By on October 16, 2013
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TTAC commentator wstarvingteacher writes:

I have been lurking on this site for at least three years. Comment some but mostly subscribe without commenting. I have been spending some time thinking about what I’m going to buy for my “jack of all trades” second car. Life changes so your needs change also.

I live on five acres just north of Houston. I have had a standard cab pickup that I like a lot more than I ever thought I would. The problem is that we have a need to send my Granddaughter off to school in another state. She said she wanted to buy my truck and with some trepidation I agreed. Now I have to replace it. I think I needed to anyway. Have grown tired of stolen spare tires and tools so I need something with inside storage. I figured a king cab truck would work as would many SUVs. Thought about a minivan but it seems they all have fragile transmissions. I tend to keep cars a long time.

Just to complicate things my wife has a car with a CVT transmission and a trailer hitch voids her warranty. Because of that we need to take longer trips in mine if we need to take anything (canoe etc) along. We will be taking an increasing number of trips. Therefore, mine needs to get over 20mpg on the highway and be able to tow 2000 lbs, (bare bones minimum) locally or highway. I am getting to the age where my eyes dictate I pay others for most of the work I do on vehicles. Therefore, dependability is very important.

I owned Lincoln Town Cars in the past (5.0 models) and they did all that I asked very well. I will have about $6k to spend on this second vehicle. Having a huge trunk while getting over 20mpg and being able to tow over two tons is a strong combination. I know that the Panthers run a long time and there are lots of parts. I also know that the CV(PI or no) and MGM frequently show up for low dollars. My truck will disappear next month and I can get hay or whatever, delivered for the short term. I guess my question(s) is/are:

  • What years panthers should I avoid for known problems such as spitting plugs and plastic intake manifolds?
  • Am I just looking at the panther because it worked for me in the past? Am I missing a good working, long lasting, cheap to fix, long trip vehicle that can work?

Seems like some vehicles travel well and some work well. I can’t think of anything that does both as well as a Panther. I think it is probably the last second car I will buy. Has to last for about 5 years when we will buy another first car.Hope the B & B will see this as fit to chew on for a while!

Sajeev answers:

So you want something that’s durable, gets over 20+ MPG highway, and can tow at least 2000lbs on a somewhat-regular basis. I can hear the Panther Haters among the B&B cringing already. If they even bothered to click on this article…but I digress.

There’s a chance that a minivan (if maintained right) or similar unit-body CUV with a V6 could fit the bill for both towing and efficiency, but they are a bit risky for a long-term owner. You could bite the bullet and buy a real body-on-frame truck or SUV, but they are rather expensive/valuable here in Texas. And their fuel economy stinks, even the compacts/mid size models with the necessary V6 power for your requirements.

Which begs the question, how could you NOT get a Panther? Set the cruise control to 65 mph and you can break 25 MPG, my best is 27 MPG with the A/C off on a 2006 Townie with an aftermarket computer tune. Add a big transmission cooler + trailer brake controller and it’ll safely tow just about any load implied by your letter.

I recommend getting a 2003+ model (doable with your budget), as they come with non-explody intake manifolds, better steering/suspension, hydroformed chassis bits and most will be new enough to avoid excessive wear and years of neglect.  The big brakes came in 1998, so you are set there. I don’t believe the 2003+ models ever spit spark plugs, that was a problem with congested Ford truck engine bays, sloppy tune up work (i.e. not a problem when carefully installed) and a different cylinder head design.

Go ahead and find the Panther with the most service records you can find.  It’ll travel better than anything else, and it can work hard when needed. Man, I miss not seeing this platform in new car showrooms/rental car lots: it really did it all, even with complete and unrelenting neglect from its maker.

 

Send your queries to sajeev@thetruthaboutcars.com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice.

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63 Comments on “Piston Slap: Travel Well, Work Well?...”


  • avatar
    Quentin

    4th generation 4Runner with the multimode transfer case (2H, 4H, 4HL, 4L, 4LL) and V6. It will tow 2k lbs with no sweat, the 1GR is a pretty robust engine, it will get 20mpg or better if you aren’t in the city. Enclosed cargo area that puts a panther trunk to shame, roll down rear window. Ground clearance and 4WD will give you a little more flexibility to get to where you need on your 5 acres. The only big issue I see is the step in height may require running boards depending on passenger age and height.

    edit: saw your $6k budget. You’re looking at $10k and up for a 4th gen… and that is with some mileage.

