suit your needs. Not only is the oil less expensive, but the oil filter can be less expensive as well.

Cars.com photos by Angela Conners and Evan Sears; manufacturer images

Comments

I remember I had a 3 ton that I converted to propane and put a rebuilt for propane engine in it. The oil never got darker than a honey color. The rebuild shop said to break it in and seat the rings you need to run your first oil change to 10,000 miles. Years later a true factory trained mechanic said to break in a new vehicle properly and more quickly run conventional oil for the first 30,000 miles then you can switch to synthetic. He said the better lubrication qualities of synthetic don't let the motor break in very fast especially on diesels which can lead to more problems if you work it hard before break in. Food for thought.

It goes without saying that propane is a much cleaner burning fuel than gasoline, especially in the old days.

The only thing I can imagine about break-in that people used to worry about was piston rings. The conventional wisdom said if the rings were too well lubed they would fail to etch the bores properly. I've never heard an SAE engineer say that, but many shade tree guys told me that much.

Regarding the color of the oil, using propane should have vastly reduced the amount of soot blowing by the rings and leaking down into the oil pan. Oil would stay nice and clean that way. Pretty oil does not equal good lubrication though.

I'm convinced that you should follow manufacturers instructions regarding lubes. Unless you have an Ecoboost, in which case you should hire a top dollar psychiatrist.

I spent about 2k but I plan on getting another 5 years out of it. Much less expensive to spend 2k on some body work than thousands on a truck with unknown history...

@Jeff S aka Trucker

Or you could have spent $50 like papajim said. I hear that bridge that's for sale is really nice.

@Chevrolet builds a better way to see the USA
The oil pump doesn't do anything but put oil into the bearings.
The intrinsic properties of a liquid do the lubrication.
40psi is no where enough pressure to prevent metal-on-metal contact; but 4,000 psi is -and you get that from a correctly sized & loaded bearing with a hydraulic film in between.
So, when your engine is cold, there is too much gap & not enough oil [when your oil pump reaches the maximum pressure, the excess oil flow will be recirculated]
So you can drive off immediately, but do not put any load on the engine. Nearly ALL engine wear happens here, so if you give your engine some time to warm up, you are not wearing your engine.

so if you give your engine some time to warm up, you are not wearing your engine. Posted by: George_C | Nov 10, 2017.

@George

Mostly true with one small correction.

The coolant in your motor warms up pretty quickly if the truck is idling in the driveway on a cool morning. The oil does not.

The oil only gets warm enough to hit operating temp when there's some load on the engine. No significant loading is going on at idle.

The coolant mostly circulates at the top of the engine (heads) while the lubricant circulates on the bottom (crank/rods/pump). In (pushrod) cars with hydraulic lifters some oil gets squirted up into the head, and engines with overhead cams will be getting some lube squirted up through the cam bearings.

After a while the oil will get warm but for real operating temperature to be achieved, the engine has to be under load.

Have ran Mobil 1 5W-30 in my 2002 S10 ZR2 from day one with no issues. I change the oil about every 8K - 10K miles. It is more than sufficient for the V6.

On my 2013 Camaro ZL1 I use Pennzoil Platinum Plus since I drive both on the street and road track. Change it every year as I only put 4K miles on it annually. I switched to Pennzoil because it does not break down at high heat unlike Mobil 1.

Amsoil is overpriced.
Castrol is decent

What this site should do is an article on oil filters. Their is a wide gulf of quality between FRAM (p.o.s cheap filters.. not surprised Ford uses them) and Mobil1, Wix and other filters.

Main Thing: Do your homework. If LSPI is a concern, then use an oil which meets that spec. If used in very cold climate or a very hot climate, then choose accordingly. If vehicle is used 25K miles a year or less, then a 1-year oil change may work if the oil filter is similarly rated. AMSOIL can accommodate all of these right now, unless the filter is a 15K-Miles rated. Preferred Customers and Dealers get approx. 25% discount off of list price on most products.

Main Thing: Do your homework. If LSPI is a concern, then use an oil which meets that spec. If used in very cold climate or a very hot climate, then choose accordingly. If vehicle is used 25K miles a year or less, then a 1-year oil change may work if the oil filter is similarly rated. AMSOIL can accommodate all of these right now, unless the filter is a 15K-Miles rated. Preferred Customers and Dealers get approx. 25% discount off of list price on most products.

