As the summer months each year come to a close, the weather change signals the literal beginning of a new fall season. It also signals the figurative change of the automotive season, a time when new models come out with fresh faces and complete redesigns. As automotive critics, it is up to us to look at each manufacturer and see which new or freshened vehicles match our criteria for Truckin's Truck of the Year testing.

The first step of the Truck of the Year process includes a meeting to discuss the various new trucks on the market. Only vehicles that are all-new or significantly revised make the cut. For 2005, our finalists included the redesigned Dodge Dakota and the new Dodge Ram SRT-10 -- now wearing Quad Cab garb -- the newly freshened Ford F-Series Super Duty, and the completely new Nissan Frontier and Toyota Tacoma. We invited the Lincoln Mark LT to join us, but due to its late availability, Lincoln was unable to provide us with a vehicle in time for this year's test.

When considering a finalist in the Truck of the Year competition, we compare vehicles, not only against those in the test but also against vehicles that they compete with in their segment. Since Truckin' is an aftermarket-based magazine, we not only gauge aftermarket potential of a prospective winner but also judge the vehicles on overall value, which means determining if you get what you pay for and if a vehicle offers the expected amenities for the price. Other factors that determine a winner are exterior, interior, performance, handling, quality, and, of course, which one we want to take home and keep for ourselves. A vehicle that tugs at our emotions or is fun enough to cement a smile on our faces is always at the top of our list.

Going forward with our five finalists, we requested a version of each from their respective manufacturer for a two-week stay with our eager staff. Each staff member was able to swap in and out of vehicles over the course of its stay and put in ample seat time in each one, using it as he would use his own truck. Logbook entries were made and gas mileage was noted. This years' testing also included a two-day loop over and around our favorite roads in Southern California.

Day One started with an early wake up call and a caravan of manufacturer-plated vehicles to the Los Angeles County Raceway (LACR) in Palmdale, California. It was at the LACR where we performed our performance testing on each vehicle and also where Senior Tech Editor Bob Ryder put each truck through the rigors of acceleration testing, including 0-60, quarter-mile tests, and 60-0 braking trials. Associate Editor Sean P. Holman manned the test equipment, and Managing Editor Carl Calvert, Feature Editor Travis Noack, and Associate Editor Dan Ward recorded the day's events on their cameras. In between performance runs, all of the staff members had a chance to compare the vehicles side by side, for a more accurate evaluation. Once testing was completed, it was off to Lucerne Valley for an afternoon photo shoot and then to the quiet mountain resort town of Big Bear Lake, California, for an overnight stay.

Day Two took us down rugged mountain trails in the four-wheel-drive trucks to compare their off-road prowess, while the SRT-10, which was not meant for off-road encounters, was flogged on winding mountain roads to gauge its asphalt agility. After a couple of hours in the dirt and before we headed home, the 4x4 group met up with the SRT and we grabbed a quick bite to eat in the roadside town of Yucca Valley, California.

With the logbooks filled, the testing completed, and the points tallied, a clear choice emerged as the winner of our 2005 Truck of the Year award. Find out which vehicle wowed our testers and was worthy enough to be called Truckin's 2005 Truck of the Year.