    • 0 avatar
      mkirk

      Seems a Taco with a shell would accomplish all of this for less but yes, they will be out of his price range.

    • 0 avatar

      Great truck, too expensive/desirable…especially in Texas.

      • 0 avatar
        gtemnykh

        How about a third gen 4runner? Not quite 20mpg, but I’ve been getting 19mpg consistently, that’s with going 70mph on the highway and using A/C, as well as some city and gravel road driving. All city would be more like 15. They can be found in your budget, right around the $5k mark for a decent one with around 100-150k miles. I put a $50 set of monroe adjustable air shocks in the back of mine for some load leveling capability. It’ll tow 2000lbs no sweat. Rear seat folds flat. Parts are as available and as cheap as for any domestic.

        Unlike what was stated below in the comments, the transmission and headgaskets are not problem areas for the 1996-2002 4runner. That was the 2nd gen with Toyota’s 3.0. The one thing to check is the radiator, the internal transmission cooling lines can corrode and coolant will get in the transmission. A new Koyo (OEM ) radiator is about $110 online, or install an external transmission cooler and not worry about it. Literally the only other issues that can crop up are saggy rear springs ($70 for a new pair), and leaky rear axle seals (replaced with an updated Toyota part, maybe $300 for the repair with labor). Besides that they are stupendously overbuilt trucks, just look at Mr. Ward’s article from yesterday! The 3.4 V6 engine was developed in partnership with Hino, Toyota’s industrial and truck subsidiary. They are earning the reputation of the legendary 22re in terms of durability.

        EDIT: I see that the OP already bought a car! I think the S10 Blazer is a good choice given your criteria, hopefully that rebuilt transmission isn’t too costly, it shouldn’t be given that the 4L60E might be one of the most ubiquitous domestic transmissions in existence! As far as the suspension is concerned, I do hear a lot of creaks and groans coming from Jimmys/Blazers when they’re driving alongside me on the street. They also can have some issues with their fuel injection ‘spider,’ the poppet valves can get stuck and fuel just pours in a very inefficient manner. I can always smell one of these trucks afflicted with this issue when I’m on the highway, the scent of unburned fuel in unmistakable. To their credit, I almost never see one with any sort of body rust! Very impressive.

  • avatar
    mkirk

    I’m not a huge Panther fan, but for your needs and uses I think it is likely the most bang for the buck out there. I did a quick scan of used pickup values and I was surprised at what they were going for so yeah, if you don’t need a bed or tow anything giant this seems like sort of a no brainer.

    Only other option I could think of…keep the truck and help the daughter select a Corolla or something.

    • 0 avatar
      wstarvingteacher

      My Daughter actually bought the Olds for her. It started throwing codes two days before she had to leave. It fit well enough for my needs that we bought it and gave her the truck. Then the trannie went out and we are where we are. Had it not thrown the codes we would still be where we were when I posed the question. Something had to give. The single cab truck was very one dimensional. A tremendous worker but that’s where it stopped.

  • avatar
    18726543

    I think a Cherokee might be a good fit here. 6000 would buy you a pretty nice one, aside from a coolant leak here or there they were quite reliable, they can tow 5k pounds when equiped with the 4.0, but I’m not sure about 20mpg highway. I bet you could get close if you kept it around 65.

  • avatar
    NormSV650

    You won’t get into a nice fullsize truck/SUV for $6K. But you could in a minivan.

  • avatar
    greaseyknight

    A 2001+ Suburban would fit all the criteria you mentioned except the mpg. The interiors in them are garbage, but the LS motor is bullet proof. Take out the rear seat and fold down the middle and you have a enclosed pickup bed. They are a very nice vehicle for road trips, and cruise well when loaded down.

    I checked craigslist in Houston, and 6k will get you a decent example, it is Texas after all.

  • avatar
    hubcap

    “Just to complicate things my wife has a car with a CVT transmission and a trailer hitch voids her warranty.”

