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Pickups are not easy to specify because there are so many variables regarding engines, transmissions, wheel types and more. This guide will help you think about all the options you need to consider, no matter what make or model you're looking at.

How to choose a Pickup Truck

By Bill Roebuck

Pickup trucks -- in fact trucks of any kind -- are the most complex vehicles you can buy, simply because of the vast range of sizes, options and configurations in which they are available. The number of passengers typically carried, type of loads, box length, transmission type, towing capacity, GVWR, and driving conditions you expect to encounter are among the many criteria. That's why it's best to go to a truck specialist to ensure you get what you need and that the ordering process is done properly.

Here are nine key criteria to consider before narrowing down your decision to a specific make and model.

1. Payload: How much gear do you need to carry? Consider the gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) if you have a lot of gear to carry. Check the rated payload capacity (how much weight you can carry). Do you require a light-duty or heavy-dudy model? Halt-ton, three-quarter ton or one-ton capacity (typically designated 150/1500, 250/2500 and 350/3500 series)? Take into consideration the fact that you may be adding racking or a bed topper, or the weight of your toolbox. How many components will you be delivering to the jobsite in your own truck -- and what's the most these could weigh?

2. Cargo capacity: How about the bed size? Can you make do with a short cargo bed (typically 5 ft 6 in. long) or will you need a midsize (6 ft 4 in.) or full-length (8 ft) bed?

3. Towing capacity: Do you tow most of your gear in a trailer? Consider the towing capabilities and capacity of each model you're looking at. Also consider the suspension of the truck if you'll be towing regularly. General Motors Canada provides a payload and trailering guide at

2011 Ford F150.4. Fuel economy: Truck advertisements usually focus on power and torque, which both come at the expense of fuel economy. But the engine with the biggest grunt may be more power than you really need. Will a V6 engine do the job instead of a V8? Do you really need four-wheel drive? A diesel engine? How many miles will your truck travel annually, and how much fuel will you require? Getting a truck with only the power you'll typically need can save you big at the pumps. Also consider the benefit of using dual-fuel engines that use E85 fuel (up to 15% ethanol) for additional savings. Some makes offer hybrid gas/electric trucks for even more fuel savings.

5. Power: Sometimes you simply need grunt. Engines come in four-six, eight and 10 cylinder versions, in gas or diesel (you get more torque with diesels). With work trucks, torque is often a more important factor than fuel economy. And for heavy duty work around muddy jobsites, top torque ratings at low engine rpms may be what you need. Of course, as you would expect, the larger the engine, the more fuel it will use.

6. 2WD vs. 4WD. Four-wheel drive is great for helping you plow through muck and slime on wet jobsites, but if you don't typically do that kind of work, you can save money upfront and reduce your operating costs by selecting a two-wheel drive transmission.

2011 Ford F-150 with Ford Work Solutions option.7. Seating capacity: If it just you, or do you need room for a crew? Pickup truck seating capacities range from two to five, with varying degrees of space and comfort for rear seat passengers. Various models offer versions of cabs such as standard, extended cab, crew, supercrew, double cab, quad cab, king cab and more. You'll find that each manufacturer has a different name for each setup, so compare carefully. Some cabs also offer a flat load floor in the rear for extra storage capacity inside the truck.

8. Safety: Modern pickups have just about the same number of safety features as passenger vehicles these days. Some key benefits to look for are ABS, electronic brake force distribution, side-curtain airbags, rollover protection, tire pressure monitoring, traction control, stability control, anti-sway control for towing, and so forth. For towing over 1,000-lb (half-ton) loads, look for trailer brake controls integrated into the truck.

9. Options: Some trucks can easily be turned into mobile offices. Look for technologies such as Bluetooth connectivity, built-in GPS systems, remote-starting, rear backup cameras, extra power outlets, audio player inputs, built-in pickup bed storage boxes, an integrated tailgate step, storage spaces for papers and a laptop, and flat work surfaces that make it easier to do administrative work in the vehicle.

Bill Roebuck is the editor of CarTest! (c) 2011.

This page was updated on March 9, 2011, and reference to a dead link from General Motors was removed.

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