11 Truck Terms You Should Know Before Buying A Pickup

11 Truck Terms You Should Know Before Buying A Pickup

Josh GilbertFeb 14, '20

Hang around pickup truck owners long enough, and you’ll quickly realize they speak a different language. And while there’s a whole dictionary of slang to learn, knowing a few basic terms is a useful exercise before joining the club. Here are 11 terms you should know before buying your first rig...


  1. Cab

    The cab, short for cabin, is where the driver sits. Not all cabs are created equal. There is the regular cab (two doors), extended cab (two big doors, plus one or two small doors), crew cab (four big doors), and chassis cab, which is just a cabin on a body onto which a custom bed can be added. Examples include tow trucks, ambulances, and the world’s first pickups.

  2. Bed

    The bed is where you put the stuff. And like the one you sleep on, truck beds come in different sizes. Generally, there are three: Short (5’8”), Standard (6’5”), or Long (8’).


    These terms refer to how many and which wheels are powered by your drivetrain. For two-wheel drive trucks, it’s either the front (FWD) or the back (RWD). AWD and 4WD are essentially the same in that they refer to four wheels being powered. The difference is that AWD sends power to either the front- or rear-wheel axle depending on which end requires traction.

  4. Half-ton, three-quarter-ton, one-ton

    The three most common classifications depending on truck payload. Half-tons are your light duty pickups, the three-quarter tons are the 2500 series, and the one-tons are the super-duty and 3500 class.

  5. Payload

    Payload refers to how much total weight your truck can carry in the cabin and bed – humans, snowmobiles, etc. Payload is also known as curb weight.

  6. Towing capacity

    Literally how much your truck can tow. The higher the payload, the lower the towing capacity. Both towing capacity and payload are determined by horsepower and torque.

  7. Horsepower

    This amusingly literal term originated in 1702 as a way to gauge the output of steam engines compared to the pulling power of a horse. The electrical equivalent of one horsepower is 746 watts. Disclaimer: A real horse is capable of producing much more than that.

  8. Unibody

    Historically, trucks were built body-on-frame, which is like Lego – cab and bed assembled on the chassis. Unibody construction means chassis, cab, and bed are an inseparable being. Unibody pickups have been around since the 60s but have only gained traction over the last decade.

  9. Tow hitch

    A tow hitch is what you connect a trailer to. It can come in the form of a ball mount, hook, ring, or more inventive coupling configurations. Basically, it’s your truck’s hand. Please do not decorate the tow hitch.

  10. Fishtail

    You’ll want to avoid this. Fishtailing is when the back of your truck swerves uncontrollably from side to side as a result of losing traction. It is most common among RWD pickups and on icy roads or when hydroplaning.

  11. Ute

    Useful if you’re Down Under or in New Zealand, where the word for pickup truck is a shortened version of “utility.”

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