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Second-hand: 2001-2011 Ford Ranger 

In terms of mechanical weaknesses, the list of Ranger dangers is short.

  • Driver

St. Thomas, Ont. isn’t the only community to feel the sting of an auto assembly plant padlocking its chain-link gates forever.

A century of auto manufacturing in St. Paul, Minn., ended when the last Ford Ranger pickup rolled off the line on December 16. Nearly six years after announcing its termination plans, Ford finally shuttered its oldest working factory as part of its restructuring scheme.

Ranger sales enjoyed a resurgence in recent years as fuel prices spiked and North Americans traded their big trucks for smaller ones, at least temporarily. In Canada, 2006 Ranger sales grew 60 per cent over the previous year, helping to stay its execution.

It didn?t hurt that the compact Ranger was considerably cheaper to buy than its Japanese competitors.

?I don?t need a Godzilla truck with a Godzilla price tag to haul brush, furniture, my dead deer and me to work every day,? one Ranger owner grumped online.

Yes, but why bother lugging all that stuff on the commute?

CONFIGURATION

Originally launched in 1983, the Ranger was heavily reworked for 1998 along with its corporate cousin, Mazda?s B-series truck.

The second-generation models got a larger regular cab, a revamped four-wheel-drive system and two optional rear doors added to extended SuperCab models. Hinged at the back, the portals couldn?t open independently of the front doors, however.

Inside, the Ranger offered good, comfy space up front with cowboy-scaled shoulder- and legroom. Most SuperCabs included folding rear jump seats that served as very temporary perches suitable for kids.

Starting in 2001, base two-wheel-drive Rangers received a DOHC 2.3L four-cylinder ?Duratec? motor, good for 135 hp (later raised to 143 hp). Ford?s resilient 3.0L ?Vulcan? pushrod V6 was standard in 4×4 models, making 154 hp and 180 lb.-ft. of torque.

The big enchilada was a SOHC 4.0L V6 that was lifted from the Explorer, making 207 horsepower and 238 lb.-ft. of grunt. Thusly equipped, the Ranger could tow up to 5,750 pounds.

A five-speed manual transmission was standard, while a four-speed automatic was optional on the four and smaller V6. The 4.0L V6 was available with a five-speed automatic, which migrated to all three engines in 2003.

The Ranger?s optional four-wheel-drive system could not be used on dry pavement, where it would bind. Fortunately, it was no longer necessary to stop and back up to unlock the front hubs after switching from 4WD to 2WD.

The 2004 models received a new grille that bore a resemblance to its big-brother F-150, along with improved furnishings inside, including optional leather for the first time.

Ford dropped the 3.0L Vulcan after 2008. The Ranger lineup shrank further in 2010, but gained new safety features, including traction control, an antiskid system and side airbags.

Rather than collect dust in the Henry Ford Museum, the very last Ranger was sold to pest-control company Orkin.

ON THE ROAD

The 1998 redesign introduced new levels of refinement in a small pickup, thanks to a 350 per cent improvement in frame stiffness, replacement of the prehistoric twin I-beam front suspension with wishbone-style geometry, and rack-and-pinion steering.

The 4.0L V6 could sprint to highway velocity in 8.1 seconds, but the smaller motors were nowhere near as quick. The four-cylinder saddled with an automatic transmission accelerated to 96 km/h in the 11-second range.

More disappointing was the Ranger?s fuel economy ? the very reason some drivers switched to a smaller pickup.

?My fuel mileage is brutal! I should be getting more than 330 km on a tank of fuel in the city,? posted the unhappy owner of a ?07 model. ?I should have bought a full-size Chevy.?

WHAT OWNERS REPORTED

Reader Dave Haughey has owned two Rangers, a 1992 that had racked up 300,000 km before he sold it, and his current 2004 model. ?Both trucks are among the most dependable and useful vehicles I have owned,? he writes.

Drivers like the small truck?s manoeuvreability, 4×4 trail capability (try taking a full-size pickup through a woodlot) and everyday practicality. The design may be seriously dated, but it gave Ford time to excise the bugs, owners argue.

In terms of mechanical weaknesses, the list of Ranger dangers is short.

A common fault is a sensitive fuel pressure inertia switch, located in the passenger footwell. Designed to cut off the fuel pump in the event of a collision, it may staunch fuel delivery at any time, stalling the truck. Owners report dealers have been known to change the fuel pump mistakenly at considerable cost.

Other noteworthy headaches include short-lived front suspension components, driveline vibration, leaky transmissions, overhead lamps that drip water, and sundry squeaks and rattles.

Sadly, the Ranger is dead. Long live its second-hand brethren.

We would like to know about your ownership experience with these models: Mitsubishi Lancer, Saab 9-3 and Dodge Challenger. Email: toljagic@ca.inter.net.

2001-2011 Ford Ranger

WHAT’S BEST: Compact dimensions, goatlike 4×4 talents, cheap to keep

WHAT’S WORST: Dated design, useless back seat, V6s no fuel misers

TYPICAL GTA PRICES: 2006-$10,500; 2011-$16,000

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