In this post I’ll take you back in time a year to introduce you to my beloved truck “Valentine”. If I still owned her (I’ll explain later), today would be our one-year anniversary together.

I had wanted a truck for a long time. My Ford Escape was trusty and loyal. With the seats folded down in the back, I could fit almost all my worldly possessions. I could also sleep back there in a pinch, minus the possessions. That thing took me on explorations from coast to coast. But….I dreamed of tuck! Mostly so I could pull things. A camper! Horse trailers. Other cool stuff. Throw muddy boots or firewood in the back. So much potential!

Budget considerations definitely helped narrow my search. I wanted to pay cash and not mess around with loans or financing options. The right truck came along one day while I was living in Arkansas and I pounced! It was a 2001 Dodge Dakota in good shape. It even had fewer miles on it than my 2005 Ford Escape.

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The purchase went through right around Valentines Day, thus the name. I’m a believer that vehicles deserve names.  (My Escape was named “Dori” in reference to the Finding Nemo movie, when the literate fish reads an exit sign in a sunken submarine.  In those first post-college years, “just keep swimming” seemed like a good motto too.) I think naming your vehicle helps you take better care of it.

I wasn’t really into car mechanics earlier in my life. However, when I got Valentine there were some things about her that I wanted to change or fix. Being on a tight budget motivated me to learn how to do it myself. My boyfriend at the time encouraged me to buy a Haynes repair manual for my model of truck and I became totally engrossed in it, reading it in the evenings as I would a novel. The repair manual lasted longer than the boyfriend, so it was a good buy 😉

The first thing I tried was to replace some fuses that a bad trailer connection blew, as I had wasted no time in my zeal to tow things. It caused my tail lights and power windows to malfunction. This fix was just a couple dollars and a couple minutes! I was super proud of myself that I had figured it all out myself. Also, the windshield wiper blades were insanely easy to replace and I was like, “where has this been all my life? How did I ever let someone else do that for me?”

Then I tried polishing her headlights, which was in all actuality, a jolly good time. I felt like a dentist drilling on giant teeth.

Before and after

Quite the difference! I did this with a headlight restoration kit. You can usually find them in your local auto parts store. I used a 3M kit like this one:

Don’t worry, I could recognize when a task would be over my head, or when buying all the tools needed make doing it myself no longer worth it. It still felt good to have my repair manual in hand and feel like I could hold my own against scoundrel mechanics that might try and rip me off. The more I learned, the more confidence I felt. I realized there were so many things I never considered myself capable of, but turned out all I had to do was read the directions and have a little patience with myself.

I decided to take on a formidable task: repainting the hood! This was a large enough undertaking to merit it’s own blog post, so stay tuned!