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?
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?
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?
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4. How many people will you carry?
5. Long or short?
6. Do you want manual or automatic?
7. Gas or diesel?
8. New or used?
Used pickups are plentiful and are significantly cheaper than new models. Older technology is sometimes easier to diagnose and cheaper to repair and parts are more accessible. But used vehicles are often sold without warranty, you can’t be sure of a vehicle’s previous drive history (though searching the VIN number on a service such as
If you opt for a used truck, it’s a good idea to have your mechanic give it a once-over before you sign on the dotted line. “You get that professional eye saying, ‘Here’s something I see on this vehicle that can potentially save you money down the road,'” says Mike Adema of Jake’s Auto Service Ltd. in Georgetown, Ont. “All vehicles have good and bad qualities. It’s about trying to match the vehicle to what the consumer expectations are.”
Finding a match
If you’re considering a private sale, you have to do your homework. While enthusiast sites such as
“Trucks have a lot of specifications,” says Sid Skeffington, a sales manager with Dartmouth Chrysler Jeep Dodge in Nova Scotia. “There’s a wide variety of reasons as to why people buy trucks. You have to suit them all a bit differently.”
Fiona Wagner is a freelance writer (and new used truck owner) in Georgetown, Ont.