The Weight Game: Understanding Pickup Classes--And Where They Came From

3/4 Ton Chevrolet Pickup

By Mike Magda

Learning the idiomatic differences among modern half-, three-quarter- and one-ton pickups is a rite of passage in becoming a truck enthusiast. We understand truck lingo, and we use its terms fluidly when chatting with other enthusiasts at truck shows or at the 4x4 shop. 

Related: A Pickup Truck Glossary: Long Live These Terms!

Judging by questions in various web forums and talking with a number of clueless sales reps at dealerships, we’ve noticed that many people involved with trucks don’t get it. They either haven’t heard of certain terms or fail to grasp that these terms are no longer literal references to payload capacity. In today’s truck enthusiast vernacular, half-, three-quarter- and one-ton designations help differentiate consumer pickups by a manufacturer’s gross vehicle weight rating, or GVWR. They help distinguish the “class” of truck we drive instead of trying to reveal a specific capability. 

But where did these terms originate, and how did they evolve into a different meaning within today’s truck lingo? We’re not completely sure, but with a little research we’ve developed a theory — albeit one with a couple holes that our readers might be able to help close.

Defining Terms: GVWR
GVWR represents manufacturer’s maximum allowable weight for a fully loaded vehicle. This includes the vehicle weight, maximum cargo and passengers. The manufacturer establishes the GVWR based on considerable load-carrying criteria, including, but not limited to, axle capacity, wheel and tire combination, frame strength, and suspension components. A truck’s GVWR is usually listed on a sticker in the doorjamb and in the owner’s manual. Remember, GVWR changes considerably across a vehicle’s lineup. A 4x2 regular cab/standard bed with a V-6 will have a different GVWR from a V-8-powered 4x4 crew cab/long bed.

Let’s define payload, since that term is part of this discussion. A vehicle’s payload capacity is calculated by subtracting the weight of the vehicle from the GVWR. For example, let’s say your truck’s GVWR is 6,800 pounds, and on the scale it weighs 5,375 pounds with a full tank of gas but no passengers or cargo. The maximum payload that particular truck can safely support is 1,425 pounds. One of the biggest misconceptions by first-time truck owners is that payload refers only to the cargo in the bed; however, the vehicle’s calculated payload includes all occupants, items stored in the cab and the tongue weight of the trailer when towing.
1930 Ford Model A

A History of Payload
Payload has been a measure of load-carrying capability for centuries. To meet commercial transport demands, engineers rated the payload capacity of ships, railcars and probably stagecoaches long before the first automobile — usually in metric tonnes (1,000 kilograms) or our current standard of a short ton equaling 2,000 pounds. 

In fact, trucks were given payload ratings before they were even invented. According to the book “Trucks: An Illustrated History 1896-1920,” a French engineer patented a design for a “4-ton truck” in 1828. When trucks started appearing near the turn of the century, most were described with a payload rating — and with good reason. They were directly competing against horse-drawn carts for moving goods. Advertising that these new vehicles could carry one or two tons of cargo with an engine rated at 20 or 30 horsepower was a distinct advantage.

In 1911, Captain Alexander E. Williams wrote in the Infantry Journal that the military should put a greater emphasis on motor-powered vehicles. That same year the captain started conducting tests with one- and three-ton trucks, and he was charged with establishing specifications for a standard military truck. As early as 1913, the Society of Automotive Engineers and the Quartermaster Corps formulated detailed specifications for a standardized Army truck — but they were tabled briefly as the Calvary scoffed at the motor vehicle’s use in combat.

Smaller Models Appear
The Army did use trucks to move supplies when fighting Pancho Villa, then it used one-ton and larger trucks in World War I. Ford, which discouraged modifying its Model T into a truck, finally saw the potential for truck sales in 1917 and released the one-ton Model TT chassis. Other automakers ramped up truck production, mostly one-ton and larger trucks, for the war effort.

