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What is a Pickup Truck?

Diane Goettel
Updated May 23, 2024
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A pickup truck, also spelled “pick-up truck,” is a light motor vehicle that has an enclosed cab in the front and a cargo area in the back with an open top. Pickup trucks almost always have rigid vertical sides with a flat bed in the back that serves as a tray for cargo. Furthermore, there is a rear gate that opens outward for easy loading and unloading. There are many different sizes of pickup trucks. In North America, full-size, mid-size, and compact trucks are all available. A full-size pickup truck is a large and heavy vehicle that generally runs on a V8 or six-cylinder engine. A compact pickup truck, on the other hand, is small and includes an inline four engine.

Generally, pickup trucks are simply designed as modified trucks with open backs. However, there are two pickup trucks that were designed from the body of a passenger car. These are the Chevrolet El Camino and the Ford Ranchero. Both vehicles were actually modified station wagons. Although these models included an integrated cargo bed, they were generally not considered to be pickup trucks due to their other structural features.

The first pickup truck to come off a factory assembly line was the Ford Model T Runabout with Pickup Body. Henry Ford debuted this vehicle in 1925 with a production of 34,000 units. That year, the Runabout cost $281 US Dollars. Three years later the Model A runabout replaced the Model T. Since then, the pickup truck has bee redesigned many times over by numerous automotive companies.

In this time span, the name for these utility vehicles has also changed. While they were first referred to by Ford as “Runabouts,” the term pickup truck has become the umbrella term for all vehicles in this class. The etymology of the name is simple. Pickup trucks are vehicles with which you can pick up loads of materials and supplies. Pickup trucks are used all over the world. In Australia and New Zealand, for example, they are referred to as “utes,” a variation on the term “utility vehicle.” In South Africa, pickup trucks are referred to as “bakkies,” while Egyptians refer to them as “half trucks.”

Legend has it that pickup trucks were born out of the Great Depression and the pragmatism and economical thinking that this period in history forced upon Americans. It is believed that one day, a man who was just scraping by approached an automotive manufacturer and said, “Why can’t you design something that I can use to take my family to church on Sunday and my pigs to market on Monday?” Like most legends, there is probably a kernel of truth in this one. While this exact conversation may never have taken place, the pickup truck was most likely designed for the type of man who would like to have one vehicle for both such purposes.

WikiMotors is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Diane Goettel
By Diane Goettel
"Diane Goettel has a BA from Sarah Lawrence College and an MA in English from Brooklyn College. Diane lives in Mount Vernon, New York with her husband, Noah. They are the proud parents of a Doberman Pinscher named Spoon. Specialties: book editing, book marketing, book publishing, freelance writing, magazine publishing, magazine writing, copywriting,"
Discussion Comments
By Logicfest — On May 28, 2014

Head on down to the South where a good pickup truck is often more desirable than a Cadillac or whatever German car is popular at the time.

I was once showing my pickup truck to a fellow who said it was a "city truck." I asked him what that meant, and he said it wasn't four-wheel-drive, so it was clearly a city truck instead of a country truck.

Strange terminology, but he had a point.

By Melonlity — On May 27, 2014

Remember when pickup trucks were typically single-cab vehicles with suspensions that were anything but refined, metal dashboards and an all-around ruggedness that made them less than fun to drive. Thank goodness things have changed. Great sound systems, crew cabs that can seat five adults in comfort, plush suspensions and other refinements have made pickup trucks as comfortable as passenger cars.

And, yet, they are still incredibly useful, utilitarian vehicles. They have truly become the vehicles that the fellow in the legend wanted -- one that can be used to take a family to church on Sunday and pigs to the market on Monday.

Diane Goettel
Diane Goettel
"Diane Goettel has a BA from Sarah Lawrence College and an MA in English from Brooklyn College. Diane lives in Mount...
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