While the F-150 may be the best-selling pickup in America, it’s not the most capable truck in the Ford family. That honor belongs to the heavy-duty Ford Super Duty pickups, one of which, Ford F-250, also ranks a best-seller. For those still learning the difference, the F-150 is what is known as a half-ton pickup, a designation assigned many years ago to a truck that could carry a payload equivalent to one half of one ton, or around 1,000 pounds. A 3/4-ton pickup like the F-250 could carry 1,500 pounds and a one-ton truck like the F-350 was rated to carry one ton. This formula is now outdated, as even the F-150 has a payload well above the 1,000 pound figure, but the 1/2-ton, 3/4-ton and 1-ton categories remain as a way of classifying pickup trucks. What’s really important to know is a used F-250 will always be able to out-tow, out-haul and outperform an F-150 of the same model year. The F-250 will generally have a more robust suspension and hence a rougher ride, but its cabin and options generally mirror its smaller sibling.
Which Ford F-250 Should I Buy?
Although the F-250 has always been a part of the F-Series lineup, in 1999, Ford created its own line under the brand name Super Duty and placed the F-250 into this category. Unlike previous F-250s that rode on the same platform as the F-150, the Super Duty trucks used a different chassis structure, suspension and engines as well as a larger cab featuring an innovative front door glass design that allowed for better visibility. The 1999 F-250 was designed to take on the heavy-duty Chevrolet Silverado 2500 and Dodge Ram 2500, and Ford made sure of it by establishing class-leading figures in towing, payload and engine output.
Early 2000s F-250s
The first F-250’s standard engine was a Triton 5.4-liter V8 putting out 255 horsepower, with an available 6.8-liter Triton V10 delivering an impressive 310 hp and 425 lb-ft of torque. The Triton engines were unique in that they featured a system designed to prevent overheating in the event of coolant loss. By using only half of its cylinders at reduced speed, the engine could continue to operate for short distances, presumably long enough to reach a mechanic or Ford dealership. In 2005, both engines got a new 3-valve per cylinder head that bumped up hp and torque. Both manual and automatic transmission were offered as well as a 7.3-liter PowerStroke diesel engine good for 235 hp and 500 lb-ft of torque (250 hp/525 lb-ft after 2001). Cab configurations largely matched those of the standard F-150, that being Regular Cab, Super Cab and Crew Cab, although the two trucks shared no visible resemblance or body panels. The F-250 Super Duty rode on a longer wheelbase than the F-150, with a stiffer frame for improved towing and hauling. The F-250’s suspension was more robust but also delivered a much stiffer ride that bordered on harsh at times. Bed lengths ranged from 8 feet on the Regular and Super Cab to 6.6 feet on the Super Cab and Crew Cab.
Changes over the first-generation F-250’s run are modest. In 2003, the F-250 got a new 6.0-liter PowerStroke diesel engine. This 32-valve single turbocharger diesel increased output to 325 hp and 560 lb-ft of torque. Unfortunately, this engine was also plagued with issues that it led to a class action lawsuit against Ford. The 2005 truck got a slight makeover inside and out.
A used 1999-2007 will likely have high mileage and a history of being worked hard, but this generation also has a good reputation for reliability and ruggedness, so as long as a mechanic gives you the thumbs-up, you’ll probably be okay with one of these early model F-250s, especially if you’re just looking for a low-cost work truck. A look at used pricing shows a nicely-equipped 2001 F-250 Lariat Crew Cab diesel with 200,000 miles can sell for between $10,000 and $14,000. A base XL trim with under 100,000 miles and the V10 engine sells in the $5,000-$7,000 range. We’d avoid the 6.0-liter diesel, as it had a number of issues. If you really need diesel power, go with the older 7.3-liter engine in the ’99-’02 trucks.
The second-generation F-250 lasted only two years, running from 2008 until 2010. Though short-lived, this F-250 offered a number of improvements, starting with a new 6.4-liter PowerStroke diesel. Rated at 350 hp and 650 lb-ft of torque, the new engine helped the F-250 trounce the competition in the areas of payload and towing (up to 16,300 lbs). The 2008 F-250 accounted for 50% of all heavy-duty pickup sales, making it the best-selling HD pickup that year. The V8 and V10 Triton engines from the first generation carried over to this series largely unchanged, as did transmission choices. However, fans of shifting their own gears should note this is the last generation F-250 to offer a 6-speed manual transmission.