If you own an Ecoboost, make sure to get your used engine oil tested to keep an eye on fuel dilution. My used oil samples showed over 5% fuel by volume by 5k miles. I wish I had realized how much fuel these ecoboosts dump in the engine oil or my first F-150 EB might have went longer before the timing chain went. If only I had known that Ford tunes these trucks to run pig rich.

@Russ--My S-10 is in perfect mechanical shape with only 113k miles and the original paint like new. Try getting a decent S-10, Ranger, or any truck in the rust belt without any rust or mechanical issues. The mileage and condition of my S-10 is why I spent the money on it. I have owned used vehicles with unknown histories that have cost me a couple of grand just to keep running. Having the S-10 since new and knowing that I was going to keep it another 5 years without payments. Also take $500 a month which is an average car payment and put it away for for 5 years and you have saved 30k. Papa Jim claims to be such a greater investor but I doubt he has over 800k in 401K besides having a repectable portfolio of stocks. I like the truck and it has been one of the most reliable vehicles I have ever owned. By the time I retire in 5 years I will have about 1 million in my 401k with no debts--house paid off almost 7 years ago and wife's CRV will be paid off in 7 months. Will likely downsize when I retire and move to a warmer climate and not need a truck. I will keep the Isuzu and Honda and likely give my S-10 to my nephew as a project vehicle, he might drop a V-8 in it and customize it.

Also it wasn't just to repair rust, while the bed was off the frame was rust proofed and other work was done. Patching a rust spot will not last especially in a cold climate with salt used on the roads during the Winter. If I were not keeping the vehicle I would not even bother to fix the rust. My other 2 vehicles are rust proofed which from now on I will get done even in a warmer climate. My 77 Monte Carlo was rust proofed and I owned it for over 18 years.

I learned long ago if you plan on keeping a vehicle for years it is best to take care of it.

@DB--Good suggestion on oil filters. I would like to see an article on that as well.

Jeff S cannot bear to admit the body/paint man sold him some high priced work that a handy guy at home could have done in six hours---at literally one percent of the price.

Frame rustproofing is something that Consumer Reports dismisses as a Service Department manager's retirement plan. Whether it's some magic spray that smells like kerosene or if it's a black rubbery kind of thick undercoat, these products are dubious when the vehicle is brand new. Much more dubious once the truck is damn near 20 years old.

Jeff also was unable to respond to the comments without taking a trashy swipe at my own circumstances, or to brag about his

The body man said that customers came into the shop and could not believe that my truck was a 99 and that the paint was original. Some though that I had it restored...

Posted by: Jeff S | Nov 9, 2017 2:39:04 PM
lol.
The body man says that to everyone to butter them up. $2000 for a door jam. Sounds like you got taken. Hope you enjoy the ride.

$2500 wasn't just for a small patch of rust. There was also rustproofing on the frame and the body man had to take the bed off. The body man also put the spare tire back.

Not unlike his uncle Big Al, sometimes the FAKE Jeff S cannot remember which ID he's using today.

@Fred

I did a quick Cars.com search and see that very clean 15-20 year old S10s are easy to find under 5000--the entire truck.

Dropping thousands on a rustproof treatment and some body work on a panel that people can scarcely even see seems pretty impulsive.

@papa jim--Yes you can find a used S-10 for 5k and under with 200k miles and questionable condition. There is a big difference between a vehicle with routine maintenance and one with an unknown history. You are the last person to tell anyone what to do especially recommending GM stock to someone and then the stock going down. The body man did not sell me anything that I didn't ask him to do. Since the bed was off the truck it was minimum cost to blast the rust off and to paint the frame. Much easier to not do any rust repair when you live in a warm climate which does not require salt or beet juice on the road. I have had rust repair on vehicles I have owned in the past with each vehicle lasting another 5 to 10 years without any additional body repair. I would rather buy a new vehicle and keep it 10 plus years rather than buy a vehicle that is worn out and is a money pit. I realize you are in the used car business. Have you bought any of the flood damaged vehicles from Texas? You can get a good deal and clean them up and sell them to some sucker.

