Piston Slap: The Grapes of Wrath, Revisited

Sajeev Mehta
by Sajeev Mehta
piston slap the grapes of wrath revisited

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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2 of 19 comments
  • Mtymsi Mtymsi on Jul 05, 2011

    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.

  • Schmag Schmag on Jul 11, 2011

    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.

  • Lou_BC My kids drove around in a 2 wheel drive Chevy Colorado crew cab I bought off a neighbour when they were moving to Alberta. We kept it 4 years but sold it recently due to various engine codes popping up and the engine sounding more tired. It was one of the inline 5's known to have soft valve seats. All I had to repair was new front brakes and rotors, a wheel bearing and a battery. Both kids wrecked a tire clipping a curb. My oldest backed into it with his pickup which required a grill and headlight replacement. We bought a 2008 Corolla as a replacement for my 19 year old. It came with 4 new summers and a set of decent winter tires on rims. We'll run that until it looks like it will implode/explode. My oldest currently has 3 Cherokees (2 for parts), an F150 "Jelly bean", and a Mercury Grand Marquis. Insurance is very expensive for young drivers. That's why beaters can save some money. I haven't put them on my new truck's insurance since that would add around 90 per month in costs. I'll add my oldest to it temporarily so he can use it to get his "full" driver's license.
  • Arthur Dailey I grew up in an era when a teenager could work pumping gas or bussing tables and be able to purchase a vehicle for a couple of thousand dollars and drive it with 'uninsured' status.If a parent advised on the purchase of the vehicle, they would most often point us to a large, stripped/base version, domestic sedan with the smallest possible engine.These cars generally had terrible driving dynamics and little to no safety features, but were easy to work, had large bench seats/interiors and not enough power to get out of their own way.
  • MaintenanceCosts I'll guess: 3rd owner, never did even basic maintenance, major component failed, car got towed from the apartment complex parking lot, no one bought it at auction because the repair bill exceeded the value.The chrome pillar appliques support this hypothesis.
  • MaintenanceCosts I'm generally in the "I want them to have all the new safety stuff" camp, but new cars are both too fast and too isolating these days. They mask speed enough that a new driver can get way in over his head without really realizing he's even going that fast. This is especially a concern with my youngest, who wants to do everything he does faster. (He has zero fear tearing down hills at 25 mph on his little 20" wheel bike.) I'm hoping for something that is slow and communicates speed well, although I'm not quite sure there is any such thing in today's market.
  • KOKing I test-drove a used Equus Ultimate (the one with all the back seat doodads) that was a trade-in at a Ford dealer, and although it was VERY nice to be in as a Lexus LS with Ultra Luxury, it was supposedly in a minor fender-bender that probably wasn't repaired correctly (like a pinched bus cable or something?), and random features didn't work at all.I think this car suffered the same problem in the US that the VW Phaeton did, and probably would've done better if it was badged a Genesis from the get-go.