Top 10 Pickup Trucks For New Grads

Top 10 Pickup Trucks For New Grads

Graduation season is upon us, and whether you’re headed to college or starting a new job in the real world, a pickup truck is an excellent choice to help you schlep your stuff to your next destination. Here’s a look at the Top 10 trucks for new grads.

For recent models, we’ve added Kelley Blue Book pricing for a model in Good condition.

No. 10: 2001 Dodge Dakota R/T ($4,300)

No. 10: 2001 Dodge Dakota R/T

There was a time when the midsize Dodge Dakota was a desirable, modern pickup, not today’s ignored and forgotten hauler. The 2001 Dodge Dakota R/T regular cab backed up its handsome street-truck looks with a 250-hp, 5.9-liter V-8, plus a ride-and-handling-optimized suspension and rolling stock. It was a low-cost alternative to high-performance trucks like the Ford F-150 SVT Lightning.

Lesson Learned: There are lots of spare parts and a fanatical group of followers for this capable midsize truck that can work hard and look good doing it.


No. 9: Volkswagen Caddy Diesel (Price Varies)

No. 9: VW Caddy

If you’re an ecologically sensitive Gen Y-er who wants to stick it to the man and buck conventional wisdom, a 1980-82 VW Caddy with a 1.5-liter or 1.6-liter diesel may be the truck for you. Price and quality will vary greatly depending on the condition of this compact, two-door oil-burner, but it will run on biodiesel or waste vegetable oil from the Chinese restaurant around the corner (properly filtered, of course) and return fuel economy better than 40 mpg.

Lesson Learned: Start contributing to society in a meaningful way, yet still have the room and flexibility to haul your stuff -- and your friends’ stuff -- around.


No. 8: 1987 Chevrolet El Camino (Price Varies)

No. 8: 1987 Chevrolet El Camino

There’s probably never been a better-known car-truck hybrid sold in the U.S. than the famous Chevrolet El Camino, and 1987 was the last model year the two-seat coupe utility was produced. It benefitted from GM’s 4.3-liter V-6 (added in 1985) and a new instrument panel (added in 1986).

Lesson Learned: Cool never goes out of style.


No. 7: 2004 Dodge Ram SRT10 ($22,355)

No. 7: 2004 Dodge Ram SRT10

Why did the folks at Chrysler put a 500-hp, 10-cylinder engine and six-speed manual transmission from a Dodge Viper sports car into a pickup truck? Because they could, and that’s a good enough reason for us.

The 2004 Dodge Ram SRT10 was the most covetable sport truck of its time, with stock performance that almost no truck could touch. It could go from standing still to 60 mph in 5 seconds and turn a quarter-mile in the 14-second bracket. The suspension and big brakes worked together to stop the truck from 60 mph in less than 120 feet. Amazing.

Lesson Learned: The carefree days of school may be gone, but there’s still an opportunity for fun in the real world -- and nothing says fun like a 500-hp pickup.


No. 6: 2001 Ford F-150 SVT Lightning ($13,970)

No. 6: 2001 Ford F-150 SVT Lightning

If you can’t afford the Dodge Ram SRT10, the Ford F-150 SVT Lightning is the next best thing at about half the price. The 380-hp Lightning could do zero to 60 mph in 5.8 seconds and finish the quarter-mile at 100 mph in 13.9 seconds.

Lesson Learned: See No. 7.


No. 5: 2006 Chevrolet Silverado 2500 HD Duramax ($24,065)

No. 5: 2006 Chevrolet Silverado 2500 HD Duramax

If you need a good heavy-duty pickup right out of school, it will probably be a long time before any HD hauler can match the 2006 Chevrolet Silverado 2500 HD and its 360-hp, 650-pounds-feet-of-torque Duramax diesel engine and six-speed Allison transmission. Why? Because this pickup has the last great diesel powertrain. It was produced before 2007 emissions regulations mandated new pollution-fighting hardware be added to heavy-duty pickups, which killed observed fuel economy in these workhorse pickups. In short, there’s no diesel particulate filter in the 2006 Duramax to dump fuel into to incinerate soot before it leaves the tailpipe.

Lesson Learned: Newer isn’t always better, and in this case we’d choose a used 2006 Duramax before any of the current-generation oil-burning pickups.


No. 4: 1996 Ford F-150 SuperCab ($5,165)

No. 4: 1996 Ford F-150 SuperCab

Depending on how you look at it, the 1987-96 Ford F-150 marked either the beginning of the modern pickup or the end of the old-school truck. Multi-port fuel injection and electronic engine controls were just starting to appear -- paving the way for today’s advanced powertrains -- but were still simple enough to work on in your driveway. The 1992-96 model benefitted from an aerodynamic front end, rather than today’s squared-off cornflakes box looks.

Lesson Learned: The 1996 Ford F-150 is cheap, decently safe (it has a driver’s side airbag) and durable, with a wide range of engine choices.


No. 3: 1985 Toyota Truck (Price Varies)

No. 3: 1985 Toyota Truck

The 1984-88 Toyota Truck and its famed 100-ish-hp, 2.4-liter four-cylinder 22R and 22R-E engines gained untarnished reputations for reliability and durability at an inexpensive price. Some might say it’s the best truck Toyota’s ever made. The company still lives off the goodwill the Toyota Truck generated for the brand.

