How to Buy Work Truck Without Making a Mistake – Eye-Opening Guide

Updated: June 6, 2018

Remember the days when all trucks looked the same?

Boxy design, ugly square front lights, and chromed front bumper. Thank God, those days are over. The situation is totally different today. Trucks have such a beautiful design, so many choose to drive them as a primary vehicle, with no or very little use for business purposes.

Just two decades ago the only thing you could do with it was to transport heavy load and your team to a job site. Now, you can really enjoy driving with all those fancy stuff you can see in premium cars or business limousines: sat-nav, shiny alloy wheels, and state-of-the-art sound system.

BUT does your truck need all that stuff?

With so many options you can easily make a mistake and spend money on a truck that you'll never use in a proper way or take full advantage of it.

This work truck buying guide will help you no matter if you are looking to upgrade your commercial fleet (for experienced truck drivers) or you are just about to start a new business adventure (first-time truck buyer). In general, you can apply these rules for purchasing all utility vehicles you will use for business: work truck, cargo (service) van, pickup and delivery van.

Before we dive deeper, you should already have an idea about the kind of commercial vehicle you need. Florist, carpenter, roofer, electrician or plumber have different needs, of course, so look around and see what your competitors drive, which vehicle is standard and most used within your industry. It is hard to say which is the best work truck around, but you’ll need to choose according to your requirements.

Remember, your truck says a lot about you and your business. It is like a business tool, no one likes to do business with a guy with a two-decades-old truck that looks like it will fall apart every minute. Knowing this, be smart and choose the vehicle you really need, nothing more and nothing less. And be responsible with your money.

Truck Size

The first question to consider – what truck size do I need? Does your business require a light-duty or a heavy-duty work truck? What do other guys in your industry drive? Do you know the cargo weight that you will drive in the truck bed? Does your job require to tow trailer, boat or car every day?

Answer these questions and then check how trucks are usually classified in the US. Choose your category and then check out the most trusted trucks in that category.

Modern trucks are classified by GVWR or Gross Vehicle Weight Rating. GVWR is the maximum operating rate a truck can carry. US government has divided trucks in 8 classes following.

Weight Class GVWR
Class 1 6,000 pounds (2,722 kilograms)
Class 2 10,000 pounds (4,536 kilograms)
Class 3 14,000 pounds (6,350 kilograms)
Class 4 16,000 pounds (7,258 kilograms)
Class 5 19,500 pounds (8,845 kilograms)
Class 6 26,000 pounds (11,793 kilograms)
Class 7 33,000 pounds (14,969 kilograms)
Class 8 Anything higher than 33,000 pounds

There are many other ways to describe truck size. Some like to call them compact, mid-sized or full-size trucks.

They can also be classified by payload capacity. Although this classification is outdated, it is still in use. Old habits die hard, right? Here, we have 1/2 ton, 3/4 ton, and 1-ton truck. Best known “half-ton” trucks are: Chevrolet Silverado 1500, GMC Sierra 1500, Ram 1500, Ford F-150, Toyota Tundra, and Nissan Titan. Common ¾ ton trucks include the Ford F-250, Chevrolet Silverado 2500, GMC Sierra 2500, and Ram 2500. 1-ton trucks include the Ford F-350, Chevrolet 3500, GMC Sierra 3500, and Ram 3500.

New or Used

The next question you should ask when buying a truck for your business is: "Should I go for new or used?" Both options have benefits and advantages, as well as some cons. Many times, it’s all about your budget. A lot of business owners can’t afford a new truck, or they are not willing to pay $35,000 or so for a truck, or simply need to invest money in other aspects of their business.

A used truck will cost you less, but the cost of maintenance is higher. If the previous owner has taken a good care of the truck, it can serve you a lot of years. You also have great financing options when buying a pre-owned work truck.

New trucks have a full warranty, they have better equipment, and modern engines with better fuel efficiency. They have no issues, so the only thing you'll need to do is regular maintenance service to change oil, filters, brake pads, and tires. On the other hand, a new truck will lose almost 25% of its value the minute you drive away from a dealer’s lot. Many businesses buy 1-2 years old trucks with low mileage – to avoid that initial depreciation.

New Truck Pros and Cons

Used Truck Pros and Cons

So, how to find a good work truck for sale? To wrap thing up, let’s cover some basic tips on buying a used truck. Before you start looking, define your budget, the cost of insurance and paperwork. Of course, we assume that you already have a particular model in your mind and you are aware of truck's main characteristics like fuel consumption, payload, and towing capacity.

