Pickup Trucks 101: Payload Classifications

IMG_2668 II

By Mike Magda

Are the terms half ton, three-quarter ton and one ton being completely pushed out of the truck owner's lexicon in favor of the 1500, 2500 and 3500 designations?

As PickupTrucks.com reported nearly six years ago, the terms originated in the early 1900s when the military and truck manufacturers assigned verified payload capacities to different models. Eventually, three distinct classes of consumer trucks evolved using those terms to identify each class even though the actual payload capacities dramatically exceeded the original weight ratings.

The Ratings Game

Most truck owners — especially those with World War II backgrounds — had no problem identifying consumer pickup classes with those terms, and eventually passed the informal terminology along to the next generation.

Half-ton, three-quarter-ton and one-ton trucks now represent a range of gross vehicle weight ratings to help consumers select the truck that fits their hauling and towing needs. Not wanting to confuse those buyers, truck manufacturers started branding those three weight classes with their own designations: GM and Ram use 1500, 2500 and 3500, while Ford uses 150, 250 and 350. For extreme trailering applications, the automakers now make their once-commercial-only 4500 and 450 medium-duty trucks available to the general consumer market.

However popular the half-, three-quarter- and one-ton terms are with the pickup enthusiasts, automakers no longer recognize them in their promotional or dealer-training materials.

What Dealers Say

"Today's truck customers are much more sophisticated and educated on the capability of the truck," said Brian Rathsburg, Ford Super Duty marketing manager. "We educate with the facts — configurations first, then drive-specific payload and towing requirements."

"Those terms don't come up as much, except [with] some of the older buyers who have been around trucks all their lives," agreed Travis Theel, assistant sales manager at Liberty Superstores, a Ram dealership that serves a large ranching region in western South Dakota and eastern Wyoming. "We ask what they're pulling and how they use their truck before making a recommendation. Most of the customers are already knowledgeable about what they need."

Theel said some veteran truck buyers from his agriculture-heavy region routinely asked for a new one-ton or 3500 truck because that was the only model that could pull their livestock trailers 10 or 15 years ago.

"They didn't realize that the new 2500 models can handle their needs while offering a better ride unloaded," Theel added.

What About Outlier Loads?

IMG_5126 II

When the market supported lightweight pickups like the Datsun 520, the term quarter-ton truck was occasionally used to distinguish them from full-size pickups even though payload ratings for those vehicles were as much as 1,000 pounds or more. However, the growing popularity of the 4500/450 series (some might want to call them 1.5-ton trucks) for consumer use in towing large travel trailers has yet to generate a complementary term using the nostalgic expressions.

"That terminology is unscientific and irrelevant in today's truck," Rathsburg confirmed. "Based on official GVWR classification, the [Ford] F-450 is a Class III pickup with a GVWR under 14,000 pounds, so it competes with similar products."

Where We Are Today

As noted in our 2012 story, designating specific payload ratings was an important milestone in the historical development of today's pickup truck. Moving away from colloquial terms that are often confusing to first-time buyers is a positive step. It won't be long before the actual payload and the vehicle's recommended limitations will be common information on dashboard displays, so there won't be any driver uncertainty. Until then, automakers and dealers need to be more candid with shoppers regarding actual payload capacities well before they purchase a vehicle.

Most marketing materials advertise a maximum payload capacity for an entire family of pickups, such as a 1500 lineup. However, we know that maximum payload numbers are generally assigned only to one or two low-volume specific configurations — usually a two-wheel-drive, regular-cab long bed with a heavy-duty suspension and gearing package. The much more popular configurations, like the four-wheel-drive, crew-cab short bed with a more comfortable base suspension, is likely to have a much lower payload rating.

To avoid any deception, misleading recommendations or improper purchases, it might be more informative to advertise a payload range for each class of pickup, instead of just the maximum payload weight across the lineup. Who knows? Maybe someday the actual payload or towing capacity of a given pickup will be written across the windshield along with its price.

Cars.com photos by Mark Williams, Christian Lantry


IMG_8159 II



The problem with trucks now a days and why the price has sky rocketed into ridiculous price zones, is that the average person buying a truck now a days isn't using the truck for a truck. It's become the family hauler! That's why in article only people asking about specifics with payload are the older truck guys.

TNT-agree. One thing to note, the article states that dealers educate with facts. I completely disagree with this. most dealers will tell you you can tow anything with the truck you are looking at, then you find out thats not true. I know the quote was from the marketing guy at Ford, but the dealers most of the time do not have a clue. Similarly, if you go to a camper show they put pictures of half ton trucks on campers showing buyers you can tow with X size truck. Also, there is so much to towing you need to learn before you know if that is true or not.