I could have bondoed my truck but then a year latter I would be back at body shop with a bigger rust hole and having to replace the metal anyway. If I know I am going to keep the truck another 5 years and it is in excellent shape 2k is a much smaller investment than 5k or more for someone elses problem that could cost a couple of thousand in repairs. The truck is worth more to me in use than the blue book and if I get nothing for it when I get rid of it then I am still money ahead. Also where I live it is much cheaper to license a vehicle that is mostly depreciated than one that is newer since most of the licensing fee is based on the value and taking that into consideration plus higher insurance rates it comes out costing me about 1k for the year. I considered more than blue book value when deciding to do the body work. Low mileage, excellent condition, excellent body and paint aside from the rust repaired, and a full history of everything done to the truck since I owned it since new along with additional licensing fees and insurance.

@papa jim--Not bragging about my situation but I have put a large part of my salary away in a 401k. You claim to be such an expert about stocks and investing and then you tell me I know nothing. I have been fortunate enough to have good health and to save and I recommend for anyone working to take full advantage of any retirement savings plan that an employer offers. I will not give investment advice otherwise by telling others what stock to buy nor will I tell them what type or brand of vehicle to buy--that is up to each individual and it is none of my business. Also I do not judge others actions and tell them they are wrong and stupid. You seem to relish doing that but guess what you do not know everything. I will at least admit that I do not know everything and I do not belittle others if they do something different than what I would do.

Jeff,

Bondo and a dollar's worth of spray paint come to a tiny fraction of the money you spent.

We're not talking about a Rolls Royce. Your S10 would look great with my prescription, and I am sure it looks great with yours.

Mine costs less than 100 bucks and lasts for years. I've done it enough to know.

@papa jim--That is your opinion which you are entitled to. I would bondo a vehicle if I were going to get rid of it or if I lived in a climate like Florida or Texas. If I lived in a dry hot climate like Arizona then I wouldn't bother to do any of that.

It might surprise you to learn that body shops buy a LOT of Bondo and glass resin Jeff.

Even your body shop.

Properly applied, you'd need to have a magnifying glass to tell the difference.

@papajim
Two words: heat exchanger (or oil cooler)
Most engines have these. Heck plenty of vehicles have non-radiator integrated ones for the transmission oil.

@George

You smartened me up. Did not know that.

he body man said that customers came into the shop and could not believe that my truck was a 99 and that the paint was original. Some though that I had it restored...

Posted by: Jeff S | Nov 9, 2017 2:39:04 PM
lol.
The body man says that to everyone to butter them up. $2000 for a door jam. Sounds like you got taken. Hope you enjoy the ride.


Posted by: Fred | Nov 11, 2017 10:32:28 AM

Wow. A 1999-2000 truck with original paint! Who would have thunk it?

I have a 1997 and nobody says they cannot believe its original. Come on now. I think you fell for it hook, line and sinker. Papa Jim was educating you. You like to ramble. Listen to papa and you could learn a thing or two.

@papajim--What's Bondo got to do with oil and why is it any of your business what Jeff spends on restoring his truck?

As Jeff S said:

Oil and filters are much cheaper than a new engine. Preventative maintenance will extend the life of your vehicle and you will be more likely to keep it. I have a 99 S-10 that runs like new and I have had few issues with. I did spend some money recently repairing a rust spot on the drivers side below the extended cab. The metal was cut out and a new piece of metal was welded in. The body man also put rust inhibitor and rust proofing on the new metal and I paid him to do the same on the frame since he had to remove the bed to do the body work. I also replaced the grill and had a full size rim which I provide put on to replace the compact spare. The body man said that customers came into the shop and could not believe that my truck was a 99 and that the paint was original. Some though that I had it restored but it is all original and I am the original owner.

