Top 10 Bed Features for Pickup Trucks

1c Bed Tech Lead II

By G. R. Whale

From the very beginning, manufacturers have tried to make the bed box of a pickup truck more functional, better looking and somehow uniquely their own. Not surprisingly, sometimes they succeeded, and sometimes they didn't. In some cases it wasn't even the bed itself they changed to make an improvement, but an associated part: The sliding rear cab window and bed light, for example, or the long-wheelbase/same overall length camper specials like the 1970 Ford F-350 SRW configuration, or Chevrolet putting a small bed in a Suburban and calling it the Avalanche.

Here is our list of the top 10 bed-tech features available on current-model pickups. You probably have a few others you like as well. We'll note that some pretty good optioins did not make the list, like Tacoma's weatherproof 120V plug, bed extenders, and bed-access side steps to name a few. Of course, you should stay tuned for even more versatile bed technology, as future pickups get ready to debut for 2015 and beyond.

Finally, let us know if there's something you'd like to see pickup makers include as part of their new bed-tech options list. We'll be sure to pass your ideas along. 

 

1. Integrated Kingpin Hitches

1 Bed Tech Gooseneck II

In the 1970s, slide-in campers became popular enough that pickups started getting dedicated RV plugs in the bed, as well as wiring pigtails. However, as frame rails became more sophisticated, manufacturers thankfully have offered factory gooseneck and fifth-wheel-base plate systems. No more welding, drilling through important cross members or dealing with measuring tape disasters. Today's integrated factory packages are solid, warrantied and still allow for complete use of the pickup bed.

 

2. Dual-Swing Tailgate

2 Dual Swing II

Popular with domestic station wagons of the late 1960s, the dual-swing tailgate allows you to lay it flat for tailgating parties or for carrying long objects, or open it sideways to avoid leaning over that long tailgate. That makes it much easier to reach the cargo deep in the bed. Our only beef is that the gate can't open a full 90 degrees.

 

3. Under-Bed Storage

3 Ridgeline Trunk II

Many years ago I considered a crew cab short bed to be a rather nice car with an open trunk in back. Then Honda put a decent-size trunk under the bed in the Ridgeline, made it lockable and just for good measure hid the spare tire in there where it was completely secure. Just as the independent rear suspension makes SUV third-row seats livable, the bed trunk hides lockable space down low where you want your center of gravity to be.

 

4. The Bumper Step

4 Bumper Step II

GM added a step built into the corners of the rear bumper (like Nissan's Xterra SUV several years earlier) and recessed comfortable handholds in a stake pocket in the bed rail. We almost wonder if this was designed in from the beginning or an aerodynamicist wanted to soften the corner for better mileage and somebody said, "What if?"

 

5. Tailgate Step

5 Tailgate Step II

As pickups get bigger and further off the ground (especially in three-quarter and one-ton configurations), using the bumper as a climbing step becomes less practical. Ford introduced a pop-out tailgate step and climbing bar integrated right into the tailgate, echoing the fold-down ladders on motorhomes and boats. On the plus side, it makes it easier for everyone to climb into the bed, but it works only with the tailgate open, without a load in it, and it adds quite a bit of weight to the gate. The Ford Atlas concept, seen at last year's North American International Auto Show in Detroit, takes the step one step further, using the pop-up step as a cargo rack as well.

 

6. Spray-In Bedliner

6 Spray-in Bedliner II

Drop-in bedliners were the standard and were pretty inexpensive to buy. And its benefits (protecting the painted bed floor from nasty scratches) far outweighed its costs. But the fit of drop-ins were never tight, and the constant rubbing at contact points could wear through paint and create rust points when water crept in. At the same time, spray-on bedliners, once an expensive proposition, dropped in price and offered a much cleaner look, not to mention their almost-bulletproof protection. Nissan was the first to offer the option on its Titan, and now everyone else does too.

 

7. Bed Utility

7 Bed Utility Cargo II

Back when a pickup shell could be dropped on any of the Detroit Three trucks with equal aesthetic results, the aftermarket had a good selection of cargo retention, tie-down and bed-rail accessories, but shorter beds and unique bed rails (they all seem to be different now) forced truck manufacturers into the fray. When the Titan showed up with the highly adjustable Utili-track securing system, it had a leg up on other full-size pickups.

 

8. Bed Lighting

8 LED Bed Light II

Cab bed lights have been around for years, but they usually sit up high above the rear window. The unconventional-looking Ridgeline and Avalanche added lights in the sides of the bed because of their SUV/minivan underpinnings but the new GM half-tons take this idea a notch further. By using LED lights under the bedrails, they can run forever without flattening a battery; also, they're tucked under the bed rails for better protection with less light shining in your eyes (and more light on the job).

