Campers, boats, trailers loaded with dirt bikes, you’ve already spent plenty on what you’re towing and now you need to save on the truck. Here’s the best trucks for towing under $20,000.
Campers can be expensive. Snowmobiles ain’t cheap, either. And you probably already know the score with boats. But what about the truck, then? Considering you might have already busted your budget, we thought we’d help out by tracking down affordable trucks capable of towing your new toys.
Of course, this could just be a list of biggest and cheapest things you can find, but we all know the importance of finding the right tool for the job. With that in mind we divided our list into light, full-size, and heavy-duty trucks so the options scale with your needs. Some of you may have a huge camper to tow, other just need to hitch up a small trailer for your landscaping business. We’ve got suggestions that should cover you, whatever size the job.
We’ll start with the smallest and least expensive option. If you’re looking to do some duck or goose hunting and have a waterfowl boat to tug around, a rock-solid reliable Ranger from the mid-aughts is a great choice. A lot of these came with 2.3L I4s but you can also find them with larger 3.0L and 4.0L V6s. The Ranger of this era had a tow rating between 1,600 and 3,200lbs. You’ll find plenty of affordable examples near the $10,000 mark.
Though the first Nissan Frontiers were excellent light pickups in the same vein as the Ranger, the second generation grew in size and has proven to be a hearty hauler in its own right. Frontiers are a lot like Golden Retrievers, known for their unfussy and dependable natures. Like the first gen Frontiers, the 2nd-gens are known for their ruggedness and reliability.
The Frontier has options for either 5 or 6-speed manual transmission, we suggest sticking with one of those, thereby eliminating a classic Nissan weak point (their automatics). The Frontier can tow up to 6,500lbs. with its 4.9L V6.
The second-generation Chevrolet Colorado is another solid mid-size pickup. It’s known for its impressive off-road chops, so if you’ve got a rough trail between you and where you’re heading, the Colorado might be the ticket.
There are options for 2.4L and 2.5L inline-4s as well as two versions of 3.6L V6s. For a little extra scratch, you may want to consider the diesel option, a 2.8L Duramax I4 offering 369lb.-ft. of torque. Max towing for the Colorado topped out at 7,000lbs. It also happened to be Motor Trend’s Truck of the Year for 2016 and 2017.
Trucks in general tend to last a long time, but for extraordinary reliability you can’t go wrong with the Toyota Tundra. The Tundra came with three different engine options, a 4.0L V6, a 4.7L V8, and, most desirable from a towing perspective, the 5.7L V8 making 381hp and 401lb.-ft. of torque. A bonus with the 5.7L V8s, they all came with a tow package that included larger brakes, oil and transmission coolers, an integrated hitch, and a 4.3:1 axle ratio. Max towing of the 5.7L equipped Tundra was 10,400lbs.
There may be more refined, more tech forward trucks of a similar vintage to the first-generation Nissan Titan. But few could match its titanic tow rating at such an affordable price. The single engine offering, a 5.7L V8, made 305hp and 385lb.-ft. of torque, granting a maximum tow rating of up to 9,300lbs.
Avoid being lured to the 2nd-gen Titan XD and it’s optional 5.0L Cummins diesel. While it does offer a huge 12,760lb. towing capacity, reliability issues and a thirst for diesel exhaust fluid make it a less than ideal choice.
Ah, the GM truck twins, the Silverado and Sierra offered quality interiors, a comfortable ride, and plenty of muscle for work and play. While the 5.3L and 6.0L V8s are good, the 2009 high-performance 6.2L V8 is the best of the bunch with 403hp and 417lb.-ft. of torque good for 10,700lbs of towing capacity. Both the GMC and Chevy variants garner high praise for their impeccable reliability.
It wouldn’t be a truck list with out an appearance by the champ-champ, the Ford F-150. The 12th-generation of the F-150 offered a healthy mix of engine options but the two best-suited to towing were the (new in 2011) 3.5L EcoBoost V6 (365hp and 420lb.-ft. of torque) and the 6.2L Boss V8 (411hp and 434lb.-ft. of torque). Both engines grant the F-150 with a tow rating of 11,300lbs.
The RAM 1500 has been a critical darling for over a decade, and it’s easy to see why. High quality and refined interiors are matched with ultra-durable, ultra-capable underpinnings. The Ram 1500 also features one of the best rides you’ll find in any truck, period. That’s thanks to the rear coil springs, which can be further upgraded to an adjustable air suspension. Max towing for the 4th-gen RAM 1500 was 10,450lbs.
Now for the big boys. If you’ve got a couple cars, a Bobcat, or a fully loaded horse trailer that needs getting from one end of the state to the other, the Silverado and Sierra 3500HDs offer everything you’ll need: reliability, a comfy and well-appointed cabin, and truly monstrous towing capabilities. These trucks featured two engines, a 6.0L Vortec V8 or a 6.6L Duramax diesel. The Duramax received an upgrade in 2011, upping its output from 365hp and 660lb.-ft. to 397hp and 765lb.-ft. That equates to a max towing capacity of 21,700lbs.
Our suggestion for F-350s span both the 2nd and 3rd generations. The 2nd-gen F-350s came with two gas engines, a Triton V8 or V10, and a 6.4L PowerStroke turbodiesel V8. The latter gives the F-350 a max towing capacity of 18,800lbs. The 3rd-gen’s 6.7L diesel, dubbed the Ford Scorpion, topped out at a 400hp and 800lb.-ft. of torque capable of towing 21,600lbs. with a fifth-wheel hook-up.
We did indeed save the baddest, bestest towing behemoth you’ll find for under $20,000, and that’s the RAM 3500 Heavy Duty. It’s everything we admire about the RAM 1500 but scaled up for the largest and heaviest of jobs. You’ll want to hold on to your hats and get out the smelling salts before we tell you the tow rating on the RAM 3500, because the 6.7L Cummins diesel and 6-speed automatic makes a dizzying 385hp and 850lb.-ft. of torque. This powertrain combined with the Max Tow package give the RAM 3500 a maximum towing capacity of 30,000lbs. ‘Nuff said.