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Unsure about the best truck for you? Narrow your options with this guide.

Which is the Right Truck for Me? | CarMax

These days, you don’t have to haul horses, hay, or heavy equipment for a living to want a truck for your personal transportation.

Trucks are hugely popular with US consumers; they’re tall, roomy, comfortable, and give a commanding view of the road. They haul people and gear — often plenty of both — and they’re very capable on and off the road.

Here are some tips to help you find the top trucks that fit your lifestyle. We’ll share our best pickup trucks (based on sales at our stores during the first nine months of 2017), and we highlight some trucks that tow, off-road trucks, and trucks that pack plenty of power. Let’s get trucking!


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Best pickup trucks of 2017

Start out your search with our best pickup trucks article, which includes truck reviews that summarize some of their great features. Here’s a list of those pickup trucks, based on sales at our lots around the country from the first nine months of 2017.

  1. Ford F150.The flagship model in Ford’s fleet of F-series pickups; this truck is available in different cab sizes, bed lengths, and engine sizes.
  2. Chevrolet Silverado 1500. Tough, versatile, and affordable (depending on the configuration), the Silverado 1500 is a go-to choice for Chevy fans.
  3. Dodge Ram 1500. The Ram series is a very capable roster of pickups for truck fans seeking an American alternative to Fords and Chevrolets.
  4. Toyota Tacoma. There’s a reason Toyota sells a lot of Tacomas; we took a look at this truck’s list of positive features in our video truck review of the 2015 Toyota Tacoma.
  5. GMC Sierra 1500. The Sierra 1500 is big and powerful, with a beefy, squared-off front end and lots of room in the cabin and in the bed.
  6. Toyota Tundra. Toyota sells a lot of Tundras, too, and they’re popular because of their large size and luxurious interior appointments in higher-trim models. See what we liked about this truck in our video review of the 2017 Toyota Tundra.
  7. Nissan Frontier. The Frontier is Nissan’s midsized pickup truck. Models like the 2017 Nissan Frontier SV come with a 2.5L four-cylinder engine or a torquey 4.0L V6 that’s good for 261 hp.
  8. Ford F250. Ford’s mainstream F150 not enough truck for you? The F250 is the next step up, both in size and in available horsepower. It has more towing capacity, and in some crew cab models, there’s room for six passengers.
  9. Ford Ranger. A strong choice for drivers looking for a smaller Ford pickup, despite not being sold new since 2011.
  10. Chevrolet Colorado. The Colorado has impressed reviewers like Motor Trend, which named it their Truck of the Year for 2015 and 2016.
  11. Nissan Titan. The Titan is a full-sized pickup that’s not too hard to find in a single-cab, two-door configuration. All you traditionalists out there can roll old-school in the Titan (it’s also available in four-door trims).
  12. Chevrolet Avalanche 1500. This is Chevy’s full-sized, crew-cab pickup with a twist — you can fold the two rear seats forward and fold the rear wall of the passenger cabin down to turn your Avalanche’s short bed into a long bed.
  13. Dodge Ram 2500. The 2500 model is the big Ram, and is well-suited for towing and hauling. Models like the 2012 Ram 2500 SLT Big Horn edition are available with a 5.7L Hemi® V8.
  14. Chevrolet Silverado 2500. You can go with a gas engine or a diesel engine in this big Chevy — choose the 2016 Chevrolet Silverado 2500 Work Truck with a turbodiesel V8 and you can tow an estimated 14,500 lbs when properly equipped2.
  15. Honda Ridgeline. This is Honda’s popular four-door pickup that’s built with unit-body construction, which gives it improved handling characteristics over a truck that’s built on a ladder-frame chassis. The Ridgeline has all-wheel drive, too, instead of four-wheel drive.

But, wait, you say: you want to know more about the differences between pickup trucks — which are some of the trucks that have high towing capacities (when properly equipped2), which are some great off road trucks, and which are some of the pickups that can carry lots of passengers in comfort? We’ve got you covered here too.


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Types of Trucks

First, there are smaller trucks, known as compact and midsized pickups. These trucks are suited to light work duty and can get you to and from your workplace just like any passenger vehicle can. Many of these trucks can be found with an extended cab, so you can carry additional passengers behind the front seats. Some even have four doors, like the crew-cab 2015 GMC Canyon SLT.

The smaller trucks with extra seating tend to have shorter cargo beds behind the cab — see the 2016 Chevrolet Colorado LT crew cab for an idea of these dimensions.

Then there are the bigger trucks, still often referred to with half-ton, three-quarter-ton, and one-ton classifications used to represent the maximum weight a truck could carry. These groupings are now kind of outdated, with many of these trucks now capable of carrying heavier loads than their classification might indicate.

For everyday driving comfort, look at half-ton pickups. These trucks are a popular class of pickups that include the Ford F-150 and the Toyota Tundra, and they offer ample towing capability2without sacrificing refinement or fuel economy. For example, the four-door, 2WD 2017 Ford F150 XLT, when equipped with a turbocharged V6 and an automatic transmission, gives drivers an estimated 19 city/26 hwy mpg1; a 4.0L, V6-powered 2013 Toyota Tundra with an automatic gearbox is good for an estimated 16 city/20 hwy mpg1.

