Bob Johnson remembers when picking out a farm pickup was easy. "Where I came from in West Virginia, farmers with green equipment drove a Chevy. Guys who bled red drove Fords. It was simple," Johnson says.
Not so in today's truck world. As the director of fleet relations for the National Truck Equipment Association, Johnson sees a dizzying selection of choices greeting buyers who depend on trucks to work hard.
"Trucks continue to grow in complexity and sophistication. It's no longer prudent to just buy the model you've always bought," Johnson says.
"To keep vehicle maintenance and operation costs down, it's important to do some homework before you call on the dealer," he adds.
Shear truck model proliferation is one of the challenges. You can now choose from 13 mini pickups, seven full-size pickups and the Super Duty. Let's assume you've already chosen your favorite flavor of manufacturer.
Choices abound. There are powertrain and drivetrain options; payload ratings; towing capacities; and a host of other factors to consider, such as truck box and cab configurations. What you'll be hauling influences everything from the length of the bed to torque and horsepower needs. Then there's the bottom line of price. Full-size base models and some compacts will start at less than $20,000, but options can drive pickup prices well beyond $40,000.
Step one. Ask yourself what the vehicle will be used for. What kind of materials will you haul? How many people will you need to carry? Johnson says to look at the performance of trucks you currently own and talking with your work force to see which trucks and equipment they prefer.
"Don't assume that just because a vehicle worked in the past that buying the same model gets you the same truck," he adds. For example, a 1994 Ford F350 dual rear-wheel chassis cab weighed around 4,100 lb. It had a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of 11,000 lb. and a gross payload rating of 6,900 lb. A comparable 2008 F350 dual rear-wheel chassis cab weighs 5,300 lb. and has a GVWR of 11,700 lb. At first glance the newer truck has a greater payload, but when you look at the curb weight you will realize that it actually has 500 lb. less payload (6,400 lb.).
Johnson says a common mistake farmers make is trying to haul too much with too little. "I see a lot of half-ton trucks going down the road with a couple of round bales in the bed and four or five more being towed behind," he says.
"Not only are many of these drivers exceeding the gross combined weight rating of the truck, they are also overloading the rear axle. As a result, you're looking at potential maintenance and cost issues down the road, and there are safety and liability issues."
"When in doubt more truck is better," Johnson says. "Buyers will go to a small engine and lighter components to save costs, but the result is often less payload, a reduced gross combined weight rating [towing capacity] and three or four years of truck service years instead of seven or eight."
Also, review your truck maintenance histories. Look for common failures to see if there are areas to consider upgrading on your next purchase.
High gas prices have driven some urban cowboys from the market, and the focus is back on real work truck features. "The main thing is to ask not what you want, but what you really need," Johnson says.
For More Information
A good resource to learn what is available for upfitting your trucks is the National Truck Equipment Association's Work Truck Show. The next show is in March 2009 in Chicago. For more information, visit www.ntea.com.
You can email Pam Henderson at firstname.lastname@example.org.