Help me pickout a pickup truck?
November 5, 2014 1:26 PM   Subscribe

I want a pick-up truck that gets good gas mileage, preferably manual transmission, can seat at least 5 people (4 doors), and has at least dual airbags (preferably side curtain airbags?) I'd like to spend under $6,000 and I generally prefer Japanese, but I am not 100% set on that. It seems I'll be getting a small truck with extended or "king" cab, early 2000's I guess. I have never bought a pickup truck before and I'm a little lost.
posted by crawltopslow to Travel & Transportation (21 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Thats going to be very hard. 5 grown up people? Child seats?

Your choices are an extended cab which gives you a tiny and not particularly safe back seat that won't fit a childseat or most teens/adults or a "crew" type cab which has fairly normal sized rear seats. Very few compact pickups are made with crew type cabs, you're basically looking for a Nissan Frontier. They get moderately ok gas mileage at best and are very desirable so not cheap but that would be my first recommendation.

The frontier crew cab has a tiny bed. If you need a real bed you might be able to find a Ford f150 crew cab in your price range but manual transmissions are kinda rare. Side curtain airbags aren't going to be in that old a Ford.

Do NOT buy an older Dodge truck. Trust me. Consider a Chevy. Any older truck you but is likely to need front end work so have that checked out.
posted by fshgrl at 1:40 PM on November 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

Yeah sounds tricky. I agree with the above. If by chance an extended cab was OK I would buy a Tacoma, but let me tell you from personal experience that adults are not going to want to sit in the back of that.
posted by selfnoise at 1:43 PM on November 5, 2014

What you want is the most desirable small pickup, and with the limited supply that has kept prices high. I shopped for over a year and ended up just buying new. If you want a pickup just for the bed, you are going to be happier buying a cheap 2wd/4wd regular or extended cab and then a cheap car for hauling people around. Of course you can't do that for under 6k either with anything that isn't a mechanics special.

small trucks (really they are mid sized now) are not easy to buy cheap/used/good. I ended just buying a new Tacoma due to the exorbinant cost for used Toyota pickup. They were either within a few thousand of new (25k and up) or requiring extensive rehabilitation to get back to a decent condition. There are some out there for under 6k, but you are looking at 250k miles and/or a lot of visible wear and worn out parts. I don't say used up, just worn out, Toyota builds these things to last and they are usually worth repairing unless the frame is rusted out (all to common on tacomas) or damaged. I was able to A. make a huge down payment (was going to buy used for cash but well...see above) that kept by payment manageable b. am going to keep the truck for a long, long time (i plan to sell a 200k well maintained pickup in 15 years). I special ordered a 4 door TRD off road 6 speed manual (took about 2 months to get one-fresh out of the factory). New manual transmission tacomas are few and far between. Older ones are more commonly manual. I regularly get 20-22 mpg with careful driving, about 80% in town. I pretty much paid going price for one as well (check out for new car pricing, and clearbook for used car pricing). Just perusing craigslist for these can be enlightening.

Nissan also makes a smaller pickup and if I liked the seating position better I would have gotten. Used prices are still high, but not as bad as Toyota's. They aren't built quite as well (near as I can tell anyway)but still pretty good. They are heavier and don't get as good of mileage (15-17 is more common from what I read online). I do have a Nissan Juke as my wife's car, and I have no problems with Nissans in general. You might find an older (90's) model pretty cheap. The pre-frontier ones are as rock solid as the Toyota's but they engines are...somewhat underpowered. Still good, still work, just slow.

Ford Rangers are actually pretty good and are really Mazda B series trucks. I like them fine but the cabs are kinda small and the interiors are...typically low end american. I owned a 4x4 89 model for several years (in the late 90's) that was really neat-had duel gas tanks with like a 1000 mile range on it. Expensive to fill up but stayed full for weeks... The thing was constantly needing small maintenance, which i could do myself but will be really expensive/annoying if you are not a car guy/mechanic.

Ford did make a model called the Explorer sport for few years that essentially a 4 door pickup like you are looking for but they aren't usually cheap and well...see my comment above about my experience with an older ford ranger.
posted by bartonlong at 1:49 PM on November 5, 2014 [4 favorites]

Your list is one of those, "Great, pick two" kinds of things.

A pickup truck that can seat 4 or 5 will not get good gas mileage. It may get adequate gas mileage.

So why a pickup and not another vehicle?

