My tiny Nissan Sentra is killing my big dreams!
November 6, 2010 4:21 PM   Subscribe

Looking to get a used compact to mid-size truck. What make and models should I be looking for?

My wife and I are looking to trade our, decent but way too small for any cargo, Nissan Sentra for a compact to mid-size truck. We are looking at Nissan, Toyota and maybe Dodge. I am doing a lot of hobby welding and would like more room for hauling sheets of steel and sculptures around.

I am 6'2 and my wife is 5'10, so we are looking for a truck that can fit us comfortably for long drives, has 4wd, a manual transmission, an extended (not 4 door) cab and is reliable. Decent gas mileage is nice, but not a deal breaker. I am hoping to spend between 7-10 grand.

I am very interested in a pre-2004 Tacoma, but even the high mileage ones still go for a lot, plus I find the newer ones too large and I really dislike the styling. I know very little about Nissan (someone had suggested them in an older truck Ask Me) but I liked what I had read about the 2001 Frontier XE. The Dodge I mostly just threw in as to hear some opinions, as the ones I have been reading online alternate so wildly between "totally awesome" and "total crap".

Also, we are in Portland, OR if this matters.
posted by Asbestos McPinto to Travel & Transportation (16 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I strongly advise against a Dodge. I haven't known anyone with a newer one, but that's because through most of the 2000s, they had significant transmission issues.

Older F150s are not very good and new F150s are much bigger than you apparently want, so those are out. The one person I know with a recentish Silverado has been having significant issues recently (it's 4 or 5 years old at this point), so that should probably be out. Ranger is underpowered and pretty darn small, so that's probably out, too. That said, my SO's Explorer is 10 years old and recently developed it's first trouble, a slow oil leak, and that's with almost 180,000 miles on it. Based on that, I dare say the Fords are reasonably reliable these days.

Maybe you want a crossover or small SUV with a roof rack? It's hard to find one with a stick shift these days, though. I really like the '08 RAV4 V6 my SO bought last month. It's got the roof rack, and can fit a crap ton of stuff in the back, and has good enough towing capacity that I'd just hitch up a trailer if I needed more room than was available in the back. I don't think you can get even an '06 (first year of the bigger RAV4) for 10k, though.

I'd recommend a Toyota or Nissan truck. I don't know about the Ridgeline. If it's like the Passport, which is based on an Isuzu, you don't want that, either. With your budget, I'm thinking a mid '00s V6 Explorer/Mariner with the towing package and a trailer for the really big stuff would be a good fit.
posted by wierdo at 4:45 PM on November 6, 2010

I test-drove a Dodge Dakota (4wd, extended cab) in about 2000, 2001 maybe. It had ridiculously bad ergonomics for a taller driver. Maybe older or newer ones are better, but I sure wouldn't put that generation on your possible list.

Do consider Ford Rangers (aka Mazda B-series pickups). They have the turning radius of a Greyhound bus and are so-so off-road, but they can be found super cheap and are reasonably tough trucks. The Toyotas and Nissans are better trucks, but the price margin of the Japanese trucks can make the Ford a much better deal. Check the EPA mpg ratings, but my memory is that the 4 cylinder engine barely saves you any gas, and the 6 cylinder engine gets you a lot more power and towing capacity.
posted by Forktine at 4:47 PM on November 6, 2010

Older F150s are not very good

Not true. The old ones are genuine workhorses, and for a lot of purposes are about the best value you can get. That full-size bed will carry amazing amounts, they were decently engineered, so many were sold that used ones can be found crazy cheap, and parts are available everywhere. But they are definitely full-sized; if you really need a small truck you probably won't be happy with a big half-ton.
posted by Forktine at 4:52 PM on November 6, 2010

Forktine, I know a lot of people with old F150's. The thing about them is that they run, but everything aside from the powertrain is constantly breaking. Out of 5 or 6 people I know with mid-90s F150s, all but one had the AC conk out by 2002-2003. (accessory) Electrical problems were also an issue for them. Can't complain about the capacity, but the ergonomics are also pretty much crap, but then they are on all the Ford trucks I've driven.

