Last Updated on February 28, 2022
Trucks have come a long way since the invention of the Ford Model T in 1908. These vehicles have evolved into many different forms to suit a wide variety of purposes. There are so many now, that modern society makes things simple by categorizing trucks based on size and application. But how many different types of trucks are there?
Let’s start by looking at categories. Trucks are divided into three groups: light duty, medium duty and heavy duty, as well as eight class sizes (1-8). Light duty trucks (class sizes 1-3) have a weight limit of up to 14,000 pounds. Medium duty trucks (class sizes 4-6) have a weight limit from 14,001 pounds to 26,000 pounds. Heavy duty trucks (class 7-8) have a weight limit of more than 26,000 pounds.
Brands for light duty and medium duty trucks include a lot of popular names. Such examples are Ford, GMC, Dodge, Honda, and Toyota, etc. Brands of medium duty and heavy duty trucks include Freightliner, Kenworth, Mack, Peterbilt, Volvo, and Western Star.
People refer to trucks by different names based on what the truck is hauling, but what is being hauled doesn’t change the type of truck.
For example, if the trailer is temperature controlled for transporting cold items, the truck is often referred to as a reefer (short for refrigerated). If the trailer is a car transporter, then the truck is called a car carrier. If the trailer is designed for transporting fluids, then the truck is called a tanker. But, in many cases, you have the exact same truck models with the same features hauling these trailers. Therefore, multiple names get used to describe the same truck – a hauler (more on haulers below).
On the other hand, some trucks like cement trucks, fire trucks and service trucks have a dedicated purpose. You can’t easily change what they do. Doing so requires days and a lot of money to alter the truck body.
When considering truck applications, there are dozens of different types. Each one can be grouped into four classifications: government, construction, haulers, and other.
Fire trucks are built on heavy, medium, and light truck bodies.
Heavy trucks in firefighting applications serve as ladder trucks or larger fire engines. They also carry a lot of other firefighting equipment, including personnel.
Looking for heavy equipment near you?
We'll email you with heavy equipment up for auction near you and featured auctions.
Medium trucks serve as smaller fire engines and as ladder trucks in rural areas. In these places, the long-frame chassis of the heavy trucks would be disadvantageous against rough terrain.
The light trucks serve as vehicles for the fire chief.
Garbage trucks are an essential means for waste collection and come in one of four different configurations: a rear loader (compactor), a front loader, a side loader, and a roll-off truck.
Different configurations help accommodate customer preferences (usually municipalities), who want the crew to perform their work safely and quickly.
The rear loader configuration is a fairly standard version. Usually, one person drives the truck and one person picks up the waste. The latter tosses trash into the rear of the machine, and occasionally presses a button that activates the compaction feature.
Side loaders can be similar to the rear loaders, except waste enters the side of the truck instead of its rear. These trucks can also have a single arm for grabbing, dumping, and returning residential-sized garbage containers. With a side arm, there is no need for a second person and a lot of risk becomes eliminated.
Front loaders have an arm extending from both sides of the truck to the truck’s front. The arms stick into the handles of commercial-sized garbage containers, raise to dump the material into the truck, then put down the container.
While the first three trucks are more likely to be medium to heavy trucks, a roll off garbage truck is usually a medium to light truck. This type has a deep bed that can be rolled off the chassis for waste removal. Uniquely, roll-offs are completely manual. They are frequently used for collection of large waste items at demolition and construction sites.
Ambulances aren’t often thought of as trucks, but they are built on a truck chassis. Oftentimes, the chassis is a Ford or Chevy 350 or 450, which puts them in the light truck category.
Modern society categorizes ambulances by truck type and by application.
There are three truck types. Type 1 features a boxy-looking patient compartment mounted onto a truck chassis. With this design, people can’t go directly from the cab into the patient compartment. Type 2 are vans that have passage from the cab to the patient compartment. Type 3 features a boxy-looking patient compartment mounted onto a cutaway van chassis. With this type, there is passage between the cab and patient compartment.
Ambulance applications include first response, patient transport, basic life support, advanced life support, multiple victim assistance, isolation, neonatal care, and bariatric.
Police forces employ trucks, especially light trucks, for a number of purposes. Reasons include off-road and rough terrain travel, carrying increased or specialized equipment not available on police cars, transporting police personnel or detained persons, and more.
Governments use trucks in military applications to transport, haul, repair, roadbuild, demolish, and for combat. Military truck types can be light, medium or heavy depending on their application.
The dump truck is an easily recognizable truck. This vehicle has a dump body and may be on the same medium or heavy truck frames as the short haul trucks. Or they could be an articulated dump truck (ADT). An ADT is not street legal. It has an articulation point between the cab and the dump, so the machine can swivel to either side. This aids in traveling across rough terrains.
Another iconic construction truck is the cement truck (also called a concrete truck or a ready-mix truck). These machines come with a giant drum mixer for working the concrete.