Lesson Learned: Whether you want a low-cost commuter truck, you’re starting up a contracting or landscaping business, or you want to do some hard-core rock crawling, a 1985 Toyota Truck is a terrific pickup to start with. There’s a rich catalog of replacement parts and aftermarket hardware to custom-fit a Toyota Truck to your lifestyle.


No. 2: 2005 Chevrolet Silverado SS ($19,725)

No. 2: 2005 Chevrolet Silverado SS

Bow-tie-brand sport truck enthusiasts were disappointed when the 2003 Chevrolet Silverado SS went on sale with lots of show but not much go. An all-wheel-drive system added cost and complexity to a high-performance pickup that lacked a high-performance engine. Its 345-horsepower, 6.0-liter V-8 didn’t differ at all from the rest of Chevy’s half-ton truck lineup. It was also only available with an extended cab, which added mass, two extra doors and a second row to what should have been a two-passenger hot rod.

The 2005 Silverado SS got some hi-po mojo back when a two-wheel-drive version arrived. It still couldn’t challenge the Dodge Ram SRT10 or Ford SVT Lightning at stoplights, but it cost less than the all-wheel-drive version, added more fun and let you smoke the tires.

Lesson Learned: If you’re looking for a solid half-ton pickup with room for five and a sporty exterior, you could spend time and money building your own, or you could roll in this SS-badged pickup. If you’re a student of history, you’ll also appreciate that it’s likely the last SS Chevy half-ton we’ll ever see.


No. 1: 2009 Ford Ranger FX4 ($24,535)

No. 1: 2009 Ford Ranger FX4

The only new truck we even considered adding to the list was the Ford Ranger FX4 SuperCab. It’s the only true compact pickup left. The 207-hp, 4.0-liter V-6 is reasonably efficient when it comes to getting you back and forth between work and home, while its off-road kit is rugged enough for serious four-wheel-drive fun on the weekends.

Lesson Learned: If there’s a picture of a 2010 Ford F-150 SVT Raptor hanging on the wall of your dorm room, the Ranger FX4 may be the closest you’ll get to it – at least until that second or third raise.


Who in the hell would buy a new grad some of these high dollar/high powered trucks? I wouldn't want my young graduate driving a truck designed to race so that I can watch him stack up speeding tickets or one day get into a serious wreck as he attempts to find the limits of his SRT-10 in front of his friends. He also doesn't need a truck that he can't afford to fuel up regularly.

With the economy where it is today is it very important to purchase bucket trucks that you can count on and won’t let you down. The slightest equipment set back right now could be the difference between in business or bankrupt.

As a college student I can honestly say there are only three trucks here I would consider purchasing: The Volkswagen, Toyota Truck and the Ranger. The rest are either too big to fit my needs (Ram, F-150, Silverado HD) or gas guzzlers (Ram SRT-10, F-150 Lightning, Silverado SS). And I would only purchase the Ranger with the base four (unless Ford finally comes to its senses and puts an Ecoboost V-6 or another fuel-efficient V-6 in the engine bay.)

HD pickups? Racing pickups? For people piling on debt as it is? I think not.

Hey Mike, this top ten list is fantastic. I'm not sure about the El Co though, I think kids would get laughed at if they brought one to their first day of work. You can post this to our site and link back to your site. We are trying to create a directory for top ten lists where people can find your site. The coolest feature is you can let other people vote on the rankings of your list.

WTF - I've posted first comment here and it was positive verified and now it has just vanished!?
@ArmyGuy: high performance cars don't kill - low performance drivers do!

Ford wins another one.

@ARON- Low performance drivers= young drivers (aka new high school grads full of testosterone)

OK, maybe you're right, but nobody make them drive like crazy... But alright, that is also a problem with 'young vitality'.

"The 2004 Dodge Ram SRT10 was the most covetable sport truck of its time"

That was until the 2005 Toyota Tacoma X-Runner came along! While the Ram may be able to put numbers up in a straight line, which I can assure you most people do not drive in straight lines to work with, the Ram was basically a one-dimemsional truck, only good for straight lines.

The X-Runner could put up decent numbers across the spectrum and is better suited and safer on a road course versus the huge Ram. With a lateral grip rating of 0.96 stock, not bad.

@oxi: and what is with the F150 Lightning in comparison with the Tacoma X-Runner?
Notice: the Ram SRT10 (full size truck, as the F150 not a compact like the Tacoma!) was practically a natural born quarter mile killer (big block, lot of HP from displacement & no engine chargers etc.), not a race course racer - it wouldn't just have sense, because those cars were too heavy... There's quite nobody racing these muscle trucks on race course, mostly on drag strips! But beside all these facts the Tacoma X-runner is a really nice street truck...

Cool and interesting article about trucks!

Those SRT 10 Are so Nice, But Not Too practical For a college student, I my opinion.

With Our Current Gas Prices Pick ups are not too convenient for Broke college students

Nice trucks. Thanks for sharing. If you like trucks check out my site sometime.

Ha...I didn't know the el camino was considered a pick up truck. I used to have a Ford Ranger...loved it! Now I drive a mini-van.

Yeah a lot of those trucks are way too big for me. I would only consider a Ford Ranger out of that list. I wish it weren't the last true compact.

First I would pick toyota got to be in the 80's model its cheaper on gas and maintenance and why the hell nissan is not on the list

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