 

9. External Locking Storage

9 RamBox II

Lockable storage areas have been around for a long time (Ford was putting locking bins beneath the bed floor decades before Nissan reintroduced it with the current-gen Titan), but the RamBox has a lot more space than the Titan's rear quarter-panel bin and now it works with the central locking system on the key fob. On the downside, though, it takes away nominal payload; limits tonneau, rack or shell use; and the fenders tend to get messed up by things being dragged in and out of the RamBox. Of course, your cab has more usable storage space, but these storage bins are integrated into the bed and are a handy place to put things like tire chains and tow straps.

 

10. A Real Sliding Rear Window

10 Drop Window II

One of our favorite "non-box" pickup features is the Tundra's vertical drop-down sliding rear window; we're mildly surprised no one has copied it. Well-sealed, defrostable and without hurting rear visibility, the electric rear window completely opens to the outside when retracted, making it easier for kids to crawl through into the bed or back into the cab. When matched with a sunroof, it offers the most open-air experience you can have in a pickup since the Dakota offered a convertible (and don't forget about the Chevy SSR).

 

Comments

@Lou, I agree. Add a toneau cover and the Rambox makes the bed even smaller than the wheel wells. RamBox bins add $1895 to the price and pinches too much cargo-bed width in my opinion.

@Alux

I could see that making for a tight fit. You know what I would love to see. some kind of integrated ramp for loading things like your ATV and the quad and bikes that I'm loading.

Johnny doe is a dwarf, figure's dwarf=troll.
Posted by: Frank | Dec 8, 2013 12:51:23 AM


Frank should be banned for harassing and bullying fellow bloggers. It is about high time had had a big tall glass of STFU.

Typo:

had=he

@MikeP - the Ram box is okay depending on what a person wants to do with their truck. I pointed out that it limits the use of cargo racks, headache racks, canopy/shells or anything that goes across the top of the box rails . Most accessories like the one's I mentioned can be removed and used on the next truck you own. That is another short coming of the Ram box. It goes with the truck. Aftermarket storage boxes can be purchased for much less than a Ram box. I purchased a used galvanized steel tool box in 1984 for $150 total. It has been in every truck I've ever owned and it can be quickly and easily removed depending on how much gear I have stored in it. Dropping a 48" JackAll jack on the side of it isn't going to cost me a few grand in repairs or a misstep with a tow chain isn't going to end up with a trip to the body shop.

BTW - a canopy or cap is pretty handy if you live in an area with a lot of rain or snow and can easily be removed.

an ATV does fit int he bed with a Ram box, by buddy has one, the bed is 49" wide, his atv is 46.5"

GUTS
GLORY
BEST TRUCK BED FEATURE
MOST INNOVATIVE
FORD AND GM DON'T HAVE A PRAYER
RAM BOX

My biggest gripe bed anchors are the utilitracks up high INSTEAD of anchors down low. Its almost impossible to cinch loads that aren't very tall down tight w/o having anchoes near the bottom. The other are anchors that arent designed to hold the hook from standard cam or ratchet straps. The GMT800's were the worst offenders for that. Hopefully the new ones are better.
@Alex- the width in the rasmbox is still listed at 51". Shouldn't be a problem for you, I understand some atvs are wider. Any way you slice it, the Rambox is no smaller inside than the old step-sides were, but infinitely more practical.
@HEMI MONSTER- I think you're under estimating the amount of development that goes into everything the manufacturer puts on a truck- When Chrysler sais "go ahead and hitch up a 15 (short) ton gooseneck with 6000# pin weight"- it'll be fine. Besides, in situations where a feature doesn't warant their own engineering time/expense, manufacturers will go directly to the industry experts.
@Robert Ryan- the flatbed market for anything south of a 5-ton GVW truck is pretty well non-existent. Some manufacturers offer a box-delete option on various models, but you only save a few hundred dollars. You're better off taking delivery with a box and selling it to a recycler. There are no factory flat-bed options here. I think I'll try a westerner box on the next truck.
@FordTrucks1- To each their own especially for stuff like long boards, but 4) the manufacturer can integrate a much stronger hitch, without adding excessive weight or compromising the frame in the process. and 5) If you pull the regular tailgate handle in the middle, it drops just like every other tailgate- it has no real usage drawbacks.
@Johnnie doe- some trucks actually used to have that long (10 years?) ago- place in the lower facia to put your feet- pointed it right out in the owners manual. there are also fold-out steps that mount to the liscense bracket.
@Paul- at that point an 8ft box mounted BEHIND a toolbox with side doors sounds even better. Ford has their mid-bed option like that, but its expensive- A better option to me is an extended cab with the back seat removed completely- that way you can put tool boxes in there. As a plus, everything is locked, bone dry and even heated.

