About to buy my first used pickup. I Know very little about prices and mechanics.
January 3, 2012 2:32 PM   Subscribe

Hey! So i am about to buy my very first vehicle and am pretty excited about the whole deal. My budget is no more than 5k and I am looking to get me a used small pickup truck. It seems like my best options are either a T100, Tacoma, frontier or a b2500. Are those considered reliable used pick ups? What kind of year/mileage y'all think 5k could bring? I am thinking a 2000 with about 120000 miles. Does that seems reasonable? The truck should be very reliable and could take some abuse, I don't really care about towing much because it will be used mainly for tools. I know VERY little about cars and mechanics and wouldn't even know the first thing to look out for when looking at a potential truck... I've been told to insist on a clean title, see that the engine and transmission are in good order, and pass it by a reliable mechanic. Anything else? Thank you for your time!
posted by Sentus to Travel & Transportation (17 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
The Mazda is basically a Ford and, depending on who you ask, may not be reliable. Toyota pickups are very reliable (provided they haven't been someone's offroad toy), but they're overpriced in many used markets. The first two things to look for are the bed and the undercarriage-if a truck has been worked or used off-road, it is usually pretty obvious.
posted by box at 2:50 PM on January 3, 2012

I drove a 1998 Nissan Frontier for 7 years ( from 2000 - 2007). I then gave it to my brother in law, who put a new exhaust system on it at that time and who drove it for 3 more years after that (up until last year). After 10 years of daily driving in western PA, the bed was starting to rust out from underneath, and the aforementioned exhaust system replacement were the only major work / problems the vehicle ever underwent. Basic maintenance was easy (I did all my own oil changes, filter changes, battery replacement, front brake pad replacement, etc...) and while moderately handy, I'm no mechanic.

All in all, I liked that truck quite a lot. (I drive an '08 Frontier now, if that's any indication).
posted by namewithoutwords at 2:54 PM on January 3, 2012

The Mazda is the same as a Ford Ranger, as box says. They are a bit less reliable and less pleasant to drive than a Toyota, but they are usually about a third cheaper, so things kind of average out. And like box also says, buy on condition first -- don't buy a truck that has been beaten into the ground by an angry teenager.
posted by Forktine at 3:00 PM on January 3, 2012

Out of those 4 models, I'd personally go, in order: Tacoma, T100, Frontier, B2500.

The Tacomas are known for their reliability through this generation and beyond. The T100 was the predecessor to the Tundra and the Hilux, both trucks known for their reliability. The catch on the Toyotas is that the price for them is higher. I looked on craigslist for Portland, and $5K gets you a 1998 w/140K, 2WD Regular cab, or a 1994 w/210K, 4WD Extracab.

The 1998-2000 Nissan Frontiers were known to last forever as well. There aren't widespread issues with the series. The bonus to consider here is that you might get one that is a bit newer for the same money. craigslist searching got me 1999-2000 models.

The Mazda is a Ford Ranger (as stated above). The reliability is equal to the Ranger, but wasn't as good as the Toyota/Nissan options. I'd actually stay away from the B2500 having been a 1999 Ranger owner in the past. Don't forget to check the tires on this one, in case someone has the explody Firestones on them (specifically Wilderness AT tires; they all should be gone by now).

With any of these, be prepared for some extended looking to get the best deal. Run them all by a mechanic and find out what repairs are needed now and soon.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 3:11 PM on January 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

Nerdy and not especially relevant to the current discussion: the T100 wasn't the predecessor of either the Tacoma or the Hilux--the Hilux (which predates the T100) was the predecessor of the first-gen Tacoma, while the second-gen Tacoma was something of a redesign. The T100 was the precursor to the Tundra (and, speaking of that, if the size/mileage isn't a dealbreaker you might also consider first-gen Tundras), in that they're both non-compact Toyota pickups, but there were a few years between the two, and it doesn't share a lot of parts or anything like that.
posted by box at 3:17 PM on January 3, 2012

(Toyotas are indeed pretty great--I'm on my second in a row. But because of the Toyota price premium, I think the Nissan trucks are a good candidate right now. As Forktine says, though, you'll want to judge at least as much by the individual truck as you do by the make and model.)
posted by box at 3:19 PM on January 3, 2012

The Toyota Tacoma / Hilux is known for it's invincibility, yes.
posted by EatTheWeek at 3:49 PM on January 3, 2012

I wouldn't discount the ranger/mazda too much. They aren't, in general, as reliable as a toyota but they aren't bad. They are simple vehicles that have been built for a long time largely unchanged. This means parts are cheap and readily available and just about anyone who can turn a wrench can work on them. They will be much cheaper as well for any comparable vehicle. The final reason i would recommend them over the toyota is they are much easier to learn to work on for the novice. You can start with a basic automotive service textbook (used bookstores always seem to have one or two) and the haynes manual for them. You can do all the maintenance and most of the repairs with these two resources, a basic set of tools-buy used craftsmen/mac/snapon/matco brand off of craigslist or new craftsmen from sears and various how to guides online. Just goolge what you need to do and you can usually find a step by step guide online. I don't know of any ranger message boards out there but I am sure they exist.

BTW all the above is also true for the toyotas, but a good toyota p/u will cost you much more than a ranger and so will parts. For the price difference you can get the ranger, in much better shape, tools and you already have web access...

Specefically i would get a four cylinder ranger with a stick shift. The 4 cylinders don't have lots of power but the engines are really simple get really good mileage for what they are and manual transmission are much more durable and reliable than an automatic. You may have to change a clutch every so often but since noone seems to change transmission fluid on such cheap vehicles it is way cheaper than a new auto transmission.
posted by bartonlong at 3:53 PM on January 3, 2012

Not much to add to what box and Forktine have already said, except that it's very likely that any Tacoma/Toyota you can afford in this price range may be sketchy and/or have twice as many miles on it as your 120k goal. Toyotas do tend to command a premium, and of one is selling quite a bit below market it's probably for good reason.