For example, I can recommend a Honda Element. Husbunny had one for 6 years. They stopped making them, but they're pretty great, and you might be able to find one relatively cheap. We sold his 2007 with only 30,000 miles on it for $10,000. So you can get an older one with higher mileage, cheaper.

Excellent room for 4 (not 5.) The seats configure all sorts of ways. I hauled home a 7 foot cabinet once by flipping down the front and rear passenger seats. Sweet! The interior is hose-out-able, and some have special dog ramps in them

You might also score a deal on a beast of a vehicle that gets HORRIBLE gas mileage, but will have all the other features you want. Something like a Silverado.

So what is a person who needs to schlep 4-5 passengers around want with a pickup truck?
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:55 PM on November 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

Another thing to consider is getting a station wagon and a used utility trailer for $1-2k. You can haul anything you can put in a small pickup in a trailer.
posted by fshgrl at 1:57 PM on November 5, 2014 [3 favorites]

The under $6K requirement is pretty much impossible if you want a reliable truck. Trucks are expensive, and trucks that seat 5 are uber-expensive. Add in Japanese and good mileage and you're completely out of "under $6K/early 2000's" territory and into "under $12K/1990's" territory. I asked a similar question last year and ended up with a 1999 Nissan Frontier extended cab (only seats 4, and two of those in jump seats). Guess how much it cost? $11K. And we looked at a lot of trucks, that was as good as it got. So I guess I recommend a Nissan Frontier?
posted by rabbitrabbit at 1:58 PM on November 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

I guess I should add, if you are OK with letting go of the Japanese requirement, a Ford Ranger is really the way to go, especially if you're OK with 2WD because those are a bit cheaper. We liked ours a lot, we just needed to upgrade to 4WD. Still though, we sold our 2004 2WD Ranger for $9K last year as a trade-in, which means the dealer probably sold it for $10-11K.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 2:05 PM on November 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

I want a pick-up truck that gets good gas mileage, preferably manual transmission, can seat at least 5 people (4 doors), and has at least dual airbags (preferably side curtain airbags?) I'd like to spend under $6,000

This is nigh impossible. Any truck under 6k is going to be old enough that it (likely as not) won't have airbags. Any truck that age that can seat 5 will be a full size (Fseries/silverado/Ram), and at that price will likely as not have reliability issues.

None of them do that great for mileage, and a full size may be dismal - fuel economy in a truck wasn't a selling point until 2009 or so, and even then.... a 2015 Ecoboost F150 only makes 22 mpg highway.

That said, trawl craigslist for your area and surrounding areas. You might get lucky. But for 6k, you'll be shopping for a while. Your best bet is probably Ford Ranger/Mazda B-series - decently reliable, but smallish. You might find a good deal on a Nissan Frontier.

It's doubtful you'll find a Toyota pickup at that price - Tacomas hold their value better than gold and ammunition.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 2:11 PM on November 5, 2014

To save you some time the only way you're getting 5 normal human people in an extended cab Ranger is if you cut a few of them up. I owned a Ranger for years, it ain't happening.
posted by fshgrl at 2:16 PM on November 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

We have an '07 Nissan Frontier Crew Cab and can fit 5 adults (the fifth is a little squished) in it. As stated above, the box is shorter, but ours came with the box extender - basically a '[' shaped fence thing that rests on the lowered tailgate. We get about 19 mpg highway as the best mileage, significantly less with in-town or towing. It has definitely held it's value when we refinanced it, but it is a great truck. We have friends with a King cab '06 version who love theirs and friends with another Crew Cab '08 who love theirs. You'd have to get older than '07 to be under your $6k, though.
posted by jillithd at 2:30 PM on November 5, 2014

Be sure to read rabbitrabbit's thread, which rabbitrabbit linked to above and which covers much of this same ground. I posted some info in that thread about first generation Tacoma Double Cabs with regards to model years and available drive trains that may be useful/informative.

Unfortunately, finding a Tacoma Double Cab in your price range isn't going to happen. Finding any sort of Japanese-made double cab truck in that price range is also not going to happen; the demand exceeds the supply. If you have to seat a lot of people and also haul stuff, you will either need to pay more, look at larger non-Japanese made trucks, or look at other vehicle platforms. Also, be aware that trucks are often asked to do some absurd things and treated pretty roughly in the process, so if a used truck is abnormally cheap it usually has some (bad) history behind it.
posted by mosk at 2:38 PM on November 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

Honda's Ridgeline fills this peculiar niche if you can do with a very small truck bed. But it's only a couple of years old now and starts at 30k new, so you won't touch one for much less than 20, I'm sure.

