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Choosing the Best Truck for Your Homestead

Megan Wild 

In the last 20 years, we've watched the pickup truck evolve from a vehicle built for doing work to a high-riding commuter car. These days, it's hard to find a full-sized truck that doesn't come leather-lined with a 16-speaker stereo; and while luxury features are nice to have, some of us still need our trucks to do work.

As a homesteader, you learn better than most the value of a truck that can both get the job done and function as a commuter. When you’re running a small farm, every piece of equipment must be able to more than pay for itself, so choosing the right truck is important.

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Know What You Want

The beauty of a pickup truck is its versatility. The truck's ability to perform a multitude of tasks is what has made these vehicles a standard of homesteads and ranches for decades. That's still true today, but with so many options on the market, which is the right truck for you?

Depending on what you want to spend, you might pursue a new or used truck. From there, it’s time to decide what size truck you’re looking for. A full-sizer will be able to haul a bigger payload and tow heavier equipment, but will require more fuel and maintenance. A midsized truck might not have the power to pull large equipment, but if that's not on your to-do list, a smaller truck may prove the more economical solution.

Fuel type is important, too. Many homesteaders prefer to use diesel trucks because they are known to be reliable and torquey. That makes them ideal for tough jobs, allows them to run longer on a single tank, and reduces maintenance costs.

Utility Trucks and Special Features

If you're looking for a vehicle that will function solely as a homesteading tool and won't spend time on highways, it's a good idea to consider an ATV or utility truck. These purpose-built utility vehicles are often more affordable than a road-going pickup. They are available in gas, diesel, and electric models, and can often be customized for specific tasks.

Those who require the grunt of a full-sized truck should take a moment to check out the features offered by utility vehicles like the Marauder line from Reading. These trucks pack all of the features you might find on something from Ford, Chevy or Dodge into a work-specific package with a few extra tricks up its sleeve.

For example, you can select from many different body styles when you purchase from Reading, including dump trucks, enclosed utility trucks, and platform/landscape bodies. They feature galvanized steel bodies and practical features like a standard backup alarm, so you don't catch a farm hand off-guard while reversing in difficult terrain.

Four vs. Two-Wheel Drive

Truck buyers often seek out four-wheel-drive models that include flashy upgrades like upgraded suspension and big tires. However, you should consider going with a two-wheel-drive truck unless you actually require the added traction.

Farm vehicles don't typically need to grapple with the kind of terrain four-wheel drive is made to overcome during everyday tasks. The added weight of another drive axle and transfer case will translate into higher fuel and maintenance costs, and if you're going to tow, a truck with a lower ride height will perform better.

The additional features that are often standard on four-wheel-drive trucks can drive prices above what you might be willing to pay, and that cost will be carried forward in the maintenance of the four-wheel-drive system. If a simpler two-wheel-drive truck can do the job, it's probably your safest bet.

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Favorite Choices

If you're going to stick with the mass-market, it's best to stick with the “big three” for full-sized pickups. Ford's F-150 is extremely capable, but expensive, and No. 2 competitor Chevy Silverado is very similar. Ram trucks compare favorably in cost and are available in many configurations.

Finding diesel power is easy with full-sized trucks. However, if you’re in the used market, it’s important to avoid a potential maintenance nightmare. Many full-sizers are listed at attractive prices, but have high mileage and have suffered hard lives. Avoid the heartache and spend a little more now to save later.

Japan is still king of the midsized truck with the Toyota Tacoma, but their lead is diminishing.  The new third-generation truck gives up some power and luxury features to the Chevy Colorado, and Ford is rumored to be bringing back the Ranger midsizer soon. Of course, if you have the need for a utility truck or ATV, options for you are different.

Few midsized trucks are offered with diesel power. Currently, the Colorado is your only option, but there are whispers that Toyota is bringing a new diesel motor to the Tacoma line soon — that could be a game-changer for the midsized truck market. These trucks are easier to buy used, since many have had lives as strictly commuter vehicles.

Treat It Well, and Your Truck Will Thank You

Whatever you choose, the secret to getting the most from a good truck is preventive maintenance. Modern trucks are built incredibly well, so spend the time and money to put fresh oil in, care for your suspension, and cover the little things, and you're likely to get a lifetime of hard work from a quality pickup.