Differences Between Pickups & Trucks (Explained With Pictures)

You often hear people refer to their pickup vehicle as a truck. But we also know that big rigs and panel vans used for deliveries are trucks.

In this article, we look at the similarities and differences between pickups and varieties of trucks.

What is the difference between pickups and trucks?
The biggest difference between a pickup and a truck is their cargo capacity. Trucks are bigger than pickups and they require additional licenses in most states.

In this article, we will examine the vehicles in terms of towing capacity, handling, applications, cargo, fuel economy, braking distance among others.

But first, it helps to know how pickups and trucks are classified in the USA.

The United States Department of Transportation classifies trucks into 8 classes based on their Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR).

GVWR is the maximum operating weight of a vehicle when loaded. It includes the weight of the vehicle, its passengers, fuel, and cargo.

Any vehicle with a GVWR above 26,000 pounds requires a CDL for safe operation in most states.

In its books, the DOT sees pickups, tractors, van trucks, dump trucks, and others in that class as trucks. The only difference is in their GVWR. But as we shall see, the differences run far deeper.

What Exactly Is A Pickup Truck?

A typical pickup vehicle has a front cab and a boxed bed for hauling cargo. They are very common across the U.S, among households. They are also used commercially. Especially in the construction and agricultural industry.

Pickups belong to Classes 1, 2, and 3. The largest pickups, i.e., the Class 3 includes:

  • The F-350,
  • F-450,
  • GMC Sierra 3500,
  • and the Ram 3500.

These vehicles tip the scales at 10,000-14,000 pounds empty weight and can tow up to 30,000 pounds according to the manufacturer.

So, What’s a Truck?

These vehicles have a GVWR exceeding 33,000 pounds including the tractor-trailer, dump truck, and van trucks. Medium trucks like the one used for local delivery are called panel trucks and can weigh up to 16,000-33,000 pounds.

What we consider as trucks, i.e., the semi-trucks or tractor-trailers belong to Class 8 of the DOT’s truck classification regime.

All Class 8 trucks require CDL in most states and even medium trucks with GVWR exceeding 26,000 pounds need at least Class-B CDL.

What of Mini Trucks?

The DOT does not classify mini trucks as trucks because of their weight, engine design, and cargo capacity.

The vehicle is classified as a Utility Vehicle and Off-road Vehicle in many states, making it difficult to use them on public roads.

However, mini trucks share the same design characteristics with pickups as they have a passenger cab and a bed for storing cargo.

In fact, many mini-trucks have removable sides which allow you to convert them to flatbeds for easy haulage of oversized cargo.

The main similarity between pickups and larger trucks is that they share the same body design and are used mainly for transporting cargo.

In terms of capabilities, safety and other factors, pickups and large trucks have striking differences.

7 Differences between Pickups and Larger Trucks?

Pickups trucks and 18 wheelers might share the same nomenclature in official books, but they are designed for different applications. Here, we look at the differences between pickups and large trucks.

1) Cargo Capacity

One of the biggest differences between pickups and other trucks is the ability to haul cargo.

A pickup comes standard with an open or closed box for hauling its cargo.

Van trucks also have cargo holds. However, tractors, i.e., big rigs or semi-trucks don’t have a cargo hold.

Semi-trucks have a fifth wheel that attaches to a trailer which makes the arrangement a tractor-trailer combination.

2) Towing Capacity

There is a huge difference between the towing capacity of your average heavy-duty pickup and that of a semi-truck.

While the biggest pickups such as the F450 have a manufacturer-quoted towing capacity of about 30,000 pounds, these vehicles cannot pull such a large cargo in everyday use.

At best, you can tow 26,000 pounds which is the amount of weight you can carry without a CDL in most states.

A semi-truck does not suffer such towage limitations.

In most states, tractors can have a Gross Combined Weight Rating of 80,000 pounds. This means the truck, its passengers, and trailered cargo must not exceed 80,000 pounds.

Depending on the axle rating and the amount of weight the trailer can support, a semi-truck can tow up to 33000-40000 pounds in cargo. This makes them far superior to pickups regarding cargo capacity.

3) Licensing

Most pickups, including the super heavy-duty models, don’t need a CDL so long as they don’t exceed the 26,000-pound limit.

However, most large trucks tip the weight limit empty, so you need a CDL to drive them even without hauling cargo.

Also, big rig drivers need to get special licensing based on the cargo they transport.

