What is the most fuel efficient used light pickup?
July 13, 2016 7:50 AM   Subscribe

I will soon be in the market for a used car and am thinking of getting a pickup. Likely I'll be looking at trucks that are roughly 10 years old (I am flexible but want something new enough to not have a lot of maintenance issues). My biggest priority is having the least impact on the environment I can while still driving a pickup truck. What should I shop for?

I already try to limit my driving and do most of my work commutes by bike, but our family can't seem to figure out only having one car so I figure the second should be something useful - ie: the truck.

I have a subscription to the online Consumer Reports but I don't really understand how to use the site to determine the most fuel efficient, used light pickups.
posted by latkes to Shopping (18 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I can't answer your question directly, but you might get some advice posting your question and requirements in this subreddit: r/whatcarshouldIbuy
posted by INFJ at 8:17 AM on July 13, 2016

Generally speaking, a small pickup with a smaller engine, less horsepower and a front-wheel drive (rather than 4-wheel drive / 4x4) is going to be more fuel efficient. So off the top of my head, FWD Ford Ranger, Toyota Tacoma, and Nissan Frontier might fit the bill. Luckily, it will be easier to find small fuel efficient pickups in the model years you're looking at, because when I looked last year, even the Tacomas and Frontiers (Rangers are no longer made) were just so darn big that their fuel efficiency was meh.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 8:36 AM on July 13, 2016

The Ranger was never FWD. The V6 in the later Rangers gets pretty good mileage but they also made them with a I4 that was even better if maybe a bit under powered in a truck. The Ranger was the last compact pickup sold in the states, and then only until 2012, so if that is the market segment you want it is essentially your only choice. The Mazda B-Series in The US is the same truck, I can't remember when they stopped selling those.

Ford stopped selling the Ranger because the little ECO-Boost in the F series was getting practically the same mileage so fleets stopped buying the little truck.
posted by Mitheral at 8:51 AM on July 13, 2016

Just as an alternative point, you can buy a small, fuel efficient hatchback (Honda Civic or similar, maybe even smaller) and buy a truck bed sized small trailer and a towbar for your main vehicle. Best of both worlds. You have the utility of the truck (ie two seats mainly, plus some other sort-of-seats) plus the load bed capability when you need it with the trailer.

If you will be carrying big stuff rather than heavy stuff, the Civic could tow the trailer when needed anyway. This saves you having a terribly inefficient (there are no trucks with 'good' mpg at all) vehicle most of the time, and just hook the trailer up if you need the utility or even rent one for those occasions.

If you don't actually *need* a truck regularly, then it doesn't make sense to buy one as a daily driver. Just find out how often you would use the utility of a truck and either buy or rent a (Used) small open trailer for those times.
posted by Brockles at 8:58 AM on July 13, 2016 [2 favorites]

The problem with trucks (especially the Japanese ones) is that they hold their value really, really well, to the point that it might not make sense to buy a used one. The Toyota Tacoma is probably your best bet, in the 4-cylinder RWD (all pickups are rear-wheel drive or 4x4 except for a couple of old compacts) version, but you're still paying like $15K for a 10-year-old truck with around 100,000 miles, when a new one starts at $23K. Plus, the gas milage is 21 city, 26 highway. The new ones get slightly worse mileage, but I think they're bigger. They're legendarily reliable and durable, though.

A 2006 Ford Ranger XL would be a lot cheaper, maybe $5,000 if you look around, but really, really bare bones. Like 5-speed manual bare bones. 21/27 MPG, should be about as reliable as anything else, but fit and finish was pretty bad on these in my experience (I drove an older f150 for a while.) If you want a newer one, 2009s run about $10k, bare bones.

Unless you really, really need a truck, I'd look at a hatchback like the Honda Fit, which is about $8,000 for a 2007 with under 100,000 miles, and they get 10 more MPG, and you can fit a lot of stuff in them. You can always rent a truck.
posted by Huck500 at 8:59 AM on July 13, 2016 [2 favorites]

Trucks have aerodynamic problems that will always make them worse than a car, particularly at speeds higher than about 40 to 45 mph when air resistance become a major part of fuel use. You can mitigate that somewhat with a truck cap, but it's still an issue of forcing a big flat rectangle down the road.

Faced with a similar choice we've chosen Brockles solution, a station wagon small SUV (ahem) with a moderate towing capacity. I borrow a trailer in the odd cases when we need to move big stuff. Works well for us.
posted by bonehead at 9:05 AM on July 13, 2016

I had a 2006 Chevy Colorado, manual, RWD, no bells/whistles that was pretty good on gas - got close to 30 highway, a little under 25 city (better than the 20/27 sticker for certain.)
posted by okayokayigive at 9:26 AM on July 13, 2016

You have to be careful buying a compact car for towing. A lot of small cars (eg: Yaris or Fit) in the US have ZERO pounds towing capacity (despite identical cars over seas having actual towing capacities).

The Civic in recent years only has a 1000lb rating. Once you subtract off the weight of even a lightweight trailer it doesn't leave you much in the way cargo capacity.
posted by Mitheral at 9:35 AM on July 13, 2016 [4 favorites]

Toyota Tacoma.
posted by humboldt32 at 9:42 AM on July 13, 2016

I'll re-iterate, you're gonna have a tough time finding a decent 10-yr-ish Japanese small pickup at a reasonable price. People that own them just don't wanna sell them, and their resale value is really inflated.
posted by ovvl at 10:33 AM on July 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

For years I used my VW Golf TDI with a hitch and roof racks, and I moved a lot with it. Towed a small boat with it and used a light utility trailer when I had to move something that I couldn't cram through the hatch or tie to the roof racks.

