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The Ultimate Guide to Buying Your First Truck

Buying your first pickup truck is something of a rite of passage, especially if you love the aesthetic that comes with it or you just want to be “that person” with a truck. You know the one — the one everybody calls when they need help moving, with the promise of payment in pizza and beer.

There are so many options available on the market that if you’ve never bought a pickup truck before, it can be challenging to know where to start. Here is our ultimate guide to buying your first truck.

What Do You Need It For?

Before you start browsing listings, you need to consider what you’re going to use your new pickup for. They might all look alike to the untrained eye, but under the hood, the truck you choose will largely depend on how you’re going to use it.

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Do you want to climb rocks or take your truck off-roading? Maybe you just like having a pickup because it makes it easier to bring home the groceries. Maybe you have a hobby like woodworking and need something to haul your materials so you don’t have to pay for freight.

Maybe you like to spend your time in the great outdoors and need something capable of towing a trailer full of gear or an RV. Your planned use will determine what sort of truck you ultimately end up buying, but it isn’t the only thing you should be looking at.

Truck Criteria to Consider

You’ve got a lot of different options to choose from, and each has its own strengths and special features. What sort of criteria should you consider when you’re looking for your first truck?


When you’re looking at truck sizes, we’re not talking about the length from bumper to bumper. Pickups come in three industry-standard sizes — light-duty, medium-duty and heavy-duty — and eight classes, depending on their weight.

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Light-duty trucks weigh less than 14,001 pounds and fall into Classes 1-3. Medium-duty trucks are Classes 4-6 and weigh between 14,001 and 26,000 pounds. Heavy-duty trucks fall into Classes 7-8 and weigh 26,001 pounds and up.

Trucks that weigh more than 33,000 pounds are Class 8 and considered tractor-trailers. For most applications, you’re going to be looking at medium-duty and light-duty trucks.


Regardless of its eventual use, you need to have some power under the hood. You may find smaller, lighter-duty trucks like the Ford Ranger with four-cylinder engines, but for the most part, you’ll be looking at six cylinders and up. For larger trucks, diesel engines are also an option and may be the better choice if you’re going to be towing or hauling heavy loads.

Towing Capacity

If you’re going to add a hitch to your truck, you need to understand both your towing and payload capacity. The towing capacity is the maximum amount of weight your truck can handle before you risk damaging your transmission.

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The payload capacity is how much weight you can put in the bed of your truck before it starts damaging your suspension. Figure out how much you want to tow before you start shopping for a new truck.

Special Features

While this isn’t a necessity, knowing the features that your potential new truck offers can help you make a decision. Do you need a truck with built-in Wi-Fi and satellite radio, or are you happy with something that offers basic features? Keep in mind that many of these extras will cost you more, so you’ll have to plan for them in your budget.

Understanding Power

Next, you need to understand the sort of power that your truck’s engine is capable of producing. This is especially important if you’re planning on towing anything. You might be thinking that horsepower is the number you need to focus on, but when it comes to towing, torque is your best friend. You need higher torque to get that truck moving, especially if you’ve got a trailer full of stuff.

A truck with high horsepower and low torque will be fast once it’s moving, but it starts slow and doesn’t have the power you’ll need to tow anything. The only exception to this rule is electric vehicles, which are capable of generating massive amounts of both horsepower and torque instantly.

If they become more readily available, EVs may be the best option for towing in the future. For the moment, we’re going to focus on more traditional pickups.

Don’t Skimp on Accessories

It’s tempting to bring home your truck and just start throwing stuff in the bed to get where you need to go. While it might seem convenient, you’ll just end up losing something important. You may even find yourself liable for damages if something flies out of the bed and hits another vehicle.

So don’t skimp on accessories. Invest in some cargo control hardware for a start. It doesn’t have to be fancy, but having a few tie-down straps in your truck for cases when you need to haul something unwieldy can make a world of difference.

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Finding Your Perfect Truck

Finding the perfect truck isn’t something that will happen overnight. It can take multiple test drives and exhausting hours of research before you’re ready to finally sign on that dotted line. Ultimately, that effort will ensure you get the perfect vehicle to meet all of your needs. Don’t jump in with both feet unless you’re sure you’re ready to swim!

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