By Chris Chase, CanadianDriver.com
Sometimes, all you need is a little truck. Mazda knows this, which is why its B-Series pickup has been in production since 1972. It’s had ties to Ford’s small trucks since the beginning, but became a twin to the Ranger in all but its name in 1994. That relationship carried over to the fifth generation model, introduced in 1998.
It’s either a tribute to the design’s solidity or an admission by Ford that profits in this segment are as small as the trucks themselves that the current B-Series/Ranger has changed little in the 12 years since that 1998 redesign.
In that year, the B-Series was offered with a 2.5-litre four-cylinder engine (119 hp/146 lb.-ft. of torque), or a choice of 3.0-litre (150 hp/185 lb.-ft.) or 4.0-litre (160 hp/225 lb.-ft.) V6s; with the truck’s model names being based on engine displacement, the base version was the B2500, while the B3000 and B4000 were up-market options.
In 2000, the 3.0-litre engine gained 10 hp and 16 lb.-ft. (for 155 and 201 each, total), and in 2001, the 4.0-litre engine got overhead camshafts, which boosted power output to 207 hp and 245 lb.-ft.
As with the Ranger, the four-cylinder disappeared in 2000 and 2001, to be replaced in 2002 with a smaller 2.3-litre motor making 143 hp and 154 lb.-ft. of torque.
A five-speed manual was standard with all three engines initially, with four-speed auto being the option in four-cylinder and 3.0-litre models, while 4.0-litre trucks got a five-speed auto as the upgrade.
Rear-wheel drive was the default with all three engines, and four-wheel drive was available with the larger V6.
By 2009, the 3.0-litre V6 was gone, and in 2010, all 4.0-litre models got four-wheel drive.
The B-Series’ fuel consumption ratings were identical to those of the Ranger: in early models, ratings ranged from 10.7 L/100 km (city) and 8.0 L/100 km (highway) for a four-cylinder, manual transmission model, to 14.0 L/100 km (city) and 9.5 L/100 km (highway) for a version fitted with the 3.0-litre V6 and four-speed automatic. Figures for a 4.0-litre model with four-wheel drive were 15.5/11.2 L/100 km.
Despite the newer four-banger’s smaller displacement, it actually made more power than the old 2.5-litre. It also got more favourable fuel consumption ratings: 9.8 L/100 km (city) and 7.7 L/100 km (highway) with the manual transmission. With the four-cylinder engine, both the B-Series and the Ranger were regularly earned the title of most fuel-efficient new pickup trucks in Canada. By 2010, the B-Series’ fuel numbers were 9.5/7.3 L/100 km with the four-cylinder and manual transmission, and 15.1/11.2 for a V6 model with automatic transmission.
According to Consumer Reports, two-wheel drive models are the most reliable; they earn above-average ratings across the board, where four-wheel drive trucks are only average.
As CR’s data suggests, the primary things to look out for have to do with the four-wheel drive system. One common problem is a faulty four-wheel drive shift motor, an electric component that does the work of shifting the truck in and out of four-wheel drive when the driver uses the dashboard switch to activate the system. Here’s what to do in a pinch if it happens to your truck and here’s how to fix it more permanently.
Problems with bad wheel bearings and front drive axles (to the front wheels) are common, and could be related. Also, four-wheel drive trucks – which all use six-cylinder engines and are more likely to have an automatic transmission – have more transmission troubles than two-wheel drive models. Consumer Reports offers nothing more detailed than “transmission rebuild or replacement,” so I’d interpret this to mean that the manual transmission is more dependable than the automatics, on average.
Brake components are also a common trouble spot – again, mostly in four-wheel drive models – due to poor-quality rotors (discs) and pads that squeal or warp easily.
Both regular and extended cab B-Series’ earned an “acceptable” rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) in that organization’s frontal offset crash test, and a “marginal” evaluation in side impact tests. The IIHS indicates that “rib fractures and/or internal organ injuries would be likely in a crash of this severity; serious neck injuries and a fracture of the pelvis would also be possible” in the frontal offset test. Of the side impact results, it says that “although the intruding barrier did not hit the dummy’s head in this test, the head was not protected from contacts outside the vehicle. This indicates that only slightly different crash circumstances could produce a direct hit to a person’s head.”
The B-Series is a good illustration of how different the IIHS’ tests are from those of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA): the latter organization gave the B-Series/Ranger four stars each for driver and front passenger protection. Regular cab models earned five stars for front seat side impact protection, while extended cab models got four stars in this test.
Used B-Series values range from $3,150 for a 1998 B2500 to $21,150 for a 2010 B4000 4×4 Cab Plus model. I like these trucks as basic light-duty haulers; a 2005 B2300 with manual transmission and air conditioning is worth $7,725. You can’t tow much with a truck like this, but even its modest payload is enough for taking a load of trash to the landfill or moving a large appliance. Note that automatic transmission models tend to have high towing capacities. Ranger values will be similar to the B-Series’; difference in standard equipment will skew used prices one way or another, but not by much.
