Half-ton pickups have outgrown their name -- now they can safely carry much more than just a half-ton.

iStockPhoto/Brian Sullivan

What does it mean to call a pickup truck a '1/2 ton truck' (also known as a 'half-ton truck')?

Once you've finally splurged to buy that boat you've always wante­d, it may strike you that it's not so smart to lug it around with the old family sedan. Maybe it's time to upgrade to a truck. The question is, "What kind?" Soon after you begin your search, you'll realize that shopping for the right truck can get confusing. When it comes to heavy duty towing and hauling, it's easy to get lost in the sea of terms and safety requirements. The real meaning of "half-ton" pickup, for instance, eludes some automotive folks, let alone first-time truck buyers.

A ton is 2000 pounds (907.19 kg), so does it follow that a half-ton truck weighs 1000 pounds (453.5 kg)? Actually, the name doesn't refer to the weight of the truck. In fact, half-ton pickups weigh much more than that. The weight of a truck without cargo or passengers is called the curb weight. For example, many 2007 half-ton pickups have curb weights between 9000 (4082.3 kg) and 11000 (4989.5 kg) pounds [source: Edmunds].

The "half-ton" description loosely refers to the truck's payload capacity. This means that the truck can carry up to 1000 pounds (453.5 kg) of cargo and passengers in the cab and bed. But wait a minute: If you take a look at the stats on modern half-ton pickups, you'll notice that their payload capacities exceed 1000 pounds (453.5 kg). Although early half-ton pickups could carry max loads of 1000 pounds (453.5 kg), since at least the 1960s, new and improved half-ton pickups have been able to safely carry more, surpassing their namesakes [source: Autotropolis].

But old habits die hard, and the name "half-ton" has stuck around to this day. It's still helpful as a general classification term, differentiating the group from the larger, heavy-duty three-quarter-ton pickups and one-ton pickups (also obsolete terms). A better way to find out the maximum payload capacity is to check the individual truck's specs online or in the owner's manual to see what the manufacturer recommends.

So, don't skip over half-tons because you think you need more capacity -- this name contradicts their real hauling power. Consumer Reports actually warns against buying a truck with more hauling capacity than you need because its higher-capacity suspension will make for a more uncomfortable ride [source: Consumer Reports]. It's also important to note that payload capacity isn't the same thing as towing capacity, which you'll need to consider if you plan to haul a boat or trailer.

If you just plan to haul furniture or some tools around in your truck, a half-ton pickup will do fine.

iStockPhoto/Carol Mattsson

Pickup Truck Payload & Towing Capacity

What's in a name? As we've seen, not much when it comes to half-ton trucks. It turns out that not only do half-ton pickups weigh and carry more than a half ton, they can also tow more than a half ton. Although "payload capacity" usually refers to how much weight a truck can carry in both passengers and cargo in the cab and bed, towing capacity refers to how much the truck can safely tow. Although different, these two parameters can affect each other. For instance, the payload can include the tongue weight, which is the portion of trailer weight -- usually about 15 percent -- that bears down on the truck's hitch.

Manufacturers often embellish the maximum towing capacity of a truck in advertisements. For instance, they often calculate this number by supposing that nothing is in the truck except for a 150-pound (68-kg) driver. In realistic situations, where the driver may be heavier, other passengers are in the cab and extra cargo is in the bed, the truck's actual towing capacity is lower [source: Edmunds]. In general, the more pounds in your truck's payload, the lighter your towed vehicle should be.

As if the half-ton-naming stuff wasn't confusing enough, towing capacity can be deceptive. By basing calculations on unrealistic situations and using whatever criteria they want, manufacturers can easily exaggerate towing capacity. This makes it increasingly difficult for consumers to compare truck towing performance. Although other performance criteria, like claims about horsepower, are standard across the industry, towing capacity isn't. Some people hope this will soon change. The Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) created a committee that's working to set an appropriate standard for measuring towing capacity to y put this issue to rest once and for all [source: Henderson].

In your truck search, keep in­ mind that you have scores of options. Even among half tons, payload and towing capacities can vary. Hauling power depends on variables like the engine, the transmission, the quality of the brakes and rear axle [source: Cook]. Although they're the most popular-selling trucks, half-tons are known as light duty vehicles and are meant for lugging furniture and other relatively small loads [source: Wiesenfelder]. If you have more hefty loads, try heavy duty vehicles, including three-quarter-ton and one-ton trucks, which generally have bigger frames, firmer suspensions and more powerful engines.

But there's plenty more to consider when it comes to truck buying. The links on the next page will help you on your search.

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Lots More Information

Sources

  • Autotropolis. "Truck Tonnage." Autotropolis. [Sept. 19, 2008] http://www.autotropolis.com/wiki/index.php?title=Truck_Tonnage
  • Consumer Reports. "What to look for in a pickup." ConsumerReport.org. March 2007. [Sept. 19, 2008] http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/cars/new-cars/car-types/pickups/ what-to-look-for-in-a-pickup-1205/overview/
  • Edmunds. "2006 Heavy-Duty-Truck Comparison Test." Edmunds Inside Line. [Sept. 19, 2008] http://www.edmunds.com/insideline/do/Drives/Comparos/articleId=115662/pageId=98012
  • Edmunds. "Comparison Test: 2007 Half-Ton Pickup Trucks." Edmunds Inside Line. [Sept. 19, 2008] http://www.edmunds.com/insideline/do/Drives/Comparos/articleId=119281/pageId=118460
  • Babcock, Michael. "FWP moves to half-ton pickups." Helenair.com. Sept. 5, 2006. [Sept. 19, 2008] http://www.helenair.com/articles/2006/09/05/montana/a06090506_02.txt
  • Cook, Miles. "How To Tow a Trailer." Edmunds.com. [Sept. 19, 2008] http://www.edmunds.com/ownership/howto/articles/44921/article.html
  • Henderson, Pam. "Truck Journal." Farm Journal. Feb. 1, 2008. BNet. [Sept. 19, 2008] http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qn6208/is_20080201/ai_n25390880
  • Wiesenfelder, Joe. "What does half-ton, three-quarter-ton, one-ton, etc. mean when talking about trucks?" Ask.cars.com. [Sept. 19, 2008] http://ask.cars.com/2008/08/half-ton-three.html