I’m Keeping This Toyota Forever

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I’m Keeping This Toyota ForeverRoad&Track

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Perhaps you’re familiar with the concept of BIFL. The acronym’s everywhere now, plastered on Instagram ads for canvas chore coats, echoing like a mantra on Reddit, where users recite soliloquies to their indestructible Stanley thermoses.

If you’re confused, BIFL means Buy It For Life (often pronounced biffle). Our blue-collar workers have always understood the concept. Wheat farmers and Smoke Jumpers go for indefinitely rebuildable Nick’s Handmade Boots, while professional mechanics spring for indestructible SK hand tools. The one percent know BIFL too. Patek Philippe wristwatches, as the ads say, exist merely to hand off to the next generation. Hundred-year heirlooms are rarely fragile.

But lately, that set of purchasing values has extended to, well, everyone. Seattle hipsters all sport a rugged $400 Filson canvas pack (myself included), built to withstand the rigors of backcountry work. Likewise, actual backwoods folks pack their truck beds with thousand-dollar YETI coolers for chill weekends at the lake.

Marketing has applied a BIFL shellack to every object, whether a mechanical pencil, a washing machine, or a plunger. It’s an alluring value system in an age when Americans can afford less than ever, when every dollar spent needs to go further.

It's also a value system that’s easily packaged and sold to us, an antidote to the shoddily made, disposable crap piling up in our attics. BIFL offers a hit of satisfaction the short term (buying nice things feels good!), and according to one principle (sorta maybe) established by Sam Vimes, saves you money in the long term.

Maybe that’s why I bought a new Toyota Tacoma in 2020—regularly lauded as a BIFL hero (though not quite as lauded as the Japanese-built 4Runner and Land Cruiser). I needed a truck and, from personal experience, knew a Toyota would go the distance. So I ponied up four times what I’d paid for any other car before and bought the Tacoma. With that huge cost sunk, I made a promise: this would be my truck for life.

But the why of that promise weighed on my mind last weekend.

Three-ish years after its original purchase, with 25,000 miles on the clock, the Tacoma was due for yet another oil change. Like a true BIFL-er, I’ve kept the truck on 5,000-mile oil change intervals, twice as frequent as Toyota’s maintenance schedule suggests; when you lay down big for a BIFL item, there’s added pressure to maintain that item with religious devotion.

So I grabbed from a set of BIFL-approved, Made-In-America Craftsmen tools, and emptied the transmission fluid by accident. Because I’m an idiot.

See, the transmission’s 14-mm drain plug sits on the other side of the Tacoma’s front crossmember, where the 14-mm oil drain plug lives. After cracking the plug open, I realized the mistake within seconds, but couldn’t turn back. I’m a rather adventurous mechanic, but also scatterbrained, an amateur in every sense of the word.

It was all my fault; I vowed to maintain this truck with my own hands and intend to follow through. Dealership mechanics once destroyed the engine on my wife’s Civic. When you own a BIFL truck, there’s no leaving longevity to chance.

So the quick project turned into a longer one, as it always does in my garage. Leveling the trans fluid without the benefit of a factory diagnostics tool OR a transmission dipstick proved to be a fiasco (this is an absolute crime, by the way, that consumers have no reasonable way to monitor their Tacoma’s trans fluid level). I didn’t own the correct pump for shuttling trans fluid up into the case either, so I found myself driving all over town on a Sunday, searching for a tool that might do the job. The BIFL way dictated I find a tool to last forever, even in a pinch.

After that rigamarole, I still had a routine oil change to do. Still, I finished the day with a sense of pride. On you go, my Invincible Tacoma, toward eternity. I cracked open a bottle of homemade apple cider. For once that day, I’d uncorked the right thing.

I’ve always had a soft spot for old stuff, objects that face time with nobility. Then, sometime around the pandemic, I became obsessed by filling my life with BIFL totems. The right Japanese chef's knife, the right American-made ratcheting end wrench, the right G-Shock.

BIFL items entice us firstly because they are expensive, well-made, desirable things. You must splurge to biffle, but the nature of well-made items allows for the splurge. Second, BIFL items do insulate us from the unique dissatisfaction of owning cheap stuff.

But how much BIFL do we really need in our lives? I wondered as I sipped. How essential is the idea, really, when it’s packaged and sold to us, and every item that doesn't meet BIFL standards is just begging to be replaced?

That "best-or-nothing" mindset gets expensive mindset when applied to most purchases, encouraging waste rather than resourcefulness. What happened to that old insulated mug, the one you threw out when you bought the EDC-approved Stanley thermos? I’ll bet it’s sitting in a landfill, perfectly functional, now just trash.

BIFL focuses narrowly on items of excellence, rather than emphasizing value. Learning to cherish your humble hand-me-down folding knife becomes impossible in the face of Instagram's biffle barrage.

The challenge is to avoid applying BIFL uniformly, to avoid the marketing flood. There’s always a better item out there, and even if you do grab that BIFL grail this year, the market will replace it eventually.

For a professional mechanic, sure, that SK wrench makes sense. But for the blundering amateur like myself, Grandpa's old hand tools can indeed provide BIFL quality. Even better, used items of good quality can last a lifetime, and will put your hard-earned dollars directly into the pocket of one of your neighbors.

Followed to its all-consuming ends, BIFL drags on anyone's wallet, save the Patek Philippe types. If I could afford an item of artisanal quality at every turn, I’d choose that option every time. But I can’t, so I don’t. Even so, the choice paralysis feels constricting when every single item you own must be parsed for its BIFL-ness.

I’d rather derive joy from the smart buy than simply spunking hundreds more on the item Gear Patrol hypes up. That attitude has made me a far smarter, more informed, and frugal consumer, so that when the grail BIFL items come along that are really worth splurging for – like a new Tacoma – there’s some money left in my pocket for the purchase.

Let’s aim for a new mantra to replace the old; buy new things only when your old things break; get only as much tool as you need. And go see if your neighbor’s got that hand pump before you run off to O’Reilly’s – he doesn’t have to know you pulled the wrong drain plug.

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