Daniel is an entrepreneurial young man who started a small engine repair business at the age of 17. He has an old Ford F-150 that is barely surviving and it also has no air conditioning. He needs something cheap, with a manual, that can fit a lawnmower in the back. What car should he buy?
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Here is the scenario:
I started a small engine repair business shortly after the pandemic began. (Nobody was hiring mechanics so I just took a shot at it and it turned out well.) I’ve been driving around in my ancient, horribly rusted 1987 F-150 getting about 14 mpg. That truck has a lot of issues (four speed trans does 3,000 rpm on the highway, the brakes only work in the front, the electrical system is full of weird random issues, etc.) When I bought it I thought I wanted a full size truck with 4 wheel drive, cause, ‘murica, you know. But that hasn’t turned out so well. I do still very much want a manual trans, but now I think I want something a bit smaller, but can fit a mower in the bed. My budget is pretty tight and I’m trying to spend no more than $5,000.
Daily Driver: Yes
Wants: Small, Manual, Can fit a lawnmower
Doesn’t want: Something too big
Daniel, good for you for starting a business at only 17 years old! I know I wasn’t nearly as ambitious in high school. As for your truck situation, this is certainly a tricky task and honestly, it may be a case of the devil you know is better than the devil you don’t because most of the pickups on the market for under $5,000 are going to be older with higher miles and likely need some work.
However, it seems that doing some wrenching is something you aren’t afraid of and I imagine if you have the skills to fix a mower you can easily learn your way around something bigger. While manual trucks are a bit thin on the ground, I did come across this very nice, Mitsubishi Mighty Max. That’s just a fantastic name for a truck. The downside is it’s about the same age as your old F-150 and it is approaching 250,000 miles. It seems well-cared for it has a 5-speed manual, and should be a bit more maneuverable than the Ford.
I agree with Tom, this is a tricky ask! And while many on this website will probably tell you to get something like this 1966 Ford F-250 (price: $5,500; mileage: 80,000), I will instead be a bit more practical and go with a truck from this millennium.
What I’m talking about is this 2002 Toyota Tacoma. It’s a little over budget ($6,000, not $5,000), but it is a manual, the ad claims it has only had one owner, and the ad also claims a lot of parts, including the timing belt, have recently been replaced. And you could probably negotiate a slightly better deal.
The first-generation Tacoma also remains the best generation in my opinion, at least in terms of styling. This one has a little over 190,000 miles on the odometer, but like Tom said, you don’t sound like someone who’s afraid to occasionally get their hands dirty.
I’m going to diverge a bit from my coworkers’ smart “small truck” suggestions, because it’d be far too easy for me to recommend a 4.0-liter Ford Ranger, 4.3-liter Chevy S10, or 4.0-liter Jeep Comanche. Instead, I’ll suggest that you get yourself a Ford Aerostar minivan, ideally one with a manual transmission.
While the stick-shift models are rare, the things are dirt cheap, and they get significantly better fuel economy than your truck. (See below from Fueleconomy.gov). Plus, the Aerostar is big on the inside, its 3.0-liter “Vulcan” V6 is unkillable, and overall dimensions are fairly small compared to your behemoth (which itself really isn’t that big compared to modern trucks).
The Aerostar in the photo at the top of this section is going for only $1,800 on Facebook Marketplace, but it’s an automatic. Keep your eyes out for a manual—they do show up every now and then. Then pounce on it, and enjoy driving a manual minivan. I might do the same soon.
Hey Daniel! Small engine repair, that’s great. My Nissan Pao probably qualifies for you to work on, I bet. For your truck, I think you need to think of this as a work truck more than anything else. It’s your employee, and, as an employer, your whole goal is to screw it and pay it as little as possible. So, with the cruel realities of capitalism in mind, I say get yourself a dirt-cheap truck.
I don’t think you need to spend close to $5 grand, because there’s so many good cheap workhorse truck options out there. Look at this 2007 Ranger for $3,200! Or this 2002 for $2,000! Or, damn, here’s one for $800!
I’d also consider getting a nice small truck with a low bed height, since shoving mowers in and out of that bed all day long is no picnic. This Mazda B2600 would be great for that, and they say it only has 59,000 miles?
The point here is that you can definitely find a usable little truck that’s just good enough for cheap, and I think that’s the play here. If you can keep it under $3000 or so, that’s both ideal and, I think possible.