Reader Question: Bulletproof 4×4?

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Here’s the latest reader question, along with my reply!

Rhone asks: Which used 4×4 trucks are good picks – in terms of reliability and maintenance (not concerned with resale since I keep trucks 15-29+ yrs) for under $8,000? I live in heavy snow country, so things like manual windows, stick shift/floor shift are important to me; I don’t care about year, etc. Reliability and functionality are keynote. Have read your articles for years, and you’re one of the few people I’d ask this question.

My reply: You didn’t mention size, so I’ll start with a personal recommend – the 2000 and older Nissan Frontier, which is compact sized truck that was available with the excellent/bulletproof 2.4 liter engine and manual-hub 4WD with a five-speed manual transmission, manual windows and (if you wanted it) AC. Skip the rest. These trucks are tough and great in the snow; their only weakness (I’ve owned two) is susceptibility to rust, especially the front radiator support. But if you can weld… . Nissan made this truck through 2003, but the last few years, you could not get 4WD with the four; you had to buy the optional V6 – which isn’t a bad engine but it is a very tight fit in that engine bay and working on it is no fun. It is also an engine that needs more work. The 2.4 will go 250,000 miles without needing much more than fluid/filter changes.

The Toyota 4Runner is similar – and a bit larger (mid-sized) Great truck.

If you want/need something full-size, either the Ford F-truck or the Chevy Silverado are good choices, if you buy an older one. Especially one made in the late ’80s through the ’90s and up to the early 2000s. These are still trucks – not Yuppified or Metrosexualized. Their sixes are still truck sixes and their available V8s are simple, easy to maintain and hard to hurt. I prefer the GMs over the Ford because I regard the Chevy V8, especially with the TBI injection system and paired with either GM’s excellent four-speed automatic or a five-speed manual, to be just about the best truck drivetrains ever made. The Ford inline six/manual combo is very good, too. And their pushrod/OHV V8s (302/351) are also solid. I am not a big fan of the 4.6/5.4 OHC engines which replaced them. They are more complex and require more maintenance and they aren’t as strong, especially as regards low-end torque.

I’d also consider the Nissan Titan. This truck is built the way American trucks used to be built. No twin turbo V6 or ten speed transmissions. Big V8, lots of power. A recommend!

. . .

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  1. The “Silverado” Chevy pickups are pretty much after your model year recommendation.

    The good Chevy pickups were K-something (K-1500/2500 or better yet: K-10 or K-20).

    I can’t imagine what insanity prompted Chevy marketing to name all their pickups after a trim package…..

  2. If you don’t care about fuel economy, mid ’90s F350 with 460. If it does, AVOID.

    Mine, ~10mpg, always. Unloaded, loaded, overloaded, 2wd, 4wd, snow, off road, mileage never seems to vary significantly. Mine is nearing 250,000 miles and engine is tight as new, 5 speed just started to ‘snick’ a bit going into 3rd, likely because I have been managing a thin clutch for around 20,000 miles. 🙂

    More than enough power, good low torque, sounds awesome.

    Oh, and if you have a head on, there is an entire Smart car to penetrate (mass and length) before you get to the passenger compartment. Short of semis and equivalent trucks, I win.

  3. There apparently were two different five speed manuals paired with Chevy TBI engines: a lightweight “2500” and a heavier “3500”. Unfortunately, I have the lighter one. It’s okay but low gear and reverse isn’t very low and I have to use low range just to back up a little hill without stalling and lurching.

    I think you have to get at least a six hole “light 3/4 ton” K2500 to get the better transmission.

    Just FYI …

  4. I’ll second the Titan. They’ve never been very popular, so their resale’s is no where near that of Ford or Chevy. You can get great deals on ‘em, but they’re as solid as any domestic, maybe more. As with most vehicles, newer is better, as some of the early ones (05 – 07) had brake and rear end issues. Those issues were sorted and by 08 you have a bulletproof truck. Even the newer first gens 2013, 14, 15 are pretty straightforward and simple. Only drawback is they suck gas like it’s going out of style, but hey, most trucks are going to do that anyway.


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