On this generation, F-250 trim levels increased to offer more luxury and special edition versions. Along with the XL, XLT, FX4 and Lariat, the F-250 could be had in King Ranch, Harley Davidson and Cabela’s Edition. New features like a Panasonic Audiophile system, trailer brake controller and power extendable tow mirrors joined an available fold-down tailgate step and portable bed extender. The SYNC voice-activated infotainment system made its debut in 2009.
Pricing for these years is pretty much on par with the last generation, give or take a few grand. This is a better truck overall, however, with a better diesel and more features and trims from which to choose. Consumer Reports gave the truck high marks, and we haven’t found many owner complaints on a mass scale that would warrant warnings. A look at Autotrader.com classifieds shows prices range from a low of about $8,000 for a F-250 Regular Cab 2WD diesel with 170,000 miles to a high of around $25,000 for a loaded 4X4 V10 King Ranch Crew Cab with 68,000 miles on the clock.
2011 Third Generation F250
The second-longest running F-250 is the third-generation truck that ran from 2011 until 2016. This is the range you’ll want be looking at if you’re shopping for a low-mileage, good condition truck with many of the modern conveniences and safety equipment we’re accustomed to seeing on newer vehicles. The 2011 F-250 ushered in the big bold styling that has come to define today’s modern trucks. The V10 engine was dropped, replaced by a new 6.2-liter V8 touting 385 hp and 405 lb-ft of torque. New features for this generation included an available locking differential and a new 6.7-liter PowerStroke diesel engine initially good for 390 hp and 735 lb-ft or torque. Shortly after launching the new F-250, Chevrolet came out with its new Silverado HD, which made more hp and torque than the F-250. Ford quickly moved to up the ante, pushing the F-250’s diesel engine to 400 hp and 800 lb-ft of torque. In 2015, this same engine was putting out 440 hp and 860 lb-ft of torque.
Buying an F-250 in this generation will provide superior towing ability (up to 24,400 lbs with a fifth wheel) and a 4,300-lb payload. There’s also a lot more technology on this generation, with high-tech cabin features such as navigation, information readouts for towing, fuel economy and other critical information, plus integrated apps via the MyFord Touch infotainment system. Ford’s Work Solutions package added helpful on-the-job data for tracking tools and keeping track of workers’ whereabouts, while optional equipment included a rear backup camera, additional accessory switches for add-on equipment, a transmission power take-off and a factory-installed bed mount for a gooseneck or fifth wheel setup. This generation also saw a vast improvement in ride quality, interior cabin quietness and fuel economy, but the steering remained vague and laborious, falling far short of the feel provided by rivals Chevy and Ram. Interior comfort, on the other hand, saw a marked improvement, with wide front seats, tons of storage for big items like laptops and briefcases and near-Lincoln levels of luxury on the upper King Ranch trim that offered heated and cooling front seats covered in Chaparral leather.
The F-250 holds its value well, and these models still sell for big money, even with higher mileage. At the low end, we found a few 2011 XLT 4×4 Crew Cabs with less than 150,000 miles selling in the low $20,000 range, while a loaded 2016 F-250 King Ranch 4X4 diesel with 55,000 miles hovers in the $38-44,000 range.
2017 and Newer Ford F250
The fourth-generation F-250 arrived in 2017 and remains the basis for the 2020 model. This F-250 saw major design changes, including an all-new steel chassis and military grade aluminum body panels. The cab was now shared with the F-150, giving the F-250 a more refined feel. Engines and transmission carried over from the previous generation, and new high-tech systems included adaptive cruise control, a bed-mounted camera to assist when hooking up a fifth wheel, forward-collision warning, a trailer assist back-up system and blind spot monitoring. An upgraded SYNC 3 infotainment system could support Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration, and there were more luxury features offered by the Platinum and Limited trims. The F-250’s overall ride and driving characteristics feel about the same as the previous generation, but towing and payload again increased, with a max trailer rating of 15,000 lbs using a standard hitch with the gasoline V8 and 18,000 lbs with the diesel. Max towing increased to 21,000 lbs in 2017, with a max fifth wheel rating of 34,000 lbs in 2018.
Pricing for these models isn’t all that far from what a new truck costs. The range starts in the high $20K range and run right up to $60,000 for the top line loaded models with low mileage.
