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There was a time when you could buy a reliable used pickup truck for $20k. But in the current market, you’d be hard-pressed to find a low-mileage used car for that little. In fact, the Nissan Frontier is the only make and model of used truck that still changes hands for less than $25k, on average.

The death of the $20k used car

Before the pandemic, 49.3% of used cars were listed at $20k or less. Now just 12.4% are listed at $20k or less. But wait, it gets worse.

Three used vehicles visible in a car lot.
Used car lot | Mario Tama via Getty Images

Not only are used cars commanding a higher resale value, but they have higher mileage. The iSeeCars website revealed that over half of cars between one and five years old have 20% more miles than you could expect to find just three years ago. Why is this? A shortage of new cars forced many drivers to keep old cars for longer and rack up the miles.

How did the analysts come up with this data? They analyzed 10.8 million listings of one-to-five-year-old used cars in 2015 and found the average one advertised for $22,493. By 2019 that number had crept up to a reasonable $23,351. But now, it’s exploded to $34,491.

So what does this mean for used car buyers? If your budgets is $20k, you can only afford 1.6% of the used cars built within the past five years. And while that $15k-$20k used car would have had 37,032 miles in 2019 (on average), it’ll be sitting closer to 60,257 now. If you can find a car under $10k, expect to struggle with a vehicle with 116,158 miles on average.’

Obviously this data set is just for used cars 1-5 years old. If you don’t need the latest features (such as Carplay) you may be a ble to find an older, lower mileage used cars. Make sure to check how old a car your bank will lend money for, before you begin your hunt.

Which used pickup trucks cost the least?

You will struggle to find a used one-to-five-year-old used car for under $20k. A pickup truck will be an even taller order. In fact, most gently used pickup trucks are currently selling for $35k+. It might not surprise you to hear that midsize trucks tend to resell for less than full-size ones.

This Nissan Frontier truck will last a long time
The 2015 Nissan Frontier | Nissan

The only one-to-five-year-old used pickup truck currently reselling for an average of less than $25k is the Nissan Frontier. Yup, the current 2017 Nissan Frontier is changing hands for $21,671 on average. One reason this capable little truck isn’t holding its value is that Nissan just rolled out a visual Nissan Frontier redesign for 2022. But rest assured that Nissan didn’t upgrade the truck mechanically, so a 2017 will keep up just fine.

If you are willing to spend a bit more, you have several options for used trucks that sell for under $30k on average. The midsize trucks we see in this price range are the Honda Ridgeline, GMC Canyon, and Chevrolet Colorado. The Ford Ranger and Toyota Tacoma, on the other hand, are holding more value.

If you would prefer a full-size, you may still be able to get one at this price point. For used half-ton trucks, running less than $30k on average, we have the Ram 1500, Nissan Titan, and Ram 1500 Classic. All the half-tons by Ford, General Motors, and Toyota are commanding higher prices. But in the case of the Ram 1500 Classic, this low price may just be because of how many options you can delete. The Classic is a newly-built fourth-generation Ram with available two-door “regular” cab which is targeted at fleet buyers.

If you see a used half-ton pickup truck for just $20k in 2023, you should take a good long look at it. If the deal seems a bit too good to be true, there’s a good chance you can’t trust it.

How much pickup truck can you get for $20k?

The answer to this depends on your location, how long you can afford to look, and just how lucky you get. Realistically, you can probably have your pick of midsize trucks at this pricepoint. But half-ton and larger trucks will be harder to come by. You’ll have to look long and hard for a four-door, 4WD one with a V8.

2014 and 2015 Ram 1500 trucks have the most Ram EcoDiesel problems
2014 and 2015 Ram 1500 trucks | Scott Olson/Getty Images

To answer this question, I narrowed eBay down to 2012-present pickup trucks that have actually sold for less than $20k. Then I sorted the results from low mileage to high mileage. I found relatively recent entry-level Tacomas reselling for $20k. Other midsize trucks are going for under $15k.

While still looking at low mileage trucks, I found that any Detroit half-tons that met this criteria were retired fleet trucks which the sellers said needed work. Some of these even had rebuilt titles. But you may prefer a truck with a known problem. When you continue looking for a half-ton truck with no known issues, you find yourself in the high mileage (150k+) trucks that are over a decade old. Many of these will soon develop some issue or another and there’s no telling what you will have to address.

If you are happy with a “regular cab” with two doors and a single bench seat, or a base engine and thus low towing capacity, or with a 2WD, there is a good chance you can find a 10-year-old half-ton for under $20k. Another option is buying a truck that has been crashed and repaired and has a “salvage title.” This truck may be in good working order but will have a lower resale value. If you can pay cash, instead of taking out a loan, you may be able to find an older truck with low mileage at this pricepoint. Finally, you can bid on government auction site pickup trucks.

Next, find out ways to stay safe while buying a truck on Craigslist or see specific pickup truck makes and models you may be able to get your hands on for under $25k: