Pickups 101: What Are the Best Factory Options?

IMG_7184 II

By Mathew Barnes

When selecting options for a pickup truck, what are the most useful and cost-effective upgrades? Some options may seem pointless and overpriced, while others may be important and priced so low that you can't afford not to get them. You have to know what you need, and we're here to help you figure that out.

Although many of the options below may be expensive -- especially when compared with less expensive aftermarket options -- we're listing what we think are the best pickup truck options you can order from the factory.

For General Use

Traction devices/four-wheel drive: A limited-slip, auto-locking or selectable locking rear differential and four-wheel drive will both cost significantly less when ordered from the factory than installing them after purchase. If you think your pickup will ever [be used in low-traction situations, then ordering these options from the factory is the most cost-effective way of getting them equipped the way you want. Full-size pickups, and many mid-sizers, offer 4WD with a separate low-range gear. Low-range multiplies the usable torque at the wheels, usually by twice as much or more when compared to high-range settings.

Some vehicles will never be placed in a situation where extra traction or torque is needed; if that's the case, cost of ownership will be significantly lower without 4WD. Choosing a 4x4 option adds weight and rolling resistance to the pickup, both of which decrease fuel efficiency.

Extra storage: This is an option that some owners can't live without. If protected or lockable storage is needed, there are a few new pickup options that offer it. The Honda Ridgeline comes standard with a large amount of storage space underneath the bed floor. This space is inaccessible and protected when the tailgate is closed; the locking tailgate secures any cargo placed in the storage bin.

Ram offers the 5-foot 7-inch and 6-foot 4-inch RamBox option, which has a lockable storage bin on each side of the bed. They lock -- along with the tailgate -- automatically when the truck's doors are locked. The RamBox does shrink room in the bed, but it leaves enough width in the bed for a 4-foot-wide sheet of plywood.

Ford, in both the F-150 and Super Duty, has a rear under-seat storage system that can be configured in a variety of ways and can be separately locked with the rear seat folded up or down. GM also offers under-seat storage cubbies for the rear in its pickups as well, but they cannot be locked.


LED bed lighting: For camping or other nighttime or early-morning outdoor activities, bed lighting makes items in the bed of a pickup more visible for loading or unloading. Cab-mounted cargo lamps work well but don't provide the amount of light needed to see the whole bed.

Spray-on bedliner: If the truck is going to be used to haul items that could scratch the paint or puncture the bed, then a spray-on bedliner is an excellent choice to protect it. Bedliner spray is tough stuff that prevents damage to steel or aluminum beds in all but the worst situations. With material this durable protecting the it, the bed should outlast the rest of the truck.

For Towing

Mirrors:[ One of the most important things for towing, especially for tall and wide loads that can block the driver's view of the rear, is good visibility. The extra height and width of the tow mirrors allow the driver to see along the sides of the trailer. Regular mirrors will create large blind spots near the rear of the trailer. This will make it more difficult to change lanes safely.

Less expensive aftermarket mirrors can be added to regular mirrors, but those can be noisy in the wind, usually must be adjusted manually, and most don't have a defrost option. The best tow mirrors for a new truck are the ones offered by the manufacturer; they should be extendable (manual or electric) and split (upper and lower mirrors).

IMG_7186 II

Camera system: Having a backup camera makes connecting and disconnecting trailers a breeze. Some manufacturers now offer additional cameras for viewing cargo in the bed; some systems provide 360-degree top-view sights around the truck; and a wireless camera can even be placed on (or inside) the rear of a trailer to aid in backing up. Ford offers a seven-camera system [JB14]that makes driving off-road, parking and cargo monitoring much easier and safer. The most useful camera in a pickup is the rearview camera on the tailgate. It allows for safer driving in Reverse and easier trailer hook ups. Additional cameras can be costly and may not be that beneficial unless they have a specific purpose.

Axle ratios: The axle ratio is a reduction in gearing. If the ratio is 3:1, that means the driveshaft will rotate three complete times for every one rotation the wheels make. This multiplies the available torque by 3, but also divides the speed by 3. Ratios in the front and rear axles vary by manufacturer; just because one has a 4.10:1 axle ratio and another has a 3.73:1 axle ratio, it doesn't necessarily mean that the 4.10:1 will tow better or that the 3.73:1 will get better gas mileage.

Transmission gear ratios also vary and affect the overall power output and feel of the pickup. When choosing a truck, look at the available ratios offered by the manufacturer and determine which ratio will work best for the conditions your truck will experience most often.

