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Truck Buying Guide

Electric pickup trucks are a small but rapidly growing segment offering the functionality of a truck and the sustainability of an electric vehicle. Here's every 2023 model-year battery-electric truck ranked from worst to best.

truck buying guide


A significant contributor to the high standing of trucks is the availability of different cab styles, bed sizes, and drivetrains. Trim levels and option packages allow two trucks of the same make and model to have wildly different price tags. For example, the 2023 GMC Sierra 1500 starts at $36,400. However, the most expensive configuration with a couple of option packages can cost over $80,000.

For towing, a full-size SUV or midsize SUV with a torquey engine and tow package can do nearly everything a pickup truck can. Furthermore, SUVs are often a bit easier to live with day-to-day. Why, then, would you need a truck?

SUVs almost always offer better fuel economy, thus saving you money in the long run. Additionally, their suspensions are tuned for more passenger comfort. Moreover, SUVs are more likely to rack up safety accolades than pickup trucks.

Full-size pickup trucks are the most popular trucks in America. Therefore, they are revered as the flagship products of the Detroit Three automakers. In 2021, the three best-selling vehicles in America were full-size trucks: the Ford F-150, Ram 1500, and Chevy Silverado, respectively. U.S. car and light truck sales in 2021 totaled just over 15 million vehicles. These three full-size pickup trucks accounted for 1.85 million of those sales.

In base configuration, most midsize trucks can haul and tow loads similar to what a base-model full-size truck can carry. Their smaller beds accommodate less volume but can move nearly as much weight as a full-size truck. Moreover, their moderate size makes them easier to handle in traffic and parking lots.

Although American drivers once prized compact trucks, they all but disappeared from showrooms by the turn of the 21st century. What had been compact trucks, like the Tacoma, grew into midsize trucks, leaving a void. Compact trucks were bound to make a comeback with their popularity based on solid mileage numbers, easy maneuverability, and a fair degree of practicality.

Just as car buyers have an appetite for high-performance sports cars, truck buyers sometimes seek vehicles pushing automotive engineering limits. In the truck world, these are usually high-performance models of regular trucks.

However, truck builders offer luxury trims. Trucks like the GMC Sierra Denali and Toyota Tundra 1794 Edition provide heated and ventilated seats, 19-speaker sound systems, and automatic running boards that retract for driving.

The most significant mechanical difference between a truck or SUV and a car or crossover is the frame on which each sits. Cars feature unibody construction. In other words, the body and chassis are built as a single structure, making them lighter and quieter. Furthermore, unibody construction provides a smoother on-road ride. However, off-road, they cannot flex to move over uneven ground. Nor can they tow or haul as much.

A truck bed is an open cargo platform behind the cab, usually bordered by three walls and a tailgate. The exposed bed is what sets a truck apart from an SUV. Beds are available in several lengths, and most manufacturers mix and match cab types with bed lengths.

Full-size trucks generally offer beds from around 5.5 feet to approximately 8 feet long. Midsize trucks offer beds around 5 to 6 feet long. The compact Maverick and Santa Cruz offer beds about 4.5 feet long. Most manufacturers offer an accessory bed extender that temporarily lengthens a bed for carrying oversized objects.

Furthermore, many trucks today offer optional tailgates that go beyond simply holding items in the bed. The multi-function tailgate on the Chevy Silverado (Multi-Flex) and GMC Sierra (Multi-Pro), for instance, has six configurations, including one where it forms a handy step to help you climb into the bed (complete with raised handgrip).

Most trucks have rear-wheel drive (RWD) and 4-wheel drive (4WD) configurations. Truck manufacturers tend to advertise this as 42 and 44. The Hyundai Santa Cruz and Ford Maverick come with either front-wheel drive (FWD) or all-wheel drive (AWD). Honda only offers the Ridgeline with AWD.

Each offers its advantages. Rear-wheel-drive trucks are less expensive and can generally out-tow their 4WD counterparts (because they are lighter, and a truck pulling a trailer is also pulling its weight). And, although no truck handles with the agility of a car, an RWD truck has more pleasant handling than a 4WD truck.

Virtually every truck for sale in the U.S. today is only available with an automatic transmission. Buyers can still get a manual transmission in the Jeep Gladiator and the Tacoma in the 2022 model year.

