COAL: 1998 Ranger, A Copper Truck For The Copper State

My last COAL touched on the rise and demise of my 1996 F-150 and a year or so would pass before I’d own another truck.

I did buy a used Honda Ruckus scooter in the interim but I only had that for a few months in late 2005 before it was stolen from outside my job. I eventually got it back with minimal damage so I fixed and promptly sold it so that wouldn’t happen again!

I continued to look for another Ranger or F-150 but again, money was a factor as a full-time college student. I did have a better job at the grocery store by then and my dad was also very generous about passing on my late mother’s inheritance on to me but I still felt being financially conservative was the best route to take.

Perhaps the biggest impetus for getting another truck was my dad having bought a different truck. He wanted 4 wheel drive since we lived out in the country (see my last COAL about geographic challenges in our area). In early 2006 he bought a low mile, rebuilt title 2003 Ranger from a guy who specialized in these vehicles and no longer needed his ‘98. The timing could not have been better – I was reaching a point in school where my major/college was at a different campus, 30 miles east of Tempe, so something needed to be done. After my summer classes wrapped up, I planned to fly home and drive my dad’s old Ranger back to Arizona.

This same white Ranger continues to serve him well to this day but he has been rumbling about getting a ’21 Ranger on order…

My dad was super nice about getting a host of front end/suspension work done to ensure it would be a good vehicle for me. He also did not charge me for it and this was all so generous of him. I was to spend a week in Iowa before returning back to Arizona for work and in that week I needed to learn how to drive a manual transmission – no pressure, right! But I needn’t worry, the Ranger’s torquey 2.5 liter twin-spark 4 cylinder engine and light clutch were far from intimidating and smooth to operate. I was so comfortable driving it that I went out of my way to visit family in Illinois while I was in the Midwest.

It had about 120,000 miles on it when I got it from my dad and compared to my other trucks, the XLT trim level was quite the step up! I liked the sliding rear window, comfy bucket seats with armrest, cruise control and the tan/black interior was laid out nicely. The autumn orange metallic was a unique color and the chrome wheels and grille were a sharp and attractive contrast. In those days of higher fuel costs, I also appreciated its small size and efficiency. It was a great truck and I was very happy with it!

Back in Arizona I found myself driving quite a bit. I moved to far east Gilbert to be close to campus but my transfer at the grocery store lagged until they could find me a closer opening. This meant frequent commutes back to Tempe. On days off I’d often hike Camelback with friends and I also crisscrossed the valley buying and selling bicycles on the side thanks to Craigslist. The Ranger handled all of this with aplomb. I do not recall any/many issues with the truck due to the relatively low miles and how my dad takes good care of his vehicles. There did get to be a weird idle hunt sometimes and I took it into the dealer for a tune-up because the two rearmost spark plugs are known to be very difficult to reach on the 2.5.

The only photo I could find of the actual truck. Pretty sure this was taken at San Tan Regional Mountain Park near Queen Creek, AZ, I must’ve been hiking or mountain biking.

I was only at this campus for about a year before I felt it wasn’t meeting my needs – the curriculum was not focused enough on my major. The next summer (2007) I temporarily moved to Ames, Iowa to take summer classes and to get a feel for a different university – one that would also give me in-state tuition. The Ranger hauled my minimal belongings there for the summer and I returned back to Arizona in the fall with a plan – next summer I’d transfer to ISU for good. Since I was gone for three months I lost my second-shift position at the grocery store. The only openings they had now were third shift but I was able to get a better paying position as a Receiver. Ugh, third sure took some getting used to and some days I’d leave work to head directly for school. I only mention the whole third shift deal because I feel it might have had a role in the Ranger’s end…

That particular day I did not have school and was lazily resting, still not accustomed to this schedule and finding it difficult to sleep during the middle of the day. I had a spare part lying around that I forgot to include with a bike I sold, so a nice leisurely drive to north Phoenix was in order. I had my timing off as I was headed back south and east right as the early stages of rush hour set in. In the Phoenix metro, most secondary roads are four lane roads but as one gets further south and east in the valley, with spotty alfalfa fields and dairy farms, there are still some old two lane holdouts. I was on one when it happened. Busy traffic had just funneled from four lanes to two but still kept moving briskly. Way up ahead a light changed but I was behind a minivan and could not see that. In hindsight, I was probably following too closely but we were all being packed in all of the sudden at the time. It was all so abrupt that the car behind me saw all this and smartly swerved unto the gravel shoulder to avoid an accident but not me. I slammed into the back of the Kia Sedona at probably 30 MPH.

Thankfully no one was hurt but I was pretty shaken up. The rear hatch was dented in on the van but the truck seemed disproportionately worse. The radiator was ruptured so coolant was leaking out. The hood buckled, headlights busted out and airbags deployed – given the age, damage and odometer I knew this was the Ranger’s last mile – which was sad. Here was a truck that my dad and I enjoyed for years, he lovingly gave me and I couldn’t even take care of it is how I felt. The accident really sucked but in hindsight I should not have succumbed to the pressure of other drivers crowding/tailgating me, I should have slowed down and allowed for a greater distance ahead of me – lesson learned. Oh, and on top of it all I still had to work that night and I got a ticket for the accident – which was fair but still felt like adding insult to injury.

If you’ve read these last two posts and felt I’ve been pretty hard on my trucks (I’d agree) then I’m thankful to report – as of writing – this was my last accident! This COAL will also signal the end of my American marque ownership as all my next COALs will entail Japanese and German marques. Stay tuned and thanks for reading!