A red 2020 GMC Sierra 1500 is shown from the front parked in front of a lake after researching used trucks.

How to Shop for a Used Truck

Buying a used truck is different than searching for a used car. You have a lot of things to consider in terms of the mechanical care it received, what it was used for by the previous owner, and whether or not it was heavily worked. Most used trucks from the last decade are going to last a long time if they are maintained well and are built to be driven well over 200,000 miles with the right care. There are several things to consider when you buy a used truck, whether through a personal sale or from a dealership, and this list can give you a few pointers to find a used truck in good condition.

Maintenance Is Key

Good maintenance can make or break a vehicle of any kind, but a truck works harder than other vehicles like cars or SUVs. Most people buy a truck for hauling or towing, and when a truck is used for its intended purpose, it gets a tough workout. As with any used vehicle, you want to know whether or not the truck has been to the shop for maintenance or repairs regularly. The previous owner should be able to show you the history of oil changes, scheduled inspections, and other expected maintenance suggested by the owner’s manual. Without this history of care, you don’t know what you’re inheriting with your truck.

While you look over the truck, check for signs of rust. Coastal regions near the ocean or places that see a lot of snow are going to have more rusting, and it’s always good to look at door hinges, the undercarriage, and under the carpet on the floor to check for signs of rusting. Rust on the body isn’t as concerning as rust on the frame, so make sure you have a good flashlight to check under the truck. Some trucks receive an underbody coating to prevent rusting, and it’s worth asking whether or not this has been done.

A black 2018 Chevy Silverado 1500 is shown from the side driving in a field.

Learn the History

Every vehicle has a history, and buying from a dealership should include a CARFAX report so you know what maintenance has been done at a shop and whether or not the truck has been through an accident. The CARFAX report will also have the odometer reading, previous registrations, and information about existing liens. Knowing how many owners a truck has had over the years can help you determine whether or not you want to take the chance on a vehicle that may have changed hands several times. It’s better if you can find a truck that’s had a single owner who took good care of it, rather than a truck owned by three or more people who can’t tell you what they did with it.

One thing you don’t get with a CARFAX is whether or not a truck has been used for towing or hauling, and this is a big part of a truck’s history. You want to find out this information if at all possible because it definitely affects the amount of wear and tear a truck sees if it’s used for heavy-duty work. Some owners are great about knowing how to use a truck for proper towing duty, and others are inexperienced or unconcerned about the damage they can cause with improper use. Towing too much weight, using the wrong hitch, or improperly hitching a trailer are all ways a truck can be damaged. Hauling above the recommended payload can affect the suspension, shocks, and frame, so find out this history if you can.

Avoid purchasing a truck that’s been part of a fleet unless you know the company is good about taking excellent care of their trucks. Fleet vehicles are used for a number of purposes, like police cars, construction work, and even as rentals. You are likely to find these vehicles are put through a lot of harsh treatment and are better being avoided unless you can get a really low price and you can do your own repairs.

Have an Open Mind

Even though you may have a specific brand in mind, be willing to consider alternatives. Most trucks today are built to last, and trucks are always available with countless options to make a truck fit the specs you need. If you have particular requirements you want to find in a truck, remember that you could discover the perfect used truck in a brand you might not expect. Being loyal to one specific brand can mean you miss a great deal because you aren’t willing to look at what’s available. Besides, even generally trustworthy brands have bad years or occasional lemons that have problems. Just looking can’t hurt, and you might find a diamond in the rough if you keep an open mind.

Research Generations Before You Shop

No matter what brand of truck you plan to buy, it’s a good idea to find out when the most recent generation began or ended. You want to buy the trucks built later in a generation, so you get the benefit of the tweaks done during a cycle after a truck has received updates in engineering, body style, features, or even a new platform. Buy a truck at least a year or two into a generation so you can be more certain bugs have been worked out of the design.

A red 2021 GMC Sierra AT4 is shown off-roading in the mountains.

Take It to Your Trusted Mechanic

If you check over the truck and believe it looks rust-free, has a good maintenance record, and is a good generational year for purchase, take it out for a test drive and plan a stop with your personal mechanic. You want to have the truck inspected by an objective party before you buy to catch any issues you might have missed. Even if you’re a decent mechanic yourself, it never hurts to have a second set of eyes check over the truck. It might be worth putting it on a lift to give it a really thorough inspection, or at the very least, you should bring along someone with mechanical knowledge to give you solid advice.

Having a knowledgeable person along while you shop can be a benefit when you test drive so you can listen to the engine, exhaust, and transmission. Roll down the windows, listen to how the truck shifts when you accelerate, and make sure you take it out on the highway. Testing out the steering, brakes, and all the gears – including reverse – is important, plus you want to test out all the basics like windshield wipers, turn signals, and headlights to make sure everything works the way it should.

Never trust that all the features are in working order. Always check them yourself. Try out the heated seats, climate control, radio, Bluetooth, and any other electronic features if they are there. Pull out and buckle seat belts and plug into phone chargers to see if they work. It will make a big difference in your life later when you need those features if you already know you have tested them.

Take Your Time

Unless you’re in a hurry to buy, give yourself plenty of time to research and shop for a used truck. When you allow time to investigate whatever leads come your way, you’re more likely to find what you really want. Rushing into a deal could mean you get a truck that isn’t what you need, and then you have to live with the frustration of a vehicle that can’t do everything you require or just has annoying inconvenient issues. Above all, make a list of requirements you know are important to you and use it as a checklist while you shop, and then have fun looking. Buying a vehicle that’s new to you should be exciting, so let yourself enjoy it!