How To Buy A Truck

A friend of mine, who raises Sheep (hobby farming), is finally getting around to buying her first truck. She wants to haul hay and tow a trailer with sheep or stuff in it at the same time. She says:

Can I get an accurate, objective comparison of Ford, GMC, Chevy trucks on reliability, hauling/towing, smooth & quite ride, mpg, resale, etc!?!

My head is spinning!



My reply:


This may reduce the head spinning:

1. All major truck makers (Ford, Chevy/GMC, Ram) have trucks that are very very similar in capability (towing, payload, mpg) ranges. Pickup trucks are a huge business and super competitive with the result that each manufacturer has to do a good job. And they do. People can talk all they want about Japanese cars and German cars, but American trucks are amazingly good which is the reason the Europeans have not entered this market and the Japanese are marginal players.

2. The big differences in capability are not differences between brands, they are differences in configuration (engine, suspension, transmission).

3. Each manufacturer offers many many configurations. But in the end, generally most manufacturers have about the same ingredients that make up those many configurations. That is basically why point 1 is true. However, at any given time, a manufacturer might something slightly special. For example, only Ford has a turbo V-6 right now. GM's (Chevy/GMC) big V-8 has a little worse gas mileage than the Ford, and RAM's has a little more power than Ford's. 

4. Because of all this similarity, I suspect resale will not differ much. But if I had to guess, Ford is the best and Ram the worst. However, that difference may be swamped by the particular deal you can get when buying. Resale values as discussed in the media will be % of MSRP, but what you care about is % of price paid. For example, if a Ram resells for $1000 less than the equivalent Ford, but the Ram costs $2000 less to buy because they happen to have a better deal right now, then the Ram actually has better resale for you. 

5. I believe it will be very hard to get reliability data that is meaningful. By the time the data is collected, the manufacturers have a different product. But you can check Consumer Reports or JD Power (be careful with the latter though, because they sell an "initial quality" index which doesn't measure reliability).

6. In half ton (1500 or 150 series) trucks, the general view of the media (Winding Road included) is that the Ram has the best ride quality. It uses a different rear suspension and you can feel it. Nonetheless, I would have a hard time suggesting that this be anything but a tie breaker. The difference isn't that big. The other notable thing is that the Ford Ecoboost engine seems the least stressed when hauling. That, to me, is somewhat more noticeable than the suspension difference (the car is quieter because the engine doesn't rev as much). 

7. MPG will not vary a lot if you mostly do work with the truck. They will all be terrible. Sorry, but moving 8000 or 12000 lb. around takes energy and no-one can side step physics. If you also drive with the truck empty a lot, the EPA numbers will help (but you only get EPA on a 1500, not on a 2500).  I would BTW consider a 1 mpg EPA difference to be meaningless. 

So, in summary:

A. The configuration you get is what will determine whether the truck can do what you want. That is the biggest thing, since it is a truck for doing stuff.

B. The deal you can get at the time you buy determines the economics. 

C. The rest of the features of each truck are basically the same, although you may find one truck for $8000 off MSRP with exactly the features you want and another for $9000 off but with $3000 of features you don't want. The former is a better deal for you.  But everyone offers the same stuff if you can find it. 

D. The trucks look different, inside and out. And different trucks may "fit" you better or worse. For example, I like the Ford seats better than the Chevy seats, but I'll bet 10 other people would see it the other way around. 

Given the above, the easiest thing to do is to start with the truck you think looks/feels the best. Then figure out your best configuration. Then look for dealers who have that truck in your color (this takes time in my experience). Then buy the one from the dealer with the best discount.


If anyone else has advice, I'll pass it on.

by dieselhead on Dec. 18, 2012 - 1:55 p.m.