Pre-owned vehicles can save you big compared to new cars, and they’re often just as good as their new counterparts. The same is true with used trucks. You can get the latest powertrains, designs, and features while saving thousands compared to a new truck and dodging some of the initial depreciation.
“But what should you look for in a used truck? Below, we cover all the key specifications you should consider when buying a pre-owned pickup and some of the modern features you may want too.
When shopping for a pre-owned pickup truck, some specifications are more important than others. Here are some of the main specifications you’ll want to consider and why.
The payload capacity is the total weight the truck can haul. This includes passengers, anything in the interior, and whatever you put in the bed. If you’re planning to haul anything in the bed of your truck, this is an extremely important specification.
The payload capacity considers the overall strength of the truck’s construction, but it is also impacted by the capability of the brakes and suspension. Exceeding the payload capacity can create unsafe braking and handling conditions and impact the pickup’s structural integrity.
If you plan to haul heavy payloads, a heavy-duty pickup is your best bet, like Ford’s SuperDuty lineup, the Chevrolet Silverado 2500 or 3500 trucks, or the RAM 2500 or 3500.
Remember that a truck’s payload capacity is directly impacted by any options you add. So loading a truck with many accessories or weight-increasing options will directly impact the payload capacity.
Trucks are also among the most capable tow vehicles on the market, so this is a primary need for many shoppers. A truck’s towing capacity, like the payload capacity, must account for several areas of the truck, including the drivetrain’s strength, the structural integrity, and the brakes and suspension.
Like payload, going over the towing capacity creates an unsafe condition and could cause damage or an accident.
The towing capacity will have a few ratings to consider. The main towing capacity is the total kilograms the truck can physically pull. There is also a tongue capacity, which is the maximum weight at the front-most section of the trailer — where it connects to the truck’s hitch.
Exceeding this the tongue capacity can cause the truck’s rear end to squat, reducing the front tires’ traction.
There is also a third-wheel capacity. A third-wheel hitch mounts inside the truck’s bed and offers a significantly higher tow rating because of the structural integrity of the area and increased balance. You rarely see a third-wheel rating in light-duty pickups, like the Silverado 1500, GMC Sierra 1500, or Chevrolet Colorado. This is generally reserved for heavy-duty trucks.
If you’re hauling anything between 7,000 and 13,000 pounds, you’ll need a light-duty truck, like the Silverado 1500, Toyota Tundra, or Nissan Titan. Anything over 13,000 pounds will generally require a heavy-duty truck.
Remember that the maximum towing capacity for the truck you’re looking at may only be valid with the optional tow package. Always verify this package is installed or you can at least pull together aftermarket items to mimic the package.
Horsepower is a common specification across all vehicles. While this is commonly used to rate a vehicle’s power, it is only half of the equation (more on that later). Horsepower is the engine’s ability to maintain speed under a load.
So, if you’re traveling 60 mph with a trailer, this rating is what determines how hard the engine must work to maintain this speed. This is a highly important rating for people who do long-haul highway towing.
In general, you can expect a gasoline engine to have higher peak torque than a diesel engine. The new electric-truck fad is shaking things up, as EV pickups will have excellent horsepower ratings.
Torque is the other half of a vehicle’s power. Torque, which is measured in pound-feet, is the low-end power of the engine and is essentially the engine’s ability to move weight. When towing, the more torque your engine has, the easier it is to get the trailer moving. This is an important rating for folks who do most of their towing around town.
Fuel type can also impact torque. In most cases, a turbodiesel engine will provide far more low-end torque than a gasoline engine. However, this is often at the expense of peak horsepower, so they can struggle to maintain higher speeds.
Again, electric trucks, which have near limitless and immediately available torque are shaking things up.
When truck shopping, you may also encounter several drivetrain options. These will include two-, all-, and four-wheel drive. Each drivetrain has its own benefit, so let's dig in and see what you may need.
Two-wheel drive means only two wheels get power from the engine. In most pickup trucks, this will be rear-wheel drive (RWD). However, some compact and midsize pickups now have front-wheel drive (FWD).
A two-wheel-drive setup may not be ideal off-road or in snowy weather, but it generally offers the best fuel economy. This setup is also the lightest so it often offers a higher payload and towing capacity.
All-wheel drive (AWD) means that power can go to any of the four wheels at one time. Typically, this involves a centre differential that sends up to 100% of the power to each wheel for ideal traction. A computer often detects and predicts wheel slip so engine power always heads to the wheels with the most grip. This is great for snowy conditions but adds significant weight and can lower towing capacity. AWD is good for light off-roading also, but nothing too heavy.
