Best and worst years for Ford F150 trucks
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For more than seven decades, the Ford F-series truck has been one of the top trucks on the American market. The F-150 debuted in 1975, and since has been one of the most popular in the entire series. They are widely known for being a reliable and dependable work truck that is able to take a beating while hauling a family. Yet, not every F-150 has quite lived up to the name, and unfortunately there have been quite a few duds. So what are the best and worst years for Ford F150 trucks?
While the answer is debatable, we’re gonna lend our years of F-150 experience to try and come to a conclusion. Our criteria is pretty simple. We’re going to start with the National Highway and Traffic Safety Association’s (NHTSA) official list of complaints for each year. We will cross that with what we know firsthand about Ford’s F-series trucks, and supplement it with some in-depth research. Let’s get started.
Best and worst years for Ford F150 trucks: The history
Before we go any further, we’ll acknowledge that this is a very controversial subject. During our research, we constantly found contradicting opinions, with people swearing that the same year and trim level were alternatively the best and worst years for Ford F150 trucks. So with that in mind, let’s start by looking at the entire history of the Ford F-150 truck.
The first three F-series generations
The very first Ford F-series began life on the Ford assembly line on November 27, 1947. Known as the Ford Bonus-Built, it debuted for the 1948 model year featuring four different engine options. These options ranged from a Flathead straight-six to a Flathead V8, and made 95-145 horsepower. The most powerful engine was the 155 horsepower 317 cid first generation Lincoln Y-Block V8, available for only the 1952 model year.
In 1953, Ford debuted the second generation of the F-series. Ford called the new F-series the Triple Economy, retiring the Bonus-Built moniker from the first generation. The second gen F-series also changed the naming scheme for trucks. The first generations were known as the F-1 – F-9, and Ford renamed the second generations the F-100 – F-900. Also new for the second generation was an optional automatic transmission.
For 1957, Ford introduced the third generation, once again changing the naming scheme. The models available now were the F-100 – F-350, with the F-100s being ½ ton trucks and the F-350s being 1 ton trucks.
The F-150 in the 1960s-1980s
Ford started the fourth generation of the F-series in 1967, and it lasted five years until 1972. In 1975, during the fifth generation, Ford introduced the first officially named F-150. It was a slightly more heavy duty version of the F-100 truck, and has stayed in the lineup since. Ford called it a “heavy” ½ ton truck to contrast with the standard F-100 ½ ton truck.
The seventh generation F-series lasted from 1980-1986, and Ford gave it more than a dozen engine options during its time. Ford also gave the F-150 a complete redesign this year, making it more square and boxy – the height of 80s style, just look at the Foxbody – which lasted through the 1990s. In the seventh generation, the F-150 became the smallest model available in the F-series, as Ford dropped the F-100.
The modern F-150s and F-150 SVT Lightning variants
The eighth generation lasted from 1987-1991, and the ninth generation was produced from 1992-1997. In 1993, during the ninth generation, Ford introduced the F-150 SVT Lightning. This was a high performance variant that made 240 horsepower and 340 lb-ft of torque. Ford sold more than 11,500 during its short three-year production cycle from 1993–1995, and it is still considered one of the most iconic F-150 models of all time.
To start off the tenth generation in 1997, Ford completely redesigned the F-150. They ditched the boxy and flat style for a more modern rounded look and with a brand new chassis. From 1999–2003, Ford brought back the F-150 SVT Lighting. This time however, they gave it a supercharged 5.4 L V8, making 360 horsepower and 440 lb-ft of torque. Lincoln also introduced the short lived Blackwood truck for 2002, which is basically a Lincoln-badged F-150.
Ford kicked off the eleventh generation F-series in 2004 and gave it another redesign. This is by far the most maligned generation of the F-150 in history, and it was plagued by engine and quality control problems from the beginning. During the twelfth generation, 2009–2014, Ford introduced the first EcoBoost engine, the 3.5 L EcoBoost twin-turbo V6. They introduced the twin-turbo V6 in 2011, and it has stayed in the lineup since. That year they also gave the F-150 the 5.0 Coyote engine, which is also still an option today.
The current F-150s and Raptor, Raptor R, and electric Lightning variants
Ford debuted the thirteenth generation in 2015. In addition to carrying over both the Coyote and 3.5 EcoBoost Nano, in 2018 Ford introduced the first turbo-diesel, the 3.0 L Powerstroke V6. They rated the Powerstroke at 250 horsepower and 440 lb-ft of torque. This is the smallest Powerstroke Ford has ever made, and they did so to compete with the Ram 1500 EcoDiesel. It can tow up to 11,440 lbs, while getting 22/25 mpg, and is only available in the F-150.
