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Demystifying Different Types of Trucks

If you have done any shopping for pickup trucks, then you have probably run into a whole slew of comically confusing terms used to describe them. I’m talking about things like “full size,” “mid-size,” “compact,” “light duty,” “heavy duty,” and “super duty!” Different manufacturers even use some terms exclusively to refer to different pickup truck types, while others use other terms to refer to the same idea. It’s a lot to look at and it can make trying to compare different trucks a far greater hassle than it should be.

So, with that in mind, let’s look at what each of these terms actually means, how they compare to each other, and what it all means when you’re looking at different vehicles. By the end of this, you’ll be less confused and shopping for a new truck should be easier than ever before. If you already think you know what all of these terms mean, then keep on reading anyway and maybe you’ll be surprised by something you didn’t know. Or don’t – you’re the boss here, read what you want!

Size vs. Strength

So, the first thing we need to discuss is that categorization really comes down to two different factors and they are both important: size and strength. By size I’m talking about the physical size of the truck, particularly in terms of length from nose to tail, but also the height and width of the truck. Size is often used not only as a descriptive term but also in advertising, and the three sizes you’ll most often see are “compact,” “mid-size,” and “full-size.”

Then there’s the strength of the truck, by which I mean how much payload and towing capacity it is likely to have – though these are not the same thing. Different terms can be used to refer to this, but what you’ll most often see are “light duty,” “heavy duty” and “super duty” to refer to how powerful the truck is. These are important, because you’ll see these terms often used together – though sometimes they might be used interchangeably just to really confuse us.

Compact Pickup Trucks

When it comes to looking at different pickup truck types based on size, let’s start with the smallest trucks on the road. These are commonly referred to as “compact” trucks because they are more compact than larger models. Some trucks you might see referred to as compact include models like the Chevy Colorado, GMC Canyon, and Toyota Tacoma. These are usually light-duty trucks as well, so they are not only smaller but tend to be less powerful than their larger siblings.

Mid-Size Pickup Trucks

Next up we have mid-size trucks, which are (as you might have guessed) the general, middle of the road trucks that are not too small and not too big. These are great choices for people who need a truck that can get some work done, but won’t take over your life or strain the limits of your garage. Some mid-size trucks include models like the Chevy Colorado, GMC Canyon, and Toyota Tacoma.

Wait, what? Yeah, that’s not a typo – these kinds of trucks are often referred to as either compact or mid-size and the terms tend to be used interchangeably. So what gives? Well a lot of it really comes down to marketing. If you want to advertise a Chevy Colorado to carpenters as a good option that isn’t too big, then you’ll call it “mid size” so that it still sounds like a middle ground in terms of size. But if you want to appeal to people who feel a full-size pickup is too large, then “compact” might be a way to make them interested in what you have to offer.

Yes, it’s confusing, and sometimes you’ll see the two terms used on the same page to refer to the same truck. So, at the end of the day, just keep in mind that these are smaller pickup trucks that can still get a lot of work done. And don’t be thrown off if you see either “compact” or “mid-size” used to refer to them.

Full-Size Pickup Trucks


A red 2019 Ford F150 splashes through the mud

These are the big pickup trucks you see on the road, and they are certainly larger than their mid-size siblings. They’re not just longer from end to end, but also typically wider and quite a bit taller. These are the trucks that a lot of us need some help getting into or out of, typically thanks to a step on the side under the doors.

Thankfully, there is only one term you’ll really see used to refer to these trucks. So if you see something called a full-size truck, then you know what it means: big. Some models in this category include the Dodge Ram, Chevy Silverado, GMC Sierra, and Ford F-150.

Light Duty Trucks

When you start looking at different pickup truck types based on strength or power, then “light duty” is what you will typically see first. These are still powerful trucks with impressive towing capacity, but they are designed more as general use vehicles. Don’t get me wrong, a light-duty truck will certainly be able to tow more than a sedan, but it might be outclassed by a particularly impressive, heavy-duty SUV or similar vehicle.

Most compact or mid-size pickups fall into the light-duty category, just by virtue of their size and design. But, a lot of full-size trucks are also light duty pickups that are designed to offer more space but still are meant for a somewhat more casual market. Something like the Chevy Colorado and the Silverado are both light-duty trucks, even though one is mid-size and the other is full-size. The difference, however, is that there are certain Silverados offered as heavy-duty trucks…

Heavy Duty Trucks

By contrast, heavy-duty pickup trucks are those designed to handle a ton of work – these are the pickup truck types meant to tow just about anything. These trucks have large, powerful frames that can handle a lot of weight, often with options such as dual rear-wheels so you can load them up with more payload weight or haul even more behind them. You’ll see these trucks with available engines that can produce nearly 1,000 lbs. of torque to get just about any job done.

As you would expect, heavy duty trucks are pretty much exclusively full-size pickup trucks. You won’t find a heavy duty mid-size or compact pickup, because there simply is not a market for such a thing. But since there are full-size pickups categorized as light-duty trucks, it is important to look at what each one is called and check to see if it is light or heavy duty. The term “Super Duty” is used by Ford in their F Series of trucks, but essentially just means the same thing as heavy duty – it’s just their own term for it.

Full Size Pickups: 150, 250, 350 vs. 1500, 2500, 3500

When you look at full-size pickup trucks, you’ll probably see some numbers behind the names of a lot of them, particularly when you’re looking at heavy-duty trucks. For example, the Chevy Silverado is available as a Silverado 1500, Silverado 2500, or Silverado 3500. On the other hand, the Ford F Series is marketed as the F-150, F-250, and F-350. So what’s the difference?

Nothing, it’s all a matter of marketing. The higher the number, the more powerful the truck, but they are generally pretty comparable between them. So the Ford F-150 and Chevy Silverado 1500 are in the same class, as are the F-250 and Silverado 2500, and the F-350 and the Silverado 3500.