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Have you ever seen a truck driving down the road with a normal-looking cab and an odd, flat-looking bed? You were probably looking at one of the space-efficient stake bed trucks, with its stake sides removed. But there’s a possibility that you saw a custom flatbed designed to reduce weight for off-roading or a low-sided towing body engineered for a fifth-wheel trailer hitch. Finally, if it was a large pickup truck with a very long flatbed, it may have been a tow truck. Here’s how to tell the difference.

What is a stake bed pickup truck?

A stake bed is a wide, flat aftermarket truck bed. It has pockets for stakes, and by mounting tall stake sides, you can fence in a large, secure area on the back of the truck. This bed gives you a large cargo area and the flexibility of configuring it for specific jobs.

An Enterprise rental truck with a flat bed fit with stake sides for hauling bulky items.
Stake bed rental truck | Enterprise

A stake bed truck may have begun life as a heavy-duty truck, sold from the factory with just a cab and chassis. It may also be a standard half-ton pickup truck with its bed removed for modification.

However, a stake bed pickup truck began, it now wears an aftermarket, custom flatbed. These are built by small manufacturers such as CM Truck Beds. This flatbed may feature under-bed toolboxes, aftermarket tail lights, and even a shield to protect the rear window. It also features pockets to hold upright stakes. Stake flatbeds are available with removable sides that are a series of stakes fenced together.

A stake bed truck with its sides installed is ideal for hauling bulky, lightweight loads such as haybales. With its sides removed, it is ideal for hauling large items that must be strapped in place, such as farm implements. Because it is so flexible, you sometimes get a stake side flatbed when you rent a pickup truck.

What type of trucks have a flatbed?

Pickup trucks with aftermarket flatbeds include “rollback” tow trucks with a bed designed to hold a car and utility stake side flatbeds. These trucks can also include 4×4 trucks with the heavy pickup bed removed and a custom wood flatbed installed instead. Finally, a custom bed designed to increase towing capacity with a “fifth wheel” trailer hitch point may look flat.

This is a heavy-duty Ram pickup truck with a Cummins engine modified by Wil-Ro inc. Truck Bodies with a custom stakeside flat bed.
Flat bed pickup truck without stake sides | Wil-Ro inc. Truck Bodies

There are many reasons people modify trucks with custom bodies. Some people modify trucks with custom wood bodies to reduce the truck’s weight. Because removing the pickup truck body and installing a small, wood flatbed is a popular 4×4 modification, it has become a stylish choice for custom trucks. Many people who don’t need to remove their pickup’s bed do so because they like the look of a flatbed.

How do you tell a flatbed tow truck?

If you see a heavy-duty truck with a flatbed longer than a regular truck and ending in a ramp, you are looking at a type of tow truck. The hydraulically activated wrecker or “rollback” on this truck can hinge down to the ground for loading a car.

Ram heavy-duty tow truck | Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Driving down the road, you might see a number of custom truck beds. All of these beds have been engineered, and tweaked over generations, to accomplish a certain task. But any truck with its pickup bed removed and a different, custom bed installed has been modified with a specific purpose in mind.

Next, learn why some stock pickup trucks come with unique yellow lights in their grille or watch a walkaround of a stake bed F-550 for yourself in the video below:


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