Another version of a cement truck exists – the volumetric mixer truck. This one actually doesn’t have a mixer, but instead has several large containers. In each one is an ingredient needed to make concrete (cement, water and aggregate). The concrete gets mixed on location right before being used. This is because concrete can’t be used two hours after being mixed. Two hours doesn’t give concrete placers much time to use it after leaving the concrete plant.
A mobile crane is sometimes referred to as a crane truck. This truck type is equipped with a crane cab and boom for heavy lifting. Mobile cranes are used for lifting parts of a building and building materials, or for assembling larger stationary cranes.
A long hauler is a truck that is designed to haul a long trailer full of cargo across long distances (thousands of miles) and maybe even across US borders to neighbouring Canada and Mexico.
Long haulers have three axles and a king pin (also called a fifth wheel) into which the trailer is fitted. The trailer is not part of the truck.
These kinds of trucks are called tractors, because their main function is to pull, just as a farm tractor’s original main function was to pull farm implements across the field. And as other trucks have a truck body (garbage, fire, cement mixer, etc.), tractors have no body. They have just an engine and a cab.
The short hauler transports goods from one place to another. While long haulers perform interstate transport, short haulers only travel in between nearby cities or between two field operations that are far apart. An example would be hauling between a logging operation and the mill.
There is a similarity between the short hauler and the long hauler. The same type of trucks are used in both scenarios. For this reason, there are only a few minor options to consider when deciding between long or short hauling routes.
Long haulers should be equipped with engine options and other features that make it very fuel efficient, able to tow a lot, and have a comfortable cab. It may even come equipped with its own bed. This is known as a sleeper cab.
Short haulers should be equipped with engine options and other features that provide fuel efficiency, and maneuverability. They should also have engine responsiveness in city driving or rugged durability in rough terrain settings. Short haulers tow shorter trailers with less weight.
Popular applications include bringing agricultural products to market, transportation of large equipment components between different manufacturing facilities, and the transportation of logs.
A ballast tractor is a tractor used for hauling really heavy or large loads – ones for which a specialty permit is required.
It features either a 6×6 or a 6×4 drivetrain configuration and a ballast (a heavy weight) sits on top of the driving wheels to improve traction. Instead of a kingpin, it uses a drawbar to push or pull loads.
Being able to pull and push loads allows for the use of two tractors for one load – one at the front and one at the rear. Common ballast tractor configurations include an independent drawbar trailer, a modular wheeled trailer unit, or dolly trailer. Lowboy semi-trailers are sometimes used to decrease a load’s center of gravity.
The types of items these trucks transport include large heavy equipment or sections of ships, buildings, and wind turbines.
A shunt truck delivers goods, components, or people on the same property.
Shunt trucks aren’t road worthy, but they are legally allowed to be driven on the road.
They mostly get used on large properties, such as airports, manufacturing and logistics facilities, and car race venues. These trucks shunt material, vehicles, and people, from one part of the premises to another.
Tow trucks are designed to haul a very specific category of items – other vehicles. They are usually light or medium trucks, but even really large vehicles need to be towed. That’s why some are heavy trucks.
Other Types of Trucks
These trucks look like gigantic vans and are sometimes referred to as delivery vans.
Their most popular use is postal and package delivery. These are the trucks that bring you your mail. Today, the combination of internet buying, pandemic-induced deliveries,and stay-at-home orders, has led to an increase number of these trucks on the road.
When trucks haul a bunch of small loads for several customers instead of one load for one customer, the application is called less than load (LTL).
The most notable feature of these trucks besides their boxy design is that they often come equipped with just one seat. No passengers allowed.
Medium and light trucks aid in snow and ice management by plowing streets and salting them. This is another example of a non-permanent application. Both the plow blade and ice spreader are add-ons and can easily be removed.
Medium and light trucks serve as service trucks. They have multiple locked storage compartments for placing tools needed for servicing other vehicles and machines.
The pickup truck is a very common truck and is one of the few trucks people purchase for non-work reasons. It’s one of the few types of trucks whose main purpose is no different than a car – transporting people from A to B.
Although owning a pickup may be just a manifestation of one’s self-expression, it does have work functions. That includes the hauling and transportation of personnel and equipment, especially on rough terrain.
A flatbed truck is a light truck similar to a pickup truck, but the bed of the truck has no walls.This allows the transportation of items wider than the width of the interior of a pickup truck bed.
Although watching trucks is entertaining, monster trucks are the only trucks built specifically for entertainment. They can be light, medium or heavy trucks, and take on an assortment of features. Generally, these vehicles feature extra large tires, extra high ground clearance, a lot of power, and a colorful, exotic, and sometimes monstrous exterior.
What’s Your Kind of Truck?
So how many different types of trucks are there? The answer – too many to count, but all serving their purposes. Some are more unique than others. Some smaller. Others are larger. We best understand trucks by dividing them into groups based on size and application. Otherwise, we would rack our minds trying to figure out which trucks we need, either for work or personal use.
Now that you understand trucks more, what kind of truck are you looking for? Spend some time identifying your needs. Do you need a truck for personal or business use? Are you looking for one truck or a fleet? Once you’ve made a plan, consider your options. Begin your truck search here at Municibid.