Buying Advice for Mark: Used Pickup Trucks

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Nov 27, 2014

Dear Car Talk:

I'm retiring soon and will lose the 38-year luxury of having a company vehicle. I am looking for a good, used, 3/4-ton, 4-by-4, extended-cab, long-bed pickup. Question is: How far back can I safely go to have a decent electronic ignition and fuel-injected vehicle in the major makers Chevy, Ford or Dodge?

-- Mark

Well, fuel injection and electronic ignition have been around since the 1980s, Mark. So unless you're looking for something you saw on "Sanford and Son," you'll get electronic ignition and fuel injection.

So the real question is, How far can you go back and get a good, reliable used car or truck, in general?

If you're looking for a truck that you're going to keep for a while, I would suggest that you stay within the past decade. It's not that there aren't exceptions; there are some great, low-mileage older cars out there. But once you get beyond 10 years old, most vehicles are not far from stepping onto the stairway to heapdom.

If your budget allows, I would actually suggest that you stay within the past five years. That way, you also can be up to date on the latest (or almost latest) safety features, like stability control, better impact protection and occupant-sensing air bags. You'll probably get better fuel economy, too, as six-speed (and more) automatic transmissions have become increasingly common lately.

And, last but hardly least, if you get something within the past five years or so, you'll be able to plug your iPhone into the stereo system. And isn't that what really matters now?

Two caveats: One is that I'd suggest you avoid the '04-'07 Ford F-150s with the Triton engines. They had the unfortunate habit of fusing their spark plugs to their engine blocks, making a spark-plug change a $2,500 job sometimes. It may not happen to you, but it's happened to a bunch of people, and since you have so many years and makes to choose from, I'd steer away from those.

And the second caveat is: Whatever truck you consider, have it checked out thoroughly by a mechanic of your choice before you buy it. Any particular Chevy, Ford or Dodge truck from the past five or 10 years could be a wonderful truck, just as any particular truck could be a disaster about to happen. You won't be able to tell which is which. But a good mechanic will. So spend $100 and have any potential purchase gone over professionally and carefully before you plunk down your money.

After all, you don't want to be squandering your retirement savings on car repairs, do you, Mark? No. You want to be squandering it on much better stuff.


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