Dealers have no idea what they're selling unless they specialize in commercial customers where there are strict legal requirements.

They'll try and sell you anything so long as you'll sign today. They do not have the customers needs in mind.

[referring to car dealers] They do not have the customers needs in mind....Posted by: Tom S | Feb 12, 2018

@Tom S

You probably have no idea how stupid that remark makes you sound.

Tom S: So true. It is imperative that the customer self-educates prior to setting foot onto dealer property.

The sales staff's number one priority is to SELL, period. That is reality based on how the automobile business is structured. From what I've experienced, it's a rarity to find sales personnel who truly understand their product.

That's right. Dealers will tell you what you want to hear so they can make a buck. When you're test driving a King Ranch F150 they'll tell you F150 can haul 3,100 lbs. I know dealers have to make money, but don't lie to me. That I don't like. Papa is a dealer so you can just ignore everything he says and
of course he is going to take offense to being exposed.

Not the real Jeff S

@papajim-This is the real me. Are you really you?

more FAKE Jeff S I can tell that you're fake and you don't understand why.

Yep, I bet the dealer educated the millennium that bought the F250 Ford 4x4 and pulls an 8 foot trailer with 2 push mowers on it. Yep, he lives 3 houses down and he mows lawns for a living, does not do anything else with his 3/4 ton, opps F250

Too much sales pressure placed on the sales staff or not enough emphasis placed on educating the sales staff on the product and it's capabilities. Too often the wrong truck gets sold that doesn't meet the customers needs.

Frequently, the customer knows more about the product then
the salesperson. Sad.

My 2010 Tacoma 4x4 is a 1 ton!

I have 200 lbs. coils up front and 500 lbs. over stock 10-leaf pack springs in the rear with heavier duty Fox shocks!

Factory payload is 1,300 lbs. and I added 700 lbs. of load capacity! Simple to do and simple to operate!

>that being said, any consumer who does not know the true facts about the commodity their shopping for deserves fail

Anyone in ANY kind of sales will deceive at some point to benefit self. Human Nature.

Due diligence is always required for any major purchase. Relying on a salesman for a buy/pass decision is asking to be duped.

Treat every contract like a Deal with the Devil and knowledge is your best armor.

Auto sales probably has the most unanchored salesforce of all.
Salespeople cant know everything about every vehicle they sell. Many would rather say what you need to hear than tell you; "I don't know" and risk a no-sale.

If I sound cynical, ask me about my BIL.

My 2010 Tacoma 4x4 is a 1 ton!

I have 200 lbs. coils up front and 500 lbs. over stock 10-leaf pack springs in the rear with heavier duty Fox shocks!

Factory payload is 1,300 lbs. and I added 700 lbs. of load capacity! Simple to do and simple to operate!

Posted by: oxi | Feb 12, 2018 10:35:59 AM

No your Jap scrap is not a 1 ton, all you really did was lower your real pay load by adding heavier leaf springs You stupid libtard snow flake.

@papajim--You don't know me well enough then. Half of the posts you claim are not mine are mine.

@Tom--My granddad gave me some advice that you should head. Dealers are not there to help you but help themselves to your money. Dress like you have no money and you'll get a better deal.

Johnny, other than the snide comment, I agree with you for once. A common misconception is adding more leafs increases payload, and that is the exact opposite. Must of learned that from a dealer.


It has been suspected that papajim's false statements and misrepresentations are financially motivated.

Remember, Trucker is watching.

@ johnny doe,

Looks like you lack any basic education!

I would also ask you to refrain from your racist attacks, before we would have to ban you from here! Stop being a child and professed Toyota hater!

I have an expedition styled truck, that is built stronger to handle winch and winch bumpers, heavy tire carrying bumpers, real skid plates underneath and all of our gear to move overland!

My coil springs up front are as big as full-size trucks and my leaf springs are rated to carry more weight over stock!

You do not know anything about trucks, so I am going to stop because you are a child living at home!

@ crunchtime,

It is not adding leafs, these are custom built leaf packs rated to carry more weight than the factory springs, hello, learn basic 4x4 build ups please!

I have an expedition styled truck, that is built stronger to handle winch and winch bumpers, heavy tire carrying bumpers, real skid plates underneath and all of our gear to move overland!

My coil springs up front are as big as full-size trucks and my leaf springs are rated to carry more weight over stock!

You do not know anything about trucks, so I am going to stop because you are a child living at home!

