The days of a pickup truck being just a work truck ended long ago. This we can all agree on.
What is not universally agreed on, in our realm, is what that means in selecting the best tire for the modern pickup truck.
I don't mean the best brand or the best value, and definitely not what the least expensive "image" tire will go along as a packaged afterthought to the wheels your customer special ordered.
I mean from an application-based perspective, considering the truck's size and capacity.
Let's start with some basics. First, you've probably noticed that vehicles have gotten significantly larger over the last 10 years. The modern Chevrolet Colorado "entry truck" closely mirrors the dimensions of the former C/K 1500 full size of the mid 1990s.
This deserves a closer look and understanding of what that means for the proper tire applications for these modern pickup trucks. Let's start with a quick look at the government's own rating system, the gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) classes.
Briefly, the GVWR class is based solely on weight. And by weight, this means if a 10,000-pound rating applies to a truck, that means everything — passengers, fuel and cargo. This exists for many reasons, but mostly for safety regulations as well as commercial designations and registration purposes.
So, a Class 1 truck means 6,000 lbs. or less maximum load. Currently in the U.S., pretty much only the Toyota Tacoma and Nissan Frontier are still there.
Most trucks you are probably seeing in the shops, such as the Ford F-150, Chevrolet Silverado 1500, GMC Sierra 1500, Ram 1500, Toyota Tundra and Nissan Titan fall into Class 2 category (6,001 to 10,000 lbs.)
I'm told manufacturers also consider a Class 2B (GVWR 8,500 to 10,000 pounds) because 8,500 pounds is the cutoff at which they no longer are required to provide EPA MPG estimates on window stickers.
This includes heavy-duty pickups such as the Ford Super Duty series, along with Chevrolet and GMC 2500s and Ram 2500s. 3500 pickups are basically all Class 3 (10,001-14,000 lbs.) trucks as far as GVWR is concerned.
From a marketing perspective, the misleading and archaic terms half-ton, three-quarter ton and one ton are still being used (and probably should stop).
The reason for this is simple. Modern half-ton trucks mostly comprise the entire GVWR Class 2 list. Today these trucks tend to have a curb weight (weight empty but ready-to-drive) around 5,000-plus pounds and payload capacities of between 1,000 and 3,000 pounds. Manufacturers tend to claim they can tow between 5,000 and 10,000-plus pounds.
Because modern pickup trucks mostly are designed and packaged with a daily driver in mind, it is easy to lose sight of the importance of load capacity on replacement tires. I liken this to the days of the UHP/plus-sizing era of the early 2000s. When I was more retail-consumer facing during this time, the education battle we commonly had was of educating the customer on maintaining a Z or higher speed rating.
A common argument was that the customer wasn't driving 150 mph. Of course not, but I frequently would have to explain the unexpected and undesired handling dynamics of a car whose suspension is turned for those Z-rated tires, and how terrible it could be with an H-rated touring tire replacing W-rated UHP all-season tires.
We find ourselves in a similar situation today with these larger light trucks and with the popularity of adding wheels and tires to these trucks. The modern "tuner" era of UHP tires is still quite alive; it has just shifted from a set of 245/275 staggered tires into a set of 33-or 35-inch M/T tires.
It remains critically important to remember to avoid the temptation, and to educate your customer on the load/GVWR ratings on their trucks, of placing a C load tire, or when upsizing, remember to adjust tire pressures for the correct ratings for these vehicles.
I have driven too many rental cars over the last few years to know tire pressure remains an elusive number for people who maintain vehicles or for the vehicle owners. I hope everyone knows the correct tire pressure for the vehicle (inside the door jamb) should be adhered to, versus what is on the tire's sidewall.
I used to tell people to follow the car's recommendation, not the tire's numbers on the sidewall. After all, the tire doesn't know what vehicle it is going onto. At the same time, truck owners will complain about overinflation causing a harsh ride.
This becomes critical when you see the large amount of three-quarter ton- trucks you may be seeing — notably the F250 and 2500 series of Chevrolet, GMC and Ram trucks.
Remember, these tend to weigh more than 6,000 pounds, have a payload max of 3,000-4,000 pounds and can tow up to around 13,000 pounds.
I encourage buyers to think carefully whether they really need the extra capability, but when you are dealing with these vehicles coming to you, it's beyond that point usually. Most don't need the 10,000-pound capacity for daily driving, but when you see a lifted truck with upsized wheels and tires, the three-quarter ton seems to be the go-to load capacity of the day.
I encourage you to be aware of the changes of these sizes and their effects on GVWR capacity and ratings for trucks.
Be sure there is an awareness via training and education of your staff on what these load ratings mean. And most importantly, educate customers on the nuances of maintaining the correct load and pressure for the application, especially when plus-sizing wheels and tires.
Edward Koczan is a veteran of the tire industry, having worked with Tire Rack Inc. and for several tire makers. Currently a corporate key account manager with Hankook Tire America Corp., Mr. Koczan is passionate about the industry and trends in the business. You may reach Edward at [email protected]