There are different licenses and permits for hauling hazardous materials (HAZMAT), ice trucking, and other niche jobs in the logistics industry.

A pickup driver requires none of these special licenses even if you are towing backhoes and bulldozers so long as you stay within the limit.

4) Handling

Pickups are like big cars because driving them is almost similar to smaller vehicles.

They have improved on-road and off-road capabilities, allowing them to deliver an exceptional driving experience on unpaved roads, steep inclines and more.

When empty, pickups can have traction issues because they balance most of their weight on the front axle. But they deliver improved handling when loaded.

Pickups also have a smaller blind spot compared to large trucks, making them much safer to handle on busy roads.

If you’ve ever ridden on a big rig, you will know they are not as simple to drive as pickups.

While you may see tractor-trailers hitting the pavement at an impressive pace, a lot of calculation goes on in the driver’s mind.

Big rigs have many blind spots which mean the trucker must watch the vehicle’s rear and sides while maintaining a straight look ahead.

Because of their bulk, semi-trucks must give a large distance between themselves and other vehicles and lack the pickup’s off-road capabilities.

Semi-trucks are especially dangerous to handle at steep inclines as they have to slow down while making sure their cargo does not slip off.

While you feel on top of the world driving your agile pickup, a trucker needs to calculate his/her every move to ensure the truck delivers its cargo in one piece in record time.

Next time you see truckers, give them some respect for keeping the economy going day and night.

5) Safety

Despite the bad rap surrounding large trucks, they have advanced safety features of any vehicle on the roads.

Most pickups have excellent safety records because they are built for hard work.

Handling pickups is simpler, and it’s easier to apply the brakes because they carry smaller cargo.

Semi-trucks have a higher perception of danger because of their height. A trucker has a longer line of sight and can see farther ahead compared to shorter vehicles like pickups and cars.

This allows truckers to take precautions rather than react when it is too late to avoid trouble.

But because they have more weight, it takes a truck driver traveling at 65 mph an average of 525 feet to stop the vehicle from the time he/she perceived the danger.

The biggest safety issue with large trucks is fatigue.

Most people don’t know but trucking is one of the most stressful jobs, and it’s no surprise that most fatal crashes involving trucks are caused when the driver dozes off.

Big rigs also have a center-of-gravity problem which causes them to roll over when the tractor cannot control the sway of the trailer.

Pickups have a better safety record because of their use and design.

6) Speed

Pickups provide a balance of speed, safety and utility. In most pickups, it is possible to achieve speeds up to 100 mph without compromising safety and comfort.

Trucks don’t enjoy such luxury.

Big rigs are not designed to be speed freaks; they are optimized to deliver their crew and cargo safely from point A to B.

Truckers also have other speed limitations apart from their design.

Because of DOT regulations, safety concerns and insurance requirements, many truck companies install a speed governor on their vehicles.

The speed governor ensures the driver cannot exceed a preset speed in any situation, and this causes a lot of frustration and anger among other road users.

Have you ever seen two trucks trying to overtake themselves on the highway but taking ages to move past each other?

It’s probably because of differences in their speed limitations.

If a truck with a lower speed limit is trying to overtake one with a higher setting, it will take time to complete the maneuver.

Meanwhile, other road users may feel the truckers are deliberately wasting everybody else’s time.

But why can’t the faster truck apply the brakes and let the slower guy get ahead?

Unlike smaller vehicles, it takes more time for big trucks to build momentum.

If they apply brakes unnecessarily, they spend more time to reach their ideal speed.

Unfortunately, their tight schedule does not allow for such luxury.

Compare that to your pickup that can reach speeds up to 60 mph under 6 seconds.

7) Fuel Economy

The most fuel-efficient standard-size pickup trucks can achieve 23 mpg but they are an exception to the rule. Pickups, SUVs, and trucks are not the stars in the fuel economy department.

Semi-trucks are notorious guzzlers with many covering only 5 mpg. But their cavernous fuel tanks allow tractors and medium trucks to cover long distances without refueling.

Final Words

Pickups, chassis cabs, panel vans, tractors or semi-trailers are all forms of trucks. They all have a cab but some have cargo beds while others don’t.

The main difference between trucks is their weight. Pickups have the lowest cargo capability while Class 8 trucks such as tractors and dump trucks top the charts in terms of GVWR and GCWR.

We hope this article has deepened your understanding of trucks. Happy trucking!

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