As far as spending some money on restiration, let me tell you a story. Years ago I worked for an independent oil man in Houston who at the time had a 75 Cadillac Sedan Deville that had over 200k miles and looked and ran like new. Most of the mileage was highway mileage which is much easier on a vehicle than short distance stop and go traffic. This man was also fanatical about maintaining his vehicles with the regular oil changes and tuneups and maintaining the exterior and interior which were always spotless (showroom new). This man told me he once had a 56 Cadillac Fleetwood that he bought off his boss when he was younger and used it in his business--mostly highway miles. This Fleetwood had over 500k miles on it with a valve job at about 200k miles but the car itself was in excellent condition. His wife drove it for years as well till she decided she wanted a new midsize car. Most of today's vehicles are more than capable of going 200k miles and beyond and if the bodies are not exposed to salt and chemicals used to melt snow or the salt air of the sea they will last a long time. Maintenance is the key to keeping a vehicle a long time and in the long run it is less expensive. As the old commercial said "You can pay me now or pay me later." I chose to pay now.

I predict that you can't sell your truck for the money you spent with the body shop.

You'd be lucky to get $2000 for it. You wasted money.

Ask the guy at the body shop what he'd give you for it. See if he'll put the offer in writing. Good luck.

@papa jim--You apparently have poor reading comprehension, I am going to keep the S-10 for another 5 years. If I get zero for it in 5 years I am ahead just from the usage I get out of it. You are looking for an argument which I am not going to give to you. I am not in the used car business like you are so I don't keep things based on how much I can get for them. The minute you drive a new vehicle or even most used vehicles off the lot you lose money. Not having a car payment or not having serious mechanical repairs is a determining factor and also doing a quick bondo fix that does not last especially with salt and beet juice used to melt snow and ice on roads. Much easier to keep a vehicle from rusting if you live in Florida and don't drive on the beach. I am not going to tell others what to do with their vehicles, what type of vehicles they should buy, or what stocks to buy.

You got insulted when I told you I have a substantial amount in my retirement account which I did not tell you out of bragging but because you constantly berate me and tell me I know nothing about investing. Maybe instead of telling others what to do you should take your own advice.

@Big Truck--Thanks. I wish I would have just left the discussion to oil, I should have known better that Papa Jim would continue to carry on about this. My choice not his.

@Big Time--Thanks, I do not regret fixing my S-10 but I regret bringing it up. Mobil 1 is good and so is conventional oil. As long as you stick to what the owner's manual recommends and as long as the oil is clean then that is all that matters. Some of the comments from those who use conventional oil and get 100s of thousands of miles agree with much of what I have read and heard from others. I am stating this again as my prior 2 comments were blocked which basically said the same thing. The key to longevity of any vehicle is proper maintenance and preventative maintenance. You don't have to keep a vehicle forever but the more years you get out of a vehicle the more money you will save. You can get to a point where it is not practical to spend any more on a vehicle

@Big Time--Thanks, I do not regret fixing my S-10 but I regret bringing it up.

@Jeff, Don't regret even bringing it up. Learn from it. An S10 isn't rare or a show truck. Putting more into a door jam than the whole truck is worth doesn't make any sense.

"The small patch of rust that was repaired on his truck could be fixed with spray paint and Bondo for less than 50 dollars. It was in a spot that really isn't that visible."
---- Posted by: papajim | Nov 10, 2017 6:58:33 AM

There's the difference between somebody who considers their vehicle as "just transportation" as compared to actually taking care of their vehicles for the long term.

Clearly Trucker wants to keep that truck for the long term and the reasoning may be as simple as the fact that he can't find a brand-new replacement for it. As such, a cheap repair like that Bondo and paint isn't going to eliminate the cause of the rust and may not even eliminate all the rust in the first place, just cover it up. Once that cancer gets started, it has to be completely excised before such repairs cost far, far more than the vehicle is worth.

I support Trucker's desire to ensure a tight, reliable fix and not something that could fall off with the first big bump in the road. I've seen it happen, too. A former neighbor of mine bought a truck that was remarkably clean looking. He loved that truck for all of three days... when a HUGE patch of Bondo fell off right behind the front wheel, showing massive rust penetration that required the full replacement of the fender. He also forced the seller (a car lot) to inspect and properly repair every Bondoed spot on the rest of the body as the vast majority of them could be found just by tapping on the body with a fingernail or a small magnet.

Bondo is a patch, not a repair. It is intended to smooth out imperfections in the sheet metal, not replace it.