    Many people who have trailer hitches don’t tow but use them for bike racks. Can a warranty be voided simply because a hitch is present?

    • 0 avatar
      wstarvingteacher

      I asked the Nissan dealer because I thought I would put one of those luggage carriers on it. That’s what I was told. Voided the warranty.

      • 0 avatar
        cgjeep

        Honda will void warranty on Odyssey minivans if hitch is installed. I wanted one for a bike rack. The only way to do it without voiding warranty is to have dealer install it along with trans cooler.

  • avatar
    GTL

    The Panther is a good choice, but as an alternative, consider a Mazda MVP Minivan. My wife used her 2001 model in her decorating business for several year, hauling framed pictures and furniture. We then bequeathed it to our nephew who used it well past 200,000 miles in his roofing business with only minor repairs and maintenance, averaging 21 mpg.

    • 0 avatar
      AlfaRomasochist

      Not a bad choice, but look for 2002+ MPV with the 3.0 V6 and 5-speed transmission. Rock solid vans – we bought our 2004 new and went to 115k miles with no issues before passing it on to a family member. Towed pretty well too, since ours had the tow package with trans cooler and a bigger radiator.

  • avatar
    DenverMike

    Basic 2002ish XLT Expeditions with the 4.6 are everywhere in TX and crazy cheap. $3K and some negotiation gets you some clean examples. Avoid the 5.4 and airbag suspension.

    Aging 4Runners, Tacomas and Explorer types will give you transmission and head gasket issues when you put them to work.

    Also see Tahoe.

    • 0 avatar
      mikeg216

      What planet are you people on? I have never seen an expedition, suburban, or even a Cherokee getting 20 mpg unless it’s in neutral coasting down the rockies in neutral. Also why the 4.6 and not the 5.4? They get the same mpg, the 4.6 is too small for the expedition and you lose any theoretical gains by having to keep your foot in it.

      • 0 avatar
        18726543

        The individual estimates on fueleconomy.gov seem to suggest 20+ mpg in a Cherokee is achievable, and I don’t think these people are neutrally neutraling in neutral either.

      • 0 avatar
        DenverMike

        15 MPG is realistic average, but not bad. You do pay less up front for aging full-size SUVs and much less down the road in repair costs. But then you don’t do major repairs on an older vehicles anyways. You just scrap ‘em, but how much does that cost?

        20 MPG is not realistic for mid-size SUVs either. 17 MPG perhaps, but rigs that do average 20+ MPG won’t give the towing or reliability you want.

        Expeditions and Tahoes are ‘trucks’ and built for work. The 5.4 is unnecessary, burns a bit more fuel and has spark plug issues. It’s also harder on the trans that it shares with the 4.6. The 4.6 and AODE trans are as bulletproof as you can get.

      • 0 avatar
        krhodes1

        I had no problem at all getting 23-24mpg in my ’02 Grand Cherokee on a trip at 70mph with the A/C on. 4.0L I-6. ~18mpg around town without much fuss. Towed a 5500lb boat and trailer with no particular dilemmas either, but I will freely admit that I am the world’s slowest driver when towing a 25′ boat. Obviously did not get 24mpg while towing the boat. :-)

        Down there, if he doesn’t need AWD, 2WD WJ Grand Cherokees are dirt cheap and easy to find, have nicer interiors than CVs, and can tow a lot more. Also a much roomier interior than a CV, and the ever so much more useful hatch. Stick to the I-6s, much better gas mileage and parts are cheaper than for the V8s. Slower, but more than fast enough.

        But otherwise, a panther would certainly work for what he wants to do with it. If you buy one with the known-issue intake manifold, just replace/upgrade it first thing.

        • 0 avatar
          cgjeep

          Reliability was one of his musts and a WJ ain’t. I am a proud owner of an 01 GC V8. Love it, drive-train is bullet proof, but door locks, window motors ect need constant replacing. Oh and 8 hours of labor to replace heater core and it will need it. I’ve come to the conclusion that Jeeps are the SUV equivalent of a BMW. They are special but require expensive feeding. They really only tolerate OEM parts (including fluids) and if you don’t keep current on expensive maintenance they will self destruct. XJ Cherokee on the other hand will last forever, can’t kill it.

