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In the last five years we’ve experienced a lot of growth in our automotive preferences. Some lessons readers handed to us like a pie to the face, and others we’ve come to on our own. In my case, I learned I needed a small truck, not a V8-powered monster that got 10 fpg (feet per gallon). So to fix that I had to square up, lose the big beast, and opt for a more sensible ride. Enter one sweet little 2008 Ford Ranger.

The way I use vehicles has changed somewhat, but the big factor in the shift was overall cost. A smaller truck is just cheaper all the way around. Over time, the 2.3 liter, four cylinder Ranger is cheaper than the 350 V8 in my old Chevy. The little Ford uses less gas, less oil, and in many cases features less expensive replacement parts, such as one head gasket instead of two, four plugs instead of eight, smaller tires, cheaper insurance when compared to trucks of the same year, and so on.

The bed in the Ranger is 6’ by 5 1/2’ instead of the longbed 8’x6’ my Chevy had. In retrospect it’s really not that much different than the larger truck with regard to objects I actually carry, like large boxes, furniture, and sheet goods. Sheet goods are the largest change in that I need to angle the sheet over the wheel-well and strap them at the back instead of just laying it in and slamming the gate closed behind me. Even then, only about five inches stick out the back with the tailgate open.

Another change in thinking with my new truck happened in the way I think about “extras”. After having worked on them for the last five years I can honestly say the best way to keep things like door locks and windows operational is to have them manually operated. It’s blasphemy, I know, but it’s really the best way to guarantee they work all the time.

It may be that budgets and economics have got my thinking messed up, or for the first time in a decade I have my head on straight — either way it’s a small truck for me for the next few years. The change in styles is a bit of a departure from previous years, so we are curious to know if others have made the downsize decision or just had a small truck the whole time, and how it is working out for you? Let us know in comments.

Ranger Regular Cab Pickup [Website]


27 Responses to The Changing Tide Of Toolmonger Truckdom

  1. I miss my small S10. I could drive it in the city and park it in non-home center sized parking lots. Strike one was that my wife and the dog couldn’t ride at the same time (it was fine when she was a puppy, but a 90 pound German Shepard needs her own seat!), strike two was planning for a family and needing a vehicle that I could put car seats in.

    Don’t get me wrong I love my Silverado, It’s been the best, most trouble free vehicle I’ve ever owned.

    I love the crap they give you at the dealer when you say you want a work truck with no accessories — but without those accessories your resale value will suffer they try to tell you. Yeah, but I won’t spend another half the price of the truck again either!

    I wonder how many people they sucker with the resale value line.

  2. Bill says:

    There is a lot to be said for the small truck. However, they just don’t cut it as a tow vehicle, at least for any trailer more than say 1000 pounds. Plus, as Benjamen pointed out, there essentially is no room for more than one passenger. I bought a ’97 GMC Sonoma new, and sold my old ’72 Chevy C-10. I never missed it from the cargo side, but I did miss the power and towing capacity. I still have the Sonoma – rebuilt the engine rather than getting rid of it, just because it is so handy to have around. Very maneuverable too – you can turn around practically anywhere.
    I solved the towing problem by acquiring a 3/4 ton Suburban. So, both vehicles are used where their strengths are a plus.
    I do disagree about the creature comforts… I’ll take mine with air conditioning and power windows every time.

  3. MattC says:

    You are preaching to the converted. I have been fortunate enough to always have a small pickup as a third vehicle. It started in the late 1990’s with a used Mazda B2200. (underpowered, no power steering or A/C, but I loved that truck until the tin worms ate the majority of the body). I have had a 1992 S10 Extended cab (sold to my brother currently has 300K), 1997 Ford ranger (2.3L/5speed), and my current 2001 Sonoma Ext. cab.

    For the majority of my needs, a compact pickup is a perfect size.

  4. Nik says:

    Too bad, I was looking forward to the conclusion of your “Shop Truck Build” series. Did you ever get the engine reassembled ? Maybe you could write article #6 in that series to tie up the loose ends.

