A pickup truck is a light duty truck having an enclosed cab and an open cargo area with low sides and tailgate. Once a work tool with few creature comforts, in the 1950s consumers began purchasing pickups for lifestyle reasons and by the 1990s less than 15 percent of owners reported use in work as the pickup truck's primary purpose. Today in North America, the pickup is mostly used like a passenger car and accounts for about 18 per cent of total vehicles sold in the US.
The term pickup is of unknown origin. It was used by Studebaker in 1913 and by the 1930s pick-up (hyphenated) had become the standard term. In Australia and New Zealand ute, short for utility, is used for both pickups and coupé utilities. In South Africa people of all language groups use the term bakkie, a diminutive of bak, Afrikaans for bowl.
While in the US and Canada most pickup trucks are used primarily for passenger transport, agriculture, and commercial uses, pickups are also used in law enforcement, the military, fire services, and for pickup truck racing, a form of auto racing using modified versions of pickups mostly on oval tracks. Race pickup trucks are mechanically similar to coupé-shaped stock cars.
A monster truck is a vehicle styled after pickup trucks, but with extremely large wheels and suspension. They are used for competition and popular sports entertainment and in some cases they are featured alongside motocross races, mud bogging, tractor pulls and car-eating robots.
Equipping pickup trucks with camper shells provides a small living space for camping. Slide-in truck campers, on the other hand, give a pickup truck the amenities of a small motorhome, but still allow the operator the option of removal and independent use of the vehicle.
Some diesel engined pickups are modified to emit higher diesel exhaust and have been described as rolling coal. In an open defiance of environmental regulations by anti-environmentalists, changes are designed to produce visibly polluting sooty emissions and include the intentional removal of the particulate filter, as well as installing smoke switches and smoke stacks. Modifications may cost from $2,000 to $5,000. "It is a violation of the Clean Air Act (CAA) to manufacture, sell, or install a part for a motor vehicle that bypasses, defeats, or renders inoperative any emission control device....The CAA prohibits anyone from tampering with an emission control device on a motor vehicle by removing it or making it inoperable prior to or after the sale or delivery to the buyer." In addition to environmentalism concerns, the modifications increase health risks, particularly respiratory issues, as well as safety because the black coal can make visibility difficult.
In the US and less-so in Canada, nearly all pickups are sold with automatic transmissions. The Cummins diesel-equipped Ram is the only full-size truck available with a clutch. It has an ultra-low first-gear ratio for heavy hauling. While the Chevrolet Colorado, Nissan Frontier, and Toyota Tacoma are offered with a manual transmission, Ford offers no manual transmission pickups in North America.