Buying a pickup truck

Everyone loves having a friend with a pickup truck. Whether moving furniture, pulling a trailer or hauling drywall for that basement reno, a pickup is often the best way to get things done.

But if you're thinking about leaving the realm of truck borrower and becoming a bona fide owner, there are a few things you need to learn. Stepping onto a dealer lot unprepared can be like visiting a country without knowing the language -- payload capacity, tongue weight and GVWR are just some of the jargon you may hear tossed around.

Finding the right pickup requires knowing exactly how you plan to use it. Misjudging your needs (or considering only your wants) leads to a classic new buyer error.

"They haven't figured out what it is they actually need, so they buy something that won't work for them," says Steven Patton, commercial sales specialist with Erinwood Ford in Mississauga, Ont. For example, if you're looking for a truck on which to mount a snow plow, a light-duty model isn't going to cut it, no matter how tempting the sales price.

To help get you started, we've put together a list of eight basic questions to ask yourself that'll get you out of the showroom and out on the road.

1. How much power do you need?
Do you need to pull a 30-foot fully loaded trailer? Then you'll probably need a one-ton model. If the heaviest load you're planning to carry is a week's worth of groceries, a compact model will probably suffice (or given gas prices, a pickup may not be the best choice at all.)

You'll find four-cylinder and six-cylinder engines in compact trucks. Full-size trucks offer more variety, with six-cylinders, V-8s and V-10s for heavier jobs.

If you're driving light loads, choose an engine with less horsepower. Towing requires greater horsepower and a heavier-duty suspension.

2. How much are you carrying?
This is especially important if you're pulling a trailer. Adding up the total weight of occupants, cargo, additional options and equipment (such as a roof rack or snowplow) plus the tongue weight (the weight of the trailer tongue that is carried on the hitch ball -- about 10 per cent to 15 per cent of a loaded trailer weight) gives you the payload weight.

You'll also need to know the maximum trailer weight, which is the weight your truck can pull on top of the cargo weight. Maximum trailer weight is defined as the Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR, or the maximum weight of a fully loaded trailer) and the truck payload less the tongue weight.


3. Do you need 2WD or 4WD?
Will you be driving city streets or muddy, unpaved back roads? While two-wheel drive (either front- or rear-wheel drive) is cheaper to buy and better on gas, four-wheel drive (or four by four) is a good idea for off-roading or slippery conditions, like on a boat ramp. You get better traction but less fuel economy.

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