Mighty mini trucks easy on wallet

It would never tow a cattle trailer through the Roger’s Pass, but a Japanese mini-truck is more powerful than one might imagine.

“I’ve loaded that truck with well over 2,000 pounds … which is more than the weight of the vehicle and have had absolutely no problems driving around with it,” said Dwayne Webb, who owns a mini-truck in Saskatoon.

Japanese mini-trucks, also known as mini-brutes and Kei (light weight) trucks, were once a novelty in Western Canada, but the small, usually white vehicles have become a hot item over the last few years for farmers and city residents.

Morris Feduk, a grain producer near Melville, Sask., bought his first two mini-trucks last fall and couldn’t be happier with them.

“They’re awful handy, with the size of them, for certain jobs where you’ve got to get into small buildings. We have a lot of use for moving around small cargo loads on the farm,” said Feduk, who added his mini-trucks are used much like a John Deere Gator.

They come in two-wheel or four-wheel drive, have right-hand drive, weigh approximately 700 kilograms, have 660 cubic centimeter engines and an axle width similar to all-terrain vehicles.

The narrowness of the mini-truck is handy for Webb, a general contractor in Saskatoon.

“Mine is a dump truck … and I’m capable of taking the vehicle in between houses,” said Webb, who bought his truck two years ago.

“I actually can drive the vehicle through there and have all kinds of room to unload.”

Darting between buildings is not a huge concern for Paul Mitchell, a cattle and grain producer near Neudorf, Sask., but he does like the comfort of his mini-truck.

“They have a heated cab and radio and has the comfort of a normal truck … as opposed to being out in a quad,” said Mitchell, who also sells mini-trucks as a sideline.

When he started looking for a mini-brute last year, Mitchell couldn’t find what he wanted locally, so he had an associate in Japan buy his truck, or trucks, as it turned out.

“It was more feasible to bring a container of seven than just bring an individual (truck),” said Mitchell.

A sideline business was born.

Mitchell said the vehicles aren’t suited for long distances but are good for going into town.

The cost to license and insure is $300 to $400 per year, he added, and the fuel economy is much better than a half-ton.

“I actually had the tank empty, I put a gallon of fuel in and it did 53 miles,” he said, noting that his truck usually gets 40 to 50 miles per gallon.

Webb said mini-trucks are also fun. Two years ago he founded the Mini Trucks of Canada Club in Saskatoon, an informal group with about 40 members.

“It was an avenue for us to get together and kind of support each other with these vehicles,” noted Webb, who also uses his truck as an off-road vehicle.

“The wheels also fit ATV tires, so, for mine, I’ve purchased an extra set of ATV tires that are specifically used for off-roading.”

The club usually holds two rallies per year.

Mini-trucks also come with a downside. They are typically well used because Transport Canada allows into the country only Japanese mini-trucks that are older than 15 years.

As a result, potential buyers should search around before buying a mini-truck, said Mitchell, who needed several months to find and buy his first shipment of seven vehicles.

Webb has similar advice for first-time buyers.

“I’ve always told people that if you’re looking at buying one of these trucks, be prepared. It is a used vehicle.”

Despite their age, Feduk is satisfied with his two trucks.

He said it wasn’t difficult to become familiar with the right-hand drive.

“It’s not a problem. One amusing thing I found is when the police stopped me for seat belts one time. They had to walk out in the snow (near the ditch) to come and talk to me… So at least I got my $176 worth.”

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