Step-By-Step Guide to Choosing a Work Truck

When choosing a work truck, always remember that you’re buying a work truck. Distractions abound in the advertising and marketing industries, but there are some basics you need to know regarding trucks designed for work.

Like purchasing a car, most people buying a work truck will consider the visual appearance of the model (body shape, color, etc.) Since this is almost entirely opinion based, we will disregard cosmetics and focus only on practical uses of work trucks. Other factors, such as brand loyalty, will be disregarded.

Two or Four-Wheel Drive

One of the main questions that prospective truck buyers ask is whether to opt for four-wheel drive. In the instance of choosing a work truck, this is an even more important question. Only having two-wheel drive does not render a truck useless. Two-wheel drive trucks will get marginally better gas mileage, and their relative simplicity in comparison to four-wheel drive trucks will decrease the chance of transmission problems.

Four-wheel drive trucks are often associated with more towing power, which is not entirely true. The addition of four-wheel drive (typically a few thousand extra dollars on a new truck) will benefit the driver who plans to cover slippery roads and off-road terrain.

If you are towing a recreational boat in normal conditions, four-wheel drive is not a factor, but if a light drizzle picks up and you find yourself heading into the hills, this is when the upgrade will come in handy. In regards to bigger tow loads, such as yachts or campers, a “dually,”  or a truck with two rear wheels on each side, will offer much more towing stability.

Extended Cabs

In the past several years, more and more work trucks include a rear cab for more passengers, and this has contributed to work trucks taking on a new role in the automobile industry. Now they can encompass a sort of all-around class that blends work with convenience. The RAM 1500 Rebel is a perfect example of this. While it can actually be tough to find a mid-size or bigger truck these days without an extended cab, it is still a factor to think about when choosing a work truck.

An extended cab adds a couple feet to the overall length of the truck, and this can impede on bed space. Some trucks simply extend the bed as well, which makes for practical load-and-passenger carriers, but also stretches the wheelbase. If you park in a tight lot regularly, a huge wheelbase could be an issue.

Models with extended cabs and shortened beds can still perform the basic duties of a work truck, but tasks such as hauling a motorcycle will present a few additional hurdles, such as fastening down the bike securely enough to not worry about it rolling off the open tailgate. Longer beds can close typically with a little shimmying of the bike.


Payload figures can be a misleading part of buying for someone new to trucks. Trucks are commonly divided into three categories based on hauling ability: light-duty, medium-duty and heavy-duty.

Ford F-150s and Chevrolet Silverado 1500s are both light-duty trucks, but that’s not to say they are incapable of supporting heavy payloads. The trucks known as “half-tons” don’t really reflect that moniker anymore because they are capable of carrying much more than that nowadays. A “half-ton” of the past could carry up to 1,000 pounds, but the trucks that formerly fell under that category like the F-150 and Silverado 1500 can now carry closer to a ton.

Towing Capacity

The light-duty trucks in general can tow 5,000 to 10,000 pounds. It is important to know that this will cover almost any towing job presented to the casual sportsman towing small trailers, boats, etc. If you are going to tow horses or a mobile home or something much heavier, then you may need a heavier duty truck, but in general, light duties will cover the field. Know what you are going to tow before buying and research approximate weights.

When choosing a work truck, other factors obviously come into play, such as those that matter when purchasing any automobile like gas mileage, safety ratings etc. These are easy to find and discern on spec sheets and web pages for individual models.

Photo credit: Flickr CC