Car Buyer Labs

Car Buying Advice, Tips, and Reviews

A blue 2019 Ford F-150 Raptor is shown from the front while jumping over a hill.

How to Find a Top-Tier Used Truck

There’s nothing wrong with wanting the top trim. With truck manufacturers throwing things like heated, massaging driver’s seats and concert hall-worthy sound systems into the mix, it’s completely natural to find yourself feeling a little wide-eyed and wound up as you look at some of today’s more luxurious pickup truck trims. Then enters reality, reminding you of your non-so-luxurious budget. It may seem that buying a top-trim truck is nothing more than a fond dream. However, more and more drivers are finding their opulent truck wishes granted by none other than their friendly local used truck dealer.

When we think of a “used truck,” we tend to think of an old hoopty we knew way back when. With a mixture of fondness and loathing, we’re reminded of the uncomfortable plastic seats, sticky manual transmission, rusted-out fenders, and suffocating lack of air conditioning. However, this is a new era with new technological standards. It’s actually harder to find a used truck with all of those qualifiers than it is to find one with Bluetooth, automatic climate control, and an automatic transmission.

Each model year, base models are granted more extensive standard features than the year before, creating a market in which many base models are desirable beyond their prior fleet truck function. Therefore, shopping for a top-shelf used truck is easier than ever. Here are some things you can keep in mind when looking for your own deluxe truck on a downmarket budget.

Education Is Key

The first step to owning your very own dream truck is to know which luxe truck is which. Most drivers can tell the difference between a Ford and a Ram, and most of today’s trucks have some sort of badging that lets you know which trim any particular specimen is. Even optional packages can frequently be identified by exterior features, such as the Dark Essentials package offered on the Chevy Silverado 1500. As the name implies, this package adds black lettering, badging, and branding.

If you’re the type of driver who is mostly interested in a truck that provides a certain aesthetic, it’s a relatively straightforward process to select the visual features that create your ideal truck. However, for drivers who are interested in less obvious details, like engine performance or interior creature comforts, the process is a little more involved. One great way to get your shopping process started is to search for all the top trim trucks in your area to see what’s available to you.

Then you can start looking at the differences between a Ford F-150 Limited, a Nissan Titan Platinum Reserve, and a GMC Sierra 1500 Denali. That may also mean closely inspecting the F-150 Raptor and the Jeep Gladiator Overland if you’re interested in heading off the pavement. You’ll want to know how to decide between the Ram 1500 Limited and the Toyota Tundra Platinum because it’s likely that you haven’t actually considered those two exact trucks in the same sentence before, much less compared their features.

Brand bias is a real thing, of course, and the truck segment is well-known for strong feelings and preferences based on the manufacturer. However, this may be a time when it’s best to look objectively at each truck as an entire entity rather than a badge or emblem. You might be surprised by what you find in the top trim of a truck you would never have thought to consider.

A white 2020 Ram 1500 is shown from the front at an angle.

Know What You Need

There are a lot of top-trim trucks out there, most of which are similar but not exactly alike. That seems like an obvious statement until you really start drilling down into standard features versus optional features. Since you’re buying a used truck, you, unfortunately, do not get to make all of the decisions regarding optional features and packages. However, you can become familiar with what packages and features were offered during a particular year. This can be very beneficial when working with private sellers since you’ll know what should be in the truck versus what you actually see. If you know that the 2019 Ram 1500 was not offered with an EcoDiesel engine option, yet the vehicle you see before you is powered by diesel, you’ll know something strange is afoot, and there better be paperwork to support it.

One way to keep all of these luxury trucks organized in your mind is to narrow them down by features you absolutely need. Sometimes, these needs are practical, like the 14,000-lb towing maximum on the 2021 Ford F-150. Other times, it might be more of a personal preference thing, like the CD player or refrigerated console on the Cadillac Escalade. Either way, your needs are your needs, and it’s a good idea to have a solid grasp on features you cannot compromise on.

If your budget is very strict, you may also want to keep an eye on details like fuel consumption and safety ratings, too. While the fuel-efficient truck is something of a newer concept, there are quite a few engineering differences between a 2018 V6 engine and a 2022 V6 engine that can make their presence known while fueling up. Safety ratings can go a long way towards improving your insurance rates, which can save you in the long run in more ways than one.

Putting It All Together

As the old saying goes, “Wish in one hand, put all of the premium truck trims in the other, and see which fills up first.” In this version, it would likely be the truck hand, given all of the variety that can be found at today’s used truck dealers. Because truck manufacturers give new drivers so many choices, the hard part of finding a top-tier truck is putting all the pieces together. Unless you’re willing and able to memorize over five years of truck trims and features so you can run a specific search, you need to be in the right frame of mind in order to find the perfect used vehicle. Know what’s available, know what you want, and look for places where they overlap.

The good news is that as a discerning driver, it won’t take long before you start to recognize what really interests you and what you can live without. The Jeep Gladiator is an excellent example of a truck that appeals to a very specific audience. The 2020 Rubicon trim is well equipped with a wealth of equipment that makes it a perfect fit in the wild, but towing maxes out at 7,650 lbs. So, while it’s perfect for off-roading adventures, it’s not as great for getting heavy work done.

Once you’re armed with a bit of practical knowledge about what you are likely to find in a top-tier used trim, it’s easier to match your needs to reality. You’ll also be able to match vehicles that may suit your needs with your budget. Remember that it’s not uncommon for trucks to drive well over 200,000 miles these days, so even a high mileage used truck may still be a smart choice if you want a top-of-the-line trim, especially if it has been well cared for.

A grey 2021 Jeep Gladiator Mojave is shown from the front at an angle while off-road after leaving a used truck dealer.

Finding Your New Used Truck

It used to be a big deal when someone announced that they had found a low-mileage used truck with all of the bells and whistles. Today, this phenomenon is occurring more and more often, as drivers select new truck options that fit their specialized needs, leaving behind a perfectly driveable used luxury truck that’s just right for a driver on a budget. Used luxury trucks will still be more expensive than counterparts with fewer creature comforts, but the magic combination of mileage, condition, and functionality means price tags can vary. Start your shopping experience with a trusted used truck dealer near you, focusing on exactly what you want your next behind-the-wheel experience to be like without blowing your budget. You will probably be surprised at all the cool features you never thought you’d be able to afford that are easily within reach.