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Pickup Payloads: Worth Their Weight?

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author photo by David Boldt March 2012

It should be simple. You buy a half-ton pickup and you logically expect to carry 1,000 lbs of cargo or, as the industry puts it, 'payload.' And if you anticipate carrying more than that in your truck, you simply buy more truck. Raise your sights (and budget) to the ¾-ton lineup, add running boards as needed' and figure on carrying 1,500 lbs of cargo. Regrettably, it isn't that simple.

A truck's cargo capacity is calculated by taking the vehicle's Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) and subtracting the weight of the truck itself. GVWR reflects the combined weight of the vehicle, all passengers and cargo. -If the vehicle is towing a trailer, -tongue weight (TW) is also factored in.

The Toyota' Tacoma Double Cab, with V6, 4WD and manual transmission, has a curb weight of 4,160 lbs and a maximum GVWR of 5,500 lbs. Subtracting its curb weight from the GVWR results in a payload of 1,340 lbs, which - if you've already done the math - is some 30 percent greater than that of the typical half-ton pickup, and this number is from a mid-size model.

If you're shopping the full-size Chevy Silverado Crew Cab, with the smallish 4.8-liter V8 and 4-speed automatic, the 5,100-lb curb weight is almost 1,000 lbs greater than that of the mid-size Toyota at 4,160 lbs, but its payload grows by just 27%.

Granted, most hauling needs involve bulky household goods rather than more dense construction materials, and the bed volume of a full-size truck provides more convenient carrying capability than the smaller volume offered by Toyota's Tacoma. But the numerical difference is much smaller than the trucks' comparative footprints would suggest.

If the payload difference between a mid-size Toyota and full-size Chevy is deceptive, then a jump to the ¾-ton truck is downright eye opening. Using Ford's F-250 for comparison, the Super Duty SuperCab with 2-wheel drive and a curb weight of 6,184 lbs can accommodate a cargo weight of 3,900 lbs, which is greater - by almost 1,000 lbs - than the combined capability of the Chevy and Toyota Tacoma. In short, the Super Duty will accommodate more than your boxes; it will accept your boxes filled with bricks, or whatever building materials you'd want to throw in it.

Customers, of course, opt for larger trucks based on their perceived need for the higher capabilities. A critical assessment of your actual needs, however, might suggest light duty for the day-in/day-out usage, while opting to rent or short-term lease for those few times when your needs escalate. At least one vintage racer we know has driven Land Rover's Discovery for more than a decade so that he'd have its towing capability for just a few times a year. Going forward, he intends to buy a car and rent a truck on those weekends he's headed to a track rather than the shopping center.

Notably, the Honda Ridgeline, which remains one of the most non-traditional takes on the traditional pickup, still comes to the table with some 1,500 lbs of payload, putting it almost exactly between the smaller Tacoma and larger Silverado. And this is from a minivan-based platform, 4,500-lb curb weight and a V6 engine. With a car-like ride, easy-in-and-out cabin and a sealed cargo area beneath its pickup bed, the Ridgeline might be all the 'truck' most people need. That, of course, serves as a partial explanation of why Honda sells only a fraction of trucks compared to Ford, Chevrolet and Toyota.

What it means to you: Our advice is not unlike the signage in an all-you-can-eat buffet: Take what you need, but eat what you take. That same general concept should apply when shopping for a pickup truck, but in the land of the free and home of the still relatively affordable fuel, it probably won't.

This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
Pickup Payloads: Worth Their Weight? - Autotrader