So, you want to buy a second hand pickup truck to tow your RV with? Not sure where to start?
Get these 5 things right – and you’re already halfway through getting the pickup of your dreams:
- What make and model do you want?
- How old should the pickup be?
- How much mileage are you willing to have on the truck?
- Where to buy the vehicle?
- What vehicle history are you ok with?
I’m going to take you through this questions, step-by-step, and talk about what they mean and how you should determine the answers. And there are no right or wrong answers here. To each his/her own needs.
1. The Make and Model
First thing’s first: what brand pickup truck do you want?
When it comes to pickup trucks, some people are passionately brand-loyal. If you watched season 2 of The Ranch on Netflix, you couldn’t miss all of the Ford vs. Chevy truck jokes, with Beau Bennett being a strict Ford guy who almost avoids dating a woman just because she drives a Chevy Silverado.
If this isn’t your first truck, you may be brand-loyal. Or not. Generally speaking, experts advise against brand loyalty. Buyers who keep an open mind will have more options to choose from at any dealership.
So, why am I saying you need to determine the make and model? Because even if you don’t care if your pickup will be a Ram, Chevy or Ford, you need to be aware of the actual models you’re interested in within each brands.
In other words, it’s ok not to care about the make (or brand) of truck, but you simply can’t start your search without zooming in on particular models.
Figuring out the model of truck you want
Even if you know that you want a Ford truck, or a Chevy, you still need to figure out which model.
This will take research.
Pickup trucks are versatile creatures, compared to sedans. They’re divided into classes, models and then there are still elements which can vary within the model.
Let’s take Ford for example
Let’s talk Ford trucks, just because I spent a while researching them when writing about how much an F-150 can tow.
Your first order of the day is to figure out if you need an F-150, F-250, F-350 or maybe even a huge F-450. What’s the difference between them? In a word: strength. In another word: payload.
The popular F-150 is Ford’s light-duty half-ton truck. The F-250 is a 3/4 ton truck. The F-350 and above are heavy duty trucks. To make a pickup stronger, the manufacturer has to change a lot of things in the truck. The differences go beyond the engine and affect price as well as fuel efficiency.
If you happen to be looking for a cool pickup truck to run around town with, then the natural choice is a light-duty truck. This would actually also be a great choice for towing a lightweight trailer.
If Ford is your brand, this would be the F-150. Chevy offers the Silverado 1500 and Dodge the Ram 1500. The Nissan Titan and Toyota Tundra are also popular choices for half ton trucks.
So, let’s say you researched everything and you now you need an F-150 to tow your trailer with. Next, it’s time to figure out which F-150 is right for you. An XLT? Maybe a Lariat? Or a King Ranch? Maybe you’ll go off-roading, in which case a Raptor would be your model. And if you can afford it, why not splurge on an F-150 Limited?
Time to research models in depth.
And if you’re not brand loyal, I’m afraid you’ll have to research this for more brands…
Other model specifications
Think you’re once you decide on which F-150 model you’re looking for?
Now’s the time to think about the length of bed and the which cab type you need. Will a regular short can with one row of seats be enough? Or maybe you need a crew cab? Or perhaps a super crew? Yup, once again, you need to do your research and figure out what you need. That’s how you’ll be able to enter all of the information in the relevant search fields of car sales sites.
Most brands have better and worse models and even within the same model, some years had better trucks than others. Which brings us to the next decision.
2. The age of the vehicle
The year the vehicle was produced can be crucial.
After all, there are used vehicles and then there are really used vehicles.
Also, you need to be aware of any specific mechanical issues with the trucks made of a certain make and model, in a certain year.
How to find out which years are better? Read reviews of the model you’re looking for. That’s actually one of the benefits of buying used over new. It may take a year or even two before “the market” can tell whether or not a line of trucks has specific issues.
It’s true that in most instances you’ll end up paying less for an older truck, but not always. An older vehicle may come with additional costs of repair. And older truck would need a more thorough inspection. Find a good neutral mechanic who can inspect the truck for you and let you know which systems are in good shape and which you’ll need to fix or replace (and when).
Also, buying used doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the manufacturer’s guarantee. In fact, you can get 2nd hand trucks that are still under the manufacturer’s original guarantee. That means that until that guarantee period ends – you’re covered in case anything major breaks down. Some dealerships offer a similar one-year guarantee on vehicles that they sell, so take that into consideration as well.
How old the vehicle is would be determined not just by the year it first came on the road. There’s also the question of how much usage it had. In other words, you need to think about mileage too.
How many miles has the previous owner driven the pickup truck?
You can tell by checking the vehicle’s dashboard, where you’ll find the odometer. This tracks the miles the truck has been used over its lifetime.
According to some experts, the sweet spot is about 12,000 miles. Why not fewer? Because there’s a benefit to seeing a truck that has already had 2-3 oil changes and checkups. There’s a better chance for any “childhood” issues to have already been discovered and fixed.
What if you find a used truck that has way more miles on it? It all depends on its age. If it’s about five or six years old and it has 60,000 miles, you still might consider it. Once a truck gets up to the range of 100,000 miles and up, then it’s going to be much cheaper but may not be worth the discounted price.
It already has so many miles on it that it’s more likely to start having problems. As the truck owner, it’s your responsibility to repair your vehicle as needed. It can become very easy to sink so much money into an old truck that you could have just bought a separate vehicle.
4. Where to Buy the Vehicle
Once you decide which make, model, and year you’re after, you must figure out where to buy your used pickup truck.
You can either choose a dealership or private seller.
