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What do the numbers on pickup trucks mean? Add to ...

We own a Chevy Silverado 1500 pickup. Could you please tell us what the difference is in the size of truck engines (e.g.: Ford F-150/GM 1500, F-250/GM 2500, F-350/GM 3500, etc.)? Is there a relationship between the numbers on the sides of trucks and engine sizes?

Many thanks, Wendy – Gibsons, BC

Although it’s not obvious, many people take these truck badges to mean more than they really stand for Wendy, so this is a great question.

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To begin, there is no relationship between the numbers on the sides of trucks and engine sizes. Those numbers are model numbers and back in the day, they actually stood for the approximate weight carrying capacity of the truck.

Typically full-size pickups come in three designations:

  • Half ton – approximately 1,000 pound capacity
  • Three-quarter ton – approximately 1,500 pound capacity
  • One ton – approximately 2,000 pound capacity

Ford has also been active in marketing a 1-½ ton version called an F-450.

Each rating comes with its own manufacturer’s numeric designation – those numbers you see on the sides and rear of these trucks.

For years it was assumed that the numeric values corresponded with the weight carrying capacity and that these numbers were very similar. As an example, half ton trucks used to be tagged with the number 1, 10, 100 or 1000. Some of the earlier half tons wore the numbers 15, 150. This “between number” usually denoted that this pickup was built with heavy duty parts to increase the payload slightly more than a regular half ton. three-quarter ton pickups displayed 2, 20, 250 or 2500 and 1 ton trucks wore 3, 30, 300, 350 or 3500.

These numbers came into common usage in the early 1960s as pickup trucks were built with a modern flair and modern suspensions. The idea was to get people to use them more as an everyday vehicle, than as a truck. Wendy, the marketing gurus were right on the money because pickups, on average, are used as pickup trucks only 5 per cent of the time. As the years went on and pickups became more comfortable, the manufacturers began settling on standardized numerical models. Nowadays, all but Ford uses a four digit numbering system. Ford stuck with their history and continue to use the three number system led by the letter “F”. This letter was used from about 1948 to differentiate the Ford product from the Canadian built Mercury trucks. These trucks used the letter “M” to signify the slightly upscale models coming from Windsor, Ontario.

As for engine sizes, I don’t have enough bandwidth to go into all the permeations of models – engines – transmissions – rear axle – two-wheel drive and four-wheel drive combinations.

And one last little note, lest you think these numbers are no big deal. Just ask Ferrari how big a deal the combination of “F”, “1”, “5” and “0” is when they are place in this order. Last year Ford Motor Company launched a lawsuit against Ferrari over the use of F150. The lawsuit has since been downplayed but you don’t mess around with the most popular and highest sales nameplate in North American history.

Send your auto maintenance and repair questions to globedrive@globeandmail.com

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