Pickup trucks are getting more expensive with each passing model year. Buyers demand creature comforts and best-in-class capability. That all raises average transaction prices.
While some affordable new trucks are still out there, your budget might not allow for a big spend. If that’s the case, you can still buy a lot of truck for under $20,000. Here’s a list of 10 that you might want to consider.
All pricing information was obtained from NADA’s Black Book and was accurate at the time of publication. All trucks were built using the standard configuration option, but individual options may alter the price.
2013 NISSAN FRONTIER CREW CAB SL 4WD
The current-generation Nissan Frontier has been around since 2004 with only slight updates along the way. Compared with a new truck, the 2013 Frontier SL trim lacks a rearview camera. The rest of the midsize truck is virtually the same. It has navigation and automatic climate control.
Another advantage to purchasing a Frontier is that Nissan has had plenty of time to work out the bugs. The Frontier often sits atop long-term reliability lists, including J.D. Power’s Truck Dependability List.
The crew cab configuration has a 125.9-inch wheelbase and offers seating for five. Legroom in the second row is 33.6 inches. That makes the Frontier a usable city truck, capable of hauling families while still being able to navigate tight corners and fit in smaller garages.
The 4-liter V-6 makes 261 horsepower and 281 pound-ft of torque. It’s capable of towing up to 6,100 pounds. The SL comes with a five-speed automatic transmission. It’s rated at 15 mpg in city driving and 21 mpg on the highway.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gives the 2013 Frontier a Good rating in the moderate overlap test, side-impact test and roof strength test. It hasn’t gone through either of the institute’s small overlap tests.
2013 TOYOTA TACOMA BASE ACCESS CAB 4WD V6
Toyota’s quality reputation is reason enough to include it on the list. But the Tacoma is another truck that hasn’t changed much since this model’s launch, allowing the automaker to fix flaws.
The most significant differences between the 2013 and the 2019 available now are active safety features. But some benefits are gained with the older model in addition to the cost savings.
The 2013 Tacoma receives power from a 4.0-liter V-6 making 235 horsepower and 266 pound-feet of torque. The 2019 model produces more horsepower from its 3.5-liter engine but has 265 pound-feet of torque. In real-world driving situations, the 4.0-liter feels like a better truck engine.
Another plus for the Tacoma is the tremendous resale value. That means you have to go back quite a few model years to get a base model that costs less than $20,000. But if you sell the truck in a few years you won’t lose much on the deal.
If you want a few more standard features, jumping back another year or so can help. But since the aftermarket support is so strong, a Base Access Cab and an aftermarket stereo that supports Apple Car Play and Android Auto would be a great way to drive a modern truck without a modern price.
2013 HONDA RIDGELINE UTILITY 4D SPORT 4WD
The Honda Ridgeline offers midsize truck performance and a carlike drive that can’t be matched by any of the competition. A stout engine and Honda reliability make it a solid choice.
Only one engine is available on Ridgeline. It’s a 3.5-liter V-6 making 250 horsepower and 247 pound-feet of torque. Maximum towing is a stout 5,000 pounds.
The 2013 Ridgeline models received the backup camera as standard, which’ll improve livability inside a city. A 122-inch wheelbase also helps with overall maneuverability.
The cargo bed is made of composite materials. You won’t have to buy a bedliner. And the under-bed storage and swing-out tailgate make the Ridgeline exceptionally practical.
The first-generation truck has a funky look that received mixed reviews. But this truck performs just as well as many modern trucks, and that Honda reliability and auto-like ride will be appreciated by people who use it as a daily driver.
The truck also received the highest ratings in crash worthiness from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety at the time.
2014 FORD F-150 REGULAR CAB XLT 4WD V-8
Most pickup trucks have become family vehicles, offering four doors and tons of creature comforts. Ford’s XLT trim offers many creature comforts without turning the truck into a “Cowboy Cadillac.” It’s why it’s often the volume trim for the brand.
But if you don’t need the extra space, you want a regular cab. The full-size 2014 Ford F-150 XLT in regular cab trim comes in at under the $20,000 with room to spare and is four-wheel drive. The sweet spot for reliability from this year, though, is the engine. Instead of a turbocharged V-6, this truck is powered by the “Coyote” 5.0-liter V-8.
That engine makes 360 horsepower and 380 pound-feet of torque. It’s also easy to work on, if you’re so inclined. In the light regular cab configuration, it’s also no slouch.
This was also the last year before Ford switched to an aluminum body for the truck. If that is something that matters to you, snatching up a 2014 makes the most sense.
2014 FORD F-250 SUPER DUTY SRW 4WD
If you need a solid work truck with more capability than a traditional half-ton, you’ll need to move up to a heavy duty. The Ford F-250, powered by a 6.2-liter gasoline V-8 engine, fits the bill.