  5. Do It Rite says:

    When my old 79′ Ford half-ton finally died a couple years ago, I needed something to be able to pull my tractor & trailer, make hauls to the dump and go to the lumber yard. I decided on a ’98 Toyota Tacoma 4WD extended cab. Great gas milage, stellar repair record and legendarily tough. Perfect size and can pull better than my old Ford. Hard to find, but if you can get one in good condition they can’t be beat.

    The firm that I work for bought five ’06 Ford Rangers and they have all had the same transmission problems. Ford refuses to recognize it a a defect, but the repair runs about a grand each. Otherwise they have run pretty well.

  6. Chuck says:

    Agreed with DIR – My ’02 Taco with a V6 is killer. I don’t plan on getting rid of it any time soon.

  7. ambush says:

    Small trucks aren’t bad for towing at all, certain years and configurations of ranger are rated at 6000#. keep in mind you can’t put that much weight in the box of a 1 ton. of course once you subtract the weight of a larger trailer your probably talking 3500 pounds of payload, but even so.

  8. Dave says:

    Good choice, Sean. I’ve had two Rangers, both 4WD extended cabs with 3 liter V-6s. I put 295,000 miles on my ’89 before trading it for my current 2000 model, which is still going strong at 311,000 miles. I like to get my money’s worth…

  9. TL says:

    +1 for the ’01 Taco. The 2 mpg hit over my ’94 with the 22R was a small price to pay for the extended cab and huge increase in power with the V6. The only times I really wish I had a full size truck is when towing more than 1500# or hauling 4×8 sheets of wallboard. The edges of those seem to get dinged up with the smaller bed.

  10. SharkyTM says:

    I’ve got a ’98 Ranger 4×4 4.0L, 5-speed. I’m actually thinking about going the other way, trading it in for a full-size truck, with an extended cab and an 8′ bed. I love parking the thing, but it doesn’t hold enough cargo, can’t tow a big trailer, and I can’t find a used plow for it. My Ranger has manual locks, manual windows, manual mirrors, no cruise control. The only power option is the electronic transfer case. The manual locks freeze up and the keys barely work. The mirrors get bumped, and I’ve got to adjust them at rest areas. The lack of cruise control is awful on long trips. The only thing I like are the manual windows. The worst thing is that I only get 13-15 mpg out of the Ranger… I can match that with a 2500HD Sierra and a 6L V8.

    Hopefully, your Ranger will serve you well. Mine has been a great truck, but I just need something bigger.

  11. rg says:

    I bought a Mazda B4000 (basically the same as a Ford Ranger FX4) in 2007. And while the fuel mileage of the 4.0 litre engine isn’t great, I figure that what I saved on the purchase price, I can buy a LOT of gas.

    It has all the power options and cruise control. I’ve taken it off-road in Moab and driven it daily in -40 weather in northern Canada. I’ve hauled over 1000 lbs. of concrete patio stones in it and hauled trailers with it, all without a glitch. I’ve even used it to pull a loaded, full-size pickup out of a snowbank the other week.

    I did a lot of research before I bought my truck and concluded that Rangers are the best value for the money out there. No comprable vehicle comes close. Sure, an F-150 has it’s advantages, but when you compare the monthly payments, I can live with the smaller truck and it’s older design very nicely, thanks. There’s a reason Ford has sold these virtually unchanged, with only a few minor improvements, since 1998 — they are one tough little vehicle that really punches above it’s weight.

    After almost four years, I still think this was the best vehicle purchase I’ve ever made — and my previous ones weren’t all clunkers, either. I’m sure you’ll be very happy with your Ranger, and come to appreciate its value, too.

  12. luke says:

    My first car was a 4 cylinder 94 Toyota truck (before they had a fancy name for the small models). It is hands down one of the best trucks ever made. For all you American only doubters here are the facts: Ive driven it at 115 mph, pealed out all the way to 3rd gear (in the rain), loaded a entire sectional couch into the bed and drove 70 miles into LA, and took it off of bike jumps in the desert. When I sold it for a hot grand it was still running and had 350,000 on the engine.
    This being said the best car I have ever owned is my 05 tundra it has all the extras and I love em, a V8 and a 6ft bead. I would call it a mid sized truck, not to big to park just a little difficult.

