Here Are Five Essential Tips to Master the Art of Buying a Used Pickup Truck

Buying a good used truck is a process so complex that it should be recognized as an art form, but if you’re patient, organized, and know what to look for, you can end up with an awesome truck.
Chevrolet Colorado 9 photos
Photo: Chevrolet
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These workhorses of the automotive industry have become part of many families’ daily lives. Since they can get any job done and are the perfect partners for outdoor adventures, it’s understandable that they are so popular, but buying a new one might not be the best option for those with a tight budget.

I’ve always believed that if you’re not obsessed with all the latest tech, an older, higher trim-level truck that was taken care of is far better and cheaper than a new, entry-level one. You can even get a good full-size one for half the price of a mid-sized model.

Since the used pickup truck market is estimated by some to be four times bigger than that of new trucks, there are a lot of options out there. However, because these vehicles are put to work far more often than any passenger car, finding a used one that was well maintained is much more difficult.

Set a budget

The first thing you should do is determine what your budget is. If you have around $15,000, look for trucks that cost between $12,000 and $14,000, always leave a little wiggle room. You’ll need the money for a pre-purchase inspection, insurance, or minor repairs, don’t spend everything you have available on the truck alone, unless it’s a really great deal.

Know what truck you’re looking for

Toyota Tundra
Photo: Toyota Motor Corporation
Next, decide what kind of truck would fit your needs. Cab and bed size, engine power, transmission, drivetrain, axle layout, payload, and towing capacity should all be taken into consideration.

If you really want the best for your money, don’t make the mistake of narrowing your search down to the most low-mileage truck you can find or to a certain brand.

Go online, set your budget, and see what models are available, then do your research on those you like. Check how reliable they are, what known issues they have, or what powertrains are better in the long run.

Go out and inspect a few trucks

Nissan Frontier
Photo: Nissan Motor Co., Ltd.
Once you narrowed down the search to a few trucks in your area, go out there and see them because most of the time what you see online has little to do with the real thing.

Once you’re face-to-face with a truck and its seller or dealer, don’t let him or her be in charge of the process. Take your time and inspect everything thoroughly yourself.

Look for any damage or rust, check the tire tread, pop the hood, and check oil and coolant levels, make sure all electronics are working, open all the doors, and tailgate and take a test drive.

Understand the truck’s history and check service records

Chevrolet Silverado
Photo: Chevrolet
If you like what you see and the truck drives week then ask about its history. This is a vital part of the process because you don’t want one that was involved in a major accident, had ten previous owners, or has been neglected.

When it comes to maintenance, it’s important that you don’t settle for a good story and ask for proof like service records. If none are available, then you should be very skeptical and walk away, but if you really like the truck, ask the seller if he’s willing to pay for a pre-purchase inspection and make sure you choose the service provider.

In case you do get service records, analyze them thoroughly. Every maintenance operation or repair is logged with the vehicle’s mileage at the time, so if you see a 30,000-mile (48,280 km) gap between oil changes, then the truck was clearly not well-maintained.

Consider the truck’s mileage

Honda Ridgeline
Photo: Honda Motor Co., Ltd.
Now that you have a better idea about its history, it’s important to decide if the truck’s current milage fits your needs. If you’re planning to drive it over long distances frequently, you’ll want a low-mileage truck or a higher-mileage one with comprehensive engine service and maybe even a rebuild.

On the other hand, if you’ll be driving it around town, for short distances, then one with more miles shouldn’t be a major problem. If you did your homework thoroughly, you have an idea about when this type of engine requires a rebuilt so it will be easier to decide if it’s worth it.

Finally, we suggest that you check multiple trucks before you decide to buy one. As mentioned before, there are many options out there and you shouldn’t settle for the first truck you see.

Once you decide what truck you’re going to buy, take the car to a garage for a thorough inspection, regardless of how well it looks or how comprehensive its service history is.
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About the author: Vlad Radu
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Vlad's first car was custom coach built: an exotic he made out of wood, cardboard and a borrowed steering wheel at the age of five. Combining his previous experience in writing and car dealership years, his articles focus in depth on special cars of past and present times.
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