Long gone are the days when the humble truck was reserved for the farm or construction site.
Today, trucks are family vehicle as well as high-performance machines. Since the early 90s there have been a subset of trucks offering outrageous performance.
I remember in 1991 when the turbocharged V6 GMC Syclone beat a Ferrari 348t in a drag race.
Such a feat paved way for muscle trucks like the Ford Raptor and RAM Rebel TRX.
But for a fraction of the cost, you can create your own tire shredding machine. Below is a list of some of the best trucks to customize.
They’re based on the latest models you can find with a budget of $15,000.
1. 2018 Chevrolet Silverado 1500
Introduced in 2014, the third generation Chevy Silverado isn’t as innovative as a similar Ford or RAM truck.
Instead, GM doubled down on the fundamentals to deliver a truck that’s big, tough and assertive.
The 2018 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 features blockier styling cues than the outgoing model.
This was the first Silverado to replace the rear-hinged back doors with what you see now.
The addition of a B-pillar also works to improve body rigidity which should add some stiffness to any way you decide to customize yours.
This generation also comes with plenty of powerful engine options that provide a solid base for any customizations you would like to do to the engine.
2. 2019 Chevrolet Colorado
This all-new midsized truck was introduced in 2015. It makes a great base for a street missile or boulder crawler.
The bow tie had its cross hairs trained on the Toyota Tacoma during the development of this generation Colorado.
The result is an interior ride that’s quieter and more refined than the Tacoma.
The fully boxed frame is a downsized design that comes from the Silverado. The 3.6-liter V6 pulls strong but there’s plenty of room for upgrades.
To get a manual transmission means downgrading to the four cylinder though.
3. 2004 Chevrolet S-10
The second-generation Chevrolet S-10 started life back in 1994.
Chevy even worked to unlock the street performance potential of this generation when the company offered the Xtreme package in the same spirit of the GMC Syclone.
Available from 1999 to 2004, Chevrolet included what the company was sure would appeal to young buyers including an aggressive body kit, 16-inch wheels and a lowered ride height.
But this is just one potential of the truck.
You could turn it into a capable off-roader like the ZR2 S10 which came with Bilstein shocks, a widened track and 8.5 inches of ground clearance.
4. 2011 Dodge Dakota
Sadly, Dodge ended the production of the Dakota due to waning demand for compact trucks.
But RAM is planning a return of the midsize pickup. Although a $15,000 budget can get you a 2011 Dakota.
For my money I would go with the second gens from 1997 to 2004.
Aesthetically, they have a better looking, more slippery design than the squared off models that were introduced in 2005.
But you can get these with a V8 as well as the V6. The first-generation Dakota even offered a soft top version in 1989 just to give you some customization ideas.
5. 2008 Dodge RAM 1500
Believe it or not, Dodge actually ended production of the RAM truck in 2008. Since then, RAM has separated into its own division.
The split happened so that both Dodge and RAM can focus on what they do best: Make awesome vehicles for us to enjoy.
With so many years of Dodge RAM trucks to choose from dating all the way back to 1981.
There’s a lot of potential for what you can turn these trucks into with loads of aftermarket parts.
My choice would either be a single cab 1995 Dodge RAM 1500 or a 2005 quad cab.
6. 2018 Ford F-150
There’s a reason why the Ford F-150 is the bestselling family vehicle in America and the 2018 model year gives us some insight.
You get a choice of advanced engines and excellent road manners. To help with daily driving tasks there’s a slew of high-tech driver assistance features to choose from.
But the diamond of the F-150s from this generation is the lively twin turbo 3.5-liter V6. If you’ve seen what it’s done for the F-150 Raptor, think about its potential for your build.
There’s a huge aftermarket to help you modify your F-150 in your own way.
7. 2011 Ford Ranger
If you want a more playful downsized version of the F-150. The Ford Ranger is a fun little pickup with lots of customizing options.
Amidst the hoopla of the resurgence of the small truck category in the U.S. It’s easy to forget what a big deal the Ford Ranger was in the 90s.
This third generation was introduced all the way back in 1998.
With a redesigned chassis still based on the Ford Explorer it offers responsive handling; impressive off road suspension performance; and a comfortable ride off the trails.
Later models starting from 2001 came with the new edge styling which featured sharper corners than the previous Rangers.
8. 2016 GMC Sierra 1500
Even without any modifications the GMC Sierra 1500 is a handsome truck.
Built to be a more luxurious version of the Silverado, this is the GM truck you choose if the customizations you want to make are of the luxurious flavor.
Other than that, the Sierra has always shared engines, transmissions, chassis and most of its sheet metal with the Silverado.
But the grille, front bumper, fenders and aluminum hood are all Sierra. Although interior environments look similar, the Sierra has a decidedly more upscale feel.
The 2016 Sierra 1500 is a full-size luxury offering with so much going for it that it only requires some subtle customization enhancements to make it your own.
9. 2014 Honda Ridgeline
This is the second facelifted model of the first-generation Ridgeline. The owners that love this unique truck from Honda really love it.
Although Honda has produced this truck since 2004, it’s one that’s still hard for me to wrap my head around.