OXI, please explain. You are saying custom leaf packs. There is no such thing as carry more weight than the stock truck, if the stock truck manufacture did not update the sticker on your door than all you did was waste money. IOW, sure you can do all that but if you exceed the sticker from the manufacture that is what sells in court, and you are screwed. Please go get an education before posting.


Looks like you lack any basic education oxi! The sticker on your door jam states your payload and that's all you can legally haul on the road stupid libtard!

oxi is a liberal when it comes to trucks.

Don’t tell me..., that top picture of that overloaded truck is actually GMSRGREAT..., yak know he secretly owns a Ford..., sorry man, I couldn’t resist... 🤠🤠🤠

My 2010 Tacoma 4x4 is a 1 ton!

I have 200 lbs. coils up front and 500 lbs. over stock 10-leaf pack springs in the rear with heavier duty Fox shocks!

Factory payload is 1,300 lbs. and I added 700 lbs. of load capacity! Simple to do and simple to operate!

Posted by: oxi | Feb 12, 2018 10:35:59 AM

Except that your leaf spring mounts and wimpy axle will fail at the worst possible time when being overloaded like that. Not to mention the garbage drum brakes are definitely NOT sized for that kind of weight. If you aren't careful you're going to end up in a wrongful death lawsuit hauling that kind of weight.

still not the real Jeff S. Do not doubt me

Never trust any salesman,,just look at the DOOR sign sticker,that will tell you eaxctly how much weight the truck is rated for..
Also theres another sticker IN the glove box stating acceptable load you can carry in the box,, and what options the vehicle has..
Most Salesman are lying BShiters only interested in taking your money..

Basically 1/2 , 3/4 and 1 Ton refers too increasing capability in NA. Yes no reference now to the historical reasons why they were created.
Those classifications NEVER EXISTED outside NA. Very very different rstings

@ Robert Ryan
What, or how are trucks rated in Australia?
Could you give comparative examples of NA vs Australian?

General Trucks not Pickups are rated Light, light Medium, Medium and Heavy.
Japanese Classifications for their General Trucks ,have"Medium" Trucks that are heavier than a US Class 8
Europeans different again.
Pickups as you know them in the US are pretty non existent in Europe.
They have Vans, Cab Chassis Vans then Trucks or " Lorries" as the British call them . For getting around and fairly light towing cars ,or SUV'S
Their Trucks run heavier or VASTLY HEAVIER WEIGHTS than what you would experience in the US
You cannot compare vehicles from different countries, they have different needs, regulatory frameworks and landscapes they operate in.

Just too add Pickups are " cars, utes or Pickups " in Australia. Utes being the collective term generally.
People get fairly upset if you call a F150 a " Truck" in Australia.
A recent Ford / GM Commercialsl for the Ranger ang Colorado really ruffled the feathers of many when they called them
Japanese responded by calling the Hilux and Isuzu Pickup as Utes

This is clearly 1TON.


Completely left out of this article is the fact that the payload number listed by the manufacturer includes the humans that will be riding in the truck. If your truck's build label says 2200 pounds of payload, and your family of 5 weighs 850 pounds, your true payload is now just 1350 when everyone is in the cab. Trim packages also add weight - the "Limited" top trim weighs more than the same body config of the base trim, and that too is subtracted from payload.

get it certified yet? weigh in goes by the sticker not your word.

LOL. You did not upgrade axles, diff, frame to 1 ton status, so no all you did was reduce payload. I wish people would learn.. There are guys that think you can add springs or airbags and their payload is increased. No, just because it doesn't squat as much does not mean truck is all of a sudden beefier.. Trans, brakes,axles and frame have everything to do with payload ratings, so until they are beefed, payload is same.

Where's Chingon? His truck made the lead photo in the article and he's not here typing with the caps lock on.

@ crunchtime, johnny doe, Greg, Rammins, SuperDutyF450, canoepaddler,

You guys or girls are practically the dumbest people out there! Did mommy not give you enough money to buy 33 inch tires last year? Typical Millennials...

You guys have never built a truck for anything but buy the stock truck and leave it like good little n azi's and yet have the nerve to think you know something about the ones that mod our trucks? s h u t up!

I have years of mudding, I raced 7 desert off-road races with a production truck, I raced a truck on road courses and I now have an overland/expedition style truck!

Educate yourselves on what an overland/expedition truck is, you may need mommy's permission though!

My payload is 1 ton! I have the heavy duty coils up front and leafs in the rear with Fox racing shocks at all corners! My u-bolts are heavy duty and flipped, my rear end is tubed to prevent flex and mass added for extra strength!

