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I live in Texas, and trucks are a religion down here. It seems whether or not the need for one exists, most folks want one — and the bigger the better. Last weekend the parental unit and I decided to go to an estate sale. We took the Ranger over his ’98 Ram because it averages 27 mpg, we had 60 miles to go, and by chance it was cleanest.

We’ve spoken many times in the last year and change about how much we’ve come to support buying for what you need instead of the shiny extras that look or sound impressive. Just to be clear, we at Toolmonger have absolutely no beef with professionals or hard-working people who require/use heavy duty trucks on the job or at home. There are about a hundred good reasons to have one. But I don’t off-road, don’t have a crew to be transported, and don’t pull a trailer. I commute and haul wood and project supplies to and fro, and that’s about it. I bought a truck that supported that and have never regretted it.

During the final leg of the journey it was made clear by the rather skeptical guy manning the turn-off that we needed to drive a few miles over prairie land, fields, and rolling hills to get to the dirt road we needed. Let’s just say I was very stoked. My Ranger was earning its overland badge.

When we pulled up and parked among a sea of F-250’s and Chevy Heavy-Duties with the only compact, four-cylinder vehicle there. I was positively beaming with pride. There was the obligatory teasing comments about “toy trucks” and well-wishers consoling me about my “teacup truck” and so on. It’s Texas; they do that here. However, I did notice that about half of them had “for sale” signs in the back of those sexy, sliding glass windows. And of course the guy with the big Hemi Ram kept complaining about how expensive it was for him to drive out to these things with gas being what it is.

After most of the lumbering bulks had thundered away I turned back to see my happy little Ford parked by a crab apple tree with the antique closet loaded in the back. It was then I realized I was looking at a damn truck commercial. Okay, sure, I drove a truck with 9″ ground clearance and no mud in sight through a few miles of field and on some semi nasty rock roads. I fully understand that’s no big deal, you know, at all.

The big win for me now over the me from a few years ago is that I didn’t sell myself on needing four-wheel drive, a 300+ hp engine, and enough torque on tap to haul off the auction house itself just to go pick up a big dresser in a field. I know it’s not much, but this is progress for me.

Note: Of course all this awesome manliness was a shade squashed when the auctioneer drove out the same way we came in a little Kia strapped down and stuffed with more crap than I was hauling in my truck.


33 Responses to Small Truck Pr0n

  1. FredB says:

    Too bad Ford won’t make the Ranger anymore.

    I have a 2005 Jeep Liberty with a four cyl Diesel. Too bad Chrysler won’t make a car like that anymore, either.

    It doesn’t seem to matter to the car makers or the government what people want.

    • Barks says:

      Ford discontinued the Ranger because sales fell to unsustainable levels. Additionally, federal EPA mandates and regulations, along with complicated CAFE requirements resulted in the F-150 becoming about as economical fuel-wise to operate as the Ranger. Still leaves a ‘hole’ in the market choices, though.

  2. TMIB_SEATTLE says:

    I wish we’d see more 4-cylinder diesel pickups here in the US. It’d be the ideal truck for the homeowner or the guy that has a million different hobbies where he needs to haul stuff, but then uses his truck to commute to work every day.

    I wish I had a diesel in my ’05 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited as well.

  3. Anton says:

    I realized that most people that have truck should actually have SUVs. and most SUV owners should instead have vans. But the problem lies in the image of the van. The new vans get upwards of 27mpg, sit 7-8 pretty comfortably. Have lots of those nice everyday use bells and whistles like reverse camera, bluetooth and power windows. And can still haul at least a 4’x7′ in an enclosed space (no theft worry). They’ll still tow a 3500lbs trailer too if you got bigger stuff. We got a sienna for $25k and its the most multifunctional vehicle ever.

    Too bad development of small truck basically stopped in the US. They could be so much better with 40mpg small diesels.

