One of the first things to consider when truck shopping is how long of a bed (or box) you need. Midsize and HD models come in short or long-bed configurations. Half-tons have short and long options too, but also offer a third “standard” box, sized in the middle.
In terms of length, what’s the difference between short-bed and long-bed trucks? Long beds measure about 6.0 ft in midsize pickups and 8.0 ft in half-ton and HD units. As for short beds, the length is around 5.0 ft in midsize models, 5.8 ft in half-tons, and 6.5 ft in HDs.
Note that exact measurements vary between automakers but rarely by more than an inch or two.
But bed length doesn’t just dictate how much gear a truck can haul; it also affects ride quality, fuel mileage, and more. This guide covers each box option in detail, helping you pick the best truck bed length to suit your needs.
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Long Bed Vs. Short Bed Length: Pros And Cons Of Each
Short Bed Pickups Are Easier To Park And Maneuver
Midsize pickups max out at about 19 ft when equipped with a long bed, which isn’t too much more than a large sedan. These models are great in tight spaces, no matter the bed length.
However, half-ton trucks can reach nearly 21 ft, and HD models can surpass 22 ft. These are also wider than midsize pickups, making them much more tedious to maneuver around town. They also almost certainly warrant parking in the back of the lot and outside the garage.
For an easier time navigating your daily errands, there’s no competing with the shorter wheelbase of a short bed.
Long Bed Trucks Typically Offer A More Stable Towing Experience
Towing with a midsize pickup isn’t affected much by the difference between short-bed and long-bed models. But most half-ton and HD trucks can tow 10,000 lbs. or more, which is a lot of weight, especially at highway speeds when trailer sway becomes a real concern.
So, is it better to tow with a long or short bed? While bed length doesn’t really alter how much weight a truck can pull, the extended wheelbase of a long bed will provide more stability when hauling heavy loads.
Long bed vs. short bed length is even more noticeable when towing on windy days or uneven roads.
Reduced Cargo Capacity In Short Bed Models
What is a short bed truck’s cargo box volume? Short-bed midsize pickups offer around 41.2 cubic inches of storage, while half-tons and HDs have roughly 52.8 and 65.4, respectively.
What is a long bed truck’s cargo box volume? Midsize models offer about 50 cubic inches of space when equipped with a long bed. Half-tons provide up to 77.7, and HD long box trucks have the most storage at 78.5.
Be extra cautious of the 5.8 ft short box in a half-ton, which limits what you can haul without a trailer, like ATVs, motorcycles, and full sheets of plywood. Instead, consider a standard or long bed half-ton if you use the bed often.
Fuel Economy Negatively Affected By Longer Beds
While not so much in midsize pickups since they often have lightweight fiberglass beds, half-ton, and HD trucks can weigh 200 to 300 lbs. more when equipped with a long box rather than a short. This means the engine must work harder to compensate, reducing fuel economy.
Yes, aerodynamics, rear axle ratio, cab size, engine, tires, and more also come into play, but if you want the best mpg, a short bed will squeeze out the most.
Looking to really spend less at the pump? Check out our previous article for a few tips on how to improve your gas mileage.
Pickups With Shorter Beds Usually Cost Less
After building several new test trucks, we found long bed upgrades to cost just a few hundred dollars in HD models. Surprisingly, half-tons can reach $1,500 with a long bed instead of a short one, and midsize units can surpass $2,000.
When it comes to pre-owned trucks, websites like Kelley Blue Book and NADA Guides sometimes don’t include a value for extended beds. So, if you’re fortunate, you could potentially find a used truck with a longer bed for the same cost as a truck with a shorter bed.
Fifth Wheel Towing Is Best In Long Bed Trucks
One advantage of a long bed over a short bed is that they’re better when towing a fifth-wheel travel trailer. Typically, only HD trucks are built to accommodate a fifth wheel.
Fifth-wheel trailers overlap and mount into the bed of a truck and often weigh 12,000 to 15,000 lbs. or more. In long-bed trucks, a general fifth-wheel hitch will work, but short beds do best with a pricier “slider” hitch that’s also more prone to jamming/binding.
A longer bed also provides more stability when towing a fifth wheel. This stems not only from the longer wheelbase but also because of the placement of the weight in front of the rear axle.
Long Bed Vs. Short Bed Length – Which Truck Bed Is Best For You?
For midsize pickup shoppers, consider a long bed. Not only for the extra foot of storage, but they don’t have the same negatives associated with larger half-ton and HD trucks. What’s more, even with a long bed, you can still park in the front of the lot or in a garage.
In regard to trucks weighing half a ton, a small bed is generally sufficient for most drivers. If additional room is required, the standard-sized bed is approximately one foot lengthier and can still accommodate an ATV or motorcycle (with the tailgate lowered). Opting for a lengthier bed is not feasible for crew cab models.
HD truck beds only differ by about 1.5 feet between a long bed and a short bed, so it really comes down to your specific needs. If you plan to tow a fifth-wheel cross country, go for the long, but for most drivers, a short bed will be more enjoyable as a daily driver.