The best diesel trucks handle big jobs with big torque and coddle you in a comfortable cabin. We’re choosing some of the best diesel trucks under $30,000.
When you’re searching for a pickup, things like your budget, amount of power, what you’re hauling, and your lifestyle will be a few key considerations. Another decision will be choosing a gasoline or diesel-powered engine. By choosing a diesel pickup, you’re looking for a pickup with plenty of torque that can pull a lot of weight, even under excessive stress, and not even act like it’s working hard. But, when new, diesel trucks can also come with a big hit to your bank account.
If you’re patient and let others take the hit on depreciation, you’ll be gifted a more reasonable purchase price without losing any of the power you’re looking for. For a $30,000 budget, you’ll be shopping for a 2016 or earlier diesel pickup with between 100,000 and 200,000 miles on it. We’ve chosen some heavy-duty workhorses from Dodge, Chevy, Ford, GMC, and Nissan for our top ten diesel trucks that we think you should take a look at on the used market.
Take a drive down any rural road in America, and you may see two things: old but well-used John Deere tractors that seem as if they’ll never stop running and early 90’s Dodge Cummins trucks working alongside them on the farm. The 90’s Dodge trucks have a refreshing and purposeful look about them with their square strong shoulders and creased edges. What they also have is something you can’t see, the indestructible 12-valve Cummins engine.
With its 3,000 RPM redline, this turbocharged six-cylinder engine has achieved cult status and is still very much sought-after for its reliability, mechanical simplicity, and efficiency. This iron block is essentially an engine that would normally be at home on a Freightliner chassis. You know it’s going to give you some long and productive miles. If you can do without a few of today’s luxury upgrades and want to put an indestructible cult classic to work, then you won’t feel disappointed with this top 10 diesel truck.
Many will tell you that the 1999 235hp and 500 lb-ft 7.3L PowerStroke Diesel engine is the most reliable of the PowerStroke line. It’s possible that the absence of the latest engine emissions controls helped the reliability, but low engine speeds, iron blocks, and lower horsepower give any diesel a long life. The 1999 Ford F-250s and F-350s with the 4×2 7.3L diesel engine can tow over 10,000 pounds. So, with oil changes and basic maintenance, you won’t have to worry about this diesel truck handling hard work at any mileage for years ahead.
An early 2000’s Dodge Ram HD is a tool used for working and hauling. As long as you’re game, it isn’t afraid of getting down and dirty. It’s an honest to God mule of a truck that wasn’t built to be a WiFi hub, entertainment device, or hold regard for any luxury other than the luxury of pulling and hauling most anything you give it.
With 460 lb-ft of torque and its box frame, the Dodge Ram can easily pull up to 12,000 pounds. It will feel right at home pulling a travel trailer, horse trailer, or a bed full of weekend toys. And for all this talk about power, it is still a comfortable ride when transporting family members for long periods of time. You’ll be happily driving this power tool for years to come.
Questions on the longevity of a used truck engine are common. For instance, if you ask a Chevy owner “How many miles can a DuraMax engine last for?” You’ll get answers like “a properly maintained 6.6l Duramax can reach 350,000 miles easy” and “some have been known to reach over 400,000!”
Power isn’t all you want in a truck, and the GM brothers are ready to provide a quiet and comfortable ride in a proper GM truck with a good-looking grille. It looks like and works as a truck should. In similar ways as the Dodge Cummins, the 2007 GM truck gathers cult status and can command a premium price. However, buying one of the GM offerings is worth it and stand as a reminder that diesel trucks have a long life. So, for the money, a used Chevrolet Silverado or a GMC Sierra diesel pickup is well worth it.
The new 6.7L PowerStroke heart of the Ford was introduced in 2011, and Ford owners rejoiced. Although Ford had some nasty valve train problems in a few of the 2011s, they worked everything out for 2012 and beyond. This updated 400hp and 800 lb-ft of torque 6.7L PowerStroke engine with its bulletproof 6R140 TorqShift transmission were a huge improvement over the past Navistar setups.
Ford never forgot that you enjoyed driving with a quiet cabin and made it one of the more comfortable ones to haul stuff around in. Like the other pickups on the list, there are more than a few trims to choose from if you want to up your share of luxury. Whatever trim you choose, just make sure you save yourself some trouble and get one that’s 2012 and newer.