Four-wheel drive (4WD) is far more common than AWD in pickups. Like AWD, 4WD sends power to all four wheels for maximum traction. However, 4WD is generally far less advanced than AWD, as there is no computer detecting or predicting wheel slip.
Four-wheel drive is also an on-demand system the driver must manually engage and disengage, generally via a shifter or button in the cab. Some older systems required exiting the vehicle and manually locking or unlocking the hubs. 4WD is intended for off-road use or use in extremely slippery conditions. Using 4WD on dry pavement can cause binding and drivetrain damage.
Some modern trucks also have an “Auto” or “4Auto” setting that allows the system to act as an AWD setup in normal driving conditions. When things get really messy, you can still activate 4WD to get max grip in deep mud or snow.
Most of today’s trucks have three cab sizes for various uses. While different brands have different names they use to define these cabs, they are generally grouped into regular cab, extended cab, and crew cab.
A regular cab is generally a two-door model with one bench seat that can accommodate two to three people, including the driver.
An extended cab model generally has four doors, but the door styles can vary. Some midsize extended cab trucks have a smaller rear door that opens like a normal door, but others have a reverse-hinged door that opens toward the truck's rear. These trucks have either two small jump seats in the rear or a full bench, accommodating four to five people. The rear seats are usually fairly cramped in these models.
Generally, a crew cab model has four full-size doors and a full-size rear bench seat. These are great for people who haul large work crews or use their trucks as the family car too, as they generally offer sedan-like rear legroom.
The cargo bed size is something you should always consider when buying a truck. They will generally come somewhere between 6 and 8 feet long, but you also need to consider its width. The overall width of the bed matters, but the bigger concern should be the width between the wheel wells. This is a more effective way to determine the truck’s hauling volume.
Some truck manufacturers will advertise this width, but others may not. So, you may want to bring a tape measure to get a measurement of the gap between the wheel wells. Compare this to the cargo you usually haul. This is extremely important if you haul large, flat items, like drywall or plywood.
Trucks were once simply work vehicles. Today, they can be just as well-equipped as most sedans and SUVs, especially when you get into GMC’s Denali lineup, Chevy’s High Country models, and RAM’s Bighorn pickups. Let’s look at some of the desirable features you may want to consider on your next pre-owned truck.
Big trucks can sometimes be a bear to back up, but with a backup camera — also called a rearview camera — you can see your rearward path without twisting your body around. Plus, some of these rearview cameras include hitch-alignment lines so you can easily align the hitch with the trailer’s tongue.
On a cold winter morning or a hot summer afternoon, it’s great to start your truck and have the cabin be at the perfect temperature when you get in. With remote start, you can do this right from the comfort of your home or office using the key fob.
Trucks are also well-known for having large blind spots, making changing lanes tougher than in a sedan or SUV. Blind-spot monitoring scans the truck’s natural blind spots and alerts you if there is a vehicle in this area via a light on the corresponding side-view mirror and an audible chime.
Our cell phones are an integral part of our daily lives, even in the car. Keep things safe by getting a truck with Bluetooth connectivity so you can make and receive phone calls hands-free. Plus, some Bluetooth connections will also stream your favourite music from your phone through your audio system.
Android Auto and Apple CarPlay link your Apple or Android device to the infotainment system, allowing you to use some of your favourite apps right from the truck’s infotainment screen. You can run navigation, stream music, make and receive calls, send text messages, and more.
If you do a lot of highway driving, you likely live on cruise control. Opt for an upgrade by finding a truck with adaptive cruise control. This system is like normal cruise control, but it uses cameras or radars to detect slower-moving traffic and adjust your speed without your interference. Some more advanced systems even off full stop and god for heavy traffic.
Parking a big truck can also be an issue for some drivers, but many newer pre-owned trucks include parking sensors. These helpful additions sense the distance between the front and rear of the truck and other stationary objects. It then displays the distance lines on the instrument cluster and emits tones that get faster as you get closer to the object.
Ready to make a move on a pre-owned truck? Clutch, Canada’s first 100% online pre-owned automotive retailer has tons of quality pre-owned trucks in stock and ready for delivery. With our process being all online, you can skip the stress of going to the dealership and shop from the comfort of your home.
All Clutch vehicles undergo a 210-point inspection and reconditioning process, then receive a 90-day or 6,000-km warranty. Plus, you get a 10-day or 750-km test-own period. If you don’t love your Clutch truck during this period, you can return it for a full refund or exchange it with no questions asked.