Sometimes life gives us a second chance. I like to think this was my automotive
third time is the charm second chance.
In the spring of 2019, I was enjoying my second ownership with my Saturn. I had my Mazda6 as my weekend/nice car and used the Saturn as my Monday-Friday/work car. The car was doing everything I wanted it to and I had no intentions of parting with it.
It was a nice spring weekend, and I was in Chicagoland visiting my wife. Usually, I would take my Mazda on weekend trips to visit her, but for whatever reason, I had decided to take the Saturn. It was a Sunday morning and my wife and I had just returned from church. We were not back at her house yet when my Grandpa called me. This was odd, as I do not think he had ever called me directly. If he did, it would have been from my Grandma’s phone. Perplexed, I answered.
Up to this point, my Grandpa had only ever had two vehicles in my lifetime; a second-generation Isuzu Pup diesel painted in a light blue with a matching light blue interior, and a green 1999 Ford Ranger. My Grandpa called to tell me that he had purchased a different car for himself and wanted to know if I wanted his Ranger for the lofty sum of $1. Now, if you remember, I’ve already had two Rangers up to this point and I had regretted (still do) letting the white Ranger go away. Here was my second chance to get my Ranger fix. As I spoke to my Grandpa on the phone, I knew I could not pass up on this deal. I told Grandpa I would take the truck and would figure out how to get it from western Iowa to Michigan. I called my dad and told him the good news. My dad said he was happy to help get the truck from western Iowa to my house. On Easter weekend 2019, my parent’s drove the truck out to Michigan. All was restored and I now had a Ranger in my life again.
My Grandpa purchased the truck in 2001/2002ish from Midland Ford in Orange City, Iowa. It is an XLT with the 3.0L Vulcan V6, 4R44E automatic transmission, and 4WD with the same Pulse Vacuum Hublock (PVH) system as my 1998. Being an XLT, the truck had a CD player, ABS, leather-wrapped steering wheel, and a full instrument package. Whoever ordered this truck new spec’d for an engine block heater, drop-in bed liner, sliding rear window, the trailer package, and a factory bench seat. As far as Rangers go, this is a pretty average/run-of-the-mill truck. There is nothing overly special about this truck. The Vulcan & 4R44E combination makes this a not very desirable combination, but the drivetrain is known for being durable. At the time I got it, it had 127,000 miles. Low miles for a Ranger.
When I got the truck, it needed a full brake job at all four corners, as well as a tune-up. The tires were pretty weather checked and well-worn, the windshield had a crack all the way across, and the rear bumper was bent from a previous backing into. Other than that, it was pretty clean. Grandpa always garaged it, as well as washed it regularly. This equates to little rust under the truck. After a full tune-up, a used bumper from the junkyard, and four new Discount Tire Pathfinder All Terrian tires (awesome tires), the truck was ready for daily driving. Upon getting the Ranger, I knew I could not have five cars in my driveway (Saturn, Ranger, Mazda6, something fun, and my roommate’s car). About a week after the Ranger arrived, I parted with my Saturn.
Shortly after I got it, I took it down to my local self-serve carwash. As I washed the bed with the powerwasher, chunks of green paint started to fly in the air. Upon examination, I noticed the bed was completely rusted between the front of the bed and the cab. The truck had no surface rust. Initially, I could not figure out why this was happening. Not long after that, I pulled the drop-in bed liner to find the front of the bed in a very swiss-cheese manner. I thought maybe it was the drop-in liner that was causing the problem. Turns out my truck was missing the fender liners for the rear wheelwells, as a result, road spray rotted out the front of the bed. Off to my local LQK junkyard, and for $5, I had factory liners from an older Ranger installed on my bed. Upon examination of other Rangers, it seems Ford omitted these liners on trucks post-1998. Way to go Ford.
Over the years I have built up a fairly decent size collection of license plates. One of the fun things about living in Michigan is you only need a rear license plate on your vehicle. As a result, the front license plate bracket is a prime way to show off your personality on your vehicle. I always take note of what people put on the front of their cars. Sometimes the plates are unique (European plates on VW/Audis), and sometimes they are corny (#1 Grandma on a Buick). I am quite fond of my home state, and as a result, since moving to Michigan, I have always hung an Iowa plate on my vehicles. When I got this truck, I knew exactly what plate I would hang on the front. If you recall from my Saturn story, the car was purchased the day after my Grandpa Nels passed away. My Grandpa Nels was a man with a sense of humor. In the early 2000’s he had an F-250 V10 and a fifth-wheel camper. When he got the pair, he hung “MY FORD” on the truck and “MY SHAK” on the camper. When he passed away, my dad got the pair of plates from his garage and gave them to me. Now I had my Grandpa Gene’s truck with my Grandpa Nel’s plates. A perfect way to honor both of them.
