1999 Ford F-150 XLT
1999 Ford F-150 XLT. Click image to enlarge

By Chris Chase

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Whatever happened to real trucks? You know, the ones with the utilitarian interiors and simple drive-trains that were built to take a beating and run forever? Sometime in the mid-90s, the definition of ‘truck’ changed when buyers who needed their pickups to serve as both work and personal vehicles started demanding a little comfort with the work ethic that had long defined what a truck was all about.

Ford, whose F-series pickup has been a perennial bestseller for years, saw the trend coming and responded in 1997 with a redesigned version of its profitable workhorse. But while the new truck certainly turned a corner for Ford, it also turned off some long time fans with its sleeker styling and new powerplants, particularly the overhead cam 4.2-litre V6 that replaced the torquey and tough 4.9-litre inline six that had served as a reliable base-model powerplant for many years.

But the times they were-a-changin’ and Ford had no choice but to conform or risk having the F-series lose its reputation for being one of the most popular vehicles sold anywhere, ever. What didn’t change was the dizzying array of combinations of cab and bed sizes and drive-trains.

1999 Ford F-150 XLT
1999 Ford F-150 XLT. Click image to enlarge

Engine choices ranged from the previously mentioned 4.2-litre six (205 hp; 255 lb.-ft.), 4.6- and 5.4-litre V8s (220 hp and 290 lb.-ft. for the 4.6, and 260 hp and 350 lb.-ft. for the 5.4) in F-150 models, and Super Duty models – designated as F-250, F-350 and so on – were available with that 5.4-litre V8, a 6.8-litre V10 or a 7.3-litre turbo-diesel engine.

For F-150 trucks, fuel economy ranged from 15 to 16 L/100 km city and about 11 L/100 km highway for a two-wheel-drive/V6/automatic model (fuel consumption was actually higher for manual-transmission versions in some cases) to about 19 L/100 km city and 13 L/100 km highway for an F-150 4×4 with the 5.4-litre V8 and an automatic.

1999 Ford F-150 XLT
1999 Ford F-150 XLT. Click image to enlarge

If you have any preconceived doubts about Ford’s ability to build reliable vehicles, leave them at the door: the F-series has proven to be a very reliable truck, with few problems that stand out, aside from some ignition system issues. Chevy’s Silverado can’t quite match the F-series for trouble-free operation and while the Dodge Ram may look cooler than the 1997-2003 Fords, it’s a very risky buy from a reliability standpoint. In fact, this generation of F-series is one of few vehicles that gives a Toyota product a run for its money: the Toyota Tundra can only claim reliability as good as the Ford’s, not better. Factor in the wider array of cab, bed and drivetrain configurations offered by Ford and it comes out on top.

2003 Ford F-Series Super Duty King Ranch
2003 Ford F-Series Super Duty King Ranch. Click image to enlarge

Crash test results are a mixed bag. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) rated the 97-03 F-series “poor” in its frontal offset crash test, while the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) gave the same trucks four or five stars (results vary depending on cab configuration) in its frontal and side impact crash tests.

As it is with most domestic products, used car shoppers get the benefit of steep depreciation here, making a basic V6-powered F-150 work truck a reasonably affordable proposition. Pricing starts as low as $6,125 for a 1997 F-150 in good condition, according to Canadian Red Book. A basic model year 2000 F-150 will run you about $10,000 ($9,975, says Red Book) and a 2003 model will cost between $16,000 and $17,000.

Perhaps this generation of F-series didn’t set truck enthusiasts’ hearts on fire with its less-than-masculine styling, and the replacement of the 4.9-litre inline six with the more modern 4.2-litre V6 may have alienated some longtime Ford truck fans, but for buyers for whom a truck is little more than another tool of their trade, you’d be hard pressed to find a more reliable used workhorse at a better price. Just make sure that previous owners have attended to the safety-related recall notices listed here.

Online resources

www.ford-trucks.com – Ford’s F-series is one of the best-selling vehicles ever produced, and that shows in the membership at Ford-Trucks.com: 310,815. Those members post in a wide variety of forum sections including those dedicated to the many different engines that have power F-series models through the years (as well as the many other trucks in Ford’s line-up), a number covering every other mechanical or electrical system plus general forums dedicated to the different generations of these trucks and regional forums. As you might expect from a site with more than 300,000 members, there are a ton of topics in the forums, so there’s bound to be an answer here to just about any question. Other features include tech articles submitted by site members.

www.fordf150.net – While Ford-Trucks.com covers all years of F-series, FordF150.net centres on trucks built since 1997. Even with that narrower focus, this site is still home to more than 50,000 members. Again, the forums are split up into sections for different mechanical aspects of the trucks, plus forums for V6 and V8 engines. Special edition F-series variants – like the SVT Lightning and Harley Davidson Edition – get their own sections. You won’t find tens of thousands of topics in some sections as you will on Ford-Trucks.com, but there’s still plenty of info here.

Used vehicle prices vary depending on factors such as general condition, odometer reading, usage history and options fitted. Always have a used vehicle checked by an experienced auto technician before you buy.

For information on recalls, see Transport Canada’s web-site, www.tc.gc.ca, or the U.S. National Highway Transportation Administration (NHTSA)web-site, www.nhtsa.dot.gov.

For information on vehicle service bulletins issued by the manufacturer, visit www.nhtsa.dot.gov.

For information on consumer complaints about specific models, see www.lemonaidcars.com.

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