Why Are Pickup Trucks So Big? 12 Common Reasons

Black Dodge RAM in parking lot with snow

I was recently driving through an area where every driveway had a truck parked in it. The thing that caught me off guard is how massive each truck was as I drove by in my little car. It might seem like a silly question, but why are pickup trucks so big? Is it just a random design decision or is there logic behind the idea?

A lot of the reasons have to do with what customers are looking for. We want trucks that are more powerful, safer, comfortable, more luxurious, great at off-roading, reliable, and cost-effective. When designers make their trucks larger, they achieve all of these features.

I set out to find the answer. I did some research and found out that there are 12 common reasons why pickup trucks are so big (and getting bigger). I’ll discuss this and more in the following sections.

The Four Pickup Sizes

Pickup trucks come in four different sizes (from smallest to largest):

  • Compact-mid size
  • Full-size
  • Heavy-duty
  • Ultra heavy-duty

The fact that there are large and extra-large options should be a good hint that big pickup trucks are in demand.

GMC Sierra parked on the side of the street
GMC Sierra

Dimensions of Some Popular Pickups

To better understand the scale of things, let me show you some dimensions of the more popular pickup trucks.

Ford F-150: 76in x 80in x 230in

Ram 1500: 78in x 82in x 235 in

GMC Sierra: 76in x 81in x 235 in

Chevy Silverado: 77in x 81in x 235in

Nissan Titan: 75.9in x 80in x 228in

Toyota Tundra: 77in x 80in x 238in

Honda Ridgeline: 71in x 79in x 210in

Comparing a Pickup to a Compact Car

Comparatively, let’s look at the measurements of a typical compact car. The two common ones that come to mind are the Civic and Camry.

Honda Civic: 56in x 71in x 179

Toyota Camry: 56in x 72in x 192

As you can see, pickups are about 20 inches longer in length, 10 inches wider, and upwards of 40 inches taller. That’s a huge difference.

If you ever pulled up to a stop sign in a Civic and arrived next to a Ram 1500, you already know how big this difference is.

Looking at the History of Pickups

You might remember that 30 years ago or so, trucks seemed a lot smaller. There were a lot of foreign trucks on the road that seemed to be pocket-sized when they get compared to the monsters of today.

Mid '90s Ford F-Series F150 Pickup Truck
Mid-’90s Ford F-Series Pickup Truck

For example, let’s look at a rusty old 1990 Ford F-150. It measured around 70in x 79in x 194in. While that still seems pretty big, it’s much smaller than today’s F-150’s.

It’s the same case for almost any truck you compare over the years. They get wider, taller, and longer.

Why Are Pickup Trucks So Big? 12 Common Reasons

Believe it or not, there are a lot of reasons why pickup trucks are so big. Here are 12 of the most common ones.

Easier to Design

A common problem with auto engineers is trying to fit all the components into such a small envelope. As more features become standard on modern vehicles, these designers have an even tougher time.

How can you fix this problem? Make the envelope way bigger.

By making trucks larger, designers can take a breather when it comes to cramming in all the different pieces. Cutting down on design time serves multiple purposes.

Safer

If you brush up on your physics, you’ll remember that larger, heavier items always win in crashes. If you hold a rock in one hand and an egg in the other then clap your hands together, the rock will always be okay in the end.

Ford F150 F-150 2016 Raptor Pickup Truck in Blue
2016 Ford F-150 Raptor

On the road, this means larger and heavier trucks are much safer. They can hold up after a crash while keeping everyone in the cab safe.

Another way that they’re safer is due to the fact that they’re easier to spot. It’s hard to miss a massive pickup if you’re pulling onto a highway or changing lanes. This added visibility helps truck drivers avoid accidents.

More Powerful

Who doesn’t love more power? In the case of pickup trucks, bigger trucks tend to have more horses under the hood.

Dodge Ram 2018
2018 Dodge RAM 1500

When I talked about how horsepower changes your ride, I focused on the RAM 1500 which offers around 360 horsepower.

As you venture into the ultra heavy-duty pickups, you’ll routinely find options with over 400 horses. If you want a truck with power, you’ll wind up getting the largest one on the lot.

More Cost-Effective

I mentioned earlier that the design time is dramatically reduced with a larger truck. Well, this time-saving converts into cost savings that the consumer sees.

