Show me a little kid and I’ll show you a budding truck enthusiast. Pickups have always been cool and always will be. It doesn’t matter if you look at one 1949 Dodge Power Wagon or a 2023 Ford F-150 Lightning; there’s something about a large vehicle with an open bed that sucks us in like flies to a bug zapper, for better or for worse.
Truck sales fell in the US in 2021, and manufacturers still managed move more than 2 million vehicles of new car lots. With that kind of production, you know the used market is going to be full of opportunities to land a great truck – hopefully for a fraction of the original MSRP. Once you get one, you can take advantage of the fast-growing aftermarket support to keep it running, build an off-road monster, or rebuild it into a modern muscle car.
The trick (as always) is finding a good one. Second-hand cars and pickups built in the last 20 years generally enjoy a favorable reputation for reliability, but some are more trouble than they’re worth. Aside from looking out for universal problems like rust, collision damage, and deferred maintenance, you should steer clear of certain vehicles if you want your truck to spend more time on the road than on jack stands in the driveway. Buy wisely and you can enjoy your used truck for decades.
5/5 2016-2022 GMC Canyon Duramax
This choice is controversial but I happen to like the little Duramax. For a moment, GMC seemed to acknowledge it what the rest of the world has known for decades: Small displacement diesel engines in small 4 wheel drive vehicles are a lot of fun. Enjoy diesel clatter and turbo induction sounds from the Canyon’s plush cabin. Take advantage of parking spaces where large trucks have to pass. Choose from trim levels ranging from chic to adventurous. No, it’s not powerful or economical, but neither is the Toyota FJ40 Land Cruiser or the Mazda Miata.
In the used market, gasoline-powered Canyons outnumber diesels by about 10 to one. With only a few hundred pre-owned units available across the country at any given time, this is certainly one of the more niche pickups out there. Expect to pay anywhere from $19,000 to $47,000 for a four-wheel drive, Duramax-equipped Canyon, depending on mileage, trim level, and condition.
4/5 2016-2019Toyota Tacoma
The plucky Toyota Tacoma’s humble V6 and short stature may prevent it from directly competing with the big trucks on this list, but there’s no denying its legendary status. Aside from a few squeaky body panels on 2016 Tacomas, the third-generation pickup is built very solidly. The biggest benefit is aftermarket support, which is fantastic. You can upgrade your Tacoma with everything from lighting and interior accessories to off-road suspension components and roof top tents with products designed specifically for Tacomas of this era.
If you want to dive headlong into the overland craze, this is one of the best trucks for the job without paying extra for the facelift that came in 2020. Prices for 2016-2019 all-wheel-drive Toyota Tacomas start just under $16,000 for a clean, but basic example and go up to $60,000 for a custom off-road beast.
3/5 2006-2007 Chevrolet 2500HD and 3500HD Duramax
The engine that powered the heavy-duty Chevy pickups from 2006 to 2007 may have been short-lived, but diesel fans are still around speak of it with reverence in a low tone. At the time, Dodge and Ford were vying for bragging rights for the most powerful diesel engine. Ford’s Powerstroke V8 produced 570 pound-feet of torque, while Dodge offered a Cummins six-cylinder with 610 pound-feet of torque. The Duramax LBZ that Chevy dropped in 2006 blew both out of the water with 650 pound-feet of torque. It was powerful, reliable and sounded great. So what went wrong? As is tradition for great engines, emissions standards doomed the LBZ and General Motors discontinued production of this truck after the 2007 model year.
Prices for 2500HD and 3500HD pickups equipped with the LBZ range from about $14,000 to $38,000. It is common for odometers to show more than 100,000 miles, with some trucks showing more than 200,000 miles on the odometer. The fact that one of America’s most popular diesel pickups was only built for two years means finding a pickup can be tricky and you may need to know someone who knows someone to get a clean one. It won’t be easy to buy one, but you’ll have a great truck (and a great reputation on the streets) if you manage to pull it off.
2/5 2019-2021 Toyota Tundra
Toyota has one of the best reliability records in the industry, and the Tundras built between 2019 and 2021 represent the manufacturer’s best work. Nearly two decades of manufacturing and refinement have resulted in a pickup that’s powerful and reliable; tough and refined. There may not be as much aftermarket support for customization as there is with a Tacoma, but many people have converted their Tundras into impressive off-road rigs. Toyota announced a move to a twin-turbo V6 for the Tundra from 2022, making the third second-generation facelift the last to offer the 5.7-litre V8. That could help these trucks hold their value (and they’ll certainly make better sounds).
Even though there are other engines available, the 5.7-liter V8 is the one to get. Prices start around $25,000 for a Tundra with more than 100,000 miles. A loaded pickup with very low mileage can fetch $70,000 or more. With thousands of trucks on the used market, there are plenty of options for different budgets.
1/5 2011-2014 Ford SVT Raptor
If you read HotCars, you must have a sweet tooth for performance. Clear, kind of a Ford Raptor must be on this list; there is no place better than the top spot. Instead of the original Raptor or current turbocharged incarnation, buy the mid-years: 2011 to 2014. Here you get more ground clearance than the early model years, four doors, and a raw 6.2-liter V8 under the hood. It’s worth pointing out that the same engine was available as an option in 2010. This is a truck that ticks all the boxes. It’s fast, capable off-road and comfortable enough for a cross-country road (or off-road) trip.
The cheapest SVT Raptor I’ve seen for sale recently had just under 200,000 miles and a $21,000 price tag. There are plenty of options between $25,000 and $30,000, with the most pristine ones demanding upwards of $40,000. It’s really amazing that such an incredible pickup is so attainable. Maybe you should put one in your driveway before more people wake up.