          • 0 avatar
            krhodes1

            Dunno, I had mine for 2 years (just sold it and bought a Range Rover), I have friends who have had them much longer, and for all of us they have been pretty bulletptoof. They tend to be hard on front brakes, and all of us have had to repair door wiring harness breaks, but other than that, not much. Mine has needed a ps pump this year, but considering the steering box was leaking like a sieve when I got it that was no particular surprise. Not too hard to take for 160K miles. Parts are dirt cheap too. XJs are even tougher, but the problem with them is they are both crude as ox carts and ludicrously expensive. And really, really rusty up here. WJs will rust too, but mine spent most of its life in Southern New Jersey.

            But then again, I have owned multiple VWs that gave excellent service so maybe I am just lucky.

    • 0 avatar
      danio3834

      In 2002, I can’t think of a reason to avoid the 5.4L over the 4.6L other than cost of entry.

  • avatar
    tjh8402

    properly equipped, a lot of Volvo wagons like the V70 and 960 can tow a 2000 lb trailer, and they can easily get mid to high 20s when not towing. I’m not a Volvo expert, so I don’t know exactly what to look for (if I had to guess, I’d say get either the RWD 960/V90, or look for a stick shift FWD V70), but you should check the Volvo forums, or maybe someone here with more knowledge can chip in. The guy I was bought my car from was getting rid of it because he needed a tow vehicle for his race car (it was an old MG, Triumph, or something like that), and had settled on a V70.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      960 can give you headaches as can certain years of V70. If you’re considering Volvo def hit up Brickboard first, they are speciality cars, the tough as nails wagon variety are the 245/745/945 but I am unsure of how much a redblock can effectively tow.

      • 0 avatar
        zamoti

        As a former owner of a 92 960 wagon and a 98 V70 I can say that they’re rated to tow 3000 lbs. I’m not quite sure how that is determined and I could not imagine actually doing that, but according to spec, it’s possible.
        If reliability is the part of the deal, stay away. While my 960 ran like a damn tank (and still runs as I still see it now and again) it was a bit fussy. The V70 was a fantastic pain in the ass–dead smog pumps, turbo control valves, intermittent missing, and cheap nasty interior plastics that look like garbage in short order were all part of the deal. I like them for what they were, but I don’t own them anymore either, so that says something.
        If I wanted a panther or a truck, I’d get a panther or a truck, not a eurowagon.

        • 0 avatar
          28-Cars-Later

          For this gentleman’s needs I agree, but for pickup type duties I’ll gladly drive a 245/745. I wonder if you can do the Ford 302 or LSx conversion on the 900 series, I’ve seen it done on the 700s so I imagine its possible.

          • 0 avatar
            FuzzyPlushroom

            A fellow here in Massachusetts put an LS1/T56 into a purple ’97 V90… if I had to own only one car for the rest of my life, it’d be that one. It probably gets equal/better fuel economy than the stock B6304 and AW slushbox, too.

            For economy and towing (well, up to a few thousand pounds, at least) in an older Volvo, I’d suggest a ’93-95 940 wagon, non-turbo. With the lockup torque converter, they may not be quick, but they’re torquey enough; if you’re in no hurry, they can average 24ish MPG no problem. A manual 245 from the early ’90s will do slightly better; an automatic will do comparably or slightly worse – my ’89, without the lockup converter, averaged 22-23 all around, about 24 on the highway at 72ish. The only powertrain differences are in the fuel injection/ignition systems and, of course, the aerodynamics, which are still fairly brick-like. Keeping the plastic tray under the engine in place is critical for highway economy.

            Additionally, if you can find a nice manual 850 (which are all non-turbo in the States, though Volvo briefly sold the nearly identical turbo S/V70 here with a five-speed) it’ll get you 28 on the highway carrying a spare hood on its roof and 25 all around. Automatic and turbo models carry a bit of an economy penalty, of course, though you’ll get more than 20 MPG except in stop-and-go city traffic.

            (Or he could just get a Panther if the idea of a wagon doesn’t appeal to him, and he’d rather have a wafty ride and low-down torque than relatively crisp handling and ergonomic Swedish bucket seats. Further, all of my suggestions are at least thirteen years old – I’d still tow with the right newer Volvo, but there are more mines to avoid in that field.)

