Pickup Truck Ratings and Capacities

The world of pickup trucks has changed almost impossibly over the last 50 years. At one time, the numbers on the side of the trucks represented their “load class”. A 10-, 100 or 1000-class truck meant it was built to carry approximately 500 pounds while also carrying a driver and one passenger. A 15-, 150- or 1500-class meant 1000 pounds… well, that’s not quite right, but note that I did state that it was described as carrying a driver and passenger. The reality is that those numbers represented the raw, unloaded weight BEFORE driver and passenger and they assumed a driver, passenger and ‘baggage’ would add up to about 500 pounds. That’s almost true about passenger weight today, but back then it gave them a little leeway. Today’s trucks have just gotten weird.

In a PickupTrucks dot com article, http://news.pickuptrucks.com/2014/04/ram-farms-its-country-music-agriculture-connections/comments/page/2/#comments “Ram Farms Its Country Music, Agriculture Connections”, the discussion forum beneath swiftly grows into a “My Truck is Better than Your Truck” argument—especially arguing about the load and towing capacities of their favorite models and brands. Some complain that a 1500-class model can barely carry 800 pounds (a model with 4 doors and intended to carry 5 to 6 passengers as well as load) while another 1500-class model can tow over 9,000 pounds! Worse, both of these trucks weigh very nearly 6,000 pounds (that’s three Imperial [American] tons!) Now, when you consider that up until about 15 years ago these same 150/1500-class trucks weighed more than 1,000 pounds less, you have to wonder what’s happened.

Ok, let’s break this down again with where I started:

* 150/1500-class represents a 1/2-ton rated truck — supposedly 1,500 pounds difference between curb weight and gross weight.

* 250/2500-class represents a 3/4-ton rated truck — um… huh? Shouldn’t that mean 2,500 pounds curb-to-gross weight difference or one full Imperial ton?

* 350/3500-class represents a 1-ton rating — Something is definitely wrong here Maybe those rating numbers represented something else.

According to Wikipedia, the classification ratings are a little different and don’t really represent 1/2-ton, 3/4-ton and 1-ton capacities. Who knew, right? Strangely, they’re still advertised as such. Let’s take a look at the US commercial truck classifications.

* Class 1: Gross vehicle weight rating (overall weight of truck AND load) from 0 to 6,000 pounds.

* Class 2: GVWR from 6,001 to 10,000 pounds. This is subdivided into:

        Class 2a: 6,001 to 8,500 pounds — referenced as ‘light duty’ and

        Class 2b: 8,501 to 10,000 pounds — referenced as ‘light-heavy duty’.

* Class 3: GVWR from 10,001 to 14,000 pounds.

Now, if we look at these classifications we can see there’s really no comparable reference point between their supposed weight ratings and their actual class. Wiki suggests the Toyota Tacoma, Nissan Frontier and older so-called “mid-size” trucks fall under Class 1. Considering their curb weight on average started out in the 3,000 — 4,000 pound range, that gave them a load capacity of anywhere between 2,000 — 3,000 pounds, well over one ton. Current models still weigh less than 4,000 pounds on average. So they definitely should be in the 1-ton rating by capacity. Granted, these ‘mid-sized’ trucks also typically run with a smaller engine, but we’re now seeing the so-called ‘full-sized’ trucks dropping engine sizes as well. The typical full-sized truck is now weighing in as a high Class 1 to a Class 2a. They’re barely staying under that Class 2 limit on some models while going well over it on others—all the while holding a supposed 1/2-ton rating.

Wikipedia closes out their reference with this statement:

“When light-duty trucks were first produced in the United States, they were rated by their payload capacity in tons (e.g., 1⁄2-, 3⁄4- and 1-ton). Over time, payload capacities for most domestic pickup trucks have increased while the ton titles have stayed the same. The now-imprecise ton rating is presently used to compare standard sizes, rather than actual capacities.

This has led to categorizing trucks similarly, even if their payload is different. Therefore, the Ford Ranger, Chevrolet S-10, and GMC S-15 are called quarter-tons (1⁄4-ton). The Ford F-150, Chevrolet 10, Chevrolet/GMC 1500, and Dodge 1500 are half-tons (1⁄2-ton). The Ford F-250, Chevrolet 20, Chevrolet/GMC 2500, and Dodge 2500 are three-quarter-tons (3⁄4-ton). Chevrolet/GMC’s 3⁄4-ton suspension systems were further divided into light and heavy-duty, differentiated by 5-lug and 6 or 8-lug wheel hubs depending on year, respectively. The Ford F-350, Chevrolet 30, Chevrolet/GMC 3500, and Dodge 3500 are one tons (1-ton).”

What this all means is that you simply can no longer rely on their ‘weight ratings’ to offer a realistic reference to their real capabilities. It’s all ‘market speak’ now with as many different trucks as there are cars with capabilities from lightweight sports trucks to true haulers carrying the exact same model name. No longer can you list any one as the “best all-‘round truck” because no truck can do everything without having too much or too little capability for individual needs.

2 thoughts on “Pickup Truck Ratings and Capacities”

  1. “I personally find that the 1/2 ton, 3/4 ton, 1 ton designations are woefully antiquated and completely out of touch.”

    Agreed. My 1996 Dodge Ram “1/2 ton” was easily able to haul 2400 lbs of wood pellets! And I imagine most “1/2 tons” would be similar…


  2. For those who read PUTC and even TTAC you know that I tend to advocate getting the right truck for the job even if that job is daily driver and load of cargo.

    I personally find that the 1/2 ton, 3/4 ton, 1 ton designations are woefully antiquated and completely out of touch. Pickups have steadily grown larger and so have their capacities.

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