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All heavy-duty trucks are pickup trucks, but not all pickup trucks are heavy-duty. What separates a regular passenger truck from a monster heavy-duty truck capable of pulling trees, other trucks, and heavy trailers? Mostly the equipment, power, and the actual weight of the vehicle.

What is a heavy duty pickup truck?

What makes a pickup truck heavy duty?
The 2022 GMC Sierra Heavy Duty truck towing equipment | GMC

According to U.S. News, the definition of a heavy-duty pickup truck changes depending on who you ask. If you ask the Federal Highway Administration, trucks are not considered heavy-duty until the gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) surpasses 26,001 pounds. That includes the vehicle, passengers, and any cargo it might carry. Most trucks on the road will not reach that weight unless it is a construction vehicle of some kind.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says that any pickup truck with a GVWR over 8,500 pounds is considered a heavy-duty truck. U.S. News abides by this weight, for the most part, considering this applies to many more passenger trucks on the road.

There are a few terms that most American automakers used in the past. A half-ton truck is called “light-duty,” while a 3/4-ton truck is “medium-duty.” A one-ton truck is “heavy-duty,” all of which are based on the payload rating. These days, these terms are outdated as trucks have increased in size and capability over the years.

A heavy-duty pickup truck needs more power

Thanks to increased power, most heavy-duty pickup trucks have dramatically different capabilities than light-duty trucks. This isn’t just horsepower but torque too. Both are needed to tow and carry more weight than an average truck. One example is the 2021 Chevrolet Silverado 1500, equipped with its most potent 6.2L V8 engine, which gets 420 hp and 460 lb-ft of torque. The 2022 Chevrolet Silverado 3500 HD has a turbo-diesel V8 with 445 hp and 910 lb-ft of torque. That extra 450 lb-ft of torque makes a huge difference when it comes to towing.

“Beyond their engines, heavy-duty trucks have robust drivetrains, with proven, durable transmissions and beefy drivelines.”

U.S. News

Some trucks, like the 2022 Ram 1500 TRX and Ford F-150 Raptor, might have a ton of power but won’t be great for towing large amounts all the time. These are more performance-based pickup trucks suitable for off-roading and adventures but not necessarily payload.

Truck beds, payload, and towing make the most significant differences

A heavy-duty pickup truck focuses on durability. All of these components are upgraded from the axles, driveline, bed, suspension, engine, and everything in between. On a light-duty truck, these components are pretty well-balanced. But heavy-duty trucks focus on the whole package to tow and haul daily.

A 2022 Ram 1500 might have a six-foot-four inches long bed, but the medium-duty Ram 1500 has an eight-foot-long truck bed. Similarly, the regular 2022 GMC Sierra might have a maximum payload of 2,240 pounds. The maximum payload for the 2022 GMC Sierra 3500 heavy-duty is 7,442 pounds.

But the most significant difference is going to be the towing rating. The 2021 Ford F-150 has one of the best tow ratings in its class at 14,000 pounds. But the 2021 Ford F-350 can tow a 21,200-pound trailer with ease. With a gooseneck trailer that goes up to 35,750 pounds. The 2022 GMC Sierra HD is the current class leader, which can tow 37,090 pounds.

What kind of heavy-duty pickup truck can you buy right now?

There are not as many heavy-duty pickup trucks on the market compared to light-duty ones. The Chevrolet Silverado 2500 HD, Silverado 3500 HD, and Nissan Titan XD all qualify. Ford has the F-Series Super-Duty F-250, F-350, and F-450. GMC offers the Sierra 2500 Heavy-Duty and 3500 HD, plus the Ram 2500 and 3500 pickups.

Since these trucks acquire less room in the overall sales of trucks, there are fewer to choose from. SUVs and light-duty trucks are all the rage right now, but that won’t cut it for some consumers. Heavy-duty pickup truck options will likely continue to shrink as the world moves to electric vehicles like the Ford F-150 Lightning electric truck.

This article was updated on 12/16/2022.


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