@ HEMI MONSTER - I think you'll find that the "factory" offered bed hitches were designed with help from accomplished aftermarket suppliers. I know Reese makes Ford's hitch setup. Nice having them already installed.

@Lou_BC: Believe it or not, I often agree with your viewpoints, though not always. I do agree that the Rambox can cause issues for SOME owners, but as you say it really depends on how the owner plans to use it. Were I the sort to want to leave the bed uncovered on a near-full-time basis, the Rambox is an excellent idea that allows lockable storage in what is usually wasted space. To me, the old concept of the "step-side" bed is far more efficient because the whole bed is between the wheel wells which makes for easy loading, unloading and cleaning with no framework or wheel humps in the way. At one time, all pickups were like this, until Chevy (I believe) introduced the first Fleetside, which was done far more for looks than for capacity. Using compartments like the Rambox help to square-up the bed and to me makes the bed MORE useable, not less. Then again, I have to assume for the moment that the tailgate of the truck is the same width as the bed with Ramboxes installed. Since I haven't gone down to the RAM dealer specifically to look at trucks means I could be wrong (but I don't think so).

However, while I don't really consider bed caps "easily removable", they do serve their purpose because the bed of my truck carried one for 20 years and is almost as rust-free as it was brand new. If I keep the truck, I WILL have it sanded and a bed liner sprayed in. I don't really plan to keep it, but rather use it as trade on a new mid-size or Wrangler-based pickup within the next 18 months. I figure I can get another 10,000 miles out of it easily, but considering I've already had it for 18 months and only put 5,000 miles on it, I don't see that many miles likely.

As for what type of top I'd want, while I like the looks of a solid top, they're simply impractical. WHEN I carry something, it will almost always rise higher than the sidewalls and extend beyond the tailgate of all but an 8' long bed. Removing and storing a solid top even for a few days is an annoyance I simply don't want. Soft tops are more convenient, but they need replacing roughly every 5 years if the truck stays out in the weather. I expect I'll end up with a roll-type which should only cost me about eight inches of bed length; an acceptable compromise.

Those storage chests you mentioned? I fully understand a contractor or utility service wanting those mounted. For me, while it's a lockable box, again it takes away from usable bed space and again makes putting ANY kind of a cover over the bed nearly impossible. An extended cab gives me more than 4x the cubic footage of the typical box and doesn't cut into usable load capacity by volume. You can still get an extended cab with a 6' bed from most brands.

My point is that I understand your views, but don't necessarily agree with them for my own purposes. I prefer clean, unbroken lines with unrestricted capacity for oversized (as compared to over-weight) loads.

"Finally, let us know if there's something you'd like to see pickup makers include as part of their new bed-tech options list. We'll be sure to pass your ideas along."

Mark/Pickuptrucks.com; I have a few ideas to pass along:

1. Factory integrated tow scale and/or payload scale; viewable from the options within the gauge cluster.

2. Similar to the backup cameras; place an identical camera and setup next to your cargo light (above the back window), so you can view your cargo and/or 5th wheel hitch (when driving) without having to look over your shoulder or in the rear-view mirror. It would also assist in backing your truck in line with the hitch. It's truly somewhat of a safety enhancement/feature. If you have this camera and the backup camera, you'd have the option to toggle between the 2 views on your screen when in reverse.

3. Defrostable side steps/running boards. It's a luxury item; but something that some might pay for. In addition to this; the retractable running boards (like what the Ford F-150 Platinum trucks offer) should be an option by all manufacturers (in their own design configuration).

Happy Holidays to all!

Did the author really write "making it easier for kids to crawl through into the bed or back into the cab."???

Where do they find the people who write these stories?

Sandman, Good find. Also if you the window down in the Tundra, leaves and dirt will fly into the truck from the bed. It will get your attention very fast. Then the dirt clings to the headliner. Read about it on TundraTalk. Not all its cracked up to be.

I never understood the appeal of spray in bedliners. People say the get them to "protect the paint", or they keep the bed looking nice. Ok, great, but why bitch about trucks not coming standard with it, especially when it's an option and there are many aftermarket options? You don't wan't your paint getting scratched, but spray a coating that's impossible to remove without damaging the paint, makes sense. Why does it matter if the bedliner is sprayed on before or after the paint gets scratched?
I hate bedliners because things don't slide on them. If I'm trying to move something heavy (or even not so heavy) it's much easier to set it on the back and push it to the front. You're strapping it down anyway, why make it tougher to move with a bedliner?

