Flatbed truck (automobile)

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Medium-weight flatbed truck (14 t), with tarpaulin
Loading a flatbed truck with general cargo

The flatbed truck is a body design or a type of truck body for commercial vehicles with a fixed loading area that can be tilted on one, two or three sides, depending on the application, and is open at the top . The driver and any passengers are protected from the goods on the loading area by a partition .

The term platform body is often used as a synonym for platform truck . In a narrower sense, the flatbed structure relates more to vehicles with a separate chassis or the vehicle structure itself, while the flatbed truck refers to the vehicle as a whole.

Flatbed trucks (with flat surface and side wall) are one of the oldest and originally the simplest designs in vehicle construction ; its origins can be traced back to the construction of carriages and wagons and ultimately to the Iron Age with the first animal- drawn wagons . The basis for today's flatbed trucks with their own engine can be passenger cars (then called pick-ups ) as well as small vans and the chassis of trucks of all sizes , but also three-wheeled or four-wheeled light vehicles .

The open loading area makes loading and unloading easier . Flatbed vehicles typically have a simple frame with a tarpaulin as an accessory to protect the transported goods and their possible packaging from the weather (see covered wagons in carts). However, it offers hardly any protection against theft , which is why a box van with a fixed, covered body is often used instead of the tarpaulin wagon .

The Daimler Motor-Truck (1896) , widely believed to be the world's first truck, was a flatbed truck

Differentiation from other commercial vehicle bodies and superstructures

The Ape pickup truck from Piaggio as a flatbed truck
A Mercedes-Benz 170 S from 1953, a flatbed truck based on a passenger car with a high tarpaulin and bows
A Tempo Hanseat , a three-wheeled van with a typical flatbed structure and folded-down side walls

The flatbed truck is primarily intended for transporting the driver and his own goods or those entrusted to him . In this respect, this body and superstructure variant differs from commercial vehicles for passenger transport , in particular any form of bus . It also differs from the special commercial vehicles for emergency services , namely equipment vehicles as well as ambulance and ambulance vehicles , and also from those commercial vehicles that focus on special skills, such as tractors , forklifts and tractors .

With its loading area that is basically open at the top, the flatbed truck differs from transport vehicles with a permanently roofed loading area such as the box van and the box body . The flatbed truck also lacks special devices for transporting special goods, such as tank trucks , vehicles with insulated or refrigerated bodies or for transporting containers .

Vehicles whose flatbed can be tilted to one, two or three sides are also called tippers as a special form of flatbed truck ; If the loading area is firmly bordered on two or three sides and the side walls are relatively high, then instead of a loading platform and a flatbed truck, we speak of a loading trough and a dump truck .

A comparatively widespread sub-form of the flatbed truck is the " pick-up " from the Anglo-American region with a rear loading area based on a passenger car (also as an off-road vehicle or SUV ) or a light truck. In the Pacific region , the term “ Ute ” (short for utility ) is also used for such flatbed trucks, and in southern Africa , especially in Namibia , the term “ Bakkie ” is also used.

The "Jeep" (not meant here as a vehicle brand ) or " Jeepney " ( all -terrain , with all-wheel drive , simple structure with an open or closed driver's cab and "4–6 ") are sometimes mentioned as a special car body with a flatbed, but also suitable for passenger transport Sitting at the back on both sides in the longitudinal direction ”), furthermore the“ Russian taxi ”(similar to the pick-up, closed driver's cab with an open bed at the rear and“ folding side seats for 4-6 people on the side walls of the bed ”). Similar structures are called " Aluguer " in Cape Verde and " Songthaeo " in Thailand and Laos . In addition, especially in the early days of the automobile and occasionally even later, there was the " convertible car " as a special body design , sometimes referred to as "swap body" in German and not to be confused with the "convertible (top)" in the sense of " convertible ": With him, the loading platform could often be converted into an open or closed structure with additional seating using foldable, swiveling or attachable parts.

