What is a Truck?

In the argument of truck vs car, there are many “official” descriptions. One thing that stands out however, is the fact that it must have some means to be exciusively a cargo vehicle and that description has become a seriously grey area for many people, both consumer and manufacturer. Trucks are being shipped into America as passenger vehicles, only to be modified on a wholesale basis into a cargo-only vehicle. Interestingly, these ‘trucks’ are of a unibody-style construction which plays with that body-on-frame argument again in both directions. So does a truck really need to be BoF? Is an SUV a car or a truck? Exactly what IS a truck?
IMHO, an SUV that is NOT a BoF model cannot be called a truck–it’s a car first and foremost and essentially qualifies as a station wagon. Even a minivan is nothing more than a station wagon on steroids. If you go back to the ’40s and ’50s, one of the most popular light trucks was really built on a station wagon platform–with NO allowance for installing passenger seats behind the front row. Ford is essentially returning to this concept with the Transit van, while Chrysler is doing the same with its Caravan Cargo. Yes, these are trucks, but SUVs with fold-down seats aren’t. That same Caravan with fold-down seats is NOT a truck, but a passenger vehicle with expandable cargo capacity.
Conversely, while a modern crew cab pickup does qualify as a truck, its now abysmally-small cargo bed almost disqualifies it as a working vehicle because of it’s lack of real carrying capacity by available square footage. At only four and a half feet long, almost any load of lumber, pipe or other larger load simply will not fit in that bed while the level of luxury inside has made them far more a passenger-centric vehicle than a work vehicle. As such, the manufacturers have blurred the lines even more of what makes a truck a truck and a car a car.
Worse, with unibody construction at least one manufacturer has demonstrated that is is possible to build a light-duty pickup truck with car-like features–In fact, even the American big three did it consistently through the ’60s ’70s and even ’80s with the El Camino, Ranchero and Rampage and even more recently overseas with the Holden Commodore Ute and Ford Falcon Ute. But let’s not forget at least one of the older European efforts with the Volkswagen Rabbit Pickup–a FWD light duty rig that can still be found on the roads in some parts of the country.
So honestly the definition of a truck isn’t based on the platform carrying it, but rather its primary purpose of carrying cargo vs carrying people.

4 thoughts on “What is a Truck?”

  1. The definition of a truck has changed so drastically from what it was. It is better to delineate the difference between what is used for commercial/business/agricultural to what is considered lifestyle. Many want to limit the definition of a truck to a half ton to 1 ton pickup but then that definition does not include much larger trucks and vehicles below the half ton full size category. Below a half ton full size pickup is considered by many die hard truck fans to be considered a toy, but in reality the definition is based less on fact. A view of what is considered a truck is more opinion and less factual. For most manufacturers it is more based on marketing.

    1. A thoughtful statement, Jeff S. And you are right, the definition has changed drastically from what it used to mean and OEM marketing is a big part of it. But I think a lot of that was due to CAFE and other fuel economy rules where “trucks” had to have a certain average fuel economy across the lineup and many non-trucks were badged as trucks in order to game the system. Sure, the Chevy HHR and Chrysler PT Cruiser •looked• like 50s-vintage panel wagons, but their sub-compact size and obvious passenger-hauling purpose should have disqualified them from the beginning.

      But I believe the biggest issue is that the OEMs have been gaming the old truck classifications to the point that what used to be the minimum-capabilities to reach one classification has become the maximum capabilities to avoid a higher one to the point that full-sized pickups that would have once been obviously designated as “medium duty trucks” (i.e. classes IV, V and VI) are now considered “Super Duty and Heavy Duty •light duty• models (classes I, II and III.) Now, I’m not a fan of heavy legislation any more than anyone else, but when OEMs go out of their way to dodge the intent of a law by staying within the letter of the law, then the law itself needs to change to better represent the original intent. Personally, any vehicle with the built-in capability to carry more than three people on a regular basis should be considered a passenger vehicle UNLESS it can be proven that carrying more in the course of normal commercial operations is necessary. ANY non-commercial truck should be registered and taxed as a luxury vehicle if it can “comfortably” carry more than three passengers. Under that classification, it must also adhere to automotive fuel economy ratings for a luxury car of equivalent size.

      This would result in one of two events. Either buyers of full-sized crew-cab pickups would license their trucks as commercial vehicles–requiring all inspections and licensing fees pursuant to the class of vehicle or those who are buying them as status symbols would realize the added costs are not worth the ‘image’ and buy what they really need instead. Smaller vehicles with built-in second-row seating should retain a rating as a car or sport utility vehicle while a similar vehicle with NO built-in capability for such passenger carrying could be reclassified as a Light Utility Vehicle.

      To put all this in short, if it offers full-time second-row seating, it should be classified as a passenger vehicle. If it offers anything more than obvious “jump” seats clearly not intended for long-term use, then it should be classified as a passenger vehicle. Exceptions may be made IF the load bed is longer than the combined engine and cabin section OR if it can be proven that a specific vehicle NEEDS a crew of four or more in normal commercial operations. Those exclusions should only be applied under confirmed and verified as-needed basis, again with all commercial fees and regulations applied.

  2. A pickup truck is a truck. 
 A garbage truck is a truck. 
A semi tractor-trailer is a truck.
    But an SUV? No, an SUV is an “SUV”, which is why it’s called an “SUV”. Same for CUV.
 A van or minivan? That’s a van, and is called a “Van”.
    Doesn’t not matter how many seats or how much junk can be put in the back, or how high or how low you sit.

    So, what is a REAL truck? A “truck” is a body-on-frame 2WD or 4WD vehicle that has a cab separate from the cargo bed or container, either integral or detachable. Period. No rocket science here.
    The REAL test: cow manure. If you can haul a load of cow manure in it for your garden, and not be fumigated while driving, it’s a TRUCK. If you can’t, it’s something else. No rocket science there either.


    1. To this statement, I agree whole-heartedly. The OEM’s screwed this concept when they created vehicles like the PT Cruiser and HHR and called them “trucks” to game the CAFE rules at the time. As a result, tons of crossovers came out which adopted the ‘truck’ category when they should legitimately be called ‘wagons’. The only exception should be the BoF SUV, which would legitimately be a truck because it uses truck components. Anything going unibody should be classed as wagon, coupe or sedan.

      However, we have a problem. Starting with Mercedes and more recently followed by Ford and FCA in the US/Canada are the unibody vans which could be considered trucks due to their load capacities. The Sprinter, Transit and ProMaster vans are essentially high-cube trucks, though need to be separated out as their own class. With the amount of cargo space they enclose, they can carry as much weight as any HD pickup, though not necessarily tow as much.

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