If yes, then these are the key tips to follow:

Tip #1 - Buy at the reputable dealership; Find a licensed dealer and you don’t need to worry about tips #2, #3 and #4. Good and trusted dealer offers an extended warranty for second-hand trucks. Or at least ask for the drivetrain warranty. Official dealerships also guaranty that the total mileage on the odometer hasn't been tampered with. A good advice is to always check the vehicle with the help of CARFAX.

Tip #2 – Body Inspection; Carefully check truck paint and rusty spots. Dents and scratches are not important since the truck is a utility vehicle, thus you can’t expect it to be in the same condition as a regular car. Never buy a truck that has been involved in a heavy accident. Check the leaf springs and trailer hitch. Proceed with tires. They should be worn evenly.

Tip #3 – Check under the hood; Review the maintenance history, such as oil and filters records. Check hoses and belts.

Tip #4 – Interior inspection; Inspect onboard computer data, especially check engine lights on a dashboard, voltage, and oil pressure. Proceeded with air condition, seats, driving wheel and condition of the pedals.

Tip #5 – Test drive; The best way to check handling, braking, transmission and differential and get an overall impression of a truck is to do a test drive.

Tip #6 – Check financing and insurance options; Explore available financing options right at the dealership before you go to the bank. Many have tailored lease programs or other special deals. Don’t forget to look for insurance premiums according to truck class. Don’t just pay attention to premiums, since the coverage is also very important for vehicles used in business.



Gasoline or Diesel

Gasoline vs diesel work truck? Main things to consider are cost, fuel economy, payload and of course power used for towing. These are good and bad sides of both options.

Gasoline Work Truck Pros


  1. Lower purchasing price; Gasoline versions of most popular work trucks cost around $5,000 less compared to the diesel versions. For some models and high-end configurations, the price can vary even up to $10,000.

  2. Lower maintenance cost; Gasoline engines are much simpler compared to diesel. Plus, diesel is much heavier and use much more oil. They use bigger batteries that cost more. The transmission on a diesel is more complicated too, because it can handle higher pressure. Therefore, the maintenance service for gasoline models is cheaper.

  3. More payload capacity; Diesel models have a transmission and differential that weights around 600 lbs. more than the gasoline version. This means that gasoline trucks have more payload capacity.


Diesel Work Truck Pros


  1. More towing capacity; Diesel engines offer more power and torque at low rpm and that is the main reason they have a better tow performance than the gasoline-powered trucks. Yes, you can tow a trailer or other cargo with a gasoline truck, but only for short distances. If your job site is located 2 hours of driving on a heavy-traffic high-way away from your home or company, then a diesel should be the truck of your choice.

  2. Better fuel economy; No matter if they are empty or loaded, diesel engines are more efficient and use less fuel. Although gasoline engine manufacturers increased their fuel economy over the years using latest and advanced technology like turbo chargers, variable valve system with direct injections, cylinder deactivation, gasoline engines still need more fuel per gallon. The difference in fuel economy is much less when compared to 10 years ago, but you'll need to consider another thing here. Is it wort spending extra $10,000 for a diesel truck? How many gallons can you buy for that amount of money and how many miles can you drive for $10,000? The fuel price is changing all the time and it is hard to determine the right choice but think about this.

  3. More durable; Diesel engines last longer. Fleet managers usually decide to trade-in or sell diesel work trucks with 500,000 miles on the odometer. Diesel engines don’t make such high revs like gasoline models, they have stronger engine blocks, thus can handle higher compression ratios. Also, they can’t reach high revs that quickly like gas engines. All that being said diesel is also very reliable.

  4. More torque; It's not about horsepower, it is about torque. Gas engines have a lot more horsepower, but for pulling and dragging heavy loads you need torque. Leave horsepower to the race trucks, real life is totally different, especially for commercial vehicles used for business. If you plan to buy a work commercial truck for a lot of towing, diesel is the only option you have.

  5. Resale value; If you like to change pickup trucks frequently then choose diesel. They have a better trade-in and resale value compared to gasoline-powered models. Their value depreciation is not so abrupt, so you won’t lose so much money. This is especially convenient if you are looking for truck leasing.

Verdict: Many say that there is no right or wrong answer when choosing between a gasoline or a diesel truck. But our advice is to look at your odometer. If you work in a constructing field and have high towing demands, then go with diesel. For heavy-duty work trucks, experts advise choosing diesel. But, the main thing here is how many miles you will get on the road. If you don’t tend to spend so much time on the road and don’t have a plan to keep your truck for a long time, then the gasoline truck will do the job.