  4. kg2v says:

    I Had the Mazda B2300 – the ranger with a Mazda logo, Not a bad truck that lasted over 300K miles, so…

    The ONLY think I changed when I bought my next mini pickup was getting 4wd. Don’t use it often, but when running the B2300, I found in the snow, it sucked badly, so I went 4×4 – just for snow traction

  5. joe homeowner says:

    In 1991 I bought a brand new 4×2 reg cab toyota, no options just ac. 21 years later I still have it in my garage. It runs and runs and runs. Once in a while I do amatuer body work on it. Gets 33 mpg on the highway and 26/27 in the city. I’ll never sell it. They just don’t make small trucks like that here. But overseas heck yea. they say no one in America wants a small truck Anymore. go figure. Also check out what truck China’s Great Wall Motors. wants to sell overseas.

  6. FredB says:

    There is a better selection of small Diesel vehicles in Europe but, EPA rules keep them out of the U.S. That’s why the Diesel Liberty was sold in this country for just two years. The Italian built Detroit Diesel Motori engine didn’t meet 2007 rules. Jeep continued making a few Diesel Liberty for export to Europe.

  7. John says:

    Any discussion of light trucks should mention the Chicken Tax:


    Enacted in 1963 it essentially bans the import of light trucks. US truck makers would much rather sell more profitable large trucks, and since they don’t need to worry about competition that’s pretty much all they build.


  8. Rick says:

    Ford’s 2013 F-150 with the 3.7V6 and 6 speed tranny gets 23mpg. Just imagine what the mileage would be if they put that drive train into the Ranger that weighs about 1000lbs less.

    That engine has 302hp. They would do even better if Ford had detuned it to something like 250Hp. Better yet, but one of those low displacement ecoboost four bangers for better economy.

    IMO Ford missed an opportunity in the name of protecting the huge margins on their full sized pickups.

  9. MattC says:

    I am right in your camp about this. I have had (1) Mazda B2200, 1997 Ranger, 1993 S10, and 2001 GMC Sonoma. They are the perfect size for the average suburban duties. I do not tow. However, like Rick said above that a full size F150 will get 23mpg now. So unless Ford can be convinced that there is enough of a market for a small truck,they will continue to focus on their full size offering.

  10. Phil says:

    27 mpg!! In the UK, we’d laugh at a vehicle that couldn’t do better than that. Either that or cry when we filled it up with fuel – our gas prices make yours look like a bargain.

    • Tony Clifton says:

      In the UK that 27mpg would magically turn into about 32.4mpg because of your larger imperial gallon. Still not all that great, but a little more respectable.

      • Remarksman says:

        Unlikely — gas is sold by the liter in the UK, so @Phil was probably already mentally performing a “liters to gallons” conversion.

  11. rg says:

    Mazda B4000 owner here. I live in Alberta, where Ford Raptors are a dime a dozen and trucks are also a religion. The B4000 (rebadged Ranger) is one I won’t get rid of any time soon. I love it. Sure, the 4 liter V6 gets horrible mileage by today’s standards, but you can’t get a more capable, well-equipped 4×4 for the money anywhere. It goes through snow, mud, and I’ve even taken it on off-road trails in Moab, no problems. And for the money I saved buying this truck, I can buy a LOT of gas.

    Shame on Ford for letting this one die on the vine. Previously I owned an old Nissan King Cab — but to get a comparably equipped Nissan Frontier nowadays just makes no sense. For the same money, you can buy a full-size F-150. Same goes for Toyota Tacomas — too much $$$.

  12. gary z says:

    I traded my 2003 4wd Ranger in on a new Mustang….I miss my Ranger just about everyday. But, working at a woodworking store, not having the Ranger has saved me a bunch of money and space in the shop from not being able to haul crap home (mainly wood) that I didn’t have a plan to use. I will admit though it is more fun taking off in the Mustang from a red light.

  13. Eric R says:

    hell, it works for me !

