Buying Used: Ford F Series Pickup (2001-2008)
If you need to tow a hefty boat or horse-float, the F-Series Ford pickup has to score a place on your list of possible purchases. Recent versions are expensive due to RHD conversion requirements, but back-tracking five to 10 years will reveal F-Series that were sold new through local Ford dealers and in surprising numbers. Most were the heavyweight F250 but there was also a ‘grey’ market dedicated to importing selected versions of the lighter and more manageable F150.
For some Australians, their first ride in an F-Series Ford may not have been by choice. Over several decades, the rugged F100 and F250 worked as ambulances or police ‘paddy wagons’ and some still serve as emergency vehicles in remote parts of the country.
In 2001 Ford began building RHD versions of the F-Series in Brazil and the local operation was quick to pounce. From November 2001, Ford showrooms across Australia had to make space for the substantial F250 and the even larger F350.
Australian-spec F250s quickly bounded to the top of their market: 2329 F250s were sold during its first full year on the market, supplemented by 151 F350s.
In 2006, when direct imports ended, almost 1000 two and four-wheel drive versions were still being sold at prices that had moved only marginally upwards from launch.
Cheapest among the new arrivals were cab/chassis F250 XLs, some with four-wheel drive that could be equipped with simple trays or more specialised bodywork. At the top of the F250 tree and intended for family and business use were the 4x4 Super Cab and Crew Cab versions, which cost between $62,000 and $80,000.
Super-Cab ‘Effies’ came with occasional rear seat accommodation accessed via narrow, rear-hinged doors. The Crew Cab with its four front-hinged doors had a more substantial rear seat and generous leg-room. Even the standard XL provided a generous platform behind the seats where baggage or work equipment could be securely stowed.
Engine choices began with a 4.2-litre turbo-diesel six-cylinder fitted only to XL models, a 5.4-litre V8 that was standard in rear-wheel drive 250XLTs, and the 7.3-litre turbocharged V8 diesel available in 250XL and XLTs. Most had a four-speed automatic transmission but a six-speed manual was available in 4x4 versions.
From 2005 the F-Series incorporated some relatively radical changes, including a boxed frame with nine times the torsional stiffness of the previous chassis. The adoption of front coil springs on all models and wider rear springs with repositioned shock absorber mountings contributed to improved ride when unladen.
F150 models were not officially imported but were available via organisations that held permits to import and comply high-end variations. These special ‘commemorative’ editions included the supercharged Harley Davidson Anniversary model and the short-wheelbase Lightning.
In addition to distinctive paint and improved trim levels, these F-Series variants were among the most potent vehicles of their time. In 2003, the Lightning officially became the world’s fastest production pickup when it averaged 237km/h in Guinness Book of Records testing.
ON THE ROAD
F250 Fords are some of the largest vehicles you can legally drive on a car licence and familiarity with their width and length can take time to acquire. However, once you’re comfortable with the huge amount of metal around you and the space needed to manoeuvre one of these monsters, the experience becomes akin to driving a large and reasonably luxurious car.
Most have cloth-trimmed front seats; either a bench or high-back buckets with a generous centre console. The dash, even in performance versions, is bland for a vehicle that attracted the Luxury Car tax when new. The back bench in Extra Cabs is more of a platform than a seat; uncomfortable even for short distances and designed to be folded against the rear bulk-head to provide extra storage space.
Rear seating in Crew Cabs is upright but okay for three people over a limited distance. There are no head restraints, though, nor do F-Series come standard with child-seat mountings, so these will need to be installed if you want to accommodate very young passengers.
Ford’s dedication to a hefty steel chassis and leaf springs did nothing for handling or stability, especially on rough roads. Even the more refined coil-sprung versions still crash and leap over bigger bumps.
However, the vast majority of F-truck buyers will be far more interested in how well their Ford tows a big boat or ‘fifth wheeler’ than chasing hot hatchbacks through challenging curves.
Post-2004 models turn a little better than those with leaf-sprung front ends but still have a turning circle of around 14 metres. ABS braking is standard, but in XL versions works only on the rear wheels.
Power from the 7.3-litre diesel was an apparently-mild 175kW – 19kW less than the harder-revving 5.4-litre petrol – but torque was a robust 684Nm and available from 1600rpm.
4.2-litre motors don’t share the diesel V8’s massive output but still do a decent job of powering work utes and towing up to 3.5 tonnes.
Fuel consumption is horrific, when pushing one of these heavyweights hard. Even the small diesel will use 15L/100km when laden and the 7.3-litre can churn through 25L/100km when raising a sweat. Under these conditions, the standard 144L tank will last only around 400 kilometres, leading outback travellers to recommend extending tank capacity to a minimum 270L.
Truck fans who want more thrills than the down-to-business diesels should look for an F150 Lightning. These 282kW 5.4-litre V8-powered beasts come standard with wide alloy wheels, Bilstein suspension and upgraded brakes.
F-trucks with the big diesel engine may have done some heavy towing and punished the transmission in the process. Neglecting a hard-working auto can shorten driveline life to around 90,000 kilometres. Shuddering under light throttle and delayed upshifts indicate problems. Check also for fluid that looks dark and has a burned smell. Early models with the 4R100 transmission seem to be most commonly affected but anyone using an automatic F-Series for heavy work should fit a larger transmission cooler and have the fluid changed at least annually.
Recent RHD conversions will all have met stringent compliance requirements. However, different conversions deliver different levels of steering ‘feel’ and response, so before choosing a converted F-Series we recommend driving examples that use different arrangements, to ensure you have the one that best suits your driving style.
F250 owners here and in the USA have reported intermittent loss of power assistance, especially when turning the wheel with the brakes applied. When taking your test drive, twirl the wheel quickly in each direction a couple of times to check any hesitance from the pump
Lift the carpets to check for dampness and mildew. Water enters around cable grommets and through poorly-installed windscreen rubbers and can affect electrical components. Ignore any F-Series with signs of internal dampness.
Collapsed bottom radiator hoses and failed thermostats are reported causes of overheating. Listen for ‘kettle’ noises coming from the radiator and ensure that the thermo-fan engages when the engine is warm and idling.
Earlier V8s had problems with two-piece spark plugs seizing in the heads and having to be extracted with special tools. Any misfire needs to be investigated and 60,000km plug changes are recommended.
USED VEHICLE GRADING
Design & Function: 15/20
Value for Money: 13/20
Wow Factor 15/20 (F150 Lightning)
TOTAL SCORE: 68/100
ALSO CONSIDER: Dodge Ram 2500, Chevrolet Silverado, Toyota Landcruiser 100/200R
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