Pickup Trucks or Pick-ups

1972 GMC Sierra Custom Camper

1972 GMC Sierra Custom Camper

A pickup truck, or pick-up, is a light motor vehicle with an open-top rear cargo area.

In North America, the word pickup generally refers to a small or medium sized truck, rather than vehicles based on passenger cars. This light commercial vehicle features a separate cabin and rear load area or cargo bed. Two North American vehicles, the Chevrolet El Camino and Ford Ranchero were passenger car-based vehicles with integrated cargo bed, but were not generally referred to as pickup trucks.

Many pickups have short rigid sides and an opening rear gate, while others have a flat tray back. This type of vehicle is known in Australia and New Zealand as a ute or utility (from “utility vehicle”), in South Africa as a bakkie (pronounced “bucky”), and in Israel as a tender. Panel vans, a kind of van, popular in Australia during the 1970s, were based on a ute chassis.

The design details of such vehicles vary significantly, and different nationalities seem to specialize in different styles and sizes. For instance, North American pickups come in full-size (large, heavy vehicles often with V8 or six-cylinder engines), mid-size, and compact (smaller trucks generally equipped with inline four-cylinder engines).

Types of Pickup Trucks or Pick-ups

Compact Pickup Trucks or Pick-ups

The compact pickup (or simply “pickup”, without qualifier) is the most widespread form of pickup truck worldwide. It is built like a mini version of a two-axle heavy truck, with a frame providing structure, a conventional cab, a leaf spring suspension on the rear wheels and a small I4 or V6 engine, generally using gasoline.

The compact pickup was introduced to North America in the 1960’s by Japanese manufacturers. Datsun (Nissan 1959) and Toyota dominated under their own nameplates through the end of the 1970’s. 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 1980’s that Mazda introduced their own B-Series, Isuzu their P’up and Mitsubishi their Mighty Max.

Compact trucks sold in the U.S. market in 2006 include:

  • Chevrolet Colorado/GMC Canyon
  • Ford Ranger
  • Mazda B-Series

In Europe, compact pickups dominate the pickup market, although they are popular mostly in rural areas. There are few entries by European manufacturers, the most notable of which is perhaps the Peugeot 504 Pick-up, which continued to be sold in Mediterranean Europe and Africa long after the original 504 ceased production. Eastern European manufacturers such as ARO or UAZ have served their home markets faithfully for decades, but are now disappearing. The near-majority of compact pickups sold in Europe use Diesel engines.

Mid-size Pickup Trucks or Pick-ups

In North America, pickup trucks were commonly used as general purpose passenger cars. They were popular not only with construction workers, but also by housewives and office workers. This created a need for a pickup that was bigger than a compact and smaller and more fuel efficient than the full-size pickup.

The first mid-size pickup was the Dodge Dakota, introduced in 1987 with a V6 engine availability to distinguish it from the smaller compact trucks which generally offered only four cylinder engines. Its hallmark was the ability to carry the archetypical 4×8 sheet of plywood (4 feet by 8 feet) flat in the cargo bed, something which compact pickups could only carry at an angle.

In 2006, mid-size and large pickups dominate the U.S. market. Mid-size models include:

  • Dodge Dakota
  • Nissan Frontier
  • Toyota Tacoma
  • Honda Ridgeline

Full-size Pickup Trucks or Pick-ups

A full-size pickup is a large truck suitable for hauling heavy loads and performing other functions. Most full-size trucks can carry at least 1,000 lbs in the rear bed, with some capable of over five times that much. The bed is usually constructed so as to accommodate a 4 ft x 8 ft sheet of plywood. Most full-size pickup are front-engine and rear-wheel drive (four-wheel drive optional), and most use a live axle with leaf springs in the rear. They are commonly found with V8, V10, or diesel engines. 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 equipped with a fifth wheel for towing heavy trailers.

Full-size pickups in North America are sold in three size ranges – ½ ton, ¾ ton and 1 ton. These size ranges originally indicated the maximum payload of the vehicle, however modern pickups can typically carry far more than that. For example, the 2006 model Ford F-150 (a “½ ton” pickup) has a payload of between 1,400 lbs and 3,060 lbs, depending on its configuration. Likewise, the 2006 model F-350 (a “1 ton” pickup) has a payload of between 4,000 lbs and 5,800 lbs depending on its configuration.

Full-size trucks are often used in North America for general passenger use, usually those with ½ ton ratings. For a number of years, the ½ ton full-size Ford F150 was the best-selling vehicle in the United States, outselling all other trucks and all passenger car models.

Until recently, only the “Big Three” American automakers (Ford, GM and Chrysler) built full-size pickups. Toyota introduced the T100 full-size pickup truck in 1993, but sales were poor due to high prices and a lack of a V8 engine. However, the introduction of the Tundra and Nissan Titan marked the proper entry of Japanese makers in the market. Both of these trucks are assembled in North America.

As of 2005, five pick-ups are sold as full-size in North America:

  • Chevrolet Silverado/GMC Sierra
  • Dodge Ram
  • Ford F-Series
  • Nissan Titan
  • Toyota Tundra

Pickup Truck or Pick-up Cab Styles

Pickup trucks have been produced with a number of different configurations or body styles.