The V-8 produces 385 horsepower and 405 pound-feet of torque. The towing capacity is 12,500 pounds, nearly double the F-150 V-8 in our previously recommended Ford.
The V-8 engine also should be reliable, due to the lack of turbocharging and the lack of emissions control equipment that is mandatory on the diesel-powered Super Duty. Four-wheel drive was chosen here, but folks who just tow can skip it to reduce complexity and cost. The six-speed automatic is also tried-and-true.
The government doesn’t crash test heavy-duty trucks, nor does it certify fuel economy numbers.
2014 CHEVROLET SILVERADO 1500 CREW CAB WT 4WD
The 2014 model year brought an updated truck to show rooms. The Work Truck, or WT, trim has the basics. In the Crew Cab configuration, it’s enough space to bring your crew or your family wherever you go.
The full-size Chevrolet Silverado has a 4.3-liter V-6 engine making 285 horsepower and 305 pound-feet of torque. The truck will run on E85 flex fuel and has cylinder deactivation. It’s rated at 17 mpg in city driving and 22 mpg on the highway. That’s competitive with modern pickups.
With the bigger cab, the truck has a longer wheelbase at 143.5 inches. It’s over 230 inches long. So be warned – it might not fit into small city garages.
GM’s 4.3-liter is also another solid engine choice for reliability. NADA only lists one recall, and it’s a simple fix related to the six-speed automatic transmission. Safety is also high, with the truck earning an overall five-star rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Maximum towing is listed at 7,100 pounds.
2012 CHEVROLET SILVERADO 1500 HYBRID CREW CAB 4WD
General Motors attempted to put hybrid powertrains in their biggest vehicles nearly a decade ago. The results were mixed. The fuel economy benefits didn’t make up for the truck’s higher price. But on the used marketplace, the older full-size Chevrolet Silverado hybrid makes more sense.
Powering the crew cab 4-wheel drive hybrid is a 6.0-liter Vortec V-8 engine paired to a two-mode hybrid system. Peak power is 332 horsepower at 5,100 rpm, and peak torque is 367 pound-feet at 4,100 rpm. Maximum towing is set at 5,900 pounds.
The EPA city rating for the truck is 20 mpg, with the highway rating at 23 mpg. A 2019 F-150 with a V-8 is rated at 17 mpg in city driving and 23 mpg on the highway. That’s where the hybridization makes sense.
NHTSA rates the 2012 Chevrolet Silverado at an overall four-star crash safety rating and five stars in the side crash tests.
2013 GMC SIERRA 1500 EXTENDED CAB SLE 4WD
GMC’s lineup of pickup trucks is built on the same assembly line as the Chevrolet Silverado, but GMC tends to target an upscale customer. If you’re looking for a touch more plush but want to stay on budget, consider the full-size 2013 Sierra.
The extended cab offers seating for up to six, but the rear seats aren’t as large as those in a crew cab. It gives you the versatility of hauling passengers but saves a touch in price and overall truck size.
It’s powered by a Vortec 4.8-liter V-8 engine the produces up to 302 horsepower and 305 pound-feet of torque. It doesn’t have cylinder deactivation but will run on E85. The truck will tow up to 5,500 pounds.
Like the Silverado, the Sierra has an overall 4-star rating from NHTSA.
2011 TOYOTA TUNDRA SR5 4WD
To pay less than $20,000, buyers will have to reach back to the 2011 model year for the full-size Tundra. Part of the reason is because the 5.7-liter V-8 is both desirable and reliable. Additionally, we looked for a Tundra that had four doors and not a regular cab. Finally, Toyota’s perceived reliability drives up resale prices.
The 5.7-liter engine makes 381 horsepower and 401 pound-feet of torque. Maximum towing is 9,200 pounds, equivalent to many late-model half-ton pickup trucks.
The rear seat passengers won’t have as much room in the crew cab as they would in Toyota’s mega cab. However, at 34.7 inches, there’s still enough legroom for adults on short journeys.
The 2011 Toyota Tundra also received an overall four-star crash rating from NHTSA.
2011 FORD RANGER SUPERCAB 4D SPORT
2011 was the last year that Ford offered the Ranger until 2019. While only the name links this truck to the current model, picking up a used 2011 with four-wheel drive puts you under the budget and in a truly compact truck.
The 4.0-liter V-6 produces 207 horsepower and 238 pound-feet of torque. With the automatic transmission the truck is rated at 15 mpg in city driving and 20 mpg on the highway. Each of those numbers is 1 mpg better with the manual transmission.
Maximum towing is a bit low at 3,280 pounds. Yet that should be enough to haul a jet ski or snow mobile. The Supercab gives the driver some room behind the front seats, but realistically no human will want to sit there.
While the truck is expected to be reliable – you’ll still see many on the road today – it isn’t the safest option. The NHTSA overall rating is just two stars.
A fun little runabout, the Ranger is a good vehicle for driving to work or parking in a garage.