How to Choose A Truck
- January 25, 2007
- - By Gordon White
Choosing a truck can be a complex process. Not only are there six truck manufacturers and four truck levels to choose from, but each truck comes in a myriad of styles, bed lengths, engine types, and option packages.
Of course the number one issue when buying a truck for a truck camper is payload capacity. That's not to say that paint color and leather seats aren't important, but payload is the one, two, three, four, or even five thousand pound gorilla in the bed.
What Comes First - Truck or Camper?
The common truck camper wisdom says to pick your truck camper and then pick the truck you need to safely carry that camper. That sounds great, but the fact is that it's hardly ever that simple.
For example, some people already have a truck and can't afford or want to buy another. Others may want a specific truck, truck style or engine type all of which will dictate payload capacity.
If you already have a truck or have your heart set on a specific truck simply reverse the common wisdom. Find out exactly what the payload capacity of your truck is. Post questions on truck camper forums asking if anyone has that truck and what truck camper they carry. Make sure to ask what their truck and truck campers weigh when fully loaded with food, water, fuel, and supplies (fully loaded is also called wet).
For the rest of you, here's a straight forward approach to choosing a truck.
Six Truck Manufacturers and Four Truck Levels
There are six trucks capable of carrying a truck camper: Chevy Silverado, Dodge Ram, Ford F-Series, GMC Sierra, Nissan Titan, and Toyota Tundra.
From those six manufacturers, there are four levels of trucks available: 1/2-ton, 3/4-ton, 1-ton, and bigger (Ford F-450 and F-550). People have put campers on any number of trucks and truck types, but the full-size trucks from these six manufacturers in these four levels are the trucks the truck camper manufacturers build the campers for. Stick with them.
Narrowing the Field - Truck Payload
It can be quite simple to rule in and rule out some manufacturers with the criteria of payload and preference.
For example, if you're not interested in a very light truck camper, you can rule out the 1/2 ton Nissan Titan and Toyota Tundra. If you are interested in a very light camper, you can look at these two models as well as the 1/2 ton trucks from the other four manufacturers.
Most truck campers will require the payload offered by a 3/4 ton or 1 ton truck from Chevy, Dodge, Ford, or GMC. Again, knowing the approximate weight of the truck camper you have in mind will quickly rule in and rule out specific truck levels. For example, if you're looking at a truck camper with a slide out you should be focused on a 1 ton truck, probably with dual rear wheels.
Further Narrowing the Field - Preferences
No one is actually allergic to trucks (are they?) but some people will not, at any price buy a Ford. Or a Dodge, or a dually, or anything that's not a diesel. They're seemingly allergic.
If you have allergies or preferences like these, let's get them out in the open right now.
Find out exactly what you want from a truck. Gas or Diesel? Dodge or Ford? Long bed or short? Regular cab or crew cab? Two or four wheel drive? Get specific!
What you're looking for are those things that you're not willing to compromise, no matter what. These preferences will most likely impact your payload capacity and thus your truck camper choices. For example, if you insist on a single-rear-wheel truck you can all but forget most of the largest slide-out campers.
Once you've narrowed down your truck choices, get some estimates from your local dealers. Make sure the truck you want is available and affordable. Your estimate should include what your desired options cost so you know where to cut if you need to.
But what if you have no set preferences? Then you can start narrowing your field by making some choices.
Oh no! We're not getting into this debate! Recommending one truck brand over another can be like suggesting a change in political party and a new religion all at once.
Our advice is to go and see the trucks and see what you like. Read the reviews. Check the payload and other capacities. They're all good trucks. Just make sure you pick the truck that's good for you.
Gas Truck or Diesel Truck?
The gas vs. diesel debate runs red hot through the truck camping community. The truth is that both types will work well for pulling a truck camper. The debate comes down to purchase price, fuel economy, resale value, and preference.
