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How to Decide which Pickup Truck to Buy

Are you in the market for a pickup truck? If you are, then you will be joining a legion of vehicle buyers who enjoy the payload, trailering capacity and even comfort that some pickups provide. Whether you are shopping for a new truck, a certified pre-owned model or an older used truck, the following are some points to keep in mind as you decide which pickup to buy.

Small is Beautiful

For some pickup truck shoppers, only a small model will do. Unfortunately, the smallest models built today are each categorized as midsize trucks. For example, the Toyota Tacoma and Nissan Frontier are larger and heavier than the earliest generation models and may not meet your criteria for a small truck.

Fortunately, there are used Ford Rangers that may interest you. Last built in 2011, the Ranger represents the youngest of the dearly departed compact trucks. Otherwise, you need to go back to the 1990s, when Mitsubishi was still building the Mighty Max and Dodge was selling it as the rebadged D50. The Tacoma, Frontier, Chevrolet S10 and GMC S15 models of that era are similarly sized. Other than the Ranger, you will be dealing with very old trucks. Got rust?

[Read: What’s the Best-Selling Car in America?]

Most small pickup trucks have a very good payload and modest trailering capabilities. Payload numbers (the weight of occupants plus what you carry in the bed) are usually about 1,500 pounds and trailering may range from 1,000 to 3,500 pounds. Buyers of these pickup trucks use them to take the trash to the dump, fill the beds with manure or to pull a skiff.

Midsize is for Me

Today’s midsize models serve some pickup shoppers just fine. Here, you get a choice of four-cylinder and V6 models. They’re not particularly economical, but these trucks are able to handle payload and tow your boat.

The current crop of midsize models no longer offers a regular cab with room for two or three. These days your choices are two-row extended cab or crew cab models, with the latter best suited for carrying adults, but they may be too small for your construction crew.

[CARFAX Finds: Midsize Pickup Trucks]

In this segment you have four traditional body-on-frame models: the Toyota Tacoma, Nissan Frontier, Chevrolet Colorado and the GMC Canyon. A fifth model, the Honda Ridgeline, is of unibody construction and won’t handle your more ambitious off-road pursuits. In this segment you have models that seat up to five, have five- or six-foot beds and can tow up to 7,000 pounds. Buyers of midsize pickup trucks may choose them to pull a camper or a small trailer. Some models are ideal for tough off-road duty.

Bigger is Better

The biggest segment of pickup trucks belongs to the full-size market. Here, you have a number of manufacturers vying for your business, with most offering regular, extended and crew cab versions, as well as short- and long-bed models and V6 and V8 engine choices.

The Ford F-150 is the most popular model, while GM splits its sales between the twin Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra models. The Ram 1500 (formerly Dodge), Toyota Tundra and Nissan Titan round out the segment. Toyota and Nissan are relative newcomers, with each building on their smaller pickup truck success.

[CARFAX Finds: Rugged Outdoor SUVs]

Among some models, especially Ford, Chevrolet/GMC and Ram, you have about 10 sub-model choices each, with many variants based on 4×2 and 4×4 compositions, cab sizes and truck bed lengths. Literally, there are thousands of configurations, with high-end features such as leather seats, infotainment systems and storage options allowing customization. Buyers of full-size pickup trucks use them as family vehicles, as well as for recreational and work duty purposes.

Heavy Duty is a Must

The full-size pickup truck market is composed of two subcategories — light- and heavy-duty models. Utilizing the same platform that underpins its largest trucks, Ford, GM and Ram have fortified these models to deliver exceptional performance, usually through a very large gasoline engine or a turbodiesel.

Such models typically have approximately 7,000 pounds of payload capacity and can pull upwards of 20,000 pounds. Enhanced transmissions, stronger suspension systems, locking rear differentials and driver control technologies enable these models to pull the heaviest trailers.

[Read: 2015 GMC Sierra 2500HD Review]

With fifth-wheel or gooseneck trailering – where the trailer coupling is attached to the truck bed — these models can pull thousands of pounds above their standard trailering weight. Indeed, the Ram 3500 4×2 with a Cummins 6.7-liter turbodiesel engine can pull up to 30,000 pounds. Buyers of heavy-duty pickup trucks include commercial accounts for towing large trailers, as well as consumers desiring the ultimate in trailering capabilities.

What You Need

So, how will you decide which pickup truck to buy? The easiest and most sensible answer is to find one based on your needs. You should know that fuel mileage across the board isn’t very good, ranging from 25 mpg for the smallest trucks and as low as 10 mpg for some of the larger models.

Go big if you use a truck for recreational pursuits. Choose a midsize truck if you have a young family and want good payload and trailering capabilities. For light duty work, one of the older models (or perhaps a small SUV) might suit you best.

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2 thoughts on “How to Decide which Pickup Truck to Buy”

  1. It’s interesting how big of a difference the size of the truck makes in the decision to buy. I know I would rather have a truck with a large bed so I could haul more things. Having a big back seat would be a must as well, so that I could drive with more than one other person in the truck.

  2. I have had a few Silverado’s and two older s10s. Each has its benefits but with the size of today’s mid-size trucks being similar to older full size these trucks are overlooked when they are all many people need. I am curious to try the new Colorado ZR2 but would be nice if they came out with an SUV based on the new ZR2.

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