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Picking the right pickup

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Shopping for a pickup is no different from shopping for a sedan or a sport utility vehicle: the sheer number of choices can throw you for a loop. Pickups are popular as both personal and commercial vehicles. And year after year, manufacturers of these trucks beef up their lineups with new models or variants of old models to cater to different needs, tastes and budgets.

To cut through the confusion, which is a gateway to regret, here are some things that you might want to consider before purchasing a pickup.

First, it’s important to understand that pickups can be generally classified into two categories: compact and full-sized. According to Consumer Reports, a US-based nonprofit that tests and rates consumer products, compact pickups, which are sometimes called midsized, are built on a chassis frame different from that of the full-sized ones and offer a range of four-cylinder and V6 engines. Full-sized pickups are, in the words of the organization, “the brawny workhorse of the pickup world.”

“They are larger and more rugged, and they ride higher off the ground than compacts do. They also come in more configurations of cab type, bed size, and drivetrain,” Consumer Reports says, adding that they can function both as a work truck and a family car substitute.

When it comes to engines, compact pickups are fitted with, as previously mentioned, four-cylinder and V6 engines. The latter is the base engine, while the former is an optional feature of many compact pickups. According to Consumer Reports, V6 provides more power and smoother operation. This type is more typically found in full-sized trucks to provide balance between power and fuel economy appropriate for light consumer use.

Full-sized trucks may have V8 engines. “Some newer V8 engines offer cylinder deactivation, allowing the engine to operate on fewer cylinders under light loads, such as steady-speed cruising, and thereby save fuel,” Consumer Reports says.

In terms of transmission, almost all pickups, the organization says, are based on rear-wheel drive platforms to make them suitable for moving heavy load. But for tough road conditions, pickups with four-wheel drive is recommended. The traditional four-wheel drive, Consumer Reports said, is a part-time system controlled via a lever, button or rotary switch as needed. Some pickups have the more versatile full-time four-wheel drive, which provides greater traction and doesn’t harm the driveline.

Another transmission-related concern is whether a pickup should have a manual or automatic transmission. Work Truck Magazine, a resource for vocational truck fleets, says the advantages of choosing manual transmission include lower acquisition cost and better fuel economy. But it notes that not all drivers know how to operate manual transmission. With automatic transmission, which also offers higher towing capacities, that is not much of a problem.

The cargo bed varies depending on the type of pickup. Consumer Reports says a compact pickup has a bed that runs from five to six feet depending on the configuration, while a full-sized pickup’s standard bed length is eight feet. “Fold-out bed extenders are a widely available option,” the organization says. “They flip over, from within the bed, forming a fence around the open tailgate, to allow bulkier or longer cargo to be secured.”

Work Truck says if the bed is to be used for hauling sheets of plywood, for instance, the eight-foot-long bed is “usually the best fit.” “However, with the longer beds, the truck’s price increases and maneuverability is sacrificed (which impacts safety),” the magazine points out.

Pickups come in different cab styles, and so finding one with just the right seating configuration shouldn’t be that hard. There’s the standard cab. It has one bench or two bucket seats in the front and a storage behind them. But as ThoughtCo, an education site, notes, it lacks second-row seating.

An extended cab, meanwhile, has jump seats or a bench seat behind the front seats. This type has a spatial advantage. “Extended cabs provide extra space to carry groceries or other packages behind the first row — out of the weather and locked up for security,” ThoughtCo says. It’s worth noting that the site mentions that most extended cabs are utilitarian, and so it may not provide comfort during a long ride.

Finally, there’s the crew cab, which has full second-row seating and four doors. “Crew cabs are more popular now that many drivers use pickup trucks as their primary vehicle,” the site says.