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US Pick-up Truck Culture

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Over the past couple of decades, the pick-up truck has increased dramatically in popularity in the United States. The big, slow, under-stressed lump of metal that is the engine evokes a return to the American values of a vehicle being simple, macho and powerful; values that were buried during the oil crisis years of the 1970s.

Driving a big pick-up truck down the highway conveys an image that you, your mate and your dog are taking lumber to the site, even if you are just taking kids to school or a business presentation to a client. Most people in the United States do not work on the site, and do not need to transport lumber. In fact they never use the flat bed at all.

Occasionally, you can bluff that instead of using your truck for shifting wood, you're using it for hunting. The best way to convince people that you are a hunter, without the effort of actually going out and shooting something and lugging it to your truck and scratching the paint as you haul the carcass into the flat bed, is to spend as much time as possible hanging around the gun section of Walmart wearing camouflage gear1.

A pick-up truck is about individuality and this is why everybody has a truck.

Choosing a Pick-up

First off, choose between mid-sized and full-sized pick-ups. Even though you really will never need the extra load space of a full sized pick-up, do not buy the more economical mid-sized vehicle. It will probably be more practical, but you will spend your days driving being looked down on by people in bigger pick-ups. If you wanted to do that, you might as well have bought a proper car.

American Pick-ups

There are three main brands of American pick-up truck. All of these come with a range of engines, with capacities somewhere between huge and vast, different-sized cabs and different loading abilities. They can all reach twenty feet in length and weigh up to 9000lbs.

  • The Ford F-Series - The Ford F series of pick-ups are the best-selling cars on sale in the United States. They hark back to 1948. The current range starts with the F-150 with a half-ton capacity, and includes the Super Duty F-250 and F-350 with three-quarters of a ton capacity. The Ford F-150 Lightning took over from a Vietnamese Jeep as the worst car BBC Top Gear's Jeremy Clarkson had ever driven.

    0-60mph in a millionth of a second. Enough space in the back for a dead bear. And on a challenging road about as much fun as a wasabi enema.
    - Jeremy Clarkson
  • The Dodge Ram - The Ram is often taken less as a model name and more of a driving suggestion to the owners of these behemoths (see tailgating). Dodge did attempt to build a hybrid version of the Ram, but it never reached production.

  • Chevrolet Silverado - This is the second best-selling pick-up on sale in the US, the name dates back to the mid-1970s.

Sports Pick-ups

If having a four-litre, 250-horsepower engine wasn't enough, all three of these pick-ups can come fitted with the engine from their firm's supercars; the Ford GT, Dodge Viper and Chevrolet Corvette.

Japanese Pick-ups

Many of the big Japanese manufacturers also produce pick-up trucks. Whether these are serious attempts at breaking into the market, or vehicles just made to latch onto the macho pick-up image is not known. These trucks are in all likelihood better made, with better engines and more features than their American competitors. However, buying a pick-up isn't about what is sensible; it is about buying a lump of American metal, so don't buy a Japanese truck. These are the leading brands, they all have their own individual selling points:

  • Honda Ridgeline - more bright ideas.

  • Nissan Titan - the name sounds big.

  • Mitsubishi Raider - more intimidating.

  • Toyota Tundra - more cupholders.


There are some options to think about when buying a pick-up. The most important thing to specify is the number of cup holders; a good ratio is double the amount of seats in the cab. More space is devoted to cupholders than legroom.

Now look at the engine, and ignoring that the speed limit is 55mph in most states, pick the biggest engine possible (except if the biggest engine is a diesel). The diesel alternative may be more economical and possibly have more torque2, but remember that driving a pick-up is not about being sensible; it is about being macho. So V8 and V10 petrols are the only choice for real pick-up drivers.

Next we have the cabin. You can have the standard three-seat cab, you can have it with two small seats in the back, or you can have it with proper seating for adults in the rear. You will never have to carry five adults in your truck, because at least one seat is going to be taken up by your dog3, and all your other mates have pick-ups and they will drive them whereever you are all going in a convoy in an attempt to imitate Kris Kristofferson.

Next option is four-wheel drive; this is a good thing to get, for even without the mythical lumber and only half of the 16 cupholders filled with super-sized milkshakes and coffees, you take one of these vehicles off road, it will sink and you need four-wheel drive to get out. Or rather you need four-wheel drive to tow your mate out. If you want at this stage you can add an extra two tyres onto the back of the truck, this makes it easier to knock down postboxes or cyclists.