  13. darrell says:

    The Ranger has a great enthusiast site at http://www.therangerstation.com . Helpful people, great info if you want to fix or repair, modify for offroad, or just have questions. Check it out.

  14. Rick says:

    It is really unfortunate that the Ranger is being discontinued in the US. They are going to make an entirely new Ranger for all overseas markets but we aren’t getting it here..

    Instead the best choice from Ford is the F-150 with the 305HP V6. It is rated at 17/23mpg (compared to 22/27 for the Ranger) The new Ranger is larger (about the same size as a Tacoma) but is still about 1000lbs less than the lightest F-150. I can only imagine how good the mileage would be if Ford would build that truck in the US with the new 3.7V6 and a twin clutch 6 speed tranny. Unfortunately Ford doesn’t seem to care..


  15. rg says:

    luke —
    Re: “America only doubters”

    My truck previous to my Mazda / Ranger was an ’87 Nissan King Cab. It was about 21 yrs. old when I sold it, and still going strong. In fact, I liked it so much, I originally had my heart set on a new Nissan Frontier, or even a Toyota Tacoma.

    Then I started comparing prices.

    The difference was not insignificant. While the build quality on the Nissans and Toyotas might have been better — and that’s entirely debatable — there is no way I could see the marginal difference against my Ford/Mazda to justify the price difference.

    Believe me, I’m not knocking the quality of Nissan or Toyota trucks, but I think it has become a bit mythical at this point, and they’re trading on it.

    Besides which, I’m pretty sure Toyota and Nissan trucks are all made in North America now, anyway — just like my “Mazda”, which rolled off the same assembly line in Minnesota, like every other Ranger.

  16. just me says:

    I agree with some of the others small trucks are great but they don’t offer the power to tow. I tow about 5k up steep grades in the Sierra Nevada Mtns. A little truck wouldn’t cut it, plus in the winter I like the weight my truck has when I am driving in snow storms. Overall my truck has done great working its way up hills covered with almost 2 feet of snow (last week for one). I’d love the MPG of a smaller truck but I wouldn’t trade it for the power my current truck offers.

  17. HMS says:

    I bought my 01 Ranger new to replace my work car after someone rear ended me (totaled my car). I went with the 4 cyl 5 speed manual, manual door locks, manual windows, very good AC and kickin stereo. I now have 163K miles, never had any problems or leaks, still running the original factory tires (rotate/balance ever other oil change), immediately switched to synthetic oil. get 30mpg hiway/ 26 town.

  18. Old as Dirt says:

    FORD RANGER IS THE BEST DAMN TRUCK I EVER OWNED. It seems that everyone complains that the truck isn’t big enough,doesn’t carry enough and can’t tow enough.Well stop whining and go buy a custom Peterbuilt truck.You can haul your house,wife,kids and mother in law all at once and yes you will have room to make a trip to the local lumber yard.They also have a Ford F-600.

  19. Discobubba says:

    I think some folks are getting a bit off topic and missing the point of the article; Which to me seems to be that it’s more Economical having a truck which fits YOUR needs the majority of the time. In this case Sean realized he doesn’t usually haul heavy or large loads. If your environment or workload situation requires you to have a big truck then yes, a smaller one would be inadequate.

    Overall tho, liking the comments as I really wanna sell one of my vehicles and get a smaller to midsize truck for weekend-warrior type activities. I can’t see a larger full-sized truck being able to easily fit in my driveway, or maneuvering it around the other vehicles easily. Wouldn’t mind just getting a small fold-able trailer but unfortunately, to make a long story short, the two cars I have available to me wouldn’t be good candidates for a hitch.

    What I’m surprised to see is that there doesn’t seem to be a lot of older Diesel trucks available. Especially smaller ones. Even the Ranger only offered that option for a few years when they first came out in the 80s!

  20. IronHerder says:

    Well, late to the party again. And if I repeat earlier points, it’s for emphasis, not because I’m too lazy to read the comments thoroughly.

    1. The vehicle needs to fit the job, duh. I don’t use my 3/4 ton full-size extended cab 4WD for commuting, & it’s appropriate for what I need the rest of the time. (And it has a manual transmission, so very few people ask to borrow it.)