Flatbed trucks have always been widespread because they are simple, inexpensive and versatile.

The (loading) flatbed

A BMW F 76 from 1933, a "front loader" that is unusual today, a flatbed truck with the loading platform over the front axle in front of the driver
A Chevrolet El Camino SS, a powerful American pick-up from 1986 with elegantly integrated side walls: in many cases, the lifestyle statement outweighs the pure utility value
One of the best-selling flatbed trucks, the VW Transporter T2 with the typical “high platform”; the rear engine prevented a “low bed” in the early generations, but enabled the so-called “safe”, a lockable compartment below the bed between the axles

The characteristic element of the flatbed truck is the (loading) flatbed. It is typically located at the rear of the vehicle, but can in principle also be above the front axle, in the case of so-called "front loaders". Most of the time, the driver's seat is in front of the flatbed to prevent the load from obstructing the view, but it can in principle also be behind it. A typical “muzzle loader” is the three-wheeled BMW F 76 from the early 1930s.

An alternative designation for a flatbed, especially in official documents, is "open box" (as opposed to box vans with closed boxes).

The floor

The bed consists of at least one solid floor element. Especially in the early days of the automobile, this was sufficient as a loading area, considering the low speeds and depending on the goods being transported; In official writings, this minimalist structure is still referred to as the “platform” today. The floor can be level or stepped in height.

The level platform floor can lie completely above the wheels / tires , a so-called "high platform": The entire area can be used unhindered and because of the height, loading and unloading at loading ramps is easy. This type of construction is particularly common in truck-based flatbed trucks and those based on small vans, but also generally in motor vehicles with a rear engine or an engine installed between the axles and in small vehicles with correspondingly small wheels. The flat bed floor can also be lower, between the wheels, directly above the axle or the gearbox or differential , a so-called " deep bed ". This facilitates loading and unloading from street level and lowers the center of gravity , but restricts the width of the loading area, at least in the area of ​​the wheel arches . This type of construction has been predominant in car-based flatbed trucks for decades. In the case of special constructions with independent wheel suspension or axles that are strongly cranked down, the bed can even be positioned below the wheel centers. They can make loading and unloading even easier and are suitable for particularly large and / or heavy loads, but can lead to problems due to reduced ground clearance or the slope angle . The more specific term " low loader " is used for them .

Furthermore, the platform floor can be stepped, usually with a lowering between the axles, while part of the platform is higher above the axle and / or in the area of ​​the engine and transmission. This creates additional storage space. Depending on the load, this step in the loading floor can make load securing more difficult or easier. Such flatbeds were and are common, for example, particularly for the transport of beverage crates, beer kegs or milk cans, especially for so-called milk floats .

Depending on the material and purpose, there are sometimes additional strips, rails or beads on the platform floor. They partly serve to be able to move the transported goods more easily on the flatbed, partly to make it more difficult for them to slip during the journey; partly they are supposed to protect the platform floor from excessive wear, partly to divert the rain from the platform or to protect the transported goods from the water that collects on the platform.

For vehicles with a separate chassis, the platform can be mounted directly on the chassis. In the case of exit vehicles, on the other hand, which have a self-supporting structure , at least one subframe is often drawn in to distribute the weight of the load evenly over the surface. Depending on the design, the platform can be flush with the side of the chassis or the driver's cab or protrude beyond it; additional position lights or reflectors may then be required.

Side walls and back wall

Platform truck based on a Mercedes-Benz transporter , here the version as a "low platform" with a loading area directly above the rear axle and narrowing wheel arches
A Magirus Deutz truck as a flatbed truck

Edging of the platform on the outside by means of side walls and rear wall, the side walls, also known as "brackets" has long been in use. Their main purpose is to prevent the load from slipping and falling, as can happen when starting and braking, when cornering and on inclines and slopes. For certain goods such as loose bulk goods , the walls are essential for effective transport.

