Workers are loading wood into the bed of a 2018 Ram 1500 at a lumber yard.

Things to Know About Buying a Used Truck

When looking to buy a used truck, you may be overwhelmed by the many options that are available out there. However, there are some factors that you can focus on to help narrow down your search. Things like knowing how much you want to spend, what type of bed you need, or what features you’d like to be included can all help narrow down the choices when looking at used trucks for sale. Even having a brand preference can help you narrow down your search. The goal is simply to find the best used truck to fit your needs and lifestyle, and we have provided a guide to help you make that choice.

Review Your Budget

Knowing your budget is an essential part of buying a truck. What you spend on a truck depends on whether you are purchasing a truck for personal or business use. If you need a truck that will last you through a full work week of heavy lifting and towing, you may want to invest more in a truck that will be able to do all of those things for a long time. However, if you are just looking for a commuter vehicle that can be used to haul small loads, or occasionally help someone move, then you might be able to get away with buying a smaller or cheaper model.

To lower the monthly payment, you should be prepared to make a down payment. Ideally, you should set aside 15% of the total cost for the down payment. You should also try to get pre-approved for financing from a bank or credit union if you need financial help to buy your truck. A pre-approval will help you know how much you can spend on a truck and how much you can afford for interest rates.

Check special fees and regulations in your state about the business use of a truck, too, if you plan to use it primarily for work purposes. For example, can you write off the truck as a business expense in your state, and what are the requirements to do so? Also, depending on where you live, a truck may require a special license or fees. For a commercial vehicle, check with your state’s motor vehicle authorities before buying your truck.

What to Know Before You Buy

The grilles of several used trucks for sale are shown in closeup.

The starting point of your truck buying journey should be assessing what you actually need the truck to be able to do for you. Since trucks come in a wide variety of weights, cab sizes, bed sizes, towing capability, and payload capacity, it is essential to know what features to focus on. Full-sized pickup trucks usually come with larger beds and better towing and payload capacities, while midsize trucks come with shorter beds. You can also choose between two-door and four-door cab configurations, so if you intend to drive a lot of passengers around often, you might want to opt for a truck with four doors as they generally have more space in the cab.

Choosing the best engine is also a major point for consideration. Trucks can come with two-wheel or four-wheel drive options, which have different benefits for the driver. Two-wheel options will be better for those who will be mostly driving on pavement, while four-wheel drive options are ideal for those who go off-road. Engines can also range from smaller 4-cylinder and V6s to heartier V8s and heavy hauling diesels.

The truck you buy depends on your daily lifestyle needs. An extended-cab or crew-cab model with four doors will probably be better for families. Seasonal weather can also be a factor. Dealing with conditions such as snow and deep mud, or going off-road, creates the need for a four-wheel-drive truck. Another economic consideration you should be aware of is fuel economy because trucks vary widely in fuel economy depending on size, drive, and engine type. Trucks with the best fuel economy are smaller, weigh less, and have less powerful engines.

Types of Pickup Trucks

Pickups come in various shapes and sizes. Midsize is the classification for smaller truck models that usually are equipped with V6 and 4-cylinder engines that make them better for commuting with. Half-ton trucks, the smallest full-size model, are generally designated by a number of 1500 (or F-150 if you are looking at the Ford model line). Midsize and half-ton trucks both fall within the category of light-duty.

If you require something bigger, stronger, and more resilient, you may want to look for a heavy-duty three-quarter-ton or one-ton truck. These trucks are usually the same size as half-ton trucks, but have beefed up suspension, more powerful engines, and can be identified by a 2500 or 3500 (F-250 and F-350 for Ford) model number. Heavy-duty trucks include fifth-wheel trailers for hauling with, and they usually have more robust diesel engines running under the hood. Keep in mind that diesel engines tend to have better fuel economy than other engine types as well as superior torque and towing power.

Bed and Cab Size

Trucks usually have options of three cab types, though the exact names will depend on the manufacturer. Crew-cab trucks have four full-size doors and a back seat, while extended cabs are smaller with rear doors hinging outward that cannot be moved unless those in the front seats open their doors. The smallest truck cab is called a regular cab with a single row of limited seating. Bigger cabs mean you will have less bed space. Larger cabs and a long bed make trucks harder to maneuver and park, so you usually have to sacrifice space in one area. However, some manufacturers offer bed extenders where the owner can lower the tailgate and extend the bed as needed. To decide what you need in cab and bed space, think of what you need to carry for passengers and loads, and how frequently the spaces will be used.

Truck History

The doors are open on a 2018 Ford F-250, which is shown from the side at a sane pit.

The truck you consider buying should have vehicle history documentation associated with the vehicle title. Before purchasing a used truck, ask the current owner for its history, including maintenance and oil change records, history of any accidents, and recent upgrades. Maintenance records should include repair records, regular tune-ups, and parts replacements. Ask why the owner is selling the truck and observe if the reason is consistent with the records. Documentation, such as oil change records, can tell you if the previous owner has appropriately taken care of the truck.

As an owner of a used truck, you should also know what accidents and collisions have already affected the truck. The information you should have is the extent of the damage and parts the previous owner had to replace after the damage. This will give you a good idea of what maintenance your truck might need in the near future, and if it is going to be worth buying at all. Don’t buy a truck that lacks maintenance and repair records because you don’t know how reliable it will be once you drive it home.

Checking Your Truck

Once you have decided on what truck you’re going to buy, it’s important to have a certified truck mechanic look at the truck before you buy the vehicle. Ideally, you should have a mechanic you have previously worked with for other vehicles that you know and trust take a look at it if you can. There are critical things a mechanic should look for when inspecting a used truck that you might not be able to tell on your own.

A mechanic should look for equipment function, including any optional equipment, wear and tear of such parts as brake pads, any issues that may compromise the truck frame or engine. A mechanic should address general mechanical and electric problems. Issues such as frame damage can occur if a truck has been involved in a severe accident. Issues such as wheel alignment can happen in an accident where the wheels will then fail to track correctly. Wheel misalignment can cause the truck to pull to one side and cause premature tire wear. Another issue critical to evaluation from a mechanic is whether the truck has a record of shoddy repair work, flood, or fire damage. If your mechanic gives you the all-clear, then you should be safe to buy.

Other Considerations

Buying a used truck is an investment. To make sure you get the best buy, research how long the truck model’s engine will last and if the engine model gives you enough power for how you will use the truck. Consider the truck’s mileage and if the truck will provide you with enough vehicle life for the amount you pay. After considering the price, type, and vehicle history, you are ready to go out and find your new truck today.