  14. Jason Bradley says:

    To see the passion for trucks in Texas on full display, be sure to check out the documentary Hands on a Hardbody.

  15. Chris says:

    Are there any decent diesel-engine swaps for a reasonably late-model compact truck? (I don’t want a 1985 VW, for instance.) I wouldn’t mind having a small pickup if I could get comparable mileage to my ’07 Mazda 3, and being able to do a WVO conversion on a small diesel would be nice, too.


    • Anton says:

      Most states require that the engine you swap is newer then the engine you take out. Most also require you to swap in all emissions related equipment as well. So that basically comes down to the Jeep Liberty diesel and the VW.Neither of them would be cheap and jeeps are rare and VW was only FWD. so by the time you’re done with it, it cost you about $10k up front cost which could have bought a lot of gas spread out over 5-10 years.

      • Chris says:

        For whatever it’s worth, I live in Michigan, which has fairly liberal (thank you, auto industry!) vehicle registration/modification laws.

        I wouldn’t be opposed to importing an engine from Europe, either.


        • rg says:

          I don’t know if you can do it in the US, but in Canada there are a number of companies around that import used Japanese JDM vehicles. These are mainly vehicles like Toyota Hilux, JDM Nissan Pathfinders with diesel engines, various makes of cool little 4WD minivans, etc. They all have right-hand drive, too. Lots of little diesel trucks.

          Apparently there’s an incentive in Japan (insurance? tax?) for people to get rid of low mileage older vehicles. They seem to average around 10-15 yrs. old. Finding non-domestic oddball parts might be an issue, though. A ten year old vehicle is a ten year old vehicle, after all, low mileage or not.

          I’ve got dibs on this one, though:

          • Anton says:

            Unfortunately, it’s federal law in the US that you basically can’t import anything younger then 25 years old which puts us at ’87 models now.

            Chris, that gives you some options for body and engine. But as far as easy pickins its just Mercedes or Cummins 4BT unless you want to import something.

          • Charlie says:

            VW has been selling cars with small 4 cylinder turbo diesel motors for the past 16 years (since 96′). In their cars (if manual), They get about 45 mpg, my last tank average in mixed driving (98 Jetta tdi), was 46.43. That motor is a very popular swap for setting up a suzuki Samari based offroader. I’m sure you can find full cars in junkyards and swap into the late model small truck of your choice

  16. paul says:

    I’ve owned a ranger for quite a few years. I’ve managed 27-30mpg highway and about 17 city with the 2.5 4 cyl, and towed loads the 4.0 version might not have been recommended to tow.

    The people that say CAFE killed the ranger, or its sales dropped too low, or full size trucks get too good gas mileage are really trying to not blame Ford. All of those items may have had some small effect, but the Ranger physically isnt tiny compared to an average size car, so CAFE wouldnt have killed it due to MPG requirements, and in the light truck class it might have actually helped Ford’s segment average for trucks. Full size trucks are approaching the last Rangers economy, but you have to consider Ford made no effort to make the Ranger any better after 2003ish, and it hadn’t had a really major overhaul since 1992. If anything caused low sales it was the fact that the Ranger was not updated and competing mid size and full size trucks look better, ride better, and have modern equipment. Ranger’s sales numbers dropped but they didn’t drop all that low, when the Ranger was canceled it was still selling about as well as the Mustang! I’d imagine if they gave the ranger the same treatment they give the F-150, better frame, lighter panels, modern engines, 6+ speed transmission, new rear axle. They could have had a Ranger that gets 35mpg and actually sells. IMO the problem is the F150 makes Ford money and the Ranger takes potential F150 buyers and lets them buy something that Ford doesn’t make a lot of money on.

  17. paul says:

    Here a few Ranger details that people who have not worked onthem or aren’t familiar might not know.