[on edit, it's a bit older than that, 2006 was first model year]
posted by spitbull at 2:39 PM on November 5, 2014

And whoa, reading about the Ridgeline, I wouldn't want one. Mea culpa.
posted by spitbull at 2:43 PM on November 5, 2014

Response by poster: I'm ok letting go any of the requirements, it's just general preference, but none of them are a must. I just thought it'd be nice to have the best of all worlds, being able to haul stuff and people. Ford ranger seems fine. 20mpg seems good to me...
posted by crawltopslow at 3:08 PM on November 5, 2014

Response by poster: Now after getting out of dream world, I guess just an extended cab, with the uncomfortable tiny seats would be OK, and a small truck bed would be fine. And Japanese or American would be fine. High miles is OK.
posted by crawltopslow at 3:12 PM on November 5, 2014

In Ye Olden Days, you could put a camper shell on your truck to haul additional passengers, as long as you didn't care at all about safety or comfort.

Eventually, some clever people built the camper shell and seats into the truck, and the SUV was born.*

Would an old Blazer, Bronco, RAV/CRX work? This is kind of what (at least the first 2) are for.

*Admittedly, Chevy has made the Suburban since the 1930's, but still...
posted by Huffy Puffy at 4:05 PM on November 5, 2014

I'm ok letting go any of the requirements, it's just general preference, but none of them are a must.

Then to be honest I'm not sure how anyone can know what to recommend. If you are firm on price, you will need to compromise on age and quality (eg no modern crew cab truck), but if you can compromise on price then you can get everything else you want. In between those parameters, you have every combination possible of size, cab configuration, towing capacity, and so on. As described above, you aren't going to be fitting five people in a small extended cab truck unless at least two are in the bed.

Personally I'd stay away from any truck that has been abused regardless of brand and mileage. Rangers are utterly charmless but cheap to maintain, though not cheap to fuel. The usual advice is to buy a used Toyota but as noted they often have ridiculous resale values; good deals exist but aren't easy to find. Don't forget that the Mazdas were just rebadged Ford Rangers, so if you are shopping the Rangers keep an eye on the Mazdas as well.
posted by Dip Flash at 4:15 PM on November 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

I have an F-150 Extended cab and extended bed. I love it. Seats 5 adults. Can haul a full piece of plywood lying down. Only problem is it gets about 14 mph in town but 20 on the highway. Mine has 105k. It is a 2008. I wouldn't take less than $10k for it.

I had a Ford Ranger before that. LOVED it. My ex wife borrowed it about 3 months after we broke up and somehow had a one car accident on the highway and totaled it. It had the jump seats in the back. Once my kids turned about 13, they were too big to ride back there comfortably. Sat three across the front though. Got good mileage and even better after the AC broke.

I would look at a Ranger or an older F-150. I say that because of my experience with those two trucks. I am sure there are others out there too. (I am a Ford guy too after they did not take a government bailout during the 2009 meltdown.)
posted by 724A at 8:47 PM on November 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

I've got a 1999 Chevy Silverado 1500, seats 4, 6 cylinder, 20/24 mpg, no side curtain airbags.
posted by elsietheeel at 6:14 AM on November 6, 2014

I'm gonna second Ruthless Bunny's idea of the Honda Element. I had one for years, after owning a Tacoma for years, and found the Element could do anything the Tacoma could--and more--and was much more comfortable and at least as economical.
posted by fivesavagepalms at 7:45 AM on November 6, 2014

Probably not exactly what you're searching for, but I'll chime in on Truck talk:

If you can lose the airbags I've got a 1994 Ford Ranger extended cab (19/24mpg). It can actually fit two adults comfortably sideways. Bought for $2000 @ 145,000 and put about $600 into it in the past year (water pump, wheel bearing, oil changes, new tires, replacing the broken locks). I believe there hasn't been much maintenance done on it because it's been repo'd/auctioned before I bought it off a guy who got it as collateral for a cash loan from his brother-in-law that wasn't paid back.

I'd say look for the 4 cylinder version since the 6 cylinder is a gas guzzler and at that point you should have gotten a F150 or F250 for the power.
posted by wcfields at 11:32 AM on November 6, 2014

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