28,000 Mile Survivor: 1990 Ford Ranger

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Unlike econobox cars, there is something inherently charming about cheap pickup trucks. I have no personal hatred against a stripped down ’82 VW Rabbit, but it’s slow, small, and not that much fun to drive. Old base-model pickup trucks share many of these qualities, but they are inherently practical because they can actually haul crap, and when compared to large trucks, they are downright cheap to run. That’s why survivors like this 1990 Ford Ranger here on craigslist are so appealing as an entry-level classic, offering plenty of practicality along with good fuel economy, tiny tires, and no powered running boards to mess around with.

Oh, how I hate powered running boards. Watching an able-bodied guy wait for his personal stair to lower so he can daintily step into his overpriced behemoth of a pickup is one of the saddest scenes I’ve ever seen. You’re supposed to chuck yourself into a pickup, letting your boots drag mud against the sills, and then land on the bench seat, practically bouncing off of it as you hold onto the steering wheel for dear life. That’s how you get into a truck like this, right after you dump your trash into the bed that is blessedly naked except for a ton of deep scratches and not a single board of poplar or pine in sight. I’ll allow for the luxury of spray-in bedliner.

Yeah, that’s the stuff. Zero airbags, some paper-thin rubber floormat, and a radio that can barely hear over the audible strains of a workhorse of an engine that will never die but will also never go quietly into that good night. Nope, that engine is designed to give you zero pleasure or performance but will get you home every night, with no silly turbochargers waiting to self-implode. Oh, and praise Jesus, an actual manual transmission that requires you to drive the thing rather than idle at a stoplight trying to figure out if you just opened your powered rear tailgate or pressed the button to enter a WiFi password in your own personal internet network.

Hey, where’d the fancy shield go? Doesn’t every engine come with a custom cover emblazoned with big, bad words like Coyote Thunder Turbo Thruster Magnum i-Tech Destroyer? Huh, I guess there was a time when those things didn’t matter, and coincidentally, you could buy a pickup for well under $30,000! In fact, you can buy this super clean Ranger with a mere 28,000 original miles for just $3,000 – and provided you don’t mind lifting your pretty little feet into the cabin, it will do 90% of what you need a truck to do without needing to re-mortgage your house. Imagine that.

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  1. Bakyrdhero

    When these were new and I was younger I thought they were useless and hideous. They make a lot more sense to me now though. I wish the world were as simple as this truck. Everything you need for only $3k…
    A quick note on power running boards, a guy a work has them on his very expensive truck. They have been replaced twice, two winters in a row due to ice build up. I can remember if they were damaged or if they were stuck from the ice and the motors burnt out…either way, what a stupid headache to have.

    Like 13
    • Jerry Brentnell

      i will tell you this ford rangers are a gutless wonder in 96 I was in need of a new pickup truck as my 95 dodge slt got stolen and wrecked I started with a s15 chev not for 31 grand thank you then a ford ranger with a 4 stick transmission told them I had a car trailer to tow? they laughed at that then I tried every import truck out there! then I ordered a 97 reg cab 5.2 v8 5 speed stick short box dakota 355 shure grip rear hd every thing,trailer tow package to 7 months to get it magenta color the reason! 2300 rpm in 3rd gear 95 mph!!!! still driving it to day and still love it!

      Like 2
  2. Ian C

    Best write-up of the week!!

    I totally agree. The reason I bought my 08 F250 4X4 is similar. It has rubber floor, vinyl bench, plain plastic door panels, MANUAL windows and locks, Manual hubs with a transfer case lever on the floor, gas V8, regular cab with a long bed. As much as I love no options, I will admit that I am considering putting cruise control on it. (which is actually really easy ; buy and install a used factory steering wheel with cruise buttons, then get the dealer to hook up the scanner to turn the cruise mode on.)

    Like 9
  3. HoA Rube GoldbergMember

    I’ll have to admit, this post is a bit peppery for the author, but speaks the truth. If these round head automakers would give us something like this again, be a lot of happy buyers. Somebody going to get a nice little truck.Most of these were city delivery trucks, and beat to death. Nice to see one again.

