If you’re in the market for solid pickup utility but not looking to break the bank, check out our list of best small trucks that sticker for $5000 or less.
When hunting for the best small trucks under $5,000, it’s worth noting that we are in a uniquely challenging section of the wildly cyclical nature that defines truck-buying in America. For years, the small pickup truck segment was all but abandoned by Detroit’s Big Three automakers.
Dodge stopped making the Dakota in 2011 and never looked back. Ford made the same decision, in the same year, with the Ranger, which took a powder for almost a decade. General Motors is the only one of the three with continuity between their S-10 and Colorado truck that has been in production for a combined 40 years.
This is not surprising as consumer tastes have heavily favored full-size trucks, for a long time, that were far more profitable than their undersized stable mates. Competitors like the Toyota Tacoma have always remained an available, and popular, option if long in the tooth. Then, in a relatively short span, the small truck segment began something of a renaissance.
Ford designated North America worthy of their global Ranger in 2019. Nissan unveiled the first new Frontier in EIGHTEEN YEARS. Hyundai has entered the quasi-pickup segment with their Santa Cruz, and Ford has literally doubled down with one of the best small trucks on sale today – the Maverick. Now, this article is about little pickups you can purchase for less than five grand so all these slick new entrants aren’t being included, except from the perspective of how they have reinvigorated interest in the segment
Which brings us full circle to the original point of being in a uniquely challenging time for buying a small truck on the cheap. Gas is wildly expensive and new trucks are in ultra-short supply making used pickups – with their generally smaller and more fuel-efficient engines – very desirable. Under normal circumstances, this list would also include interesting options like the Jeep Comanche, Volkswagen Pickup, and Dodge Rampage. However, they are just simply not available and if they are, the price tag is far more than $5,000.
Ford’s Ranger nameplate dates to the early 1980s and was in production, across three generations, until 2011. After an 8-year hiatus, the Ranger returned once again. It has always been a popular truck, as evidenced by its spot on this list of Top 10 Pickup Trucks, but when you searching for one around the $5,000 mark, keep your eyes peeled for a third-generation model that was built between 1998 and 2011.
On a related note, check out this article for some good information on what to look for when it comes to buying a used vehicle.
Though visually similar to the second-gen model, the final Ranger iteration – before its long hibernation – came with a host of important upgrades. The frame featured full-length C-channel construction that was fully boxed in front of the firewall. Short/long-arm front suspension architecture replaced the old twin I-beam setup and recirculating-ball steering was swapped out in favor of the rack-and-pinion variety.
It was the first Ranger to offer a pair of rear-hinged doors with the Super Cab model and, like many of the trucks on this list, came with a manual transmission. The standard motor was a four-cylinder ranging from 2.3 to 2.5 liters of displacement but look for the more powerful four-liter V6 that arrived in 2001 making 207 horsepower and 238 torques.
Originally arriving a few years after the Ranger, the third-generation Dodge Dakotas are one of the best small trucks for the simple fact that they offered a hearty V8 power plant, unusual for this segment.
The Dodge Dakota was produced from 2005 to 2011, you can find V8-powered Crew Cab varieties with around 100,000 miles on the clock for $5,000 or less. That Crew Cab setup, featuring four full-size doors – is another aspect of what sets the Dakota apart from the competition. Most of these older small trucks maxed out with some version of an extended cab and rear jump seats.
When the third-generation Dakota arrived, it was 3.7 inches longer and 2.7 inches wider than the truck it replaced. Along with an updated front and rear suspension setup, and rack-and-pinon steering, this is the Dakota to look for. Especially 2007 or newer models that have a facelifted design and available heated seats. The beefy 4.7L V8 mill made 310 hp and 330 lb-ft of torque, enough to tow a significant 7,000 pounds.
All that power makes the Dodge Dakota a contender for this list of Top 10 Farm Trucks.
On a side note, if you really want to leave folks scratching their heads, check out the Mitsubishi Raider. A badge-engineered version of the third-gen Dakota, this rare beast was only made for three years and is not something you’ll come across every day.
Chevy has been making their Colorado small truck since 2004, but back to the opening point of this article, it’s a tough time to be buying used vehicles. Browsing the listings on CarsForSale.com reveals a tight inventory on Colorados from any year, and any zip code, for less than five grand. Open that search up to include the S-10 however, and a more realistic basket of options is presented.
The S-10 was in production for 20 years, so Chevy had time to refine it and help it find a spot on today’s list of best small trucks. Second-generation models, made between 1994 and 2004, are where you want to start thanks to an all-new four-pot replacing the “Iron Duke” of yore, an enhanced 4.3L Vortec V6, and beefed-up suspension.
In 2001, a four-door Crew Cab variant emerged with full power accessories, 15-inch alloy wheels, and air-conditioning. Hard to find, but worth the search are the ZR2 models. Featuring a 4” widened track, modified off-road suspension, and 10-bolt rear differential, these versions deserve an Honorable Mention on this list of Coolest Pickup Trucks.
One of the most in-demand used pickup trucks on the market, to obtain a used Toyota Tacoma for our price point of $5,000 or less you will generally need to accept a higher-milage variant than the other trucks here. However, the Tacoma has a well-earned reputation for bullet-proof Toyota reliability, which is why it – and its larger Tundra brethren – is on this list of the longest-lasting pickup trucks. So, shop with confidence.
The first-generation Tacoma, built from 1995 to 2004, can be found with two different four-cylinder motors or a 3.4L V6. Find yourself a 2.4L four-pot and you’ll be in for a treat at the pump as these models were rated at 26 mpg on the highway when new. Available in regular or extra-cab configuration, these simple but functional small trucks offer a manual transmission and four-wheel-drive along with a fully-boxed ladder frame.