Yes, our title is Automobile, but some of our staffers haven’t outgrown their childhood Tonka Truck phase. That helps explain why, when Ford called and offered up a brand-new 2013 F-650 rollback tow-truck, we immediately said yes – even before we knew exactly what we were going to do with it.
Let’s start with the truck itself. As the name suggests, the 2013 F-650 is Ford’s offering in the class 6 medium duty truck market. Its cab and cabin are shared with its “lesser” F-250, F-350, F-450, and F-550 siblings – but that’s about it. The frame – shared with some of International’s DuraStar medium-duty trucks – has straight, C-channel rails made of 50,000 PSI steel. Our “low-profile” ProLoader model – which still rode on giant 19.5-inch wheels and towered over most vehicles – boasted a 239-inch wheelbase, a GVWR one pound shy of requiring a commercial driver’s license, an extended cab with XLT interior trim (including Sync!), and a 42-gallon fuel tank. That tank didn’t hold diesel, as this truck was equipped with Ford’s familiar 6.8-liter V-10 engine – one of the few gasoline engines still offered in the medium-duty market. Total price: $59,492 -- and that was before Jerr-Dan’s hydraulic wrecker body and wheel lift are bolted to the frame. That nifty deck adds another $27,000, bringing the total price tag to
In spite of our initial confusion, we soon managed to scrape together a plan on how best to use the F-650 over the span of the weekend. Step one: have the F-650 help shepherd a convoy of Ford Trucks to an off-road gathering. Step two: help sell a 24 Hours of LeMons car.
My friend owns a 1990 Ford Ranger – or at the very least, he owns something that once started as a fairly clean and original 1990 Ford Ranger. Although it retains its original 2.9-liter V-6 and five-speed manual transmission, virtually everything else has been modified to improve its performance off-road. A locked Dana 44 solid axle sits up front, while a limited-slip Ford 8.8” axle lies in back. A suspension and mild body lift helped make way for massive 36-inch TSL tires that stick out from the body for miles.
Those sorts of modifications make his Ranger great at tackling severe off-road terrain, but less so for tackling paved roads – especially interstate highways. When he told me he was meeting a bunch of fellow Ford Ranger enthusiasts for a wheeling trip in southern Michigan, I volunteered the F-650’s services. I drove down Friday night to a suburb of Akron, Ohio – a three-hour trip that battered my internal organs, thanks to the F-650’s harsh ride when unladen.
Loading the Ranger was an absolute breeze. Engage the PTO, slide the deck back, and tilt the deck down until the bumper touches terra firma. Slide the deck again until it reaches the ground, and winch the truck on up before sliding the deck back to its original position. The F-650’s ride improved considerably on the trip up to Michigan, and despite having a lifted Ranger riding on its deck, its handling felt no worse for the wear. I wish I could say the same for the poor Ranger – it went home that evening coated in mud and with a broken front axle shaft. I’m told he can make it stronger – he has the technology.
It’s not easy selling a non-running 24 Hours of LeMons racecar. My team finally decided to give up on our 1987 Volkswagen Quantum Syncro Wagon after we discovered the “ran good when pulled” engine we swapped in only managed 30 PSI of compression in the rear cylinder. Most of the replies to our ad indicated interest, but no way of getting the dead car home. A serious-sounding email came in from a potential buyer in Aurora, IL. He offered the full asking price if I could deliver the QSW. I was about to delete the email at that point, but then I remembered we had an F-650 tow truck for a weekend in the near future. It seemed the stars were aligning for this sale because Evan would be done with the truck a few hours before I needed it. A few days before the scheduled trip I learned my sister’s Oldsmobile Alero needed a new wheel bearing. The part was covered under warranty, but the shop that replaced it last time is in Toledo, Ohio and she lives in Chicago. F-650 to the rescue. She agreed to meet me near where I’d be dropping off the LeMons car. After a few unladen miles between the QSW drop-off and the Alero pick-up, I was thrilled to have some ballast for the long ride home. What’s most amazing to me is how uneventful the whole trip was. The truck was surprisingly comfortable and thoroughly modern (it came with Sync, a USB port, and cruise control). Driving it was actually easier than my 2000 Chevy Silverado 2500 with my 24’ race trailer in tow. The Jerr-Dan rollback bed was incredibly easy to operate and functioned flawlessly. The only thing I’d change about this truck is going with a larger fuel tank. A 151 miles estimated range on a full tank can be annoying.