Things we learned racing down in Baja on how to strengthen our rear ends and I ran 35x12.5 off-road racing tires with my little 1986 Toyota 4-cylinder! Raced in low-4 after we gutted the front end! You guys do not know shyt about trucks!

When it comes to modding trucks: s hut up! You know nothing about a truck!

And the legality fake news is really laughable!

According to you jokers:

Any truck with a plow on its front is illegal...

Any truck with a brush guard is illegal...

Any truck with a topper is illegal...

Any truck with a larger tire or rim size is illegal...

Any truck with headers or cold air intake is illegal...

Any truck chipped is illegal...

Any truck that changed gear ratios is illegal...

Practically anything at SEMA is illegal...

I could go on with your liberal stupidity, but you get the idea of how dumb you guys sound!

I recall an old 1985 Toyota 1-ton 2wd small pickup! It had a heavier leaf spring added and an tranny cooler, that's it, and it was a 1-ton when compared to the standard 2wd!

Hmm, wake up dipshyt's!

Oh what a feeling, small Toyota 2wd pickup from 1985 that can carry 2,500 pounds of payload and pull 5,000 pounds!


Oh what a feeling, small 1986 Toyota 1 ton can carry 2,655 pounds of payload and pull 5,000 pounds with a small 4-cylinder!


a 1/2 ton pickup can haul or tow anything but it depends IF the engine has the power to do it

The F-150 Eco-Boost has that power and torque to haul up to 3300 lbs and tow 14,700 lbs
The same F-150 with the lackluster 5.0 V8 can't even come close with the power to do the same.

Owning and driving the Eco-Boost is a life changing experience where you will have to learn how to drive a pickup again, you'll have to learn how just breathing on the gas pedal will give you such a rush or quick acceleration that will take your breath away and you'll feel your heart beating in your throat like a roller coaster ride.
After owning an Eco-Boost I can never go back to driving any other pickup without the power, driving any other truck would be laughable and boring to me.
You will also be respected by friends and family for owning an Eco-Boost

It doesn't really matter how the trucks are classified.

What need to occur is a real breakdown into a more logical format.

Midsize and 1/2 ton represent a class on their own. It isn't about physical size. It's to do with the the customer base. 1/2 tons are more common hauling air and towing less, no different to a midsize. These are aimed towards the family guy who wants to feel like the pickup alongside his house is a sign he's achieved the American Dream.

3/4 and 1 ton are more commercial and business orientated and a closer in terms of their customer base.

The reality is all vehicles are rated differently, even if they are in the same class. So a definite is needed.

What is really a joke is the lumping together of all pickups for the end of the month figures. Why don't the manufacturers have 3 vehicle segments, cars, pickups and SUV/CUV.

But, you have how many classes of cars and CUVs.

@ Ecoboost rules

You have to be kidding me? Do u really believe this. I just showed your statement to a couple buddies I lift/workout with. Conceited a bit?

Never ever trust a salesman!! Check both inside the door and glovebox like others have stated

OXI, do you feel better now that you went to school on trucks?


"...a 1/2 ton pickup can haul or tow anything but it depends IF the engine has the power to do it"...Posted by: Ecoboost Rules | Feb 13, 2018

@Ecoboost Rules

the shocking stupidity of this comment is raising the bar, even for you.

@ crunchtime,

Excuse me?

I have more experience with trucks than all of you street queen gurls combined!

Just stay on the road with your stock trucks and leave the real world to folks that can handle it!

We know how to make trucks stronger and better, and we have the experience to back it!

Your pathetic argument is mute when I showed you the 1985/1986 small Toyota 2wd trucks carrying 2,655 lbs. of payload with the only difference between a regular small 2ed Toyota truck is the load spring in back and the trans. cooler for towing!

One spring gets you more payload, proving your arguments are more of jealousy than factual!


The Tacoma is not designed to handle the payloads you're reporting.

Merely supporting the load is not enough. If the brakes, wheels and chassis cannot safely transport the load it is criminal to take it onto the street. Whatever respect I had for you before is shot.

These folks worried about how their neighbor use their trucks are too much. WHO are you to tell anyone what they can drive or how they can use their own truck. Worry about yourself.

We all know the F150 is the only truck you need. Ford Tuff.

@ Hemi V8

When it comes to peoples safety, and the safety of myself, my wife, and my 2 babies who are in a vehicle, and another vehicle that isn't following regulations/specs, and is a danger to everyone on the road! It is my deal or anyone else who is on the road!

Come on man don't be naive!!!

"the average person buying a truck now a days isn't using the truck for a truck. It's become the family hauler!"

Posted by: TNTGMC

Go back to Russia, China, or where ever you folks come from.

The comments to this entry are closed.