Two or Four-Wheel Drive

Most of pickup trucks, cargo vans and delivery vans you see on the streets are a two-wheel drive. And all of them have a rear wheel drive. The 4-wheel drive is mostly reserved for heavy-duty work trucks with big engines like V6 or even V8. 4WD trucks have the option to lock the differential which improves traction and control over the vehicle in heavy conditions like mud or snow. The differential is controlled by a lever.

2WD vs 4WD Truck

4x4 is much complicated and the cost of gearbox maintenance is higher compared to 2WD. But that is not all. 2-wheel drive trucks have a better fuel consumption, too. 4-wheel drive trucks have a higher price. 4x4 has one clear advantage, though – it is way better if you'll be towing a lot. Especially if need to tow a heavy load, up to 10,000 pounds.

The drivetrain is usually in relation to the engine. Pickup trucks with big engines, usually diesel, have 4x4 wheel drive. 2-wheel drive pickups have smaller 4-cylinder engines.

How to decide? Again, be honest with yourself. Don’t pay for something you don’t need. Calculate your towing needs, as a 2-wheel drive standard cab truck can do everything required by small businesses like electricians, plumbers, and other contractors.




Manual or Automatic

Whether you'll choose a truck with a manual or automatic transmission will depend on several factors. Small and medium-sized work trucks are offered with both manual and automatic transmission options.

Full-sized work truck can be bought only as automatic.

Here are the main advantages and downsides of manual and automatic transmissions:


  • Manual transmission trucks have better fuel economy;

  • If you are buying a new work truck, you will pay more for an automatic version of the same model;

  • The manual transmission is not so complex like automatic, meaning that maintenance and repair of automatic gearbox costs more;

  • The automatic gearbox is better if you work in areas with a lot of hills;

  • The automatic transmission is easier to drive, especially in the city and traffic-heavy environment;

  • The automatic transmission is an option to go with if you tend to do heavy towing or demand high payloads. Combined with torque converter, automatic work truck will give better traction control on heavy terrains.

The manual transmission is offered as 6-speed, while latest automatic gearboxes are made as 4-, 5- or 6-speed transmissions, depending on the motor capacity. More powerful motors usually come with the 6-speed gearbox.

Verdict? Depends on your needs. For demanding towing, choose automatic transmission. If you are in the light-weight industry, you can choose a stick.

Payloads

Payload capacity refers to how much weight truck can carry, both with cargo in bed and passengers in the cab. Choosing a truck with proper payloads for your job usually leads to many mistakes, especially for new drivers. Why? Because new drivers always choose bigger trucks than they really need.

Truck vehicles can be divided into 3 categories: light-duty, medium-duty, and heavy-duty trucks. Many experienced fleet managers and work truck drivers classify trucks as ½-ton, ¾-ton, and a 1-ton truck. In the case of a half-ton truck, they refer to the truck's payload - the truck can carry 1000 pounds. BUT, it was so a long time ago. Modern medium-duty trucks can carry more than half a ton of cargo.

It is very important to know the weight of your load. Overloading is forbidden by the law and besides, it is dangerous to drive and handle truck that is overloaded, since steering systems and brakes don’t have capabilities to stop and control the vehicle in a proper way.


Bestselling trucks in the US by load capacity are:


  1. Ford F-150 V8: 3,300 Pounds

  2. Ford F-150 3.5 EcoBoost: 3,270 Pounds

  3. Ford F-150 2.7 EcoBoost: 2,250 Pounds

  4. Chevrolet Silverado 5.3 V8: 2,180 Pounds

  5. Nissan Titan: 2,153 Pounds

  6. Chevrolet Silverado 6.2 V8: 2,130 Pounds

  7. Toyota Tundra 5.7 V8: 2,080 Pounds

As you can see, Ford is the leader on US market. Ford F-150 model holds top three spots on this list.

Calculating Payload Capacity

Before you continue, it is important to learn a few things:


  • Gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) – is maximum allowed weight of the vehicle. This includes the weight of vehicle and cargo in bed and passengers in the cab;

  • Gross combined vehicle weight rating – is the maximum weight of the vehicle, including the vehicle weight, cargo, passenger, trailer and trailer cargo;

  • Curb weight – is yhe vehicle weight without passengers and cargo.

A general rule to calculate payload capacity of any vehicle is to subtract GVWR and curb weight. Don’t forget to add the weight of fuel to vehicle weight. The owner’s manual and manufacturer website can help with determining the truck payload.

Important to know: Payload capacity and towing capacity are NOT the same. You’ll use the terms from above to calculate the towing capacity as well.

