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Are SUVs Built on Truck Frames?

Are SUVs Built on Truck Frames?

SUVs fulfill the needs of tourists and adventurers who travel a lot and want a vehicle that should be comfortable like a car and have off-road capabilities like a truck.

In addition, SUVs are widely popular in America among families who like to camp more frequently.

Are SUVs Built on Truck Frames? SUVs built on truck chassis feature a solid and rugged design for better off-road capabilities. These SUVs have higher ground clearance and are prone to minor damage in case of an accident. However, manufacturers are switching towards car-like, unibody platforms due to their poor fuel economy. They are less safer due to the absence of crumple zones and have a high center of gravity.

It has 2 types of construction: truck-like frame-on-body and car-like unibody.

Are SUVs Built on Truck Frames?

Giant auto manufacturers like Toyota, General Motors, and Ford build the SUVs on platforms already on roads in pickup trucks. It not only saves design time but helps them to use their established production lines

Types of SUV Frames

There are 2 types of frames for sport utility vehicles according to their structure and body shape.

Body-on-frame Structure built on truck chassis

The earlier model SUVs have a truck chassis as the foundation. You will find the body mounting on the frame as a separate entity.

Parts of the powertrain and drivetrain, including suspension system, transmission, wheels, and engine, are part of the chassis independent from the truck body.

It gives more flexibility to the vehicle in case of jumps and highly rough off-road terrains.

Adventurers and off-road travelers prefer it because of its sturdier design and strong frame like a truck. Moreover, it allows them to carry more weight.

Unibody design

Automakers are switching towards the unibody design for SUVs like modern passenger cars.

They are popular as crossovers having the features of both a car and a traditional SUV. In this design, both the chassis and the vehicle body are a single assembly.

Manufacturers use lighter materials in the construction to save costs and production time. Moreover, they have increased safety features similar to cars and better fuel economy.

However, it compromised its off-road and towing capabilities due to lighter materials and lower ground clearance.

Due to its single body and frame, it is prone to severe damages in accidents, making it irreparable.

However, its comfortability, better handling, and suspension systems increase its popularity as a modern replacement of old school and traditional design built on truck chassis. 

Benefits of building SUVs on truck chassis

Here are the advantages of buying a body-on-frame model and the reasons for its popularity among the public.   

Solid and rugged design

SUVs built on truck platforms have a ladder frame proven to be time-tested and suitable for off-roading applications.

It employs more robust materials like steel in structure and body, making the vehicle solid and rugged for all-terrain driving.

It is the main feature of truck chassis that distinguishes it from unibody construction. Their strength and durability make them less prone to damages during road crashes.

Higher ground clearance

Ground clearance is the primary feature of SUVs with body-on-frame construction. As a result, they are 1-2 inches taller than unibody designs and 3-4 inches higher than passenger cars.

Therefore, it makes the ride safe on rough surfaces with loose rocks and obstacles. Moreover, it gives them plenty of room to install bigger tires and better dispose of the shocks on uneven terrains.

More flexibility

Truck chassis with an independent body gives more capability to the frame to flex and absorb all the shocks by itself.

The body rests on the frame rails with the help of mounting bolts and rubber pads to provide cushion and isolation space.

It also affects acceleration and vehicle cabin. As a result, they have resistance to twisting and the ability to withstand more stresses.

However, the frame absorbs all the jerks and road bumps by itself without causing any damage to the body. In addition, you will not hear any road noise or tires sounds because of the isolated frame. 

Protection of SUV engine and transmission components

Higher ground clearance means critical systems, including engine, transmission system, differentials, and suspension, are less likely to collide with any road obstacles.

Moreover, they remain safe from moisture and damage due to water while passing through puddles or snowy areas.

Less dampness, water, and dirt translate into minor damage to the body and frame due to rusting.

It results in the longevity of the vehicle body and fewer maintenance costs. Furthermore, it will save your time to wash and service it. 

Better off-road capabilities

SUVs built on truck chassis have 4-wheel drive systems making them capable of off-road applications. Other features to support its operation in rough terrains and hilly areas are:

  • High ground clearance.
  • Bigger all-terrain tires.
  • A more robust frame.
  • A powerful engine.

Models are available with 1-2 skid plates installed to protect the engine, transmission box, and rear differential. It also keeps water, moisture, and dirt away from these components resulting in the vehicle’s longevity. 

Better loading and towing capacity

If you are a tourist or camping enthusiast, SUVs with truck frames are your savior to carry your load.

A more robust ladder chassis enables them to take more loads. Moreover, they can tow RVs, campers, and travel trailers without any problem due to steel and flexible structures.

Their ruggedness is the primary reason for their capability to traverse more challenging paths and tow more than unibody design. As a result, all higher-capacity models you will find on the roads will be body-on-frame types.

Other components responsible for its higher towing and loading values are the powerful engine and improved suspension system.

Flexibility in Size

The body-on-frame design gives manufacturers flexibility in the production of SUVs in multiple sizes and shapes.