Dealerships are a convenient option for many. After all, who doesn’t have a car dealership within a five or 10-mile radius from their home? There are many dealerships spread across the country, so you should undoubtedly be able to find one with used pickup trucks near you. Dealerships are always trying to make a buck off a car or truck. That’s true even if the vehicle is used. While you can haggle a little for a used truck, don’t expect to get the cost too far down below sticker price. That’s not to deter you from using a dealership, but it is something to keep in mind.
Compare that to a private seller. This is their pickup truck. They’re trying to offload it for whatever reason. They probably want the money for this truck so they can use it towards another vehicle. The prices of a private seller versus a dealership are often less. Even better is that you may be able to haggle for a decently lower price in some instances. This depends on the private seller, their personality and their need. Some are more unyielding about prices than others.
Types of Dealerships
Not all car and truck dealerships are the same. There are three to choose from:
- Independent dealers
- Franchised dealers
- Chain dealers.
Depending on which you select, you could save some serious dough. Let’s go over all three types now.
Independent car and truck dealerships
As the name suggests, independent dealerships are those that are locally-owned and run. These dealers are more community-based. They rely on their local reputation which means the salespeople are more interested in finding the right truck for you than commissions and sales numbers. That said, you can’t always guarantee the vehicle quality or condition. Before you sign on the dotted line, make sure you thoroughly inspect the vehicle inside and out.
Chain car and truck dealerships
These may be on a national level and sometimes even multinational. These dealerships are large, carry brand-name vehicles, and appear all over your state. Since the trucks and cars sold must pass checks and inspections, you can rest assured of the vehicle quality. The salespeople are the most-in-your-face, and prices may be higher than what you’d find at a franchise or independent dealership.
Franchised car and truck dealerships
Like a mix between independent and chain dealerships, franchised dealerships are locally-owned but follow standards set by a national brand. They carry the name and authenticity of such a brand but work on a smaller scale. You still get all the quality and assurance of a bigger brand without going directly through them. That means cars and trucks are often priced more fairly and sales people are locals who may be more inclined to help you and serve your needs better.
5. The Vehicle’s History
A used pickup comes with its own past. That past matters. Who used the truck, for how long and how, can all indicate just how much wear and tear it suffered over the years.
There are three things to think about when discussing the history of your next used vehicle –
- Previous owners
- Vehicle Records
- Type of use the truck had
Let’s look into each one in depth.
Tracking the last 1-2 owners is less of a hassle in a private sale. The seller is one owner, and if they bought the vehicle from someone else, they’d know. If they bought it from a dealership, then there’s only one previous owner.
If the truck has a longer history of ownership, this is where things start to get dicey.
You have to consider the Driver’s Privacy Protection Act or DPPA. This was enacted in 1994 through the Department of Motor Vehicles, more commonly known as the DMV. The DPPA is a federal statute under the Violent Crimes Control and Law Enforcement Act as Title XXX. Per the DPPA, you’re not allowed to freely share vehicle owner information. The vehicle owner themselves would have to permit it.
That makes it really hard for dealerships of any kind to keep track of previous owners of used trucks. This can be to your detriment, especially if it’s an older truck. There’s no way to really get around it, though.
Then there’s the vehicle history. The driver’s history and the vehicle history are often interrelated, but not always. You should get both histories if you can. This is another area in which buying from a private seller is more advantageous. If they were only the first or second owner of the pickup truck, then they’re more likely to be able to tell you what kind of past the vehicle has had.
Dealerships don’t always know this information. Since laws like the DPPA exist, they may not be able to get all the details on a specific truck. Also, with so many vehicles coming onto the lot at any given time, dealerships don’t always have time to find this information.
If you are buying through a dealership and you’re not pleased with the info they’ve given you on a used truck, you do have options. You can use paid services like AutoCheck or CARFAX to get a background check on the truck. Even these reports don’t always tell the full story, so be careful.
Last but certainly not least, you should know the driving history of the truck before buying it. The most important thing to figure out is what kind of driving did it do? Was it mostly residential roads or highway driving?
Think that residential roads mean less wear and tear?
For the same amount of mileage, a truck that was mostly doing highway driving is going to be in a far better condition than one that was used for store runs or taking the kids to school – and nothing else.
Contrary to common intuition, most of the wear and tear is done when you switch the vehicle on and during the first few minutes, until the engine is warm enough and everything is fully lubricated. It’s smooth sailing after that, whether the truck is doing an additional 100 miles or just 2.
What’s more, residential driving means you keep hitting the brakes and gas pedal intermittently. And your engine has to keep shifting gears to manage changing speeds. That’s even more wear and tear.
Let’s take two trucks of the same make, model and mileage. Let’s say both have 50,000 miles on the odometer, ok?
Truck 1 was used mostly on the highway, with the average trip taking 100 miles.
Truck 2 was used in town only, with the average trip being only 2 miles.
That means T1 was started 500 times and spent 1000 minutes driving in less than ideal conditions (until the vehicle’s mechanics were warm and fully lubricated).
T2 on the other hand was started 25,000 times and spend 50,000 minutes driving in less than ideal conditions – probably most of its driving time. What’s more that truck took more turns and had to accelerate and brake much more often. All in all – more tear and wear on virtually any system – including even the seams on the seat covers and the print on the a/c controllers.
So, with all other things being equal, a vehicle with a highway driving history is better than one which was used mostly for residential travel.
Finally – getting the truck inspected
There’s a lot to think about before buying a used vehicle. These five questions are the basics that you need to consider before even firing up your browser to look at car sales websites.
Once you actually have a vehicle to inspect, there’s even more to look into. You should do your due diligence and have the truck inspected by a professional. You should also understand all there is to know about tax and registration fees and procedures in your state.
But start with the five basic questions listed in this post and you’re halfway through to your goal: Getting the best possible used vehicle to tow your RV with – at the best price!