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When Henry Ford first coined the term “pickup” with an iteration of the Model T Roadster, the vehicle was intended for farmers who needed a better way to haul their harvest. The vehicle quickly caught on. Nearly a century later, pickup trucks account for about 20% of all vehicle sales. But they aren’t just for work anymore. The popularity of pickups is fueled by the versatile nature of the vehicle. A truck can be just as useful for carpooling during the week as it is for towing your toys on the weekend. Payload? More like playload. But which model should you buy? Assess your current needs, consider your future wants and use this guide to determine what the best trucks to buy are for your lifestyle. 

white truck driving down a road

Frame Your Choices

Trucks are built on one of two chassis: unibody or body-on-frame. As the name implies, unibody construction is all one piece. The chassis is lighter and gets better fuel economy. Unibody trucks also offer a smoother ride. But only a few 2022 pickup trucks still utilize unibody frames. Why? Because the design isn’t as capable when it comes to towing or off-roading as those with body-on-frame construction, which have two distinct parts. The dual construction gives body-on-frame vehicles better flexibility. It is also less expensive to repair and maintain body-on-frame trucks. 

Bigger Isn’t Always Better

If your primary purpose for purchasing a truck is to throw kayaks in the back rather than pulling a dump trailer full of landscaping rocks, you probably don’t need to spend the extra money on a heavy-duty model. A midsize pickup could be the better buy for your needs. But if you have plans in the near future to buy a fifth wheel, you’re going to want something a bit burlier.  

silver 2022 Toyota Tacoma

Photo Credit: Toyota Newsroom

The Weighting Game

Sizes of pickup trucks don’t actually refer to the vehicle dimensions. The classifications are based on the gross vehicle weight rating. GVWR refers to the total weight the vehicle can carry and tow without compromising safety — it combines curb weight, payload and towing capacity.

Midsize

Full Size 

Heavy Duty

 

Keep in mind there isn’t a single entity governing the classification of pickup trucks, so there might be some discrepancies from one manufacturer to another. Also, the maximum GVWR is often advertised for a model, but depending on what configuration you choose the actual GVWR for your vehicle could be significantly different. A few factors that affect GVWR include cab size, bed length, engine type and towing packages.

red truck in the snow

Cab Sizes

Most new trucks have crew cabs or extended cabs. Crew cabs have four doors and are very spacious, similar to the interior of an SUV … or your first apartment. They might even be furnished better. Interior options often include heated/ventilated leather seats in the front with a wide center console and high-tech infotainment systems. Crew cabs fit five or six adults comfortably, depending on the configuration. 

Models with extended cabs also have four doors, but those in the rear are smaller. There is also less legroom in the rear than a crew cab, seating only four or five adults comfortably. But extended cabs are still quite cushy and boast a number of fine features, even in models with base trim.   

If you don’t need to transport all those people or have no use for the extra enclosed cargo space, consider limiting your search to a model with a regular cab. Some of the best used trucks to buy only have two doors and a bench seat that accommodates two or three adults. 

Bed Lengths

The open bed is the defining feature of a truck, making it more functional than other types of vehicles. But there’s a trade-off between cab size and bed length. For instance, the bed of a full-size pickup can be up to 8 feet long but may only be about 6 feet in a model with a crew cab. The standard bed on a midsize model ranges from 5-6.5 feet long, but could shrink to 4.5 feet depending on the cab size. Something this short isn’t going to be very useful for transporting loads of long lumber, though it could be just what you need for a weekend of mountain biking and car camping.

Besides the length of the bed, consider how different features make it more functional. Some models have in-bed trunks for stowing small items out of sight and preventing them from sliding around, while others have dual-action tailgates and steps to make loading/unloading large items easier. Bed liners are a must for many people.

a car engine

Engine Options

There are several different engine choices when shopping for trucks. Only a handful of new models were released in 2021 with four-cylinder engines. The most widely available are gas-powered V6s and V8s, but there are also some models on the market with 10 and 12 cylinders. Generally speaking, the larger the engine the more horsepower it will have. And boy do those horses get thirsty! Fuel economy tends to decrease as the power increases. Diesel engines are also an option for those requiring beast-like towing capabilities.

Internal combustion engines aren’t the only choice when it comes to pickup trucks, however. The field of hybrid and electric powertrains is growing. Look to models such as Ford F-150 Lightning, GMC Hummer EV and Rivian R1T for the latter.

Make It Your Own

Trucks are versatile vehicles that can be configured for work, play or both. The best truck to buy is going to be the one with the features that fit your lifestyle. From luxurious crew cabs with lots of legroom to beds with clever storage solutions and engines with numbers that don’t back down, filter your search accordingly and shop smarter on KSL Cars.