@ky- I get your frustration- My Tundra came with a drop-in liner.It was great for sliding things in and out, but every little thing needed to be restrained or you were going to have a pin-ball game back there. I had a lot of wrecked stuff. Before the cap went on, it bugged me the way it filled with water if I didn't park nose-up. No matter what you put back there, its always compromise. There is is no one best solution, that's why its good that we still have options. The best protection is probably a good spray-in liner, with the floor-portion of a drop-in liner for sliding things- as long as you have a place to stash it.

The reason nobody copied the Tundra rear window is because it is a safety hazzard and doesn't provide any real value.

All the pro Ram Box people (could it be the work of just one or two people under several aliases?) bragging about how unique and innovative the feature is on the Ram, yet most people who comment about it wouldn't order it on their truck. I wonder what the actual take rate is on that particular option?

To be honest, I probably wouldn't order it either. It's not for the fact that it limits bed space width, I typically don't have anything in my bed most of the time like most people, but the potential to damaging the bedsides if you slip or fumble in loading and unloading tricky cargo in a $40+k truck. That right there would deter me from getting that option. Also, I think the looks of the truck are somewhat compromised with that option. The lower cargo door opening on the bed side follows a gentle curve which makes the bedside panel look goofy in certain angles. If they had the door on top where the bedside top plate sill was, it would look much better. Of course, that would probably limit cargo space. However, the engineers at Ram could've made a workable solution without altering the exterior look of the bedside. That would've enabled Ram to use common bedside stampings for trucks with or without the option reducing costs.

I think the rear bumper steps on the new Silverado are a great innovation. It provides utility to the bumper and adds a slightly different aggressive styling feature to the rear bumper area. The rear bumpers on most trucks are pretty boring with their gently rounded bumper corners. I tested the rear corner steps on a new Silverado in the showroom and I really liked them. Unfortunately, once you lift the truck beyond normal step over height, the feature become useless.

The spray-in bed liner is another very innovative feature that has become ubiquitous from the automakers since the Titan came out with it as a factory option ten years ago. However, I think the OEM's could go one step further with this and offer color matched spray-in bed liners. You can get this from the aftermarket so it's time they stepped up to the plate and offered it as an factory option as well.

Just seeing the Ridgeline's under-bed storage box and the Rambox filled with ice and beverages are a tailgater's dream. You'll know who's popular at the football games.

As many times that I've mentioned this, that idea was copied from the Powell Sport Wagon Pickups and SUV of the 1950's. just Google it or go to Allpar.com and see for yourself. You Ram fans will love it.

@Vulpine - mature adults are supposed to be able to agree and disagree on topics and still have mutual respect for each other. I appreciate and respect your comments whether or not I agree with them. There aren't many on this site that I can actually say that to.

@Mr Knowitall - I've seen work trucks with spray in liners and aluminum checker-plate lining the whole box and rails kind of like a plastic liner. The trucks with that set up also had a headache rack with full length top of box rails square tubing. That is about as heavy duty one can get without pulling the box and mounting an aftermarket box.
http://expresscustom.com/nav_all_galleries.php?gazpart=view&gazimage=4723

What I would like to see is a truck bed with either removable or folding side panels by transforming it into a flat bed. Many times hauling items that are too wide to fit in the bed, or making it easy to load or unload from the side of the truck instead of the back. What? what do you do with the taillights? simple! make the taillights removable with extra long coil cords and clips or magnets where they can be placed on the back edge of the bed or install them on what you are hauling.

The composite bed in the Taco along with the mid-gate in the Avalanche definitely belong on this list.

The equipment rack in the Ford tailgate makes it possible to ignore the lameness of the step. Looks like the roof is ready to accept a ladder w/o additional cab rackage? Nice!

How about Top-10 MISSING features? I'd start with robust manual transmission options. Availability of a hose-out rubber floor at all trim levels. The center forward anchor point for winching large loads into the bed. Ramps integrated into the tailgate or below the bed for ATVs, mowers, various wheeled equipment. Diesel! Diesel mated with standard trans.

