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> Truck Size & Classification Guide

Truck Size & Classification Guide

Content: Compact Pickups | Mid-Size Pickups | Full-Size Pickups | Truck Payload Sizes and Towing Capacity | GVWR Classes

 
There are a lot of things one needs to think about when considering the purchase of a new pickup, or even when researching the pickup you already own. Some of those questions include: What size truck is right for me? Will I be hauling or towing anything? Can my current truck handle my hauling or towing needs? And there is more! In this guide, we will review different truck sizes, payload sizes, GVWR (Gross Vehicle Weight Rating) classes, and towing capacities.

Compact Trucks

When it comes to truck sizes there are three different categories: compact, midsize, and full-size. The compact truck is the most popular pickup worldwide. These are a smaller version of a traditional pickup truck, with a frame providing structure, a conventional cab, and are outfitted with a small L4, L5, L6, or V6 engine, typically using gasoline.

The compact pickup was introduced to North America in the 1960s by Japanese manufacturers. Datsun and Toyota dominated through the end of the 1970s. Other Japanese manufacturers built pickups for the American "Big Three": Isuzu built the Luv for Chevrolet, Mazda built the Courier for Ford, and Mitsubishi built the Ram 50 for Dodge. It wasn't until the 1980s that they produced their own trucks, with Mazda introducing its own B-Series, Isuzu creating the P'up, and Mitsubishi with Mighty Max.

As time went on, people wanted greater hauling capacity - both for cargo and passengers. They wanted something that was relatively fuel efficient and could meet stricter crash-test requirements. Most importantly, fans of compact trucks wanted all of these things without having to move up to a full-size truck. That is when the compact truck segment saw an offshoot develop into the mid-size truck segment we know today.

The most popular compact trucks include the Ford Ranger, Chevy S10, GMC Sonoma, and Mazda B Series.

Mid-Size Trucks

In North America, pickup trucks are commonly used as general purpose passenger cars. They are popular not only with construction or contract workers but also with everyday commuters and families. Because of this, there is demand for a pickup that is bigger than a compact, yet smaller and more fuel efficient than a full-size pickup. Enter the mid-sized truck.

The first mid-size pickup was the Dodge Dakota, introduced in 1987 with a V6 engine that separated it from smaller compact trucks which generally offered only four-cylinder engines. While most mid-size trucks are only available with 4-cylinder or V6 engines, since 1991 the Dodge Dakota has utilized both V8 engines and V6 engines in its trucks. The increased popularity of mid-size trucks has also led to the need for several different configurations and style of cab. Mid-size trucks can usually be found with single, extended, or crew cab configurations depending on what's offered for the model and based on needs.

Notable mid-size trucks include the Chevrolet Colorado, GMC Canyon, Dodge Dakota, Nissan Frontier, Toyota Tacoma, Honda Ridgeline, and Ford Explorer SportTrac. Lesser known mid-size trucks would include the Isuzu i-Series, Mitsubishi Raider, and Suzuki Equator.

Full-Size Trucks

A full-size pickup is a larger truck suitable for hauling heavy loads and performing other, generally more heavy-duty, functions. Most full-size trucks can carry at least 1,000 lbs (450 kg) in the truck bed, with some capable of over 7,000 lbs. The bed is usually constructed so as to accommodate a 4 ft (1.2 m) x 8 ft (2.4 m) sheet of plywood. Most full-size trucks are commonly found with an I6, V6, V8, V10, or Diesel engine and are rear-wheel drive with four-wheel drive as an added option. The largest full-size pickups feature doubled rear tires (two on each side on one axle). These are colloquially referred to as "duallies" (DOOL-eez), or dual-wheeled pickup trucks, and are often used with a fifth wheel for towing heavy trailers or campers.

Full-size pickups in North America are commonly sold in three size ranges - 1/2 Ton, 3/4 Ton, and 1 ton. These size ranges originally indicated the minimum payload of the vehicle meaning a 1 ton truck could carry at least a ton, however, modern pickups can typically carry far more than that. Full-size trucks are often used in North America for general passenger use and are usually those with ton ratings.

