Buy a pick-up truck: the complete guide

Rough, tough roomy ... and now with heated leather seats: how to buy a modern pick-up truck

Leon Poultney
Nov 15, 2018

If you owned a pick-up truck in the past then the chances were that you worked on a building site or a farm. Few others were interested in these big, uncomfortable and expensive to run vehicles.

But this builders' workhorse has had a transformation, as some of the biggest manufacturers - including Mercedes - have introduced stylish and technologically advanced models that retain huge load areas and four-wheel drive.

If you have a family, a dog and a couple of jet-skis to transport; or a big caravan to tow, pick-ups begin to make a lot of sense. And with modern pick-ups, you don’t have to compromise on comfort.

And you're not alone in wanting one. They are so popular here, that Britain is the biggest market in Europe for mid-sized pick-ups.

Load covers secure your cargo and engine technology has advanced to a point where large diesels are perfectly capable of hauling a tonne (1,000kg) of equipment or baggage, without bankrupting the owner from excessive fuel bills.

On top of this, company car users can now reduce their Benefit-in-Kind tax if they opt for a double cab pick-up truck over, say a tall and rugged sport utility vehicle (SUV), while businesses can reclaim the VAT just like they can on a light commercial vehicle.

It all makes pick-up trucks a tempting proposition for those who want the load-lugging abilities of a van, the 'go-anywhere' spirit of a four-wheel drive vehicle, and the interior technology of a modern SUV. But before you commit, scroll down to read our buying guide

Jump to:
Cab style
Load area
Off-road capabilities
Comfort and convenience
Tax benefits

Cab style

One of the biggest decisions to make when choosing a pick-up is the cabin (cab) style. Most of the major manufacturers offer a range of options:

  • Single cab Two-door trucks that can only seat a driver and passenger
  • King cab, Super cab or Crew cab These have small rear doors and occasional rear seats 
  • Double cab These popular models have four individual doors and plentiful space for four or five adults inside, and also benefit from generous tax discounts.

The decision to opt for a double cab model will mean the pick-up is more practical for everyday use, making it much easier to load children and passengers into the rear, and it also comes with tax benefits.

Double cab pick-ups do have smaller load areas (also known as the pick-up bed), though. A double cab Nissan Navara, for example, has a bed that is 210mm shorter than the king cab versions, while there's a 768mm difference in load bed length between Ford's regular cab models and the double cab variants in its Ranger model.

Those that are looking to haul jet skis, motocross bikes or lengthy surfboards should perhaps look towards the longer beds but it could impact the comfort and convenience for passengers.

       

    

Load area

The large load area at the back of a pick-up is the reason for its existence and so the amount of stuff that it can carry is crucial.

A general rule of thumb is that the most spacious single cab models should have a space that’s 2 metres long by 1.5m wide. The maximum weight of cargo and passengers that a pick-up can carry is known as the payload; just over one-tonne is pretty common.

Some of the models designed to appeal to families as much as farmworkers - such as the Volkswagen Amarok (pictured) - are only available in double cab body styles. This restricts the size of the loads that it can carry: the Amarok’s load area is a little over 1.5m long, but is wider than average at 1.6m.

Most pick-ups have powerful engines fitted under the bonnet, which makes them capable of towing more than three-tonnes in some cases, so it's possible to attach a trailer if space is a problem. Many can also be driven with the rear tailgate laid flat for a few additional millimetres to help haul a load.

You can fit secure, lockable covers to the back, which hide away anything that you're carrying in the back but these do reduce the payload of the pick-up (by 45kg). If you fit a cover, you'll need to ensure that the payload remains above a tonne if you want the car to remain classed as a Light Commercial Vehicle and benefit from tax advantages.

   

   

Off-road capabilities

Even the Ssangyong Musso (pictured), often considered one of the cheapest pick-ups on the market at £16,795, has four-wheel drive, as well as a low-range gearbox, which helps to climb steep hills when the vehicle is heavily loaded.