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            “Keeping the plastic tray under the engine in place is critical for highway economy.”

            Plastic tray? My 244 gets pretty terrible fuel economy at the moment I’d love to find hacks to help improve it.

          • 0 avatar
            Ryoku75

            That plastic trays the splash guard I mentioned, look up “Volvo 240 belly pan” and you’ll find pictures of them.

            From my own experience I concur that they do seriously improve the highway mpg up to the upper 20′s, without them air simply hits the cars firewall and can cause some pretty bad drag.

    • 0 avatar
      Ryoku75

      Regular redblocks can pull about 3000 ponds if you don’t plan on making highway passes, I suggest that a stick-shift 245 with a transmission cooler would do the job well, and they’re better off-road than you would think.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    Corey and I had a long thread about this a few weeks ago but 01 and earlier GM 325, so Blazer/Jimmy/Bravada. Solid 4.3 262ci and 4L60-E, drinks gas if driven hard but cheap, plentiful parts, decent ride for the DIY. I would seek out the Olds or GMC version over the Blazer personally, although the Olds isn’t true 4WD, its RWD kicks into AWD when wheel slippage occurs according to Wikipedia.

    • 0 avatar
      davefromcalgary

      Only issue here is fuel economy. I had a 2003 Sonoma, 2WD V6 4At and it barely made 20 MPG Highway. I liked everything else about it though.

    • 0 avatar
      wstarvingteacher

      I jumped on to that thread with you. I had just picked up the Bravada at that time and had done after the fact research on what I might find. Mpg by the way was 15-16 running around the pasture and the two lane blacktop around Conroe. The trannie had to be slipping though and the front end did not help. My S10 got 20-22 so I hope to get 19-20 on the hiway when all it well.

      I would have favored the panther for the economy but without the AWD it would have been stuck in my pasture already. Tradeoffs!

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        Ah now that I think about it I do recall you on the thread! If I had money to burn right now I’d look for some generation of Bravada and “put it back toegether” as it were.

  • avatar
    azmtbkr81

    How about a 2004-2005-ish Ranger or Explorer? Both are in your price range, will tow more than you need with the V6, and should be able to just crack 20 MPG on a good day.

    • 0 avatar
      mikeg216

      The 4.0 ford is many things but efficient it is not, also high mileage examples are either prone to exploding or in imminent needy of a new transmission, they both fail with no remember reason or warning, my exes Explorer made it to over 200k before it needed a new tranny then a new engine. While my friends in Rangers seem to be unable to go much over 100 without needing a new transmission.

  • avatar
    Vulpine

    I’m not going to claim to be a Panther hater, though I am a Ford hater. In my personal experience, Ford’s cars have never been all THAT reliable without constant maintenance. The panther should be able to pull from 2,000-3,000 pounds easily and it does offer a comfortable ride–somewhat to the sacrifice of solid handling. And really, it’s gross size and weight really sacrifices fuel mileage you might get elsewhere.

    I’d like to suggest a mid-sized crew-cab (or maybe just the extended cab) Ford Ranger, RAM Dakota or Chevy/GMC Colorado/Canyon. Granted, they’re not that much better (if at all) on gas mileage, but you keep some of the carrying capacity of your old standard-cab truck with more inside storage/passenger space. Then again, you still have that issue with the outside spare.

    I could also suggest something by Jeep. I personally own an ’08 Wrangler Unlimited (4-door) and it CAN tow 2,000 pound and has proven a fairly reliable vehicle for me, though admittedly at now 7 years old and only at 53,000 miles I really don’t push it that hard. Its biggest advantage is that it’s a go-anywhere/anytime vehicle capable of taking you places even your old standard cab couldn’t go and pulling a camper/utility trailer behind it while doing so. You can probably find one fairly reasonably priced, though it’s likely to be more heavily used than mine. Still, it offers comfortable seating for five and a decent cargo area that can be expanded by dropping the rear seat backs. I’ve managed as high as 25 mpg on the flat but still do a minimum of 21mpg highway even in the hilly country of the Appalachian foothills. Sure, it rides a little firmer than the Panthers, but not really any worse than your old truck.

