By on November 16, 2011


dane writes:

My 1999 Ford Ranger XLT is starting to come under some serious wear. I got it a while back and thought it was good enough, an upgrade considering my dog grew to be 70 lbs and didn’t fit into the back of my immaculate 1996 Acura Integra hatchback. I needed to upgrade in size so I did.

Now, this truck came with a few ridiculous caveats. With 140k on the clock, it’s starting to enter my personal danger zone for cars. Additionally, it had a big tow package on it, a 2 inch body lift and big 33” by 12.5” tires on it. Did I mention it has the smallest 3.0 V6? The previous owner did not regear the truck and therefore it’s a bit sluggish. Upon inspection of the truck after removing the bumpers, which were improperly re-installed after the body lift, it looks like whoever did the lift cut parts of the frame near the rear of the truck. It’s looking worse and worse.

Yesterday morning I went out to the truck to drive to work and my clutch went to the floor with little resistance. After driving it around a bit and looking under the hood, it looks like the slave cylinder for the clutch is leaking in on itself. It’s a hefty job since the entire housing to the transmission needs to come out to repair it, and my reputable mechanic told me he’d be worried about the rest of the clutch needing replacement based on the slave cylinder wearing out and mileage.

It may cost anywhere from $750 to $1200 to replace this on a truck that Blue Books at roughly $4500. I’m going to have to get the repairs in any case, but should I be looking to sell this thing after repair? If I had $3000 to purchase something big enough for the dog to be in, is it worth it to go through selling the truck or should I look more closely into fixing the imperfections (getting rid of the wheels/tires and lift, etc).

Seems like there’s not much out here on Craiglist in Oregon that isn’t just as bad as my truck, if not worse.

Sajeev answers:

Might you be suggesting that you’re a Lone Ranger in the Oregon car market? Considering this and the obvious wear items that come with a 10+ year old truck (with an aftermarket lift kit) you are in a tough quandary.

I would consider returning the truck to stock, posting a want ad on Craigslist asking for someone with a stock Ranger if they’d like all those goodies for the cost of the swap. There’s nothing better for fuel economy, durability, etc than a stock type of suspension on an older vehicle that sees frequent use. Your brakes, clutch, engine and your pocketbook will thank you for your effort.

Or maybe hit up the local junkyards and see if they’d like to do the honor. Odds are someone with a lot of land or a penchant for muddy fields would love those greasy bits. My point is, you got opportunities here.

At this age, at your budget, the old phrase “stick with your problems, don’t buy a new set of problems” comes to mind. I bought a 2011 Ranger and will keep it stock (ish) for a reason, to never be in your shoes. Ten years from now I suspect a new clutch/slave cylinder on my rig will be a rite of passage, not a fear that my truck isn’t worth the cash outlay. Do your best to return it back to stock. Odds are you will break if you find the right buyer-swapper for those parts, and save tons of cash on fuel and wear/tear in the long term.

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19 Comments on “Piston Slap: A Lifted Lone Ranger?...”

  • avatar

    I’d keep it but swap the gears with a locker or limited slip. Not only will it make it a fun on/off road truck, you’ll probably get better MPG by not having your foot in it all the time.

  • avatar

    Sell your current Ranger to a Ranger enthusiast who wants a mud truck. Hit up The Ranger Station or, my personal favorite, Ranger Power Sports. Both are Ranger owner communities online that have sections to post trucks and/or parts for sale.

    If you get decent cash out of the truck, use it to buy another, less-molested example of a Ranger. The XL trucks are tough, have generally easy-to-clean interiors (rubber floors and vinyl seats FTW), and can often be found for very little money on lease turn-in at larger Ford Fleet dealers. Might have to do some finagling with the dealership to let you buy a “fleet” truck if they’re one of those dealers who keeps the “fleet” and “consumer” sides of the lot in completely separate worlds, but there’s a good chance you can talk them into it.

    I’m with Sajeev in that I own a very stock Ranger. Well, okay, I put a Magnaflow cat-back 2.5-inch exhaust on it, and I removed the airbox “snorkel”, but other than that, it’s a bone-stock 2006 XL 4×2 short bed standard cab.

