What are the pros and cons of owning a pickup truck? These vehicles look pretty amazing in pictures and Youtube clips, but are they really worth the hassle and the price tag?
To save you time, here’s our list of pros and cons in a nutshell (but we still highly recommend that you read through the entire post for a more comprehensive understanding).
Pros of Owning a Pickup Truck:
- Can tow a 5th wheel
- Strong vehicle (providing more torque)
- Increased passive safety
- The ability to transport gear in the bed of the truck
- Fairly high ground clearance
- Generally high payload and towing capacity
Cons of Owning a Pickup Truck:
- Gas mileage is not the best
- Maintenance issues can cost more
- Many trucks can have a “stiffer ride”
- Can be hard to maneuver (depending on the length of bed)
We currently drive a mid size sedan. We’re going to have to (metaphorically) switch gears and start thinking about a truck like an F-series Ford, a Ram or Silverado. Our goal is towing a travel trailer, so a full size SUV isn’t out of the question either. Is it better to buy a pickup truck though?
I did a LOT of reading and talking to people who own trucks and made a thorough list of pros and cons. When reading through, keep in mind that pros and cons are related to the goal. Our goal is to have a reliable vehicle strong enough to tow a travel trailer and comfortable enough to ride in while the trailer is in the campground.
We are experienced, long time pickup truck owners…
Pros of Owning a Pickup Truck
Let’s look into each of these items in more depth.
1. Pickup trucks can tow 5th wheel type RV’s (as well as trailers)
Generally speaking, there are two ways in which you tow an RV “unit” and they depend on whether that unit is a travel trailer (aka camper) or what is known as a Fifth Wheel. If these terms don’t mean much to you, you can read more about them in our post about types of RV’s.
For our purposes here – the pros and cons of a pickup truck – here’s the main distinction between the two.
Towing a travel trailer
A travel trailer is attached behind the towing vehicle with the hitch separating the two. The setup is: Towing vehicle (Truck or SUV) – Hitch – Trailer. Like a train with one part following the other. This is what it looks like –
Towing a 5th Wheel
5th wheel RV’s are also towables but they connect to a hitch located inside the bed of the towing vehicle. The entire front part of the 5th wheel is attached on top of the bed of a pickup truck. Generally speaking, bigger trucks are required to pull a 5th wheel, and they have to be equipped with the correct hitch. It looks like this –
Clearly, pickup trucks have one advantage here over a full-size SUV. They can tow a 5th Wheel type RV.
Here’s a closer look on what 5th wheel towing looks like –
This kind of setup resembles a semi-trailer type of hookup that’s anchored inside of the bed of the truck.
5th wheel towing is generally more stable because there is significantly less sway than the traditional towing configuration. This means a higher towing capacity with a 5th wheel setup.
We’re listing this here because if you’re considering the pros and cons of owning a pickup truck for the purpose of towing an RV, this is likely the most important advantage of pickup trucks over SUVs: they can pull a 5th wheel while SUVs simply can’t.
2. Stronger vehicle
Pickup trucks were built for hard work. They’ve become incredibly popular over the past few years, but many pickup owners are not using them for their payload capabilities. Still, it’s what they were made for.
Pickup trucks are just built stronger, and their strength is largely determined by their class. Generally speaking, pickups are classified as half ton trucks, 3/4 ton trucks and one ton trucks and above. While the number is a reflection of their traditional payload capability, the class itself really tells you a lot about how strong the truck is.
The strength of a truck isn’t just determined by the engine alone. The transmission, axles, shock absorbers, and wheels all come into play. The higher you go in the truck class system, the stronger the truck.
Essentially, trucks are built to generate higher torque than other vehicles which helps with towing and hauling heavy loads. This means that when towing, a pickup truck will perform much better than any other vehicle.
But what if you don’t plan on towing? The good news is that a lot of trucks have what is called a trailer option or towing/hauling mode. When activated, this tells the computer in the truck that it needs to change how the gears are going to shift and go slower – and stronger – when towing.
When not using the towing mode, the truck’s transmission shifts between gears at roughly the same speed as other kinds of vehicles. When the towing mode is activated, the truck’s transmission will change the shift points to maximize torque and overall power, which lessens the strain on the transmission and makes towing much more efficient.
3. Increased passive safety
Modern pickup trucks are fully equipped with a myriad of safety systems, much like other modern vehicles. These include both passive and active systems. A 2020 truck will usually have all the latest bells and whistles including air bags all around the cabin.
But trucks also offer an additional layer of safety by virtue of their sheer mass. Even a light-duty truck like the F-150 weighs between 6,000 and 7,000 lbs (depending on specifications). The only vehicles that come near this weight are full-size SUVs like the Chevy Suburban or Ford Expedition, and these vehicles are essentially converted pickup trucks.
And if you get in an accident, the size of the vehicle matters. That’s one reason why you see so many pickup trucks and full size SUVs out in the northern part of the U.S. and Canada. Drivers that live up north just want that much vehicle surrounding them in case they hit a moose, deer, or other large animal on the road.
4. You can transport outdoor gear in the bed of a truck
A common problem when driving out to the campsite with an SUV full of equipment is that the rear view is often obstructed, which poses a significant safety risk.
You may also want to avoid putting some of your gear inside the vehicle. Things like fishing poles, bikes, and firewood can make the inside of an SUV dirty. Pickup trucks, however, generally have plenty of bed space for you to put all of your gear so your rear view is clear and your cabin is nice and clean.