Depending on the model, a pickup may or may not be offered with a variety of axle ratios. If more than one option is available and fuel mileage is a higher priority than towing and/or hauling, then a numerically lower (typically called a higher-gear) axle ratio would be preferable. When towing or hauling heavy loads, or if you're planning to swap in taller tires, a numerically higher (low-gear) axle ratio is better.

The axle ratio can be changed later, but if the ratio desired is available from the factory, it will be cost effective to order the pickup with that ratio.

Trailer Brake Controller II

Integrated trailer brake controller: Factory trailer brake controllers are often included in towing packages that usually come with trailer tow mirrors. Like the mirrors, there are aftermarket options that are less expensive, but they don't integrate nearly as well into the braking and powertrain system as those from the factory.

Factory-installed trailer brake controllers will have an anti-sway system built in as well. This system is software based and uses sensors already on the vehicle to determine when the trailer is swaying. It will apply the trailer brakes and/or tow-vehicle brakes to specific wheels of the truck or trailer to minimize and stabilize the unwanted motions. When compared to aftermarket options, factory-installed trailer brake controllers are easier to read, easier to adjust and often positioned in a location that is much easier for the driver to engage manually, if needed.

Honorable Mentions

Bed access steps: GM pickups have corner bumper steps and grab holes that provide easy access to the bed. It doesn't matter if a trailer is hooked up to the truck, the steps are still accessible. Ford offers a step that stows inside the tailgate. It's a bit of a commitment to use this step because it must be deployed, but for some people the extra effort is worth the ease it provides in accessing the bed. It cannot be used with a trailer hooked up.

Bumper Step IIA

Cab and bed configuration: It's important to select the right size cab and bed from the factory. While this can be changed, the costs are astronomical. Ram offers a monstrous MegaCab, while all the other truckmakers offer a crew cab (although Toyota calls it a CrewMax for the Tundra). Whatever the manufacturer calls it, a crew cab has plenty of room for adults and gear in the rear seats.

Parking sensors: Pickups are large and the corners can be difficult to see; having parking sensors will make parking much easier for those who use their trucks as daily drivers.

Upgraded engine: [Upgrading to a more powerful gas engine can cost less than $1,000. Upgrading to a diesel, depending on the application, can cost $10,000 or more. If the additional power is really needed, then it's worth the cost.

Transmission: When towing, it's helpful to being able to select gears manually and see what gear the truck is in. For the ultimate in control and driving fun, there are still a few pickups offered with a manual transmission: all the mid-size players except the Honda Ridgeline and the Ram 2500/3500.

17gmc_sierra_3500_denali_crew_es_27_35196343833_o II

Fifth-wheel/gooseneck prep: If your pickup offers an in-bed trailer attachment, then it might be a good idea to get it installed from the factory. If you get the factory option, it's more likely to be universal and will increase the resale value in case you ever sell your pickup.

Tire-pressure monitoring system: What you want is a tire-pressure monitoring system for truck and trailer. That allows the driver to keep an eye on the tire pressure of each tire.

You may not need, or want, all the options listed here. And longtime pickup owners/buyers may have aftermarket products they prefer to factory equipment. But for first-time pickup owners and car buyers in general, ordering options from the factory will provide the best bang for the buck.

Cars.com photos by Matthew Barnes


IMG_7171 II



People believe that lower number axles give the best fuel economy. This is not true. My 3.92 gets better fuel economy than my friends 3.55. On the road his truck drops out of the 4 cyclinder mode going up hills and mine stays in the 4 cyclinder mode. It's the load on the engine, not the rpm's.

People believe that lower number axles give the best fuel economy. Posted by: Fredtheman | Sep 14, 2017


You'd think, wouldn't you. I bet most drivers would be shocked to realize how much fuel is burned before the car/truck ever gets to highway speed. For all the fussing about aero packages, in reality our vehicles use a TON of gas just idling at traffic lights, sitting in lines, etc.

Absolutely get the gears and the guts (cubic inches) that your load demands. Trying to make up for a wimpy drivetrain is a drag. Life is too short for pokey pickups.

For me drivetrain/body configuration come first. 4x4, engine, tranny, rear, cab configuration, and bed length are all deal makers or breakers for me. The only creature comfort I MUST have is AC. I REALLY want PW, PL, Cruise, big mirrors, good stereo, and cloth seats (non bench). I like backup camera and high intensity headlamps. The rest I can pretty much do without.

