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A silver 2019 Ram 2500 is shown from the front towing a closed trailer after leaving a used truck dealer.

5 Tips for Buying a Used Pickup Truck

Like Willie Nelson sings, it’s time to get on the road again, and what better way than in a pickup truck? Whether you are new to pickup trucks or an old pro, there are some things about a pickup truck that just make driving one different from any other passenger vehicle. Today’s trucks give you the roominess and ruggedness of an SUV, the passenger comforts of a sedan, and the added ability to tow heavy trailers and carry large amounts of cargo in the bed. All of these things will serve you well when driving your truck. Still, there are some things you will need to consider when you stop into a used truck dealer.

There is no doubt that buying a used truck gives you more bang for your buck and has been shown to be the best value when buying your next pickup. That’s because a used truck has already taken a depreciation hit, so what you are paying is as close to the truck’s intrinsic value as you are going to find. In addition, you can check out the specific truck you are looking to buy with a vehicle history report from CARFAX or AutoCheck, which will give you a great deal of helpful information so that you will know you’re getting a good deal.

Here are some pointers that will guide you when buying your next truck. In following some of these tips, you are sure to be able to find the used truck you want with all the features you desire.

Tip 1: Size matters!

Up until recently, trucks came in three main sizes: midsize, full-size, and heavy-duty. That all changed this year with two automakers, Ford and Hyundai, coming out with compact pickup trucks. While you can currently only get the Ford Maverick and Hyundai Santa Cruz new, at some point, both will be available used. Also, if you don’t mind driving an older vehicle and you really want a compact truck, you can always check for a Ford Ranger or Chevy Colorado from the early 2000s.

So, what is the difference between these sizes? Basically, the larger the truck, the more it will be able to tow or carry, but also the worse fuel economy it will give you. If you are planning to use your truck for commercial purposes or need to tow a large RV, camper, or boat, then your best bet might be a heavy-duty truck. Some of the used models to consider are:

  • Ram 2500 and 3500
  • Nissan Titan XD
  • Chevy Silverado HD (2500 and 3500)
  • GMC Sierra HD (2500 and 3500)
  • Ford Super Duty (F-250, F-350, and F-450)

Keep in mind that the larger the number, the bigger truck, but also the more it will probably cost.

At the other end of the spectrum are midsize pickup trucks. These are ideal for the first-time truck driver who may not be ready to handle a larger vehicle. These are also great for contractors, architects, and engineers who need a vehicle that can double as a mobile office when working at building sites. Here are some used midsize pickups you are likely to find:

  • Toyota Tacoma
  • Chevy Colorado
  • GMC Canyon
  • Ford Ranger
  • Honda Ridgeline
  • Nissan Frontier
  • Jeep Gladiator

The most versatile and diverse pickup trucks are full-size light-duty models, also known as half-ton trucks. These are also the most common models and produced in higher numbers than any other, so you will probably find more of these for sale on the used market than any other size. They also are great for folks who want to use their trucks for work during the week and play on the weekends. The most popular used models include:

  • Chevy Silverado 1500
  • GMC Sierra 1500
  • Ford F-150
  • Ram 1500
  • Nissan Titan
  • Toyota Tacoma

A silver 2019 Chevy Silverado 1500 is shown from the side parked in a field.

Tip 2: Hail a Cab!

The cab is the name for the part of the truck where you and your passengers will sit, so it is important to know that you pick the right one. If you are looking for a truck to use for business and don’t plan on carrying more than two other passengers, then a truck with a regular cab will be perfect for you. This has one row of seats with two doors and usually costs less than models with other cab styles.

On the other hand, if you plan on also using your truck for family and friends, then you might consider buying one with a crew cab. This type of cab can seat up to six passengers if you have a front-row bench seat. These also provide about the same amount of legroom in the rear row as in the front, with four full-size doors making access easy for your passengers. However, trucks with crew cabs tend to be the most expensive.

The extended cab is a compromise between these two types of cabs. This will give you two rows of seats but less legroom in the back than in a crew cab. Also, some models only have two half-size pocket doors in the back, making access a little more difficult. The extended cab is called a double cab by Chevy and GMC, a quad cab on a Ram truck, a Super Cab on Ford models, and an Access Cab on Toyota trucks.

Tip 3: Tow the Line

One major reason for buying a used truck is the ability to tow trailers. If you are one of these people, then you are going to want to make sure the used truck you are buying can handle the trailer that you plan on hitching to it. Each truck has a maximum trailering capacity. This will be listed on the driver’s door jamb sticker and will depend on such factors as drivetrain, cab style, engine type, and the size of the truck.

As previously mentioned, a heavy-duty truck will be able to tow heavier trailers. This is especially true if you buy a used heavy-duty truck equipped with a gooseneck or fifth wheel hitch. Also, if you buy a truck with a larger engine or a diesel, then this can also increase towing capacity. Diesels provide greater torque at lower RPM levels, giving you the strength you need to tow. Rear-wheel drive on a truck will also usually improve trailering over a four-wheel drivetrain. Finally, choosing a lighter cab like a regular cab will give you the ability to tow heavier trailers.

Tip 4: Boy, You’re Gonna Carry That Weight!

Not every truck is capable of carrying the same amount of cargo in its bed. Many manufacturers offer their trucks with more than one bed size. So, if you buy one with a short box, don’t expect to be able to fit as much back there as you will in a regular or long box. Also, trucks can only carry as much weight as their suspension can lift, and engines can pull. So, you should check the manual on the used truck you are planning to buy to see if it has the payload weight capacity you need. The last thing you want to have happen is to overload the bed, as this can damage the truck and create a major safety issue.

A black 2019 GMC Sierra AT4 is shown parked in the woods.

Tip 5: Off the Road Again!

If you are buying your used pickup so you can get in on the fun of driving off-road, then you are going to want to make sure that it has all the necessary equipment to traverse those challenging trails safely:

  1. Your truck will have to have a 4X4 drivetrain. Front-wheel and rear-wheel drive are just not going to cut it, as you will not get enough traction.
  2. It should have a specialized suspension to handle the rigors of off-roading. The contours of the trail can give your truck a real beating, so you want to make sure it can handle whatever nature dishes out.
  3. You are going to want to have sufficient ground clearance. Check this out before you buy a truck and take it off-roading.
  4. You are going to want a truck that has special gear for off-roading, like a locking rear differential to provide proper torque and articulation, skid plates to protect vital undercarriage areas like the oil pan, and recovery hooks so you can tow your trucks out of tight spaces.

Many automakers make truck models designed specifically for off-roading. If you can find one of these models used, then you will be getting a used truck that is ready to go off-roading as soon as you drive it off the dealership lot. Here are some off-road models to watch for:

  • Jeep Gladiator Rubicon
  • Nissan Titan PRO-4X
  • Chevy Colorado ZR2
  • GMC Sierra AT4
  • Toyota Tacoma TRD Off-Road
  • Ford Ranger Raptor
  • Ram 1500 TRX

Trucking Down the Road

Driving a truck opens up so many possibilities for your usage. Whether you plan to hit the trails in your local off-road park or are just looking to move stuff in town, you can find a used truck that will provide you with the capabilities you need. If you follow these five tips, you will have no problem finding a used pickup truck that will be perfect for you.