I keep seeing arguments whether trucks are actually getting bigger or just look bigger. So I looked at some data and came up with the conclusion that trucks have definitely gotten bigger.

I compared the 1/2 ton 4x4 1998 models from each manufacturer to the 2017 equivalent. Each and every model has grown (dimensions shown in inches in the below table)

So? Who cares if a truck has a 5% larger frontal area? Well, you should if you pay for your gas. When at highway speeds the largest factor in fuel economy is drag which is calculated with the following equation.

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Where Cd is the coefficient of drag, ρ is the density of air, V is velocity, and A is the frontal area. Designers and engineers can only control 2 of those things, the coefficient of drag (the shape of the vehicle) and the frontal area (the size of the vehicle). Now assuming there is not going to be some radical shift in truck design there isn’t much improvement that can be made today in the coefficient of drag so that leaves frontal area. Since drag is proportional to area that means a 5% increase in area equates to a 5% increase in drag.

So, if frontal area impacts fuel economy so much why are trucks getting bigger? Well, you’d have to ask the designers/engineers, but I have a couple theories.

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1. More demanding crash performance requires beefier parts and larger crumple zones. Compare the width of a door from a 2017 model to one from a 1998 and you’ll see where the growth comes from, and designers probably didn’t want to intrude into the interior space, so trucks got wider.

But that only accounts for the width, what about the height?

2. That’s probably squarely on you, the buyer. People wanted bigger trucks (at least that’s what the designers thought), so an easy way to do that is make it taller. It’s also probably a perception thing, people tend to feel safer when they are in a taller vehicle, so vehicles got taller to give that feeling of safety. The larger and larger wheels also aren’t helping most likely.

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So next time someone tells you trucks aren’t any bigger than they used to be feel free to call bullshit on them.