Key takeaways

  • Familiarize yourself with the features of top models to get an idea of what you need out of your truck.
  • Because of the high price point of both new and used trucks, you may need to consider financing through a lender or the dealership.
  • Research is key when it comes to buying a pickup that will fit your lifestyle and budget.

Choosing a pickup truck is going to take research, but preparation will lead to an informed decision that fits your lifestyle and finances. To pick the right truck, consider size and how often you’ll be towing. You should also familiarize yourself with common features like powertrain, axles, cab size and towing capacity before heading to the dealership.

When you’re ready to buy, compare multiple lenders to ensure you’re getting the best deal on rates — while also putting yourself in a prime position for negotiations.

8 steps to picking the right truck

The best way to buy a truck is to research. Being thorough will help you get exactly what you want — and need — before you apply for an auto loan.

1. Decide how much power you need

A truck with more horsepower, towing capacity and torque will cost more. It’s not all about price, of course, but you should consider whether you actually need a high level of power before spending thousands of dollars on it. A diesel engine — which offers even more power — will also be a costly addition when you buy your truck and when you fuel it.

A V6 or V8 engine is more common and offers more power, but there are also four-cylinder engines for lighter loads. If your biggest haul is for groceries, a more compact model that offers an automatic gas engine with good fuel efficiency may work better for your budget.

To get an idea of how engines affect price, compare the MSRPs for these trucks with different engines, as listed by Kelley Blue Book:

Model Engine MSRP
2024 Ford Ranger Supercrew XL V4 $34,265
2024 Ford F150 Super Cab XL V6 $43,175
2024 Ford F350 Super Duty Regular Cab XL V8 $48,010

You might also see stats about axle ratios expressed as decimals, such as 3.73 or 3.73:1. This means the driveshaft would turn 3.73 times for every turn of the wheel. A higher number means more towing capacity but less fuel efficiency.

2. Assess how much you’ll be hauling

Consider both the towing capacity and payload capacity when comparing models. Towing is how much your truck can haul behind it. Payload is the amount it can handle in the bed. Even if you aren’t planning to strap a heavy-duty horse trailer to the back of your truck, make sure its payload meets your needs.

A midsize truck is your best bet if you don’t plan on frequent tows. They are more affordable and boast better driving quality and fuel efficiency than their full-size counterparts.

If you have something to tow, choose a full-size truck. There are light-duty and heavy-duty options for almost every full-size model out there. Naturally, trucks meant for light duty can haul less — but again, they offer more fuel efficiency because of their lighter weights.

For example, the 2024 Honda Ridgeline can tow up to 5,000 pounds, the 2024 Ford Ranger tows up to 7,500 pounds and the 2024 Ford Super Duty offers a 40,000-pound tow rating.

Experts recommend

You also might want to invest in a tow rating over what you generally need. Kelly Blue Book recommends keeping 10 percent below the maximum towing capacity so miscalculations or shifting loads don’t cause damage.

3. Decide if you need two- or four-wheel drive

A truck with two-wheel drive will be less expensive and offer better fuel economy. You’ll be able to select either front- or rear-wheel drive, but either way, your truck will be best suited for staying on the road.

A truck with four-wheel drive is better suited to going off-road or navigating icy and slippery conditions, like on a boat ramp. You get better traction, but your truck won’t be as fuel-efficient.

4. Choose a cab and bed size

Cab space is likely one of the more important factors if you plan on using your truck for everyday trips. For most, a crew cab will make the most sense, even if it does mean spending more money.

  • Single cab: Single cabs are the classic two-door look. They typically only seat three people, but they often allow for longer beds.
  • Extended cab: Extended cabs are basically a cab and a half. You’ll have two smaller doors and limited legroom in the back seat, but it’s a good compromise between the single and crew cab options.
  • Crew cab: Crew cabs are the four-door option that resembles a sedan or SUV. The space of a crew cab varies by model and trim, but they are the best choice if you have backseat passengers on a regular basis.

In general, your bed will be shorter if you opt for a larger cab. So if a crew cab is necessary, you will likely be stuck with a shorter bed. And if you need a longer bed, you may have to settle for a single or extended cab.

5. Pick a fuel type

You have three main options when it comes to fuel.

Electric: Companies like Ford are committed to offering more electric trucks. While these are still relatively new options, the selection of electric vehicles has been expanding over the last few years. But with trucks, going electric might limit your payload or towing capacity — and cost you more.

Kelley Blue Book lists starting prices for newer models, including:

  • 2024 Ford F-150 Lightning: $57,090
  • 2024 Rivian R1T: $71,700
  • 2024 GMC Hummer EV Pickup: $98,845

Gas: For casual drivers, a gas engine may be best. They offer more versatility and a lower price tag than electric or diesel engines. You’re more likely to find them on the used market, too. However, they may be a little less fuel-efficient than diesel.

Diesel: Diesel engines are a little more fuel-efficient than gas engines. They also offer more power for working trucks. However, they cost more to buy and to fuel.

6. Decide between new and used

New trucks offer the latest technology and safety features, but they come at a cost. You will pay more for a new truck than a used truck. However, new trucks will give you the chance to be specific about every aspect of your ride, both interior and exterior. If you have a trim, technology or other features in mind, new is the way to go — and you could always consider a lease to keep your monthly payment reasonable.

A used truck is the more affordable choice. You may not be able to get the exact truck of your dreams, but you will avoid the significant depreciation of a new truck. And if you prioritize function, looking at reviews and getting a pre-purchase inspection can help you find a reliable ride.

To break down the expense of a new truck versus a used truck, we looked at both a used Ford F-150 XLT Supercrew and a new one. KBB lists fair market value for the 2019 model at $28,325, while the MSRP for the 2024 model is $45,510.

Ultimately, a new truck is best for someone who has a specific build in mind. If you want to avoid breaking the bank, a used truck will likely be a much more affordable option.

7. Look into trim options

Once you have considered the bigger aspects of owning a truck, start looking into actual makes, models and trims.

Every manufacturer offers slightly different configurations, and there are few things that come standard. Even new trucks may not come equipped with powered windows if you choose a less expensive trim. However, be aware that getting very specific with trim options may pose a challenge, and you may need to special order from the factory.

The trim level you want should give you a good idea of the price range you’ll be looking at. With the price range in mind, you can start shopping for loans and estimate your monthly payment.

8. Find the right auto loan

Trucks are one of the more expensive vehicle options, whether you opt for a new or used model. Because of this, you will likely need to consider an auto loan to cover financing.

Almost every dealership will offer in-house financing, but they generally aren’t the most competitive rates. If you’re shopping new, look for manufacturer incentives or special financing deals. Used trucks may not have these, but their lower price point should still keep costs down.

To get the best auto loan rates, compare multiple lenders before you visit the dealership. You will receive a 30-day window to shop, and when you do get to the negotiating table, it can give you an edge on bringing the asking price down.

Next steps

It might seem like a significant amount of research, but a truck is a huge investment. Make sure you know exactly what you want, read plenty of reviews and learn how to manage your auto loan.

In addition to the technical details, keep in mind the other costs of owning a truck. Regular maintenance, fuel and car insurance should all be factored into your budget to ensure you aren’t overspending.