What to Look Out For When Buying a Used Chevrolet Silverado

In 1999, GM introduced the first Chevrolet Silverado as the replacement for the popular C/K pickup trucks, so what do you have to look out for when you’re considering buying a used Chevy Silverado?

2020 Silverado
2020 Chevrolet Silverado Diesel

The most important thing to look out for when you are looking to buy a used Chevrolet Silverado 1500 is a service history that shows any recalls issued for that model year have been carried out by a Chevy dealer. Like any vehicle, some of the recalls will have been for relatively minor issues, but some recalls have been issued for safety reasons that could lead to a risk of serious failure if they haven’t been carried out.

To help you out when you’re looking to buy a used Chevy Silverado, in this article we will cover:

  • Chevy Silverado History
  • First-generation Silverado
  • Second generation Silverado
  • Third generation Silverado
  • Fourth-generation Silverado
  • How much should you pay for a used Chevrolet Silverado?
  • Why is the Silverado so popular?
  • Potential issues to watch out for
  • The competition
  • Should you buy a used Chevrolet Silverado?

Chevy Silverado History

GM took on quite a challenge when it decided to replace the extremely popular Chevrolet C/K pickup trucks with an all-new model it decided to call the Silverado, which was also to be sold in a slightly different form as the GMC Sierra. Silverado wasn’t a name pulled out of the air though as it had already been used as a trim level designation of the Chevy C/K from 1975.

In 1998, Chevy launched the Silverado as the replacement for the C/K for the 1999 model year, although the C/K in light-duty GMT400 and heavy-duty GMT400 forms continued in production for the first year alongside the Silverado.

Almost from the day, it was launched, the Silverado has been among the most popular pickup truck lines in the US. Even though Silverado sales currently rank third in the US behind the Ford F-Series and the Ram pickup lines, Chevy sells more than twice as many Silverado models as the fourth biggest-selling truck, the Toyota Tundra.

Today, the Chevrolet Silverado is available in light-duty 1500 and heavy-duty 2500 and 3500 variants with a huge range of engines, trim levels, and available options to configure a truck that’s exactly right for you and the job you have in mind.

If you want to get a used Chevy truck or other used vehicles for the lowest possible prices, government and police auctions are the way to go. You need to know what you’re looking for to buy at auction, but this guide is a great place to find used vehicles at incredible prices.

First Generation Chevy Silverado 1999-2007

1st Gen Silverado

Right from the start, the Silverado 1500 was made available with a choice for buyers of three different body styles, which were the two-door standard/regular cab, the three or four-door extended cab, and the front-hinged four-door crew cab. Three different bed sizes of short, standard and long were also available with the first-generation models, although only crew cab and extended cab variants could be specified with the short bed.

1999 model year Silverados were only built-in regular and three-door extended cab versions, and there was a choice of a V-6 and two V-8 engines for buyers to select from. A four-door extended cab variant went on sale in the second year of the production run, but it wasn’t until 2004 that the crew cab body style was finally offered.

You might come across some first-generation models equipped with a five-speed manual transmission, but the majority you’ll find for sale will have the much more popular four-speed automatic. If you don’t need the most powerful version of the first-gen Silverado that was produced, look out for ones with the 5.3-liter Vortec V-8 engine as it’s one of the best and most durable V-8 truck engines ever produced. These V-8s vary in output between 270 and 295 horsepower and 315 and 335 lb.-ft. of torque.

If you want a fantastic pickup truck to do a job that won’t break the bank but won’t let you down either, the first-generation Chevrolet Silverado has to be one of the best options you can buy. You can get a decent 2004 Silverado 1500 Z71 Crew Cab 4×4 with less than 130k miles for as little as $4,500.

Even as early as this first generation, Chevy realized pickups were appealing to more than just commercial buyers, so there was even Silverado SS high-performance version launched in 2003. The standard engine was a 6.0-liter Vortec High-Output V-8 that developed 345 hp and 380 lb.-ft. of torque, which was sent to all four wheels through that four-speed automatic transmission. There are plenty of these out there for sale on the market, and if you fancy getting one to cherish as a future classic, you can get a good one with decent miles for between $10,000 and $15,000.

Second Generation Chevrolet Silverado 2007-2014

2nd Gen Silverado

Chevy finally brought us the second-generation Silverado in the final quarter of 2006 for the 2007 model year. The styling was a distinct modernization from the first generation and it paved the way for the Silverado of today. The front fascia had larger light headlight clusters and a grille to match and it’s a truck you’d still be happy to drive around in today, and for years to come.

Although it still has the classic squared silhouette of a full-size pickup truck, the aerodynamics were hugely improved from the previous model. In the same way the C/K continued in production during the first year of the first-gen Silverado, the first-gen GMT 800 Silverado remained in production alongside the new Silverado for a year and was rebadged as the Silverado “Classic.” Therefore, if you are offered a 2007 Silverado you’ll have to check whether it’s a first-year second-gen model, or Silverado Classic.