When we decided we wanted something bigger, we looked at the options and went for a Honda minivan instead of a truck or SUV. It is very useful, can tow, I haul all sorts of building materials in it (it fits 4'x8' sheets and 10' lumber), gets decent mileage (considering the size at any rate), and can seat 7. I drove pick-ups for years, and while they are better for hauling really nasty crap you don't want inside a van, the minivan is much more useful and practical on a day-to-day basis.
posted by fimbulvetr at 10:49 AM on July 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

I have an '06 Tacoma, standard cab 5 speed 4x4 with the 2.7L. I tow my 14' camper with it. It off-roads like a champ. Someone else can have the vehicle when they give me a Tundra. Decent gas mileage: about 26-28 on the highway. It will hopefully run forever. When I hit 300k I'd like to drop another engine in it. The problem is finding one for very little money; I've had people offer me $9k cash NOW for it, and 7 at trade-in.

If a great truck with a lot of ability is your goal, spring for the Taco. If price is the main issue, look for a Ranger or the Mazda B series - I have a friend with a '97 B2600 and almost 300k and it is in excellent shape. A word to the wise: if you are going to do ANYTHING other than use this as a work truck, find an extended cab and pay the money for it. My Taco is my only vehicle, and long trips with a bench seat and my suitcases wrapped in trash bags strapped in the bed sucks.
posted by sara is disenchanted at 11:35 AM on July 13, 2016

If you want a good, reliable, used pickup, then you'll be getting a Toyota Tacoma (or possibly a Honda). If you want a pickup that is less impactful, environmentally speaking, then you'll want a diesel pickup that you can run on biodiesel. I don't know about Honda, but Toyota doesn't sell diesel pickups.

Faced with the same question, I bought a Toyota Tundra and put solar panels on my house. Basically, I bought a good truck and then tried to buy my way to environmental salvation.
posted by waldo at 11:52 AM on July 13, 2016

If you go for the Ranger/B-series in the late '90s range, get the manual transmission. I just gave away a '97 B-3000 because the automatic transmission, which apparently is notorious, needed a $4.5k rebuild (and the freeze plug needed replacing and there were issues with the cooling system and some heater problems and...).

I replaced it with a 2000 manual transmission Ranger, which needs work, but the work comes in $500 to $1000 increments, not in "twice what I paid for the truck" increments.
posted by straw at 12:05 PM on July 13, 2016

You might want to consider that the cost of owning (i.e. maintaining, insuring, running, etc.) a truck may not be worth it, vs. renting or borrowing, depending on how often you use it. If you only haul a few times a year, buying isn't worth it.

If you do need a truck, the personal experience of owners (I have a Tacoma 4x4, for what it's worth) is fairly useless, as people tend to become a bit religious about the cars they like and most people are not meticulous about measuring fuel economy or reliability. And even if they are, anecdata is fairly useless as far as informed choices go.

Here's the fuel economy for compact 2010 pickup trucks from fueleconomy.gov. I believe these are based on manufacturers' claims. The 2WD Ranger comes out best. You can look at CR to see if their mileage (which they calculate themselves) agrees, and whether the reliability, etc., are up to snuff.
posted by klanawa at 12:16 PM on July 13, 2016

Minivan. They can be great.
posted by yesster at 12:39 PM on July 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

Our 2006 2wd 5-speed Ranger w/1800000 miles averages over 27 mpg overall. We use it constantly for the truck aspects: picking up building materials, bulk mulch at the compost site, hauling kayaks, and, of course, moving friends. It is comfortable enough and has cruise control, which helps on longer trips, but it is a Model T at heart.
posted by bullatony at 12:52 PM on July 13, 2016

On the vein of the suggestions above, my dad drove pickups most of my life. Sometimes F150s, sometimes little nissans/mazdas.

Then he got a subaru forester. He's had it for probably 15 years, and is still driving the damn thing. It has something like 260k miles on it and some problems but just will not die.

He hauls just as much stuff in it, and on top of it as he did in the truck 90% of the time. It's held up really really well both to that and in general, and you can really pack a ton of stuff on the roof.

It's also, compared to a standard cab pickup, like riding in a freaking bentley with the you know actual seats that adjust in a meaningful way.

Another big consideration here is how freaking overpriced small trucks in even mediocre shape are, especially ones with small engines or diesels. Have you seen what people charge for a diesel VW caddy from the 80s? Or a 90s toyota? My friend got a shocking amount of cash on trade in for her beat up ranger that overheated randomly. A 10k used truck is the equivalent of like... a 5k used small sedan. Maybe even worse. Me and my dad looked at getting a truck for him to primarily drive, and me to share. In the end i got a cheapo sedan and he kept his wagon, which i borrow sometimes. It was just bad deals all around.

I seriously wouldn't get a truck unless i had a concrete "i'm doing exactly this with the truck" like putting a camper in it, or towing a travel trailer, or a boat, or something. If it's just "i wanna haul stuff" think long and hard about what exactly you need to haul and how big it is. I talked myself down, and rent a truck from a jimmys-shady-tool-rental-inc type shop every spare few months for like $30, and mostly just borrow that wagon. The last time i even used a truck was to haul a bunch of construction debris out of a relatives house. A lot of times we just throw a tarp down in the back of the wagon(and he got the rubber floor insert for the whole back area, and cut a piece of discarded carpet to fit it)

"Something useful" can just as easily be a wagon or a small SUV, trust me. Hell, look at stuff like the honda element. People love them for hauling stuff.
posted by emptythought at 10:23 PM on July 13, 2016 [2 favorites]

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