Choosing the Right Pickup Truck

When you choose the right pickup truck, you can do more, more efficiently.

| April/May 2007

For many of us, a pickup truck is essential to sustainable, self-reliant country living. Like a tractor or a pair of fence pliers, a truck is often the best tool to get things done — whether hauling hay or building materials, pulling a trailer of livestock, or moving furniture or other bulky items. With a pickup you’re ready to work anywhere at a moment’s notice.

For these reasons, a pickup is as much an investment in efficient work as it is a means of transportation. Thankfully, most are useful for many years; some are even reliable until they practically fall apart. Many of us know (or even own) a rickety truck that’s long on character — as much rust as paint, tailgate held in place by wire, holes in the floorboard — but nevertheless remains a reliable workhorse. Whether it’s time to finally replace such a pickup or you’re considering buying one for the first time, there are important things to consider, lest you end up with more, or less, truck than you actually need. While there are nearly as many options as there are uses for trucks, the good news is that, compared to their predecessors, modern pickups are much more comfortable and easier on the environment — with cleaner tailpipe emissions and better fuel economy.

Evaluate Your Needs

First and foremost, thoroughly examine your needs. Understanding how you would use a pickup will determine what size and type would be best, or if you really need one at all. Narrow the field by considering your most demanding tasks — the largest loads you will haul or the heaviest trailer you’ll regularly tow. A truck that can handle a load in one trip instead of two will be more economical to operate than one that’s smaller and more fuel efficient, especially when you factor in your time. Heavy loads demand a serious truck for the sake of safety — you need the mass, plus the suspension, power and braking system engineered to handle the weight.

Next, consider how much interior space you’ll need. If the majority of your missions will be solo, go with a standard cab. A bench seat will comfortably seat three adults, though the center passenger’s legroom will be tight given the transmission tunnel. If you regularly need to transport a work crew, the whole family or other precious cargo, opt for an extended cab or a full four-door crew cab. If you’re interested in the bigger cabs, make sure any model you consider also has the bed length you need. Many of the smaller and medium-sized pickups only offer a short bed with the crew cab (6 to 6 1/2 feet). Most of the largest trucks are available with both a full 8-foot bed and a four-door crew cab. The latter makes for a long pickup; one you won’t look forward to parking in town.

Today, there’s a truck for every need. Their popularity for work and personal use has led automakers to create a dizzying assortment of sizes, styles and options. Deciding which one is right for you can be overwhelming given that many models come with different options for cabs, beds, trim packages, engines and transmissions, as well as two- or four-wheel drive.

For all these reasons and more, prices vary widely. But, generally speaking, expect to pay about $15,000 for a basic, small pickup; about $20,000 to $25,000 for a mid-size; $30,000 to more than $50,000 for the biggest beasts of burden.

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