I have been surprised at how much I have enjoyed automatic wipers and fully automatic headlights (including automatic high/low beam selection and turn on in the rain) in my new truck. I feel that his devices are overpriced but would be cheap if put on every truck and really help with safety. Since these devices are already controlled by the truck's computer the only additional cost to the builder is the sensors required which cannot be very much money. Having experienced the benefits I would like to see them as standard on every vehicle made. Just yesterday I was driving around in the rain at dusk and noticed several vehicles without headlights turned on that were really hard to pick out. Another one that did have his lights on had his high beams on and was blinding oncoming traffic.

I feel that rear axle ratios are not nearly as importand now with most vehicles having a 7 to 1 or more spread in the transmission compared with a 2.5 to 1 that was common through the mid eighties. The 7 to 1 transmission does a lot more for you than changing the axle ratio from 3.31 to 3.73 which is all that you do now on a F150.

Buying a fully loaded truck for $52,000 MSRP that costs the same as other manufactures mid-grade trucks is a no brainier in my purchasing decision.

I also want the deeper axle ratio and a more powerful engine, I always level/lift my trucks and add larger tires. Having the deep gear set helps offset the effect the larger tires have on the truck.

I know people with F-150s with the ecoboost, Silverados with 5.3/6.2, and Rams with 5.7 Hemi and they all get very similar MPG to my lifted 16 Platinum Tundra with oversized tires. So the EPA MPG sticker really doesn't affect my purchasing decision.

The best factory options includes selecting the most powerful V8 engines offered in the light and HD segments so you can get work done fast and efficiently. Get a GM full size twin.


Agree about the gears with the multispeed auto trans we have today.

re: upgraded wipers, lights...

The features you refer to like wipers, headlights and auto dim, have been around in some form or other for a long time. My '94 Cougar had 'em. My 2009 Silverado LS is pretty basic and it's got 'em. How old was your LAST truck?

The best factory options includes selecting the most powerful, versatile and efficient engine line up offered in the light and HD segments so you can get work done fast and efficiently. Get a Ford.

Storage: Honestly, Honda's is best with Ram's coming in second. The under-seat storage of both Ford and GM actually decrease capacity because I need a FLAT floor under those seats for larger objects equivalent to a golf bag or 3-ball roller bowling bag. Even Honda understands that.

Bed liner: I prefer the spray-on kind vs the drop-in kind. I've owned two trucks with drop-in liners and they both showed significant wear on the bed rails and some scarring on the bed floor despite their supposed inability to move by being bolted in.

Towing mirrors: These are losing their importance as trailer-mounted rear-view cameras begin to cover the areas those mirrors can never reach. Side mirrors have always been concerned more about covering your blind spots off your rear quarters than they have about seeing directly behind because simply put, the trailer is going to block that view anyway, no matter how widely you set those mirrors. A plug-in camera that can be magnetically or otherwise stuck to the trailer is far more useful.

Much of the rest depends on the buyer's intended use but I do have one MAJOR request; that the ride height and bed walls be lowered to make loading and unloading easier, especially for 4x4 models where the load floor now comes chest high to an 'average sized' person. Not only does that make the truck unstable at highway speeds (especially in cross winds) but it saps as much as 20% of the possible gas mileage by sending so much air under that "dirty" body that an air dam alone simply cannot prevent.

All my trucks come with 4wd as standard, 2wd is an option that I will never buy. Trailer brake controller is the best option out there for me. My 3:42 axles pulls my 5k lb trailer just fine and it stops real easy with trailer brake adjusted correctly. Don't need no big honking 3/4 ton that I see pulling trailers with lawn mowers on them,

All my trucks come with 4wd as standard, 2wd is an option that I will never buy. Trailer brake controller is the best option out there for me. My 3:42 axles pulls my 5k lb trailer just fine and it stops real easy with trailer brake adjusted correctly. Don't need no big honking 3/4 ton that I see pulling trailers with lawn mowers on them,

My dads 98 Chevy 1500. Has everything you need and has over 250K miles on it! All this safety tech. stuff on vehicles is getting a little out of hand. Its making us as "drivers" less aware of our surroundings and more dependent on technology to do it for us!!
Some of it is needed (back up cameras) and some of it is just more stuff to go wrong with!!

Interesting article. It highlights the difference between countries on what options are available.

Here in Australia most options are relatively basic, like an auto. Here you tend to buy the model with the options already available. We tend not to have 4x4 options as our 4x4s from the base model to the highend tend to have all the off road electronic aids available.

Options here are things like a bed liner, bull bar, driving lights seat covers, dash mats, tow bars, etc. I would term most of our options "accessories".

