Reader Question: Decent Used Truck?

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

Matt asks: I’m looking for a decent used light duty pickup truck. Just need something reliable that I can haul things (yard or house related). The cheaper the better. I’m a manual transmission guy, but that is not a deal break. Thoughts?

My reply: You didn’t mention size, so I’ll start with one of my personal favorites… the last generation (2004 and prior) Nissan Frontier. I own an ’02 (and used to own a ’98) and can vouch from direct, long-term experience for these trucks’ general excellence.

The four cylinder versions especially.

Which were available with 4WD (rugged and simple 4WD, with manual locking hubs) through IIRC the 2001 model year. The V6 versions are ok, but more maintenance and harder to work on because the engine is very tightly squeezed in the engine compartment.

Both use a startling amount of gas for their size, though – and that is their chief deficit in my opinion

The Toyota Tacoma and T100 are also top-shelf and I  have nothing against the Ford Ranger, either – though some consider it not so great.

You ought to be able to find any of the above in good shape mechanically and cosmetically for well under $10,000 and probably for less than $6,000 if you shop hard.

If you need a larger truck, my pick is the Chevy Silverado (older models) with the 5.3 or 5.7 or 6.2 V8. While I am at war with GM over their current mindset and mulcting of taxpayers to fund their EV shibboleth, they made a damned good truck… until recently. Go back five or so years and you’ll be ok. Their best trucks were made in the mid-late ’90s/early 2000s. Get one with the 350 TBI and 5-speed manual and you’ll be thanking me for the next 20 years!

I also like the Dodge (now) Ram 1500, though  it has the usual Dodge issues of early rust and cheap trim bits.

The pre-aluminum/turbo V6 Ford F-150 is  also a good choice. Like the Silverado, if you can find one from the ’90s with either the straight six or the 5.0/5.8  V8, you’ll be very happy.

. . .

Got a question about cars – or anything else? Click on the “ask Eric” link and send ’em in!

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  1. Yes. I had an 2005 Tahoe with a 5.3 engine. Love the way that truck drove!!

    I now have a 2012 Sequoia 5.7 and I love the interior space but doesn’t drive as well as the older Tahoe did. It seems like it has less power.

    • Hi Melissa,

      Both are good vehicles, with their relative pros and cons. The Sequoia always felt a bit lurchy in the curves to me vs. the Tahoe. But it is well built, as most Toyota products are. If I had to pic one vs. the other (used) it would come down to price and condition….

      • I agree. The Sequoia is pretty top heavy and I have to go slower on curves. We bought Platinum model used 2yrs ago with $76k miles. I’m at 96k now and still loving it. It is a good truck indeed. I’ve seen them for sale with 250k miles so I’m hoping to get a lot of life out of it. One thing I like about it that I haven’t noticed with previous SUVs (Pilot and Tahoe) is that when I decelerate the transmission does some sort of smooth downshifting that I think was to help with not wearing out the brakes on these big heavy SUVs. If I have to break quickly the car comes to a halt very fast and very smoothly. I’m not sure what this feature is but I like it. I haven’t had to replace the breaks yet in 2 + years. It also uses full synthetic oil and dealer says I can go 10k miles between oil changes.

        • Melissa, I’d install an aftermarket rear sway bar to combat the lean.

          I installed a heavy sway bar on a friend’s Tahoe. Years later he had a car pull out in front of him on a two lane road. He couldn’t go around on the road since it was solid traffic so he whipped around it in the barditch and had nearly no room due to a deep, rocky ditch. He managed to bring it back onto the pavement in front of the car. He said making that move before the sway bar wouldn’t have been possible. He wouldn’t have survived that ditch.

          I was going to recommend synthetic oil but I’d still go to the Amsoil website and see how your oil stacks up. People are always surprised how much better Amsoil is compared to Mobil 1. Amsoil showed a brand of oil that bested their own. I didn’t record the brand and can’t recall it now.

          • Oh thanks for the recommendation for the sway bar. I will show this to my husband your comment. I’ll also look into the oil. Truthfully I’m not sure what brand of synthetic oil the dealer uses but now I will find out. Appreciate the feedback. ?

            • Melissa you won’t go wrong with an aftermarket swaybar. You also won’t go wrong with Amsoil.

              Eric and I had it out years ago over Amsoil. He eventually became an Amsoil seller. I won’t try to tell you what he thinks of it.

              I don’t care what he thinks of it. I have converted many vehicles to it with great results. It doesn’t matter what I think of it….on the surface. What matters is the results I’ve had. I’ve had their transmission fluid not only stop a leak but turn a malfunctioning transmission into a transmission that operated as it should.

              Other brands of synthetic fluid might have done the same. 6 years later and the transmission is doing fine, I don’t care
              if you use another brand synthetic fluid. If it fixes the transmission and stops a leak I’d definitely use that brand.

              I only know what worked for me
              BTW, Amsoil engine oil did the same for several other engines right down to stopping a leak on my 6.5 Turbo Diesel.

              I have a Z71 Chevy that used a quart of oil in a bit over 3,000 miles when I bought it with 200,000 miles. After the second oil change with Amsoil, it no longer uses oil at my 10,000 mile oil change or 6 month change, whichever comes first.

