If you hold tight and try to find a stick, you might be able to get a really great deal. Especially on an F150 or something like that, where nearly all of the owners want an automatic. It will take some time to find one...
I'd have to agree with many of the previous statements. $1500 is the bottom bargain price and really hard to find anything solid. 4x4 s10 in a stick for 1500 going to be a hard find. I don't like dakota's. There are a lot of the early s10 blazer, bronco II, explorer, etc to choose from. You might consider one of the older AWD astros or aerostars.
Basically you'll end up buying what you can find in that price range. Trucks are hard to come by that aren't worn out or ruined. Personally I like the 5spd GM 1500 with a 4.3. Should be able to get 19-20mpg. Plenty of power and cheap common parts.
02 Saturn SL
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ok what are you planning to haul? i have a 95 s-10 2wd and it can haul alot of stuff (try 900lbs of topsoil) and i only the the 2.2L 5speed. and i dont have the off road or extra weight leaf springs. also consider how often your doing to haul stuff...what ever you do buy a truck with a manual tranny. i get about 5-6 mpg better than the auto trucks.
parts are cheap
plenty in junkyards so if you need body parts...
LOTS of aftermarket stuff for em (lift kits lower kits, brush guards, etc) ive heard an s-10 is alot easier to lift/lower than a ranger is just because of the different front susupention setup. trucks must be in high demand in your area cuz i see all sorts of s-10s around me for sale.
i like toyotas except ive noticed/heard from several mechanics/ body shops that the early 90's toyotas rust out like no other. a kid in my auto mech class brought one in to fix the frame cuz it had a 2"-4" hole in the frame that was rusted out.
I picked up a full size chevy pickup with the most efficient setup (the 4.3 l V6 and the 5 speed, 2wd) for 750 with a broken windshield. Look for one with peeling paint and good mechanicals. Mine gets 23 MPG, but I would guess that the 4wd would drop about 2-3 mpg. You might have to look for a while for one. I would guess that a toyota would be too expensive. If economy is more important than durability and how much you can haul, then i would go with a s10 or ranger 4cyl 5 spd. otherwise go with the full size...they don't cost much more, and they will last longer.
I have a 93 Toyota 2wd 5spd 4cyl pickup. Bought it new and it now has 218,000 miles. Driving the speed limit I can get 30 mpg while towing my teardrop trailer. It's a wonderful truck but sets in the driveway most of the time now as I drive the Swift.
My buddy back in high school had these little toyota 4-cylinder trucks that got like 30mpg. They were standards but I don't know about 4 wheel drive though....
I'd go for a V6 dakota. You should be able to find one in your price range but 4x4 v6 might be tough....,
An International Scout II Truck type with a nissan deisel and a 4 speed with 4x4 would be very nice but I think they are getting hard to find. My dad had one when I was young. The diesel gets better FE than a V8.....
A diesel scout would probably be great for his needs, and can be converted to run on veggie oil very easily.
How bad do you need 4X4? Get a 2wd 4 cylender s10 stick. An early 90's 2wd Toyota (damaged) may go this low too. Install locking or limited slip differental. Buy one extra rim. Intall Kumho Road Venture MT 834's on the spare and the extra rim. Set tire presure for those two tires 15 PSI. Now when you need "four wheel drive" you can go more places than other normal 4x4's with crappy difernentals and average tires set at 35psi. Any other time you can get 30+ MPG hwy with all your street tires.