A few odds and ends:

You don't specify 2wd vs 4x4. If 4x4 isn't a requirement that will open up your options considerably.

If you have to haul a bunch of heavy stuff a lot of the time (or even some of the time), be sure to get a 1-ton truck.

> I know VERY little about cars and mechanics and wouldn't even know the first thing to look out for when looking at a potential truck...

That's worrisome. If there's any used vehicle that my have been previously abused, it's a truck. You really need to pair up with a knowledgable friend or find a shop that you can trust to evaluate these vehicles prior to purchase. You don't have enough room in your budget to absorb the expense of a transmission or drivetrain repair, and those are the sorts of issues that are hard to spot if you don't know what to look for. Also, consider the condition of the tires. Light truck tires are typically more expensive than car tires, something to keep in mind as you evaluate potential purchases.

Also, where are you located? Harsh winters take a toll on frames and body panels. Toyota has had some issues with rust and frame longevity on the 1995-2000 Tacomas, and has extended certain frame protection programs for some vehicles to 15 years past their sale date:

Toyota press release on Tacoma frame rust

Long 92 page thread on TTORA (a popular Tacoma enthusiasts forum) discussing this issue and Toyota's response, with lots of pictures of the sorts of frame damage to look out for

This is not to bad mouth Toyotas -- I own a 2002 Tacoma and a 1986 Hilux that are both great, and have owned several other Toyotas over the years, and will continue to favor this brand (and Honda for passenger vehicles). But there's no reason someone unfamiliar with the brand would be aware of these issues. Note that there may be similar issues with other brands and other models, but since I'm familiar with the Tacomas and Hiluxes those are the only ones I can offer this sort of detailed advice on.

Good luck, and be patient -- it really does pay to be picky about which used vehicle you buy, and picking a good vehicle is extremely important. Caveat emptor!
posted by mosk at 3:55 PM on January 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

Nerdy and not especially relevant to the current discussion: the T100 wasn't the predecessor of either the Tacoma or the Hilux--the Hilux (which predates the T100) was the predecessor of the first-gen Tacoma, while the second-gen Tacoma was something of a redesign.

And if you want to go ultra-nerdy, people have put together entire websites parsing out the minor differences in Toyota truck models in the US and abroad. For example,
In the United States, the last Toyota that was 1 ton capable was a version of the 1998 T-100. The T-100 uses the same suspension and frame as the current generation Hilux, only wider.
Personally, I really like the T100, and because it is the unloved bastard stepchild of the Toyota trucks (too big for some, too small for others) and not many people jack them up and use them offroad, you can occasionally find clean and cheap examples for sale. But a Ranger will be even cheaper, and probably cheaper to repair.
posted by Forktine at 5:08 PM on January 3, 2012

If you do go for the Ranger (and I had one and loved it dearly for 155k miles) one thing to check is the timing belt. It should be replaced around 100k miles and is a bitch to get to - the whole radiator needs to be pulled out, as I recall. Not a crazy expensive deal but a couple hundred for sure, and it's standard maintenance so it does need to get done.
posted by restless_nomad at 7:34 PM on January 3, 2012

You can start with a basic automotive service textbook (used bookstores always seem to have one or two) and the haynes manual for them.

Amazon often has used copies of Haynes and/or Chilton manuals dirt cheap, probably because people get rid of them when they get rid of their cars. And, because I can work the words 'public library' into almost any AskMe response, your local one is also a good place to find either Haynes/Chilton manuals or access to the Chilton online database. For older vehicles, you might also be able to find a factory service manual--originally made for mechanics at dealerships (though lots of aftermarket shops have 'em as well). This sounds like a good thing, but factory service manuals are almost always more expensive, and usually have more detail than you'll need (and presume a level of knowledge that you might not have).
posted by box at 7:52 PM on January 3, 2012

Datapoint: My first vehicle was a sixteen-year-old Ford Ranger, which ran pretty well for its age.
posted by itheearl at 8:46 PM on January 3, 2012

I know a few people who have owned Tacomas and loved them. Also, the Toyotas we've owned have been very reliable.
posted by cp311 at 9:28 PM on January 3, 2012

I own a 2001 Nissan Frontier with 71k miles, bought it in 2008 with 53k. It has been extremely reliable so far. I have have had oil changes, replaced all the belts, flushed transmission and transfer case fluids, recharged a/c, replaced the blower motor resistor, and replaced a u-joint. Really pretty much everything has been scheduled maintenance or things that really only impacted the comfort of the vehicle, not its usability. As another data point my grandfather had a 1988 Nissan Pickup, 1998 Nissan Frontier, and 2001 Nissan Pathfinder (now my brothers) and they have all be extremely reliable as well.
posted by DJWeezy at 7:45 AM on January 4, 2012

One more recommendation for the Ranger here. A friend had a '98 Ranger and put about 100K miles on it between then and '09 when I bought it from him. I had to sell it recently, but I love that truck. It was cheap to insure/maintain and basically indestructible (despite our best efforts - that truck put up with a lot.)
posted by ethand at 7:50 AM on January 4, 2012

I had a 4 cylinder 5 speed 92 ranger bought used in 94 sold to a neighbor in 2000 he is still driving it today. My mother in-law had a late 80s ranger which she used abused and neglected the odometer had over 200,000 miles on it but had stopped working at some point. She ran it until the bed fell off the frame a few years ago then went out and bought another ranger. The 4 cylinder 5 speed doesn't have a lot of power but will get you where you need to go as long as you are not in a hurry.
posted by jmsta at 11:06 AM on January 4, 2012

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