F-150 or Other?

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Hi Eric,

I am looking at buying a truck in 6 months with a budget around $12k (saving now to pay cash). For a while, I have had my heart set on an F-150, and was ‘convinced’ Fords were the best trucks out there in regards to performance and reliability; vs chevy in particular – my friends tranny went out in their avalanche @ 80,000 miles (and was pretty lightly used). However, I recently saw a post on here regarding ford engines that was less than positive – what are your opinions on the best truck to buy used? I am currently wanting a post-2004 F-150 4wd

Thanks for any advice

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  1. Not that it means anything, but I have had multiple Fords and Chevy pickups over the years – even two Internationals back in the day – but now, in my dotage, I plan to continue driving what has been, without a doubt, the best truck I’ve ever owned, a 1997 4WD Toyota T100 with well over 200,000 miles. Built in Tokyo, this vehicle – long besmirched as ‘overpriced’ (thanks to a US tariff) and ‘underpowered’ (no V8 was available) – has done everything I ever asked. A part-time farmer, I have never had a load my 6-cylinder couldn’t handle, including a 16-foot stock trailer with six 1200-pound cows up serious hills. Anyway, I have never bothered to trade up to a Tundra, and at age 70 I may never do so, so I don’t know if they’re as good, but my old T100 was and is, as mentioned, the best of a pretty good group.

    • Hi Wil,

      I like the T100 also – and like you, believe it is an under-appreciated truck.

      Regulars here know I’m also a huge booster of the 2004-older (compact) Nissan Frontier, especially with the four cylinder engine and manual transmission.

      I still have two of them (a ’98 and an ’02) and hope to have at least one of them for another 10-plus years.

      Both have already paid for themselves and are, at this point, effectively free transpo – less gas and oil, etc.

  2. Too bad a Ranger is not still an option. I bought a new Ranger in 1997 (a ’98 model) and gave it to a younger family member when it had about 60,000 miles. When he sold it, it nearly had 300K miles on it, and he still got $3000 for it. After the sale, he admitted to me that the truck had never once had a tune up, (rated for tune ups at every 100K miles) and that he had not changed the oil in over 100,000 miles! Hard to believe, I know, but all he ever did was top it off when it got low! Somehow, the thing still ran like a top! Beautiful, economic, and tough little truck. It had the 2.3 4-cylinder & 5-speed manual. Burgundy XLT. I always regretted moving up to the full size F-150, not that it was a bad vehicle, but the Ranger was so simple, capable, and worry-free. That and I was getting over 30 mpg on the highway with the A/C off!

    • Yup –

      What’s especially grating to me is that Ford has a new Ranger – a diesel Ranger – they won’t/can’t sell in the United States.

  3. I’d agree with what everyone’s saying here for the most part.

    Your noticing the recent mentions of Ford engine concerns really only apply to the “EcoBoost” engines, particularly the turbo V6s, that have been in the Ford F-150s for the past couple of years.

    In reality, both Ford and GM make really good trucks. True, their cars may leave much to be desired, but trucks, especially full size models, are still put to work and MUST stand up to some abuse or they won’t be purchased. This is a highly competitive market and most of the major players are about evenly matched. As a long-time truck owner and driver (20+ years), here’s my thoughts:

    1. GM – Generally speaking, GM makes the best powertrains. Your friend’s Avalanche transmission going out is the exception, not the rule. It’s pretty common for a properly maintained gas powered GM powertrain to go 200,000 or more miles without problems or an overhaul. There also seems to be a lot more parts commonality from year to year in GM vehicles, so the parts are generally more abundant, and you’re much more likely to be able to use a part from a 2002 year truck on a 2007 year truck (basically, if they’re the same body style and engine, you’re likely going to be safe). Also, the designs tend to be simpler to work on and more accessible while producing better power and gas mileage. As someone mentioned, the interiors tend to be the minor let down on GM vehicles. All the major manufacturers cheap out here, but GM seems to be cheaper than most. Not bad when new, but might not age well. Doesn’t effect function of the truck, only looks. Chevrolet tends to get the most reliability awards for full size trucks. Avoid the Colorado/Canyon mid-size competitors from GM. They are crap on wheels. The old S10 models were cheap and simple and reliable, much like the Ford Ranger, but they’ve been deceased for a while. Still a fair number of parts available, though.