Historically, truck manufacturers advertised powerful engines which could haul and tow heavier loads. However, we argue that the most powerful engine is not always the best choice. If you rarely use your truck to tow, the fuel savings you get with a V6 may mean more to you than that little extra power you will never use from a big V8.

Active safety systems, once common only to luxury cars, have made their way into the truck market. Forward collision warning with pedestrian detection, blind-spot warning, automatic emergency braking, lane-keeping assist, and similar technologies are now available on most pickups. However, in most cases, they are only standard on the most expensive trims or as added-cost options.

Automakers tend to make just three or four trim levels with cars, often with only one or two engine choices and one or two transmission choices. Trucks are different, with a wide range of trim levels and options. For instance, the 2023 Sierra 1500 has nearly a $44,000 price difference between the base truck and the top-end model. Such price differences exist for virtually every full-size truck.

The purchase price is just one factor contributing to how a new truck affects your budget. A proper accounting of cost to own considers depreciation, fuel costs, repair, maintenance, insurance costs, etc.

Manufacturers build trucks first and foremost for high capability. Consequently, they often compromise on fuel economy to achieve that end. The most powerful trucks routinely see Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) miles per gallon (mpg) ratings in the low teens.

Yet, truck builders have used every trick to improve truck fuel economy. In its 2021 Automotive Trends Report, the EPA said that trucks had seen a more significant improvement in fuel economy and emissions than any other vehicle category in recent years.

To ensure you get the best performance from your truck, keep its wheels dressed with the right tires and adequately maintain them. You can learn more about choosing the right tire and maintenance from our Tires Guide.

Payload is essentially everything that your truck can carry, including you, your passengers, your dog, and anything else you would like to haul in your truck. Read our Payload Guide for more information about payload and payload capacity.

Edmunds classifies pickups in compact, midsize, full-size light-duty and full-size heavy-duty sizes. Knowing what you need and what you want in a truck is important if you expect to get the right tool for the job and not pay for more capability than you'll use.

Truck manufacturers often have different names for them, but the three main cab designs are regular cab, extended cab and crew cab. Regular-cab trucks have two doors, seat two or three people, and offer a small amount of in-cab storage.

Extended-cab trucks also have two doors but have a larger cab that can seat up to six people. The rear seating area can be cramped for passengers, so the primary benefit of an extended cab is its ability to hold more cargo in the locked, weathertight interior.

Crew-cab trucks have four doors and also seat up to six people. They have a more generous rear passenger space than extended cabs. Some automakers also offer two sizes of crew-cab designs for their trucks.

Trucks are typically sold with either a short bed or a long bed. There's no standardized measurement tied to each, so it mostly comes down to a particular truck's offering. Short beds typically keep the truck's overall length shorter, which helps with maneuverability, while long beds increase cargo space at the expense of either cab space or maneuverability.

One of the great things about pickup trucks is that you can custom-tailor the majority of them with optional equipment. That way, they'll perform the work you require during the week, handle your adventures on the weekends, and reflect your personality at all times. So, while base prices might range from about $21,000 for a basic compact truck to $40,000 for a bare-bones heavy-duty crew cab, you can easily spend double those figures for fully loaded models equipped with all of the extras.

Modern trucks come with gas, diesel and hybrid powertrains, and fully electric trucks are set to arrive on the market soon. Engines range from four-cylinder to V8 designs and are typically either turbocharged or naturally aspirated (aka non-turbocharged). Most trucks usually come with at least two engine choices, allowing you to pick one that best suits your needs. You might pick a four-cylinder engine to get the best fuel economy, for instance, or a beefy V8 or turbocharged V6 for strong acceleration and towing capability. The optional diesel engines in heavy-duty trucks are specifically designed for towing performance.

If you prefer to shift your own gears, a handful of trucks offer a manual transmission. But the majority roll out of the factory with an automatic. Nearly all trucks have standard two-wheel drive (2WD), with four-wheel drive (4WD) available as an option. Typically, a 2WD truck tows more weight and hauls more payload. But if you're planning to go off-road, you'll want 4WD.

Some 4WD trucks have a manual two-speed transfer case, while others offer shift-on-the-fly electronic 4WD. The low-range gearing available from a two-speed transfer case can be helpful when off-roading. Automatic 4WD is also available, engaging whenever reduced traction requires it. Limited-slip and locking differentials are also available to further maximize traction when off-road. 041b061a72


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