If you want an off road suspension, even bull bars, bed liners, driving lights rims you are better off buying after market. Most reputable after market suppliers will honour OEM warranties.

To me it seems odd to buy an off road package ie, a Ford FX-4 off road package, when it should be standard on any 4x4.

On Australia Ford has the Ranger with an FX-4 package what you buy is an XLT with a decal, different rims and different seat fabric with FX-4 embroidered.

Oh, our XLT is trimmed differently to the US XLT, like our SR5 is different.

You are correct with your assumptions, but it is according to how you drive and what loads you place on your vehicle.

So, its horses for courses.

Since most pickups are show ponies driven around empty a higher rear axle ratio would be advantageous. But, as you stated you tow a couple ton or so a lower rear axle ratio is better.

Contrary to what papajim stated about cubic inches, it gearing and torque at the rear wheels that move the load, not cubic inches. Cubic inches will get you there quicker .......... but at a far greater cost in energy use.

This is why a 500hp prime mover can move a significant amount more weight than a new EcoBoob Raptor with a few horsepower less.

Its all about torque. Speed equates to power which equal lots more fuel.

So, yes a lower diff ratio like you have is wise.

Don't listen to papajim's advice.

The best factory options are the Silverado High Country or Sierra Denali packages with either the competition dominating 6.2 L V8 or Duramax V8. It's all about the POWER BABY!

Won't buy a truck again without 4Auto

Absolutely get the gears and the guts (cubic inches) that your load demands. Trying to make up for a wimpy drivetrain is a drag. Life is too short for pokey pickups.

@Big Al

My comment above stands on its own. Agree or disagree. I don't care.

Hahahah the GM trvlls are on a field day. There is a FEMA Camp waiting for you.

My comment above stands on its own. Agree or disagree. I don't care.

Posted by: papajim | Sep 14, 2017 1:39:34 PM

We do not care what you think either. Get over it, head to your nearest FEMA Camp.

Frank you have a mental problem, must be carbon monoxide (CO2) poisoning from driving Ford's. Invest in a CO 2 detector.

The best factory options come from America's toughest and best selling truck -FORD and are the Limited or Platinum packages combined with the competition dominating 3.5 L V8 or Powerstroke V8. It's all about the POWER and
QUALITY BABY! Something you can't get in the brand with the shakes.

Best option is positraction aka g80 locker,,I have only 2wd and never had problems getting thru even deep snow..all it takes is to toss some heavy weight in the bed..

And lower rear end gears still gives better mpg no matter what you amateurs say,,if it didnt why would they make it available..

The worst things people do is buy a truck based on what is in stock and what they have with the color they want. I worked for a dealer for around 12 years and seen people buy trucks planning to tow 5th wheels with and not order the package for 5th wheel setup. I see idiots buy a truck to put a plow on and no plow prep package. Order every heavy duty option you can. Towing package, snow plow prep, locking differential, gearing, etc, etc... . Too many look at gearing just as a number. With the tires being around 31"-33" tall compared to older trucks with 28" tires on 2wd's and 31's on 4wd's. If you plan heavy work or plan to put on bigger tires, get the deepest gearing you can order. Get the biggest engine possible, deepest gearing possible, locking differrentials, cooling, battery, charging systems, etc, etc, etc... that you can get. Learn what you're ordering.

i thinks so Choosing a 4x4 option adds weight and rolling resistance to the pickup, both of which decrease fuel efficiency.

@ GM Blows Chunks

Quality and Power?? Did you not see that the Powerstroke didn't produce the power it was supposed too?? You are highly mistaken and mislead. And the 3.5L is having timing chain issues., plus it never meets the "so called" MPG's that Ford claims...keep drinking your ford lies "cool-aide"!!!

While GM has the best small block V8s on the market and along with the most dominating Duramax diesel!!

I guess this is a reverse option story.

I had to order my '77 Jimmy from the factory so I could get it without 4X4 because they didn't keep any 4X2's on the lot's. Without real mountains around, the ground clearance, short wheelbase and standard shift got me through most anything but sand.
We used a old rusted Toyota Land Cruiser for the beach.

My main issue with options is that they aren't optional in a lot of cases, especially if you want a bigger engine you end up having to buy a bunch of crap you wouldn't buy otherwise. Good luck finding an HD truck with 4x4 and a diesel engine without being at least a midlevel trim package that adds on another 5-10 grand minimum to the sticker price.

