What Are the Best Used Trucks for Heavy Towing and Other Uses?

April 6, 2012

As a utility vehicle, trucks are often judged on work-related specs. Learn about the best used trucks for towing capacity, bed space, and other metrics.

Truck With Heavy Towing Capacity

When shopping for the best used trucks, you should consider your specific needs and purchase one that will do everything you need it to do. The best used truck may vary depending on how you plan to use it. The best used truck for hauling or towing will certainly be different from the best used truck for going off-roading. Because of their heavy or rough use, when purchasing a used truck, it is a good rule of thumb to purchase one that is only two to three years old.

For Towing

Many people in the market for a used truck are looking for something that will reliably tow heavy loads for extended periods of time. Diesels produce a considerably high amount of torque, which helps them have a higher towing capacity when compared to gasoline engines. Additionally, diesel engines are generally more reliable than gasoline engines and, all things equal, get slightly better gas mileage, too.

  • Dodge Ram 3500. Dodge is one of the top choices of consumers needing a truck with a diesel engine. Its Cummins turbo diesel is well-equipped to handle serious towing needs. A 2008 Dodge Ram 3500 with the 6.7-liter, 6-cylinder Cummins turbo diesel sports 350 horsepower and 650 pound-feet of torque. It is rated to tow up to 16,350 pounds.
  • Ford F-350. Ford's F-Series trucks have long been the best-selling truck line-up in America. The 2008 Ford F-350 uses a 6.4-liter, 8-cylinder Power Stroke turbo diesel with 350 horsepower and 650 pound-feet of torque. Properly equipped, it is rated to tow up to 15,000 pounds.
  • Chevrolet Silverado 3500HD. With the Duramax 6.6-liter, 8-cylinder turbo diesel producing 365 horsepower and 660 pound-feet of torque, the 2008 Chevrolet Silverado 3500HD has the most powerful production diesel engine in the industry. It also has the highest tow rating of the three at a maximum of 16,500 pounds.

For Bed Space

Another consideration is the amount of bed space the truck provides for hauling cargo. With auto manufacturers offering trucks with shorter and shorter bed lengths, it may seem like the extended bed truck is becoming a rare species. However, most manufacturers offer an extended bed version in their full-size truck line-up, so finding a used truck with the right amount of bed space is a manageable task for buyers willing to do a bit of research.

  • Chevrolet Silverado. Redesigned for the 2007 model year, the Chevrolet Silverado offers a long bed version in nearly every trim level. With the exception of the 1500 crew cab, the Silverado can be optioned with a long bed in every body style in the 1500, 2500 and 3500 models. The truck bed in all long bed Silverado models measures eight feet long
  • Ford F-Series. Similar to the Silverado, all models of Ford's F-Series trucks offer an 8-foot long extended bed version except for the F-150 SuperCrew. You can opt for the heavier duty F-250, F-350 or F-450 and pair Ford's Power Stroke diesel engine with the extended bed for additional utility
  • Dodge Ram. The Dodge Ram 1500 is only offered with an 8-foot long extended bed in the 2-door regular cab model. The longest truck beds offered in 4-door variants of the Ram 1500 measure 6.4 feet. To get four doors and an extended truck bed, you need to opt for the bigger Ram 2500 and 3500 models. A benefit of stepping up to the bigger models is that the bed measures a little longer than the Chevrolet and Ford at 8.2 feet
  • Toyota Tundra. Prior to the Tundra's redesign for model year 2007, an extended bed version was only available in the regular cab. When the Tundra was redesigned, Toyota began offering an 8-foot extended bed in the Double Cab version, as well. If four full doors are needed, the CrewMax is only offered with a 5.5 foot bed
  • Nissan Titan. Introduced for the 2004 model year, Nissan began offering an extended bed version of its Titan truck for 2008. A bed measuring 8 feet long is available with the extended cab model, and if four doors are needed, the Titan Crew Cab offers a 7-foot long bed.