    With that said, I can tell you from years of experience (we’ve had several Rangers in my family) that a stock Ranger is one of the toughest vehicles you’ll likely ever own, with the exception of the aforementioned slave cylinder Ford stupidly mounted inside the transmission bell housing. Of course, a stock-height Ranger with stock tires will put less strain on the clutch and associated components, so you might even get longer life out of the slave cylinder in that case. But barring that one lousily designed part, there’s honestly very little to go wrong with these trucks.

    So to reiterate, my vote is you sell the truck you’ve got now to a Ranger fan who wants a mudder, then use the funds to buy yourself a far less-molested example.

  • avatar

    These trucks are very tough, but slave cylinder is usually the part to go on the manualy trannys. Mine went at 120k on a 98. It cost about $750 to have the work done. Then the thing ran another 120k miles before needing a new head gasket. Not bad for a truck that cost under $10k new. The biggest thing to worry about would be how bad did the chop job of a lift affect anything on the truck. Everything else will last, and parts for these things are a dime a dozen so most repairs are cheap and easy. You can do most of it yourself.

  • avatar

    Not sure $3000 is going to get you something any better, it won’t around here by far. I don’t know how much the frame was cut up, but unless it is unsafe, and you have more money to invest in a newer truck, I’d try to fix up the one you have, undo the lift if practical and go for stockish-sized wheels and tires.

  • avatar
    A Caving Ape

    I would agree with taking it back to stock.

    There is a big market for used aftermarket parts, and it seems like this truck has an active forum community. I did the same thing when I sold my Jetta- I probably got more for it since it was bone stock, and also had a nice trickle of money coming in as various aftermarket bits sold over the next few months.

    As for a replacement car, with your budget and dog it sounds like it’s old Legacy/Outback time for you. You’re certainly in the right state for it.

  • avatar

    I have a 99 Ranger Sport 4X4 with a factory lift kit, It also came with 31 X 10.5 tires courtesy of the previous owner.

    It’s been a great truck but how I wish it didn’t ride like a Jeep.

    It’s those heavy wheels and tires that make it sluggish. When I install my stock size snow tires and steel rims it is little faster.

    I would like to get rid of the lift also, it’s easy in the rear as I just need to remove the 3 inch spacer, but it’s a little more complicated to remove the springs in the front and get the alignment correct.

    Like Dane says, used Rangers in the NW are not cheap and with oil at $100 a barrel this morning it might be worth fixing it and keeping it.

  • avatar

    Interesting timing for this piston slap, as my family is contemplating replaceing the clutch on our 91 ranger that we just purchased as a first vehicle for an out of town family member. Nothings wrong with it other then it releases towards the top of the pedal travel. My question is what is the best brand of slave to buy? I don’t want the new one to fail after the truck is gone and we can’t help fix it.

  • avatar

    I say leave the lift, it’ll make it a heck of a lot easier to change the clutch yourself and 33s aren’t THAT big.

    Dropping the transmission sounds intimidating but isn’t too difficult if you own a floor jack and a socket set. I guarantee there are step by step instructions with pictures on the aforementioned Ranger forums and you can typically rent specialty tools if you need them at the local auto parts store.

    Bribe a mechanically inclined buddy with pizza and beer and dedicate a Saturday to making it happen. You’ll save a bundle and have the satisfaction of completing a major repair on your truck. Oh yeah, and replace the rear main seal while you are at it.

  • avatar

    What about posting a Craigslist ad for a trade for a stock Ranger (in equivalent or better condition)? Maybe somebody out there is looking to modify theirs, and you could work something out? Maybe even trade as-is, with a commensurate discount, letting the new owner put the $ into the repair.

    It’s free to place the ad, you never know . . . you can try multiple CL sites down there as there are several, and also expand your search to Washington as well (such at Tri-Cities):

  • avatar

    Go back to stock as when you lift a truck that is primarily a street driven vehicle you not only increase your chance of rollover you also raise your bumpers above the Federally mandated bumper height compatibility with all other vehicle on the road (bumpers are meant to be at a certain height to make crashes safer as you have side impact beams / bumper shocks to absorb parts of the impact and chassis design mean to work in conjunction with these. By driving a lifted vehicle you negate this crash compatibility effect for the benefit of both cars. For instance – if you are in an accident and T-Bone a small car – your bumper would hit above the side impact beam of that car likely protruding into the passenger space near the shoulders and head of the occupants causing significantly more injury and an increase in fatality). Sorry but this is the big drawback of lifted trucks driven as daily drivers on our road. OTOH if you lower your normal car / truck you actually make yourself less safe as the bumpers of a normal car now ride above your crash compatibility structure.

