Cab Chassis vs. Pickup Truck: What’s the Difference?

Have you ever been shopping for a light-duty truck and wondered about the differences between cab chassis and pickup trucks? While they both offer great load-carrying capabilities, several characteristics distinguish them from one another. Knowing these differences will help you choose the type of vehicle that works best for your needs while ensuring optimum performance.



Cab Chassis trucks offer more opportunity for customization than a typical pickup truck because they do not come with a standard box bed. As such, the owner has greater freedom to make modifications for particular uses or according to their tastes, allowing for much higher levels of personalization than what is typically available from a pre-fabricated pickup truck. Whether it is a service body, flat-deck body, refrigerated body, or tipper tray, these can all be constructed on cabin chassis frames. Pickup trucks, by contrast, are limited in the types of cargo they can carry and how they can be modified. Therefore, cab chassis trucks are far more customizable than pickups, offering potential users greater flexibility in transporting goods or passengers.

Examples of Customizations That Can Be Made to Cab Chassis Trucks

Compared to pickup trucks, Cab chassis trucks offer a great degree of customization for various needs. Below are some examples of customizing your cab chassis trucks.

  • Service bodies – This type of box sits on the rear of the cab and chassis, often used in trades, such as plumbing, electrical contracting, and landscaping.
  • Flat-deck bodies – The cargo area can be constructed with a flat deck to accommodate larger items, such as building materials, logs, or machinery parts.
  • Refrigerated bodies – A refrigerated body is used to keep goods cold during transportation, often for the food-delivery or medical industries.
  • Tipper trays – This can be made with a tiltable tray that allows for easy offloading of loads.

Payload Capacity

Chassis cab trucks generally have a higher payload capacity than pickup trucks, making them ideal for heavy-duty applications such as hauling large, heavy cargo. This higher payload capacity is due to various factors, notably the use of heavier-duty materials in the frame and suspension components, along with larger rear axles that can distribute weight more evenly across four wheels. Additionally, many chassis cab trucks are even custom-built to meet customers’ desired specs for their needs. For this reason, these trucks can often be modified greater than any other class of vehicle.

Factors That Contribute to Payload Capacity in Both Types of Vehicles

  1. The rear axle ratio: Higher ratios typically mean an increased payload capacity, and lower ratios usually result in a lower payload rating. Trucks with low ratios are better suited for heavy hauling tasks, while those with higher ratios are often more effective with lighter loads where acceleration plays an important role.
  2. Configuration of the truck: Depending on the configuration of the truck, it may provide varying degrees of payload capacity. So choosing the right body and suspension can drastically affect how much weight you can carry in the cab. Upgrading to heavy-duty axels and a reinforced frame can help increase payload capacity as well.
  3. Its weight: This is the biggest factor in determining maximum payload capacity – the lighter the truck, the higher its potential carrying capacity. Additionally, certain modifications, such as larger tires and a polished chassis, can increase weight capacity by improving the vehicle’s overall stability and load-bearing capability.
  4. Motor and transmission: Factors such as engine displacement, the type of transmission, and torque influence the amount of weight that can be safely transported on a chassis cab truck. While bigger motors and transmissions mean more payload capacity, they also affect fuel consumption, so it is important to balance capacity with efficiency.

Towing Ability

Pickup trucks are known for having greater towing power than most chassis cab trucks due to their larger frame and more powerful engine. Regarding sheer lifting power, pickup vehicles can haul significantly heavier loads than their lighter-bodied counterparts. For those needing a truck that can transport extensive gear or handle complex hauling jobs, pickup models are the better option for maximum performance and reliability. Moreover, chassis cab trucks offer more versatility in terms of usage, making them well-suited for businesses that require frequent deliveries or hauls across long distances.

Factors That Influence a Vehicle’s Towing Capacity

  1. Suspension: Good shocks and suitable springs help ensure the ride is smooth even under heavy weight and that a vehicle can handle towing without damaging the frame or overtaxing different systems. Drivers should research their chosen model and find out what kind of suspension system it has and whether it has been tested for successful towing ability.
  2. Engine: Different engine types have different capabilities for towing, so it is essential to consider how much power your engine needs to pull a trailer reliably and safely. 
  3. Transmission: Different transmissions contain distinct torque and gearing ratios, determining a car’s maximum hauling ability. For example, an automatic transmission may provide smooth gear shifting but may come with lower torque ratings than a manual transmission. 

Horsepower and Torque

The higher horsepower and torque ratings in pickup trucks play an integral role in their performance. Horsepower is the measure of power a vehicle can produce, representing its ability to accelerate. In contrast, torque describes the vehicle’s capacity for work and is represented by its turning and pulling strength. These factors together explain why pickups have a reputation for overall power, as they have consistently higher horsepower and torque ratings than other types of vehicles. That said, manufacturers must balance these two elements for optimal performance. A high horsepower alone won’t guarantee a smooth ride if there isn’t enough torque to back it up.

Fuel Efficiency

When it comes to fuel efficiency, cab chassis trucks and pickup trucks have some differing characteristics. Cab chassis trucks are generally larger than pickup trucks, and because of this, they require more fuel to run, meaning they usually have bigger fuel tanks. This allows them to travel long distances without having to refuel as often. 

In addition, cab chassis trucks typically have better fuel economy ratings than their pickup counterparts. They also tend to be quieter when driving due to the absence of a pickup bed, lessening the drag on the vehicle’s exterior. In short, though both types of vehicles may offer efficient transportation for their respective needs, roofed cab chassis trucks edge out in terms of fuel economy compared to pickups.

Factors That Affect Fuel Efficiency in Both Types of Vehicles

Driving a cab chassis or pickup truck can be economical when fuel efficiency is optimized. So to maximize your ride, pay attention to a few key factors below that can affect these vehicles’ fuel efficiency.

  1. Weight: A heavier vehicle consumes more fuel than a lighter one. The truck’s weight and the amount of weight it carries will affect its MPG (miles per gallon) rating.
  2. Driving habits: How you drive your vehicle will also impact fuel economy. Accelerating quickly and driving at high speeds places greater stress on the engine, which consumes more fuel than gradual acceleration at lower speed levels.
  3. Tire pressure: Properly inflated tires are crucial for overall vehicle performance, as they help improve fuel efficiency. Low tire pressure causes more drag, resulting in a greater demand for fuel from the engine. Similarly, high tire pressure can negatively affect the tires by other means, like decreasing traction, which results in uneven tread wear, so it’s best to keep the tire pressure at the recommended level. 

Bottom Line

Understanding the differences between cab chassis and pickup trucks is important when selecting the right vehicle for your needs. Cab chassis trucks are generally larger than pickups and typically come with better fuel economy ratings due to their enclosed design. On the other hand, pickups tend to offer higher horsepower and torque ratings, making them well-suited for heavy hauling purposes. Nonetheless, both vehicles can benefit from optimizing weight load, driving habits, and tire pressure to maximize fuel efficiency. That said, drivers should consider their specific needs and priorities when choosing between these two types of vehicles.



About the author, Laurence Perkins

Laurence Perkins is the passionate car enthusiast behind the blog My Auto Machine. With over a decade of experience in the automotive industry, Perkins has knowledge and experience with a wide range of car makes and models. His particular interests lie in performance and modification, and his blog covers these topics in-depth. In addition to his own blog, Perkins is a respected voice in the automotive community and writes for various automotive publications. His insights and opinions on cars are highly sought-after.