    2. Ford – The F-150 has been the single best selling pickup/vehicle in the US for decades now. This is a little bit deceiving, though, as there are several years where, if you add Chevrolet and GMC total pickup sales together, they edge out the F-150, but because they are counted separately due to being ostensibly from different manufacturers, F-150 still gets bragging rights. Even taking that into account, though, Ford still usually sells better. The point? There are a LOT of these trucks on the road, and parts are pretty abundant. The downside is that Ford has a tendency to make minor updates to their powertrains and electronics from year to year, so it’s very important to know exactly what year and options and whatnot you have on your particular truck. That means despite abundant parts, there are enough differences from year to year that you might have a little trouble finding the right part. Also, because Ford engines tend to be a little more technologically advanced, they are prone to breaking down a little more. Mind you, this is a VERY small difference, and I’d have no problem trusting a particular used Ford over a Chevy IF there were other factors in its favor. I’m not sure about the more recent Fords, but older Fords (1990s) were harder to work on than GMs of the same era. Today, with as many electronics as there are, I’d imagine this is pretty much a wash either way now. The Ford Ranger was the last of the compact pickups to die. They get poor gas mileage, can’t tow or haul much, and are generally an inferior vehicle in a lot of ways. But they were also pretty cheap and reliable. Lots of them out there, and lots of parts.

    3. Toyota – The current Tundra has been around for a while and, as far as I can tell, not much has changed on them since they came out in current form. They tended to get good reviews, and in some ways behave more car-like than the Ford and GM equivalents. They are also comparably reliable as well. It’s not that Toyota trucks are not as good as their cars, it’s that domestic trucks are light years beyond domestic cars when competing in their market. The Japanese are coming from behind and have yet to catch up. Aside from engine technology, the Tundra was a generation behind when it first came out and is pretty long in the tooth right now. But that engine is a sweetheart. It’s an overhead cam engine which produces pretty good power and torque. However, it’s a gas hog, even by full size truck standards, and is extremely complicated. If you ever have to work on one, they’re much more of a headache than any domestic. Thankfully, they’re decently reliable so that shouldn’t be too much of an issue. You’ll definitely want to check out the Toyota Tacoma. It’s a mid-size truck with a lot to offer and a lot better reliability than the full-size model. They are excellent off road as well. But they tend to hold their value a lot. They are far and away the best selling small to mid-size pickups of all time.

    4. Nissan – The Titan is the oldest full size out there, and their replacement has been pushed back a year or two due to a deal with Dodge going bad on them due to the bailouts and the fact that Dodge is now owned by Fiat. However, the Titan is a pretty good truck. They haven’t changed much of anything in the years that they’ve been out, and if you like it, you’ll be able to get a good deal on one since they aren’t coveted. As such, your $12k will probably go further with a Nissan than with any of the other three. Also, parts and accessories are reasonably available. Not as good as Ford or Chevy (or Dodge), but not bad. The engine is pretty solid and simple. They basically copied the Chevy layout, which makes them easy to work on and dependable. This one might be the “value” proposition of the bunch. Also, take a close look at the Nissan Frontier. Mid-size truck with a lot to like.

    5. Dodge – Poor Dodge Ram. Can’t get no respect. They are the perennial also-ran. Despite being typically third in sales, they tend to depend more on style than on substance. A few years ago, they started putting 100,000 mile warranties on them and this was a huge mistake. That, along with many other factors, is why Dodge and the rest of Chrysler are now an Italian-owned mark. Their gas engines are not reliable while the chassis seems to be a rust magnet. This is a shame, as back in the 60s and 70s, Dodge made a pretty good truck. It’s good that they’re pretty easy to work on because they need a lot of repairs. You’re likely to find the best deal on a used Ram compared to the others, but I’m not sure that the value is there despite the low price. Then again, you might get lucky and find one of the ones that has been pretty solid for its owner. It does happen. I know more than a few Rams that have made it to 100k miles and are still going. They seem to be the exception, not the rule, though. The only thing worse than a Dodge Ram is a Dodge Dakota, their mid-size pickup. They’ve been dead for a while, now, and for good reason. Nothing good to say about them except that they should be dirt cheap by now and likely 90% rust.

    6. Diesels – GM, Ford, and Dodge have all been making good diesel trucks for the past 10+ years. The Dodge Cummins Diesel is actually probably the best of the three, though it’s in a chassis that is definitely the worst. The Ford PowerStroke Diesel is very nearly as good, and in some cases better, than the Cummins and is mated to an excellent chassis. It’s the pick of the litter. The GM Duramax Diesel is probably the least reliable diesel engine from the big three, though still pretty good. IF you could find a good deal on one, you’ll appreciate the improved fuel economy (think low to mid 20mpg on the highway, so I hear), excellent “tunability” in getting better performance or economy (or both), and the long-term reliability that a diesel offers. Problem is, they cost a lot more used than a gas engined truck does. Nissan and Toyota have never made a diesel engined vehicle for the US market.

    After saying all of that, your best bet is to save up your pennies and shop well within your price range. Avoid the first two years of a newly updated/released model, since those years are when most of the kinks are worked out. Decide what features/options you really want and like, which ones you could skip, and which ones you wish to avoid. If at all possible, get a mechanic to take a look at the truck before you buy it to make sure there’s nothing major waiting to bite you such as transmission repairs, water pumps, axles, etc. Pickups tend to get rode hard and put up wet for the next buyer to find the problems. If possible, buy from somebody rather than a used car dealer. Keep an eye on Craigslist. You’ll get more for your money and are less likely to get dumped on with a bad truck if you can see the seller face-to-face.

