3 Reliable Small Used Pickup Trucks to Hunt for and 2 to Avoid

Small pickup trucks are often overlooked as examples of dependable and tried-and-true workhorses. Their purpose isn’t towing large trailers or hauling heavy loads but reliable and functional transportation. While the revered Toyota Tacoma has grown a dedicated following, many more examples of four-wheeled practicality are offered.

Out of 46 small used pickup trucks tested by U.S. News, here are three to pursue and two to pass on. 

2009 Nissan Frontier is a reliable small used pickup truck

Utilitarian, yet refined, the go-to small pickup truck impressed reviewers at its debut and continues to enjoy widespread fanfare. The Frontier’s compactness makes it an excellent choice for an agile urban hauler, but it still boasts off-road capability. The more popular and powerful 4.0-liter V6 is available with an automatic or manual transmission and rear-wheel drive (RWD) or four-wheel drive (4WD). Moreover, the small pickup has a 6,500-lb towing capacity when appropriately equipped.

The Nissan Frontier is available in extended and crew cab configurations, seating four and five, respectively. The extended cab’s rear child-sized jump seats and the crew cab’s modest rear bench leave passengers wanting more. However, the cabin’s front does offer comfort in the straightforward yet spartan interior.

2010 Honda Ridgeline

The Ridgeline’s unibody design allows for sedan-like ride comfort. Its 3.5-liter V6 has enough power to serve well in most situations, and AWD and automatic transmission are standard. Although it has a lower maximum towing capacity than others in the segment—5,000 pounds—its nifty in-bed trunk makes up for it.

As a crew cab-only configuration, the five-seater offers passengers ample room in the front and back seats. Some reviewers weren’t happy with the excessive use of plastic in the cabin, but that’s par for the course in the segment. Luckily, higher-priced trim models do offer a suite of creature comforts. Features like leather upholstery, heated front seats, a power sunroof, and Bluetooth capabilities can be had in the top-spec RTL.

2012 Honda Ridgeline

Not much changed in two years with the Ridgeline, apart from minor exterior upgrades and the “Sport” trim level addition. Honda says the same engine was refined to produce 250 hp and 247 lb-ft of torque, up from 212 hp in the 2010 model. Nevertheless, the maximum towing capacity remains identical.

Reviewers lauded the Ridgeline’s functional tailgate that not only folds down but swings out. Another enjoyable feature is the 8.5 cu-ft cargo hold in the lockable in-bed trunk. While the small pickup isn’t the first choice for off-road enthusiasts, it works excellently as a daily driver.

2017 Chevrolet Colorado

The midsize sibling to the larger Silverado took fourth place in the U.S. News 2017 Best Compact Truck for the Money award. It provided a comfortable and quieter-than-expected ride with a 7,700-pound maximum towing rating when equipped with the Duramax 2.8L turbo-diesel engine. However, five years removed from stardom, it’s relatively low on the list for reliable used small pickup trucks.

Consumer Reports claims the 2017 Colorado has a very low predicted reliability and fuel efficiency, leaving much to be desired. Throw in the lower crash safety ratings than its rivals, and it may not be a great used pick. The fussy Duramax engine also went out of production this year, so replacement parts will be hard to come by.

2014 Nissan Frontier

A white and red 2014 Nissan Frontier, reliable small used pickup trucks.
2014 Nissan Frontier | Getty Images

Although the 2009 model Frontier impresses on the used market, that isn’t the case with newer versions. Essentially unchanged since its 2005 redesign, the D40 generation is a loveable medium-sized workhorse, but by 2014, it showed its age. Like all Frontiers, drivers are provided with impressive off-road ability, but it sacrifices in other areas.

Rear seating is dreadful for average-sized adults in the extended cab model and only slightly better in the crew cab configuration. Consumer Reports was also unimpressed with the Frontier’s rough on-road ride.

2016 Nissan Frontier

If a dead horse needs to be kicked, the 2016 Nissan Frontier is here in support. Yet, its maximum payload capacity of 1,400 pounds will probably come in use, but it’s the lowest in the segment.

The Frontier’s interior materials are far too low-rent compared to its rivals. U.S. News says one can spend as much as $28,000 on a used example. Unfortunately, the Frontier doesn’t have the quality to justify the price.

Which reliable small used pickup truck should you buy?

It’s clear that the small, Japanese-made pickups have a leg up over the competition. While the Honda Ridgeline may not be the boldest off-road adventure machine, it’s likely to make any commuter happy.

Nissan’s Frontier has been a favorite in the segment since its D21 Hardbody predecessor arrived in the U.S. While most will be an excellent pick as a used pickup, the older one will give shoppers the best bang for their buck.

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