Car Buying Tips

What Truck Should I Buy?

So you want to buy a truck, but you’re not sure what you need – or want? You’re in luck, because we’re here to tell you about All Things Pickup.

Those new to trucks often buy more than they need, and while there’s nothing wrong with that, why chew up cash and fuel if you don’t have to?

Automakers don’t make it any easier by trumpeting the biggest towing capacities in their ads. There’s more to it than that.

Towing (what it can pull) and payload (how much it can carry) depends on several factors, including engine and transmission, rear axle ratio, and truck size. And those biggest numbers are usually for a gooseneck or fifth-wheel trailer, the type that attach to a hitch in the bed. For conventional towing, with a hitch at the back, the maximum numbers are usually much less.

It’s all about the Gross Combined Weight Rating, or GCWR. This is the most the whole rig can weigh, including the truck, everything in it (including passengers), the trailer, and what’s on or in it.

The truck’s GCWR never changes. If you’re loaded to the limit, adding a couple of friends in the back seat will put you over.

Quite often, the highest towing capacity belongs to a regular cab and two-wheel drive – the type few people buy! – because the extra weight of a crew cab and 4x4 cuts into that GCWR. Be sure you know what your desired model can handle.

Trucks can pull more than their maximum, but they can’t safely stop, or steer properly, if they’re overloaded. Don’t just assume all is good. If you’ve got a big truck and heavy trailer, a couple of snowmobiles on it could put you over.

Also remember it’s the maximum. You’re okay at that high number every now and again, but if you’re always there, you’re better off moving up to a heavier-duty model. Too much weight puts a strain on the brakes, tires, frame, steering, and transmission.

But before you go too big, check your driver’s licence. If your truck and load are over a specified weight, you may need to upgrade to a commercial driver’s licence, and your rig might need an annual inspection.

Make sure the truck meets your needs. Will your motorcycle fit, or do you need a bed extender? Can you attach ramps for your ATV? Is there lockable storage for your tools? Nothing’s too trivial if it makes life easier.

Here’s a basic rundown of what’s available in the truck market right now, from smallest to largest.

Mid-Size Trucks

Light-duty towing or cargo hauling with around-town manoeuvrability

If you’re pulling a small pop-up tent trailer, utility trailer, or 6x8 enclosed trailer, these trucks are usually enough. Most should be able to handle a dirt bike in the box. Their smaller size is good for everyday driving as an SUV or crossover alternative.

Chevrolet Colorado/GMC Canyon

They have different styling cues, but these two are mechanical twins. They’re available with 2.5L four-cylinder gas engine, 2.8L Duramax four-cylinder diesel, or 3.6L V6. Configuration is Extended Cab or Crew Cab, which comes in two box lengths. Maximum towing with the diesel is 7,700 lb.

Chevrolet Colorado ZR2

This beefed-up model comes with V6 or diesel, and with more ground clearance, wider front and rear tracks, front and rear locking differentials, and really decent performance when you want to go barrelling along a high-speed off-road course.

Ford Ranger

The Ranger is coming back for 2019, although it’s now a mid-size, rather than a compact as the last one was. We won’t have full specs until it gets closer to market, but we know it’ll come as a SuperCab or SuperCrew, and with a turbo 2.3L EcoBoost four-cylinder engine and 10-speed automatic.

Honda Ridgeline

It’s based on an SUV, and can be a great choice for lighter duty. It uses a 3.5L V6, has all-wheel drive, and can tow up to 5,000 lb. Its secret weapon is its storage. There’s a locking, drainable trunk under the bed (it doubles as a cooler); the bed itself; pass-through storage under the rear seats; and a huge centre console. The tailgate goes down conventionally, or opens sideways like a door for easier loading.

Nissan Frontier

The Frontier’s an old design and it’s fallen behind its competitors. Its 4.0L V6 is strong but thirsty (there’s also a 2.5L four-cylinder available). On the bonus side, it’s well-sized, with good seating position and visibility, and it can tow up to 6,710 lb.

Toyota Tacoma

The “Taco” truck, as fans call it, comes in Access or Double Cab models. You can get a 2.5L four-cylinder or 3.5L V6, with automatic or manual transmission, and its top tow rating is 6,500 lb. When you order the right package, the Tacoma is all but unstoppable off-road. There’s a new TRD Pro model coming for 2019 that includes Fox internal bypass shocks, tuned springs, wider track, and off-road air intake for desert-style racing.

Half-Ton Trucks

Medium-duty towing and hauling; can still fit into most parking spaces

Got a boat, travel trailer, a “toy trailer” for your ATVs or snowmobiles, or a truck camper? These are the trucks that should get you where you’re going. They’re also good for everyday driving, although not as nimble in urban traffic as mid-size trucks.