Gas engines are significantly less expensive than diesel engines. If you don't plan to keep your truck for more than 50,000 miles, a gas engine may be your best value. Despite what you'll hear from the diesel fans, many truck campers are out exploring the world happy as can be with their gas trucks.
Diesel engines commonly cost $5,000 more than gas engines. They can also require expensive regular maintenance. In return, they can give upwards of 20 to 50% better milage, hold their resale value significantly better, and last a lot longer. Diesels also tend to have more muscle when climbing steep grades and can often run on B20 bio-diesel without modification.
The real deal with diesels is that some people just like them - a lot. Maybe it's the sound or the fumes. If you're one of those folks, by all means get a diesel. Otherwise, don't be afraid to look at gas trucks. They're good too.
Long Bed Truck or Short Bed Truck?
There are three reasons to own a short bed camper over a long bed. First would be that you already own one. Second would be that you want a shorter truck camping rig. And third would be that the truck camper model you want is designed for short bed trucks.
Other than those three reasons, you'll have more options if you buy a long bed truck. Other factors including camper cost are negligible. Resale values are also generally better for a long bed as more people want them. And lastly, a long bed will give you more options should you decide to get trade up to another truck camper in the future.
Regular Cab, Extended Cab, Crew Cab?
The two main advantages of an extended or four-door cab over a regular cab would be (a) the ability to have more than two people in the truck and (b) storage. We chose an extended cab for these two reasons.
The advantages of a regular cab are (a) they're cheaper, (b) they're lighter which gives more payload and better fuel economy, and (c) they're shorter in length. We've seen quite a few large campers on regular cabs due to the increase in payload they offer. One disadvantage of a regular cab is that your visibility from the drivers seat may be compromised by the camper over head. In other words, you may have difficulty seeing lights and highway signs that are up and in front of you.
Most truck campers choose an extended or four-door cab. The important point, as always, is to factor in the weight of the cab type you choose into your payload number.
4x4 Truck or 4x2 Truck?
For those of you who know that you're headed for the dirt hills in the middle of nowhere the answer is clear, go 4x4. For those who will venture off the path but don't intend to be extreme about it, a 4x2 is generally more than enough.
There are some strong arguments against a 4x4. For one, a 4x4 weighs more than a 4x2 cutting into your available payload. Another is that many 4x4 truck owners claim to have never or very seldom used their 4x4 option. Furthermore, 4x2 trucks often have technologies that perform many of the benefits of the 4x4 option without the extra weight and expense.
On the other hand, it's good to know you have 4x4 if you ever need it and 4x4 trucks tend to hold their resale values much better than 4x2 trucks.
Single Rear Wheel or Dually Truck?
This issue is as contentious as the gas or diesel debate. Many will stand firm that a single rear wheel truck just doesn't offer the necessary payload and stability necessary for all but the lightest truck campers. Others will beef up their single rear wheel trucks and claim everything is fine and that the dually folks have it all wrong.
Some of this debate simply comes down to preference. It is a very different experience to drive a single rear wheel truck vs. a dual rear wheel truck. In the end, either choice will quickly become second nature and easy to drive.
However, if you strongly prefer a single rear wheel truck your options for truck campers will be restricted by the subsequent limitations in payload ratings. To address this, single rear wheel proponents will often upgrade their shocks and tires to enhance safety and ride.
To play it safe, we strongly recommend a dual rear wheel truck. Not only will this give you more payload, but it also makes your rig more stable and safe.
Get the Right Truck for You
There are more options to choose from including trim levels, bed liners, entertainment packages, and so on. The six choices we've covered are the big ones as far as a truck camper is concerned.
Keep in mind that you may be spending many long hours driving in your truck. Comfort is important.
In the end, you need to find the right truck for you that also has enough payload for the truck camper you want. Once you've found your truck, slide in that camper and hit the road. You're going to love it!
The next step is choosing a camper which is covered in our article, "How to Choose A Camper".