Even though the first year of any new vehicle model can be a bit of a “bedding-in” process, the second-gen Silverado was a winner right out of the blocks and was named North American Truck of the Year and won Motor Trend magazine’s Truck of the Year accolade for 2007.

You’ll find five different engines to choose from under the hoods of the second-generation Silverado pickups, which range from a base 4.3-liter V-6 producing 195 hp and 260 lb.-ft. of torque to a 6.2-liter V-8 that puts out 403 hp and 417 lb.-ft. of torque that can get the Silverado from a standing start to 60 mph in just 6.6 seconds. Between those two powerplants were a 295 horsepower 4.8-liter V-8, that superb 5.3-liter V-8 in 315 horsepower form, and a 367 horsepower 6.0-liter V-8.

Unfortunately, I can’t say the second-gen Silverado enjoys the same reputation for fault-free ownership as the first-gen models. Commonly reported issues with the second generation include excessive oil consumption, faulty speakers, case encoder motion position sensor and selector switch failure, the frequent rundown of the battery, heating and air-con failures, and faulty fuel sensors.

Perhaps the most common problem with the second-gen Chevy Silverado is excessive oil consumption, which even led to a class-action lawsuit being launched against GM and that 5.3-liter V-8 that had been so great in first-gen Silverados.  

While brake issues and a knock in the steering are possibly the most common problems to look out for, you might also want to be on the lookout for an erratic speedometer other instrumental panel gauges, and the ABS pump continuing to run even after the ignition has been turned off which can inevitably result in a dead battery.

Third Generation Chevrolet Silverado 2014-2019

3rd Gen Silverado

Even though they were unveiled as early as 2012 at the American International Auto Show in Detroit of that year, the third-generation Silverado went into production in 2013 as a 2014 model year.

There were three gas engine options for the light-duty Silverado 1500, but if you also include the heavy-duty version of the truck there were five gas engines and a couple of Duramax diesels for buyers to choose between. The standard engine for the 1500 was a 4.3-liter EcoTec3 V-6 that put out 285 horsepower, while the standard engine in heavy-duty models was a 360 horsepower 6.0-liter Vortec gas unit.

You’ll find good and bad examples of every used vehicle ever made, but if there’s one third-generation used Chevy Silverado to steer clear of it has to be the 2017 Silverado 1500.

Although there are a lot of very good Silverado models to buy in the third generation, the one you should probably view with a great deal of caution is the 2017 Silverado 1500. While the Silverado took the 2014 North American International Auto Show’s Truck of the Year award, the 2017 Chevy Silverado 1500 earned the not-so-coveted “Beware the Clunker” badge from the CarComplaints.com website for reports of woeful reliability.

Owners reported problems with slipping transmissions, defective sensors, leaks, and issues downshifting. Problems have also emerged with the truck’s shocks, struts, ball joints, tie rods, and wheel bearings, and alignment can be a serious concern with reports of incorrect wheel balance. Both the rack and pinion steering and the power steering were plagued by leaks, damaged pumps, and damaged hoses.

Even though on the surface changes for the 2018 model year of the Silverado 1500 appear minimal, 2018 models have been rated much better for reliability and durability by the likes of Consumer Reports.

In 2016, GM made the bold move of reintroducing a hybrid version of the Silverado. They were LT and SLT variants that had a mild-hybrid eAssist version of the 5.3-liter V-8 engine, but they were initially only available in California in 2016 before they were then rolled out in Washington, Texas, Oregon, and Hawaii the following year. These models then went nationwide in 2018 when eAssist could also be had in the LTZ trim level.

Fourth Generation Chevrolet Silverado 2019-

2020 Silverado 2
2020 Chevrolet Silverado 2500 HD Custom

The fourth generation of the Silverado 1500 went into production in 2018 for the 2019 model year, but buyers had to wait until the following year before the 2500 and 3500 heavy-duty models were given the fourth-gen treatment.

It’s probably fair to say that the new styling wasn’t initially to everyone’s taste, although recent sales figures suggest a lot of buyers may have overcome those initial reservations.

Although it’s early in the life of the fourth generation to make a firm judgment on its reliability or durability, this version didn’t get off to the greatest start when more than 700,000 examples of the Silverado and its GMC Sierra stablemate were recalled by GM for software issues.

To be fair, as trucks and all other types of vehicles become increasingly complex and computer-reliant, software issues are going to be a fact of life I’m afraid. In this case with the Silverado and Sierra, these particular software errors could be responsible for disabling the ESP and the ABS systems. Other software problems were said to be capable of causing may cause stalling and engine fires, and unfortunately, some trucks can be affected by both of these worrying problems.