So yeah, they make great work trucks. Not so much for a daily driver. And I say this as someone whose daily driver is a ratty 20 year old Honda that leaks a quart or two of oil every 3,000 miles. I'm not at all opposed to keeping it basic, but I prefer that my radio and dash instruments function. ;)
posted by wierdo at 5:01 PM on November 6, 2010

Forget the Tacoma if you're tall and want a stick. You'll hit yourself in the chin with your knee every time you change gear. I'd personally get a Ranger for the value or an F150 for the hauling capacity. They're tough trucks that are cheap to fix.
posted by fshgrl at 5:06 PM on November 6, 2010

During the Toyota drive-by-wire panic, I looked up the records for my '03 Tacoma on the NHTSA website. The nearest Ford had about 50 issues (if memory serves). The Chevy had about 150. The Dodge had 195, some of which had resulted in injuries. The Toyota? One, for an incorrect decal.

The American brands have improved a lot but, statistically, anecdotally, Toyotas, especially from a few years ago, are the very best.

Mine is a 4x4 with 5 speed, V6, extended cab and large tires. I'm 6'2" with long legs and it fits perfectly. Gas mileage is about 20/16, but I have had it as high as 24. I drive at or below the limit and not at all aggressively. When I first drove it, I thought that it handled like a farm tractor. It it not at all a driver's vehicle. Even with the V6, it's sluggish, mostly on account of the tire size and considerable weight, but also because 196hp simply isn't a lot of power, compared to other vehicles (it is entirely adequate, it's just that peoples' expectations are skewed.) One irritating tendency Tacomas seem to have is spring-wrap in the rear. It causes a shuddering sensation when you start from a standstill.

If they're right for your needs, they are entirely worth the extra money, in my opinion. Just shop carefully.
posted by klanawa at 5:09 PM on November 6, 2010

As I've mentioned in other AskMe threads related to trucks, I have a 2002 Tacoma Double Cab V6, purchased used with 90k miles on it, and I love it. I mined Craigslist, AutoTrader, and pretty hard for four or five weeks before I found the one I purchased. Yes, it was expensive for a used truck ($9300, Northern California; they hold their value absurdly well in this area) but it's a sturdy workhorse and I expect it to last 10 years or more with proper maintenance.

Caveat: I've owned a lot of Toyotas over the years and I really like the brand quite a bit. This is my third Toyota truck. I have not driven enough other non-Toyota trucks to have a valid opinion on their value or capabilities.
posted by mosk at 5:11 PM on November 6, 2010

I have a 2003 Tacoma and before that a 96 Tacoma (accident took it out). I picked this truck because the it drove far less like a truck than other equivalent vehicles.

I'm 6' and I don't have a problem with it. Then again, my first car was a VW bug, so I'm used to tighter quarters.

You may have some difficulty finding one - there were some major recalls on Tacomas because of bad steel in the frames that were causing them to disintegrate. In the recalls, if a truck was failing, Toyota took it from the customer, paying Blue Book x 1.5. There are fewer on the road, therefore a higher demand.

Mine is 2WD with the smaller engine. As a result I get around 22 MPG, but don't hit the highway a lot. Don't have a problem with pep, but I don't load it down much. One noticeable difference between the 96 and 03 model was the addition of ABS. This has saved my bacon twice.
posted by plinth at 5:19 PM on November 6, 2010

With regard to Ford F-150's, I've heard that Fords have indestructible motors and Chevys have indestructible bodies.
posted by scratch at 6:04 PM on November 6, 2010

Best answer: I have a 10 year old Nissan Frontier. It has over 200k miles. And it is great. It is the second one I bought. I bought the first one and sold it after it was 12 years old and bought a brand new one.

