Car Buying Tips

7 Tips for Buying a Truck

Canada’s top-selling vehicle has been a pickup truck for quite a while now, so a lot of people are shopping in this segment. Whether you need a truck for work or play, there are a lot of different options out there and a lot of things to consider. Whether you’re making your first-ever truck purchase or are a seasoned pickup driver, here are some tips to help find you the right one.

Size Matters

Overall, full-size trucks vastly outsell midsize ones, but bigger isn’t always better. A midsize pickup will be easier for occupants to get in and out; it’s easier to park and manoeuvre; it may get better fuel economy; and for many, their towing and hauling capacity is more than enough.

One roadblock for many is the price difference. In some cases, a higher-trim midsize can overlap the cost of a lower-trim full-size, and people tend to “buy by the pound” – if I’m paying this much, I want this much truck for it. Don’t think of it like a big-box store, where two bucks more gets you six extra rolls of toilet paper. If a smaller truck fits your needs better than a big one, then it’s money well spent. Be honest with yourself regarding how much truck you actually need.

Cab Considerations

Truck cabs come in three types. A regular cab has two doors, and holds two or three occupants. An extended cab has four doors, but the back ones are small, and often hinged at the rear. It may have a small rear bench or fold-down seats. A crew cab has four full-size doors, and carries five or six people.

Auto manufacturers may use proprietary names, especially for extended cabs: Toyota says Access Cab, while Ford uses SuperCab, for example. Regular cabs have dropped in popularity. No midsize pickup has one, and Toyota, Ram, and Nissan don’t offer them on full-size trucks.

Extended cabs generally cost less, but they can be awkward. The front door must be opened before a rear-hinged back door can be, so there are no quick passenger drop-offs. And if someone’s parked beside you, the open front-and-rear doors create a barrier when you’re transferring items from a shopping cart into the rear of the cab.

Two or Four?

Four-wheel drive (4WD or 4x4) can be a double-edged sword. Many drivers seldom use it, if ever, and needlessly pay to buy and maintain it. It will also use more fuel than a 2WD vehicle. But if you plan on selling or trading in your truck, 4WD will improve its resale value.

If you opt for 4WD, know what you’re getting. Most of the time, you’ll be in two-wheel drive (2WD) mode by default. The 4-High and 4-Lo settings are only for use off-road on loose or slippery surfaces; using them on pavement can damage the driveline. If you want to drive on asphalt in 4WD – such as when roads have patches of snow – your truck must have 4-Auto, which most trucks have these days but can sometimes only be found on pricier trim levels.

Saving Fuel

Many automakers are adding fuel-saving technologies to their trucks, and there are a few types. Cylinder deactivation shuts off fuel to some cylinders when full power isn’t needed. Ram offers a mild hybrid system, called eTorque, while the Ford F-150 has an optional full hybrid system, called PowerBoost. (A full hybrid can run on electricity alone, while a mild hybrid uses battery power only to assist the gas engine.)

Some also use turbocharged engines (rather than say turbo, Ford calls it EcoBoost). The idea is to use a smaller engine that’s inherently more fuel-efficient, while the turbo adds bigger-engine power when required – but when it does, these can get thirsty. If you tow or haul a lot, you may find a larger non-turbo (naturally aspirated) engine costs less in fuel overall.

What About Diesel?

Diesel engines used to be in heavy-duty trucks only, but Ford, GM, and Ram now offer smaller ones in their light-duty (half-ton) trucks. There are pros and cons. On the plus side, you get a lot of torque and good fuel economy, and as with 4x4, a diesel will likely improve the truck’s resale value. But diesel engines can be an expensive add-on, and you have to drive a lot of kilometres to make that back in fuel savings; oil changes are pricier; and you have to add diesel exhaust fluid (DEF) to control emissions. If you run out and don’t refill, the truck’s computers can prevent the engine from starting.

Pulling Power

Truck companies love to trumpet ridiculously high towing or payload numbers, but do your homework. These are the highest possible ratings across the truck’s entire model range, and may not apply to the one you want to buy.

Towing and payload are tied to the vehicle’s gross combined weight rating (GCWR). That’s the maximum weight of truck, trailer, and everything loaded into both, including passengers. If two trucks have the same GCWR, but one is heavier – perhaps due to a larger cab or 4x4 – then that extra weight is subtracted from the weight of the trailer it can pull. Make sure what you’re buying can actually do the job you need it to do. An overloaded truck is a serious safety concern.

Adding the Add-Ons

Many buyers want accessories such as bed liners, toolboxes, running boards, and more. You can get them from aftermarket shops, and it pays to shop around. Some might be specific to your truck, though, and if you buy from a dealer, you know they’ll be the right ones and oftentimes might be covered under warranty. For example, Ford famously makes its F-150 bodies out of aluminum. If you’re attaching steel, such as a running board, you need the right fasteners and barriers. Otherwise, if these two metals touch, they’ll corrode.

Work or Play?

Trucks can do both, but some handle one better than the other. A midsize pickup will get through tight off-road trails where a full-size won’t fit, and if you’re serious, something like a Jeep Gladiator or Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 will handle the toughest stuff. A Honda Ridgeline is based on a crossover, and even though it might not be as capable as something like a Ford F-150, it might be all the truck someone actually needs. Consider everything to get the truck that’s right for you.