Most pick-up trucks have four-wheel drive as a minimum, so dirt tracks and muddy fields shouldn’t leave them stranded. Their ability to cope with tougher terrain depends on the model because there are several other factors to take into account:

  • Ground clearance The larger the gap between the bottom of the truck and the ground, the less likely you are to scrape it on uneven surfaces.
  • Approach and departure angles Pick-up trucks with bodywork and bumpers that extend out far beyond the front and rear wheels (overhangs) are easy to scrape - or get stuck - on steep slopes. Shorter overhangs which curve up are better for this type of terrain.
  • Wading depth The larger the figure, the deeper the water you can cross without your pick-up truck’s engine flooding.

The Toyota Hilux, for example, is regularly cited as one of the hardiest off-road machines, with an impressively steep approach angle of 32-degrees, while the Ford Ranger can wade in water up to 800mm deep.

On top of this, many modern manufacturers have attempted to make off-roading simpler by creating advanced driver assistance systems that can be activated at the press of a button.

The VW Amarok’s 'Off-Road' button optimises the brakes for off-roading and activates Hill Descent assistance. It is possible to lock the axles for permanent all-wheel-drive at the press of a switch.

The well-established Mitsubishi L200 remains one of the most capable pick-up trucks off-road thanks to a dedicated low range gearbox, all-wheel-drive and seemingly bulletproof build quality. This does affect the comfort and quietness of the truck on the road.

      

    

Comfort and convenience

Nissan claimed its most recent Navara model was as comfortable as its line of family friendly SUVs, such as the Nissan Qashqai and X-Trail, when it launched last year. That’s partly down to its use of the same modern technology and quality of materials.

In addition to this, the Japanese manufacturer replaced the typically bouncy (but durable) rear suspension from the previous version and replaced it with a modern set-up that made a dramatic impact on the Navara’s smoothness and stability. The overall result is a pick-up truck that is unrecognisable from the farm machinery of old.

Other manufacturers have followed the same path, including Volkswagen with its stylish Amarok, Mercedes with its ultra premium X-Class (above) and Renault's upcoming Alaskan model. Inside, most of these vehicles benefit from creature comforts that include touch screen dashboard systems, heated seats, leather interior materials, sat-nav and advanced driver safety aids.

It's worth considering the sort of life your pick-up is going to lead, as these stylish interiors don't take too kindly to muddy boots or being scuffed by wayward planks of wood.

    

    

Tax benefits

The reason for the sudden explosion in the pick-up truck market is largely down to the tax benefits for company car users, business owners and fleet administrators - particularly when it comes to double cab pick-up trucks.

So long as a truck's cargo capacity is above the 1,000kg threshold set by HMRC (all the biggest names are), it will be classified as a Light Commercial Vehicle and therefore will be taxed accordingly.

As a result, it means the pick-up boasts extremely favourable Benefit-in-Kind rates for company car drivers, while VAT-registered purchasers can reclaim substantial amounts of VAT and companies can often write off the full purchase cost against tax.

Normally, Benefit in Kind (BIK) tax is linked to both the purchase price of a vehicle and its CO2 emissions, but the BIK for double cab pick-up trucks with a payload over 1,000kg is set at a fixed rate (it's £3,350 from April 2018):

  • A fairly expensive car with high emissions, such as a £35,000 diesel Audi A6 Avant has a BIK of £8,941.
    A 20% taxpayer would pay £1,612 each year in company car tax.
    A higher-rate taxpayer would pay £3,224 per year.
  • The BIK rate for a double cab Nissan Navara is a fixed £3,350.
    This means that a 20% taxpayer would pay £670 a year
    A higher-rate taxpayer would pay £1,340.

A VAT-registered business can also benefit from double cab pick-ups as company cars because they qualify for VAT reclaims that are more lenient than standard company car policy.

A company car must be used 100 per cent of the time for business to qualify for a reclaim, but you can use a double cab pick up truck privately and for business, then claim the VAT back on the proportion of business use (eg if 70% of driving was on behalf of the business, then you can claim back 70% of the VAt paid).

As with any taxation issues, it is best to discuss financial options with a registered accountant before committing to swap your company car for a pick-up.

              

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