When the fighting stopped, automakers recognized the value of an expanded truck line for commercial and agriculture purposes, and they offered different payload options, including half-ton and three-quarter-ton versions. Slowly, the automakers differentiated these payload classes with separate model designations. For example, Dodge had the half-ton Series RC truck and the three-quarter-ton Series RD in 1938. 

The military also stepped up its efforts to standardize trucks and established a wider range of payload classes, including quarter-ton (example: Jeep), half-ton (command cars) and three-quarter-ton (ambulances) in addition to the one-ton and larger trucks used for artillery, munitions and personnel transport in World War II.

This classification mentality continued after WWII. In 1948, Ford designated its half-ton model as the F-1 followed by the F-2 (three-quarter-ton) and F-3 (one-ton). Ford, of course, expanded those badges to F-100/150, F-250 and F-350 by the late 1950s. Dodge used a variety of designations until the familiar D/W100, 200 and 300 models started in the late ‘50s. Chevy also used a quirky approach to model designations with its Series 1100 through 3800 lineup in the ‘50s, but in the ’60s the automaker established the more familiar C/K 10, 20 and 30 designations. 
Dodge M37 Exterior

Looking For Help
Here’s where the trail gets a little fuzzy, and we could use a little more insight from readers who are commercial and military historians. The military likely stood by its payload designations, even as the growing auto industry evolved. If it needed a three-quarter-ton payload truck for flight line security, it got a truck with a payload capacity of at least 1,500 pounds. Whether or not there was an F-150 or C20 badge probably didn’t matter. 

However, as the consumer truck market grew, automakers added more payload capacity to their trucks wearing the familiar badging that originated with the traditional half-, three-quarter- and one-ton designations. I suspect the automakers then initiated a combative one-upmanship marketing game by increasing the payload numbers for those models. Something like: “My half-ton can outhaul your half-ton!” very similar to what we see today.

So who kept the half-, three-quarter- and one-ton vernacular going, even though the automakers now had distinct model designations that no longer correlated directly to specific payload capacities? Our guess is that most consumer pickup buyers in the ‘60s and ‘70s were war veterans. When their sons took over the family business or went shopping for a ranch truck, they also talked in terms of half- or three-quarter-ton trucks, even though the payload capacities were much higher. It was most likely a matter of military language morphing into a popular colloquialism. And truck enthusiasts today continue to use those terms, much the same way they call any type of limited-slip differential a “posi” regardless if it truly is a Positraction unit. 
Chevrolet Pickup Truck Timeline

Today’s Terminology
In today’s consumer market, the designations for half-, three-quarter- and one-ton trucks are a little different. Ford still goes with F-150, F-250 and F-350, respectively, while Ram, Chevy and GMC follow 1500, 2500 and 3500 terminology. Some modern half-ton trucks have payload ratings above 2,000 pounds. And a good one-ton pickup can carry more than 5,500 pounds. Payload simply isn’t the determining factor for the traditional designations. Now they’re used to identify a general GVWR range. 

A half-ton or 150/1500 model typically falls under an 8,500-pound GVWR. A three-quarter-ton or 250/2500 model ranges between 8,500 and 9,990 pounds. A one-ton or 350/3500 truck is likely to be 9,900 pounds or more. Again, these are not official standards set down by a regulatory or engineering body. They’re just a reflection of today’s truck market. Ten years from now, the numbers may change and probably confuse even more new-truck buyers.

Adding to the puzzle, of course, is the government. Hardcore truck enthusiasts and commercial operators know about federal truck classifications based on GVWR. They are:

        Class         GVWR (pounds)

  • Class 1      0-6,000 
  • Class 2      6,001-10,000
  • Class 3      10,001-14,000
  • Class 4      14,001-16,000
  • Class 5      16,001-19,500
  • Class 6      19,501-26,000 
  • Class 7      26,001-33,000 
  • Class 8      33,000 and higher

Categorizing these class designations can also be confusing when differentiating between “light duty” and “heavy duty.” For consumer vehicles, light duty is a half-ton truck, which can be Class 1 or 2, while heavy duty is a three-quarter- or one-ton truck, which is Class 2 or 3. In the commercial truck world, light duty is Class 1-3; medium duty is Class 4-6 and heavy duty is Class 7-8. It all depends on the context of the conversation.