Especially with the smallest, sometimes only three-wheeled vehicles, there are often platforms with side walls and the rear wall made rigid, primarily for reasons of stability and weight. However, a foldable rear wall is common among car-based flatbed trucks. It facilitates loading and unloading, allows longer loads to be transported over the vehicle with the rear wall folded down (within legal limits) and can be used as a seat during work breaks. Simple constructions can be found in simple and early flatbed trucks in particular, in which the rear wall is in lateral vertical guides and can simply be removed upwards.

The side walls can be made rigid, foldable or removable. In particular in the case of the car-based flatbed trucks with a self-supporting body, there are rigid side walls that connect to the driver's cab and thus look more elegant than variants with separately separated flatbeds, which are typical for vehicles with ladder frames .

The material of the bed

Depending on its size and purpose, the loading bed can be made of wood , metal , light metal (especially aluminum ), plastic or a mixture of different materials (mixed construction). Important factors are the stability, the stress, the durability, the price of the material and its processing, the weight, the appearance and depending on the time and place also the availability.

Accessories for the flatbed

A common accessory for flatbed trucks is a load compartment cover. Commonly used are plan in the form of a cover which can be stretched over the entire loading surface or parts thereof; they are attached to the side walls as well as the partition and rear wall with a rope and eyelets, press studs or other special fasteners. They protect low cargo from the weather, prevent loose cargo from being blown away during the journey, and sometimes primarily serve to improve the appearance of pick-ups. The latter also occasionally includes removable load compartment covers made of solid material (wood, metal, plastic). Depending on the load, simple nets can serve as protection against theft or being blown away.

There are numerous high tarpaulin superstructures that are supported by so-called bows ; These metal rods can basically be permanently mounted, but are mostly removable and, together with a tarpaulin, allow large, high loads to be transported in a weather-protected manner. Attachable hardtops made of plastic or light metal, which are often flush with the height of the driver's cab or even go beyond it, are also used in particular for passenger car-based flatbed trucks, especially those based on off-road vehicles and SUVs, and also for small vans . High tarpaulin superstructures and hardtops can have a disadvantageous effect on driving performance and consumption due to the enlarged front surface and, with the enlarged side surface, have a negative effect on driving behavior (sensitivity to crosswinds).

Other accessories such as loading rails or ramps for flatbed trucks are used in particular to facilitate the loading of rolling machines such as concrete mixers or small vehicles such as lawnmowers , quads / ATVs or motorcycles . In larger vehicles there are sometimes winches or loading cranes . The latter are particularly suitable for the military and the country - and forestry use. Loading cranes, in particular, are sometimes so large, heavy and complex that the truck models have their own type designations.

Additional accessories are used in particular to secure loads .

Load securing

Platform bodies must be equipped with anchors for lashing devices to secure the load. Up to a total weight of 3.5 t, anchors with a tensile force of at least 400  daN , up to 7.5 t of 800 daN are required. Bulky goods must be covered if they could fall or be blown down while driving.

Space for drivers and any passengers

A Fiat Ducato platform truck with a double cabin and second row of seats as well as additional doors
Electric vehicle , street scooter as a flatbed truck (2017)

In the case of the smallest, sometimes only three-wheeled flatbed trucks, for example for factory traffic , there is sometimes only a seat available for the driver, which can be completely open or in a cabin with or without a door. Modern car-based flatbed trucks regularly have a closed, two-door driver's cab with often only one row of seats and two to three seats, a so-called single cabin. In the early days of the automobile, open compartments were also common, sometimes even later in platform trucks based on off-road vehicles, which could be covered with a tarpaulin, a fabric top or later a removable hard top if necessary.

In the last few decades, there has been an increasing number of car-based pick-ups with a second row of seats and two emergency seats or two or three full-size seats, a so-called double cab . To facilitate access to these seats, one or two full doors or so-called half-doors with about half the length can also be available, the latter also in the form of so-called suicide - or - without a central column - with portal doors .