    Like 7
    • Miguel

      A lot of these were also sold to first time buyers that couldn’t afford anything more expensive.

      Like 3
  4. Dave

    I owned an 82 Rabbit. It was our family car between the death of industry and 1988, when finances permitted buying a Caravan.

    Trucks changed when people began buying them as a hedge against being crushed to death in some shoebox excuse for a car. The law of physics that a larger, heavier vehicle will suffer less damage in a collision rules here. True or not, it is what it is.

    Nowadays, good luck finding a real work truck on a dealer lot. Leasing companies don’t want them because they can’t sell them and most buyers want all the gingerbread.

    Like 1
  5. Brent

    My daily driver is a 91 Ranger XLT extended cab V6 5 speed. My ‘haul the junk off’ truck is a base 96 Nissan 4 banger 5 speed. The power running boards folks spend more on tag, tax and insurance in a year than I do in 5 or more. Just dropped $250. on 4 tires for the Ranger. I can work on my trucks! When those big ” Oh LOOK AT ME! AIN’T I SPECIAL ! ” trucks go out of warranty —- well get ur billfold out. They may look down and smirk at me but let em. I’ll spend my money on things that don’t depreciate — like my grand kids.
    I must confess – the Ranger does have A/C, P/S and a Radio — Hey I be an old man.
    Nice write up on a truck well worth the money!

    Like 8
    • kelly g

      good vehicle. always thought Jeep should bring out a line of stripped down 4 banger 4x4s under the Willys nameplate. Theyre the only company besides toyota that could sell a super basic pickup. FWIW, that 82 Rabbit could have been a basic utility pickup as well!

      Like 1
  6. Rx7turboII

    Yawn. I’d rather have that 82 Rabbit you were almost hating on. Lol!

    These bored me then and they bore me even more now so many years later , survivor truck or not.

    Like 1
  7. Mark

    I worked for a guy that had a similar red Ranger. Forget the year. Worked for him in 1994, and drove it many a mile doing errands for the business. Good memories.

    Like 2
  8. Lance

    Tell it Brother!

    Like 1
  9. TinCanSailor

    I have a 2WD 93 Ranger XL with a 3.0 liter V6, a 5-speed manual, and a/c that I paid $2K for many years ago. I added a decent Pioneer digital media receiver and Polk Audio speakers, but that is the only mod I’ve made.

    I use it weekly to haul stuff, and it goes and goes without any issues. My friends have gigantic F150s and Tundras with all the amenities of a high-end automobile and $50K and up price tags… but I use my truck more often to do ‘truck things’ than they do.

    I like the new Ranger, but it still suffers from the same mission creep that its larger brethren. I had hoped for a bare-bones XL version in the $18-20K range. I’d consider buying one at that price point, but even the most basic version is $6-7K higher.

    Like 6
    • Jerry Brentnell

      I don’t know where you are! up here in canada that new ranger is 50 grand to buy and you can keep it better off with f100 for the same money with out all the useless crap on it!

      Like 2
  10. CCFisher

    This looks like the type of vehicle driven by a senior gentleman every morning, during rush hour, on a 2-lane road, twenty miles-per-hour under the limit, to the coffee shop to meet with his cronies, each of whom arrived in a similar vehicle in a similar fashion.

    Like 4
  11. Bakyrdhero

    I believe I’ve found a decent compromise between a bare bones little hauler like this and the luxo 4×4 $50k barge. I have a 2012 Tundra dbl cab base bought new for 30k and paid off for a few years now. Small V8, cloth, pwr windows and Bluetooth. It hauls my stuff, (yes I use it) plus fits my wife and two kids. It has everything I need and nothing I don’t. I can honestly see another ten years out of it, it only has 53k. It’s definitely bigger than a Ranger, but more comfortable also.

    Like 1
  12. Ralph

    Clean little truck, but that rear bumper has some serious rust on it.

