Step 2: Know What You Plan on Carrying or Hauling
How you plan to use the truck will steer you through many of the ensuing choices. Your answers also will narrow the field by helping you choose between two- and four-wheel drive. For example, if you are towing a boat or Jet Ski, you might need four-wheel drive to gain traction on slippery boat ramps. If you're a couple who want to pull a very large mobile home, you might need a "dually" (two rear wheels per side) for towing stability.
If you just like the idea of driving a truck and don't really plan on hauling anything major, a midsize truck such as the Toyota Tacoma, Chevrolet Colorado or Honda Ridgeline would be perfect for you.
Step 3: Choose from Light-Duty, Medium-Duty or Heavy-Duty
Once you know what you'll tow, find out how much it weighs and be sure to include the weight of the trailer, too. This information will help you choose between a light-duty and heavy-duty truck. In the past, manufacturers rated trucks by their payloads: half-ton, three-quarter ton and so on. Now, it's more common to hear trucks divided into light-duty, medium-duty and heavy-duty categories, identified by numbers such as 1500, 2500 and 3500 or 150, 250 and 350. For example, the Chevrolet Silverado 1500 and the Ford F-150 both have impressive towing capacities, but they are considered light-duty trucks.
Sizing the truck properly is important. If you skimp on power, the truck might have trouble hauling what you need. Similarly, if you buy more truck than you need, it will cost more at purchase and every time you fill up. Plus, you'll have a harder time fitting into parking lots or tight driveways. Most experts will suggest slightly overestimating your requirements. A good rule of thumb is to have about 10 percent more capacity than you need.
If you are unsure about the requirements for towing, manufacturers, including Ram, put spec sheets and towing guides on their websites.
Step 4: Choose an Engine and Axle Ratio
For some buyers, choosing the right engine size will be a balancing act between having enough power and still getting good fuel economy. Trucks have long had a reputation for being gas guzzlers. But manufacturers now offer more engine options than ever before, and many engines are more fuel-efficient than they were in the past. A V6 engine now can do the work of a V8 from a decade ago and get better fuel economy.
Truckmakers usually offer diesel engines in heavy-duty trucks, except for the Nissan Titan XD and the Ram 1500, which offer diesel engines in their light-duty trucks. Diesel engines are better for towing: They provide high torque for pulling heavy loads at low speeds. Truck owners want the so-called low-end torque because it requires more force to start a heavy trailer rolling than it does to keep it going at a constant speed.
Another choice to make has to do with the axle ratio. Pickup trucks can typically be configured with a range of optional axle ratios, and the choice you make will directly affect the fuel economy and towing capacity of the vehicle.
Simply put, the higher the number for the axle ratio, the more you can tow but the lower your fuel efficiency will be. A truck with optional 3.73 gears, for example, will be able to tow more than one with 3.55 or 3.21 gears.
Unfortunately, the fuel economy information on the window sticker will not reflect these differences. You just have to know that any axle ratio you see listed on the "options" side of the window sticker will lower the fuel economy rating that's printed on the sticker.
Step 5: Choose a Bed and Cab Size
Most manufacturers offer three cab sizes. The regular cab is the classic work truck with a single row of seating and limited space between the seats. Crew-cab trucks have four full-size doors and a generous backseat roomy enough for cross-country travel. Toyota and Ram offer still larger "mega cab" offerings with limo-like rear legroom. In Ram's case, this configuration is only available in its medium-duty and heavy-duty truck lines.
Keep in mind that the cab size will have an effect on the bed length, which is the next choice you'll make. In other words, if you want a standard-length truck with a crew cab, that larger cab will take away length from the truck bed. If you want a larger cab and a long bed, you will wind up with a longer wheelbase and a truck that is harder to park and maneuver.
The bed sizes vary slightly by manufacturer but are approximately 5.5 feet, 6.5 feet and 8 feet. Though it's nice to have lots of room for cargo, combining a crew cab with an 8-foot bed might mean you can't put the truck in your garage. To increase bed capacity without adding length to the truck, some manufacturers offer an optional bed extender that allows owners to lower the tailgate and use that as bed space.
To help you choose a bed length, think of the standard sizes of lumber or other construction materials you might need to carry. Sheetrock and plywood come in 4-by-8-foot dimensions, so you might need a longer bed for such loads.