Designing and prototyping a truck takes a ton of money and time for auto manufacturers. Since they’re not super into charity, they simply adjust the sticker price on all of their vehicles to make up this money.

In other words, a long and tedious design will cost you money.

Higher Reliability

Another benefit of working with more space is that parts of your truck can be laid out more intentionally and logically. As a result, your pickup will have a higher level of reliability.

Toyota Tundra TRD PRO in red up in the mountains covered in snow
Toyota Tundra TRD PRO

There are times where auto designers have to make unwise design decisions simply because they don’t have the room to work. This could result in parts butting up against each other and failing or creating friction and breaking.

Plus, the engines are way more reliable when they get bigger. For a small engine to make up power, they might need to include a supercharger or additional pieces which wind up just being extra things that can break.

Better Hauling and Towing Capacities

Hauling and towing capacities are two figures that consumers tend to really care about. It refers to how much weight you can throw in the bed of your truck or attach to the hitch at the rear of your pickup.

Typically, these capacities are a big selling point of different pickups. Owners want to know that they can confidently lug around the equipment that they need to.

When frameworks get beefier and trucks get bigger, then the hauling and towing capacities go up.

More Space for Cargo

The bed of the truck is where most people put their cargo. With a larger truck, the bed size is typically larger as well. As such, you can fit more equipment and gear.

Chevy Silverado Pickup Truck
Chevrolet Silverado Pickup Truck

People don’t want to be limited when it comes to space in their new pickup truck. Manufacturers know this, so they provide more space by making their trucks bigger.

This is also why the ultra heavy-duty line of trucks exists in the first place.

Added Passenger Space

Not only is there more room for your gear, but there’s more room for you, your friends, and your family inside.

With larger trucks, you get more headroom, more legroom, and more space to spread out.

In a lot of the bigger trucks, you feel tiny sitting in an area with so much room around you. Extended crew cabs also give you seating behind the driver’s seat so more people can jump into your ride.

Better Comfort and More Luxuries

While there’s no line of “luxury pickup trucks”, plenty of trucks have luxury options. This is especially true in the larger ones. With more space, the designers can give you more comforts and luxuries.

Nissan Titan 2017 Pickup Truck
2017 Nissan Titan

Fuel Economy Regulations

This is an interesting reason, actually. Back in the day when Obama was in office, one of the major focuses was on fuel economy. It makes sense if you want to cut down on the fossil fuel use of consumers.

Anyway, something that came out of the conversations was a rule that regulated fuel economy. It basically forced auto manufacturers to achieve a certain “miles per gallon” for their vehicles or else they can’t be sold in America.

How was that figure calculated? It had to do with the wheelbase and tread width. The wheelbase is the distance between the front and rear tires, and tread width is the distance between the driver-side and passenger-side wheels.

MPG miles per gallon comparison chart between cars and light trucks

The larger the vehicle, the lower the government-mandated fuel economy had to be.

In other words, if you could mass-produce a monster truck, you wouldn’t have to worry about overengineering the powertrain to get a high mpg.

People Simply Want Bigger Trucks

When the market speaks, manufacturers have to listen.

Historically, Americans are telling the folks at Chevy, Ford, and Nissan that we want bigger trucks. So, what do they do? Make bigger trucks.

Ford F150 F-150 pickup truck in grey

The fact that you see so many giant trucks on the road is proof positive of his idea. It’d be ridiculous if auto manufacturers try convincing the buyers that they actually want a smaller truck when big ones sell so well.

Better Off-Roading

A taller, wider, heavier vehicle will always do better in off-roading compared to an option with the opposite features.

Since many trucks are used on worksites or in tough climates, the size increase makes a lot of sense.

4×4 trucks were specifically made for driving in these types of conditions. It shouldn’t surprise you that almost all of the biggest pickups have 4WD for that very reason.

Conclusion

There you have it. There are a lot of reasons why pickup trucks keep getting bigger. Are you a fan of bigger trucks? Let me know in the comments below. Also, check out the rest of my site to find more articles. I have a list of products that every car owner should have.

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Ernest Martynyuk

An automotive enthusiast who's been tinkering with vehicles since I was 15-years old. Repairing automotive electronics has been my main job for over a decade now and have a passion for everything technical regarding cars.

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