Half-tons originally got the name because they could haul half a ton (1,000 lb). The capacities are higher today, but the name has stuck and refers to the lightest-duty models among full-size trucks.

Chevrolet Silverado 1500/GMC Sierra 1500

Each has its own styling and different trim levels, but they’re mechanically identical. They use a 4.3L V6, 5.3L V8, or 6.2L V8. There’s an available eAssist mild-hybrid feature that provides a boost of extra power when needed. Maximum towing capacity is 12,500 lb.

There are all-new versions coming for 2019. Their new V8 engines will feature sophisticated cylinder deactivation that can run from one to eight pistons for fuel efficiency, depending on power requirements; and a new 3.0L Duramax six-cylinder diesel engine is planned.

Ford F-150

Never mind best-selling truck; this is the best-selling vehicle in Canada. It features an aluminum body (ignore the “military grade” label; that’s just a marketing term Ford made up) on a high-strength steel frame, with barriers between them to prevent corrosion. There’s a choice of five engines: naturally aspirated 3.3L V6 and 5.0L V8; turbocharged EcoBoost 2.7L V6, 3.5L V6, and high-output 3.5L V6 that makes 510 lb-ft of torque. The turbos are fuel-efficient when used moderately, but they can chew up fuel pretty quick when towing. Top pulling capacity is 13,200 lb.

The F-150 undergoes a mild restyling for 2019, adding an all-new 2.7L EcoBoost V6 making 400 lb-ft of torque. Also coming is a 3.0L Power Stroke V6 diesel engine, making 440 lb-ft of torque, available in the upper-level trims.

Ford F-150 Raptor

The original factory-built off-road beast, the Raptor uses a high-output twin-turbo 3.5L V6 and features specifically designed internal-bypass Fox Racing Shox, unique tires, wider body and track, and up to 353 mm of wheel travel. It’s way more truck than you’ll ever need for the street, but we’re not complaining….

Nissan Titan

Like the Frontier, the Titan is also an older design. For 2018, all models come standard with a rear-view camera. It uses a 5.6L V8 and can tow up to 9,760 lb. You get a bumper-to-bumper warranty for five years or 160,000 km.

Ram 1500

You can get a 3.6L V6, a 5.7L Hemi V8, or 3.0L V6 EcoDiesel that makes 420 lb-ft of torque. Maximum towing is 10,640 lb. The Ram has a smooth ride thanks to its rear coil-over springs – everybody else uses leaf springs. There’s an optional air suspension that raises or lowers the height, and auto-levels the truck when it’s loaded, but its weight cuts into the truck’s payload.

An all-new Ram is coming for 2019, with stronger frame and maximum towing capacity of 12,750 lb. An all-new 3.6L V6 joins the 5.7L V8 and EcoDiesel. Both gas engines will be available with a mild-hybrid eTorque system that provides a burst of fuel-free power when needed.

Toyota Tundra

There’s a 4.6L V8 that, oddly enough, is only offered in one trim level. All others use a 5.7L V8 making 401 lb-ft of torque. Maximum towing capacity is 9,700 lb. For 2018, the Tundra adds new standard safety features such as adaptive cruise control, emergency braking, and lane-departure warning.

Heavy-Duty Trucks

High-weight towing and hauling, with specialized design considerations

These are the trucks for your fifth-wheel or gooseneck campers, horse trailers, and car trailers. They’re basically meant for work, rather than everyday driving.

If you’re towing or hauling a lot, these are the guys you want. For really heavy loads, consider a truck with dual rear wheels. If you’re new to trucks, remember that these big boys are built for hard work, and they can ride rough or bouncy when they’re empty. Only the Detroit automakers offer true heavy-duty models.

Chevrolet Silverado HD/GMC Sierra HD

The 2500 and 3500 models use a 6.0L V8 gasoline engine, or a 6.6L V8 Duramax diesel that makes 910 lb-ft of torque. Maximum conventional towing is 14,500 lb.

Ford Super Duty

The F-250, F-350, and F-450 offer a 6.2L V8 gasoline engine, or 6.7L V8 Power Stroke diesel engine that makes 935 lb-ft of torque. Conventional towing tops out at 21,000 lb.

Nissan Titan XD

Nissan says the XD “bridges the gap” between half-ton and three-quarter-ton trucks. Available engines are a 5.6L V8 gasoline engine or 5.0L Cummins V8 diesel. Maximum towing is 12,030 lb. That’s less than some half-tons, but the XD pulls high weights with less effort. Like the regular Titan, it also has a five-year/160,000 km bumper-to-bumper warranty.

Ram Heavy Duty

It’s available as 2500 or 3500, and with 5.7L V8, 6.4L V8, or 6.7L inline-six Cummins diesel. The diesel makes either 800 or 930 lb-ft of torque, depending on which automatic transmission you order. It’s also the only big truck to offer a manual transmission, which drops the power to 660 lb-ft.