    With your budget, I would bet that you can find a really nice 4×4 truck and be really happy with it long-term.

  4. One thing to consider, is, fuel mileage, the GM trucks seem to consistently get better mileage then the Fords and Dodges, about on par with the Nissan’s and Toyo’s.

    Parts replacement and rebuilding, is less onerous with the GM’s.

    I find that the GM trucks just handle better and recover better from a situation. My experience is pretty dated, as the last new truck I bought was a couple of 97′ 350f’s. When I retired, I sold them and kept my old 81′ Jimmie crew and 88′ Chevy 2500. The RV magazines do a rather good evaluation of trucks, look to them for reliable info.

  5. Hi all –

    I’ve had three GM full size trucks and 3 cars with the Ford 4.6 (two 2V, one 3V version). Here’s my take, for what it’s worth..

    My GM trucks, a ’96 Sierra XCab 4.3V6, a ’00 Tahoe Ltd 5.7V8, and my ’99 Tahoe 4×4 5.7V8. All three were very, very easy to keep running. None of them had any appreciable issues that couldn’t be attributed to either me breaking something or simple maintenance items. They rode and handled quite well for what they were, the interiors mostly held up (though GM uses cheap leather – but so does Ford so it’s a wash, really). Replacement parts are thicker than mosquitoes at a July 4th party in Louisiana, and just as cheap to buy. All around, very easy trucks to own and operate.

    My Fords… Well, two Cougars – ’94 XR7 4.6V8 and a ’97 30th Anniversary 4.6V8, as well as my current money pit, an ’07 Mustang GT. Are they as easy to get along with as the GM trucks? No, not really. Brakes and suspension items come up more frequently than I’d like and are a bit more involved than simple maintenance items like shocks or pads. That being admitted, I prefer them to the GM’s. The mod motors (4.6, 5.4, 5.8) are pretty damn solid engines and though they are more mechanically complicated than the equivalent GM offerings, I’ve had nothing but good performance and simple fixit’s with a combined 150k-ish miles between them. The 2-Valve engines (pre-’04, I believe… Eric, feel free to correct me) are quite straightforward and simple to fix the basics. My more recent 3V motor in the Mustang is more refined and in some ways simpler, though in other ways it’s a royal pain in the ass. The spark plugs for the Mustangs and F150’s on any of the 3V motors built before 2008 are, shall we say, problematic to remove if they’ve not been changed yet. A quick search will tell you all you need to know about that clusterfrak of an engineering decision.

    Between the two, I’d have to say that the GM is going to be more hands-off and the Ford is going to be more hands-on, from an ownership and maintenance perspective. I prefer the Ford’s these days because you generally can get more for your money – as long as you’re willing to keep up with the scheduled maintenance items and not cut corners. GM’s are more forgiving of such benign neglect, or at least all the GM’s I had were. Either one is a good enough truck and given the improvements in overall build quality, either should get the job done.

  6. Personally I have a Tundra (very good so far), bought it 3 years old and could tell it was babied and at the time gas prices were spiking up and the dealership was itching to get rid of it so I got a very good price and 0.9% financing. I have had it for 2.5 years and when I look up it on KBB it lists now for what I paid for it. I paid it off after 2 years of financing but it was not $12k.
    The 1st and 2nd gen tundras are not as good though.
    Don’t know if you have your heart set on a V8 or what the purpose of the truck is, I would personally also recommend a ranger with a V6. I think a good one could be had for a lot less than 12k and I think there are plenty of parts to keep it running on the cheap.

  7. Hi GP,

    The best used vehicle is the one that’s in the best condition – at the best price. If you can find a used F-truck that’s in exceptional condition (low miles, obviously well-maintained) at a good price, buying it over a Chevy 1500 with higher miles without a documented maintenance history at a not-so-great price makes sense to me – even given that the Chevy truck has a simpler/less expensive-to-maintain V-8 than the Ford. But, assuming you’re looking at two trucks with about the same mileage, in approximately the same condition, at about the same price – I’d advise going with the Chevy over the Ford. The 4.6/5.4 V-8s are OHC designs and thus more complex than the pushrod/OHV valve V-8s in the Chevy. The Chevy V-8s, being larger, also produce more torque and hp (generally, especially in the older models you’re looking at), which is important in a truck. They (the GM V-8s) also have a great rep for being long-lived and trouble free. The Ford 4.6/5.4 V-8 isn’t a bad V-8. It’s just not as good a truck V-8 as the GM V-8.

    GM automatic transmissions are also pretty well-regarded, incidentally.

    You might, as an aside, also look at the Nissan Titan and Toyota Tundra. Both have strong V-8s and are in general considered to be good trucks.


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