The key to success with a used B-Series (or Ranger) appears to lie in keeping it simple. Choose a 4×2 model with a manual transmission if reliability is your key priority, and the four-cylinder motor adds a serious dose of fuel efficiency to the mix. If you need the extra utility that the four-wheel drive system, adds, choose a well-maintained truck whose maintenance records show regular fluid changes for the transmission and differentials, and make sure the four-wheel drive system works properly before you buy. Also, get any truck checked by a trusted mechanic before you finalize the deal.
Black Book Pricing (avg. retail) July 2010:
|Year||Model||Price today||Price new|
|2009||B4000 SE 4WD/automatic||$19,525||$23,595|
|2008||B3000 Dual Sport RWD/automatic||$14,275||$18,645|
|2007||B3000 Dual Sport RWD/automatic||$12,350||$22,695|
|2006||B3000 Dual Sport RWD/automatic||$11,250||$22,495|
|2005||B3000 Dual Sport RWD/automatic||$10,475||$22,095|
|2004||B3000 Dual Sport RWD/automatic||$8,900||$21,895|
|2003||B3000 Dual Sport RWD/automatic||$6,975||$22,630|
|2002||B3000 Dual Sport RWD/automatic||$6,400||$22,430|
|Year||B3000 Dual Sport RWD/automatic||$6,000||$22,285|
|Year||B3000 SX Cab Plus RWD/automatic||$5,400||$18,395|
|Year||B3000 SX Cab Plus RWD/automatic||$5,075||$18,395|
|Year||B3000 SX Cab Plus RWD/automatic||$4,800||$20,965|
There are many sites on the web dedicated to the B-Series, and the nearly identical Ranger. Among the best include RangerPowerSports.com and TheRangerStation.com, both of which are busy and have plenty of information. Other sites to check out are Ford-Forums.com/ford-ranger; FordTough.ca (this one’s Canadian); ExplorerForum.com and FordF150.net/ranger. And there are, of course, a couple of Mazda-centre sites to check, too: MazdaForum.com and at Forums.MazdaWorld.org.
Transport Canada Recall Number: 1999006; Units affected: 700
1998-1999: Certain vehicles do not comply with CMVSS 205 – Glazing materials. The windshields on these vehicles were produced without the “ASI” mark as required by American Standards Institute (ANSI) Z26.1. These windshields fully meet all of the requirements of standard 205. Correction: Since the absence of the “ASI” mark is highly unlikely to produce any risk of injury, no corrective action will be taken.
Transport Canada Recall Number: 1999091; Units affected: 7,603
1998-1999: On certain vehicles, the speed control cable could interfere with the speed control servo pulley and not allow the throttle to return to idle when disengaging the speed control. If the speed control is used and this condition is present, a stuck throttle could result, which could potentially cause a vehicle crash. Correction: Cruise control cable will be inspected and if necessary, replaced.
Transport Canada Recall Number: 1999201; Units affected: 40
2000: Certain vehicles do not comply with the requirements of CMVSS 108 – Lighting System and Retroreflective Devices. The fog lamps can be activated with the headlamp switch in the OFF position and the tail lamps, side lamps, parking lamps and license plate lamps not illuminated. Correction: A relay and wiring overlay will be installed on affected vehicles.
Transport Canada Recall Number: 2001160; Units affected: 3,764
2000-2001: Certain pickup trucks equipped with seat belts supplied by TRW. It is possible that the driver’s and/or front passenger’s outboard seat belt buckle may not fully latch. In the event of a crash, the restraint system may not provide adequate occupant protection, increasing the risk of personal injury to the seat occupant. Correction: Dealers will inspect the front outboard seat belt buckles and if the buckle fails the inspection process, it will be replaced.
Transport Canada Recall Number: 2005353; Units affected: 709 (includes other models)
2006: On certain vehicles, the windshield wiper motor may have been produced without grease applied to the output shaft gear. After a period of continuous use on the high-speed setting, lack of grease may cause the gear teeth to distort and/or fracture during operation, resulting in the loss of wiper function. Correction: Dealers will inspect and, if required, apply grease to the output shaft gear.
Transport Canada Recall Number: 2009030; Units affected: 207
2009: On certain vehicles, the front spindles may not have received adequate heat treatment during the manufacturing process. As a result, the spindle may fracture, allowing the spindle and wheel assembly to separate from the vehicle while underway. This could cause a loss of vehicle control and a crash. In addition, the errant wheel assembly could strike a vehicle, property, or a bystander, which could result in personal injury or death. Correction: Dealers will inspect and, if necessary, replace the front spindles.
Transport Canada Recall Number: 2010154; Units affected: 520
2010: On certain vehicles, if the parking brake shoes are frozen to the drum, the right rear parking cable may become disconnected when it is released. If this occurs, the next application of the parking brake pedal may have extended pedal travel and may not fully apply the parking brake shoes. The parking brake make not securely hold the vehicle, possibly resulting in the vehicle unintentionally moving and possibly causing property damage and/or personal injury to bystanders. Correction: Dealers will repair the affected vehicles.
Crash test results
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 vehicle service bulletins issued by the manufacturer, visit www.nhtsa.dot.gov.
For information on consumer complaints about specific models, see www.lemonaidcars.com.
Chris Chase is an Ottawa-based automotive journalist. He is a member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC).
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