Open-bed trucks are the workhorses of automotive America, and buying used instead of new saves big money. Used trucks are available in compact and full-size varieties with many cab and bed configurations. Most offer manual and automatic transmissions with 2- and 4-wheel drives as well.
Before you start sifting through used trucks in your area, be sure you know how you’ll be driving one. Is heavy-duty hauling or towing on your agenda? If so, consider a truck with a diesel engine. Diesels are known for their towing capabilities and usually enjoy longer, more reliable life spans than their gasoline brethren.
If you have no need for a diesel engine, let your personal needs and desires guide you through the used trucks available. Once you feel sufficiently informed to start perusing them, the following checkpoints are about as comprehensive as possible without a thorough inspection.
Examine the truck in daylight only. Be sure it’s on level ground to assure its fluids are level. Test all door joints and body panels. Any raised areas in the roof? If so, there may be some rust beneath.
Check the odometer. Rather than looking at how many miles have been driven, think about how they’ve been accumulated. If the vehicle is relatively new, and its mileage fairly high, chances are they’re highway miles. If it was used for heavy hauling and/or towing, the engine endured more stress. How much? Look at the back of the truck. If the bed and walls are scratched, chipped or scarred, it’s done some heavy-duty work. If so, what kind and how much?
Carefully review the vehicle’s history. Is the title clean? What is its mechanical background? Any accidents? If so, what happened to the vehicle? Who repaired it? What was fixed, replaced, and why? Ask for documentation of all work performed.
Lift the hood. Check the coolant fluid in the radiator. If it’s not greenish in color or contains rust, the engine may have a tendency to overheat. Look for the edges of new gaskets and any signs of recent work. If work has been done, find out what and why. If the vehicle has an automatic transmission, the engine should be carefully examined. Check the transmission dipstick. If the oil smells like burned cork, beware. The last thing you need is a used vehicle with a transmission on the edge.
Start the engine. Listen for knocks or coughs. Set the emergency brake and put the engine in drive to determine whether the brake holds. Then place the engine in park and allow it to idle. Walk to the back of the vehicle and hold a rag firmly against the tailpipe outlet. If you feel no pressure on the rag from within, check out the exhaust system.
Drive the truck at least 10 miles. If it has an automatic transmission, test it from slow to highway speeds for performance. Find a safe place to slam hard on the brakes. How do they react? Finally, locate the most undulating road possible and drive the vehicle hard and fast over the bumps. If the front of the truck bounces four times or more, the absorbers are worn.
Good luck in your search.