The Cummins 6.7L I6 turbodiesel has a well-deserved reputation for being bulletproof. The Dodge Ram 2500HD Cummins is rated at 350hp at 3000 rpm and 650 lb-ft of torque at 1500 rpm while mated to an optional automatic or the 6-speed manual. While the other truck manufacturers were struggling to make their diesels meet the coming year’s emissions demands, Ram was already into the third year of a Cummins diesel that met those emission requirements.
This year for Dodge also saw the introduction of a crew cab and mega cab with four full-sized doors. More space and more luxurious appointments came along with their trucks if you can find the properly optioned models. Unlike a few of the trucks on this list, the 2010 Dodge Ram 2500HD comes standard with an exhaust brake to assist in slowing you down when there’s a heavy load. Sure, it will create more brake wear, but the big benefit is that semi-truck tailpipe sound when you use it. This Dodge Ram is a comfortable, powerful, and reliable choice for miles and miles of towing.
If you need a truck to handle a lot of work and haul massive amounts of weight behind it, you can find lots of choices. If you want a reasonably priced pre-owned HD pickup with an interior that’s made of high-quality materials and has a very comfortable ride, then you may want to choose the 2012 Chevrolet Silverado 2500HD.
With the Duramax 6.6-liter turbodiesel V-8, you get 397hp, 765 lb-ft of torque, and the rock-solid 6-speed Allison transmission. Like some other pickups on this list, the 2500 will meet most of your needs, but Chevrolet has more strength available on the pre-owned market if you need it. The Chevrolet Silverado 3500HD comes at a higher price, but can handle up to 35,500 pounds if you need it to.
If you ask Sierra owners, they would tell you that the 2013 Sierra 2500HD equipped with a Duramax diesel engine is the best year to buy. Plus, it’s pretty easy to find a Duramax GMC Sierra with the special high-payload Performance trim. Not only can it carry up to 4,212 pounds, but it can also tow up to 13,000 pounds with its standard ball hitch. And with a proper fifth-wheel hitch, you can move 17,800 pounds down the road with no problems.
Its sturdy frame and suspension can handle higher loads and, at the same time, smooth out the ride on rough roads. You’ll get a decent ride and a quiet place to carry on business in this GMC Sierra. Since it’s a 2014 model, it comes with everything from OnStar to trailer sway control. It’s relatively easy to locate a crew cab 4WD with close to 100,000 miles, so you won’t have trouble finding one to fit your needs. With a little searching, finding a luxuriously appointed Denali model is still possible in this price range too.
The Nissan Titan XD with its 5.0L Cummins turbodiesel V8, although not the most powerful engine in this group, will still do its share of work. It has 310hp and 555 lb-ft of torque with an upgraded frame to handle the extra pull and weight. Just be aware that a payload max of 2003 lbs. and a towing max of 12,037 lbs. puts it a bit down the work scale compared to its competition.
The Nissan does offer a very comfortable interior to hang around in on work breaks. The Nissan Titan can be found for a bargain well within $30k budget, even a performance Pro-4X trim with 100,000 miles can be found in this price range. One quick note, make sure you locate one that has its EGR-related issues solved while shopping.
Leaving the best for last with the 2016 RAM 2500. Let’s be clear here, you can easily go back to 2009 or earlier for a powerful and reliable RAM 2500. However, the newer 2016 RAM 2500 has modern technology like USB ports and a standard six-speaker stereo system. Plus, at the time it was introduced, the RAM 2500 had the highest tow ratings among one-ton pickups.
RAM’s 6.7L Cummins turbodiesel came in three flavors for 2016: 350hp and 660 lb-ft of torque with a 6-speed manual, 370hp and 800 lb-ft of torque with a 6-speed automatic, and 385hp with 865 lb-ft of torque with a 6-speed automatic on the MaxTow package. Any of these options will give you the power and towing capability that you’re looking for.
While you’re towing, the ride in the RAM 2500 is nice, but with an unladen bed you’ll find the same ride quality as other pickups on this list. RAM HDs are an excellent choice for anyone in need of pulling travel trailers, multi-car trailers, large boats, or a herd of cattle. If you have hauling and construction work, you can’t lose when you choose a RAM.