    1. The frame on the Ranger is basically the same from inception in 1984 (i think) all the way through 2011.

    2. In 27 years the only did 1 major body style update

    3. The ranger had various automatic transmissions (by part number and name) but they were just updates of the A4LD.

    4. same rear axle 27 years

    5. same interior for 15 years!

    So… I guess my point is its no damn wonder the Ranger wasn’t selling well.

  18. Jeff says:

    Never been a blue oval guy but I sure miss my ’91 S10. Great mileage in a useful sized package. I wouldn’t trade off my 2500HD for it but I would gladly have another. I need a big truck for many things but miss my little truck for most things.
    I’d buy a small diesel pickup (think Colorado 4 door) in a heartbeat! I need kid hauling as well as bikes, wood, kayaks, tools and such.

  19. Tyler says:

    Jeff, the S10’s are nice trucks. Just picked up an ’03 S10 crew cab 4X4 with the 4.3 V6 in it. Came with the 2yr Lubrico warranty.

    Haven’t used the 4x yet, but I reckon it will see a lot of use in winter time…The roads I have to travel on my way to work are absolutely shiite in the winter.

    Far as gas goes, it takes about $75 Canuckian money to fill it right now from empty.

  20. H-Bomb says:

    Bought a super-low miles ’93 S10 longbed at an Army surplus auction for a song this summer, and I absolutely love it. Bar none, it’s the easiest vehicle to work on I’ve ever encountered. They built it for well over 20 years with only 1 restyle and practically no changes to the chassis. And the 4.3 v6 is basically a ubiquitous chevy 350 with two cylinders lopped off. Translation: parts are so cheap and easy to find practically grow on trees.

    It’s actually really fun to drive, too! The 4.3 TBI motor has a beastly low end, especially now that I’ve swapped in a Camaro intake (took all of 3 minutes and $15) and installed a new exhaust. It’s got to be 1500 lbs lighter than an f150, so it just rockets up hills and down neighborhood streets. I love how she handles too–reminds me of my buddy’s Liberty (or the ’89 Mazda 323 wagon my mom used to have). The mileage isn’t close to a newer compact, but it beats the pants off a full-size pickup or van. And when you consider that the money I have into it would buy at most 10% of a new Accord and the fact that I drive maybe 6000 miles a year, the savings will buy a lot of gas.

    Being able to move furniture, kayaks, and ladders and having the torque (and frame strength) to haul a 7000 lb trailer (yes I’ve done it) are certainly boons the hyundai crowd will never get to experience. And I bet the 4wd will come in handy this winter.

    Ranger and Dakota owners: do you guys enjoy the same bumper-car handling and low-end zip on your rigs?

  21. Toolfreak says:

    The new 2012 Ranger would have sold like hotcakes. It’s got better syling and features than the Tacoma, Frontier, etc.

    Unfortunately Ford is doing the same thing that caused GM and Chrysler to collapse – building full size trucks/SUVs thinking people will be forced to buy them.

    Cash for clunkers saw a lot of good vehicles go, but there’s still a lot of them out there. People will just hang onto their trucks or buy used when there’s no options for what they want in a new model.

    Check Ford stock in a few years and see how well they’re doing with their full-size-trucks-only plan.

  22. Tyler says:

    H-Bomb, I used to drive an early 2000’s Dakota ext.cab shortbed 4X4 at work…I find that my S10 handles better and is much more fun to drive.

    My first vehicle was a 1994 Chev S10 Blazer 4X4, loved it!

    Had a 1991 Ranger 2WD I was going to fix up and put back on the road, but the frame was FUBARed on it. It had the small 4cyl in it.

  23. browndog77 says:

    I have a ’97 S-10 Blazer pushing 150K and I love it. Bought it new and I rue the day it needs to be replaced. I don’t think there are any small SUVs out there with an independent frame these days. This is truly a truck, and it has never failed me in any weather (I’m in NE PA). The only problems I have had have been electrical, and I now need ignition sw. #3. They aren’t cheap, but if it keeps this truck going it’s worth every penny!

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