What is the difference between a conventional hitch and a fifth wheel when towing?
A conventional hitch is mounted to the truck’s frame and attaches behind the rear bumper. When companies list tow ratings, they are usually referring to the amount of weight a truck can pull using a conventional hitch. A fifth wheel or gooseneck-type hitch mounts in the truck’s bed just forward of the rear axle. This position allows a much higher tow rating and is generally the favored anchoring position when towing large trailers.
Does the F-250 offer a dual rear wheel axle?
Although the F-250 is considered a heavy-duty pickup, it does not offer the option of what is known as a dually rear wheel setup. Having two rear wheels on each side of the rear axle is helpful for towing extremely heavy loads but is reserved for the 1-ton F-350 and higher pickup trucks.
What kind of fuel economy does the diesel get?
There are a few advantages to owning a diesel engine. Fewer parts, greater durability and class-leading low-end torque are the main ones, but improved fuel economy is also a plus. While a diesel F-250 isn’t going to be getting mileage in the high 30s, compared to its gasoline equivalent, owners can expect a significant improvement, especially on the highway. Although the Environmental Protection Agency doesn’t require testing of heavy-duty trucks, owners of older 6.7-liter and 6.4-liter diesels report mileage in the low teens around town and 15-17 miles per gallon on the highway.
What Are Some Known Issues with the Ford F-250?
In the first-generation truck, the 6.0-liter diesel engine was notoriously unreliable, with issues relating to the EGR cooler that leaked coolant, failed water pumps and fuel injector failures. The 7.3-liter proved more reliable but does have issues with the cam sensors going bad. The 2003-2006 gasoline V8 had issues with spark plugs blowing out from their seats. The 6.7-liter diesel had some early issues with the turbocharger and emissions systems. Early years of the third-generation truck have notable suspension issues that can lead to problems with steering and control. The early SYNC and MyFord Touch infotainment systems have a reputation for being finicky, sometimes needing to be rebooted, other times not being able to pair with phones or understanding voice commands. There are also a number of recalls covering the span of the F-250 series, so be sure to check the NHTSA.gov site for recalls pertaining to the year you may be looking to buy. A dealer can check your vehicle’s VIN and confirm if the repairs were done.
How Does the Ford F-250 Stack Up to the Competition?
Used Ford F-250 vs. Used Chevrolet Silverado 2500 HD
Over the various generations, the F-250 usually bests the Silverado HD in the areas of towing and payload, but the Silverado has a better repair history, especially around its diesel and gasoline engines. The Silverado HD isn’t as fancy as the upper-level F-250 trucks, but its ride and handling are a step above the Ford.
Used Ford F-250 vs Used Ram 2500
Depending on the year, the Ram’s resale and reliability ratings fall short of the F-250s. The Cummins diesel in the older Ram HD is really noisy but also pretty reliable and is a towing beast. Newer Ram models rival and even best the F-250 for interior design, comfort and features as well as ride and handling.
Used Ford F-250 vs. Nissan Titan XD
The Titan XD has only been around for a few years and it’s what we call a “tweener” truck because it’s more robust than a half-ton model but not quite fully a 3/4-ton like the F-250. The F-250 out-muscles, out-tows and out-hauls the Titan, especially when comparing diesel engines. The Titan has a good reputation for reliability, with 2017 and newer Titan XD models having a longer standard warranty than the F-250. However, in just about every other category that matters to truck buyers, the F-250 is superior.
Is the Ford F-250 a Good Vehicle?
Ford loyalists will swear by the F-250, but you’ll find the newer models have a larger number of fans than the second and third generations. The first-gen F-250s with the 7.3-liter diesel are loud and slow, but they are workhorses that don’t suffer the issues that seem to plague the later model diesels. Other areas of concern include weak air conditioning systems, soft brake pedal feel, corrosion issues on some early aluminum hood and fenders and power window regulator failures. RepairPal.com and Consumer Reports give the F-250 low scores in the areas of reliability and cost of ownership, but we see those numbers completely flip from other consumer groups as well as owner surveys once you get past the 2010 models. While Ram and Chevy owners will argue their trucks are better, there is no denying the pulling power and toughness of the F-250 lineup. Just do your homework when buying an early model truck and be sure to have a knowledgeable mechanic give it a good once-over.