More From

So, that’s our theory on how the various model designations evolved, based on researching truck books at home and military reference books. However, we’re sure we may have missed something and would love to hear back from any PUTC readers with their contributions to this topic. 

3/4-Ton Ford Pickup
Sources for this article include:

  • An Illustrated History of Military Vehicles by Ian V. Hogg and John Weeks
  • Military Vehicles from World War I to the Present by Hans Halberstadt
  • Standard Catalog of US Military Vehicles, 1940-1965
  • Trucks: An Illustrated History 1896-1920 by G.N. Georgano and Carlo Demand
  • Standard Catalog of American Light Duty Trucks by James T. Lenzke and John Gunnell



The numbers you have quoted just don't seem right. If the Deavers are built for +700 pounds then why is the back end so sacked with the springs in the factory mounts? I don't see the weight on your truck unless you've got 50,000 rounds of ammunition in the rear. It just doesn't add up.

Lou, oxi is going into damage control after his shady "one ton" spring job has been exposed.

oxi, Don't you know you can't hide from Google? You can boast about your payload to us "kids" but anybody can see what you posted earlier online with a simple click and they don't need your permission to share it. Just type "oxi springs one ton payload" into google. Sorry, kid, you better watch what you post online along with the pics that point right back to you.

@Tom - agreed. Typical Oxi. Arrogantly talks down to everyone then gets all butt hurt when those of us with internet smarts pick apart the "life story" he has so conveniently laid out for the world to see.


So you aree that you are a stalker? Keep it up. Keep posting PERSONAL info and and pictures, and all oxi has to do is contact the authorities and you could be in a heap of trouble!

Internet smarts? Your a moron, your IP address shows oxi and the authorities where you and anyone else who is stalking is located!

It is very easy to track.

I think maybe oxi should contact the FBI the Canadian police and your IP address is all they need as a start to track you down!

I would be careful if I were you or any other member making threats, harassing and posting personal info. This is your last warning!!!

Lou is a stalker and will be dealth with by the authorities...


You are correct...I do believe it was 76-77 the "heavy halfs" were created to avoid burning unleaded fuel that was introduced in 1975. This worked thru the 1978 model year...I bought a 79 F150 and it had to burn unleaded cause they put a converter on it...It didn't take long to remove it and the re stricter at the gas door. I had a 4x4 and I believe it was 6500 GVW...As for a taco that is modified to carry 2000 lbs??
That's would ride like a log wagon and if you need to haul that much weight, do the safe thing and get a bigger truck!
You still have to stop the stupid thing...If they had 2000lbs in it I wouldn't want to be in front of it when we all had to stop at the same time

@ Oxi: I suggest you get some real technical background before you start spewing matters of opinion all over posts like this one.

Before you fly off the handle with your juvenile rants:

1. I AM an automotive engineer with over 15 years of design experience in various OEMs.
2.Yes, ANY component sold in the aftermarket under a commercial brand with any sort of expressed or implied warranty, has in one way or shape or form, some sort of validation and certification by an engineer of the related discipline (be it mechanical, electrical, chemical, etc) and as it applies to fitness for use in an automotive application.
3.your leaf springs are not set up properly (evidenced by the flatness of the pack) and in addition, they seem to be poorly finished (as evidenced by the surface rust present after months of use). I understand you're in WI and still that is no excuse. We design undercarriage components in the auto industry to last anywhere in the US under the most stringent corrosion protection TESTING AND VALIDATION.
4. Deaver is an aftermarket supplier who makes decent quality parts; just this doesnt seem to be the case in your truck's application. I would start asking about the calculations used to determine the cross section of each leaf, and its composite spring constant. Based on the application, springs can be designed to meet the usage requirements and they can vary GREATLY in number of leaves, thickness, width, and material specifications. What remains constant is the fact that they do need to be arched to last in an automotive use environment.
5. It doesnt matter that you beefed up your suspension, you're still the same class pick up truck as stock, because this truck in its stock form was not certified under Federal (DOT and FMVSS-look them up if you dont know what these mean) specifications for the use under the higher payload, or put in other words, you did NOT increase the vehicle's GVWR just by beefing up the suspension.