The biggest mistake made when configuring a new truck is the gear ratio. You have new car manager at the dealership configuring and ordering these trucks. Most the time they have no mechanical apptitude or hauling experience. They will order the base open axle witch will be numerically the lowest for price point alone! It's really difficult to find a 5.0 f150 with 3:73 gears unless u order it. Elkins Ford in W by god Virginia orders all theirs with 3:73's.

Elkins Ford in W by god Virginia orders all theirs with 3:73's.
Posted by: Kyle | Sep 15, 2017


I think the sales managers and gm's at most dealerships aren't as dumb as you let on.

Also, we don't all live in the Ozarks or W. Virginia. If I still lived in the hills you can be sure I'd reach for the 3.73s too.

Where I live today it's flat as a table top. With today's multi speed automatics, the discussion about the rear gears gets a little less critical.

And get the big V8. It's too bad that Ford no longer offers the 6.2 motor in half ton trucks.

@Big Al--Thank you for supporting my comments, I just try to post information that is objective. I have had most of my comments blocked so maybe it is better that the papa jim's run the comment section. I don't need the aggravation and TTAC is more up-to-date on their postings. I let papa jim win and remove myself, that will make him happy.

Posted by: Jeff S | Sep 13, 2017 2:24:30 PM

A big V8 might make you feel better, but in your case, with that attitude, no one would care how you feel.
Go back to bed, you need more rest.

"offered with a manual transmission: all the mid-size players except the Honda Ridgeline and the Ram 2500/3500." Since when did the GM twins offer a manual transmission in a midsize? The Ram 2500/3500 are considered midsizes? Get your facts straight Mark!

My Hemi Ram 4x4 with the 3.21 gears gets fantastic mileage. I easily get 22 MPG hwy. cruising at 70-75 mph. I don't tow so the bigger gears wean't necessary.

With a Honda Ridgeline many tings are standard features on most all trim levels. This is like push button start lockable watertight in-bed trunk composite bed. But with it's Acura/Honda cars, SUVS/CUVS and minivan it depends on the trim level you get. Not much is offered as an option if anything.
So you get the Ridgeline RTL-E that is highest trim exception Black Edition. You buy it the way it is that's how it comes no options added. So RTL-E has sunroof and back sliding glass window you got to get it that way. It comes with Torque Vectoring AWD LED headlights. It comes with Honda Sensing (driving nanny's) Collison Mitigation Braking CMBS Lane Keeping Assist Blind Spot Information System Rear Cross Traffic Warning Lane Departure Warning ect. Navigation power memory seats walk away locking unlocking Tri-zone Climate Control Auto start. LED bed lights Truck Bed Audio System ect.
You can't change anything that's the way it is.

This post makes a lot of sense indeed and I appreciate the work

You can't change anything, that's the way it is. Posted by: RIDGELINE OWNER 2007 Sept 16, 2017

@Ridgeline Owner

Seems like those Honda executives should take a ride to Burger King. At BK you can get a Whopper. You can get it "your way."

From the sound of it, at Honda you get it "their way."

Since when did the GM twins offer a manual transmission in a midsize? The Ram 2500/3500 are considered midsizes? Get your facts straight Mark! Posted by: LuCas | Sep 16, 2017


Get yer own facts straight dude! Both generations of the GM midsize trucks were offered with a choice of auto or standard trans.

Likewise for the previous generation, the S10 family. So, GM has never offered a midsize or compact model that did not give buyers that choice. Please cite specifics if you feel strongly about it.

Thank you I Have learnt a lot

Forgot to mention Honda RTL-E being highest Trim level of Ridgeline except Black Edition that is just appearance package Black with black/red seats red stitching around door trim and red foot well/door pull lighting ambient lighting instead of blue found in RTL-E model. Also red stitching around steering wheel.
RTL-E and Black Edition come with heated steering wheel standard but you can add this to most other lower price models as an accessory.
So going down from the RTL-E to next trim RTL-T takes away Honda Sensing driving nanny's also the rear slider back glass you can not add them as options. Instead of Blind Spot Warning System like Black Edition/RTL-E models have you get Lane Watch Camera on right hand side mirror RTL-T. This displays a picture view in the Navigation System of what's behind you on the right side when you activate your right turn signal or depress a button on the turn signal to keep the view.
So you can't add this or that to make it the way you wan't

The best factory options includes selecting the most powerful V8 engines offered in the light and HD segments so you can get work done fast and efficiently. Get a GM full size twin.

Im luvin my rear camera and hill decent on my 15 Prospector. Also has storage in boxes behind the front seats. And more storage under the back seats.

The comments to this entry are closed.