Reader Question: Apocalypse Truck?

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

Shawn asks: I’m thinking about getting a truck for the times ahead; thinking small rather than large. Any recommends?

My reply: I’ve had personal experience with and highly recommend the last-generation Nissan Frontier, made through the 2003 model year (in 2004 Nissan upsized the truck, which is now mid-sized; it seems to be a good truck, too – but it may be larger than you need and I have no personal experience to relay beyond week-long test drives of press vehicles).

I had a ’98 and still have an ’02. Both basic work trucks with the four cylinder engine and manual five-speed transmission. Avoid the optional V6 as it’s a much more complicated and maintenance-needing engine. The four needs almost no maintenance. It has a timing chain, not belt. These run for 250,000-plus miles if treated not terribly.

Until circa 2000, Nissan sold the four cylinder engine with 4WD – and the 4WD is simple 4WD, with manual locking hubs. Not as convenient as “shift on the fly” but much more rugged and much less failure prone.

One cheesy thing Nissan did was not offer a locking rear diff with the 2WD models (like my ’02) which renders them pathetically helpless on wet grass, even. I have long thought about installing a rear axle with locking diff from a 4WD truck into my truck. With the locking diff plus good tires, the truck would be very viable in snow (4WD is oversold; it can definitely be handy in a blizzard, deep mud or off-road but how ask yourself how often you actually deal with such things).

The main weakness of these trucks is their horrendous gas mileage – even with the four – and their propensity to rust if exposed to road salt and not washed down regularly if they are exposed to it. Particular weak points are the radiator support and the fuel/brake lines. If you find one with a plastic bed liner, you are likely to find rust underneath the bed liner.

But otherwise, these are wonderful trucks and I recommend them.

Also, the Toyota Tacoma and T100, which are equally rugged/solid little pickups.

. . .

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  1. While it’s not a traditional truck I really love the 1st gen honda ridgeline. Rides like a plush suv since it shares many underpinnings with the pilot. Not super tall like other modern pickups. Tons of storage space in the cab and under the bed. I get 20mpg. Hauls 1500lb tows 5000. Reliable. Downsides are no manual or work truck trims. AWD only and 4 door only. Timing belt every 100k.


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