Buying a Truck? Consumer Reports Names the Key Factors to Consider

Today’s trucks are large, luxurious, and huge investments. No longer just work vehicles, pickups have become personal, family vehicles, too. They offer a comfortable ride with upscale interiors, savvy technology, and safety features.

There are so many choices out there in a market flooded with pickup trucks of all sizes. How do you choose? Consumer Reports explains what you need to know when shopping for your first truck.

How will you use a truck?

The perfect way to begin shopping for a truck, according to Consumer Reports, is knowing your specific needs. 

First, do you need a truck? Think about it. Do you need to carry heavy loads or pull a trailer regularly? Will you transport cargo that’s not neat and tidy, like mulch or manure? Do you only need a truck to get key tasks done? If you only need a truck on occasion, you may want to rent one for those jobs.

If you do need a truck on a regular basis, think about why you need it. If you don’t need to pull a trailer or other equipment, and you don’t need to move heavy loads, you don’t need a full-size or heavy-duty truck.

Size is also a factor. Where will you store or park the truck? A compact, light-duty, or mid-size truck may be a better choice if you lack storage options. It’s also important to know your budget. The cost of the truck isn’t the only thing to consider. What type of fuel economy does it get? Is the truck known to be reliable?

Also, keep in mind that the available configurations are nearly endless. You can choose engine types, cab size, bed size, and other options. Prices, according to Consumer Reports, range from $21,000 to more than $60,000.

Truck types, as explained by Consumer Reports

It’s a good idea to know the system when it comes to trucks. Full-sized or half-ton pickup trucks, which are the best-selling type, are designated as 1500. You’ll see this in Chevy Silverado and GMC Sierra among others.

Heavy-duty trucks, sometimes called three-quarter-ton trucks, are designated 2500. A one-ton heavy-duty truck is designated as 3500. You should also understand the different types of trucks.

Compact trucks

With these smaller trucks, like the Honda Ridgeline, Toyota Tacoma, and Chevrolet Colorado, the chassis is different from full-size trucks. Compact trucks usually offer a four-cylinder or V6 engine range. Often called mid-size trucks, they’re bigger than the small trucks of the past (remember the Chevy S-10?).

Full-sized trucks

Bigger and tougher than compact trucks, the full-sized pickup trucks ride higher off the ground. These trucks, like the Ford F-150s, Chevrolet Silverado 1500, Nissan Titan, and Toyota Tundra, are versatile enough to serve as fleet trucks, work trucks, or family vehicles.

Heavy-duty trucks

When you need to transport heavy loads or haul using trailers, this is the type of truck you need. Heavy-duty trucks are big, burly and get the job done. They make great commercial trucks and include the Ford F-Series Super Duty line, GMC Sierra 2500HD, and Chevy Silverado 2500HD, among others.

Key factors when truck shopping

According to Consumer Reports, these are the things to keep in mind when shopping for a truck:


Depending on the truck’s height and cabin, entering and exiting it may be difficult. Look for running boards, integrated steps, and specialized tailgates to make access easier.


The bed transforms your truck into a useful tool. A standard-size bed is eight feet. This gets shortened to six feet with an extended cab and five feet with a four-door crew cab. Smaller compact truck beds usually only run five to six feet, depending on the configuration you select.

Cab size

Regular cabs are the most affordable, though not so easy to find. Extended cabs offer more versatility. You can seat more passengers and store more. Crew cabs have four doors and rear seating and usually indicate a smaller truck bed.

Fuel economy

Whether they’re loaded or not, pickups drink up gas. Full-sized trucks relying on gas get 14 to 19 MPG on average. Half-ton diesel-powered trucks may get 20 MPG. When hauling a payload or pulling a trailer, the numbers drop further. Fuel efficiency matters when it comes to budgeting, so it’s something to keep in mind as you shop.

4WD, AWD, or rear-wheel drive

4WD or 4×4 is usually a system where you use a switch or a button to put the vehicle in 4WD mode. It’s not enabled full-time. These systems are not used for everyday driving on regular, dry pavement. Some trucks offer optional full-time 4WD and the vehicle handles the shifts for you, giving you traction when you need it without damaging the truck.


Even a few years ago, trucks rode like trucks. The ride wasn’t as smooth as a car’s unless you had enough weight in its bed. Now, it’s a different story. With bigger cabs and shorter beds, the latest generations of trucks’ ride is a lot smoother.

If you opt for a truck with a full-size bed, the ride may not be as smooth. If you add the full-size bed to an extended cab truck, you run into size issues. You have a super-long vehicle that you’ll need to store and park.


Today’s trucks also have a lot of new safety features. Many are standard, like electronic stability control. Other advanced safety options, such as auto emergency braking and forward collision alerts, are available with higher trim levels.


As Consumer Reports explains, trucks serve the purpose of hauling things, like cars, boats, trailers, and campers, behind them. The automaker will outline the weight limits on what a given truck can carry and pull.

Equipment for towing can be added when you buy the truck, which is the recommended and safest option. If hauling or towing is part of why you’re shopping for a truck, determine what you’ll need to tow so it can be part of your buying decision.

Diesel-powered trucks with their big, loud engines are better for heavy work so only select those if you’ll be hauling and towing often. An average compact truck tows between 3,000 and 7,000 pounds while full-sized trucks can tow 5,000 to 10,000 pounds. Heavy-duty trucks can tow as much as 31,000 pounds.