What you need to know about pickup truck classes

April 23, 2020
Atanas Nikolov
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Do pickup truck classes seem confusing to you? I get it! It can be really frustrating to figure them out. You see pickups described in terms of payload capacity, but then you realize that’s not even accurate.

You don’t have to worry, though. In this post, we are clearing these things up. The classification will start making sense once you see where it came from. In fact, taking a look at car history shows us we have a knack for vehicle class confusion. What we used to consider a full-size sedan is now mid-size or compact. Even small cars today are on the bigger side. And what about pickups?

As with all other vehicles, pickup trucks have also changed with time. In a recent article about camping in your car, we saw that Ford Model T had a pickup variant. Do you know how big it was? Smaller than a modern-day Mini Cooper. But enough trivia, let us dive deeper into figuring out pickup truck classes!

What are different pickup truck classes?

The issue with vehicle classification is not that cars change. It’s rather that sometimes our language does not reflect that properly.

On the one hand, we have terms like “full-size” and “compact,” which are relative. They still make some sense when used with modern cars.

On the other hand, we describe pickups as half-ton, one-ton, and the like. Sadly, that often doesn’t mean what most people think it means.

Things get even worse if you want to be technical. When it comes to truck classification, there are standards. The problem? We are not following them in our colloquial use of the terms. On top of that, the standards could also be confusing themselves. For example, Ford Ranger, Ford F-150, and Ford F-250 are all currently classified as “light trucks.”

Even so, most people still describe pickup truck size with the outdated ton rating system. Though now inaccurate, we can’t shake it off. What we can do is explain both the historical and modern systems. That way, you will have an up-to-date frame of reference. Shall we start?

What is pick up trucks payload capacity classification?

Back in the day, it made sense to classify work vehicles based on their payload capacity. See, the payload has been used for many things in the past. Transferring the same system to trucks (and actually cars) made sense. In any case, it gave you a fairly clear idea of what size pickup would fit your needs.

But what is the payload, exactly? That is the total load the vehicle can carry aside from its own weight. So, it also includes passengers and their items, not just cargo. Because of that, the cargo payload is a somewhat flexible number, yet always smaller than the total payload capacity.

Right below, I will describe the main ton rating classification. We will be using Ford as an example because its naming is fairly straightforward:

  • Half-ton. A traditional half-ton truck would be America’s favorite pickup, Ford F-150. Originally, it could carry about 1,000 lbs (or, obviously, half a ton). Interestingly enough, modern F-150’s can have a payload capacity of 3,000 lbs. But wait, it gets even more ridiculous!
  • Three-quarter-ton. The F-250 and similarly sized trucks would take this spot. Again, while it should mean a payload of 1,500 lbs, today such trucks often have it up to 4,000 lbs.
  • One-ton. You have probably guessed that Ford F-350 fits here. The original payload of 2,000 lbs can now get to 7,000 lbs with modern F-350’s.
  • One-and-a-half-ton. Finally, this place is occupied by Ford F-450 Pickup. The funny thing is technically this spot should be for the current F-150, as it designates 1,500 lbs of payload. I cannot give you a modern-day payload number for F-450, as there is some controversy about that. It can often be less than F-350.

By now, you should have realized how messy the system gets. The ratings actually go even further but are rarely used for pickups. At some point, people figured out that bigger vehicles like Ford F-550 should probably be labeled correctly.

Want to hear another peculiar inadequacy? The ton rating does not have a place for modern “medium” pickup trucks like Ford Ranger. The company labels it as a “mid-size pickup,” but perhaps we should call it a quarter-ton. Though with a payload capacity of up to 2,000 lbs, it’s a straight-up one-ton truck. I don’t even want to think about how we would classify “compact” pickups.

As for why this entire mess happened, there is a simple explanation – market competition. Just like cars became bigger and bigger, pickups grew, too. Though some smaller models also popped up. With time, this ridiculousness had to end, and a new classification system emerged. Here we go again!

