5 Steps To Buy the Perfect Truck

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Pickup trucks are popular vehicles, but finding the right one can be overwhelming.

A pickup truck can give you the best of both worlds — plenty of cabin space for road trips and the utility and cargo space to go off-road or haul equipment, furniture, and camping gear. But since trucks come in many different sizes and with varying capabilities, shopping around for the right one will take a bit of work.

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Our five step guide to truck buying is here to help you decide which truck is right for you.

1. Decide How You’ll Use Your Truck

How you plan to use your truck will help you decide the best options for your needs. Do you plan to use it for a commuter vehicle, everyday family car, or work truck? With these plans in mind, you can narrow down your truck options and determine factors like which bed size and towing package would be right for you.

2. Choose the Right Size

There are three main categories of pickup trucks you can choose from — full-size, midsize, and compact. Here’s a breakdown of each one.

Full-size trucks

Full-size pickup trucks have bigger engine options and offer higher horsepower outputs than midsize or compact trucks. But that power comes at a price — full-size trucks tend to be the most expensive.

If you’re looking for a truck to tow and haul goods and materials for, say, home renovations or a business, a full-size truck could be the right fit. Think Ram 1500, Chevy Silverado, Toyota Tundra, and the extremely popular Ford F-150. Each competitor offers a multitude of options with varying bed lengths and cab configurations you can compare.

Midsize

Midsize trucks are smaller than full-size trucks, but still powerful. Midsize trucks can also tow and haul several thousand pounds. If you don’t need the maximum towing and hauling power of a full-size “half-ton” truck, going with a midsize one could save you money. Check out models like the Toyota Tacoma, Nissan Frontier, and Ford Ranger.

Compact

A compact truck is the smallest of trucks. Many of these vehicles are unibody construction and are more closely related to their crossover SUV cousins instead of the heavier body on frame design of larger trucks. Everything is, well, more compact, including a smaller engine, cabin, cargo, and towing capacity. However, an advantage of this smaller size and lighter construction is the cost — it’s usually cheaper than larger size trucks — and it may have a higher fuel efficiency.

Trying to decide between a full-size or midsize truck?
Quick Tip: A midsize truck is generally large enough for the average driver, unless you’re routinely carrying very heavy cargo.

A visit to the dealership, a test drive, and a review of truck specs can give you a better idea of whether you should take the full-size truck over a midsize or compact one.

3. Decide Between a New or Used Truck

Whether it’s better to buy a new or used pickup is a hotly debated topic. Ultimately, there are advantages and disadvantages to both options.

If you buy a new truck, you could benefit from warranty coverage, updated features, and deals on financing offers. However, the drawback of buying new is that it’s typically more expensive, and the new truck starts depreciating as soon as you drive off the lot.

A used truck will likely cost less upfront — a major benefit. It also might not depreciate as quickly as a new truck and could still come with a warranty. The downsides of buying used are: the truck could come with wear, older features, and you may have to deal with repair issues sooner than later, depending on the truck’s age and condition.

If cost isn’t a deterrent, a shiny new truck with rebates, financing incentives, and warranty coverage could be the way to go. If you’re looking to cut costs, going with a certified pre-owned truck could provide you with extra protection. Certified pre-owned trucks may cost more than other pre-owned vehicles, but they come with a manufacturer’s inspection, manufacturer’s warranty, and possibly roadside assistance, which could give you extra peace of mind.

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4. Shop Around

Once you’ve figured out the right size and if you’re looking for a new or used vehicle, these are other factors to consider when shopping around:

Price 

The price of a pickup truck can vary greatly depending on the make, size, and year. For example, the average price of a new, full-size truck is $57,719, while a new midsize truck is around $41,868, according to September 2021 data from Kelley Blue Book. But certain models, trims, and features can cost you much more.

Think of a ballpark figure of how much you’re willing to spend on a vehicle, and what monthly payment is within your budget, if you’re thinking about financing the truck. Do some research and shop around online first to get an idea of prices.

Payload and towing power

Dig into individual truck stats — what’s the torque, how much payload does it offer, and how much can it tow? Torque is what helps the truck move and haul big stuff. Payload is what the truck can carry in the empty space, including the cabin and truck bed. Towing power is what the truck can pull.

