I'm Trading My Prius For A Cheap Pickup! What Car Should I Buy?

What Car Should You BuyThe experts at Jalopnik answer your car-buying questions.

Alex wrecked his Prius, but he is using this as an opportunity to get what he has always wanted: a pickup truck. The only hangup is that his budget is tight, and we all know finding a good truck for cheap is not easy. What car should he buy?

(Welcome back to What Car Should You Buy? Where we give real people real advice about buying cars. Do you want us to help you find a car? Submit your story on our form.)


Here is the scenario:

My Prius was totaled when I was rear-ended. Always wanted a truck and now I have the opportunity to buy one on a limited budget. I can only spend about $5000. I live in Southern California and it will be my daily driver so it needs to be reliable as can be. Four doors would be ideal because I have a kiddo that will come for a ride, but other than that I’m not too picky.

Quick Facts:

Budget: Up to $5,000

Daily Driver: Yes

Location: SoCal

Wants: Cheap, Reliable, Pickup

Doesn’t want: Anything pink

Expert 1: Tom McParland - Go Cali Vintage


So we are two in a row with readers having bad luck with their current rides. At least this time around you are given some freedom from that boring Prius. Not that the little green machine is a bad car—it just lacks any kind of character.

Now my first instinct was to find you a nice Nissan Frontier. Personally, I’ve had good experience with Nissan pickups and they can often be found with lower miles than the Tacomas than command a serious premium. This 2004 Frontier looks nice with a V6 and four doors, but the condition is listed as “fair” so I’m not sure what the real story is.


But since you have been driving in SoCal with an anonymous hybrid, I think you need something with style and a vintage flair, like this 1991 Toyota pickup. It’s missing some doors, but it has a five-speed manual and it’s always more fun to drive a low powered truck with a stick.

As for reliability: it’s a Toyota pickup. Scoop it up for under $3,500, drive it for a bit, fix it up, then sell it on Bring A Trailer for profit.


Expert 2: Patrick George — This Was Easy 


Alex, as soon as I started reading this, I said to myself “I sure hope this joker lives in Southern California.” And sure enough, you do! You’re in luck, my friend. You’re in the best market in the U.S. for old, used, reliable Japanese pickup trucks. They’re everywhere and they have no rust, because you people are so spoiled with your perfect weather. You should not have a hard time finding a truck for $5,000 that will get the job done.

It’s really hard to beat Tom’s suggestion for an old Toyota truck. They’re famously tough and reliable, but they are creeping up in value. So for the sake of variety I searched for old Nissan Hardbody trucks and found a few nice ones from the ‘80s and ‘90s well within your budget. This 1996 Nissan truck has a manual and just 140,000 miles, and while it isn’t a four-door, it’s got this jump seat in the back for your little guy.


It’s also got a sticker on the back that says “STEVO”, so I recommend you change your name to that so you match the truck.

Expert 3: Raphael Orlove — There Is So Much More


Since you live in SoCal, you really could just walk outside and hand five grand to the nearest minitruck passing in front of you and drive away happy. You are in the holy land of reliable small pickups and have more choice in front of you than just about any other American.

Which is why it’s insane that both of my coworkers suggested Toyotas and Nissans. Come on, guys, that’s not advice. This dude knows that already. We need to expand some horizons here.


It is with this in mind that I will point out the existence of the Isuzu P’up and the Mitsubishi Mighty Max, both good as hell old trucks that for some reason nobody thinks of. They stay cheaper, because of it, too.


I remember bumping into a guy with a Dodge D50 in Portland and telling him how nice his work truck was and he beamed ear to ear and gushed about how nobody knows about these things and all the chumps waste their money on Toyotas.

There’s a huge part of me that wants to say go ahead and buy a C/K Chevy, as they’re also dirt cheap, but it’s hard for me not to say to go Mighty Max.

Tom is a contributing writer for Jalopnik and runs AutomatchConsulting.com. He saves people money and takes the hassle out of buying or leasing a car. (Facebook.com/AutomatchConsulting)

Share This Story

Get our newsletter