5. Trucks have high ground clearance
The ground clearance is the amount of space between the bottom of the vehicle’s body and the ground. Ground clearance is often associated with hardcore off-roading, but a greater ground clearance can also prove useful when simply camping. Depending on where the campsite is located, ground clearance may not be an issue, but in some places it will be. With a pickup truck, you can rest assured that you will have enough ground clearance for any campsite.
You can increase the ground clearance on a truck even more with some aftermarket suspension work. This can prove helpful in a number of scenarios, but some people take it way too far…
6. Pickups generally have higher towing capacity
We touched on this topic earlier but we’ll elaborate here.
SUVs are generally limited to around seven to ten thousand pounds in towing capacity. With pickup trucks, the maximum towing capacity can get much higher depending on the class of truck (half ton, 3/4 ton, one ton, and so on). The larger and stronger trucks can haul and tow very heavy weights. They’re just constructed differently, and they’re reliable and strong workhorses when it comes to pulling heavy weight.
Regardless of the size of the 5th wheel or travel trailer you want to pull, there’s a pickup truck out there that’s just right for the job.
Cons of owning a pickup truck
So far we’ve discussed the many advantages of owning a pickup truck. Now we’ll talk about the downsides. Here’s the list:
- Gas mileage is not the best
- Maintenance issues can cost more
- Trucks can have a “stiffer ride”
- Can be hard to maneuver (depending on the length of bed)
1. Gas mileage is not what you’re used to
Modern pickup trucks have certainly come a long way in terms of fuel economy. They definitely aren’t the gas guzzlers that they once were. The engines and transmissions in modern trucks have been perfected over the years to function smarter and more efficiently. But with that said, the fuel economy of a pickup truck is nowhere near that of most other vehicles.
A 2019 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 equipped with the biggest V8 engine has a combined MPG of 17. Compare that to a Chevy Equinox that gets up to 28 MPG and in some cases even higher.
Having said that, a full-size SUV is actually no better than a truck in terms of fuel economy. In fact, the fuel economy of SUVs is often worse. Compare the above data to the Chevy Suburban. This full-size SUV can only get up to 18 miles per gallon on average. As we mentioned, full-size SUVs like the Suburban and the Ford Expedition are basically trucks with a larger cabin, and this actually makes them a little bit less fuel efficient than pickup trucks. In other words, the fuel economy of trucks isn’t the best, but it isn’t the worst either.
2. Maintenance can be expensive too
Trucks generally have bigger engines and more robust transmissions than other vehicles. While these bigger components yield better performance in terms of towing and payload capacities, they can certainly cost a pretty penny when they break.
When pickup trucks are no longer under warranty, repairs can be quite costly.
3. Trucks can have a “stiffer ride”
The ride of a truck can take some getting used to if you are accustomed to a vehicle that is lower to the ground. Trucks are designed to work, and the smoothness of the ride is compromised to some extent by virtue of their design.
That said, new pickup truck models are nothing like their predecessors in terms of comfort. A new pickup truck may have a “stiffer” ride compared to a sedan that sits low to the ground, but this difference is dwindling as engineers continue to refine and perfect the ride quality of modern pickup trucks.
It’s important to keep in mind that the stiffness of the ride is generally correlated with the size of the truck. Half ton trucks ride much more smoothly than their 3/4 ton and one ton counterparts.
4. Trucks can be harder to maneuver depending on the bed length
Trucks aren’t short vehicles by any means. The average truck actually has a very long wheelbase when compared to most of the vehicles on the road. This longer wheelbase generally isn’t too difficult to handle, but it will take some getting used to. And if you plan on towing an RV or a travel trailer…get used to it!
When you first start driving a pickup truck, it will probably be a bit harder for you to find a suitable parking space until you’re used to pulling into or backing into parking spots with the longer wheelbase.
If you’re considering getting a dually truck – expect maneuvering and parking to be even more of a challenge.
Pros and Cons of Owning A Pickup: Summary
We’ve gone in depth about the various pros and cons of owning a pickup truck, so let’s wrap up.
If you’re contemplating purchasing a pickup truck, there are a lot of factors to weigh. When considering the pros and cons you should always have the following in mind to help inform your decision:
- What do you need from the vehicle?
- What are the alternatives?
- What type of pickup truck are you looking for?
What do you need from the vehicle?
Needless to say, a contractor that hauls heavy equipment on a daily basis has different vehicle needs than someone who just drives the kids to school and picks up groceries. For the contractor, the pros of owning a truck radically outweigh the cons. In the latter case, maybe not.
What are the alternatives?
Think back to your specific vehicle needs. For driving the kids around, a sedan or a minivan may be a better (and cheaper) alternative. For towing purposes, a full-size SUV may be able to do the job but will not necessarily be cheaper or more fuel-efficient. To make the best decision, consider alternative options to determine whether or not there is a more economical option.
The type/model of pickup truck
Pickup trucks are actually not all made the same. When buying a pickup truck, the number of choices can be overwhelming. From old used trucks to brand new luxury trucks, there are countless options.
Modern luxury trucks can do some impressive things:
- Park itself for you (including with a trailer!)
- Turn on the engine before you enter the car
- Automatically put out the step when the door opens so you can enter the vehicle easily
- Lower itself down for easy entry
- Maintain a safe following distance on its own.
- Ensure that you’re in the right lane at all times.
- Switch the lights on and off and change their intensity according to ambient lighting conditions.
And the list goes on. The inside of some modern pickup looks like a spaceship command center, and you can operate many of the functions from your phone!
So, depending on your budget, a pickup can be as comfortable and luxurious as any other vehicle on the market.
What about you? Have you ever owned a pickup? Share your own input on the pros and cons of owning a pickup truck by leaving us a comment below!
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