    Another decent choice might be a Saturn Vue built prior to ’08. Remarkable fuel economy, 100cu.ft. interior capacity (with seats folded down) and you can even carry 8′ lumber or a ladder inside by simply folding down the front passenger seat. The thing is a remarkable utility vehicle. What I won’t recommend though, is the 6-cylinder version as apparently the Honda drive train–the transaxle particularly–has been an issue for several owners. Mine had the Opel 4-cylinder which still had plenty of power for the task and even let me make a number of Ikea runs for flat-pack furniture with the tailgate closed.

    What you want is certainly your own choice but with your description of an “all purpose second vehicle” it seems a GOOD Suv is your best choice. There’s a lot of models more designed for “soccer moms” than real utility and others designed to be more truck than comfortable people hauler. It’s really up to you what vehicle best meets YOUR needs.

  • avatar
    danio3834

    As sanjeev said, any ’03+ Panther shoudl foot your bill. Bottom of the price barrel are used up CVPIs with trashed interiors, top of the heap are low mileage Town Cars. Depending on how nice looking your vehicle must be, you can come in above or below your 6k target. Middle of the pack is a used but good condition Grand Marquis which can be had well under your 6k target.

    “I don’t believe the 2003+ models ever spit spark plugs.”. This is probably true. ’03+ heads had extra threads so they generally don’t spit plugs. I say generally because I’ve never seen one do that, but someone might come up with some example that did.

  • avatar
    wstarvingteacher

    My granddaughter drove my truck off to school in Florida. She made it without missing a beat and she has since painted it with a rattle can in the back yard. It looks like a new truck. I think she may take after her grandpa but with more talent. There are a lot of good suggestions here as I expected from the B&B but in the interim period life happened.

    I had narrowed my choices for a replacement down to a Panther, or an S10. Either a King Cab or Blazer would work just fine. A big factor was the durability of the 4.6 Ford and 4.3 GM engines. BTW in a prior life I owned a 2002 Saturn Vue that was great but broke continually. A 2004 had the junk worked out and would have been successful.

    I honestly think I preferred the panther but my Daughter bought an Olds Bravada and right away it started throwing a code. Her mechanic told her it said the transmission was slipping. When it threw the code she blew a gasket. Since it was essentially a badge engineered chevy blazer I decided to give it a shot and took it off her hands.

    This car has the same 4.3 GM engine with a 4L60E transmission. That is the same tough 700r4 that the S10 had with some electronic gadgetry. When I drove the car it was not slipping according to the tach and it was shifting smoothly. I reset the light and it took almost 200 miles before it came on again. When googling I found the valve body had problems on the Bravada transmission causing it to shift hard and slip. I thought I would probably fix that and get off easy. Pulling a trailer full of dirt caused absolutely no problem so it looked good.

    I took the trailer to Uhaul for trailer lights. When they backed it up onto the ramps to work on the lights it started to slip and made a shrieking noise (metal on metal). The mechanic got eyes as big as pie plates and told me he thought he would work on the floor. When I drove away the tach went to 3k before it shifted and I turned out to have no reverse. I suppose the problem was in the reverse all along and he found it. I would have eventually if he hadn’t but I had used reverse while backing a trailer. No problem then.

    Uhaul confirmed that the truck has the 5000 pound towing package. I have an appointment next week with my indy mechanic to get a rebuilt transmission. I may add a cooler in the future. I have already found the AWD to work very well out in my pasture. Google had no complaints regarding the AWD but they did say that the front end might have recurring problems due to original engineering. It does. According to the enthusiast sites the problems are alleviated by using moog parts. Without being asked the first thing my mechanic said was that he rebuilt with moog.

    I found two types of owners while googling. One type said they had 300k on the car and love it. The other said it’s a piece of trash and gave reasons. Left to my own devices I would probably have preferred the S10 blazer or king cab pickup. I guess I’ll see how it turns out.

    This truck is a luxury car stuck inside a blazer. When I get it sorted out I think it will serve for the five years I want. It also has the back seat that I needed. A door that was left open and a wet dog who was seeking refuge from my donkeys has proven it is easy to clean. It gets a little less gas mileage than I want but the AWD is a bonus and it will easily tow anything I want. Getting rid of my truck was much harder than I ever thought but seeing my granddaughter babying it made it worth while. Btw the panther research just affirmed my thought that the king cab or SUV is really todays full size automobile. It can do just about everything if you don’t go off road.