The Spray in liner is better than the plastic drop in type-though it may make it slightly more difficult to slide cargo in and out of the box, its far safer for wallking on when the bed is wet or icy, you don't slip like you do on the plaztic liners. Because its applied directly to the sheet metal it also means that dirt and debris don't get under the liner and damage the box. The plastic type also break when things like firewood or masonary blocks are dropped on them. With the spray in type that won't happen -you might dent the bed though, so a rubber bed mat on top of the liner will ususally prevent dents from such heavy items.
By far the biggest impediment to sliding cargo in and out has to be the exposed bed bolt heads on the Ford, they can be a nuisance.
I like the upper tie downs being offered on the new GM trucks, how many times do you load a heap of trash or a stack of lumber into the bed only to go searching for the lower cargo tie downs?The corner bumper steps are a great idea too-I don't believe they will trap ice or snow as some claim, they won't rattle or become jammed with ice or grit like the Ford and you don't have to lower your tailgate to use them. They've been around for several years on Avalanche and on Nissan Xterra and seem to be a good, simple solution-no moving parts.
I wish the manufacturers would all offer 110volt outlets in the box too-no cords to drag into or out of the interior-too bad they can't offer a built in generator to allow the use of heavy duty power circular saws, drills etc.-let's say you want to build that dock at the lake where you don't have an adequate power supply- having such electrical power available from the bed of the truck would come in handy when you're trying to cut through hard or wet wood. You could also plug in your RV and run the Air Conditioner or other appliances without having to carry a separate generator. Another idea that I didn't see mentioned was the built in tent units that were offered by GM and others-I don't know if I would buy one, but I think they were a great option for some people who didn't want to have to pitch their tent on uneven or rocky ground.

Correction: The offset-wheelbase Ford F-350 Super Camper Special was introduced in 1973 and was offered until 1979. -- FYI.

@Rick
A safety hazzard how so? Just about all trucks have a sliding back window. The Tundra jsut happens to go down all the way and not just accros a few inches. I think its an expensive feature and so the Detroit junk makers wont do it. Every one envies the back window. I see it all the time in my CM. In your case since you don't and can't have it in your steaming pile of Furd, you knock it down. Surely you could have come up with something less ridiculos than a "saftey hazard".

Just to clear up the two key features to anyone on like the Honda Ridgeline Bed.
The Dual Tailgate drops down like most other pick-up trucks.
It also swings open this lets you get easy access to the lockable water tight trunk under the bed. It's hardly no way to reach over the Bed to gain access to the trunk. Think 1960s station wagon with third row backwards back seat, You swung tailgate out instead of down to let kids out. You can also swing out to get at other things in bed.
Other key feature the water tight lockable trunk under bed.
You can get a good size ice cooler in the trunk with other stuff or other stuff like large suit cases. The compact spare tire could be removed & mounted on side in bed or put inside inside truck back seat area with seat up or under it. If someone is worried about flat tire that bad. I would not worry unless you are carrying something like heavy bricks or large boards you could not lift or shift around to get into trunk.
Just regular stuff on top to get to spare in truck would be just like standard car compact spare in well space in trunk.
It is reported that Ridgeline will be make it's return to the market in 2016 redesigned. I suspect the two features will still be key attractions maybe even reconfigured. You have to use the features or see how they work daily to understand the reason they did things a certain way.
The in-bed trunk is lockable as mention so you can safely store something of value in it like laptop computer a gun.
It's safer then standard car trunk.

why not make the bed sides fold down like the tailgate. I think that would be a cool idea.

I have had ram box on my 09 ram . Its great for vacation and keeping all the junk out of backseat

i would hate to catch a flat in the Ridgeline with a loaded bed.

I agree with whoever said that truck bed side walls are getting too high. I want to put stuff in and out of the bed without having to climb up into the bed. Just my $0.02.

Great article. I always enjoy reading Mark's articles. I'm glad they added a step. It's like a feature you only see on aftermarket bumpers these days. I am still thinking about adding the front (i.e. http://www.builtfortrucks.com/categories/front-replacement-bumpers/fab-fours/) what do yall think? But with the improved back I like the change they made to this factory bumper.

Good notes from all posters. I've not found any factory-installed power, however. Is there any option, any package, any OEM that has outlets in the bed?

Thanks for looking around.

As far as the rambox goes its a Option. Either you like hot or you don't, my past two trucks and my current one has them and I love them. I can still load my 2011 kawasaki brute 750 with 30 inch mud tires in the back with no worries. Lots of storage space. If it's a hard day of rideing all the muddy clothing fits in there nicely. And the. It can be washed out.

I wish Ford Motor Company would start back putting a tool box in the side of the bed of their trucks . It is very useful.

My wife and I just got a new truck, so thanks for sharing this. We want to get some new accessories for it, but we weren't sure where to start. I like the idea of building a step into the read bumper. This would make it much easier to load and unload the car I bet.



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