Used car prices are nuts. Used truck prices even nuttier. But, that doesn’t mean you can’t find a great work truck for less than $20,000.
Towing and payload numbers are what define a truck. If you buy a truck you want to know how large a trailer you can safely tow and how much weight you can put in the bed. The towing capacity is usually on the sticker on the door. But make sure you have the right kind of hitch. The payload capacity can be a bit harder to figure out. You need to find the gross vehicle weight, or GVWR, on the sticker and then subtract the curb weight. So, if you have a 5,000-pound truck with a 7,000-pound GVWR, that means the everything (including passengers) can’t weigh more than 7,000 pounds.
A seven to 10-year-old work truck from the mid-2010s is a great buy used because they usually have depreciated quite a bit, yet still have modern technology and aren’t worn out. All of these trucks can be found on the used market for less than $20,000, but as always, prices vary with condition, mileage, options and more.
The Nissan Frontier is smaller, but not less capabile
Towing: 6,500 pounds
Payload: 1,515 pounds
Truck guys will tell you that need a full-sized truck to tow your trailer or haul your stuff. They’re usually wrong. Look at a midsize truck and you’ll be rewarded with better gas mileage with a package that’s easier to park yet does 90% of all the truck stuff you’ll ever need. The Nissan Frontier was never a “modern” truck, its roots go back to the 1980s, but it is sturdy, it can be ordered with four-wheel-drive and a powerful V6. Also, it could be ordered in a variety of cabs that seat two, three, four (in jump seats) or five.
Ford F-150 XL is the standard work truck
Towing: 5,000 to 9,400 pounds
Payload: 994 to 2,732 pounds
The F-150 has been the best-selling vehicle in North America for decades. It’s easy to see why. The F-150 has a variety of engine options, from a fuel-miser V6 to a powerful V8 and can tow a lot. The XL is the work truck version and has a basic interior with a bench seat. Generally, XLs are sold as long beds, which means you can fit up to eight feet of stuff back there. It still does all the truck stuff that you’ll want, but at a bargain price.
Chevrolet 1500 Work Truck because work is in the name
Towing: 4,400 to 6,700 pounds
Payload: 1,494 to 1937 pounds
Chevrolet Silverados from the mid-2010s are still a great value, and you can find a Work Truck example for less than $20,000. Like the F-150 XL, the Work Truck is the basic truck. It still has A/C, a radio, and power windows, though. Like the Ford, many work trucks are eight-foot long beds and can be ordered with a variety of engines. They are known as reliable trucks and for Chevy fans, nothing beats a solid Silverado.
Ram 1500 SLT, more for less?
Towing: 9,200 pounds
Payload: 1,500 to 1,700 pounds
The Ram 1500 ST is, like the Ford and the Chevy, the more utilitarian version of the Ram. But they seem to sell for less than other American trucks, which means for your imaginary $20,000 you can get more goodies, like navigation, seating for up to six, and a slightly-upgraded interior. In 2013, the styling was upgraded but the trucks remained mostly the same until today.
Toyota Tacoma is great if you can find one
Towing: 3,000 to 3,500 pounds
Payload: 1,175 to 1,500 pounds
It’s hard to find a good used Tacoma for less than $20,000, but if you’ll do you’ll be rewarded with one of the great mid-size trucks. It’s nearly as capable as bigger trucks, but easier to park. Also, 10 years ago Toyota sold some Tacomas with a four-cylinder engine that, while not strong, got up to 24 mpg on the highway. For less than $20,000 though, don’t expect to find a TRD or SR5 model. That’s Ok. The basic, two-wheel-drive Tacoma will get the job done.