If you’re looking at a truck primarily for heavy towing and hauling, you’ll need to focus on the three-quarter-ton and one-ton classes of trucks, also known as full-size and heavy duty pickups. The three-quarter-ton class includes the Dodge Ram 2500 and Ford F-250. For extreme towing capability, check out one-ton trucks like the Ford F-350 and GMC Sierra 35003.


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Engines and power

For the everyday truck owner, most half-ton trucks can get the job done. In general, midsized and half-ton trucks provide plenty of four- and six-cylinder engine options. Three-quarter-ton trucks typically feature the more powerful but less fuel-efficient V8 engine.

There are not many engines that beat the relative power of a diesel engine, though. Not long ago, only heavy-duty trucks offered diesel engines, and the increased towing power and impressive mileage that come with diesel power. Now, light-duty and full-sized trucks also offer diesel options, like the torque-rich, six-cylinder, EcoDiesel engine you’ll find in the 2015 Dodge Ram 1500 SLT.

A few words about torque. What is torque? In short, torque is twisting power — the pressure with which a thing can be made to rotate. In the case of truck engines, torque refers to how powerfully an engine can rotate the drive shaft that drives a truck’s axles and wheels. If your truck engine has a lot of torque, it can do a better job of pulling passengers and cargo, not to mention towing your boat or trailer.

What are some other trucks with powerful engines and lots of torque? There’s the 2014 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 High Country, which comes with a 420-hp eight-cylinder engine that’s not a diesel, but a 6.2L V8 with 460 lb-ft of torque. You can also look into a Ford like the 2016 F350 Lariat, which runs a 6.7L Powerstroke turbodiesel (400 hp and 800 lb-ft of torque).


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Towing

A truck’s towing capability depends on factors like engine size (including torque), axle strength, and equipment. You can read about these factors in more depth in our top 7 trucks for towing article, where we share examples of heavy-hauling trucks.

Depending on their engine and design, lighter-duty trucks have a towing capacity that typically ranges from an estimated 3,000 to 8,000 lbs2.

Three-quarter-ton and one-ton trucks are popular for towing, with a maximum potential towing capacity typically ranging from 5,000 to 13,000 lbs2.

For really big jobs, one-ton trucks like the heavy-duty, 4WD, 2016 Chevrolet Silverado 3500 High Country can offer towing capacities of 20,000 lbs when properly equipped2.

If you need to pull more than five tons with your truck — we’re talking about the really heavy stuff now — Dodge says its 2017 Ram 3500 Tradesman, equipped with extra rear (dually) tires and a fifth-wheel towing setup, 2WD, a 6.7L Cummins turbodiesel, and a heavy-duty automatic transmission, can tow an estimated 31,000 lbs2. And Fords like the 2017 Super Duty®, when they’ve got a 6.7L Power Stroke® turbodiesel under the hood, dually rear tires, and the proper towing preparations, can pull a boat or horse trailer that weighs 32,800 lbs2.


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Off-Roading

If you want break in your new ride with an off-road adventure, one thing to consider for your truck is four-wheel drive. All-wheel drive is better than two-wheel drive in most cases for off-roading, but manually-selectable four-wheel drive gives you more off-roading ability than AWD (read our AWD vs. 4WD: Which to Choose article for more here). Four-wheel drive gives you more oomph to get you up and over steep grades and across rocky landscapes.

Extra ground clearance is important too when you’re off-roading, to allow for plenty of wheel and tire travel over uneven ground. We list examples of trucks with impressive ride height in our top 10 cars with high ground clearance article.

A truck like the 2017 Toyota Tacoma TRD-Pro offers four-wheel drive, a raised suspension, and a locking rear differential to keep the back wheels turning in mud or dirt. It even has a digital inclinometer that tells you the steepness of the hill you’re tackling.

There’s also the 2014 Ford F150 SVT Raptor, a real off-road beast with a 400-hp V8 and some pretty aggressive looks about it.

The 2016 Dodge Ram 2500 Laramie Power Wagon packs quite an off-road punch too; this truck actually comes with a winch behind the front bumper, and an estimated 3,300-lb payload max when properly equipped, plus some serious ground clearance!

Looking for more truck shopping tips to find the best truck for you? Check out our truck research section, or you can browse all of our used pickup trucks for sale.

 

1. Fuel economy and range figures are based on EPA estimates when vehicles sold as new. Fuel economy may vary for reasons like driving conditions and vehicle history. See fueleconomy.gov for details.
2. Various factors may impact towing capacity, including weight of passengers, cargo, and options/accessories.

Unless otherwise noted, information relating to these featured vehicles comes from third-party sources, including manufacturer information. Product and company names may be trademarks™ or registered® trademarks of third-party entities. Use of them does not imply any affiliation with or endorsement by these entities.