It’s an age-old conundrum: Do you spend the extra money on a four-wheel-drive (4x4) pickup for its obvious utility value when driving off pavement or in inclement weather, noting that you might lose some fuel economy and pay more in maintenance?
Data from Utilimarc, a fleet analytics and benchmarking provider, dispels some commonly held notions in the 4x4 versus 4x2 debate. Utilimarc crunched some numbers gathered from 40 of its clients (utility fleets) that use half-ton pickups. The sample includes more than 5,500 Ford F-150 and Chevrolet Silverado 1500 models.
True, you’re going to pay more for a 4x4, yet the price gap between 4x2 and 4x4 models is shrinking.
From 2006 to 2013, the average purchase price for a 4x2 increased from $18,399 to $25,275, an increase of more than 37%. For 4x4 models in that time frame, the average price increased from $24,487 to $33,719, an increase of more than 33%.
But will you recoup those higher initial costs for a 4x4 when you sell it? Ricky Beggs, editor at Black Book, researched a few pickup models for the cost variance between new 4x2 and 4x4 models at three years old. For new trucks, the MSRP premium for a 4x4 model is about $3,200 to $3,900. At three years old, the spread is $2,000 to $3,000.
In a very general hypothetical, says Beggs, if the 4x4 premium is $3,900, and the three-year-old premium is $2,500, then the additional premium to acquire the 4x4 model maintains 64% of the value compared to 50% after three years for the 4x2 model retention.
Back to the Utilimarc data: This also contradicts the commonly held belief that the added machinery of a 4x4 will cause more trips to the mechanic, hence higher operating costs. Utilimarc clients reported that the average number of days between repairs (“unscheduled/demand repair events”) had increased from 2009-2013 for both the 4x2 and 4x4 models. This is obviously a good thing, as truck quality continues to improve. But while days between repairs used to favor the 4x2 models, the 4x2 and 4x4 models were in a virtual tie at about an 80-day interval in 2013.
In terms of operating costs, not including fuel, the average operating cost per mile for a 4x4 pickup over a 10-year period was $0.16 — the same as a 4x2 pickup.
“The argument that a four-wheel drive truck requires more maintenance isn’t really true anymore,” says Christopher Shaffer, partner at Utilimarc. “They [4x4 models] really are performing almost identical [to 4x2 models] in terms of parts-and-labor costs per mile and number of days between a demand repair event.”
In regards to fuel, I performed a quick search for EPA fuel economy numbers for Chevrolet Silverado 1500, Ford F-150 and (Dodge) Ram 1500 in 4x2 and 4x4 configurations for model years 2005 and 2015. The overall good news for truck buyers is that fuel economy has increased substantially across the board. And while you’ll have higher fuel costs for a 4x4 model — both 10 years ago and today — the percentage gap between average fuel economy for the 4x4 models compared to the 4x2s has shrunk noticeably.
As an interesting aside, these utility fleets are putting fewer annual miles on their pickups: in 2006, the average annual miles driven for 4x2 models was 13,181. This dropped to 11,693 miles by 2013 — a decrease of 1,488 miles. With the 4x4 models in that time frame, annual miles driven dropped from 16,312 to 15,203, a decrease of 1,109 miles.
Why? “A lot of companies are changing take-home vehicle policies and who gets those vehicles,” Shaffer says. “We have seen a trend to limit the number of take-home vehicles to reduce cost and limit liability exposure.”
“The movement to take a look at take-home policies started about 10 years ago,” Shaffer adds. “As utilities became more competitive in reducing cost, one of the things they realized was that they had a lot of employees with this perk of taking trucks home.”