Pickup trucks are supposed to be reliable workhorses. Come rain or shine, mud or road, it has to be a dependable vehicle that the owner can count on. With that in mind, what is the Ford Ranger reliability like? Is it a workhorse you can count on? Or a clunker that you should avoid?
We’ll go through everything about the Ford Ranger’s reliability. From its common problems to model years you should avoid. And of course, we’ll recommend the model years you should consider, and possibly some alternatives as well.
Ford Ranger Reliability: Overview
The Ford Ranger is a nameplate Ford uses for multiple pickup trucks of different sizes. Ford debuted the Ranger as a compact truck all the way back in 1983. The Ranger then remained in production for 29 years up until 2012 when the Ranger got for the North American market. However, global versions of the Ranger remains in production at the time.
Ford then realizes that the mid-size pickup market was booming in America. So they brought the Ranger back in 2019 by using the T6 platform co-developed with Mazda. Here’s a video from Donut Media for the full history of the Ranger:
So, what’s the Ranger’s reliability like? Well, it’s a bit of a mixed bag. As recently as 2019, the Ford Ranger has reliability issues and has a reliability rating of just 1 out of 5 according to Consumer Reports.
However, this was the first year that Ford brought back the Ranger to the US. First-generation or first production versions are bound to have reliability problems. This is because there are likely new technologies with unproven reliability fitted into them.
The good news is that the 2020 and 2021 models are much better in terms of reliability. But if you were considering buying the 2019 model secondhand, then there are a few problems you should look out for:
2019 Ford Ranger Reliability Problems
As mentioned, the 2019 Ford Ranger is has a reliability rating of just 1 out of 5. There are about 67 complaints about the 2019 Ford Ranger on NHTSA’s website, and 7 recalls for this model year. Here are the common 2019 Ford Ranger reliability problems:
1. Electrical Issues
The 2019 Ranger seems to be plagued by electrical gremlins. Owners report a variety of problems, from a malfunctioning stop-start system to faulty tail lights. One that’s quite common and rather serious is the media unit malfunctioning.
Owners report the media unit in their Ranger freezing and wouldn’t respond to any input. While in most cars this means you won’t be able to control the music and you’re stuck with an artist you don’t like on the radio, in the Ranger, it’s slightly more serious.
This is because the media unit also contains some in-car controls, most notably the air-conditioning. The Range still has physical knobs to turn on the AC system. However, deeper controls such as controlling the blend door and therefore the airflow lie inside the media unit. And there are no physical switches or knobs for this.
“The info screen which controls HVAC freezes up preventing the user from changing the HVAC settings which could cause the windshield to fog or freeze.” Said one 2019 Ranger owner in Buffalo, New York.
The problem can be solved by turning off the car and back on again. This forces the media unit to reboot, but owners report this problem keeps coming back. It’s not exactly convenient to restart your car every time the media unit freezes.
The other common electrical problem is with the tail lights which have faulty connectors and cause them to go out. Thankfully, they already did a recall for this problem back in November 2019 and the replacement – if necessary – was free of charge.
2. Spongy Brake Pedal
There are multiple reports of spongy brakes in the 2019 Ranger, and this one is definitely serious and can put drivers at serious risk. The brake pedal should have a firm feel to them, with an almost immediate response from the brakes when you press on them. A spongy brake pedal means the pedal feels less firm, and with poor response so you have to press them deeper to stop.
The brakes in your car work by using pressurized fluid. When you press on the brake pedal, the brake booster will deliver brake fluid to the brakes through the brake lines. Once this pressurized fluid reaches the brake assembly, it will push the calipers. Then the calipers will come into contact with the rotors which then slows its rotations and slows down the car.
As with any pressurized system, if the fluid loses pressure it won’t operate effectively since the brake fluid won’t push the calipers as strongly as it should. As a result, the braking force decreases. This can happen for several reasons, but the most common cause for spongy brakes is usually air in the brake lines.
But how does air enter the system? Often there’s a leak in the system, such as a crack in the brake lines or a leak in the booster. However, there isn’t any information on what’s exactly causing this problem in the 2019 Ranger.
Thankfully, the video above shows that you can fix the problem by doing an ABS bleed procedure. This procedure gets rid of air in the ABS, although we’re not quite sure how it got there in the first place. And Ford hasn’t issued any recalls regarding this issue.
3. Powertrain Problems
Ranger owners report a variety of problems with the powertrain. Some report that there’s fuel mixed with the engine oil, which isn’t normal. This doesn’t seem to be a widespread issue, and we’re not quite sure what’s causing this in the 2.3L EcoBoost engine. Take a look at this owner’s experience:
A more common powertrain problem seems to be with the transmission. All of the new Ranger now comes with a 10-speed automatic transmission. Some owners report that the car would jerk when they start from a standstill. While others experience jerking or the car lurching forward when stopping.
The car also seems to have shifting problems. One complaint on NHTSA’s site states that the car rolls away even after shifting the lever into Park. This suggests that the car incorrectly displays the transmission in ‘Park’ even when it’s not.
