A Basic Guide To Buying Your First Pickup Truck

Pickup trucks enable you to carry large loads, complete farming tasks and perform a myriad of other labor-intensive tasks. Traditionally, the top pickup trucks used as workhorse vehicles in the U.S. come from American manufacturers and carry model names that have decades-long histories. If you are in the market as a first-time buyer of a truck, you want to make sure you choose a vehicle that suits your needs from a reputable dealer. Learning about the basic characteristics of pickups can help you make an informed decision.


Size classifications for pickups include light-duty, medium-duty and heavy-duty. These classifications are based on standards developed by the Federal Highway Administration for a truck's gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR). The GVWR is the maximum operating weight of a truck and includes the cargo plus the vehicle's body, fuel, engine, passengers and accessories.

You can determine the classification on American-made pickup trucks by their model numbers.

  • 150 or 1500 are light-duty and have a GVWR of up to 10,000 lbs.
  • 250 or 2500 are medium-duty with a GVWR of 10,000 to 26,000 lbs depending on the model.
  • 350 or 3500 are heavy-duty and have a GVWR of up to 33,000 lbs.

If you have an idea of what type of payload you will haul in your truck, you can figure what size vehicle you need using manufacturer specification sheets that include the GVWR. Towing guides available from dealerships can also help you determine the truck size you need.

As you shop, keep in mind that light-duty trucks are compact vehicles and low to the ground while heavy-duty trucks are higher off the ground and more rugged.

Fuel Economy and Engine Size

Light-duty trucks generally have four cylinder engines and are more fuel efficient than medium and heavy-duty trucks. Larger trucks may also have diesel engines. You can also choose between rear drive and four-wheel drive configurations as you peruse truck models.

If you want to get the maximum fuel economy for a truck, you can purchase hybrid and electric models from major manufacturers. Some hybrid trucks and feature stop-start systems that shut down the engine when you are at a complete stop and start up again when you release the brake.

Cab and Bed Size

While many pickup trucks are designed for carrying just two people in the cab, if you have a family you can select trucks with four doors and extended cabs.

Extended cabs enable you to also carry groceries, luggage and other items inside the cab so you do not have to worry about belongings getting wet from rain or stolen from the cargo bed. Some trucks also have foldaway seats so you can make more room for interior cargo. However, the bigger the cab, the shorter the bed length will be.

If you plan to haul materials that are longer than a typical truck bed, you can also buy a pickup with an extended bed or purchase a fold out bed extender.

Interior Features

Pickup trucks come with many of the same interior and entertainment features of cars. Manufacturers provide state-of-the-art audio options so you can connect to satellite radio and Bluetooth-enabled devices such as your smartphone and GPS unit.

Trucks can also come with luxury features found in high-end cars such as heated seats and leather interiors.

If you purchase a light or medium-duty truck from a Ford dealer you will not have to worry about any extra state licensing to operate the vehicle. However, some states may require you to obtain an additional license to operate a heavy-duty truck. If you choose to purchase one of these larger trucks, d contact the motor vehicle department in your state to find out if you need to apply for a special license.