Want a Budget Friendly AR-15? Here Are Some Dandies

Just about anyone who likes, owns, or plans to own a firearm will want an AR-15. It’s the all-time American classic that’s hard to resist. Options for customization are endless and accessories are abundant. But this American rifle has been around long enough that quality and price are all over the board. If you are planning to buy one that doesn’t cost more than your car, you have options.

In fact, you have so many options, that it’s hard to sort them out. If you buy one that is too cheap, you could end up wasting your money. Some low-quality AR-15s are less than reliable, making the cheap price tag too good to be true. But it is possible to find a rifle that has a perfect blend of price and quality. You want to look at the material being used to make the upper receiver, lower receiver, barrel, and BCG.

Shooting the Diamondback DB15.
Shooting the Diamondback DB-15 at the range. [Photo: Jason Mosher]
Quilty control is another important factor to consider as well. There are hundreds of companies building AR-15s and the size of the company doesn’t always dictate the quality of the gun. Some of the small mom-and-pop shops produce higher quality firearms than larger mass-produced ones.

We can’t cover every brand in one article, but I will talk about some companies that are producing a budget-friendly gun with a quality standard that makes it a heck of a deal. If you are looking for a decent AR-15 that isn’t expensive, here are three great options.

1. Radical Firearms

This is a Texas-based company that manufactures most parts in-house with CNC machines. The barrels on some of Radical’s rifles are made from 4140 Chrome Vanadium Steel. They are melanite-treated, making them corrosion-resistant. I prefer 4150 steel on barrels but that’s also getting picky for a budget gun. Barrels made from 4150 steel have a higher carbon content, making them slightly stronger.

Radical Arms AR-15 rifle.
The RF-15 by Radical Firearms is a great rifle for the price tag. [Photo: Jason Mosher]
Unless you plan to blast thousands and thousands of rounds through your barrel, however, you likely will never notice a difference. The upper and lower receivers are made from 7075 T6 aluminum, which is standard for most AR-15s. Radical Firearms doesn’t have a lot of options when it comes to finish, handguard length, etc. but you get a decent rifle for the price point.

I found mine on sale at a store for $450 and have put over a thousand rounds through it without a single issue. With this gun, the quality vs. price tips the scales in the buyer’s favor. Radical Firearms has continued to grow over the years, and they offer several calibers including .300 blackout, 6.5 Grendel, 6.8 SPC II, and 308 WIN. As a sign of their confidence in their product, Radical offers a lifetime warranty to the original buyer of their products.

2. Palmetto State Armory

PSA makes some pretty cheap guns, but their quality control has improved a lot over the years. I once set out to build the cheapest AR-15 possible with the plan to dump ammo through it at the range. I wanted to see if a mega-cheap gun would even last a day on the range. In a short time, I found an upper and lower on sale at PSA and stuck them together.

PSA AR-pistol.
The PSA budget gun was a blast on the range. [Photo: Jason Mosher]
When it was all said and done, I ended up with a $328 AR-15 pistol with an oversized flash can on the end of it (that’s what it came with). We took it to the range and started feeding it magazines without any breaks. It got so hot, the plastic handguard started smoking and I had to use gloves to hold the gun. I had one feeding issue with it on the first mag, so I pulled the bolt and covered it in oil. After that, I never had an issue.

Since that first test run, I’ve put a ton of ammo through it without any issues. And, since that first cheap build, I have owned multiple PSA rifles and haven’t had any issues with them. Some of their lower-end guns do not list the type of steel the barrels are made from. But any that do list the material as 4150 Chrome Vanadium Steel. If you wait for a sale, you can find PSA’s rifles in the $400-$500 range. This isn’t what I would call a high-quality gun, but for that price, the quality is not bad either.

3. Diamondback Firearms

This is another company that has come a long way over the years. Starting out as the maker of the low-budget DB380 pocket pistol, the company has grown a lot since its start in 1989. DB offers a wide range of AR-15 rifles in multiple calibers. I’ve had my Diamondback for years and it’s held up well for me. Like the others, they use 4150 CrMov barrels that are nitride-treated.

One thing that makes Diamondback stand out from other budget-friendly companies, is their testing process. DB offers a BCG (bolt carrier group) that is shot peened and magnetic particle inspected. This is a step that a lot of companies in the budget range skip. The finish on most of their guns is a hard coat anodized. Diamondback offers multiple color finishes on their rifles and AR pistols.

Shooting the Diamondback DB-15 on the range.
My buddies and I have been shooting this Diamondback for over a year and there has not been a single malfunction. [Photo: Jason Mosher]
With an average selling price of $700, they sell for a little more than the other two, but they are still a bang for the buck. I have a friend who bought an AR-15 set that came with two uppers for just under $1,000. The two complete uppers were chambered in 5.56 NATO and .300 Blackout. Buying one gun and getting two caliber options for under a grand is not a bad deal at all.

Want to go budget-friendly?

There are plenty of other companies out there making some decent rifles for a good price. We will cover more of them another time, but if you are just starting out and want to keep the price tag down, these three companies make some decent guns for the price.

If you plan to build an AR-15 or make some major upgrades for the first time, any of these would be a good rifle to learn with. My first AR-15 build was a cheap rifle that I didn’t have to worry about scratching. Regardless of the reason for wanting a cheap gun, any of these three will keep the price tag down and quality up.

Sheriff Jason Mosher is a law enforcement generalist instructor as well as a firearms and tactical weapons trainer. Jason graduated from the FBI-LEEDA (Law Enforcement Executive Development Association) and serves as a Sheriff for his day job. When he’s not working, he’s on the range, eating steak, or watching Yellowstone.

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