Both single and double cabins are also used for flatbed trucks based on small vans or truck chassis. Occasionally there were and are also triple cabins with a third row of seats, for example in the Harburger Transporter ; in this case, the advantages of the flatbed truck are combined with those of the minibus .

In developing countries , the loading areas of flatbed trucks are often used to transport large numbers of people: a relatively small area can be used to transport a relatively large number of people and their luggage on the open flatbed.

Advantages and disadvantages

The advantages of flatbed trucks over other commercial vehicle variants are their simple and inexpensive construction and their wide range of uses. The biggest disadvantages are the lack of weather protection - without a tarpaulin or other cover - and the low level of protection against theft. In the case of car-based flatbed trucks, tax classification as a truck can result in financial advantages over a car (taxation based on weight instead of cubic capacity ). On the other hand, depending on the country, there may also be truck-typical restrictions such as speed restrictions , driving bans on certain days (especially with an additional trailer), the requirement of a certain driving license and others.

Classification as a passenger car or truck

In practice, especially with flatbed trucks, the question often arises as to whether they are to be classified as passenger vehicles or trucks. The question has numerous practical effects, for example on vehicle insurance, taxation, the question of which driver's license class the driver needs, the application of certain driving bans, thereby indirectly the possibility of using trailers and other things.

The situation in Europe is relatively clear for flatbed trucks with a gross vehicle weight of over 3.5 tons, which are regularly classified as trucks. Different criteria have developed for lighter flatbed trucks depending on the country, time and subject of regulation. A frequent point of controversy in Germany was and is, in particular, the treatment of larger pick-ups and vans with double cabs and flatbeds, as well as of smaller car-based flatbed trucks in general. For the classification as a truck, German case law now predominantly requires that the base area of ​​the flatbed must be larger than the base area of ​​the interior, the interior length being based on the distance from the accelerator pedal to the rear wall. Individual, especially older decisions also required that the payload should be in a certain percentage minimum ratio to the gross vehicle weight. Decisions based on the focus of individual use by the owner can be viewed as outdated.

Comparable transport concepts

In the case of rail-bound wagons , comparable transport concepts are usually referred to as flat wagons , a sub-type of freight wagons . Other non-powered land vehicles with a comparable concept are called flatbed trailers; if part of the weight rests on the towing vehicle, it is referred to as a flatbed trailer , a subspecies of the semi-trailer .


  • Udo Paulitz: Old trucks: flatbed trucks . Franckh, Stuttgart, 1989. ISBN 978-3-4400-5984-5 .
  • Josef Epker: Trucks and Technology . Epjos, betting rings. 2nd edition, 2014. ISBN 978-3-9816-5130-0 .
  • Laurence Meredith, Rowan Isaac, Dieter Rebmann: VW Bus. The original: All buses, box vans and flatbed trucks from 1950 to 1979 . Heel Verlag, Königswinter, 1998. ISBN 978-3-8936-5707-0 .
  • Jean de Coster, Otto Vollnhals: Dictionary for Automotive Engineering / Dictionnaire du genie automobile / Dictionary for automotive engineering . Walter de Gruyter, Munich / Leipzig. 5th edition 2003. ISBN 978-3-5981-1624-7 , p. 388 (English, French, German).

Web links

Commons : Flatbed  - Collection of pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. a b c d Auto und Kraftrad: Motor vehicles in words and pictures - 100 cars . Verlag für Handel und Wirtschaft - Müller & Co., Munich, 1952, pages 7 f.
  2. a b Rudolf Haller, in: Motor und Transport (magazine), 1949, p. 39.
  3. The load securing rules on the web portal of the construction trade association bgbau-medien.de , pp. 32 and 46, accessed on July 29, 2016 (PDF file).
  4. VDI 2700 series of guidelines for securing loads on road vehicles on the vdi.de web portal , accessed on August 15, 2016.
  5. Resolution of the Petitions Committee of the German Bundestag with the delimitation and legal classification of pick-up trucks in Germany , accessed on August 18, 2016.