Quick Question: What Makes a Truck a Truck?

Truck YeahThe trucks are good!

Earlier today I was doing some research on an interesting 4x4 vehicle that predated the world-famous Jeep, when an interesting question came up: is a Jeep a truck? It seems like a passenger vehicle, but it was technically categorized as a truck. And that got me thinking: what exactly makes a truck a truck?


Even though the United States War Department called the iconic Willys Jeep a truck, I’m just not sure I really agree with that categorization.

I mean, yes, a Jeep has many traits we think of when we think of trucks: a utilitarian purpose, body-on-frame construction, a body with a rear that sort of resembles a truck bed, kinda, and so on.

Even so, I still don’t really feel like a Jeep is a truck, at least not as I understand trucks.

In fact, there are many vehicles that I absolutely consider trucks that don’t meet many technical qualifications you might think would be needed for a truck.


Those 1980s Volkswagen Rabbit-based pickups, for example, were unibody, transverse-engined vehicles, which doesn’t seem archetypically truck-like, but these things were definitely trucks.


Is it the fact that they were primarily designed to haul cargo instead of passengers? Maybe, but there’s plenty of vehicles that carry lots of people, like military troop carriers, that we’d definitely think of as trucks.


And what about something like an old Ford Bronco? It’s sort of a truck, but I absolutely think of this body variant of it as more of a truck than this one:


It’s essentially the same car, but there’s one key difference: the passenger and cargo areas are not separated, physically or conceptually, on the gold one, while the red one defines a separate cab/cargo area.

So, I think for me, the essence of truckness is that separation: if there’s pretty much any kind of division between a passenger compartment and an open (even if it gets a cap or something, a fundamentally open area) cargo area, then it’s a truck.


This means that, yes, I consider Australian-type “utes” as being in the truck family, even if they’re mechanically based on cars. I think conceptually I’m okay with that.


This also keeps big rigs and box trucks firmly in the truck camp, and things like Jeeps in the non-truck camp.

But it is possible to move between camps! Truckness can be fluid. For example, slap a half-cab on a Jeep, and, yeah, I’ll consider it a truck:


Take it off, and I probably won’t.

So, to recap, I think truckness isn’t a state of technical construction, but rather of body design: is there a clear separation—even if not total—between cargo and passenger areas? Even if those cargo areas can be fitted to accommodate passengers, like a Subaru Brat? If so, then I say we have a truck.


What do you think of this categorization? Does it make sense? Am I, yet again, a moron? Tell me.

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About the author

Jason Torchinsky

Senior Editor, Jalopnik • Running: 1973 VW Beetle, 2006 Scion xB, 1990 Nissan Pao, 1991 Yugo GV Plus • Not-so-running: 1973 Reliant Scimitar, 1977 Dodge Tioga RV (also, buy my book!)