              I have converted my friends vehicles who drive 60,000 miles or more a year that make their living with their car.

              Not only do they save money but their engines and transmissions seem to go forever.

              I have no affiliation with Amsoil other than using it, keeping recos of its performance and having a commercial account.. There’s a good reason I have that affiliation with them, it has been a boon for me not only in performance but also in savings. 25,000 miles on a road car and the oil still checks out fine after submitting a sample for evaluation is proof enough for me .

              Start a high performance engine in brutally cold conditions and see no more oil pressure than when it’s 80 degrees says a lot for me, especially when I use an 8 quart oil pan and a 22% over volume oil pump on a typical engine.

              And yes, I build my own engines, according to the manufacturers specifications. I don’t try to out think Zora Arkus Duntov or the engineers who came after him.

              I didn’t try to out think the engineers at Amsoil. I was once a great pioneering engineer and developed great designs. OK, I was once a good shade tree mechanic…..and I still remember and apply what I learned from those great engineers, like Zora Arkus Duntov.

              Hell, I’m a trucker and don’t have time to be anything but a rebuilder. I simply try to learn the best designs and applications.

              • HA…I believe you about Amsoil. I have heard good things about it over the years. I need to do some research myself and pass this info on to my husband to see what he thinks, but we’re all for keeping up the best maintenance on our cars. My hubby drives a G37. Must use premium gas, but that car is so fun to drive. Its pretty quick!

                Funny, my Dad is a trucker as well. He has his own business out of Vegas/SoCal. Been at it since before I was born. Took many trips in the trucks as a kid. He also built his own trucks. His family used to have them in shows they were so pretty. Peterbilts of course and they used to have Frieghtliner cabovers in the 80s. 🙂 Anyway, I hope you meant diesel trucks. HAHA

                • Yes, I meant diesels. I had a custom Freeightliner back when they were White Freightliner. It had a home built Cummins that would haul 30 tons at 90 mph with no effort.

                  I also converted to 359 and then 379 Peterbilt’s. The last I drove was a 300 inch wheelbase 379 with a 3406 Cat with 600 hp. It’s not a truck for everyone with that wheelbase but I loved it.

                  If the wife hadn’t had a stroke we’d still be married…the Peterbilt and me that is. The wife’s recovered pretty well so I’m looking for another 379..I do love those flat top Pete’s. Guess I’ll keep the wife too….

                • Hi Melissa,

                  I’ll join Eight in recommending Amsoil. I use it in all my vehicles – cars, truck, bikes. It’s the good stuff. If you decide to buy, please consider doing so through the Amsoil distributor who advertises here (see ink at the bottom of the main page). It costs you the same, but it helps the site!

  2. ” Their best trucks were made in the mid-late ’90s/early 2000s. Get one with the 350 TBI and 5-speed manual and you’ll be thanking me for the next 20 years!”

    Last year for the TBI was 1995 I believe.

    • Dread, I’ve been looking for a 92, 93 Turbo Diesel 4wd ext cab one ton light duty…single wheel. They were /are easy on fuel. I like the New Venture Gear HD 3 speed with underdrive and OD. A Dodge 7 speed manual would also fit.

      Being a trucker I would constantly try to shift into the next OD…..I didn’t have. Driving anything with a center shift be it auto or manual, I have a habit of reaching for the shifter going uphill or down, reaching for the appropriate gear. The wife’s been slapping my right hand for decades. It would appear it’s a habit I can’t break.

      Honestly, it’s a habit I don’t want to break. I still reach for that other shifter too, the one for the other gearbox. I don’t want to break that habit either. Give me a Spicer 4X5 or 5X6 and I’m in muscle memory heaven.

      A friend had a bad wreck and couldn’t drive for years. He didn’t bother to keep up with licensing so had to go through the entire qualification when he recovered several surgeries later.

      He had a woman DPS occifer ride with him. Running through the gears he reached a speed he no longer needed to shift so he drove like he always had, right hand on shifter. The occifer told him he wouldn’t pass the driving test without both hands on the wheel.

      He was taken aback since his right hand had rarely been on the steering wheel. He managed to get it over there and grip the wheel for the rest of the test. He allowed it was hard to do since it was a new thing for him.

      Hell, my right hand doesn’t even recognize the steering wheel unless it’s a tight turn at low speed.

      I guess she thought truckers actually used both hands on the wheel while driving. I wouldn’t have even noticed.

      Nothing like a no-nothing bureaucrat to screw things up. Before he told me that story I had never thought about it.

  3. Where you live is also a factor when it comes to Japanese pickups.
    There used to be quite a few in Texas but with the desire for air conditioning they became unreliable and short-lived because of overheating.

    20 years ago there seemed to be a non-running compact Japanese pickup on every block in town, beside barns, etc. Now it’s rare to even see the carcass.

    Same goes for S10 and Dodge midsized units. The Ford Ranger is seen now and then. Now and again you’ll see an S10 with a fire-breathing SBC with a narrowed rear end and tubbed wheel wells and huge tires on the back.


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