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

Pickup Truck Payload & Towing Capacity
If you just plan to haul furniture or some tools around in your truck, a half-ton pickup will do fine.
If you just plan to haul furniture or some tools around in your truck, a half-ton pickup will do fine.
iStockPhoto/Carol Mattsson

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.