Understanding Truck Classification
When you choose a truck, you don’t just pick the best-looking model from the lot. You also consider other factors, like the specs of the truck, the terrain it’s built to drive over, and the truck’s ability to do the job you have in mind.
Of a truck’s specs — whether you use it for home improvement or you’re hauling massive loads across the country — weight is one of the most important.
Why Does a Truck’s Weight Matter?
Before you buy a truck, one of the first things you should check is the truck’s Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR). Simply put, the GVWR is how heavy the truck will be after it’s loaded with cargo, fuel, and passengers. Neither the truck’s appearance nor its technology (or lack thereof) factor into the GVWR. Only the truck’s total operating weight — that is, the truck’s weight while being used or driven on the road — counts.
So why all the fuss over weight? Here are the main reasons.
- The US government regulates trucks according to weight. If a truck’s GVWR is more than 10,001 pounds, it needs to have a USDOT number so it can be tracked and inspected for safety’s sake. After all, most trucks travel on public roads and if anything happens because a truck is overloaded, responsibility needs to be assigned where responsibility is due.
- If you drive a truck with a GVWR over 10,001 pounds, you need to follow all sorts of regulations to stay safe on the highway. For example, you should have your vehicle inspected at certain state stations along the road.
- Weight classes help you stay on the same page with truck dealers, repair crew, and other similar parties. If you take your vehicle to a service shop, it helps to know the difference between “light duty,” “medium duty,” and “heavy duty.” In case you add or replace any parts, you have to make sure those new parts won’t drastically affect the GVWR of your truck.
Types of Trucks
Officially, the government sorts trucks into 8 weight-based classes, although most people differentiate trucks according to whether they’re light, medium, or heavy duty. Since the government and common classes overlap, we’ll talk about both.
Weight: 6,000 lbs. and lighter
Examples: Ford Ranger, Chevrolet Colorado, GMC Canyon, Dodge Dakota, Toyota Tacoma
These are the smallest and lightest trucks. They’re not much use for towing or hauling, but if you’re a homeowner or do-it-yourselfer, Class 1 trucks will be enough for you. SUVs and small pickup trucks fall under this category, as do some types of cargo vans and minivans.
Weight: 6,001 – 10,000 lbs.
Examples: Chevrolet Silverado 1500, Chevrolet Silverado 2500, Dodge Ram 1500, Dodge Ram 2500, Ford F-150, Ford F-250, GMC Sierra 1500, Nissan Titan
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Full-size or half-ton pickups are usually under Class 2. Class 2 trucks can haul between 2,000 and 3,000 pounds on their beds. Sometimes, this class is split into two more categories — Class 2a and 2b. Class 2a trucks have a GVWR of 6,001 to 8,500 pounds, while Class 2b trucks have a GVWR of 8,501 to 10,000 pounds.
Weight: 10,001 – 14,000 lbs.
Examples: Chevrolet Silverado 3500, Dodge Ram 3500, Ford E-350, Ford F-350, GMC Sierra 3500
If you have a heavy-duty pickup truck, chances are it’s a Class 3 truck. Class 3 trucks are often used for “work truck” jobs, “contractor truck” jobs, and the like. You can also put certain types of walk-ins, city delivery trucks, and box trucks under this category.
Weight: 14,001 – 16,000 lbs.
Examples: Dodge Ram 4500, Ford E-450, Ford F-450, GMC 4500
Of the medium duty trucks, Class 4 trucks are the lightest. You can spec them as you wish by adding “chassis cabs” to convert them into makeshift ambulances, box trucks, or wreckers. Bucket trucks, certain types of city delivery trucks, and large walk-ins belong to this category.
Weight: 16,001 – 19,500 lbs.
Examples: Dodge Ram 5500, Ford F-550, Freightliner M2 GMC 5500, International TerraStar
The job capabilities of Class 4 and Class 5 trucks tend to overlap a bit. Aside from Class 4 jobs, Class 5 trucks can also do construction and “fleet vehicle” work. This category includes all remaining bucket trucks, large walk-ins, and city delivery trucks.
Weight: 19,501 – 26,000 lbs.
Examples: Chevrolet Kodiak (GMC TopKick) C6500, Ford F-650, Freightliner M2 106, International Durastar 4300
Beverage trucks, rack trucks, single-axle trucks, and school buses are some of the vehicles that fall under Class 6. They look and feel like Class 5 vehicles, except they can tow and haul heavier loads. In fact, you can spec Class 6 trucks to work almost as well as Class 7 and 8 vehicles.
Weight: 26,001 – 33,000 lbs.
Examples: Ford F-750, GMC C7500, International WorkStar, Mack Granite
If you want to drive a Class 7 truck, you need a Class-B commercial driver’s license (CDL) as Class 7 drivers mostly work in heavy duty industries like construction, garbage collection, and livestock transportation. Vehicles under this category include tractors and city transit buses.
To get a CDL, visit your state’s DMV, ask for a Class-B CDL application form, and get ready for a written and a practical test. You will also be required to take a physical test (to make sure your eyes and ears are in good shape) every two years and be at least 21 years old to drive a commercial truck on interstate highways.
Weight: 33,001 lbs. and heavier
Examples: Tractor Trailer, 18-Wheelers
Of the trucks on this list, Class 8 trucks are one of the most common. Sleeper cabs, dump trucks, truck tractors, and cement trucks are examples of Class 8 vehicles.
Since Class 8 trucks are the biggest and heaviest of their kind, they require drivers to get a Class-A or Class-B CDL. Class-A CDLs are for combination vehicles like tractor-trailers, while Class-B CDLs are for non-combination vehicles.
There’s a lot of consideration that goes into buying a truck — there’s no doubt about that! By knowing what kind of jobs you intend to do and what kind of hauling, speed, and other capabilities you’ll need, you’ll be better able to choose the model and classification that’s right for you.