The last thing you need to add onto your truck is a customised toolbox to fit on the side of the flatbed. This will provide a dry space to store your shopping. You should not put tools in this box because people will expect you to know how to use them.

Pick-up Characteristics


Not good. With a four ton truck and aerodynamics modelled on a brick, most engines will struggle to move a pick-up. While the bigger engines provide good acceleration, high top speeds should not be expected. This is okay, because the chassis will give up long before the engine.

Fuel Economy

Almost none. Some trucks can have a tank with a capacity of up to 60 US gallons (227 litres) so that if your truck only makes it ten miles on every gallon, you can be confidant on reaching the next filling station. A truck's thirst will lead to you knowing most filling station attendants on a first-name basis.


Laughable at best.

Driving Your Truck

Climb up into the cab, turn on the engine and press your foot down on the accelerator. The noise of the V8 drowns out the planet's cries of despair. Now it is time to head out on (and probably damage) the open highway.


This is the driving skill you have to develop if you want to drive a pick-up. Many US driving instruction manuals say that the responsibility of keeping a safe space rests with the driver of the vehicle in front; that driver should slow down or tap the brake pedal to warn the following driver. People do not tend to do that when the vehicle behind is double the weight and all you can see in the rear view mirror is a shiny chrome grill.

First of all you have to forget that the rules on safety and braking on pick-ups are less strict than cars because they are counted as commercial vehicles. You should then forget the physics that says that without weight in the bed of the truck, the rear wheels will lock when braking strongly. Finally cast out your mind the simple fact that a car has less than half the inertia of a pick-up and most likely better brakes so will stop much quicker. There is a simple reason why all these are totally irrelevant. Tailgating pick-up style involves driving so close that you don't have time to react to the car in front, so braking never comes into the equation.

For somebody brought up on the 'two second rule'4 it can come as a culture shock to see a pick-up following another pick-up following another pick-up at 55mph, all within two seconds.

High Driving Position

There are a number of benefits to having a high driving position. The main one is that you can scare car drivers. The second one is that you can see what is happening on the road ahead of the car or van you are tailgating, though this doesn't often help, because if you brake, you will be hit by the truck that is tailgating you. It does mean that you can see at least three cars ahead, so you know what you will crash into when the front car brakes.

The benefit that pick-up drivers don't admit to is that sitting up high means they are nearly on the same level as lorry drivers, this makes it easier for them to imagine that they are Patrick Swayze in Black Dog or, more importantly, Kris Kristofferson in Convoy.


Remember that there is lots of spare land in the United States and that people who design car parks will have taken account of large pick-ups wanting to park there. If possible park in at least three spaces.

Moving Things

Don't. If you put things in the back of your pick-up, it may scratch the paint. If you think that having a pick-up will make you the friend people call on to help move stuff, they won't because they will also have a pick-up. The most important thing about owning a pick-up truck is not moving a large shipment of lumber to the site; it is being able to move a large amount of wood5.

Accessories For Your Pick-up

  • A dog - Currently no dealer is selling a pick-up with a dog, but it will only be time before they do

  • A shotgun - In some states it is legal to carry a firearm as long as it is on display. Having a shotgun on display comes in useful when you have to sort out a dispute after you hit somebody while tailgating them causing them to get covered in milkshake.

In Conclusion

Pick-up trucks are antiquated technology, amazingly inefficient, generally not used for their intended purpose, and are a danger to the driver and everybody else using the road. It is quite a surprise that there is no amendment in the US constitution protecting a citizen's right to own one.

1Green camouflage gear does not work in a supermarket but it seems that everybody in the hunting and guns section wears it. However, you never see anybody wearing it in any other section of Walmart. Perhaps it does work in supermarkets after all...2This is only possibly because diesel technology in the US hasn't progressed since people were burning Beatles records.3Dogs don't go in the back of the truck; they may damage the paintwork.4The two-second rule suggests that on a clear dry road you should maintain a minimum gap of two seconds between you and the vehicle in front to allow you to react.5In much the same way that people will buy a watch that can withstand the pressure of being 50 metres under water. They will never use it 50 metres under water, but at least they know they can if they want to.

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