The current fourteenth generation started in 2021 and is about to begin its third model year in 2023. Ford gave it a number of optional engines, including the 2.7 and 3.5 EcoBoost twin-turbo V6s, 3.3 L Cyclone V6, and 5.0 Coyote V8. Also available is the high performance F-150 Raptor, which was initially introduced in 2010. It currently features the twin-turbo 3.5 EcoBoost V6, making 450 horsepower.
New for 2023, is the ultra-high performance Raptor R. The Raptor R features a supercharged 5.2L V8, capable of an ungodly 700 horsepower and 640 lb-ft of torque. Beginning in 2022, Ford introduced the All-electric F-150 Lightning, the first electric F-150 truck in history. Though reviews have been mixed, it ranges from 452–580 horsepower with 775 lb-ft of torque. Depending on the trim, it has a 230-300 mile range and up to 10,000 lb towing capacity.
Best and worst years for Ford F150 trucks: Criteria
Now that we know about the F150 over the years, let’s get into the best and worst years for Ford F150 trucks. We’re starting with the ninth generation in the 1990s, as those are the oldest ones still popping up reliably on the used market.
When trying to determine the best years of the Ford F150, we took a number of things into consideration. First and foremost is the engine. No matter what else a truck has, it absolutely needs to have a strong and reliable power plant guiding it. We didn’t just look at peak horsepower, but also towing capacity and most importantly torque-power band. If you want a good truck you need lots of torque, and early, so we factored that in.
After looking at the engine and towing capabilities, we focused on aesthetics, interior quality, suspension and transmission considerations, electronics and overall reliability. While earlier F-150s aren’t going to have much in the way of infotainment systems and nice HD displays, their interiors were still decent for the time and price range.
In addition, the different transmission options, reliability of suspension, and overall aesthetics could make or break a generation of the F-series for many Ford fans. Not all of Ford’s transmissions have been well reviewed, and some of them have severely hurt the F-150s drivability/reliability. In addition, some years have had some dangerous suspension issues, which can also turn into costly repairs.
Best F150 Engines
When talking about the best modern F-150 engines, the most obvious choices are the current 3.5 EcoBoost twin-turbo V6 and 5.0 Coyote V8. Both of them are considered very reliable engines, and they both produce lots of power. The 3.5 EcoBoost is the same V6 as featured in the Ford GT, though much less powerful and tuned for truck applications. The 5.0 Coyote is also featured in the Mustang GT, and is one of the top engines of the last two decades.
The Coyote makes peak torque in the F150 at 3,850–4,500 RPM, depending on the version. Ford rated it at 360–395 horsepower and 380–400 lb-ft of torque in the F150. It has a huge power band and has lots of usable torque down low. The twin-turbo 3.5 EcoBoost in some respects is even better, making 365–400 horsepower and 420–500 lb-ft of torque. It makes torque much earlier, at 2,500 RPM in the first generation Ecoboost, and is fantastic for towing – or racing.
Earlier engines that are considered reliable are the modular 4.6 L V8 available from 1997-2010. These motors made between 220–290 horsepower, and 290-320 lb-ft of torque. Ford gave the F150 the 2 and 3-valve versions, and they are some of the best engines the F-150 has ever had. They have lots of usable low-end torque, and can tow a pretty hefty payload.
Worst F150 Engines
As far as the worst F150 engines ever made, the top of the list is the 3-valve 5.4 L Triton V8. Ford introduced the 5.4 Triton V8 in 1997 in the 2-valve version, and to be honest this one isn’t bad. It’s the 3-valve version Ford introduced into the F150 in 2004 that is the real problem. This version is known as the worst F150 engine ever, due to the litany of complaints it kept receiving. Ford kept a version of the 3-valve 5.4 Triton until 2010, when they finally got rid of it.
Besides the 5.4 Triton, most F150 engines are considered relatively reliable. Some of them, like the 4.2 Essex V8, have had minor issues with head gaskets or spark plugs, but for the most part they are not endemically problematic engines.
Best Years for Ford F150
The best years of the Ford F150 are the 1993–1994, 1996, 1997–1998, 2001, 2003, 2009, 2012, 2014, and 2018+. Starting with the ninth and tenth generations in the 1990s, the F-150 had some pretty good years. The ninth generation is widely considered one of the best F150 generations in history.
The ninth generation had the 4.9L straight-six, 5.0 L V8, and 5.8 L V8 as options. Though they don’t wow in the horsepower department, they are massively reliable and capable of consistently towing decent loads. There are tons of ninth generation F150s still driving around today, showing how good they are.
The tenth generation also produced some good trucks, especially in 1997–1998, 2001, and 2003. The entire front suspension was upgraded and updated, and the 1997 F150 won the Motor Trend Truck of the Year. Ford gave it the 4.2 Essex, 4.6 Triton, 5.4 Triton V8s. Or, for the F-150 Lightning, the supercharged 5.4 Triton. Ford introduced the King Ranch in 2000, which is now one of the most popular F150 trims available.
