Last week I told you about my love-hate relationship with my Italian American. Before I tell you what came after that, we must first reflect on the ownership of a vehicle that has already been mentioned a few times in previous COALs. This vehicle has played such an important role in my vehicle history, that I am not sure if these words will do it complete justice.
In the fall of 2003, my dad’s younger brother and his wife were pregnant with their first child. Their primary car was a 1993 Ford Ranger XLT, which my uncle bought new. Being in the military, the truck had taken him all over the country. After 150,000ish miles, it would be replaced with a more family-friendly car. My uncle sold my dad the “old Ranger” for a family discount. The Ranger would soon be put into third-vehicle status/weekend warrior/”4WD is the only way we are going to make it into town today service” vehicle.
My uncle had ordered the Ranger in late 1992 from Sioux City Ford. He had requested all the features he wanted on the vehicle. This included the mighty and reliable 4.0L Cologne V6, 5-speed manual, ‘Touch-drive” selectable 4WD, AC, manual windows and locks, full instrument cluster, manual sliding window, cruise control, and the oh-so-important, sport bucket seats in bright red fabric.
The Ranger served my family very well during its time at our home. My dad fixed whatever needed to be fixed on it. Over the years this led to your typical wear items that included; a water pump, power steering pump, suspension, replacing the auto hubs with manual ones, etc. The thing was very reliable and never once stranded someone anywhere or gave anyone any grief. It was shocking just how tough it really was. I guess “Ford Tough” has some meaning.
The funny thing about this Ranger is it was always present in my life but played a very important backstage role. From the time I was 11 to 18, it was the “spare” car at home. Anyone would borrow it for whatever reason. When I started driving in high school, I drove this a lot when there was an issue with whatever car I was driving at the time. When my sister’s Saturn was in the body shop for the latest accident, this was the vehicle she would drive as a backup. When I went off to college, the Trooper followed me my first year, but after that, this truck would be my backup vehicle/winter car for the remainder of my time in NW Iowa. It never gave me any problems and was always ready to be put into service. Over the years, my dad brought home other trucks to maybe replace the Ranger, but at the end of the day, they were sold and the white Ranger was kept. It was just too good to let go.
Like any good family history, there are always some good stories to go with such an important family member. One Iowa-cold winter evening, my sister and I had our high school band concert. My dad showed up late, something he was strongly advised not to do so. After the concert, we learned the reason for his tardiness. On his way into town, there was a school bus stranded in the middle of the highway at the top of a hill. My dad stopped to see what the matter was. The fuel had gelled up and the bus would idle, but stall when attempted to be driven at any speed. This happened on Herbert Hoover Highway, a highway that is hilly, narrow, and has virtually no shoulders. My dad asked if the bus driver had tow straps. He did. My dad hooked up the bus, and with the Ranger, towed the driver to a safe point where he would not cause an accident. No one believed my dad, however, he had tow straps in the back of his bed with “COMMUNITY SCHOOL DISTRICT” printed on them. My dad is not one to lie, so I guess the mighty Cologne was up for the task.
On another snowy Iowa morning, my sister and I were headed to school. I was in the Trooper, and she was in the white Ranger. Before we had left the house, I had gone outside and started both cars. I assumed the Ranger’s hubs were in “FREE” position, so being the nice brother, I switched them to the “LOCKED” position. We took off for town. The county had not come to plow the roads, so using 4WD was a must to get to school. We were about three-quarters of the way to town when I noticed my sister was not behind me. I stopped and called her. She said the Ranger was really struggling in the snow. I turned around to go find her. I found her stuck in a snow drift. When I stopped, I discovered my dad had apparently locked the hubs the night before. I had mistakenly unlocked them and as a result, made my sister’s drive very difficult.
In the fall of 2016, my dad called me to say he was done with the Ranger. I was shocked. How could he be done with the best truck and one of the best cars he’s ever owned?!? I could not let such an important vehicle in my life go away. If you recall, I lived in Michigan and had the Dart as my primary car. The Dart was serving me well, but the thought of having a truck in snow-country sounded very appealing. Soon I found the Ranger in my driveway. I was excited to have it back as a constant in my life. I kid you not, the next day after I got it, I went to go drive somewhere, and I made it not even a mile from my house before the thing would barely run. The check engine light came on and sounded very rough. Never in all the years and miles had it ever behaved so poorly.
What happened next is the Ranger spent too much time in my garage as I tried to figure out what was wrong with it. Stubbornly I did not want to take it to a mechanic, so I attempted to fix whatever the issue was myself. With my handy Hayes manual and Youtube, I was convinced I would have it fixed. I was wrong. I started on the fuel side of the system. I checked the fuel pressure and that was good. Hum…ignition? The ignition system checked out. Crap, something related to intake? Nope, that all checked out. My frustration then led to the old trick of throwing new parts at the car in hopes it would solve the issue. This led me to put in a new MAF, coil pack, oxygen sensor, fuel filter, spark plugs, and catalytic converter. None of these changed the fact that the truck would barely run.
