By on July 4, 2011
A New Age?

A New Age?

Jeremy writes:

I would like to thank you for your website it is one of my primary sources for automotive information, I read new articles basically every day. And with that covered, this is for the most part a piston slap:

I currently own a 93 Ranger STX approx 108k on the 4.0L V6. I bought it used in about 2000. It has been a good truck and has served me well other than feeling quite sluggish and there being some slack in the transfer case (nothing abnormal from what I am told) It is in good shape and serves me well for driving around town and taking some miles off my 05 Focus ST.

I have been looking for and thinking about purchasing a used full size 1/2 ton pickup, so that I would have a truck more comfortable for road trips (I live 50 miles from the nearest 1000+ population town) and I would like to be able to lay 8’ panels flat. My current requirements are V8 (I need some pulling power for a boat, etc) anything other than a regular cab with an 8 foot box. Its tough to find such a machine being they end up so long and unwieldy. It would be in the garage more often than not and would be used more for the big jobs than anything.

Most trucks that I find people selling are asking 15k+ for a 4-5 yr/old truck approaching 100k miles. In the past 100k miles is the milestone where alot of vehicles like to nickle and dime ya to death so I have some concerns.

I have also been wondering if it would just be better to keep my ranger in good condition/spend some money restoring it.(transfer case rebuild, transmission when needed engine rebuild etc.) there is no noticable rust on this machine which makes that even more appetizing. Or should I just drive the ranger until the wheels fall off then weld em back on and do it again.

What are your thoughts?

Sajeev answers:

Jeremy, your experience isn’t surprising. Vehicles considered throwaways in 2008 are now in high demand: probably to the same people now struggling to stay in our shrinking middle class. Which punishes the people who demand a cheap car, taking me back to a phrase in my favorite chapter in Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath:

“Get ‘em in a car. Start ‘em at two hundred and work down. They look good for one and a quarter. Get ‘em rolling. Get ‘em out in a jalopy. Sock it to ‘em! They took our time.”

Frankly, if you are seeing “15k+ for a 4-5 yr/old truck approaching 100k miles” in your market, the smart money is on buying a NEW full size truck for eight to ten grand more. This is sheer lunacy!

But if you can’t justify the monthly payment of a new truck, keep the Ranger. Aside from the towing prowess (no 5000lb boats), the 4.0L Ranger has everything you need. The mileage is low, which is good. Rubber parts (hoses, O-rings, etc) in places you may not consider will be a constant source of problems due to vehicle age. But this is a problem I can stomach far easier than the insane asking prices for used vehicles these days.

I wouldn’t stop looking for a full size truck, but I would go grassroots: avoid dealerships, sticking with private sellers who you might know, trust and could get a great deal without involving the brutal markup of the car trade in this current economy. Good luck with that, enjoy the Ranger in the meantime.

Send your queries to sajeev@thetruthaboutcars.com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry.

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19 Comments on “Piston Slap: The Grapes of Wrath, Revisited...”


  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    Give your budget (as Sajeev said) your best hope is a private owner who is dumping a truck for a good reason. My F150 is a “retirement village” special, the previous owner was a 68 year old man living in Sun City, AZ. The truck needed new tires and it smelled of stale cigarette smoke but otherwise it was a gem. Now I did buy from a dealer, but it was a dealer I’ve made friends with. Mine is a standard cab and was a long bed till a neighbor hit it and I replaced the bed with a flat bed. You could say I got lucky but I could have had the dealer hunt the auctions for something similar.

    • 0 avatar
      Zackman

      Doggone it, Dan, here I sit down for a break, I decide to read this article and after I get to the part where Jeremy is thinking about a full-size truck, I thought “AHA! Educator Dan will definitely offer his advice, as he drives an F-150.” Son-of-a-gun, I should have known!

      Can’t add a thing to the discussion, other than suggesting exactly the type you drive, or drove, – standard cab, long bed, fleetside, either Ford or Chevy.

  • avatar
    Dimwit

    Another thing is to haunt dealers that have fleet specials. There’s bound to be one or two that have some that were ordered but not taken and they want to dump them because they’re strippers. Look for reg cab, V6, possible manual, rubber mats and more than likely, white. You’d be lucky to get an FM radio. OTOH these things will go out the door at $16K and are good for 20 years of service. Now is an excellent time as the new model year changeover is happening.

    BTW, don’t be all that particular about marque as long as you stay with the domestics. All are good and sadly, all can make lemons. Luck of the draw. Buy carefully.

    • 0 avatar
      th009

      Even a V6 will tow 4000 lbs (as long as you’re not crossing the Rockies with your boat). How heavy is your boat + trailer?