The twelfth generation is another solid one for the F150, especially the 2009, 2012, and 2014 model years. Beginning in 2011, the 3.5 EcoBoost twin-turbo and 5.0 Coyote V8 became options. Ford also retired the 4.6 and 5.4 Tritons. 2010 saw the introduction of the F-150 Raptor, the high performance version of the F-150.
The thirteenth and fourteenth generations have been very solid since the 2018 F-150. They feature the same 3.5 and 5.0 engines, and also have new safety features and largely upgraded tech in the cabins. Though the 2018+ and fourteen generations are still quite new, returns on them have been very positive.
Best of the Best Years For the F150
The ultimate top years for the Ford F-150 are 1993, 1996, 1997–1998, 2009, and 2018+. These years provide the best mix of solid engines, reliability, solid interiors, and good value. While the other years listed are all solid, these years are the real cream of the crop. We can’t guarantee they will be perfect, but you should feel relatively comfortable checking them out.
The ninth generation of F150s still has a surprising number on the road today, a true testament to their reliability. It might sound strange to recommend a truck that is nearly three decades old, but mileage pending them can be very solid buys. A little underpowered and outdated tech-wise, yes, but still reliable and able to do what you need.
The tenth generation was also solid, but after 1998 they were more average trucks than anything. The eleventh generation was complete garbage, so we’ll just skip that entirely for now. The twelfth generation and thirteenth generations have been solid since the release of the 2018 year. Though, the transmissions are prone to some issues.
Ford F150 Years to Avoid
Now for the worst years of the F-150. The worst years of the Ford F150 are the 2004–2007, 2010–2011, 2013, and 2015–2016 F-150s. The 2004–2007 F150s were all part of the eleventh generation of F150s. These are largely considered to be the worst of all the F150 generations. There were lots of issues with the spark plugs in both Triton engines, and more than 16 NHTSA recalls total. Besides spark plugs, many people experienced catastrophic engine failure well before 100,000 miles.
The biggest issue with the Triton is needle bearings in the rocker arms. They become worn down over time, causing the rocker arm to sink, and creating lots of vibration and noise. Eventually, the rocker arms will completely seize and fail, causing lots of damage to the entire valve train. The worst case scenario involves the cam lobe coming into contact with a seized rocker arm. It explodes the valve springs and causes your piston to come into contact with your valve – usually producing catastrophic damage.
Even the windows had issues in the eleventh generation. There were also several airbag problems and recalls, and many people experienced problems with the automatic transmissions.
The twelfth generation also had some issues in the early years from 2010–2011, the biggest ones being with transmission shifting, infotainment system, oil leaks, and spark plugs. Even though the 3.5 EcoBoost and 5.0 Coyote engines became available in 2011, that did not help much at first.
The first two years of the thirteenth generation were also duds. This was largely due to brake issues and more automatic transmission shifting problems. Ford introduced the 10R80 automatic transmission this generation, and it is still being used – and still has problems. Brake issues extended to both fluid and pads, and were very widespread for 2015–2016.
Worst Years for F150
The ultimate worst years for the F150 are 2004, 2010, and 2015–2016. The 2004 F150 is probably the worst F150 ever created, despite somehow winning Motor Trend’s Truck of the Year award. God help if you have the 5.4 or 6.8 Tritons. Not only were the engines prone to problems, but the transmissions were also highly problematic. The 16 recalls from the NHTSA covered everything from airbags to the fuel system/tank. Making the 2004 seem incredibly poorly made.
The 2010 F150 makes the final list because of the transmission, return of spark plug issues, and flawed infotainment system. The infotainment system is notorious for not recognizing smartphones, having issues with the rear view camera, shutting on and off, and just being overall slow to respond. The touch screen also has lots of problems recognizing commands.
The biggest problems with the 2015–2016 F150s are the brakes. Brake failure is unfortunately common these years, with many people complaining the master cylinder needed replacement after just a few thousand miles. Drivers would often get sudden “low brake fluid” warnings out of nowhere, sometimes causing limp mode issues. There were also reports of engine stalling issues. While they weren’t as bad as the 2004 F150, the 2015–2016 models were still pretty unreliable.
Best and Worst Years for Ford F150 Summary
Since its debut, the Ford F-150 has been one of the most popular and reliable trucks available. In particular, the 1993, 1996, 1997–1998, 2009, and 2018+ F150s are the best options you can find. They have great reliability and dependability combined with powerful and reliable power trains. They have adequate interiors that are not prone to issues, and they are overall very solid choices.
Without a doubt, you will want to avoid the 2004, 2010, and 2015–2016 F150s. From engine problems, to spark plug issues, to brake and infotainment failure, Ford didn’t get a lot right these years. Especially 2004, these F150s do not live up to Ford’s reputation at all. While some people have had minimal problems these years, they’re widely regarded as the worst of the worst.
Do you have an F150 on our best or worst years list? Let us know where you think your Ford F-series fits on the list!