Written by Tori Tellem and Drew Hardin
Sometimes automakers nail it when it comes to knowing exactly what we need to outfit our pickups for work, play or a bit of both. But they also know personalizing is part of the lifestyle, and they leave a bit of that outfitting to us by offering a hearty list of options, from floormats and tires to heavy-duty towing equipment and performance upgrades.
Here’s a roundup of what we think are some of the best options, though it may never be that some of these appear across the board for every brand.
10. Niche Trucks
Why not just go straight for an entire optional truck! These days, factory specialty trucks are tailor-made for a specific type of buyer, such as outdoorsmen, hunters or off-roaders. But they aren’t all recreational vehicles. The Tradesman is technically a Ram option package, but it’s priced to move and is built with a theme: work truck. It has, among its many attributes, a spray-in bedliner, a Class IV trailer hitch, RamBox storage and heavy-duty cooling equipment. The Ford F-150 SVT Raptor is a pure off-road truck that’s wider than the standard F-150 and has a Torsen front differential, off-road shocks, special control arms and SVT-tuned tires, not to mention loads of suspension travel front and rear.
9. Big Engines
Four-cylinder engines are en vogue right now, even for trucks. But sometimes you can’t beat muscle, both in brute force and for that throaty sound. But upgrading to the big engine often is a necessity born of work or towing needs. And then yet again, maybe you want to check that option box because you simply want something big, like a Hemi or a Duramax. Have no guilt for a big engine; it’s available for a reason. Besides, that big ol’ Duramax will get you the great fuel economy that comes with diesel power, and on most models the Hemi has fuel-saver technology. See, no guilt.
8. Trailer-Sway Control
If you do any trailering, you’re familiar with the nuisance that is sway. Ford has made trailer-sway control an option for many of its trucks to prevent a trailer from heading in a particular direction and getting away from you. In its most simplistic form, it applies some brake pressure on the opposite side of your tow rig to help reduce the sway. It's one of those unusual options that provides significant insurance for both the expert and novice. And although we know they are technically separate features, we also combine the integrated brake controller with this favorite option of ours.
7. Extend the Bed
Ford, Ram, Suzuki and Nissan have already jumped on the idea of a bed extender, which does just what it says: It extends the length of the bed. It’s ideal if you’re trying to haul lumber or other goods when length matters. Also perfect for carting Suzuki motorcycles, right?
6. Tailgate Step
When Ford added the tailgate step to its options list a few years ago, it was one of those “aha moments” that we prefer to refer to as “duh moments.” As in, why wasn’t this invented sooner? It folds out so you can gain easy access to the bed rather than having to ungracefully crawl in and ungracefully fall out. With this aide, it’s simply a matter of stepping in and out, and it stows away in the tailgate when you’re not using it.
5. Off-Road Packages
Gone are the days of modifying your truck for off-road use by doing it yourself or heading to a 4x4 specialty shop. Now the factory can beef your truck for you, such as with Toyota’s TRD Off-Road Package, which includes a factory-tuned suspension, special shock absorbers and tires, and advanced technology such as downhill assist. Nissan also has packaged off-road oomph via its Pro-4X package, which includes an electronic-locking rear differential, off-road struts and hill descent control.
A factory-installed supercharger that doesn’t void the warranty? Yes, please. Toyota offers a supercharger kit for its 5.7-liter V-8 that turns up the heat to 504 horsepower and 550 pounds-feet of torque with help from an Eaton Twin Vortices system. It’s emissions-ready in all 50 states and is covered under the truck’s five-year, 60,000-mile powertrain warranty.
3. Office on the Go
The Ford Work Solutions is a bundled package of technologies for running your business remotely. Features include an in-dash computer with internet and hands-free calling and Tool Link, which lets you track, in real time, your inventory — and by that, we mean the tools or equipment stored in your pickup’s box. Work Solutions also has Crew Chief, a fleet-tracking system for managing vehicles, keeping an eye on driver performance and providing dispatching capabilities.
2. Wireless Hot Spot
Forget heading to Starbucks. An option worth every penny to us —and probably to any of you on the go, who are at work sites or who feel like you run your business out of the truck — is a WiFi system inside the vehicle for mobile functionality (and no one knows whether we’re on the move or sitting in a windowless office that day). GM’s system is available on select models, and it turns your truck into a wireless hot spot with a 150-foot range.
1. Cargo Management
A pickup truck is the ultimate road tool mostly because of its bed and special compartments. The question then becomes, “How do you take something like a hammer and make it better?” In the case of Ram, improving the tool meant adding a cargo management system like the RamBox, with lockable, lighted storage bins in the truck’s bed walls with enough space to fit toolboxes of course, but also stuff like kayak paddles, guns and fishing rods. Ram paid attention inside the bed, too, by building a cargo rail system with adjustable cleats.