Trucks are a great investment and a ton of fun to drive. Follow our guide on how to choose one of many great used pickup trucks.

In the market for your first truck? Congratulations, trucks have loads of power and come in handy in all sorts of unforeseen situations. Shopping for used pickup trucks is much the same as cars, but there are some extra considerations to keep in mind. Here’s the rundown.

Know Your History

What’s the mileage on the vehicle compared to its age? Ask about previous owner’s driving habits, commute, and whether the miles were primarily gained on highways or city streets (highway miles are easier on vehicles). Find out which parts, if any, have been changed, or if there’s been any body work. Obtain a Carfax report, but know that some damage may have been unreported. This makes the next step all the more important.

Basic Checks

As with all cars, you or a certified mechanic should thoroughly inspect the interior and exterior, under the hood, and undercarriage to assess the overall condition of the vehicle. Have small details been kept up with? That might be a clue to the level of overall care. A little rust is to be expected, but if there are areas rusted through the body, that is a sign that costly repairs are on the horizon. Check for leaks, belt condition, tire wear, and all fluid levels and color. Inspect the suspension components, including shocks, rubber bump stops, springs, and mounts, noting any looseness or wear. Trucks are more likely to be driven off-road and with more stress on the engine and transmission (when towing), so it’s important to have a clear handle on what kind of shape it’s in. During the test drive, check that all accessories, brakes, power anything, and that gears are shifting smoothly. Note the exhaust color which may indicate a larger issue if blue, white, or black, as Consumer Reports explains.

Size Matters

List the reasons you want a truck in the first place. How many people and what sort of things do you normally expect to carry? Cab and bed options vary widely, so don’t even start your search without a clear idea of your needs. If you need a crew cab to maximize occupancy and a long bed to carry lumber, it’s important to realize that parking in the city is going to be a nightmare. Consider any coverage you may want on the back. Sometimes it’s included, but if not, you’ll need to know how easy it is to add what you want.

Whatcha’ Doin’?

Return to your list of primary reasons for buying a truck. Do you want manual or automatic? Trucks come in light, medium, and heavy-duty. Maybe don’t spring for heavy-duty if your best reason is “just in case,” because there are serious differences in mpg for these bad boys, and you will pay for it even if you’re not using it. If you’re driving on difficult terrain, including seasonal icy highways, you will want to go for a 4×4. Especially in a light duty truck—if the back is empty and light, good luck getting off that ice patch.

A Hard Road to Tow

What, if anything, do you plan to tow? Know the required towing capacity of any items you plan to attach and adjust your search accordingly. If you don’t plan to tow and don’t have anything too heavy going in the back, don’t be afraid of light-duty, 4-cylinder engines. With today’s technology, these trucks are actually quite capable and your wallet will thank you at the pump.

Trucks are a great investment and a ton of fun to drive. Knowing your needs is the biggest part of picking out used pickup trucks, the rest is all part of the ride.

Blair Lampe

About the AuthorBlair Lampe

Blair Lampe is a New York-based freelance writer and mechanic.  She travels frequently and on a budget, which she documents on her website TheGreyBeyond.