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Ford Ranger Buyer's Guide

What To Know Before You Buy

Ali MansourPhotographer, WriterFord Motor CompanyPhotographer

As one of the best-selling and most popular compact trucks on the road, the Ford Ranger has won over the nation for nearly 30 years. Launched in 1983, the Ranger was intended to be a domestic answer to the poplar import mini-trucks. Available with either a four-of six-cylinder engine, each 4x4 platform received a Twin Traction Beam front and leaf-sprung solid-axle rear suspension. With much of the competition opting for a more traditional IFS (A-arm) setup, the Ranger's TTB front end stood out as a more durable and easily modifiable suspension system.

The coil-sprung TTB front end served the Ranger until late 1997, when it was replaced by a torsion bar and A-arm configuration. While Ford has continuously improved the power and performance of the Ranger, the basic platform of the truck has remained the same throughout its long run. The most notable change arrived in 2002 with the introduction of the FX4 package. The FX4 and FX4 Level II packages were more than just sticker options. They fitted the Ranger with a grippy all-terrain tire, a Torsen limited-slip rear differential, skidplates, Bilstein shocks, and a 31-spline 8.8-inch rearend.

Though most any Ranger can be built into an off-road juggernaut, some of the compact Ford platforms will get you more on- and off-road performance right out of the box. Compiled here is a guide of what items we think are the most desirable in the Ranger platform. And while we may not have placed your super-rare four-cylinder diesel Ranger at the top of the list, we feel our picks best suit someone looking for an easily buildable Blue Oval compact.

Things to look for: The unveiling of the 4.0L V-6 in 1990 gave Ranger loyalist something new to write home about. While the 2.9L V-6 was a great engine, the 4.0L OHV (overhead valve) was even better. As the years would progress, the 160hp 4.0L OHV would evolve into a more powerful 207hp SOHC (single overhead cam) version that is still used in the trucks today. Though the 4.0L gets the most fanfare, it's not the only V-6 in the stable. While some say you should avoid the 3.0L V-6 because of its lack of power, we've had excellent experience with it. Yes, the 4.0L is still the engine to have, but the 3.0L's excellent reputation for being reliable and long-lasting makes it OK in our book.

Things to avoid: There were quite a few engine options available for the Ranger during the early years. For our money, stay away from the four-cylinder unless you have big plans for a V-8 swap or it's the very rare turbodiesel model. Also, although we still like the 3.0L, it's best to find a 4.0L truck if you're looking for a something more than just a weekend toy.

Things to look for: Manual versus automatic is mostly a driver preference, and in the Ranger world both have pros and cons. The late-model automatic transmissions (5R55E) that came behind the 4.0L engines have a better reputation and better aftermarket support than the automatics in early Rangers. There have been a few changes for the manual transmission (suppliers and types) throughout the years, but the newer R1-HD five-speed seems to be the best model yet. Though they might have a few more minor issues compared to the autos, we're still a big fan of the manual.

Things to avoid: The early (pre-'95) auto transmissions were not known to be extremely reliable. Although the manuals weren't anything to write home about either, they're likely the better option when you're looking at some of the older trucks. Leaky seals and failing slave cylinders are usually the manual transmission's downfalls, so be sure to check for leaks thoroughly before you buy any used Ranger, manual or automatic for that matter.

Transfer Cases
Things to look for: The Ford Ranger has only had two transfer cases, the BorgWarner 1350 (pre-'90) and the BorgWarner 1354 (post-'90). Though both are aluminum housing, chaindriven cases, each had a slew of variations that ranged from electronic and mechanical shifters to a small variety of yoke and flange mount options. Since we're partial to the '90 and newer trucks, we suggest looking for a truck with a 1354 that's equipped with a mechanical shifter. Both cases have the same 2.48:1 low range.

Things to avoid: Electric shift on a transfer case is never especially attractive to us. If you're looking to get more gearing from your truck, know that your options are currently limited to a DIY doubler or an Advance Adapters geardriven Atlas II transfer case. This is largely due to the limited support for the Ranger transmission's 25-spline output shaft.

Things to look for: Most 4.0L trucks came equipped with the stronger 28-spline 8.8-inch rear axle. In 2002 Ford introduced the FX4 Ranger and the 8.8-inch axle jumped to a 31-spline axle count and was fitted with a Torsen limited-slip differential. The 8.8 is a great rear axle with heavy aftermarket support.

After 1990 most 4x4 Rangers were fitted with a Dana 35 front differential. Though the A-arm IFS and TTB Dana 35s are similar, the TTB housing uses a stronger reverse-cut gearset and has decent aftermarket support. The newer ('98-current) A-arm trucks use a hybrid Dana 35 housing that uses a standard (low-pinion) gearset. Though most Dana 35 aftermarket gearsets will work, the unique carrier in the late-model Dana 35 limits locker options.

Things to avoid: Before the '90 model year, the Ranger was equipped Dana 28 front axle, which is more limited in strength and aftermarket support than the Dana 35. Also, if the Ranger didn't come with the more desirable 8.8-inch rear axle, it was likely fitted with a 7.5-inch axle. Though both rear axles are C-clip, we still suggest ditching the 7.5 for the 8.8.

The Build Plan
We understand that hardly anyone these days has an endless budget to build a super-trick wheeling machine. Since money is a factor, we narrowed the field for picking the ultimate budget-built Ranger to the '93-'97 trucks. Although the late-model FX4 and the FX4 Level II are arguably the best out-of-box Rangers to date, they still maintain a substantial value. For the money, the styling and parts quality of the '93-'97 4.0L Ranger makes it quite possibly the best bang for your compact-truck buck on the market.

The Truck
1993-1997 Ford Ranger: Regular or extended cab, shortbed 4x4
Transmission: auto or manual
Transfer case: BW1354 manual shift
Axles: Dana 35 front, 8.8-inch rear
Price: $1,500-$3,000

Budget Build Plan
Skyjacker 4-inch lift $1,250
Lock-Right Lockers $299 front, $371 rear
33x12.50 tires on 15x8 rims $1,500 (est.)
Total $4,920-$6,420