      But fleet specials (and other “value leader” type models) are rarely extended/crew/super/mega/giga-cabs.

      • 0 avatar
        frenchy

        Fastenal is a good place to find fleet trucks. Most of their fleet are 2wd v8 longbox regular cab Dodge Ram SLT. They do have some 4wd extended cabs. Find a local store and see what they got.

  • avatar
    mazder3

    If you can swing another $5K, you can buy a new Silverado V8 half ton shorty 4×4 for around $20K.

    Failing that, do a 302 swap, add sound deadening and whatever else to make the Ranger more comfortable until prices come back down to sane levels.

  • avatar
    GS650G

    cash for clunkers took a lot of trucks off the market. I still have mine but I am getting rid of the F150 and replacing it with a 4 x 8 foot trailer. Cheap to buy, no extra insurance, no repairs.

    • 0 avatar

      I agree, just buy a 10ft utility/landscaping trailer and you get 50% higher payload capacity than an F-150 for just a couple grand.

    • 0 avatar
      ExPatBrit

      It did take some trucks off the market but a lot of them were probably junk. People I know in the trade said many of the vehicles they received were sale proof because of problems (head gasket, transmission failures) with the odd exception. They did not scrap the vehicle if they thought it was worth more than $4500.

      Any decent running and smogged pickup is probably worth a minimum of $3000 nowadays but it sounds like Jeremy is looking for something more than that.

  • avatar
    Japanese Buick

    I can feel your pain. It took me 2 andva half years to find the right used truck at the right price. There seem to two types of used trucks on the market: over-equipped and too expensive, or inexpensive but one wheel in the junkyard. Even during the gas price spike in 2008, which is when I started looking, prices stayed high for v8 trucks that could tow.

    After two and a half years of haunting craigslist, sleazy dealers disguising themselves as private sellers, outright sleazy dealers who used decent trucks as finance bait, and lots of frustration, I finally got my truck. 2004 F150 with the in-cab storage behind the seats, vinyl interior, crank windows, v8, 2wd, 175k miles, sub 5k price. The seller was the husband of a friend and I knew his claim they were mostly highway miles was true because he had commuted out of state for years. Only drawback was no hitch and the stink of cigarette smoke. Actually no hitch was good because I knew it hadn’t been used to tow. I ordered and installed a Curt hitch and had the interior detailed and I have my work truck for the next 10 years. But it took a looong time to find and required compromise (on the cigarette smoke smell, which still isn’t completely gone).

    The point: in this market it takes patience and luck to find a good buy in a used work truck. It’s the only way, believe me I know.

  • avatar
    Scoutdude

    Rangers of that era regularly go well past 150K before needing any “expensive” repairs if they are too abused. The more economical option would be to run the Ranger into the ground. That of course doesn’t change the fact that for hauling building materials it falls short of a full size with a real 8ft bed. So you need to make a choice if you will really benefit from the full size. Will it save you trips by being a 8′ bed or having a 3/4 ton capacity? Are you going to use it only for hauling and shift to putting more miles on the Focus. If so then get an older F250. Find a well kept low mile unit for what you can sell the Ranger for or maybe even pocket some cash on the deal to buy new tires or a battery.

  • avatar
    flatout05

    Agreed, Scoutdude! I know I’m a Piston Slap broken record, but “Drive the wheels off the one you own” is nearly always the correct answer. If I had a rust-free vehicle with only 108K miles, I wouldn’t even be thinking about my next ride. (Come to think of it, what I DO have is a 2006 Ridgeline with 107K miles – and I’m not even thinking about my next ride.)

  • avatar
    cheapthrills

    Quick solution to the 4′ x 8′ issue: get a bed rack. My parents recently had a one-man-show contractor build an addition; and I admired his use of a 4 cylinder Ranger with bed racks for everything.

    No real solution to the towing capacity other than the aforementioned motor swap.

  • avatar
    JMII

    I had a ’96 Ranger Splash with the 4.0l V6 and it couldn’t handle my 2,000lb boat in the flat lands of FL. My ’02 4.7l V8 Dakota does a much better job. The Ford would ping on regular (87) gas, hunt for gears and couldn’t get out of its own way in general. The Ranger previous ownership was unknown so maybe I got a less then perfectly maintained sample, but I wasn’t impressed with it at all. Gas mileage between the Ford and the Dodge was the same: 13 mpg while towing. With the V6 I had to keep my foot to the floor, while the V8 doesn’t require nearly as much pedal-to-the-metal action to cruise down the highway with the trailer.