Whenever you drive an automatic, always put the car in ‘Park’ when you exit the car. This will engage a pin on the transmission which prevents the output shaft from moving and prevents the car from rolling. While pulling your parking brake will also prevent it, putting it in Park is an extra safety layer.
Needless to say, you don’t want your car to roll away from where you park it. Thankfully, Ford did a recall to fix this issue in May 2019, replacing the faulty shifter cable bracket.
Additionally, some Rangers may unintentionally shift out of Park. In automatic cars, you normally need to insert the key and press on the brake pedal to shift the car out of Park. However, you can do this in some Rangers without the key. They also did a recall for this in February 2019 to repair the selector interlock assembly.
4. Vehicle Speed Control Issue
Modern cars now have sensors that monitor the speed of the vehicle, often referred to as the Vehicle Speed Sensor. These sensors feed information to the car to control various systems, such as cruise control which is a system where you can set the car to a certain speed and it will automatically retain that speed. Pretty simple, and the Ranger has this.
However, these systems often have many problems. In the VW Atlas, for example, there are numerous instances where the car would brake suddenly on its own. It has a forward-collision avoidance system, which allows the car to brake if it detects an impending collision. But the system often malfunctions and brake the car even when there’s nothing ahead.
Meanwhile, the 2019 Ranger has the exact opposite problem. There are numerous reports from owners where their Ranger would suddenly gain speed on its own after setting the cruise control. Here’s what one owner from Bellmore, New York has to say:
“When trying to set the cruise control speed the vehicle will continue accelerating constantly. The truck will not set at the desired speed and will keep going faster and faster.“
This is likely a software issue that can be easily fixed with an ECU update. While not as widespread as the other problems, Ford hasn’t issued a recall to fix this problem, which can be dangerous.
5. Other Recalls To Fix 2019 Ford Ranger Reliability Problems
Ford has issued a total of seven recalls for their 2019 Ranger. Two for the aforementioned transmission issues, and one for the faulty tail light problems. The other four recalls have to do with the seatbelts and the blower motor.
In July 2019, Ford recalled around 7,500 Rangers due to improper assembly of the seat belts for the front passenger. This may cause the seatbelt to inadequately restrain the front passenger in a crash, which, we don’t need to tell you, is incredibly dangerous and potentially fatal. This problem affects the SuperCab trim in particular.
However, this wasn’t the end of it. They recalled over 47,000 units of the SuperCab once again in October 2021. This time it’s a similar assembly problem, and it can cause the seat belts to misroute which doesn’t comply with the requirements of the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard. Additionally, this not only affects the 2019 model but all Super Cab Rangers from 2019 – 2021.
Meanwhile, the other two recalls are for the blower motor, which is the fan that blows heated or cooled air through the car’s air vents. The first recall was in October 2019, which replaces the blower motor (if necessary) as it may short and increase the risk of a fire. About 17,000 units were affected.
Ford then recalled about 5,000 of the recalled unit in March 2020. Yes, they needed to replace the replacement blower motor in 5,000 vehicles in the original recall for the blower motor. It was due to an improper installation that may increase the risk of the short. It seems the problem has been resolved now.
How About The 2020 & 2021 Model?
The 2020 model seems to fare much better in reliability. Consumer Reports gave it a 4 out of 5 ratings, while J.D. Power gave it a predicted reliability score of 85 out of 100. Keep in mind that we’re still seeing complaints regarding the spongy brake pedal. We’re still not quite sure what’s causing it, and Ford hasn’t issued any recalls regarding this.
However, the 2020 model has much fewer complaints overall. There are 67 complaints about the 2019 model on the NHTSA’s website, while the 2020 model has only received 23 complaints. There seems to be no widespread issue aside from the spongy brake pedal, but this is a serious and dangerous problem that Ford should address.
Meanwhile, reliability ratings for the 2021 model are mixed. Consumer Reports only gave it 2 out of 5, while J.D. Power gave it another 85 out of 100. So, what gives? We’re not quite sure, it may be down to different methods or perhaps different sample sizes.
What’s The Verdict Then?
While the Ranger seems to have much reliability rating since 2020, we feel like the brake problem is still a deal-breaker for us. It’s quite normal for cars to have reliability issues even when they’re brand new. But while something like a faulty media unit is a minor inconvenience, a spongy brake pedal is a safety hazard that should not be taken lightly.
If you’re still interested, avoid the 2019 model altogether. The 2020 and 2021 models are still a solid choice, but be wary of the brake problem. Take your car to the dealer at the earliest sign of brake issues. If this problem is enough to put you off, consider the older generations of the Ranger, or some of its competitors instead.
Older Ford Ranger Reliability Problems
Older Ford Rangers are not free from reliability issues. Here are the other common Ford Ranger reliability problems you might encounter in the older generations:
1. Transmission Issues
Transmission problems are nothing new to Ford Rangers. Even the older generations suffer from this, specifically ones with the 5R55E, 4R44E, and 5R44E transmissions which were present in all models from 1997 – 2011. Problems range from shifting delays to clunking and grinding noises.
