Pickup Truck Classifications

This truck is rated as a half-ton pickup.

Pickup truck classifications can be confusing and often misleading. For decades, truck makers classified pickups in four sizes: half-ton, three-quarter ton, 1 ton and 1½ ton. The ton rating corresponded with the load a truck could carry in its cargo box. By the 1990s, Detroit truck makers stopped using these ratings and started focusing on specific payload capacities. Truck makers now identify their pickups with the more generic—if not meaningless—numbered nameplates.

Older Trucks

It wasn’t until the early post-World War II period when pickup trucks started having specific and consistent classifications. The major light-duty truck makers of the day were Ford, Chevrolet, Dodge, International Harvester and Studebaker. Truck makers rated their pickups as a half-ton capable of carrying 1,400 lb. A three-quarter ton model could haul about 2,500 lb. to 3,000 lb. One-tons had a payload capacity of about 4,000 lb., and the 1½-ton models could haul about 5,000 lb. Cab configurations were limited to the standard two-door regular cab. Classifications didn’t vary from year to year.

This changed beginning in the late 1950s when crew cabs and more engine choices became available, which altered payload capacities. By 1973, Ford introduced the extended F-100 cab, further muddying the waters of the exact payload classification of a pickup

Contemporary Trucks

American-made trucks as of 2010 still have four basic classifications, although gross vehicle weight ratings and payload capacities differ widely. The Ford F-Series trucks, for example, are broken down into the F-150 and the Super Duty F-250, F-350 and the F-450. Chevrolet pickup truck classifications are similar: the Silverado 1500, 2500HD (Heavy Duty), 3500 HD and 4500 HD. Dodge offers the Ram 1500, 2500, 3500 and 4500. Although these truck makers have abandoned the old-school tonnage identification, most truck owners still cling to the nomenclature. Generally, owners consider the Ford F-150, Chevy 1500 and Dodge Ram 1500 as half-ton trucks. The F-250, Chevy 2500 and Ram 2500 are three-quarter ton models, and so on.


The Environmental Protection Agency defines small and medium pickups with a wheelbase between 115 and 124 inches and a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) under 8,501 lb. as Category 1 trucks. Full-size pickups are classified as Category 2 trucks but have the same wheelbase and GVWR as Category 1 vehicles. Category 3 full-size trucks have a GVWR between 8,501 lb. and 10,000 lb. For example, a 2010 Ford F-150 pickup (formerly identified as a half-ton model) features a GVWR of 7,050 lb. with a payload capacity of 2,060 lb. when equipped with a 5.4-liter V8 engine (payload capacity is the amount of weight placed in the cargo box). However, if the same F-150 is equipped with a 4.6-liter V8, the GVWR is rated at 6,450 lb. and the payload capacity at 1,710 lb. These F-150 models are Category 1 pickups.


Trucks classified as the F-150 or 1500 are usually passenger vehicles or light cargo haulers. The F-250 and Dodge and Chevy 2500s can serve as fifth-wheeler trailer haulers or trucks that carry heavy cargo. One-ton F-350s and the Dodge and Chevy 3500s are daily hauling workhorses that can haul dirt, sand or construction equipment