  • avatar
    Toad

    2000-2002 Isuzu Trooper. Tough, low beltline/big greenhouse for great visibility, decent mileage, able to tow. Unloved thanks to Consumer Reports rollover rating = lower price (personally believe the story by CR was BS; all 1990′s SUV’s were tippy, but you be the judge). $3500 with find one with about 120k and good ownership history.

    Mid 2000′s Ford Escape is common, will tow light loads, low cost of ownership.

    Both are good low cost choices.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      Trippy, I had no idea those were made into the millennium.

      • 0 avatar
        gtemnykh

        Oh yes, I lusted after one of these briefly, and test drove an earlier mid 90s version with a stick shift and 3.2 SOHC v6 (newer ones had a 3.5 DOHC with sticking oil rings that caused them to burn oil). Very rugged trucks, and underappreciated by many as capable offroaders. What scared me away was potential parts cost. The automatic transmission is a GM, 4L30E, a lighter duty version of what’s in the Blazer, which doesn’t inspire confidence in a 4500lb body on frame truck. Known as the “Bighorn” outside of the US, and available with several diesel powerplants. Respected rigs in Australia and Russia, and elsewhere I’m sure.

    • 0 avatar
      cgjeep

      Troopers are awesome. A first generation Xterra night fit the bill. Not sure on the gas milege but it has to be around 20mpg. Friend has one with 240k on it, still going great.

  • avatar
    PonchoIndian

    Avalanche

  • avatar
    jimbob457

    Do what I did. Get a Panther in excellent condition. Spend $600 (installed) on Addco sway bars to fix the wallowing. Add a trailer hitch. Laugh all the way to the bank. I am all in for under $8k with an almost like new 99 Grand Marquis with all the soft parts and fluids replaced and under 30k actual miles.

    2003 and later models are a little better. Air ride Town Cars are also better. Still, personally, with just $6k to spend, I would trade those advantages for any skinny Panther low miler in excellent condition. You might want to Google grandmarq.net. The Grand Marquis was such an extreme grandpa car that ultra low milers are much easier to find.

    As a former pick up truck driver, you might not find the harder ride of a cop car Crown Vic (P71) objectionable. Trouble is that it is not so easy to find examples that have not been beaten up. Check out the web site of CM Autowerkz. I cannot vouch for them in any way, but they claim to offer top of the line refurbished cop cars.

  • avatar
    Landcrusher

    Take a look at the Honda Odysseys available in your range. A friend of mine in Conroe got over 250k on his. Parts are kind of pricey, but you don’t need them often. Ride is nice. Roof can carry a canoe or box and often let you skip the trailer.

    • 0 avatar
      golden2husky

      The trans, while not as frangible as some suggest, is probably the weak link if towing (his requirement) is in the cards. Still, even if you get a little over 100K on it (brother’s made it to 140K with a cooler and babying) and you replace it, it is a damn nice van. Entry price may not make this the most economical choice, but I’d rather drive this than a typical panther….

  • avatar
    DenverMike

    The Snap Judge says the Escape in the above video suffered a major meltdown because of the trailer/load. You don’t normally tow the ‘tow vehicle’.

    • 0 avatar
      gtemnykh

      Yep, Escapes were known for transmission failures, just google “cd4e,” enough said LOL

      • 0 avatar
        golden2husky

        Does that apply to hybrid Escapes as well? My coworker has 125K on his 2009. On borrow time?

        • 0 avatar
          Scoutdude

          The Hybrid does not have a conventional transmission they have an eCVT very similar to that used in the Prius and have proven to be very durable though at 125K changing the fluid would not be a bad idea. It is a simple drain and fill like a manual trans but you must use the proper fluid.

    • 0 avatar
      Lie2me

      I would look into a 2006/7 Ford Escape V6 4WD with the tow package a good all around CUV that will tow and get 20+ miles/gallon. They’re cheap dependable and easy to maintain. I’ve had a couple and have had good luck with them. I just traded my 2006 that I bought new with 180K miles on it for no other reason other then I wanted a new one. $6K will probably get you a pretty nice one.

