It seems that Evan’s beloved 2004 Ford Ranger has finally succumbed to winters in the Northeast and may not pass inspection due to the rust. It’s time for another vehicle to haul stuff and do light off-roading. What car should he buy?
(Welcome back to What Car Should You Buy? Where we give real people real advice about buying cars.)
Here is the scenario:
I have driven a 2004 Ford Ranger since 2004 and I’ve just been told that it may not pass inspection next year due to frame rust problems. So now I’m looking for a replacement. It needs to have a tailgate or a hatch. I’m 6'4" so it’s got to fit a tall guy comfortably. I also go trail running frequently so it would be convenient for me to overnight in it before race day. I have a wife and we’ll need to transport two bikes and two sets of cross country skis. I absolutely love my Ranger. It’s as simple as it can get. No powered windows, no powered locks and a stick shift. I also have a Forester that I adore. It fits in with the outdoor crowd pretty easily and handles central PA snow pretty well.
Since I live in central PA it’s got to have AWD or 4WD. I’m also extremely loyal to the stuff I own so it’s likely I will keep this one till it’s ready for the scrap yard also. As for budget, I can spend up to $15,000.
Budget: up to $15,000
Daily Driver: Yes
Location: Central, PA
Wants: Simple, Reliable, 4WD
Doesn’t want: Something too small or that can’t handle a trail.
Evan, sorry to hear about your Ranger. After almost 15 years of ownership, it’s hard not to be attached to something like that. While you are open to other body styles, you clearly like your simple trucks and I don’t really see a reason to deviate from that. Of course, everyone in the comments will tell you to get a Tacoma. But at this price range, you’re likely looking at ones with about a half-million miles on them or ones with similar rust problems as your Ranger. I say go with the somewhat unloved alternative to the Taco, the Nissan Frontier.
The Frontier is not refined but you will get some fancier features like power door locks and windows. It’s a sturdy truck and you can find plenty of candidates with reasonable miles for $15,000 or under. If you want to get picky and find one with three pedals, but that will narrow the inventory a bit. Here’s one down in VA with about 80,000 miles on the clock and a 5-speed manual, though.
Ah, Ford Rangers. They do tend to have frame rust issues, especially near those rear shackles. Sorry to hear that, because Rangers are lovely trucks.
That’s why I think you should just snag another one. Here’s a 2009 for sale near you for $8,900. I wouldn’t call that cheap, but this thing’s got the lovely 4.0-liter V6, a five-speed manual, and four-wheel drive—that’s the combo you want on this truck.
It’s ten years old, so you’ll want to make sure it’s not rusty, and you’ll want to clean it when you can to prevent it from succumbing to the same fate as your beloved 2004. But the Ranger is a hard truck to beat, so don’t try to beat it. Just get another one without rust (they made these trucks into the 2010s), and let it serve you well for another 15 years.
Evan, there’s nothing more cruel and joyless than rust. But I don’t want you to wallow in brown, crumbly pity—take this as an opportunity to get yourself a vehicle that does what you need, but is also novel, exciting, and, yes, different. Because you deserve something interesting, don’t you?
That’s why you need to get this 1999 Isuzu VehiCROSS. This thing was way, way ahead of its time when it came out, and still looks futuristic today. That two-tone spaceship look relies on plastic body panels for the bumpers and wheel arches on the lower half, a material known for being unpalatable to those miserable rust-worms.
It’s 4-wheel-drive, powered by a rugged 3.5-liter V6 that makes over 200 horsepower, and it’s got a tailgate in back with a decent-sized luggage area and a roof rack, so transporting those bikes, skis, and wife should be no issue.
More importantly, it’s just a cool car you don’t see everywhere. What’s not to like about this? It’s even under budget at $12,000! What are you waiting for?
My lovely colleagues all have wonderful recommendations, which is why it is time for me to tell you that you should blow your cash on the vehicle of choice for adventure driving the world over... just not in the United States.
We never got the Delica here, which is a shame. It’s basically just a Mitsubishi Pajero SUV but with a more practical minivan body on top. You get 4WD, locking diffs, the whole lot, with a box of a body on top.
Gary Duncan over in Virginia has a bunch for sale. Buy one and make everyone else at the trailhead jealous.