What is the Gross Vehicle Weight Rating?

Today a pickup line can vary tremendously in its sizes. You could have something as small as Chevrolet S-10 or as big as Chevrolet Silverado 5500. Again, we see confusion as most people have already started classifying current mid-size models (like the Ranger above) as compact. Well, that’s fine, as long as we compare same-generation pickups.

With that said, colloquial uses don’t matter to the official classification. The good news is that it gives you clear numbers. Sadly, they somehow decided to make their general labels confusing as well.

Before we see them, I have to tell you that this system no longer uses payload capacity. Instead, it classifies trucks by their gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR). This is how much the truck can weigh as a whole when it is fully loaded. Payload has to be calculated on its own by subtracting the vehicle’s actual weight from its GVWR. Now let’s see the government-set vehicle weight classes and categories:

  • Class 1. This category has all trucks with GVWR of under 6,000 lbs. The mentioned Ranger falls here, as well as smallish pickup trucks like Toyota Tacoma and Nissan Frontier.
  • Class 2a. Technically, class 2a and 2b are considered the same class. Still, because of certain requirements, 2a is only for trucks with GVWR between 6,001 and 8,500 lbs. Examples: Ram 1500, Ford F-150, Toyota Tundra.
  • Class 2b. This class reaches up to 10,000 lbs. It is separate because certain rules only apply to 2a, while others from Class 3 apply to 2b. Confusing, I know! It gets more ridiculous because Class 1 and 2 are both labeled “light trucks.” Ford F-250, Nissan Titan XD, and Ram 2500 belong here.
  • Class 3. With the current category, we enter into the niche of the medium-duty trucks, which go from 10,001 to 14,000 lbs. Both Ford F-350 and Ford F-450 Pickups fit here, as well as Ram 3500. Some consider this class to be the last that features actual pickups. Above that, the line gets blurrier between what makes a pickup and a regular truck.
  • Class 4. Vehicles here can go up to 16,000 lbs. Besides regular small trucks, here we also see pickups like Ram 4500 and Chevrolet Silverado 4500.
  • Class 5. This is the final category to technically have a pickup in it. The weight can go all the way up to 19,500 lbs. Here we can find Ford F-550, Ram 5500, and Chevrolet Silverado 5500.

These classes go all the way up to 8, but beyond class 5, we don’t have a single pickup. They are reserved for heavier duty trucks and specialized vehicles.

What are the specifics of shipping a pickup truck?

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Now that you know more about pickup truck classes, you may want to buy the right one for you. However, there are things that you may want to know if you are looking to ship a used one, for instance.

While pickup transport is not the same as shipping a truck, it differs from regular car transport, too. Transporting a pickup has its specifics, which are also reflected in the cost of shipping.

Let’s look at Ford Ranger. Since it is considered a smaller pickup, its transport will be somewhat similar to a regular SUV in terms of difficulty and pricing. On the other hand, a Ram 5500 weighs three times as much, so that has to be taken into account. Plus, it’s also significantly larger, which complicates things.

See, some pickups may be way too large for a regular carrier. We can use any auto transport carrier for shipping a car from Arizona to Oregon, for example. The same cannot be said for larger pickups. Instead, they may require a special carrying truck.

If you want more information for your specific case, you can reach out to us. Here at Corsia Logistics, we can give you a free quote depending on the size and weight of your pickup.

Do you get pickup truck classification now?

Hopefully, by now, you know everything that you need about pickup truck classes. I understand they can be a bit confusing, so you may want to refer to this article again in the future. Still, the situation doesn’t look like clearing up anytime soon. It is hard to get over the habit of using inaccurate labels. Most folks probably don’t even know the details of the official classification anyway.

Regardless, you should be armed with all the information necessary to get your own pickup now. Or maybe you already have one? Whatever the case, at least its pickup class should be clear now. And hey, if I have missed some important details, be sure to tell me. Until then, have some fun looking at pickups and figuring out their class!

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