    • 0 avatar
      Banger

      You DID get a less-than perfectly maintained example, it sounds like.

      The 4.0 is pretty muscular, especially considering the relatively light ~3,500 lbs. the truck chassis itself weighs. The latest Ranger 4.0 models were rated to two just shy of 6,000 lbs., and I can remember well a couple of years ago Ford actually advertising a full 6,000 lbs. towing capacity for the Ranger, when gas prices peaked. Why they revised the number downward is beyond me– it’s still every bit as capable.

      I recommend keeping the Ranger. They’re dead simple to work on. How big of a boat do you need to haul, anyway? And like others have said, unless you’re hauling through mountains or something, the Ranger should be up to the task. My only caveat: If this truck’s an automatic, make sure you’re switching overdrive off when towing/hauling. If it’s a manual transmission (which means the rattletrap M5OD-R1 transmission, in all likelihood,) be sure not to shift into top (5th) gear while hauling or towing. Either way, top gear is rough on the trans when the truck is loaded down.

      I recently hauled scrap in my 2006 Ranger (2.3 four-cylinder, manual trans, 4×2, 6-foot bed, standard cab) for a couple of days before I could get to the recycling place. When I scaled, it showed up at 1,220 lbs, and the truck handled it well. The rear suspension wasn’t even completely bottomed– still had a little bit of travel. I was pleasantly surprised, and proud of the Banger Ranger.

      Don’t underestimate the Ranger. It’s a tough truck with a devoted following. And that following means if you have any mechanical issues over the years, you can hit up sites like http://www.rangerpowersports.com , http://www.therangerstation.com , and others to glean all kinds of knowledge. And as G.I. Joe taught an entire generation, “Knowing is half the battle.”

  • avatar
    HoldenSSVSE

    Take advantage of GM over supply. I’m willing to bet you can buy an ad unit Silverado regular cab LT with a 5.3 under the hood in 2WD for under $20K, and it will likely come with give away finance and/or cash on the hood.

    The GMT900 platform is proven but dated. The interiors are nice, but dated. The GM 5.3L V8 will get better MPG than the 4.0 Ford in your Ranger.

    =======================================

    You can’t go wrong with the F-150, but I would suspect you’d pay a premium. I would suspect you can get a Tundra regular cab with the 4.7 under the hood new for a good deal also as they have slow sale issues. Other that the highly problematic Titan, you really can’t go wrong with a Ford, Dodge, Toyota, Chevy, or GMC pickup. Agreed that if 5 year old used is going for $15K, spend a few thousand more on an ad unit and go first class, with a warranty, etc. etc. etc.

  • avatar
    jdhall

    I had a 1995 Ranger Super Cab V-6 that I bought new for company use. At around 240,000 miles I took it out of service, and let my daughter drive it. After 4 or 5 years she got a newer Ranger, and I sold the truck to my son. He had it stolen in Phoenix, got it back trashed, and finally sold it off out of the family around a year ago at over 300,000 miles. Original engine and transmission, but tired for sure.

    Anyway, it was an excellent truck, and it certainly could tow a two ton boat, it you weren’t in a hurry. I’m in the “keep the Ranger” camp.

  • avatar
    mtymsi

    I would expand your search by internet just to make sure the pricing you’ve seen isn’t a result of your locale. It sounds like you’re in a remote area where pickups are popular.

  • avatar
    schmag

    Hello this is Jeremy

    thanks for all the replies and information and thanks for posting. I just returned from a week long trip to the lake so I almost missed the post.

    the boat I have been pulling with it is around 2200 lbs bass boat. the truck has been doing well. it is a standard with the m50d-r1 transmission it does leak a little (I am guessing from the rubber plugs on top) I keep it in 4th while towing and it does alright I suppose goes as fast as you would want to tow anyway.
    in ND there is mostly flat lands and while having to downshift on some hills it holds 60-65 reasonably well. pulling last week even getting 16 mpg on calm days (it was 13 mpg with a headwind)in our neck of the woods 4wd in a truck is nearly a necessity. a 2wd truck is quite inexpensive. but when seeing 40-50 accumulated inches of snow and 5 month winters there isn’t a large market for the 2wd trucks.

    I almost bought a used truck awhile ago when I decided that there were just too many unknowns with it right now when my ranger is doing decent job and will get me by for awhile yet. after all the snow will likely be flying in another 2-2.5 months anyway. I figure I will reanalyze the situation next year. prices will likely fall significantly by then. (hopefully)

    I have thought/dreamed about a 302 swap as I know a mechanic that would likely do it for a good price my biggest wondering is how well the transmission/clutch/transfer case would hold up to the extra horse and torque.


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