Shopping for Trucks With a $5k Budget

Buying a new truck every five years or so is not always financially possible. So, used trucks are an option that many people consider. But what if your budget is more like $5,000? What kind of truck is available at that price point, and what pitfalls can be avoided?

Don’t spend it all

First off, if you are considering purchasing a vehicle with a budget of $5,000, don’t spend the entire budget to purchase the truck. That is the first pitfall to avoid. Instead, hold some of that budget back for repairs. The tight budget dictates that the search will probably be for older, higher-mileage vehicles. These units more than likely will need repairs or updates of some sort. So, holding some of the money in the budget back will allow for taking care of some of those repairs. So consider a budget of $3,500 with a repair/upgrade budget of $1,500. 

Green and lifted 1993 Chevy Pickup
A modified 1993 Chevy Truck | Vlad Media

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What is out there for $3,500?

A budget of $3,500 pretty much means that the truck search will be for vehicles over ten years old, or a newer one with very high mileage, and maybe some minor body panel damage. Don’t expect the paint to be uniform and shiny. If the vehicle is to be used as a beater, the mileage and physical condition of the truck may not be a concern.

Where to find a budget-friendly truck

In addition to dealerships, places like Facebook Marketplace, Craig’s List, Ebay Motors, and street corners in your neighborhood can be good places to look for a truck. Also, check the community newsletters. Regardless of where you find it, always exercise caution. If you are meeting up with a total stranger, always be aware of your surroundings and let somebody know where and when you are going.

Brake inspection
Brake inspection | Andrew Matthews/PA Images via Getty Images

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Pre-purchase inspection

As always, buyer beware. It is always a higher risk to purchase a vehicle sight unseen. So, do the due diligence of checking the vehicle out before purchasing it. This includes having a competent licensed mechanic give it once over before you exchange the cash and title for the truck. Pre-purchase inspections are relatively inexpensive. A thirty dollar pre-purchase inspection can save a lot of heartache down the road. Also, take the opportunity to have a mechanic look at the frame. The last thing that anybody wants is a truck with good mechanicals, but a frame riddled with swiss cheese rust.

A Ford Ranger truck rushes through "The Orange Crush" freeway intersection in Orange, CA,
An older Ford Ranger | David McNew/Newsmakers

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Make a decision

Once the pre-purchase inspection is complete, any concerns with the engine, suspension, brakes, and four-wheel drive system will be highlighted on the mechanic’s report. That is where that held-back repair budget comes in. If the cost to repair the truck is beyond the $1,500 hold-back, then a decision needs to be made to either walk away from that particular truck, or to find further monetary help. 

Remember that it is an older truck. Returning it to pristine condition is probably not necessary. So, paint and body panels corrections may not matter. But, the mechanical aspect and any frame rust is important and should be addressed to make sure the vehicle is safe on the road. A pitfall many have fallen into is finding and buying a shiny vehicle that gives the impression of being fine, only to find that it is full of mechanical or frame issues underneath. 

Then again, if the desire for a truck under $5,000 is to have a project vehicle. Then there really is not a budget limit. Take, for example, the video below. They found an inexpensive truck and quickly spent another $15,000 updating it. That didn’t even include labor. 

Otherwise, if a truck budget of $5,000 is all that the max, don’t throw it all on the purchase. Make sure to have a hold-back amount set aside from repairs. Get the vehicle pre-inspected to find out what those repairs are ahead of time. Finally, make a decision from there if the truck is worth it.