The Long Haul

Silverado owners go the distance driving toward (or past) the 200,000 mark
The Long Haul
Vince Russo works with his beloved white Chevy Silverado parked safely at his side. Photograph by Justin Maconochie

As more hybrid and electric vehicles turn heads and win hearts, pickups can seem like slow-lane dinosaurs on a path toward extinction.

But try telling that to the (mostly) guys who ride high with a bed in the back. In addition to providing transportation, workhorse pickups are their owners’ co-workers. Like B.B. King’s guitar, Lucille, there’s a bond that forms between driver and vehicle.

“This truck has been through hell,” Vince Russo says of his 1998 Chevy Silverado. “I’ve towed with it, loaded it, overloaded it. I pulled out trees with it that I couldn’t believe I pulled out, like my son’s godmother’s tree; it almost took out the front porch with the roots.”

Russo, an Eastpointe mechanic who owns Russo’s Garden, a landscaping business, expresses unabashed affection for his Chevy. Beginning with the declaration “I love my truck,” he recounts his Silverado purchase the way most couples recall their first date. “I bought it on 9-10-99. The minute I saw the truck there and saw it was white (I’d never had a white vehicle), it caught my eye.”

Russo recites his mileage without even a glance at the odometer: 245,121. That longevity earned him a berth in the Chevrolet Silverado 200,000-Mile Club, which has 270 members in Michigan alone.

Over the miles, Russo has become attuned to his Silverado’s nature, including flaws that have emerged, as they do in all relationships. “She’s just now starting to get a little rust on the door,” he says. “I wax her three or four times a year.”

He’s replaced the fuel pump twice and the rear differential.

He’s protective, possessive even. “Valet parking? No, I don’t like other people driving my truck.”

But he doesn’t give her much rest, either. “We go to weddings, we take the truck. We go to funerals, we take the truck,” he says. “I’m going to drive it into the ground.”

Russo knows it’s a gas-guzzler, but says, “I wouldn’t give her up for a smaller car or a four-cylinder.”

That’s a sentiment shared by fellow Silverado die-hards.

“When I drive a car, I call it a sardine can; it’s too tight,” says Raul Cortes, a Grosse Ile home remodeler.

Cortes’ 1999 black Silverado claims “only” 165,000 miles. “I’ve driven it all over: Georgian Bay, Connecticut, New York, Florida, Indiana,” he says. “I’ve got four daughters and I drive them to dance classes, school, doctors.”

Cortes aims to hit 250,000 or 300,000, and does his part by changing the oil every 3,000 miles and rotating the tires twice a year. “I do the spark plugs and tune-up stuff myself,” he says. “It’s a good engine. I can’t complain. One time in 10 years, the fuel pump died. The only thing I don’t like is the rear windows; they get loose and rattle.

“But, hey, you want comforts, you buy a Suburban.”

Pickups appeal to a man’s man who gets his hands dirty, as the screen names of Michigan Silverado Club members indicate: Firefighter2516, Useshands4, GTO_mechanic, Redneck011, and Hillbilly214.

As a group, they buy for the long haul. Pickups have the greatest average age of all domestic vehicles, at 9.1 years, the Federal Highway Administration reports.

David Lussier has logged 298,000 on his 1994 white Silverado, driving from Monroe to Oakland International Airport, where he’s general manager of Oakland Air. Gas prices did prompt him to buy a Chevy Cobalt. But, he says, “I didn’t trade in the truck. I want to make 300,000 or 350,000. It’s got no scratches, no dents, no rust, and no rips in the interior. The only thing that doesn’t work is the radio.” The silence is OK, though, he says. “I ‘discuss’ things with other drivers on 275.”

While fellow motorists may disappoint, the Silverado doesn’t. “I bought it for $4,500,” he says. “It could break down on the side of the road and it wouldn’t owe me anything.”