It is an age-old conundrum: Do you invest the extra money on a four-wheel-drive (4x4) pickup for its apparent utility worth when driving off the sidewalk or in inclement weather, noting that you might lose some fuel market and pay more in upkeep?

Utilimarc crunched some numbers accumulated from 40 of its clients (utility fleets) which utilize half-ton pickups. 

True, you're going to pay more to get a 4x4, however, the price difference between 4x2 and 4x4 models is decreasing. 

From 2006 to 2013, the average cost for a 4x2 increased from $18,399 to $25,275, a rise of over 37%. For 4x4 models at the time period, the average cost increased from $24,487 to $33,719, a rise of more than 33%.

But will you regain those greater initial costs for a 4x4 if you market it? Ricky Beggs, the editor at Black Book, researched several pickup models for its cost variance involving new 4x2 and 4x4 versions at three years of age. For new trucks, the MSRP premium for a 4x4 version is about $3,200 to $3,900. At three years old, the spread is $2,000 to $3,000. 

In a really general hypothetical, says Beggs, when the 4x4 premium is $3,900, and the three-year-old premium is $2,500, then the additional premium to obtain the 4x4 model maintains 64% of the value in contrast to 50% after three years for the 4x2 model retention. 

Back to the Utilimarc data: This contradicts the commonly held belief that the extra machines of a 4x4 will cause more trips to the mechanic, thus higher operating expenses. Utilimarc customers reported that the average number of times between repairs ("unscheduled/demand repair events") had increased from 2009-2013 for the 4x2 and 4x4 models. That is obviously a good thing, as truck grade continues to improve. However, while days between fixes utilized to favor the 4x2 models, the 4x2 and 4x4 models were in a virtual tie at about an 80-day period in 2013.

Concerning operating costs, not including fuel, the average operating cost per mile for a 4x4 pickup on a 10-year interval was 0.16 -- exactly the same as a 4x2 pickup. 

"The debate that a four-wheel driveway truck requires more upkeep is not really true anymore," says Christopher Shaffer, a partner at Utilimarc. "They [4x4 versions ] are performing nearly identical [to 4x2 versions ] in relation to parts-and-labor prices per mile and number of times between a need repair occasion." 

In regards to fuel, I conducted a fast hunt 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 would be that the gas market has increased substantially through the board. And while you have greater fuel prices to get a 4x4 version -- both 10 years back and now -- the percent gap between average fuel economy for its 4x4 versions when compared with the 4x2s has shrunk noticeably. 

As an interesting aside, these utility fleets are placing fewer annual miles in their own pickups: in 2006, the average yearly miles driven for 4x2 models was 13,181. This dropped to 11,693 kilometers 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 reduction of 1,109 miles per hour 

Why? "A lot of companies are changing take-home vehicle policies and that receives those automobiles," Shaffer says. "We have observed a tendency to limit the number of take-home vehicles to reduce cost and limit liability exposure."

"The motion to take a look at take-home policies started about 10 years ago," Shaffer adds. "As utilities became competitive in cutting cost, one of the things they understood was that they had a lot of employees with this perk of trucks home."