Being a 93, this was OBD1. Unlike OBD2 systems that tell you code numbers, OBD1 utilizes a blinking “CHECK ENGINE” light to tell you what codes the computer is throwing. One has to count the number of blinks and then cross reference X-number of blinks to specific codes that they could find in a service manual. If you blinked at the wrong time, you could miss the correct number of light flashes and then have to wait for the system to cycle through all the codes before you could figure out the correct code. With the Ranger, it was throwing very random codes. I do not remember what they were, other than they did not really correlate to each other. This left me very frustrated.
Something people do not really talk about is how much work it goes into moving to a new geographical area where you have no connections. Moving sucks, but I think the hardest part of moving is on the after side when you need to set up your life in a new city; doctor, dentist, car insurance, etc. One of these would be finding a good mechanic that is not going to take you to the cleaners. Not being from Michigan, I had zero ideas of a good mechanic in the area. I asked around at work and multiple people told me to go talk to this guy “Trent.” Trent must know what he’s doing because when I called, he had a two-week waiting list. Nevertheless, I put my name down and waited.
Trent got the Ranger and after one hour of diagnosing, concluded the PCM had failed. A new PCM was going to be $400. A couple of days later, the Ranger was back on the road and running great. I drove the Ranger all summer and it treated me well. At the time, I had a roommate living with me. I had the Dart and something else (future COAL), he had his car, and I also had the Ranger. It was getting to be too much having four cars in our single-wide driveway. Wanting to simplify my life, something had to go. There was not really a big need to have the Ranger, which made deciding to part with it very difficult.
The agreement my dad and I had was if I wanted to get rid of the Ranger, I would give it back to him. I made the very difficult decision to part with my dear old friend. One very hot September Friday, I piloted the Ranger west towards Iowa. Once I got to my parents, my dad and I kept going west to western Iowa for my great-grandmother’s 100th birthday party. The whole weekend we ran the truck with the AC going and it got a respectable 21 MPG. Driving it over 700 miles that weekend made it very hard to think I would no longer have this truck in my life. Sunday night, we returned to my parents. The next morning I headed back to Michigan in a borrowed car from my dad. Before I left, I walked around the truck one last time. It was very painful for me. After I returned to Michigan, my dad listed the truck for sale and sold it within a matter of days. When he sold it, it had just under 300k miles on it. Occasionally my dad still sees it around Iowa City. Rust will end up killing this truck before anything else does.
In finding photos for this chapter, I found almost no photos of just the Ranger, and tons of pictures from my childhood with this in the background, playing that ever-so-important supporting role. Cars are tools. Sometimes the tools have strong emotional attachments. This is one of those cases where this vehicle meant more to me than the sum of its parts. I cannot do it justice how I really loved this old truck. The same can be said for my younger sister. She is not a car person, but she loved this truck. When I asked her if there was anything she wanted me to say about it, she said “It is the best truck. Ever.” My dad is not someone to get emotionally attached to anything. However, this truck has a soft spot in his heart. He says this is the toughest car he’s had. We really abused this truck and it always did what we asked and then some. I knew selling this truck would be something I would regret. I was right and I still regret that decision, but living in the past is a recipe for disaster.
Life must move forward, and it did. For next week’s chapter, we will find out what the Dart’s replacement was. The Dart had European roots. Its replacement would have foreign roots but from a different continent.
Very difficult decision to make, when the vehicle is an old and trusted friend. You never know until later on whether its the right decision or not. Sometimes it is, and sometimes its not.
It’s hard for some people to understand the emotional attachment to an inanimate object, but it DEFINITELY exists! The painful realization that for whatever reason, a vehicle that you have history with has to go is always a painful one! Best case scenario, it goes to a new owner who will cherish it as much as you did! 🙂
That’s one nice car. You should write it up.
The jump seats of a Ford Ranger (or other compact pickup) – making the backseat of a Honda Prelude look good.
In this day and age, both would probably be deemed dangerous to children.
This COAL chapter really resonates with me, coming the week after I wrote up my 1993 Crown Victoria, a car that was equally tied up with everyone in our family over a long period. Ford really had it going on in the early 1990s with cars that had great appeal when new and (at least in many of its models) cars that would run for a long time.
It also occurs to me that your truck seemed to remain fully functional longer than my car did – maybe that was the difference between the car side vs the truck side of Ford back then. Also, your Ranger was a simpler vehicle (and an older design), which may be another reason why it did not suffer the (near) death by a thousand cuts that my car did as it aged.
This is also the first I have ever thought about how Ford never offered that bright red interior in the big Panther models. I have never really been a red car guy, but a genuine red interior with a white/silver/gray/black car really looks fabulous. The big cars got that kind of purplish burgundy inside that I never liked as well (and which I fortunately avoided in mine).
You didn’t mention how it pulled me and the Saturn out of the ditch countless times!! ❤️ Ford Ranger
I always liked the Ford Ranger of this era…a bit of a surprise, given my antipathy for the 1990s Explorers. I guess the Rangers just seemed less pretentious. They looked good, too: The 1993 model was very sleek and modern compared to the boxy model that came before. The first time I saw one on the road, I came away impressed.
