Reader Question: Small Pick-Up Options?

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

Mitch writes: I own three cars, which given how much I drive (I usually walk or bicycle to work) is at least somewhat silly. A friend of mine was of the opinion that if I am going to have three vehicles, at least one of them should be a truck. If I did go that route, I am in agreement with you that I would want the simplest small truck option possible, with the least amount of electronics.

I seem to recall that you (or one of my friends) noted that the Nissan Frontier has not changed much in the last 12-15 years or so. Related, I just read your article about the upsizing that occurred in the Nissan Frontier after the 2004 model year. Currently I have a 1976 Oldsmobile Cutlass, a 2002 Honda Accord, and a 2010 Nissan Altima 2-door. The Olds is of course very unique, no power windows or similar features and the simplest of the three. The Honda is extremely reliable, and as far as hauling stuff for the yard/garden like mulch, the most practical given its large trunk. And the Nissan is the most fun to drive, and as you are aware it’s somewhat unique in that the 2013 model year was the last one for the 2-door version. I don’t haul that much stuff, but am thinking about some of the same issues that you are, such as the roads not being in as good a repair as they currently are and considering living further out in a rural area, etc. So – which vehicle to sell if I were to get a truck? Yes, I suppose I could add the truck without selling a vehicle but I only have a one-car garage and room for 2 vehicles in the driveway. The street is available for parking as well except on heavy snow days.

Again, I would want a small truck and wouldn’t mind getting a newer model small or mid-sized pickup if it lacks the fancy electronics and safety features of most new vehicles. I realize this post is really broad but my basic question is your recommendation for a small truck that would most likely be used just enough to keep it running well and to haul the occasional load. Thanks again for your suggestions about the Oldsmobile Cutlass, I have not regretted having the engine rebuilt.

My reply: I own an ’02 Frontier myself (and previously had a ’98). They are great little trucks and if you can find one – most who have them do not want to sell them – I recommend them heartily. Their overall footprint is about the same as that of a current Camry sedan, so they are easy to park anywhere.  The four cylinder/manual combo is extremely reliable, low-maintenance and long-lived. But if you want 4WD you will probably have to get the V6, as Nissan stopped offering 4WD with the 2.5 liter four after 2000, IIRC.

The 2004-current Frontier is also a good truck but not as little. All the currently available “compacts” are actually mid-sized, which is okay if you want a larger truck that’s also not as monstrously large as current half-ton (1500) trucks. In addition to the Frontier, I also recommend the Toyota Tacoma; it is an outstanding smaller truck. I do not recommend the new Ford Ranger or the Chevy Colorado/GMC Canyon. These trucks are laden with big brothery “safety” and “assistance” technology.

If I were in the market, I’d set my sights on a late ’90s/early 2000s Frontier or Tacoma with the four cylinder, manual and 4WD. It may take awhile to find one in excellent condition, with low miles (or a rebuilt drivetrain) and a rust-free body and I would expect to pay as much as $10k for such a one – but that is a third what you’d pay for a new “compact” sized 4WD pick-up and you won’t be buying all the “safety” and big brothery “assistance” tech.

PS: Glad to hear about the Olds; it’s a great car!

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