How to pick the best truck for your needs

How to pick the best truck for your needs

Half, 3-Quarter, or 1-Ton Trucks… which is right for you?

Considering buying a truck? Often one of the first questions you need to ask yourself is what you plan on doing with it. This will determine what kind of truck you should purchase. If you’re camping, occasionally going off-road, and not planning to haul much, a compact pickup like a Toyota Tacoma or Chevy Colorado might work fine for you.

However, if you plan on hauling, towing, or using your truck for work purposes, you’ll need to move up to a full-size model. In that category, there are several choices, but they start with weight divisions.

The terms are left over from the days when designations actually referred to the hauling capacity of a truck including passengers and cargo in the bed. When they started, a Ford F-100 could carry 1,000 lbs. or a half-ton. The same designations applied to Dodge, Chevy, and GMC.

In modern trucks, the capacities are not exact. For the most part, an F-150, considered a half-ton truck can actually carry around 1 ton, and the F-350 or Chevy Silverado 3500 can carry close to 3 tons. Today, the designations of half-ton, 3-quarter-ton, or 1-ton no longer refers to the actual GVWR (Gross Vehicle Weight Rating) as it did when these tonnage terms were created nearly 100 years ago.

The primary difference is in suspension, but there are differences in engine power also. The 1-ton truck is a heavier duty truck capable of more hauling and towing. Here’s a breakdown of the differences to help you choose the right truck.


As an example, in the Chevy lineup of Silverado trucks, the 1500, considered a half-ton truck offers just over 2,100 lbs. of hauling capacity when the 6.2-liter V-8 is selected as an option. This is a little over a ton of hauling capacity, and even with the smaller engine choices, the hauling capacity is just under 1-ton.

Toyota’s full-size offering, the Tundra, can carry around 1,600 lbs. depending on engine and trim selection. This makes it more of a 3-quarter-ton, even though it’s listed as a light half-ton in most reference material. This is because even though it can haul over half a ton, it has less capacity than the Chevy or Ford half-ton trucks.

The Ford 3-quarter-ton, the F-250 can actually haul around 3,300 lbs. or over a ton and a half. Depending on the engine configuration, the Super Duty can also haul even closer to 2-tons.

The Dodge 3500 1-ton can carry up to 7,300 lbs. if configured properly with the 6.4-liter Hemi. What this really means is the capacity rating of any of these full-size trucks is much larger than the half, 3-quarter and 1-ton ratings we often assign them.

The question then becomes “How much do you need to haul and how often?” You might initially think you should just get the heaviest truck possible, but there are some drawbacks to having more capacity than you need, besides the initial cost. More on that in a moment.


The towing capacity of a truck is similar to its hauling capacity, only it’s a little more dependent on the engine configuration. The reason is while the suspension can handle only so much, that’s more related to tongue weight, or the weight that rests on a hitch, more than the weight of the trailer itself. A well-balanced trailer may have a very low tongue weight.

However, the truck still has to be able to pull that weight off the line from a stopped position. This means that torque plays a more important role than horsepower. Once you get the trailer up to speed, horsepower then becomes the greater factor.

This is why 1-ton trucks with high towing capacities often have a diesel engine. The diesel will have both more torque and horsepower, and typically get better mileage while towing and hauling. If you’re going to often tow heavy trailers, whether that’s a boat for pleasure or a cargo trailer for work, you’ll want to choose your configuration carefully.

A word of caution: if you think your trailer is “only a little over” the recommended towing capacity, there’s another factor to be considered: braking. A 1-ton truck has bigger brakes that are specially vented to prevent overheating when stopping your trailer (which probably also has brakes of its own) that a smaller truck may not have. For your personal safety and that of those around you, stick to the manufacturer’s towing capacity.

From brakes to tires, engines to suspension, trucks are designed for specific tow and hauling payloads for a reason.

Engines & economy

The more power and capacity you have in a truck, the more you lose in potential fuel economy and even maneuverability. A lighter truck is more agile both on and off road and uses less fuel. A larger truck sacrifices those things in order to carry more.

The other thing to consider is 4-wheel drive vs. 2-wheel drive. If you live in an area with harsh winters, 4-wheel drive is a good idea, but you’ll sacrifice hauling capacity since the truck itself is heavier. When you engage 4-wheel drive, your mileage will drop considerably. In icy and snowy conditions, this is worth the tradeoff, but in warmer southern climates, it may be unnecessary.

The dilemma is power vs. economy and is one reason to only purchase the truck with the capacities you need.

Maintenance costs

Finally, heavier trucks will cost more to take care of. For instance, tires are more expensive as they’re typically larger and need to be heavier duty. Body and suspension parts are more expensive as well.

Larger gas engines are more expensive to maintain, so the better choice is often a diesel. Even though oil changes are more expensive, they can also be done less frequently, making overall costs about the same. However, driveline and engine parts will cost more if they fail.

What truck do you need? The answer is really up to you, but if you do your research and understand your own driving needs, you’ll find the truck that’s right for you.

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