Interested in hearing back your opinions on the above points...


Its too cold! lol, ok godilocks, whatsup with these trucks, seriously. They are literally the goldilocks of pickup trucks. right there in the middle of everything...

1980 F-350 Ranger XLT, 400CID. My state vehicle registration certificate states the scale weight is over 12,000lbs! The road use fees are based on scale weight. I'll have to determine how this stated scale weight was arrived at and confirm it on a certified scale. I have searched your site and others, as well the owners manual and any chasis decals. So far, I have not seen a "scale weight" listed.

I remember back in the early to mid 70's when the pickup manufacturers went from 1/2 ton ratings to 5/8 ton ratings. The numbers on the side ot the pickup changed from a Ford F-100 to an F-150. GM models went from 10's to 15's. Always heard it was because the governmet had set a new standard that everything 1/2 ton and smaller, including cars, had to have engines designed to run on unleaded fuel, or what we called "white gas" and have a catalytic converter. The unleaded fuel opening on the cars and pickups had a smaller hole and a "regular" (fuel with lead) fuel nozzel would not fit into it. Most folks cut the catalytic converter off their exaust systen so they could run regular fuel. I think I still have the little plastic adaptor you slipped on the regular fuel nozzel so it would fit into the small unleaded hole.

The payload ratings on your door (gvwr) is your max payload. Example: GVWR = 10,000 lbs -truck weight 6000 lbs means your truck can carry 4000 lbs Does not matter what changes you make to your truck. the GVWR on the door cannot be changed. Don't believe me talk to your hiway dept.

Nice post and interesting post also...

One thing to keep in mind when hauling or pulling a load, if you have a blowout etc. and lose control and hurt or kill someone in another vehicle and you are over safe weight limits you will probably need a really good and expensive lawyer just to keep you out of prison. You have to consider the safety of others when you take chances like that. "Hindsight is 20/20"

i would like to know the weight of a 92 nissian pickup truck. 2 wheel drive. 4 cyc.

Funny reading this. Nothing like a few fellas slapping and pulling each other's hair.
And what you're all spouting about is so much nonsense. I am a mechanic of 40 years, own a little auto repair shop, and used to race. If the load you're hauling is too much for the frame and cracks it, you plate it, and weld it up.
I used to pull my old dirt car with my 1978 F150 Lariat. Camper special, which was just double springs on the back.
My loaded weight, checked with certified scales, was a tad over 10k lbs. I raced for a while at a track 90 miles away. Set the cruise on that 460cid at 80mph and go.
Yeah, the frame cracked, I just plated it and kept going.
One thing no one mentioned is the safety margin everything has built in. If something is rated to carry a thousand lbs, that means they probably tested it at 2000. These vehicles will withstand a heck of a lot more than they're rated for. Just go to your local dirt track and watch the Gs those cars put on bearings and hubs, spindles, lug nuts and studs, in the corners.
Don't sweat the little stuff. The cop doesn't care as long as your junk is tied down right. :)

I have a f350 with a 5,000 front gvwr and a 7500 rear gvwr. I am pulling a 31ft goosneck trailer with a tandom axle. A gvwr rating of 10,000. (don't know if that is per axle or not) I loaded trailer and scaled it out. Front pickup weight was at 4650, my rear was at 6490, and trailer axle was at 13,000. Is this legal for the f350 to pull????

Can a car motor be used in a 1983 3/4 ton Chevy Silverado truck 5.7 L 350?

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