How to Choose a Pickup Truck

We'll help you choose the best truck for your needs

3D illustration of new pick-up trucks

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In the past, pickup trucks were pretty basic, without a ton of options to choose from, and they all looked somewhat similar. Sure, there were styling variations from one manufacturer to the next, but overall, a truck was a truck.

Things have definitely changed. Today's truck fans have plenty of choices, from basic work trucks designed to haul cargo to option-filled pickups that rival a luxury sedan.

So how do you choose the right pickup truck? Begin by analyzing your wants and needs.

Do You Have a Favorite Automaker?

If the specific manufacturer is an all-time favorite, and the automaker builds pickups, that's the obvious place to start looking for a truck. Check out reviews, facts about features and options, specifications and other details so you'll have a good overview of what each truck has to offer.

Do You Need a Small Truck or Full-Size Truck?

Compact pickup trucks are smaller in scale than their full-size counterparts. They can usually tow up to about 3,000 pounds, a weight that accommodates many trailers and handles most boat towing tasks. If you have heavier towing needs, move up to a mid-size or full-size truck.

Keep in mind that trucks considered 'small' in the past have grown in size and towing capability over the last decade.

Mid-size pickups can be closer in size and abilities to either a compact or to a full-size truck. Comparing models on dealer lots is the best way to understand how they actually look when placed side by side.

Compact trucks usually get better gas mileage than their full-size counterparts but check EPA Fuel Economy Ratings to confirm average mileage specs and be prepared for lower actual mileage.

Make sure the interior space in a smaller pickup is spacious enough to seat your passengers.

Engine Choices

Small and compact trucks are typically equipped with either a four-cylinder or six-cylinder engine. Full-size trucks offer additional engine variations.

Drivetrain Options

Most of the trucks on today's market are available with either a manual or automatic transmission and in your choice of either a 2WD or 4WD configuration. You'll find that many trucks offer limited-slip or locking differentials and electronic traction control. Safety options and driving helpers, such as hill descent, are becoming increasingly popular on new pickup trucks, with many showing up as standard equipment.

What Is Your Seating Needs?

Trucks are available in several cab styles, so it should be easy to find a model that suits your seating needs.

  • A standard cab pickup truck has one bench or two bucket seats in the front -- no second-row seating and varying amounts of storage behind the front seats.
  • An extended cab truck has jump seats or a bench seat behind the front seats. Be sure to sit in the back while someone else drives the vehicle so that you have a feel for how it feels to ride in the back, because most extended cab seats are utilitarian, and not intended for comfort during a long ride.​
    • Extended cabs provide extra space to carry groceries or other packages behind the first row -- out of the weather and locked up for security.
  • A crew cab truck has full second-row seating, with 4-doors that swing open towards the front. Crew cabs are gaining are more popular now that many drivers use pickup trucks as their primary vehicle.​
  • Toyota's Tundra CrewMax has a deep second row -- enough space for rear seats to recline. Other manufacturers have followed the trend, creating very comfortable rear seating for their trucks.​​

Keep in mind that automakers use different terms to describe their cab styles.

Pickup Truck Box Configurations

A typical truck cargo box has fairly straight exterior sides, with arched areas just inside the bed to accommodate the rear wheels under the bed. There's room to tuck shorter cargo in the spaces in front of and behind each arch.

Stepside truck boxes have flared fenders, with the flares providing space for the rear wheels. Stepsides have straight edges along all interior bed sides, but you lose the spaces in line with the wheel arches in a standard box.

Do You Need a Long Truck Bed?

Pickup trucks are available in a variety of bed lengths, ranging from about 5 ft. to 8 ft. long.

You'll need a long bed truck to haul building supplies or other cargo of significant length. If you haul heavy and bulky items you can get by with a shorter bed, but you'll need a truck that will handle the weight.

Gross Vehicle Weight Rating, also known as GVWR, is another important factor to consider when you buy a truck.

Will You Use the Truck to Tow?

Do you need a truck to tow a trailer, and if you do, how much weight do you pull? Be sure to check the towing capacity of the truck you are considering to make sure it meets your needs. In general, look for a vehicle with good hp and torque and with a suitable suspension. Special towing packages are available on most trucks.

How Much Can You Spend on a Pickup Truck?

Like cars, there's a huge variety in pickup truck prices, with full-size base models and some compacts starting well under $20,000. Luxury and performance trucks typically cost considerably more.