Some 2019 and 2020 Silverados can also have excess glue on the positive terminals connecting the alternator to the main battery, which can result in an “intermittent electrical connection” problem that can result in “Service Battery” or “Battery Saver” warnings appearing on the truck’s instrument panel.

How much should you pay for a used Silverado?

How long is a piece of string? You can pay anything from a couple of hundred dollars to more than $50,000 for a used Silverado, and those are just the light-duty 1500 variants! While age, condition, model, and mileage affect the used price of the Silverado just like they do with any type of vehicle, buyers have to pay particular attention to mileage and condition with these and any pickup trucks.

Trucks often work very hard during their life, so condition really is everything, and a good test drive in the model you’re interested in buying is an absolute must. Just because a truck has been towing a trailer its entire life isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and some of the best driving used trucks I’ve driven have felt as though they’ve had their engine re-mapped for additional power even though all they’ve done is work hard since day one.

Here’s a guide to average prices for the Silverado 1500 from 1999 to 2020:

Generation/Year Price Range Average Used Price
1st Generation 1999-2007$5,355 – $10,789$7,130
2nd Generation 2007-2014$11,063 – $21,923$15,475
3rd Generation 2014-2019$21,923 – $36,498$28,484
4th Generation 2019-$36,498-$37,210$36,854
Data from CarGurus

The first thing the Silverado has going for it is that it’s a pickup truck and Americans absolutely love their pickup trucks. Apart from a few notable exceptions, such as that 2017 Silverado 1500, the Chevy has always been a good value, good-looking, reliable, and capable truck. Its rugged, macho, no-nonsense styling has always appealed to full-size truck buyers, although Ram did eclipse the Chevy in that regard for a while before it tamed down its own styling in 2019.

Between January and September 2019, Chevy sold 412,258 Silverado models in the US, which put it in third place behind Ram (461,115 sales) in second and the all-conquering Ford F-Series (662,574 units) in the first place.

A lot like the Ram and the Ford, the Silverado is available in so many specifications and with so many ways of configuring it to your exact needs, it’s entirely possible there may not be two identical trucks in any particular model year. It might not be a good read unless you are an absolute Silverado fanatic, but you could easily write a very, very, very long book about how many ways you can configure a fourth-gen Silverado 1500.

Potential issues to watch out for

Trucks of all shapes, sizes, and brands are tough to buy second-hand simply because they are primarily hard-working vehicles that can get a lot of abuse. A truck might look in great condition on the outside, but under the hood and under the bodywork can be an entirely different matter.

Watch out for the specific issues listed here for the individual generations, but more generally, look closely for wear and tear problems with shocks, ball joints, bearings, and engine mounts. Rust shouldn’t be too much of an issue with late second-gen Silverado models onwards, but still have a look for it, especially if you suspect the truck might have been used for launching a boat or other watercraft into saltwater at any point in its life.

Don’t be too unduly concerned about high miles on a truck, especially if it’s a Silverado with a Duramax diesel under the hood. Trucks are designed to do a lot of miles and many will, so wear and tear should be commensurate with the age of the truck and the miles it’s covered.

As far as those annoying electrical and software problems are concerned, a full main dealer service history should mean the necessary recalls will have been carried out so you should be good to go.

What about the competition?

We’re spoiled for choice with great pickup trucks these days, and even heavy-duty models have caught onto the fact a lot of non-commercial buyers are now buying them and they’ve become increasingly comfortable, stylish, and user-friendly.

Even though it’s almost the same vehicle, the GMC is a good alternative to the Silverado if the Chevy’s looks aren’t really your thing and you want something a little more upscale. The main rivals of the Silverado though are inevitably the Ram trucks and the Ford F-Series.

Until the last couple of years, the Ram has had even more macho and aggressive styling than the Silverado, but despite its incredible popularity, the F-Series can look a little bland at times against the Ram and the Chevy Silverado.

As far as full-size trucks are concerned, the only other serious rivals to the Silverado are the Toyota Tundra and the Nissan Titan. Both of those Japanese trucks offer buyers incredible reliability and durability and the Toyota holds its price like nothing else on earth, but they lack the big truck style and appeal of the Silverado and other domestic alternatives.

Should you buy a used Chevrolet Silverado?

You should definitely go ahead and buy a Chevy Silverado if you like the way it looks and you don’t have a predetermined leaning towards anything non-GM. We all know some people are Ford guys and others are life-long Chevy guys, so let’s not bother going there.

If the way a truck looks isn’t the most important factor for you and what matters most is capability, you really can find what you want in any of the major truck lines because there are so many different versions of every model out there to choose from.

As far as that all-important reliability is concerned though, the majority of Silverado models produced over the years have been pretty good, and parts are affordable and easy to find for every year and model. Stick to ones with good service history and reasonable miles on the odometer for the year and you won’t go too far wrong.