      • 0 avatar
        gtemnykh

        Thankfully the hybrids were spared the cd4e.

        Lie2me, I’m glad to hear that you got 180k of troublefree service from yours! Seems that like with just about every other transmission horror story (Chryco ultradrives, Odyssey 5spds), there are plenty of people who never had a single problem.

        I drove a friend’s 2001 v6 awd and found it to be a very nice utilitarian vehicle. Low step in height, good power and handling was very stable and non-tippy. I thought that the seats were buckboard stiff and the interior in general was incredibly cheap, and there was a lot of wind noise. But overall it left a favorable impression. I really like SUVs with opening rear hatch glass, makes them incredibly versatile. I also liked the fact that the earlier models had a column shifter for the automatics, but I’m weird like that.

  • avatar
    Audiofyl

    I would mention a subaru forester. I think it fits all the criteria (providing service has been upkept, head gaskets updated, tires kept even, etc).

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    Sorry haters but this is one of the few people who actually really needs a Panther. I used to have a saved Auto Trader search that was “sedan/V8/leather/under 75,000 miles for $10K or less” almost every search result was a Panther. It will do what he wants for his budget. That is all. If he doesn’t need a the extra leg room of the Town Car I’d work to find a CV or Grand Ma with the handling package for stiffer springs, deeper gears, and higher hp from the factory dual exhaust.

  • avatar
    Ryoku75

    Recalls and quality defects are inescapable with Panthers no matter the year, expect to do a bunch of junkyard searching and parts ordering to replace tie-rods, spark plugs, power windows that never last, and make sure that the steering wheel won’t pop off like a few others have. Also, pick up a new transmission along with a cooler.

    In other words, buy a decent 90′s Panther for $1500 and use the other $2000 sorting out the Ford-ism. Avoid neglected old lady cars unless if you want to have a car that hasn’t lubricated itself in the last 9 years.

    With Panthers you’ll never get a truck bed that’ll swallow stuff like a truck unless if you get an old 5.0 wagon, but then be ready for a car with poor caster design and mediocre top-end.

    The best car that I can suggest on your budget would be a Volvo 745 with a 5.0 Ford swap, theres one on my local craigslist for $2600 thats in good shape. With a Volvo wagon you’ll still have to hit the junkyards but replacing things will be a heck of a lot easier, you’ll also have a better interior along with a back end that could swallow a fridge.

    • 0 avatar
      wstarvingteacher

      I’m really doing pretty much the same thing with the olds. I’t going to cost me about 2k plus four new tires to get it where I want it. For what I wanted the panther and the blazer (bravada) graded out about the same. I think there was more potential to enjoy driving with after market parts for the panther but I think the truck part of the blazer was better for work. Whatever. I need to be happy now that I got it because I intend to keep it till we replace our primary car. If I make good choices then I won’t need a second one.

      • 0 avatar
        Ryoku75

        Those old Olds Bravadas are pretty trusty and parts are readily available, you’ll enjoy the extra space it provides over a Panther and the better ground clearance.

        My dad had an XTREME Blazer for some time which I never did like, he should’ve brought a 4-door vanilla model.

  • avatar
    baconator

    I just read all the comments and realized that the question-asker got to the same answer I was going to suggest: A GMT360 SUV (Trailblazer, Envoy, Saab 9-7x, Oldsmobile Bravada) with the 291-horsepower inline-6. These are rated 22MPG highway and will tow >5000 lbs. Very durable – these are in the “hard to kill” used car category. (Mine is used for towing/hauling/camping and is 10 years old.) And, they made millions of them, so parts are available for cheap at Kragen/O’Reillys/AutoZone/Napa, etc.

    KBB.com says a 2006 Trailblazer in excellent condition with 60k miles is $5960, just under your cap.

    Also, they handle at least as well as the Panthers – the benefits of a 10-years-newer platform far offset the higher center of gravity.

    • 0 avatar
      gtemnykh

      Regardless of what KBB says, you’re not going to find a 60k Trailblazer for $6k in anything approaching good condition. Ever since carpocalypse, the car you described would be more like $8-9k.


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