I'm a judge on a panel that bestows an annual truck award. And although I won't enthrall you with the scintillating behind-the-scenes debates that accompany the selection process, I will tell you that each year we face a recurring issue: deciding what constitutes a truck in the first place. And these days, that definition is clouded by enough ambiguity to fill a Chevy El Camino that's towing a Dodge Rampage.
Look out the window at your driveway. Do you see an International CXT? Then you own a truck. See a Mitsubishi i? Then you don't own a truck (and in fact, it's kind of stretching it to say that you own a car). Between those extremes, things get problematic. For example, the government considers the Chrysler PT Cruiser a truck, which is like classifying Miley Cyrus as a Navy SEAL. You may love your PT Cruiser, but don't tell me you use it to pull a trailer full of Chevy HHRs up the side of a mountain. Which, as we all know from watching TV commercials, is the sort of thing you do with trucks.
I don't think it's overstating the problem to say that confusion between cars and trucks is an epidemic. This thing goes from the top all the way down to the children's publishing industry, I tell you. My year-and-a-half-old son has a picture book that depicts a Toyota Tundra, and the caption reads "car." Whenever I get to that page, I feel compelled to go off script. "Well, that's a Toyota Tundra. It's a body-on-frame pickup, and the four-wheel-drive models even have a transfer case. It's definitely a truck." And he stares at the page, as if to say, "Thanks for clarifying that for me. Now tell me again about the Chicken Tax."
Before the advent of the crossover, the line between cars and trucks was much clearer. Back in high school, my winter vehicle was a truck, a 1987 Dodge Ram. I remember that sometime around the late '80s, car magazines began occasionally describing new pickups as "carlike," but nobody ever said that about the Ram. I once drove the Ram through a chain without noticing (that particular parking lot was closed, evidently, until I opened it). When driving through a steel chain does no discernible damage to your vehicle, then you've got a truck. If the only seat is a single bench, and everyone assumes you're dating when a girl sits in the middle, that's a truck. If first gear is good for 3 mph, that's a truck.
But what about something like a new Dodge Durango? You can get a Durango with heated rear seats and adaptive cruise control, and the underpinnings are related to a Mercedes-Benz. Well, the Durango is a truck. Besides offering a V-8 and low-range four-wheel drive, it can tow more than its own weight. And that makes it a truck, according to a rule I just invented. In the interest of clarifying this topic for everyone, here are the nine other rules that comprise the Ten Truck Commandments:
- If you can say, "Let's take my truck," without people laughing, then you've got a truck. I hope a certain friend of mine who drives a Nissan Murano is reading this.
- On a related note, anything with an open cargo bed is a truck. I know a guy with an '80s El Camino, and the first time I heard him refer to it as a truck, I nearly launched into a discourse on the El Camino's close relation to the Chevy Malibu. But then I paused and remembered my New Year's resolution to quit being a bore. And besides, once I thought about it, an '80s El Camino is more of a truck than most of the vehicles that now dare to claim that title. After all, the El Camino is a body-on-frame, rear-wheel-drive vehicle that offered V-8 power. Hell, a Lincoln Town Car is more of a truck than most crossovers. It's a pickup bed away from being the Town Truck.
Furthermore, your vehicle is a truck if:
- It offers a trim level named after a place in Wyoming.
- It is equipped with mud flaps featuring the likeness of Yosemite Sam or iridescent females in repose.
- Its diesel engine has a brand name that sounds like a black-market Thai virility potion.
- It has multiple differentials, which you refer to as "punk'ins."
- Riding in the back of it may be illegal, depending on whether or not you live in the South.
- It has independent suspension, inasmuch as the front solid axle is independent from the rear solid axle.
- If someone told you that an asteroid was heading toward the earth and the only way to stop it was to affix a chain to the moon and tow it into the asteroid's path, you could conceive of your vehicle doing that, if you had a few minutes to air down the tires. And once you stopped the asteroid, your feat of derring-do would be celebrated in TV commercials by a gravel-voiced pitchman and/or Bob Seger.
If we measure against these easy-to-follow rules, we find that a Volkswagen Touareg is a truck (Rule One, 7700 pounds of towing capacity). A Ford F-350 Power Stroke is so much of a truck, it's technically two trucks. A Honda CR-V, I'm afraid, is not a truck. But when they introduce the CR-V Big Piney Edition with an optional CrankThrust diesel turning the punk'ins, I might reconsider.