For Off-Roading

For people buying a used truck to take off-roading, there are a few features the truck must have. Among the non-negotiable features are a four-wheel drive system with low range gearing, space under the wheel wells to accept knobby off-road tires and locking differentials. While a basic four-wheel drive system is helpful for the occasional snow storm, many manufacturers offer trucks with serious off-road packaging.

  • Hummer H2 SUT. World-renowned for its off-road capabilities, the Hummer brand was only one model strong (H1) until 2003 when the H2 was introduced. For the 2005 model year, Hummer expanded their line-up even further with the Hummer H2 SUT, which is basically a Hummer H2 with a truck bed instead of the rear cab. Measuring approximately three feet long and four feet wide, the H2 SUT's bed is very small by truck bed standards. However, this truck is a true Hummer in its off-road abilities. With high ground clearance (9.7 inches) and significant approach (39.8 degrees) and departure angles (37.1 degrees), this truck can be considered one of the prime off-roaders.
  • Hummer H3T Alpha. Like its big brother the H2, the H3T Alpha is a truck version of the H3 SUV. Also like its bigger sibling, the truck bed isn't terribly useful. Be that as it may, the H3T Alpha is also a true Hummer with incredible off-road capabilities. It sports a standard 9.7 inches of ground clearance, has a 37.4 degree approach angle, and a 34.7 degree departure angle. It's a bit less powerful than the H2, but it's also a bit less expensive.
  • Toyota Tacoma. The Tacoma is well-known in the mid-size truck market for its reliability and durability. In addition to these things, it is also credible when the pavement ends and dirt begins. Packaged with the V6 engine and TRD four-wheel-drive package, the Tacoma will take anybody as far off-road as they need to go.

For Fuel Efficiency

Fuel efficiency is a growing concern on every truck buyer's radar screen. It is assumed that when someone buys a truck, they are buying a vehicle that won't get great gas mileage. With the United States government mandating Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards, auto manufacturers are spending more time, money, and effort to make their trucks more fuel efficient.

  • Ford Ranger. Consistently at or near the top of the list over the past few years is the Ford Ranger. Two-wheel-drive Rangers equipped with the 4-cylinder gasoline engine, 5-speed manual transmission, and regular cab body return an EPA-estimated 21 city and 26 highway miles per gallon. Of course, most buyers will probably opt for an automatic transmission, the more powerful V-6 engine, and/or the extended cab body style, all of which will reduce the truck's gas mileage a bit. Another consideration is that the Ranger is on the smaller side of the truck spectrum. If lots of space, hauling, or towing capacity is required, this may not be a truck buyers should consider.
  • Toyota Tacoma. Another truck near the smaller end of the spectrum is Toyota's Tacoma. Buying a used Tacoma optioned with 2-wheel-drive, a 4-cylinder engine, 4-speed automatic transmission, and regular cab body should produce gas mileage of 19 city and 25 highway. As an added benefit, the Tacoma carries Toyota's reputation for solid reliability. Like the Ranger, however, many buyers will opt for the stronger engine and transmission and/or the extended or double cab body styles. Buyers who look for options such as these should expect slightly lower mileage.
  • Chevrolet Silverado. As far as full-size trucks go, the 2-wheel drive, regular cab Chevrolet Silverado 15 Hybrid (along with corporate twin the GMC Sierra 15 Hybrid) produces the class-best gas mileage for 2009, with an EPA-estimated 21 city and 22 highway. At this time, these are the only production hybrid trucks available on the market. Full-size trucks such as these typically offer more room and greater towing capacity, and the Chevrolet/GMC hybrid twins are no exception. The standard powertrain includes a Vortec V-8 engine and two electric motors connected to a nickel-metal-hydride battery. One potential dilemma for buyers, though, is the truck's price. Used truck pricing on hybrid trucks such as these may closely mirror the pricing on many other brand new trucks.

Finding the right used truck requires you give some thought to how the truck will be used and how much it will cost.

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