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What’s the difference between a pickup and a truck?

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With the launch of the 2022 Ford Maverick, the internet seems a bit confused on the pickup’s targeted purpose and how a unibody, front-wheel drive vehicle could be a “truck.” The reality is, along the way, people seem to have forgotten the difference between a “pickup” and a “truck.” Here’s the difference.

Going back decades ago, like back in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, there was a big visual difference between a pickup and a truck. Back then, most farmers had both a pickup and a truck while a lot of commercial operations used trucks while consumers drove pickups.

The difference really came down to the size, the capability and the intended job.

Pickup vs Truck, the visual difference

This is a farm pickup meant for fixing fence jobs, running around the farm and an occasional trip to town for parts and supplies. (Photo by Tim Esterdahl)

For example, on the farm, a pickup was meant for fixing fence, bringing hay to cows, running around between the barns and the occasional trip to town. It was the vehicle to run around in.

This is a grain truck meant for annual farm use and setup to haul heavy loads, not for running to town for groceries. (Photo by Tim Esterdahl)

A truck, meanwhile, was the real workhorse and meant to be used to haul in the crops, move the tractor to a different property and/or any big job.

Also, we call them semi trucks, not semi pickups or semi pickup trucks. This distinction is based on the difference between their purposes.

Imagine it like this: With farmers hauling in the crops with the “big” truck while using the “little” pickup for their everyday needs.

Along the way, though, people started erroneously putting pickup and truck into the same word and calling it the same thing. They are not. They are different vehicles for different needs with different customer expectations.

One of the big reasons why the names merged was the growth in size and capability. The old “full-size” trucks of the 1960s and 1970s are about the same size of a current midsize pickup and much larger than the modern full-size trucks. Plus, the new midsize pickup has more capability for towing than the older full-size trucks. This has muddied the waters.

Manufacturers like Ford, with the Maverick, don’t help in this regard. They are calling the Maverick the “most fuel-efficient truck on the market.” Not really. This is an apples to oranges comparison.

The bottom line

The new run of unibody, compact pickups should be simply called a “pickup” while a F-series truck is a truck.

That’s the way it used to work and everyone understood the difference. And this is why this media outlet is called “Pickup Truck +SUV Talk.” We cover both pickups and trucks.

Simple, right?

 

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Tim Esterdahl

Automotive Journalist Tim Esterdahl has been a lover of trucks and SUVs for years. He has covered the industry since 2011 and has pieces in many national magazines and newspapers. In his spare time, he is often found tinkering on his '62 C10 pickup, playing golf, going hunting and hanging out with his wife and kids in Nebraska.

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