Until recently, only the "Big Three" American automakers (Ford, GM, and Chrysler) built full-size pickups. Toyota introduced the T100 pickup truck in 1993, but sales were poor due to high prices and a lack of a V8 engine. Some call the T100 a full- size pickup, but due to the frame, payload, lack of a V8, and size, it was officially classified as a mid-size. However, the introduction of the Toyota Tundra and Nissan Titan marked the proper entry of Japanese makers in the market.

Common full-size trucks include: The Chevrolet Silverado, GMC Sierra, Ram (Dodge Ram), Ford F-Series, Nissan Titan and the Toyota Tundra.

Truck Payload Sizes and Towing Capacity

Trucks are often classified by payload size - the amount of weight a truck can safely handle on top of its own weight, including all occupants, items stored in the cab, anything in the truck bed, and the tongue weight of a trailer when towed. The most common payload size classifiers are 1/2 ton, 3/4 ton, and 1 ton.

These classifiers were used years ago to state the minimum payload a vehicle could handle. Many modern trucks can handle much more. For example, the 2017 model Ford F-150 (a "1/2 Ton" pickup) has a payload of between 1,590 lbs (721 kg) and 3,270 lbs (1,483 kg), depending on configuration. A single ton is about 2, 000 lbs (907 kg). Likewise, the 2017 model F-350 (a "1 Ton" pickup) has a payload of between 3,500 lbs (1,588 kg) and 7,630 lbs (3,461 kg) depending on configuration.

Just as the payload capacity of your truck depends on the configuration so does the towing capacity. Different engines, transmissions, cooling systems, frames, and suspension set ups will be rated for different towing capacities. The best way to find out your trucks specific payload size and towing capabilities would be to refer to your truck's owner manual, the stickers on the inside of your truck's door jamb, or check with the nearest dealer.

Common ½ ton trucks include the Chevrolet Silverado 1500, GMC Sierra 1500, Ram 1500, Ford F-150, Toyota Tundra, and Nissan Titan. These trucks tend to have payload capacities between 1,000 and 3,000 pounds and tow between 5,000 and 10,000+ pounds.

Common ¾ ton trucks include the Ford F-250, Chevrolet Silverado 2500, GMC Sierra 2500, and Ram 2500. These trucks tend to have payload capacities between 3,000 and 4,000 pounds and can tow up to 13,000 pounds

Common 1 ton trucks include the Ford F-350, Chevrolet 3500, GMC Sierra 3500, and Ram 3500. These trucks tend to have payload capacities between 4,000 and 6,000+ pounds and can tow up to 30,000+ pounds.

Although the ton. ton, and 1 ton classifiers may be out of date, they are still widely used to describe specific truck sizes. More commonly, however, these payload classifiers, as well as towing capacities, are directly related to a truck's Gross Vehicle Weight Rating or GVWR.

GVWR (Gross Vehicle Weight Rating) Classes

GVWR or Gross Vehicle Weight Rating refers to the maximum operating rate a truck can carry while driving. This includes the truck itself, fuel, passengers, and cargo. The US DOT has designated eight GVWR class ranking from 1 to 8 or smallest to largest. These classes define the most a manufacturer and the government have certified a truck to weigh for safety regulations, commercial designations, and registration purposes.

Check out the chart below to learn about the differences between each class:

Image of a GVWR truck classification chart

GVWR can be used to calculate many things like payload and towing capacity. Payload capacity is calculated by taking a truck's GVWR and subtracting the weight of the truck from it. An example would be a truck with a GVWR of 10,000 pounds and when set on a scale the truck weighs 7,500 pounds - meaning the payload capacity of the truck would be 2,500 pounds.

As noted earlier, common payload classifiers are ton, ton, and 1 ton trucks. For consumer vehicles, a half ton truck would fall under a GVWR class of 1 or 2 and be considered light duty while three quarter and one ton trucks would fall under the GVWR class of 2 or 3 and be considered heavy duty. On the commercial truck side of things, light duty would be considered class 1-3, medium duty class 4-6 and heavy duty class 7-8.

Content: Top | Compact Pickups | Mid-Size Pickups | Full-Size Pickups | Truck Payload Sizes and Towing Capacity | GVWR Classes