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



@ Hemi V8

Go get an education! Many excellent collages available that can teach you to think before you speak!

I live in America. Greatest country in the world! Thank you very much! The land of opportunity.

oxi dumber then a dog turd, you can't increase payload. Only way it can happen is if the truck is re inspected to be re certified to say it can legally handle the new weight. Till that happens all you do is decrease your payload by adding heavy parts. Dumb libtards I swear, no common sense!

@Papa Jim--Correct that is not the real Jeff S. I do agree with others that many sales people have little knowledge of what they sell. Maybe someone on the dealer staff might know about the trucks and towing and weight capacities. Most sales people I have dealt with have little to no knowledge about the product they are selling.

still not the real Jeff S.

So many uneducated liberal trash on here, so pathetic they allow children on here that act like m orons!

We need an age verification system in place to root out the liberal trash from mommy's basement!


Tacoma back on top for reliability and always #1 on KBB!!!

To bad oxi will never leave his mom's basement. Poor sucker stuck watching jack up tacos mudding on youtube or googling taco pictures.

I mean how dumb can oxi be, the last picture in the story clearly reads from Jap scarp Toyota to boot "THIS VEHICLE CONFORMS TO ALL APPLICABLE FEFERAL MOTOR VHICLE SAFTY STANDS IN EFFECT ON THE DATE OF MANUFACTURE SHOWN ABOVE"

It doesn't get any more clear then that! If you want to changes things it must be recertified to meet the laws to the state you live in. I guess oxi was right "We need an age verification system in place to root out the liberal trash from mommy's basement!" to bad he was talking bout his 12 year old self.

@ johnny doe,

You are such a re tard!

You make no sense, and yes, you are a liberal! I am a USMC Veteran, no way associated with the trash like you are!

So how many trucks that are chipped, have cold air intake's, larger rims, larger tires, a brush guard, a topper, a new stereo, headers, plow, new exhaust out there have been re-certified?

I want to see a list of all of those pickups out there that have their data plates changed to reflect the changes made to trucks listed above!

You see how stupid you sound! Grow up and get a life, you know little of trucks, so go whine with your liberal buddies about saving dolphins or something!

"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

There is a lot of truth in this but it is mostly because EPA and DOT have different rules for cars and trucks and the rules for cars have left them unsuitable for many people. I have long maintained that the only good replacement for a '72 Newport, Impala or Grand Marquis is a crew cab 1/2 ton shortbed with a tonneau. Those cars were once very popular but would be illegal to build today so what do you expect?

@Walt--Agree the new Chevy Caprice Classic is the Silverado High Country. The new LTD or Grand Marquis is the Platinum and King Ranch. The new 5th Avenue, New Yorker, Polaris, and Grand Fury is the Ram Laramie. Big cars were replaced by crew cab full size half tons with luxury packages. Below is a link to an interesting article which says that the luxury German vehicles are losing sales to trucks.


"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. "

Well, for those of us who live in towns that don't believe in having snow plows (where we average over 5-6 feet of snow a year, supposedly statistically)... we absolutely need something with the ground clearance that a pickup has to offer. Until the Jetson's era of vehicles and vacuum tubes shows up, pickups will forever be the vehicle of choice.

@kemo--With more manufacturers offering more crew cab trucks with more options in the 90s expanded the market for pickups. Those who never would have considered a pickup especially for a suburban family started buying trucks in large numbers. True crew cab pickups have been around for a while with the first crew cab truck in the U.S. made by International Harvester in 1957 and was later followed by Dodge in 1963, Ford in 1965 and Chevrolet in 1973. The end of the full size rear wheel drive sedan was a big factor in those increase sales of pickups. Without the crew cab pickup I doubt the sales of pickups would be as large as they are now. I see the price of trucks going up further but eventually they will level off.

Borrowing is cheap and American famliies are seeing the best economy in over 20 years. Pickup prices will keep going.

Borrowing is cheap and American famliies are seeing the best economy in over 20 years. Pickup prices will keep going.

@Jeff S
Toyota Stout and Hino Brisca helped popularise DualCabs from 1960 onwards. Then Ford, GM and Chrysler followed. If they had not Pickups would have been purely restricted to Commercial an in US farm uses

I don't disagree with Jeff's description of the International Harvester pickup being the original dual-cab truck in these parts. My first job operating equipment and HD trucks was with a county agency that owned a ton of IH trucks and tractors. I'm sure that's the first time I saw a dual cab pickup. Mid 1960s

I used to tow with a “1/2 ton” and the car and trailer were within the payload and tow ratings. (You gotta remember that tongue weight)
Then I went to a heavy 3/4 ton.
Night and Day difference.
Mr. EcoBoost would mess himself if he had to tow head to head against a modern DIESEL.

The comments to this entry are closed.