Standard Cab Pickup

A standard cab pickup has a single row of seats and a single set of doors, one on each side. Most pickups have a front bench seat that can be used by three people. However, within the last few decades, various manufacturers have begun to offer individual seats as standard equipment.

Extended Cab Pickup

Extended or super cab pickups add an extra space behind the main seat. This is normally accessed by reclining the front bench back, but recent extended cab pickups have featured reverse-hinged doors on one or both sides for access. The original extended cab trucks used simple side-facing “jump seats” that could fold into the walls, but modern super cab trucks usually have a full bench in the back. Ford introduced the SuperCab concept on their 1974 F-100.

Crew Cab Pickup

A true four-door pickup is a crew cab, double cab or quad cab. It features seating for up to five or six people on two full benches and full-size front-hinged doors on both sides. Most crew cab pickups have a shorter bed or box to reduce their overall length.

International was the first to introduced a crew cab pickup in 1957, followed by Ford with their 1965 F-250 (short bed) and F-350 (long bed), Dodge in the same era, and Chevrolet followed with their 1973 C/K. Japanese makers offered crew cab versions of their pick-ups in the mid-80s.

Four-door compact pickup trucks are quite popular outside North America, due to their increased passenger space and versatility in carrying non-rugged cargo. In the United States and Canada, however, four-door compact trucks have been very slow to catch on and are still quite rare. In recent years seat belt laws, requirements of insurance companies and fear of litigation have increased the demand for four door trucks which provide a safety belt for each passenger. Mexican four-door compact pickups are quite popular.

Cab-forward Pickup

A cab-forward pickup is derived from a cab-forward van; a van where the driver sits atop the front axle. The first cab-forward pickup was the Volkswagen Transport which was introduced in 1952. It had a drop-side bed which aided in loading and unloading. American and Japanese manufacturers followed in the late 1950’s and 1960’s. American manufacturers adopted this design for only a few years.

The Japanese, however, embraced this design because of its high maneuverability on narrow streets and fields. The smallest ones are 360/550/660cc pickup Keicars from Daihatsu, Honda, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Subaru and Suzuki.

Pickup Truck or Pick-up Bed Styles

Full-size pickup trucks are generally available with several different types of beds attached. The provided lengths typically specify the distance between the inside of the front end of the bed and the closed tailgate; note that these values are approximate and different manufacturers produce beds of slightly varying length.

Most compact truck beds are approximately 50″ wide, and most full-size are between 60″ and 70″ wide, generally 48″ or slightly over between the wheel wells (minimum width).

Short Bed Pickup

The short bed is by far the most popular type of pickup truck bed. Compact truck short beds are generally 6 feet long and full-size beds are generally 6.5 feet long. These beds offer significant load-hauling versatility, but are not long enough to be difficult to drive or park.

Long Bed Pickup

The long bed is usually a foot or two longer than the short bed and is more popular on trucks of primarily utilitarian employ (for example, commercial work trucks or farm trucks). Compact long beds are generally 7 feet long and full-size long beds are generally 8 feet long. Full-size long beds offer the advantage of carrying a standard-size 4 foot by 8 foot sheet of plywood with the tailgate closed. In the United States and Canada, long beds are not very popular on compact trucks because of the availability of full-size pickup trucks.

Step-side Pickup

Most pickup truck beds have side panels positioned outside the wheel wells. Conversely, step-side truck beds have side panels inside the wheel wells. Pickup trucks were commonly equipped with step-side beds until the 1950s, when General Motors (Chevrolet Cameo Carrier and GMC Suburban Carrier) and Chrysler (Dodge Sweptside) introduced smooth-side pickup beds as expensive, low-production options. These smooth side panels were cosmetic additions over a narrow step-side bed interior. In 1957, Ford offered a purpose-built “Styleside” bed with smooth sides and a full-width interior at little extra cost. Most manufacturers followed and switched to a straight bed, which offers slightly more interior space than step-side beds, and due to better aerodynamics, tend to produce less wind noise at highway speeds. Step-side beds do have the added advantage of a completely rectangular interior, although most modern trucks with a step-side bed are that way purely for styling.

General Motors calls the step-side option sport-side, while Ford Motor Company dubs it flare-side.

Very Short Bed

As mentioned above, some compact four-door pickup trucks are equipped with very short beds. They are usually based on sport utility vehicles, and the bed is attached behind the rear seats. The Ford Explorer Sport Trac is an example of this, as is the Ssangyong Musso Sport.

No Bed

In some cases, commercial pickup trucks can be purchased without a bed at all; the gas tank and driveline are visible and easily accessible through the top of the frame rails until a proper bed (many times customized to fit a particular business’ needs) is attached by the customer. These are called “Cab and Chassis” models, and are usually finished by the customer to use a flatbed (flat deck) cargo carrier, stake bed, or specialized fitures such as tow rigs, glass sheet carriers or other types. A common type is the “utility body” which in the U.S. is usually of metal and has many lockable cabinet compartments (a type of large tradesmans tool box).