Deciphering the Language of Pickup Trucks

Unless you are a diehard pickup truck owner, some of language used to describe these vehicles may be a mystery to you. It isn’t that the manufacturers are looking to confuse consumers, rather these vehicles have certain attributes that are unique or common to them, especially for those full-size pickups sold by GMC, Ford, Ram, Toyota, Chevrolet, and Nissan. You may know that the “bed” describes the rear cargo area, but other terms such as payload capacity, crew cab, and heavy duty may seem unclear.

1. Body-on-Frame Construction

Every large pickup truck and some small trucks such as the Toyota Tacoma and the Nissan Frontier employ body-on-frame construction. Others such as the Honda Ridgeline are of unibody construction. With body-on-frame, the truck’s body is mounted separately to the frame.

For unibodies, the frame and the body is a single unit. Body-on-frame vehicles are heavier than unibody models, but are easier to modify including extending the chassis for greater model variations. They are also much more suitable to handle off-duty work, especially 4×4 models, but also tend to deliver worse fuel mileage than a unibody.

2020 Nissan Frontier rear

2. Cab or Cabin Sizes

The standard or regular cab (cabin or interior) pickup truck describes a model with two doors and seating for two or three people. Two other terms are also regularly used to describe other cabin layouts: double cab and crew cab. A double cab offers a second set of doors with the rear doors usually smaller than the front doors; they are also commonly rear hinged for easier access and egress. The rear doors open to a bench or split-folding rear seat with room for up to three people.

A crew cab offers a larger cabin and is equipped with four regular sized doors. This third cab configuration offers seating for five or six people. The Nissan Titan calls its crew cab model the King Cab while CrewMax describes the Toyota Tundra crew cab. Ford calls its F-150 double cab model the SuperCab and its largest cab the SuperCrew.

3. Truck Bed Sizes

Truck bed sizes are measured in inches or feet and describe the bed’s length. Small pickup trucks such as the Toyota Tacoma are outfitted with 60.3-inch or 73.5 inch beds; the Nissan Frontier with beds measuring 61.3 or 73.3 inches. Regular or standard cab pickup trucks typically are equipped with 8-foot beds, what GMC calls a long box with its Sierra 1500 model.

Its short box measures 5-feet, 8 inches and its standard box measures 6-feet, 6-inches. Bed length sizes typically vary depending on the size of the cabin, a measurement of critical importance for construction crews carrying lumber, equipment and tools.

2021 GMC Sierra 1500 rear

4. Payload Capacities

Truck manufacturers routinely tout payload capacity, a term that is of significant importance for many owners including work crews and recreational enthusiasts. Payload describes the weight that a truck can carry including the weight of the passengers inside of the cabin, tools or other items in the truck bed, all fluids, and a full tank of fuel. Go over that limit and you risk blowing out the tires and losing control of the vehicle.

Manufacturers typically publish payload information. This number can also be arrived at by taking its gross vehicle weight rating and subtracting its curb or empty rate to arrive at the payload capacity or maximum cargo weight.

5. Trailering Capacities

Trailering capacity is not the same as payload. This number describes the amount of weight a pickup truck can pull or tow including the weight of the trailer, boat, recreational vehicle or a camper and its contents. The weight of a trailer holding a boat should also be included.

Full size pickup trucks such as the 2023 Ram 1500 can pull up to 12,750 pounds depending on the cab, engine, transmission and drive configuration (4×2 vs. 4×4) chosen.

2021 Ford F-150 Hybrid profile

6. Heavy Duty Models

Large pickup trucks such as the Chevrolet Silverado 1500, the Toyota Tundra, and the GMC Sierra 1500 are described as light duty pickup trucks. The term “heavy duty” or “super duty” is ascribed to larger versions of these trucks, models built exclusively by the three Detroit manufacturers. These are purpose-built models equipped with heavier frames, stronger brakes, robust transmissions and larger engines including turbodiesels.

The Ford Super Duty line of F-250, F-350 and F-450 pickup trucks are based on F-150 architecture and includes the mentioned upgrades. At the F-450 level, these trucks bring in a double or dual rear axle for maximum payload and trailering capacities. Indeed, the Ram 3500 Dually Tradesman has a payload capacity of 6,580 pounds and a maximum towing rating of 30,010 pounds.

Clearing the Pickup Confusion

Lastly, there are other terms that tend to confuse pickup truck buyers. For instance, today’s small pickup trucks tend to be closer in size to midsize models and the dimensions of several large pickup trucks may rival that of commercial vehicles.

2021 Toyota Tundra front fascia

See AlsoAmerica’s Medium-Size Pickup Trucks by Sales

Matt Keegan
Author: Matthew Keegan
Matt Keegan is a journalist, media professional, and owner of this website. He has an extensive writing background and has covered the automotive sector continuously since 2004. When not driving and evaluating new vehicles, Matt enjoys spending his time outdoors.

2 thoughts on “Deciphering the Language of Pickup Trucks

  1. Thank you for letting us know that truck bed sizes are measured in inches or feet and describe the bed’s length, so we should make sure to consider this properly since this is critical if we carry cargo like lumber, equipment, and tools. I need a new utility truck for our landscaping company to use for carrying tools and equipment to the site. I’ll be sure to keep this in mind when I visit an auto dealer soon for utility trucks.

    1. You are welcome. With some truck beds, you can get a few extra inches of carrying capacity by dropping down the tailgate and raising the built-in extender. This is especially useful for any bed that doesn’t quite hold 4×8 plywood.

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