"An S10 isn't rare or a show truck. Putting more into a door jam than the whole truck is worth doesn't make any sense."
---- Posted by: Chris | Nov 13, 2017 7:53:54 AM

Half true. I agree it's not a rare or a show truck but if you intend to keep the truck long term as a usable and reasonably reliable vehicle, then you will spend more for preventative maintenance than someone who plans to palm off the vehicle in trade or sale in the next year or two.

I'm fortunate that I don't have any rust worth speaking of on my '97 Ranger despite living in in the so-called Rust Belt but that's because said truck lived its first 18 years in a garage and only clocked 19,000 miles on the odometer before I inherited it. The original paint is still good as well. However, even in my case and specifically knowing the original owner, I ended up having to spend almost $3000 on repairs as the entire hydraulic clutch system had to be rebuilt due to dry-rotted boots and seals along with all four tires. Haven't needed to spend another penny on repairs and use fully-synthetic oil in the engine--where it is FINALLY broken in and offering better performance than it had when I first acquired it.

As for the oil discussion itself, I have used either a synthetic blend or fully-synthetic oil in my engines for over 20 years and never had any engine problems on a vehicle purchased brand new.

@RoadWhale--Thank you, that is precisely why I spent the money to fix the S-10. I like the truck and I like that it is not too big. Much less expensive to take care of the S-10 and keep it for another 5 years. When I retire and move in 5 years I will no longer need it. I might give it to a nephew who lives near by. I am hoping that Hyundai does come out with the Veracruz which would fit my needs better in retirement but if not then I will most likely not get another truck. Will drive the Isuzu for another 10 years but it is a little bigger than I like since it is a crew cab. I just don't need or want a large vehicle and after I downsize and move I won't need what I have. Wouldn't mind having an open bed for some hauling but I won't need a large or long bed. I won't pretend to be something I am not and I realize what I needed and wanted when I was younger is not the same as what I need now or in the future. My needs have changed since I have gotten older.

Jeff/Trucker and Vulpine/Roadwhale

They are a match made in heaven. Two guys who post their rhetorically-challenged comments under multiple identities.

Did you set a date yet?

My needs have changed since I have gotten older.
Posted by: Trucker | Nov 13, 2017

@Jeff S

Please. That's WAY too much information. Your peculiar desires are better left a secret. Maybe give Dr Phil a call.

rotflol.

I won't pretend to be something I am not and I realize what I needed and wanted when I was younger is not the same as what I need now or in the future.

@Jeff S

You majored in philosophy, right?

"You majored in philosophy, right?"
---- Posted by: papajim

He probably majored in Surviving at the School of Hard Knocks, where experience teaches better than rhetoric.

Papa Jim and Chris are right wing extremists. How come it's ok for them to talk down to someone, but if you talk down to them it is an ugly personal attack? This must be that right wing logic.

So many oil engineers on here with no background other than reading sales info. I build engines, transmissions, differentials, etc... I also do a lot of partial teardowns for modifications. I've seen engines with over 500,000 miles on them with standard every day cheap oil. Regular maintenance even with bottom basement cheap oil will work well if the vehicle is well taken care of and driven properly. Just like the parts in engines the oil differences come down to use. Synthetic oil is often recommended because it is much better in extreme situations such as high temps and extreme cold. If you have something being fired up and ran even remotely hard while it's still cold or when the oil temps are high you will want better oil. You can really see this most in the extreme temp testing cold and hot. It's like using stock pistons in a normal everyday engine at 20psi or so of boost. They will take it just fine as long as there is no problem such as timing too high, too low octane, drop in fuel pressure, etc, etc... and then they will fail. Everyday oil is fine when the vehicle is driven normally and under the right conditions. Taxi's, police vehicles, delivery vehicles, other similar vehicles for example are rarely shut off and as long as they stay in the normal temp range they will be perfectly fine with normal oil. Better oil is at it's best in extreme temps, high shearing pressure, long runs between oil changes, etc, etc... No matter the brand and type you're using how you treat the engine is as important as the oil you're using.

Nice article

as long as they stay in the normal temp range they will be perfectly fine with normal oil.

@Zippy

you nailed it with that one line!

For every engine that dies because somebody used store-brand motor oil, there are a thousand that die from blown head gaskets, warped heads, low coolant level, and women drivers.



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