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At Toolmonger, we think of a shop truck as a vehicular multi-tool — as necessary to an active shop as fire and the opposable thumb. But what if you don’t have $25k burning a hole in your pocket? All isn’t lost, especially if you’re willing to turn a wrench and get your hands dirty.

A while back we happened upon a 1990 Chevy Silverado single-cab long-bed that looked like a good candidate for a low-budget shop truck. After a little negotiation, we parted with a few hundred bucks and became the proud owners of a steaming pile of Chevy. Incredibly, we managed to drive it back to the shop, and in this first installment we give it the once-over, to find out how bad off we are and to lay out our inital plan to turn it into a hauler that won’t embarass us — or leave us stranded somewhere.


Starting from the outside in, we can see that we’re in for some long nights. Our (long) fix list starts with this truck’s powdered and nigh non-existent paint. Despite the fact that naked metal shows through in a number of spots, we found remarkably little rust on the body. But as this truck has worked its entire life, it does sport more dents and dings than we could count. We considered washing it to get a closer look, but feared the rest of the paint would flake off before we’re ready to address it properly. So we thought it best to move on.


For lack of a better word, the interior is trashed. The headliner is held up by the truck’s heavily-worn visors and happy thoughts. The interior door panels flap loose at the bottom and are missing their pull handles and arm pads. The dash, while mostly intact, seems to be missing eighty percent of the screws that once held it together, resulting in a no-confidence-inspiring clatter when the truck’s in motion. Combine all that with the flavorful stench of nasty old work truck and you feel the need to grab a shower just from looking at it.


Chuck, being the miracle man of cleaners and solvents, took the Chevy’s nasty interior as a personal challenge and managed to scrub out most of the oil and grease stains in the original blue carpet with carpet cleaner and a fair chunk of elbow grease. More importantly, his scrubbing removed a good bit of the smell. We threw an el-cheapo seat cover over the bench seat to keep the stuffing where it belongs. At least we can drive it around without getting crap all over us.


One piece of good news: not only does the truck run and drive, its AC blows cold — a big damn plus in Texas. There ends the good news. Even though its windshield features a current Texas state inspection, the truck blows smoke under acceleration, loses oil at a prodigious rate, and seems to be missing its catalytic converter. A glance under the hood reveals some sixteen-year-old’s dream of speed: aftermarket headers (complete with un-installable O2 sensor dangling loose next to the firewall) and bits and pieces of various bullshit bolt-on “performance” additions.


We know our way around a Chevy small block, but considering our limited budget, we decided to call in a pro to help assure we don’t head off in the wrong direction and spend cash on things that don’t need fixing. So we de-greased the engine as best we could with several cans of Gunk engine cleaner, hopped in the Chevy, and smoked our way over to our friend Wayne at MasterTech Auto Care in nearby Plano, Texas. For a small fee, Wayne turned his expert eye (and compression tester, etc.) on our find and gave us the lowdown.

Our little 350 was making compression, but the heads need replacing. Part of the under-truck goo is originating with the transmission pan, whose gasket is shot. The crappy gas mileage that prompted the truck’s previous owner to offer it so cheaply is mostly due (not surprisingly) to the missing O2 sensor, which throws off the fuel mix. And the starter lead wire is routed so close to the headers that it’s gonna burn through any minute.


All in all it looks like we have our work cut out for us. In our next installment we’ll detail our final engine part order and walk you through the process of pulling the engine for rebuild. We’re already putting some research into low-buck interior options as most of this truck’s interior is unsalvageable.

The paint, on the other hand, is completely unsalvageable, so we’re saving it until last.

MasterTech Auto Care [Website]


13 Responses to Budget Shop Truck Build, Part 1: The Truck

  1. nrChris says:

    This is a post worthy of the Toolmonger blog that I knew and loved! Seriously, I am excited to see the progress on the truck. Keep it rollin’!

  2. Old Donn says:

    Oh no you don’t! The last time I commented on a truck blog, my fellow mongers smoked me. Good luck on the build. The up side about Texas is winter won’t slow the progress.

  3. Bob The Drywall Guy says:


    As the proud new owner of a 93 Nissan pickup, I’m interested to see what you can get things done for.

  4. eschoendorff says:

    Those older Chevy/GMCs are great platforms to work with… and they are available for next to nothing…

  5. argosytech says:

    Sweet! This will work out well helping me with the 91 GMC Sierra standard cab/short bed that I recently acquired!

  6. Russell says:

    Awesome, as a recent proud owner of a 92 Dakota V8 which has similar issues with it’s interior this should serve as an inspiration to get my truck looking half decent. Mine sports a cheap Earl-Scheib paint job so it looks fine from 10ft away, also features low oil pressure, always-on ATF drip and occasional rpm hunting. Despite all this I love the size, towing capacity and brawn of this truck, it’s also easy to live with on a semi daily basis as opposed to today’s 3/4 ton trucks…I thought the titan was HUGE when it first came out, now it looks puny next to the new Tundra and the domestic 3/4 trucks.

  7. Eric says:

    Nice, glad to see I’m not the only one who recently acquired a nasty old pickup. Just got a ’94 Toyota Pickup 4WD (with bad paint, bad O2 sensor).

  8. ambush27 says:

    I just got an old 90′ bronco, the clearcoats gone t-case is broken but engine is okay, one leak that can be fixed without pulling it. interior is missing some trim panels needs brake work and a few other things.

  9. kif says:

    I’d almost, almost bet a paycheck that there is a J.C. Whitney catalog in Sean’s bathroom library.

  10. Chuck says:

    I had an ’89 K1500 longbed with the 5.7L gas. Sold it for $4200 about a year ago. It was cherry, though. 60K miles. Your best friend for parts is LMC Truck. They have every part for that truck from bumper to bumper – without all the JC Whitney crap.

  11. Thinkerer says:

    When it gets to be paint time, have a look at what this guy did with a *roller*, some Rust Oleum and a lot of diligence


    Not bad, and very durable

  12. Grrr says:

    Really like this, but when are you going to finish it? This things moving as fast as my basement remodel. 🙂

  13. Roy Oakley says:

    There was good info in part 1. budget rebuild . part 2 ?

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