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A First-Time Buyer's Guide to Pick-Up Trucks

Pick-up trucks come in many different sizes and configurations. So what should you consider when purchasing yours?
Chris D'Alessandro
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Pick-up trucks are, by far, the best-selling vehicles in North America. And if you live anywhere that isn’t a major city, it’s easy to see why.

Between being a utilitarian, working-class fixture, and in some ways being the pinnacle of convenience in that they enable you to go pretty much anywhere and do anything, the pick-up truck is perfectly suited for the North American lifestyle.

Move a couch? Tow a boat? Tell winter exactly where to stick it? Cart your 2.5 kids and all of their gear to hockey practice? Use it as the tent when you go camping? All of the above.

But the problem with pick-up trucks being so popular is that there is a lot of competition in the market. Pick-up trucks come in many different sizes and configurations. So what should you consider when purchasing yours?

4×2 vs. 4×4

In a 4×2 vehicle, only two of the wheels — either the front or rear—are being given power. In a 4×4, all four wheels are being given power. 4×4 is ideal for towing, not getting stuck in mud or snow or just living in Canada, in general.

However, it also consumes more fuel.

Luckily, many modern trucks offer the ability to switch between two-wheel and all-wheel-drive with the click of a button. So in today’s day and age, it really is best to go with the 4×4 option.

My grandfather used to say, “If you don’t have 4×4 you don’t have a pick-up truck.” And if you’ve ever had to dig your buddy’s two-wheel drive Ranger out of a snow bank, I’m sure you’d agree.

The Bed

Most beds in modern pick-ups are pretty sizable. But if you’re planning on hauling around serious cargo, you’ll need to option your bed accordingly.

Most mid-sized pick-ups such as the Ford Ranger or Toyota Tacoma come standard with a bed of about 5’ in length, with the larger beds available as an optional extra.

Buyer's Guide to Pick-Up Trucks

Buyer's Guide to Pick-Up Trucks

Half-ton pick-ups such as the Ford F150 or Ram 1500 will come standard with a 5.5’ bed with the option to upgrade to 6.5’ or in the case of the Tundra, up to 8’.

Heavy-duty pick-ups such as the Ford Super Duty or Ram 2500 start with a 6.5’ bed and have 8’ beds available as options.

Buyer's Guide to Pick-Up Trucks

Buyer's Guide to Pick-Up Trucks

You’ll also want to double-check payload capacity—the amount of actual weight you can load into the bed. Half-ton and especially Heavy-duty pick-ups are more capable due to the strength of their components and their additional horsepower and torque.

The Cab

Not all cabs are created equal. A simple “access cab” provides minimal rear-seating legroom and is difficult row access through “suicide doors” behind the driver and passenger-side door. These cabs are more or less just additional storage.

It’s a fine choice if you’ll mostly be driving only yourself around. However with kids or car-poolers to cart around, you may need a proper backseat.

In a mid-sized pick-up, an extended cab will typically offer the kind of leg room you’d expect in the back seat of an SUV. The legroom in an extended cab in a half-ton pick up typically makes a private jet look cramped.

Pick-up trucks come in many different sizes and configurations. So what should you consider when purchasing yours?

Towing capacity

Pick-up trucks are the kings of towing thanks to locking differentials, drivetrains tuned for torque and chassis designed to not flex under stress. A lot of modern pick-ups will even come equipped with a “tow setting”. It’s the same idea as “sport mode” in that the computers will set up the drivetrain and suspension in an ideal state for the task at hand.

However, it’s still important to consider the overall weight of what you’re planning to tow.

Modern mid-sized pick-ups are fairly capable. The Ford Ranger and Chevrolet Colorado will each tow up to 7,500 lb and 7,700 lb respectively.

Pick-up trucks come in many different sizes and configurations. So what should you consider when purchasing yours?

Pick-up trucks come in many different sizes and configurations. So what should you consider when purchasing yours?

Half-ton pick-ups are capable of much more. On the low-end of the spectrum is the Nissan Titan with a rating of 9,660 lb and on the high-end is the venerable F150 with a rating up to 13,200 pounds.

A common misconception is that the higher the number on a pick-up’s badge, the larger the vehicle is—for example; F150 vs F250 or Ram 1500 vs 2500. In actuality those numbers reference vehicle weight. Generally speaking the higher you go, the more you’ll be capable of towing.

Towing and hauling are what heavy-duty pick-up trucks are made for.

Power vs. fuel efficiency 

If you’re towing, you need torque. If you’re not, you may want to keep some cash in your wallet when you hit the pumps. If you’re more the sporting type and really don’t plan on towing much, 270 horsepower and 310 lb-ft of torque from a mid-size truck like the Ford Ranger will be plenty — and you certainly won’t mind averaging under 12L/100kmConversely, if you go for a half-ton pick-up like a Ram 1500 with the entry-level 3.6-litre V6, you may find the 305 horsepower and 269 lb-ft less than ideal for towing—despite the tow rating, your engine will have to work harder if it has less torque. Upgrading to a 5.7-litre HEMI V8 with 395 horsepower and 410 lb-ft of torque would be the remedy, but you have to expect your fuel bill to increase as you’ll probably be averaging over 15L/100 km.

Pick-up trucks come in many different sizes and configurations. So what should you consider when purchasing yours?

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