I like the 2001, but with a 4X4 you're adding additional weight onto the truck, which means the gas mileage will suffer. You might get 15 mpg with a 4X4, but unless you really and truly need that option, there's no reason to pay for the extra weight.
I had the choice of a 2009 F150 for $17,000 with 63,000 miles and a 4X4, or a 2008 F150 for $15,000 with 32,000 miles and a 4X2. Both were Triton V8 4.6L engines. I took the second option, because living here in southern VA I don't really need a 4X4.
As far as that 1997 getting 21 mpg in the city and 27 mpg on the highway? Very iffy. If you think those claims might be bogus, you can check the Ford Truck forums for answers.
Don't just look at the price tags, look at the engine/liter sizes and mileage. You also have to remember that if you're buying from an individual and not a business, you have no recourse if the vehicle has damage and the previous owner didn't tell you about it. Body damage can be fixed, but structural damage such as a bent frame will play hell on your tires and gas mileage.
Also, depending on the size of the trailer you plan to haul, a 4.6L may not be big enough. Not all V8s are equal, and if you have a big trailer you'll need a bigger liter size.
Good point about 4x4! I was always told it's better to haul a horse trailer with a 4x4, but there are only a few instances I could think of in my area where it would be helpful (during the muddy seasons). We normally do have a good amount of snow in the winter, 4x4's are better to have in the snow right? (My job has no snow days, I had to drive to work in a snowstorm Saturday, even though 90% of everyone who was on the roads was/got stuck)
I plan on having a mechanic look over the car before I would buy it if from an owner (like a vet check
) but I assume there are things he could miss, and it could still be risky.
What would you be looking for engine wise if you were just looking to haul a 2 horse trailer? I think all together (trailer, horses, tack) is about 5,000 lbs. Last season my friend hauled the trailer (with two horses) in an SUV which could roughly pull 6,000 (can't remember engine specifics). I know SUV's aren't the best option, but I'm hoping it won't be too much on a 4.6 L. I guess I'll have to look up the specifics, but how much do you think a 4.6 L could pull? I know someone with a four horse trailer (bumper pull, stock) that I might like to borrow every once and a while (most likely with only 3 horses)