What Is the Difference Between a Half-Ton, Three-Quarter-Ton, and One-Ton Pickup?

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By |2020-06-29T17:04:54-04:00June 29, 2020 - 05:04PM|Car Research|
2020 Ford F-250 / Photo Credit: Ford

2020 Ford F-250 / Photo Credit: Ford

Shopping for a pickup truck can be a daunting task. Manufacturers have helped with the process by creating three basic categories of pickups:

  • Half-Ton Pickup: Also referred to as “light-duty,” this is the most common pickup truck classification. Half-Ton pickups are excellent for owners who need a truck for personal or light commercial duties, hauling furniture, or towing small trailers. They are often comfortable to drive and feature many of the comfort amenities found in passenger cars.  Models include the best-selling Ford F-150, Nissan Titan, Toyota Tundra, Ram 1500, and Chevrolet Silverado 1500.
  • Three-Quarter-Ton Pickup:  With more towing and hauling capability, this category is often referred to as “heavy-duty.” Three-quarter-ton pickups strive to preserve drivability but with enhanced capabilities. Models include the Ford F-250, Chevy Silverado 2500, and Dodge Ram 2500.
  • One-Ton Pickup: The most capable consumer-targeted trucks, One-Ton pickups, are also referred to as “heavy-duty,” and towing and hauling capacities are the top priorities. Some are equipped with dual rear wheels, trailer brakes, or larger engines. Some One-Ton pickups can tow in excess of 35,000 lbs. Models include the Ford F-350, Chevy Silverado 3500HD, and Dodge Ram 3500 Heavy Duty.

When a Ton Doesn’t Really Mean a Ton

Half-ton, three-quarter-ton, and one-ton: in most arenas, this would equate to 1,000, 1,500, and 2,000 pounds. However, when it comes to consumer pickup trucks, the three descriptors are vague classifications in reference to their payload capacities.

Payload is the maximum weight a truck is rated to carry in its cabin and bed combined. Payload includes everything placed inside the truck’s cabin, including passengers, all the cargo in the bed, and the trailer tongue weight (the weight that a trailer places on the tow hitch). At one time, tonnage was a direct reference to the amount of payload that a vehicle could haul. For example, a half-ton vehicle was capable of being loaded with 1,000 lbs of people, materials, and trailer tongue weight.

As truck technology evolved, so did the terminology. Rather than abandon the familiar classifications, manufacturers continued the taxonomy to help consumers quickly identify the capabilities of a pickup. Ironically, most of today’s half-ton pickups have a payload capacity closer to 2,000 pounds.  Many three-quarter-ton pickups can handle two tons of payload and some one-ton pickups can carry even more.

Half-Ton Pickups


2020 Ford F-150

2020 Ford F-150 / Photo Credit: Ford

Three-Quarter-Ton Pickups


2020 Ram 2500 / Photo Credit: FCA

2020 Ram 2500 / Photo Credit: FCA

One-Ton Pickups


2020 Chevrolet Silverado 3500 HD / Photo Credit: Chevrolet

2020 Chevrolet Silverado 3500 HD / Photo Credit: Chevrolet

Trucks Larger Than One Ton


2020 Ford F-650 / Photo Credit: Ford

2020 Ford F-650 / Photo Credit: Ford

Some companies need more capabilities that surpass even the most capable One-Ton pickup trucks. In these cases, manufacturers offer specialty trucks that offer little in the way of comfort, but are great for hauling and towing. Trucks larger than one ton are often fitted with specialty equipment.

Trucks Smaller Than One Ton


2020 Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro / Photo Credit: Toyota

2020 Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro / Photo Credit: Toyota

The smallest truck segment in the U.S. is referred to as the midsize pickup (or sometimes small pickup or compact pickup). Midsize trucks are typically less powerful than half-ton pickups, usually with limited hauling and towing capacities. They’re very similar to midsize SUVs, they’re are easier to park, and they return better fuel economy than the larger pickups.

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About the Author:

Chris Brewer is an automotive writer and photographer living in Northeast Florida. Chris is a regular contributor to numerous automotive magazines and founded Jacksonville Car Culture, an automotive lifestyle firm that runs Jacksonville’s Cars & Coffee. Chris also works as the director of communications for The Amelia Island Concours d'Elegance, a world-renowned automotive event and two-time winner of the International Historic Motoring Event of the Year award. He also has a doctorate degree from The Institute for Worship Studies.