What the Heck Is a Half-Ton Truck?

If you’re shopping pickup trucks, you may have heard the phrase “half-ton” thrown around a lot. And because any modern full-size truck can haul a lot more than half of a ton (1,000 pounds), you might be a bit confused. The truth is that “half-ton” is an old phrase for the full-size, light-duty pickup truck class from back when 1,000 pounds was a payload capacity worth bragging about. Here’s how that class is defined and how much it can carry.

What is a half-ton truck?

If someone mentions a half-ton truck they are referring to a full-size, light-duty pickup. These include the Ford F-150, Ram 1500, General Motors’ Chevy Silverado 1500/GMC Sierra 1500, the Toyota Tundra, and the Nissan Titan (not the Titan XD).

Red, vintage Dodge half-ton pickup truck parked at a classic gas station for a photo shoot.
Dodge Pickup truck | Joe Sohm/Visions of America/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

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Why are these called full-size, light-duty trucks? Well, they are all larger than your standard midsize truck (Toyota Tacoma, Ford Ranger, etc.). They are actually available in the same general sizes as their heavy-duty older brothers you can buy from the Detroit Three (Ford Super Duty, or the 2500 and larger from Ram or GM). Because these trucks are the same size as a “standard” heavy-duty work truck, they are called “full-size.”

But the F-150/1500 trucks are engineered more for comfortable daily driving and some light-duty tasks around home. They are not engineered with the same capacity for heavy-duty hauling and towing that defines the jobsite-destined heavy-duty trucks.

What defines a half-ton truck?

The United States government classifies trucks based on gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR)–according to the Department of Energy. This is the combined weight of the vehicle and its maximum rated payload. So a half-ton truck is defined by its sub-8,501 pound GVWR.

Red GMC Sierra half-ton pickup truck driving along a dirt trail through snowy mountains.
2022 GMC Sierra 1500 AT4X | General Motors

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Full-size light-duty pickup trucks (half-tons) all fall into a specific one of the “light duty” categories, a category called Class 2a. This category includes all vehicles with a GVWR between 6,001 and 8,500 pounds.

If you go any lighter and you get a “midsize” or Class 1 truck. With a heavier GVWR you end up in Class 2b. Class 2b still falls into the “light duty” category, even though automakers advertise them as “heavy-duty” pickup trucks. (The government’s official “heavy duty” category is reserved for dump trucks, etc.).

How much can a half-ton truck actually haul?

Perhaps, once upon a time, a half-ton truck (a full-size, light-duty pickup) only had a payload capacity of a half-ton (1,000 pounds). But those days are long past. Many modern “half-ton” trucks can haul a full ton (2,000 pounds), or more.

Red Ford F-150 pickup truck on a construction site being loaded with heavy equipment.
2021 F-150 XLT | Ford

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Think about it this way: a truck with a 1,000-pound payload capacity and seating for six would be overweight with six large adults packed into its cab. Obviously, modern half-ton trucks can haul much more than half a ton.

The 2022 Nissan Titan can carry up to 1,711 pounds of payload. When properly configured, the 2022 Toyota Tundra can carry more than one ton, its payload capacity is 2,290 pounds. General Motors’ Chevy Silverado 1500/GMC Sierra 1500 are mechanically identical. These trucks, with their rear leaf springs, can carry up to 2,300 pounds. The Ford F-150 can carry up to 2,238 pounds. The Ram 1500, with its rear coil springs, can haul up to 2,325 pounds.

Remember that this payload capacity is just the weight a pickup truck can haul in its bed. Several light-duty, full-size trucks boast towing ratings of 10,000 pounds or more.

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