These transmissions seem to have been poorly designed and simply aren’t very reliable. There have been reports of the transmission leaking in cold climates, which then leads to shifting problems. Some of these problems can be solved by installing an aftermarket valve body, but sometimes a new transmission altogether is needed. And we don’t need to tell you, rebuilding or replacing a transmission is very expensive.
The 4-speed A4LD transmission seems to have little reliability issue, but to be safe you might want to go with the 5-speed manual instead.
2. Engine Misfires
Engine misfires also seem to be a common problem with older Ford Rangers, especially ones with the 3.0L Vulcan V6 and 4.0L Cologne V6. An engine misfire is when one of the cylinders isn’t firing, or fires at the wrong moment. It will feel like the engine is hesitating to rev, or sometimes the engine will make a popping or crackling noise when it misfires.
In this particular case, it seems to be a leak from one of the exhaust valves. The Ranger has what is called an interference engine. This is a type of engine where the valves will enter the engine’s cylinder, going into space where the piston might travel to.
This is where the timing chain/belt comes in, to make sure that the pistons and valves move at the correct time so it doesn’t come into contact. In the video above, it seems one of the pistons came into contact with the exhaust valve which damaged the valve guide. This scenario may also bend the valves.
When a valve bends or parts of it are damaged, it won’t close properly and will cause a leak in the engine. This results in a compression loss which causes the misfire. At this point, you have no choice but to replace the valve and other components that may be damaged.
This repair will cost thousands of dollars, as you’re essentially taking apart half the engine and then rebuilding it after replacing the necessary parts. As mentioned, this problem mostly plagues the Vulcan and Cologne V6, the Pinto and Duratec four-cylinder engines don’t seem to have this problem.
3. Difficulty Starting The Engine
This problem seems to be an effect of the misfiring engine. As mentioned, a misfiring engine is when one or more of the cylinders doesn’t fire or fire at the wrong time. If the engine is misfiring, it’s likely going to have problems starting too.
When you turn the key, an electric motor cranks the engine, and the battery powers the ignition system. The engine will insert fuel and air into the cylinders, and the ignition coils will power the spark plug. The spark then combusts the fuel and air mixture, which then moves the pistons and thus turning on the engine. From there on, the process repeats.
A misfiring engine can mess up the order. For example, let’s say cylinder 3 is supposed to fire first. But then, let’s say because of a faulty spark plug, it doesn’t fire. This means the engine is running one less cylinder, thus making it more difficult to get the engine running as it’s now essentially unsynchronized.
Alternatives To The Ford Ranger
Old Ford Rangers are…fine. They’re just fine; they’re nothing special, but not catastrophically bad either. There might be some hidden gems, and you can find out which year of the Ranger you should buy here.
If you’re still weighing your options, consider these recommendations:
- Chevy Colorado. Much like the Ranger, the Chevy Colorado doesn’t have a stellar reliability record either, with the 2021 model scoring only a 2 out 5 according to ConsumerReports. But the Colorado has great handling and good offroad performance, especially in the ZR2 trim.
- Toyota Tacoma. When it comes to mid-size pickup trucks you really can’t go wrong with the Toyota Tacoma. It’s a capable off-roader, and more importantly: it’s reliable. The base model comes with a four-cylinder engine, but you’ll want the V6 for better offroad performance and more tow capacity. Keep in mind Tacomas are very desirable right now, so you might have to wait a while if you’re buying new. And this makes secondhand ones more expensive at the moment.
- Honda Ridgeline. The Ridgeline should be your choice if you want a pickup truck simply because you want a car that looks like a pickup truck. It has superior handling, it feels refined, the engine is powerful, and the interior is good. But it only tows 5,000lbs (around 2,000lbs less than the V6 Colorado), and it’s not exactly the most capable off-roader.
- GMC Canyon. Great styling, decent to drive, powerful V6 on option alongside a diesel option for those who want to roll coal. The GMC Canyon’s reliability is mixed depending on who you ask, but it’s a tempting option. Don’t expect the interior to be luxurious though, and the base model engine is lackluster.
Ford Ranger Reliability: Wrap Up
The bottom line: the Ford Ranger’s reliability isn’t great. Old models have transmission problems and engine misfiring issues. While newer ones are much better since 2020, the spongy brake problem still persists. We’d gloss over it if it was some minor electrical issue. But a brake reliability problem can be fatal and is not something we can’t ignore.
At the end of the day, pickup trucks are all about reliability. What’s the point of having a truck that can go anywhere and carry everything you need but it won’t start? Or in the case of the Ranger, not being able to stop in time. Or roll away when you’re not looking.
In any case, we hope this Ford Ranger reliability article has been helpful. If you’re not sure about the Ranger, consider the options that we mentioned above. And maybe take a look at the full-size pickup segment, you owe yourself at least one look before you make a decision.
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