It also saves their designing and manufacturing costs. In addition, they are modular, and all they have to do is try various combinations of frames available with body shapes.

It is the reason for the availability of vehicles built on truck chassis in multiple sizes and many people ask if SUVs are considered cars or trucks.

Disadvantages of the body-on-frame construction for SUVs

SUVs built on truck frames have disadvantages regarding poor fuel economy and, due to high center of gravity, below-average performance on roads.

Moreover, owners find them obsolete in the latest market, where lighter, safer, and fuel-saving vehicles are preferred. 

Heavier frame causes poor fuel economy

A heavier frame with steel construction increases the overall weight of the vehicle. In addition, it results in expensive operations due to increased fuel consumption.

You will prefer the one with good miles per gallon (mpg) and other performance indicators as a driver.

Increased weight also suffers the other performance indicators, including speed, acceleration, and safety of passengers.

According to a survey conducted, we have observed that most fuel-efficient SUVs have a unibody design and are hybrid.

Poor handling at turns and corners

Larger SUVs having truck frames have a high center of gravity. It makes them less stable at contours, and the sharp road turns.

Therefore, they have poor road handling capability on highways despite being successful in rough areas. 

Unibody designs have better aerodynamic properties with a compact shape and low center of gravity.

Their uniform shape and lighter weight make them successful for driving on roads in city areas or on highways. 

Which Automakers make SUVs built on truck chassis?

Despite reduced popularity, some manufacturers are producing SUV models built on truck chassis.

Because customers are willing to pay for these sturdier designs with excellent off-roading experiences.

Here is a brief list of SUVs models available 2021-22 in the market:   

Manufacturer Body-on-Frame Models UnibodyModels
Ford ●     Ford Expedition

●     Ford Everest

●     Ford Bronco

●     Ford Explorer

●     Ford EcoSport

Toyota ●     Toyota 4Runner

●     Toyota Landcruiser

●     Toyota Sequoia

●     Toyota Fortuner

●     Toyota RAV4

●     Toyota Highlander

●     Toyota Venza

General Motors ●     GMC Yukon ●     GMCTerrain

●     GMC Acadia

Nissan ●     Nissan Armada

●     Nissan Patrol

●     Infiniti QX80

●     Nissan Pathfinder

Why are manufacturers switching towards SUV unibody construction?

The proportion of SUVs with unibody construction is increasing as most automakers are switching towards them.

They are also known as crossovers. The main reasons are better fuel efficiency, increased safety requirements, and low production time.

Moreover, they are more user-friendly as a passenger vehicle with the benefits of an SUV to have more seating capacity and cargo space.

Fuel efficiency

Crossovers are lighter and have a car-like frame and body in a single piece. They don’t have heavy rails in their chassis as in traditional designs.

This reduction in weight translates into better fuel economy. In the current times of inflation, you will find them as a persuading option to cut the operational expenses.

They also have the luxury features of a car, making them comfortable and easy to handle.

Most Unibody models come in small or medium sizes and have another name of compact SUV. It results in further reduction of fuel consumption.

It saves your time during traveling as you have to make fewer stops to refill the fuel tank. According to a report, a crossover is 10-15 mpg more fuel-efficient than the traditional models built on pickup chassis.  

Safety standards

The government has implemented new standards for passenger vehicles and strict requirements regarding safety.

For example, body-on-frame SUVs have poor safety scores in crash tests because their body doesn’t have crumple or crush zones.

However, compact models have zones that absorb maximum energy in a fatal crash and route the impact to specific points, increasing the impact time.

Therefore, they are safer than framed designs. According to research, occupants of compact SUVs have a 15%-20% lower risk of death than the vehicles built on truck chassis. 

Moreover, they have a lower center of gravity and are easy to handle. As a result, they offer smooth rides at sharp corners and turns and have fewer chances of a rollover.

In addition, the latest models have advanced warning systems and technology-based safety features and are the popular choice for their lovers.  

Low production time

Compact SUVs come in smaller sizes and are therefore easy to produce. Their low production time is beneficial for manufacturers to sell more vehicles per annum.

On the other hand, traditional models are heavier and have large frames that require more material and time to build them.

Fewer Emissions

Low fuel consumption means fewer emissions in the environment for such vehicles. Therefore, manufacturers will be able to fulfill the government regulation regarding environmental safety and avoid penalties.

Cost comparison of unibody VS body-on-frame construction

Unibody SUVs have smaller frame sizes, are light in weight, and have relatively low-power engines.

Therefore, they are easier to build and have lesser production costs. Body-on-frame construction is similar to a pickup and is somewhat more expensive because it requires more engine power to drive it. Therefore, they are relatively costly to buy.

Compact vehicles often require replacing the whole frame in case of damage because of a single structure. Therefore, they are expensive to repair as compared to truck frames.

Operational costs of compact unibody designs are lower as they are fuel-efficient, and their lighter weight results in longer tires life. On the other hand, traditional larger models require more frequent tires change, suspension components and are operationally expensive to drive.

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