A regular car can get you around town, but it can’t help you move or tow a trailer. If you need to move stuff as well as people, the decision before you is likely more along the lines of SUV vs truck.
Both of these vehicle styles are larger than cars. They can carry more, but they’re also harder to drive and use more gas. There are distinct advantages to each type of vehicle. Read on below for a full breakdown.
What is an SUV?
The term “SUV” stands for “Sport utility vehicle.” While similar to the station wagons of the ‘50s, the first true SUV was the Jeep Cherokee, released initially in 1984. SUVs gained popularity through the ‘90s and ‘00s. Today, they account for about a third of the vehicles on the road worldwide.
There’s no solid definition for SUVs like there is for cars and trucks. You can broadly consider them to be any vehicle with off-road capabilities. In practice, most SUVs are comparable in size to light-duty trucks, and many are built using a light-truck chassis.
SUVs come in a variety of sub-categories. These are usually divided by size, and include:
These are the smallest class, also called “subcompact SUVs”. They’re often made by Japanese manufacturers, including Suzuki, Mitsubishi, and Daihatsu.
Especially popular within the last decade, crossover SUVs are usually built on a passenger car frame rather than a truck frame. This gives them better gas mileage but reduces their towing and off-roading capacity.
These are larger than minis or crossovers, but still, typically use a passenger car frame.
This term is most widely used in North America. These are the smallest class of SUVs to use the traditional light truck frame.
The largest commonly-produced SUVs, these are the best at towing and off-roading in addition to being the largest. They may be built on a dedicated frame or based on a full-size pickup.
What is a truck?
While the generic term “truck” can encompass a variety of vehicles in a multitude of sizes, for the context of this article we’re talking about pickup trucks. Also called light-duty trucks, these are non-commercial 4-wheel vehicles with two sections. The passenger area is called the “cab”, while the cargo area is called the “bed”.
Many pickup trucks come with covers for the bed, but by default, the bed is typically open. Like SUVs, trucks come in a number of sub-categories:
Compact pickup trucks.
Also called “mini” or “coupe” pickups, these are designed for carrying light loads in cities and other places a small car is an advantage. While still popular in Europe and Asia, they’re the least popular style in North America.
Mid-size pickup trucks.
A mid-sized truck is a nice compromise, with more power than a compact in a smaller body than a full-size. You may be able to find mid-size pickups with comparable power and payload to some full-sized.
Full-size pickup trucks.
These both have more space and ride higher than compacts. They usually feature 4-wheel drive and can haul more weight. Further classifications are made based on payload capacity. A “half-ton truck”, for example, has a half-ton payload capability.
Heavy-duty pickup trucks.
These are the workhorses of the consumer truck world. They give you the highest payload of any non-commercial vehicle—typically 1 ton or more. Some also come with dual rear wheels, gooseneck hitches, and other features you can’t expect on smaller trucks.
Advantages and Disadvantages of SUVs
There are 5 main advantages to driving an SUV:
- More space. This is the biggest advantage of driving an SUV. These vehicles have the most interior space of any class. Typically, they can accommodate 6-8 passengers comfortably. Along with more people, they can carry more stuff.
- Safety. Since the vehicle is larger and sits higher, it protects the passengers better from injury in the case of collisions and accidents. They’re also known to perform well in bad weather. You’ll be less likely to slip over the road when it’s raining, for example. Sitting higher helps with this, too, since it increases your visibility.
- Versatility. Most SUVs feature fold-down or removable seats. You can choose how you want to distribute the space to meet your current needs, and change it back quickly.
- Maneuverability. SUVs are designed for off-roading. Usually, they’re 4-wheel drive, ideal for staying on the road in bad weather. They’re also better at navigating uneven terrain and handle well around tight turns, despite their larger size.
- Family-friendly design. Many people who buy SUVs are parents, and car companies know that. Modern SUVs are often designed with this in mind, offering family-oriented features. These can range from hands-free hatch controls to built-in entertainment for the kids. You can find a few cars and trucks with these features, but they’re by far most common in SUVs.
On the flip side of this, they also have their disadvantages:
- Higher fuel cost. SUVs are heavier than cars and typically less aerodynamic. In general, you’ll get fewer miles per gallon from an SUV than from a car, or even from a light pick-up truck. The exception to this are mini and crossover SUVs, which may boast gas mileages on-par with larger sedans.
- Safety. I know what you’re thinking: wasn’t this on the list of advantages? It’s a bit of both with SUVs. Counterbalancing the safety features mentioned above is the fact that SUVs have been known to roll in collisions. In fact, they’re 30% more likely to roll over than cars, according to the NHTSA. Safe driving practices reduce the risk of a roll-over, but the construction of the SUV still makes it a concern.
- Higher emissions. Since SUVs require more gas, they also release more harmful emissions into the atmosphere on average than cars. Even most SUVs advertised as being “eco-friendly” have a larger carbon footprint than you might expect.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Trucks
The main advantages of owning a truck are:
- Towing and storage. A pickup’s long, the flatbed is ideal for transporting large items. You can also attach a trailer to the hitch for additional towing.
- Reliability. On average, a pickup is more durable than other vehicles. The separation of the cab from the bed gives the chassis more flex, reducing strain on the components.