  • avatar

    Fix the slave cyl and put 31’s on it the next time you need tires. If they have enough tread to make it worth while trade your 33’s for 31’s. Then drive it for another 100K. The Vulcan 3.0 will do 250K no problem.

    Your truck does not have a “big tow package”. Someone has just added what sounds like a crappy trailer hitch that is the more likely reason someone did some cutting on the back of the frame. Cutting the frame when doing a body lift is unusual, though I guess some of the bumper relocation kits may require it.

    Back then the tow package didn’t include a hitch, it included wiring with separate fuses and relays for the trailer circuits(with a pigtail in the glove box) and other upgraded components like steeper gears.

  • avatar

    Your truck probably has a lot more than 140K on it if the tires were changed but not the gearing. The speedo is also probably out of touch with reality meaning it reads way low.

    You might have 160 or 180K on it.

    The monster wheels with stock gearing are hard on the clutch, maybe a contributing factor. I do my own repair work so replacing the slave and clutch would be parts costs and my time, but you’re going to pay a lot more.

    • 0 avatar

      That is a very good point. I put 16 inch rims instead of 15s and matched the tires as close as I could using the plus size calculator on the Tire Rack. What I ended up with is a 55 MPH reading at 61 MPH. This truck has a much bigger discrepancy than that, so you are sure to have quite a bit more mileage…

  • avatar

    If the truck in the picture above is the truck we are talking about, I like it just the way it is. The tires and lift package are not obnoxious, and are distinctive in a non-redneck way. The silver paint with black windows/tires/trim looks good.

    You already know what the problems are with this vehicle; if you swap/sell/trade you are just inviting unknown problems. Keep the truck you have, replace the clutch (and any other assorted parts while the tranny is dropped), then enjoy the truck with your dog.

    The world is full of stock Rangers and most people are driving those involuntarily as fleet trucks; keep yours the way it is. You’ll have the rest of your life to drive boring cars.

  • avatar

    My 160 pound Great Dane fit just fine in the back of a 1994 Probe GT. He loved riding back there. Just sayin’.

  • avatar

    Well I used to play with a lot of lifted trucks back in the day. My Toyauto ran a 2″ body and 33’s so I’ve dealt with similar issues. For my money if I had concerns over wear and tear and power I would just put the 33’s on craigslist for trade or $250.00 that should net you a set of 31’s in decent shape. That should bring the power into the correct range while still looking reasonable with the small lift. 33’s on a 2″ lift are a little tight on a ranger so you may want to check the suspension to see if they put a spacer over the leafs in back and up front there may be spacers over coils (or cranked torsion bars I don’t remember the year they switched) These items tend to strain the drive line and things so I would remove them if I found em (unless I was using this as trail rig but it sounds like this is your main ride)Either way I would leave the body lift as really they don’t tend to do harm, with shorter tires the COG really isn’t that much higher as the frame engine and trans stay where they are. As to the frame the only frame work Ive seen done on body lifts is usually to the frame ends this is really only a concern in an accident. All in All I would keep it I personally secretly miss riding high in a little truck.

  • avatar

    As others have said, a stock truck kept in good mechanical condition can go over 200K miles easily, if not up to around 250K miles.

    I have an extended cab 92 Ranger with the manual tranny, though mine has the 4.0L pushrod motor and is 2WD though but still have the hydraulic clutch though it uses the Mazda sourced 5spd gearbox.

    So far I’ve had to replace the master and slave cylinders in my clutch, the clutch itself was replaced just before I bought it and it had about 200 miles on them, along with new front brakes, front wheel bearings and fresh oil in the tranny.

    That was in early 2006 and at the time, 189K miles on it and today, I have 235,800+ miles on it, roughly 45K in that length of time and outside of those 2 large bill repairs, that’s been it outside of tires and new exhaust and oil changes and 2 sets of spark plugs/wires and it’s been very reliable.

    I’d either replace your current lifted one with what looks to be a botched lift job for a relatively stock truck and you should get many years of use out of it, provided you keep up the maintenance yourself.

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