    The author probably didn’t notice it during his edgy rant……

    Like 2
  13. unclemymyMember

    I love this write-up! I just bought a 99 Mazda B4000 for these exact reasons. Having been born more or less adequately endowed, I’ve never felt the need to intimidate my neighbors with a giant pickup truck, the oversized grill threatening them in their rear-view mirror. Sorry, but oversized truck = undersized standard equipment, IMHO. This offering is literally the definition of pickup truck.

    Like 3
  14. MarveH

    A few points here: one is that these little base model trucks are on on the ascent value-wise. They don’t make anything like them anymore and there are whole generations of people who have never experienced something so practically, simplistically pure; a novelty. Then there are those who have graduated to the luxo-monster truck of today and realize they don’t need it or they don’t want to haul messy stuff in the wife’s $70K truck with 6 years of payments left on it.
    I don’t share the author’s view on ecno-boxes, however. I love them, especially hot hatches of the 80’s and 90’s. You cannot buy a light car anymore (MX-5 excepted) and light means fun to drive. The dynamics and transitions made by a small light car, are for me, far more rewarding than a more powerful car that weighs 3X as much and is saddled with an automatic transmission.
    I know I’m in a minority of one on this, but small, simple cars can be a lot of fun and can be tweaked for better performance usually by raiding a junk yard or the manufacturer’s parts bin.

    Like 3
  15. Maestro1

    Very well done, Jeff, I agree completely.
    I’d like to know if this has an automatic trans in it. I’m on the Left Coast with a lot of congestion and I try to stay away from manuals that I don’t have to row through traffic with. I have one manual in my collection and I’d like to keep it that way but how often does one find something like this?

    Like 1
    • Andrew

      Craigslist says 5 speed

      Like 0
  16. PDXBryan

    I love this except the bed’s a bit too short. My trucks of choice are ’93 D250 Cummins and ’82 Toyota Diesel (3L not 2L) long bed. Both 5 speeds, they’re rugged, hard working, good on fuel, and fun to drive. Real trucks built for working, like this little shorty.

    Like 0
  17. Bob_in_TN Bob_in_TNMember

    I think Jeff has his tongue at least partly planted in his cheek.

    I have nothing against these basic trucks. Their simplicity is charming, sort of (to me) like how a Model A is charming. But I don’t want one for a daily driver. Very few new truck buyers do either, else the manufacturers would be making them. Even a basic new Ranger is pretty well equipped. The market has moved on.

    By the way, I really like my power running boards.

    Like 0
  18. MarveH

    I don’t think this would be the daily but rather an occasional use vehicle. It would be great for haunting junk yards for car parts, hauling the dirt bike to the trail, dumping yard trimmings, picking up some stuff from Lowes, etc. The truck for people who drive cars most of the time.
    Handy when you need it, old enough to be cool, and cheap to run and maintain.

    Like 5
  19. CanuckCarGuy

    Swap in an SVO or TurboTbird drivetrain, and this would be the perfect sleeper.

    Like 1
  20. Phil L.

    Ten years ago my son needed a vehicle. I found him a 93 ranger almost identical to this one. Black bench seat instead of red, five speed,no power anything. And the nicest set of old school Cragers you’d ever want to see. It wasn’t a fire breather but all of it was just a cab and a box. It looked so cool and was as basic as it gets. It was a perfect small sport truck in my eyes. He beat the piss out of it. Never appreciated it for what it was. If I had the room I’d buy this buggy. Find me some Cragers and have me a cool little sport truck!

    Like 2
  21. James

    Lol!! Thanks for the chuckle. And you’re totally correct.

    Like 0
  22. BrianU

    I drive an F550 every day. Got me a 2019, average fuel mileage is 7.2, so you can see I didn’t get it just to get the groceries. Love my power running boards. Two normal size steps to get into the cab instead of one big step and one tiny step like you have with non-power running boards. When you drive 200-600 miles a day, it’s nice to have a truck that is quiet and comfortable. I like the older, simple trucks/cars too, but they all have their place.

    Like 1

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