- Visibility. Pickups sit even higher on their wheels typically than SUVs. This gives you a clear, unobstructed view of the road ahead. The open bed, meanwhile, lets you see everything behind you clearly.
- Off-Roading features. Pickup trucks are designed to handle rough and uneven roads. Even if you don’t go off-roading, this is a benefit in dealing with harsh weather conditions. It can handle an icy or wet road just as well it can rough or rocky terrain.
On the other hand, there are some disadvantages:
- Fuel economy. Comparing an SUV vs truck, most trucks actually get better gas mileage by weight. If you’re comparing it to a standard car, though, trucks get fewer miles to the gallon on average.
- Less seating. Most pickup trucks can only seat two people comfortably. Extended cab options offer four seats, but they’re often cramped and difficult to access.
- Maneuverability. The larger size of a truck makes it more difficult to drive and park than most cars. Trucks handle differently than cars because of the bed, and if you’re not used to it, this can take some practice to master.
SUV vs. Truck: Which one is best?
At this point, you’re probably wondering: should I get a pickup or SUV? Ultimately, it depends on how you plan to use it. Generally speaking, an SUV is better for:
- Families and small children. Aside from having more seats, SUVs are safer for children than trucks. Many pickup trucks don’t even have rear seats, much less ones capable of fitting a car seat. Kids can also get into and out of SUVs more easily.
- Driver and passenger comfort. You’ll have to buy a luxury pickup to get the comfort features that come standard on an SUV. Even then, this will only enhance the comfort of the driver and a single passenger. The extra seats in extended-cab pickups are usually too cramped to be comfortable.
- Safety. Despite the roll-over risk, an SUV is usually a safer option than a truck. The weight imbalance of a truck makes it less maneuverable. There also aren’t as many safety protections for passengers
On the other hand, you’ll find a truck is better for:
- Towing. If you’re comparing an SUV vs truck towing-wise, the truck wins every time. It’s a question of payload capacity more than size. SUV engines simply aren’t designed to handle large loads.
- Fuel economy. Neither an SUV or a truck will get the same gas mileage as a car. But since trucks weigh less per inch than SUVs, their fuel economy is generally a little higher. The exception is when you’re towing a lot of weight, of course.
What is the difference between a truck and an SUV?
The main SUV vs truck difference, from the buyer’s perspective, is the body shape. An SUV features a single enclosed area with multiple rows of seats and storage in the back. Conversely, trucks have a cab for passengers with a separate storage area in the back.
What is better: a truck or a car?
Just like SUV vs truck, there’s no clear answer to this question. The big, obvious difference is that a car is smaller. If you’re comparing the longest car to the longest truck, they’re about the same (20-22 feet). The average car is around 14-15 feet long, though, while the average truck measures 18-19 feet.
Cars are more maneuverable and easier to drive. By far, they’re better for driving in the city. The main advantage of a truck is how much it can carry. Cars can’t tow, and even hatchbacks have limitations when it comes to large furniture.
Why should you buy a truck?
Trucks give you more versatility than cars. Homeowners who enjoy doing DIY projects may want to consider a truck, for instance. You’ll be able to easily pick up heavy and awkward tools or materials more easily.
Trucks are also good at off-roading. Combined with the towing capacity, this makes them ideal for outdoors enthusiasts. With a truck, you’ll have space for skis, kayaks, and other oversized equipment.
Are pickup trucks more reliable than cars?
Generally, trucks last longer than cars. The most popular car brand for reliability is Toyota, which lasts an average of 200,000 miles. Most cars last around 150,000 miles, though, or about 8 years. In contrast, you can find lists of trucks known to run 200,000 miles or more.
Is a truck safer than an SUV?
No. In fact, trucks are riskier than any vehicles save sports cars. If you’re looking for safety, an SUV is a much better choice than a truck.
Is it better to drive a truck or a car in snow?
Firstly, keep in mind the tires on your vehicle have a lot to do with this. Taking those out of the equation, vehicles that offer 4-wheel drive give you more traction on snowy or wet roads. On the other hand, trucks are heavier and take longer to brake, an effect that’s amplified by ice.
For getting over snow-covered roads, a truck is better than a car. It has higher clearance, more power, and better traction, with all-wheel drive to prevent it from getting stuck. Just be careful you give yourself plenty of space to stop when conditions are icy.
If you’re wondering about a truck vs SUV in snow, that’s a tighter race, and often comes down to a brand-by-brand determination. SUVs designed for off-roading will do very well in snowy conditions. On the other hand, crossovers designed for city driving will perform similarly to most cars.
The question of SUV vs truck comes down to your lifestyle. How often do you need to haul large items, as opposed to groups of people? For most families, the SUV offers the best versatility, letting you carry people and things with ease.
Keep in mind a lot of it depends on how much you’re willing to spend. Both SUVs and trucks tend to be more than cars, on average. If your budget allows it, you can get luxury trucks that offer SUV comforts with heavy-duty payload capacity. This extra investment may be worth it for you.
Whichever way you go, both these vehicle types give you more power and space to work with. That can be as big of a benefit in the city as it can for working professionals. We hope this breakdown has helped you figure out which one fits your life.
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