If you’re looking for a heavy-duty truck with a very high towing capacity, the Ford F-350 has good consumer ratings and can tow up to 21,200 pounds with a gasoline engine. Depending on the year and trim level, these trucks typically cost somewhere between $50,000 to $90,000. If you’re looking to spend less and don’t need the towing capacity, some good options might be: the midsize Ford Ranger which can tow up to 7,500 pounds, the Toyota Tacoma which can tow up to 6,400 pounds, and the Chevrolet Colorado which can tow up to 7,600 pounds.

Many trucks on the market are close in hauling and towing capacity within their class, so it may come down to brand preference or features when choosing one over another.

Interior space

If you intend to use your truck as a work vehicle, rather than a family vehicle, you could consider a two-door, regular cab. However, if your truck will play double duty, you may opt for the more spacious extended cab or crew cab configurations with rear seats and four doors. Compare legroom and headroom to see what will give you the most comfortable ride.

Besides comfort, consider the tech. For example, climate controls throughout the cabin, USB ports, premium speakers, and rear vision cameras can make for a more comfortable driving experience.

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Fuel consumption 

Some trucks get better gas mileage than others, and that’s a key factor to consider because it contributes greatly to overall cost. If a truck costs more upfront but delivers more miles per gallon (mpg), it could end up saving you more money than a truck with a lower price point, but less efficient mpg.

Both diesel and hybrid trucks typically offer a higher (read: better) mileage per gallon than a truck that runs on gasoline. For example, the 2022 Ford Maverick is a fully hybrid, compact truck with a starting price of $20,000 and gets 42 miles per gallon in the city and 33 miles per gallon on the highway. In comparison, a standard gasoline-fueled pickup truck might get 13 to 22 miles per gallon in the city and 19 to 24 miles per gallon on the highway.

Visit the government’s Fuel Economy website to learn more about fuel efficiency for trucks of different sizes and their estimated annual fuel costs.

Safety

Last, but definitely not least, is considering the safety of the vehicle. Most trucks come with the standard safety features found on smaller vehicles, but it’s important to also look for safety features that would be specific for a larger vehicle, like trailer sway control, lane assist, and blind-spot monitoring.

5. Prepare To Buy (And Apply) 

If you find a truck and decide to finance it, you typically need to show your driver’s license, proof of income, and proof of residency to begin. The application for an auto loan usually involves a hard credit check, and lenders also check your debt-to-income ratio (DTI).

Your DTI ratio is a percentage that represents how much of your monthly income goes to debt payments.  The higher your score and the lower your DTI, the better chances you have of getting approved with a competitive interest rate.

That said, you’re not stuck forever with the initial rate and payment of your auto loan. If your credit score improves after buying, refinancing could change your loan terms for the better, and trucks happen to be the most refinanced type of vehicle.

What rate can I get? What rate can I get?

When’s the Right Time To Buy a Truck?

Generally, a good time to buy a truck is at the end of the year or month when dealerships are trying to get rid of cars to meet quotas. During this time, you may be able to haggle for a deal.

However, in the past year, the new and used car market has experienced a rapid increase in pricing. The U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics Consumer Price Index Summary report shows the used car index increased 24.4% over the last 12 months and the new car index rose by 8.7%.

With prices this high, it may not be an ideal time to buy a truck, but there’s no telling when prices will stabilize either. If you need to buy sooner rather than later, comparison shopping and negotiating could help you find a truck that fits your budget.

Do Your Research and Shop Around

Buying the right truck comes down to reviewing each of your options and whittling down the best choices based on your family and lifestyle. If you find the perfect truck at a dealership, know that financing through dealerships isn’t your only option. A truck is a high-ticket purchase — comparing options before making a decision could help you find a truck at the best possible price.

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About The Author


Taylor K. Medine

Taylor K. Medine is a personal finance writer covering money management topics and finance products. She's written for finance publications such as Credit Karma, CompareCards, and MagnifyMoney. She runs the blog TayTalksMoney, which discusses how Millennials and Generation Z can live an abundant life on a tight budget.


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