I test drove the Toyota and thought it was nice but out of my price range. The Ford Ranger broke down during the test drive.

I <3 my Nissan.
posted by nimsey lou at 6:25 PM on November 6, 2010

Best answer: I also <3 my Nissan. I have an '08 Frontier now, and before that I drove a '98 Frontier for 7 years (I then gave it to my brother in law, who drives it every day). Both are manual transmissions (I'll never drive anything but).

so definitely another vote for a used Frontier.
posted by namewithoutwords at 9:15 PM on November 6, 2010

1st-gen Tacomas are some of the best compact pickups ever made, but everybody knows it, and so, as with e.g. Accords and Civics, used ones are often comparatively overpriced.

Nissan pickups are also very good (though I prefer Hardbodies to Frontiers), and can often provide better value for the money.
posted by box at 10:32 PM on November 6, 2010

I had a 1999 Frontier and I loved it. I put about 100k miles on before it got smashed by a drunk driver. It was 2-wheel drive (and I'm 5'10") with the four cylinder but it was perfect for everything I needed it for. Toyotas are fantastic (many friends still have their trucks with over 180k), but I think they are priced higher than their value. A Nissan is 99% percent as good, but usually considerably less. That said, I've heard the automatics in Frontiers were (are?) problematic.

Something to consider: Get an old cheap truck. I really needed a truck, but couldn't afford the one I really want (pre-tacoma toyota 4x4, nissan 4x4 with lowish miles), and couldn't get rid of my car to raise the cash. So I bought a '74 Ford full size. I've had to fix a few things that the previous owner neglected (no heater), and the mileage is pretty bad, but I only use it for truck-specific stuff. Dump runs, moving furniture, etc..And I can now say that the load difference between a midsize pickup and fullsize is bigger than you might think. Loads that would take me all day doing multiple dump runs are handled in one. And it can tow if I ever need that.

With welding you end up moving lots of heavy metal around, and the truck needs to be able to handle the weight, also moving heavy pieces of metal tends to bang up the bed of the truck really fast, so maybe and old beater might be a better fit?
posted by gofargogo at 11:40 PM on November 6, 2010

I'm in Australia, so the names are going to differ in your market, but I've found the commercial versions of older Nissan Patrols and Toyota Hiluxes to be reliable, easy to maintain, and okay but not great on the fuel. They've also both got the advantage of having sold in significant numbers, so second hand parts are reasonably priced.
posted by Ahab at 1:48 AM on November 7, 2010

I'll have to go and disagree with the Dodge negativity here. I've had 3 Dodge Dakotas - an '02, an '05, and currently an '04, and have been very happy with all of them. Definitely liked the '05 best of all ('05 was the new, redesigned model), but had to trade it in for something with room for kids, and the older style was what was in the budget when I was shopping for used last year. I actually find the Dakota to be incredibly spacious for a tall person (I'm 6'4"), and by far more comfortable than any other mid-size pickup that I drove. The only real issue with any of them has been the older models (pre-'05) needing to have the exhaust manifolds done (which is about $300 around here).
When I was shopping used last year, I could get a Dodge with ~60k miles on it for roughly the same price as a Toyota with twice the mileage, and usually in significantly worse condition. I know the Toyota is going to have a longer overall lifetime in most cases, but all things considered, I've been very happy with the Dakotas. (And this comes from someone who is not usually a fan of domestic vehicles.)
posted by jferg at 2:07 AM on November 7, 2010

S10 owner here. This is third S10 that I have owned and it is a POS. It is a 2007 and came from the factory with problems all ready installed. Every year car and truck designers are tasked with removing a certain percentage of manufacturing cost from every vehicle. They had gone too far by the time mine was manufactured. One example is the wiring harness connector unplugs itself from the light switch every 300-500 miles. Another is the door hinges have to be replaced every 50K miles by a body shop, Be very careful with the S10s.
posted by Raybun at 12:22 PM on November 7, 2010

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