To get rid of the Dodge, the plan was this: find a vehicle that was similar in terms of capability, much more reliable and, oh yeah: an even trade for the Big White Lemon.

That last part is tough. It stings enough to have spent a lot of money buying, then fixing, a piece of garbage like our Dodge turned out to be, without then having to take a big loss when you trade it in. The first admission I had to make was that I was going to be getting a truck smaller than a half-ton.

I looked first at Toyota Tacomas and realized that those of equivalent age (3 yrs old) and mileage (68,000 kms) to the Dodge were changing hands on the used market for between 7 and 9 thousand dollars more than the wholesale value on our truck. Brand new, they would have sold for about $10K less. Think about that next time you’re looking at new trucks in that price range: Toyota’s resale values are formidable.

I looked briefly at other makes, but either the pricing would have forced me into an older and higher-mile truck than what I was driving, or I’d be giving up essentials like 4×4 and extended cab. I did not consider another Dodge, in case you’re wondering.

The only trucks that seemed to offer what I needed at the right price were Ford Rangers. There are a lot of used ones out there, particularly in the Maritimes. I speculate that it’s due to Ford’s keeping the price low by sticking with an outdated design for many years. So, no rear disc brakes, no front-facing rear seats, about 60HP short of the nearest V6 and V8 competitors, and a plasticky interior with no carpeting (at least in most trim levels). Plus, it’s hard for all but truck geeks to tell a 2009 model from a 1999 model.

On the plus side, the J.D. Power quality surveys I could find seemed to indicate that Ford has worked the bugs out of the Ranger by virtue of the design being so old. The box is a decent length for a small truck, the towing capacity with the V6 and automatic transmission is respectable (5,600 lbs) and the folding rear jump seats would be big enough for Leo for a while. (Sidebar on child seating: you can’t put a booster seat in a inboard-facing jump seat! Kids of Leo’s size must ride in the front on a booster, which is OK because the light weight deactivates the airbag. When kids are big enough to be out of the booster, they can sit in the back again.)

So I started shopping for Ford Rangers. I drove a 2006 at my friend Matt’s used car dealership in Sackville. I liked it a lot, but it was missing a few things I wanted and out of warranty. Unfortunately, I’m picky about optioning a vehicle, so it was hard to find a Ranger that wasn’t an FX4 (can’t get ’em with a bench seat, which I wanted) that also had power windows, locks and cruise, tow package, etc. You can get this stuff in an XLT or a Sport, but few XLTs are out there and most of the Sports are bare-bones with crank windows.

In my search for a well-optioned Sport or the elusive XLT, I stopped in at Hatheway Ford in Amherst, NS. The sales rep there told me that the new 2009 models were now selling at a $6,000 discount, which brought their price really, really close to what they were offering me for the Dodge. This meant I’d be getting a full three-year warranty, roadside assistance, iPod input, Satellite radio with 6 month subscription, and of course the knowledge that the vehicle hadn’t previously been abused or modified. Best of all, when you’re buying new, you have a better shot at finding the combination of options you’re looking for.

So I changed my tack and started searching area dealers’ new inventory using the website. I found a few possibles, phoned the dealers, told them about trading my Dodge and talked numbers. One truck was disqualified immediately because it was ordered into the dealer’s inventory after a $1,000 price increase this past spring. Another was disqualified because he couldn’t make me an acceptable offer on the Dodge (he was coming in way below Black Book ranges). A third, Steele Ford two hours away in Halifax, had the Ranger I was looking for and offered me above Black Book for the Dodge. Bonus: not only were the numbers working out, they were going to throw in a vacation!

In my next post, I’ll tell you all about how my visit to the dealership went. Stay tuned.