But its virtues are unquestionable.
Some of the Ridgeline’s more unique aspects in its classification as a truck is a unibody construction, independent suspension, and flying buttress C-pillars which truly distinguish it from any other truck.
However you choose to customize your Ridgeline. You still get that world-famous Honda reliability.
10. 2008 Mazda B-Series
Sharing its underpinnings with the Ford Ranger, the Mazda B-Series has been around since 1961.
Regrettably, this fifth generation is the final B-Series Mazda produced for the U.S. market.
Handling is equally as responsive as the Ranger and the 3.0-liter V6 is just as adequately powerful with good off roading abilities.
At one of the middle schools I attended in Texas, the B-Series was a popular vehicle among the high schoolers whom we spied on from across the street.
Which reflects not only the B-Series’ low cost of ownership. But customization options that are as varied as the Ford Ranger.
11. 2019 Nissan Frontier
Nissan has decades of experience in the compact truck segment stretching back to the days of the Datsun 13 in 1934.
The Nissan Frontier exploded onto the automotive scene in 1999 as one of the first compact pickups with four real forward-hinged doors.
Today, it stands tall as a fantastic platform for customization with a carlike ride. It uses the same ladder frame as the truck it replaces.
It comes with a 3.3-liter SOHC V6 that provides decent acceleration. But you can always put the wrench to it to give it more power.
It has a short turning radius which is a result of its tidy dimension making it an impressive candidate for either street tuning or off roading customizations.
12. 1997 Nissan Hardbody
The Nissan Hardbody was such a great platform for a street custom build in the 90s.
They were the first modern street machines I ever saw which led to my love for import tuning.
This was the other popular truck besides the Mazda B-Series those high schoolers across from my middle school drove.
When I was thirteen, our neighbors which were college kids sometimes dropped me off at school in their Vivid Teal Pearl Hardbody.
And in high school my best friend’s brother owned one in the same color. These were great canvases for customization.
The rounded corners and bulging fenders are tastefully executed.
These trucks are powered by a 2.4-liter four-cylinder mated to either an automatic or five speed transmission.
You can turn them into slammed street trucks or capable off roaders.
What makes these trucks still so beautiful to me today is how simple they are in design and engineering.
13. 2018 Nissan Titan
What’s this? A full-size truck from Nissan? My brother-in-law owned a white one.
The Titan ranks up high with other trucks in this segment when it comes to doing big truck things like hauling and towing.
Arguably Toyota paved the way with the T100 for Nissan to take a less tentative approach to building a capable full-size truck.
It already makes all the right V8 noises you would expect from a big truck.
But as a truck to buy and use right from factory, it’s not as compelling as the competition.
Which I think makes it perfect for adding any customization details you can dream up.
14. 2019 RAM 1500
We’re treating the RAM 1500 as a completely different truck.
It’s been setting the benchmark for new trucks since it hit the market in 2017. And what a beast of a truck.
You can choose from three cab styles and three bed lengths.
This is one of the most highly customizable trucks on the list with something to offer everyone. You can choose V6, V8 and diesel engines.
Any choice pairs to an eight-speed automatic.
You can even get a RAM 1500 with air suspension for which offers a car like ride and a best-in-class ride quality for a more luxurious start to your custom build.
15. 2018 Toyota Tacoma
This is a small pickup truck begging for off road customizations.
Besides the early model Toyota pickups from the 80’s and 90s this is my favorite generation of Toyota’s midsize pickups.
Now, compared to the other trucks in its class the cabin is dated. And the handling is outclassed by the Chevy Colorado and Ford Ranger.
But where it shines and the reason why you buy Tacoma is for its off-roading capabilities.
Not only that, but the styling stands head and shoulders above the competition. You can choose from four powertrains and two cab choices to make your own.
16. 2015 Toyota Tundra
Believe it or not this 2015 model only marks the second generation for the Toyota Tundra.
And what you’re looking at is its second facelift for this generation which gave the full-size Tundra a much needed, butchier appearance.
Even butched up it’s sleeker than the full-sized Ford, Chevrolet, GMC and Dodge trucks it competes with.
It’s a very good-looking truck that unlike the other full-sized trucks on the list looks just as good lowered as it does lifted so there’s lots of customizing potential.
You can either jack it up and add some fender flares turning the butched up factor to eleven.
Or you can slam it and get a sleek race truck out of it with a honking V8.
17. 1994 Toyota SR5 Pickup
Fittingly, this truck comes at the end. As I said before, this is my favorite truck. This was the truck that started my love affair with trucks.
It’s the first truck to clue me into how easily trucks lend themselves to customization.
Of all the trucks on this list this is the one I would choose to modify. I would go for the extended cab.
And it must have a manual transmission. Toyota didn’t give this truck a name until 1995.
So, it was only referred to as the Toyota Pickup. You have to get out to manually lock the hubs. While not fast, the Toyota Pickup is fun to drive.
The biggest thing you have to look out for when buying one used is rust. Since its built to be a light duty truck to haul things, the ride is bouncy.
So, the first customization you might elect to do should probably address it.