By Jim Travers
Full-size pickup trucks from Ford, GM and Ram continue to lead domestic automotive sales. There's good reason for that. Nothing beats the utility and versatility of a pickup, whether you're a homeowner with a family, a contractor running a small business or someone with an active lifestyle and lots of gear. If you're thinking about purchasing your first pickup, here are five things to consider before you buy.
1. How Will You Use It?
Pickups come in many more varieties than cars, with different bed lengths, two or four doors, a wide choice of interior trims and powertrains, and two-, four- or all-wheel drive. Which configuration you choose depends on your needs, and that will have a big impact on price, fuel economy and handling. The most common pickup configuration is a four-door half ton with 4WD in a mid-trim level. These trucks hit the sweet spot for most buyers, combining room for a family with ample towing and hauling capability, a more carlike ride and better fuel economy than the three-quarter-ton or one-ton trucks. That said, if your plans include work such as plowing or heavy towing, you're going to need a stronger pickup.
2. Pickups Aren't the Same As Cars
It may seem obvious, but driving and living with a pickup isn't the same as using a car. Pickups are bigger, heavier and more top heavy, and that means they're not going to handle like a car. Backup cameras, electronic safety features and interior creature comforts have made trucks a lot more carlike, but there's still no denying the laws of physics. Pickups take longer to stop and won't carve corners like a sports sedan. Parking can be more of a challenge as well, so make a visit to the local grocery store part of your test drive, along with stopping at home for a test fit in your driveway or garage. Keep in mind that some parking garages won't accommodate pickups at all or charge more if they do.
3. Don't Overbuy
Ads often show pickups slogging through mud bogs or pulling backhoes on trailers to the accompaniment of loud rock 'n' roll. That's all well and good, but most buyers may find trucks equipped for that kind of duty not as livable for everyday use. "Most people overbuy'" said Ram spokesman and truck enthusiast Nick Cappa, who pointed out that even a base six-cylinder full-size Ram half ton puts out more than 300 horsepower and can tow in the neighborhood of 7,000 pounds. Those numbers are typical of domestic pickups and are more than enough for most recreational boats and campers.
4. Consider Buying From Dealer Lot
With all the options and configurations available for customizing a truck so it's equipped the way you want, your best bet still may be to purchase one from dealer stock. If you're flexible about colors, trim and equipment, you're likely to find deep discounts on in-stock models that can shave as much as $10,000 or more from the sticker price, allowing you to get more truck for your money. And that doesn't mean you can't still customize your truck. Most dealers offer a wide variety of accessories and spray-in bedliners as well as custom wheels and tires; they can roll those upgrades into your financing.
5. Choose Options Wisely
Another big difference between a pickup and a car is the number of available options. Upgraded trim packages, more powerful engines and add-ons both functional and cosmetic can add up fast, and more than double the price of a pickup. These days, some trim level choices on the most expensive pickups can drive the sticker prices to near six-figure territory, and that's before you add any aftermarket accessories. Start by determining your must-haves, such as a cab with four doors or an engine and towing package appropriate for your needs. Then decide whether there's room in the budget for that leather interior or sunroof. With the average transaction price for a new pickup ringing up at more than $40,000, it doesn't take long for those options to hit the stratosphere.
Cars.com photos by Mark Williams