So what has ownership been like for a 24-year-old daily driver? Shockingly, very reliable. As the great Peter Egan best said “old cars are old cars,” meaning old cars will require work to keep them on the road. My Ranger has not been immune to maintenance. Since getting the truck, the truck seems to want bigger maintenance items during colder months. The first winter it needed full front suspension work including ball joints, upper control arms, and front struts. When Grandpa got rid of the truck, the heat did not work. His mechanic could never figure out why. After I got it, a radiator flush got the heater working again, however, come Christmas time every year since then, it would stop blowing hot air and need to be flushed again. Why I did not just replace the radiator from the get-go beats me, but after last Christmas, I finally broke down and replaced the radiator and water pump. That has since rectified the heating problem and I can report that the truck blows very hot air now. I can count on one hand the number of times I have used the 4WD, as the vacuum hubs on this truck have been just as problematic as my red Ranger. This was solved with a pair of Rigid Rock manual hubs. The all-terrain tires have done great in Michigan snow and have prevented me from using the 4WD except for the really bad storms. During my ownership, the truck did strand me for a failed starter and then at a later date, a failed alternator. Those were easy enough fixes. Other than that, this truck has just needed oil changes and love. For an old car, it has been a very reliable vehicle and far exceeded my expectations.
The Vulcan is known for being reliable. It is not known for being powerful. Connected to the 4R44E transmission, this truck is very s.l.o.w. 0-60 happens eventually. One would think this would be a fuel-efficient truck. It is not. In the 3+ years I have had this, my average fuel economy has fallen just above 14 mpg. My white Ranger with the 5-speed manual and 4.0L V6 always managed to get closer to 20 mpg. Surprisingly, I I think why I like this powertrain so much is it forces you to slow down and experience life at a slower pace. The truck may be slow, but it forces you to take the backroads home to catch a summer’s sunset. Do I wish it had more power, yes, but I do not hate this truck for its shortcomings.
And that is why I love this truck so much. Sometimes life is best experienced in an analog fashion. This truck does not have AC (stopped working after I got it), and no power windows or locks. I love using my key to unlock the doors. I love driving around in the summer with the crank windows down. As our world rushes to an advanced state where everything is automatic and covered in cameras and sensors, the Ranger is an escape to a simpler time that is quickly being forgotten about. I love living with this truck in a day-to-day manner. Yes, it is not fuel efficient. Yes, it is not as safe as a modern car. Yes, it is very slow. But I am okay with that. The Ranger is the perfect car for me right now.
The truck has the towing package, which includes an upgraded transmission cooler and prewired trailer lights. Seems like Grandpa never towed anything with the truck, as there was zero evidence of the truck ever having a hitch. A trip to the junkyard scored a $30 U-haul hitch. Since I have owned this truck, I can count on one hand how many times I have towed a trailer. Every time I am reminded that the Vulcan does not like to tow. It will do it, but boy does it make you wish you borrowed your neighbor’s Ram 1500 instead.
I now work for a car wash equipment provider. As a result, I am traveling over west Michigan to washes to work on engineering projects. Often I have something in the bed of my truck. Most of our car washes are employed with primarily high school students. It has been surprising how many comments I get from the high school kids on my “retro” truck when I pull up to a wash. They ask me if it has crank windows, like that is something they have only heard about but never actually experienced. But the comments do not stop there. When I had the front windshield replaced, the glass shop attendant commented that he had not seen such a clean Ranger in a long time. It has been very surprising how many comments I have gotten with this truck. Rangers were very popular over their 1993-2011 run. You would think an older Ranger would stir up the same comments as Aunt Becky’s beige Toyota Camry, but then again, if I look around, there are not many nice older Rangers left on the road. It is surprising how many Rangers there are still on the road (especially in the rust capital that is Michigan), but most of them are well past their prime. Rangers are very tough trucks.
If someone buys the same car twice, they must really like it. If they own more than three of the same type of car, what does that make them? A fanatic? I am not sure what this makes me for having three of the same type of truck, but this Ranger experience has been great. This past spring, it dawned on me that this truck has been the longest daily driver I have owned. I usually sell a car before its third ownership birthday, and April will mark my fourth anniversary with this truck. I wish I could keep driving this truck for many more years, but between rust starting to show up on the body, the fact that it gets 14 MPG, and no functional backseat, I will need to replace this sometime in the near future (its replacement has already been decided). If I had my way, I would tuck this truck away as a spare/fun car. However, I already have one of those and as we will learn next week, I do have a car maximum. Until then, I will enjoy the moments I have with My Ford.