    2. I have made the calculations several times, & have never been able to find enough fuel savings to justify making car payments for a fuel miser. If you want a new (or newer) vehicle, that’s fine, just don’t delude yourself.

    3. The energy required to build a new vehicle & deliver it is not trivial. It may be counter-intuitive, but driving an old clunker may actually be more environmentally friendly. If you want a new (or newer) vehicle, that’s fine, just don’t delude yourself.

    4. The budget-busting car payments required when trading up to a fuel miser are sadly accompanied by higher insurance costs for a newer vehicle, especially if you include the collision & comprehensive coverage that are necessary only for vehicles that the bank owns. Also, some states (like mine) soak the owners of high-value vehicles, including new & energy efficient models.

    In the end, I drive what I need & what I can afford. Remember that one size doesn’t fit all, so take the time to decide what you need. And don’t smugly deride my full-size pickup as a threat to the environment. It isn’t.


  21. Mr.Miz says:

    I have a 2003 tacoma. The only thing I don’t love about it is that everybody wants me to help them move. I use it for everything. Sheet goods, rock, mulch. saw horse. There are lots of things you can build into the back of them to make them function more like a bigger bed too. Everything from just a flat bed to a roll out bed sized shelf.

  22. Ted says:

    We’ve had both Rangers and S-10s. V6 Rangers are hard on fuel and cramped inside, the GM 4.3 isn’t going to win any bets with Prius owners but it’s pretty decent on the highway, a little thirsty in town. Had good reliability from both, the extended cab options from both are a joke, little more than glorified grocery shelves. The newer Isuzu/Chevy crew cab is a little better (test drove it, liked it, wife wanted a van), and I believe there was a short lived S-10 crew option as well.

  23. Dr Bob says:

    We have a 98 Sonoma with auto trans and 2.2L 4 cylinder. Very underwhelming performance. Has to be the worst drive train every put in a truck – combine a high-revving, low torque mill in a slushbox and the darned thing can barely pull itself up hils empty.

    Wife got a 15 ft boat and it was a real strain for it to pull it. So she bought a S-10 4WD Crew Cab with the V6 – thirsty devil, but it tows the boat nicely.

    The one thing I dislike about the smaller truck is the inability to have a 4 x 8 sheet of anything sit between the wheel wells

  24. Miss Frannie says:

    I’ve had my 91 toyota reg cab since it was new, It has a rubber floor easy to keep clean. Which I note is rare in new trucks today. Last year I bought a new fender because of rust. Other than that no problems but normal maintenece. I like it because of its simplicty. good gas mileage. 33/26. One thing though. An extended cab would be better. Or a cap on a reg cab. I can now afford a newer model but it is like a old friend. I just can’t bring my self to sell it.

  25. Patrick says:

    Welcome to the down-sized truck club Sean. I made that move two years ago now with a 92 F-150 to a 09 Tacoma.

    I took a hard look at the things I “needed” out of my vehicle – a bed for weekend warrior/work related uses, room for two car-carseats. The two carseat precludes a ranger, the truck-base I started with. The Tac has an extended cab/4-door option. That’s it – I got the stripped down fleet 2WD and I’m quite happy with it. Better mileage, great deal and it’s only what I need, nothing I don’t.

    Hope you get a lotta miles out of the ranger.

  26. Fong says:

    Love my ’10 Taco Doublecab, as I did the ’02 Taco before that…all the way back to my first truck an ’89 4Runner with the fiberglass top. I’ve even designed lift spindles professionally for all those original indestructible hilux pickups.

    With gas prices the way they are nowadays, I had to take a good hard look at the V6 Taco and decide whether I really needed the engine and the 4WD. For 95% of the time, I don’t but you know how it goes. The second you hit that 5%, you always regret not having it when you had the chance.

  27. I have both a 4 door 2×4 ranger XLT with the 3.0 (24 mpg) and a f150 extended cab with the 351 4×4 XLT (16 mpg) each one has it’s uses, the Ranger won’t pull anything bigger than a small boat, the F150 pulls the tractor, and goes in the woods.

    I plan to put 300K miles on the ranger before it gets replaced. Great little truck. Good luck.

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