It also fascinates me how Ford never gave the truck a “complete” redesign during its entire 1983-2011 production run. Each refresh had obvious commonality with what came before: The ’93 model had new sheetmetal with a carryover dashboard and mechanical components, while the ’98 model had a cab stretch and redesigned suspension with a carryover dashboard and sheetmetal, etc.
Another great episode in your COAL. I never really thought about it, but after reading your story, I realized that my own 4wd Ranger also went through a pretty significant portion of my life, though only nine years (1986 to 1995). I bought it when I was very single, and sold it after marriage and two kids, who both spent way too much time in those sideways-facing jump seats as toddlers. In between it took me on some of my first multi-day off pavement explorations in the deserts of the Southwest.
Fierorunners father here. I bought the truck off my brother the Marine thinking I’d use it for a year or two. Almost fifteen years and 150k miles later it’s amazing how well built and tough those trucks were. Simple and easy to work on are attributes missing from current pickup offerings.
It’s almost embarrassing to think of all the oversized loads and jobs that truck endured. Numerous Fieros on dollies or on car trailers we’re drug home with the Super Ranger.
In hindsight the OHV Cologne V6 was a superior motor to what came after it. It pulled hard yet was fuel efficient if driven easy.
Simpler times.. Too bad someone isn’t building new old stock Ford Rangers or Isuzu Troopers today.
Great story. I held these in high regard, and there were two Rangers of more or less this vintage that appeared in my younger son’s life. Both had the 3.0 V6 and automatics. They could be found at semi-reasonable prices back then, unlike used Toyota pickups, which were always high priced here.
These were very popular here in NC and a few are still around. Does anyone now sell a small pickup in the US?
The new Ford Maverick is only 2″ longer than this extended cab Ranger, and in my opinion drives like a smaller truck.
It is nice to see Fierorunner’s family members “Diesel Boomer” and “The sister” (great name) signing in to comment on this COAL.
While many of us have memorable experiences with our COAL subjects, the sub-title “Family Friend” of this post is a very appropriate way to describe how family-wide the memorable experiences were for this (pulling-“The sister’s”-Saturn-out-of-countless-ditches) Ranger.
Is “Brianna the sister” from an earlier post the one in the ditches or a different sister?
Another fun-to-read COAL from a great CC family.
I suppose these trucks really were built well. I had lost my job at Lowe’s and was desperate for work. I took a job with a flooring company measuring floors for the installers. Originally the idea was I’d be kept within a 25 mile radius of my home. A friend had a 2001 Ranger regular cab XLT with the 2.3 and a five speed. We made a deal and that was my new mode of transportation. I bought it with 170,000 but it was treated to a new trans and clutch. After starting my job one of the other worker’s fell and was out for 8 weeks. Suddenly I was driving 1200 miles a week, every week. That ole Ranger (Charlie my daughter named it) took me though good weather and bad. In fact it was on a ferry boat a few times! Anyway, at 235,000 oil started coming out all over. I knew it was time to call it. So the man I bought it from offered to take it back for almost what I has paid.
He called me later to say he put a used low miles engine in it and has sold it. He also told me that he felt he owed me more because after it was towed in, his son admitted to overheating it several times! I made a deal that he could replace the super charger in our 93 Park Avenue Ultra!!!
Indeed these little trucklets were stout .
My 2001 base model is no ball of fire with it’s 2.4 liter 4 cylinder and 5 speed box but it gets every job done and unlike the older Couriers is comfortable to boot ans has great AC .
The dash was changed in ’97 or ’98 FWIW .
As far as I can tell only collisions and rust ever take these off the road .
Many are scrapped in So. Cal. for bad clutches or other minor complaints .
I too greatly miss colored interiors .
People seem to just love Rangers and S10 Chevy pickups, but especially Rangers. Took me a while to figure it out, but my theory on why they stopped making them is while the 2nd or 3rd, or 4th owner may just love them, new car buyers were a bit less enthusiastic. At least that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
It was pretty clear as far back as 2006 that the Ranger was on borrowed time when Ford officially announced they were going to wind down and permanently shutter the then 82-year old Saint Paul, MN production facility where the Ranger was made. At the time, the plant was the oldest production line Ford had in continuous use and describing it as obsolete would be an understatement. Ford research also showed towards the end that the main consideration most Ranger buyers stated as their primary motivator towards purchase was it was the cheapest option, not just among pickups, but at Ford in general. Your observation about new Ranger buyers being indifferent about them is exactly how Ford saw it.
We had a 93 Ranger long bed that was our first new car and ran it for 9 years before selling it because we had a second child on the way, and a free sedan. A friend ran her 93 short bed until around 2018 when it had a mechanical failure but they liked the old Ranger so much they replaced with a used 2009ish one.
Ours was 2 wheel drive with a3.0 6 and auto and apart from one incident of weirdness in the PCM that was solved with a reset it was trouble free and got OK mileage. commuting for several years. My only quibble was the tight legroom in 93-97 regular cabs. In hindsight we should have bought a Super Cab instead of a long bed.
A couple of neighbors still have these, one runs a 93-94 4×4 Super Cab with lots of options and another had a bare bones 95-97 4×2 short bed that may have been a meter reader truck.