Towing Capacity


Besides the payload, one of the determining factors when choosing a truck for business Is towing capacity. The towing capacity refers to how much weight can a truck safely tow.

The towing capacity is related to the truck size. Heavy-duty trucks have a larger tow capacity. Like mentioned before, the “small trucks” of the past have grown, so have their towing capabilities. But one thing is for sure – you can’t have both at the same time - a great towing and payload capacity. If you want to tow a large trailer, then don’t put too much cargo in the bed and too much passengers in the cab.

Let’s use terms from above to determine safe towing capacity. Take your GCWR and subtract the curb weight and the weight of passengers and cargo.


Truck Classification by Towing and Payload Capacity


Mid-size (GVWR: 4,300-6,010 lbs.) The payload is less than 1,500 lbs. and/or the truck is hauling a small trailer with total weight below 5,000 lbs.

Full-size ½-ton (GVWR: 6,400-8,200 lbs.) The payload is 1,500-2,000 lbs. and/or the trailer capacity needed is between 5,000 lbs. and 10,000 lbs.

Full-size ¾-ton (GVWR: 8,650-10,000 lbs.) The payload is 2,000-4,000 lbs. and/or the needed trailer capacity is up to 16,000 lbs.

Full-size 1-ton (GVWR: 9,900-13,300 lbs.) The payload is between 3,000 lbs. and 6,500 lbs. and/or hauling a trailer with a total weight up to 21,000 lbs.

Advice: If you’ll use your truck for towing heavy trailers, choose a truck with V6 or V8 diesel engine, and 4x4 drive.

Cab Type

You have several options here, but it is very easy to decide. All pickup trucks fall into these 3 categories when it comes to the seating needs:


  • Standard cab; As the name suggests, these trucks have only two seats, some models have three seats, but a passenger in the middle will have trouble making himself comfortable, because there is little or no legroom. These trucks have no space behind the seats.

  • Extended cab; Work trucks with extended cab have jump seats behind main seats. They might be small for tall people, but they are good for kids, tools or groceries. Extended cab trucks have only two doors.

  • Crew cab; For all contractors who have a team of 5 or 6 people there is a crew cab truck option. It is enough to accommodate 6 persons and will give you enough legroom for passengers in front and rear seats. Trucks with crew cab cost more, but you will have 2 doors extra for fast access and a lot of room for head, knees, and legs. All four-door trucks have increased length compared with two-door variations.

Here you should know that there are standard cab trucks with rear access doors like those on Ford F-150.

How many people do you have in your team? If there are four or five persons plus the driver, you will need a truck model with a crew cab. Standard cab models have a lower price, but limited interior space.

Bed Type (Box Configuration)

Most common work truck beds come in two dimensions:


  • Short bed from 6 ft (1.8m) to 6.5 ft (2.0m)

  • Long bed from 7 ft (2.1) to 8 ft (2.4m)


Both bed types have good hauling capabilities, but the long bed is used by people who use their truck for construction work. For those who need to transport long pipes or ladders, the best solution is to add a roof rack system.

Truck bed can be open or closed. Open bed leaves your cargo and toolboxes unprotected both to bad weather and theft. Many truck drivers decided to cover the bed with aluminum or fiberglass topper anand protectheir tools in bed that way.

The manufacturers often use different names to describe their box style. Basically, you have two options here – stepside box (also known as flareside) and standard box. The standard box features fender wells inside the truck bed. Stepside box has flared fenders providing space for wheels. Stepsides have straight edges along all interior bed sides.


Technology Used


Hill assist and electronic traction control become a standard with new commercial trucks. Safety features like airbags and ABS system will increase passenger active and passive safety. Features like parking sensors and rear drive camera are also very convenient if you'll use the truck in construction areas or tight parking lots. All mentioned technology in the field of security is a MUST today.

Additional equipment is something you can live without. Here we mean a high-quality audio system with bass booster, a large multimedia system with in-truck built navigation system and LTE connection, two-zone digital air condition, fancy LED lights and heated leather seats. All this can increase and almost double the price of a new work truck. To be honest, you already have Google Maps on your iPhone, AC air condition, and 4 three-way speakers which are fairly enough, since we are talking about an utility vehicle here, not convertible BMW.

Work Truck Customization

If you can’t find a satisfying truck for the job, you can always customize and make it unique. Customization includes many work truck accessories - from the simple ones like a bed mat, floor liners, headache racks, tools boxes, and bed racks to more complex alterations and conversions of the cargo area. All this to achieve specific needs of job.

Work truck setup and organization ideas became a real art lately. Do some research on Pinterest and you’ll find out why.