Types of Trucks: What's the difference between Tautliners, Tray Trucks, Flatbeds?

February 16, 2018

Trucking terminology can be confusing if you only rent trucks occasionally or are new to the industry. Pantech, tautliner, traytop and more – there is a lot of trucking jargon and lingo to get your head around.

While the more colourful terms of truckie slang won’t really apply to you (e.g. you don’t need to know that a bobtail can easily sit on the dollar), there are important technical differences between the types of truck, trailer and licence and you’ll need to know them. Here is your quick guide.

Glossary of trucking terms:

2 tonne truck

A truck that can carry up to 2 tonnes of cargo (often, this is equivalent to 3 shipping pallets). One of the largest vehicles the holder of a C-Class licence can drive because the 2 tonnes of cargo when added to the 2.5 tonne unloaded vehicle weight approaches the C-Class maximum GVM of 4.5 tonnes.

3 tonne truck

A truck that can carry up to 3 tonnes of cargo out of a GVM of 4.5 tonnes. Through careful engineering however, these are still available to self-drive by people who hold a C-Class licence.

6 tonne truck

A truck that can haul 6 tonnes of cargo (this usually means the load area is large enough for 10 shipping pallets). These trucks require an MR licence to operate and are considered the largest trucks that can easily access the same streets and locations as regular passenger cars.

12 tonne truck

A truck that can haul up to 12 tonnes of cargo. When configured as a flatbed truck, this load rating gives enough space to carry one full-size shipping container. Requires an HR licence.


A ‘combination’ vehicle consisting of a prime mover and two semi-trailers, all connected by turntables. B Doubles are the largest vehicles urban car drivers generally encounter.


A truck or ute that is sold with only the passenger cab and bonnet fitted, the rest of the vehicle frame (the chassis) is exposed. The cargo tray or other load-carrying equipment is then fitted to suit the intended use. However, a ute fitted with a basic cargo tray is still often referred to as being a cab-chassis.

Car licence or C-Class licence

A standard passenger car licence permits the holder to operate vehicles up to 4.5 tonnes GVM or which have a maximum of 12 seats including driver. In some states, it also allows the holder to operate motorcycles up to 50cc engine capacity.

Crane truck

A truck, often a flatbed, that has a cargo crane fitted for self-loading. The crane is usually mounted between the back of the cab and the leading edge of the cargo area (cranes are sometimes mounted on the tailgate instead). A similar vehicle to the crane truck is the ‘mobile crane’ in which the truck portion carries no cargo and exists only to move the crane from place to place.


A curtainsider is a common cargo vehicle configuration where the walls of the load area are heavy-duty curtains. These curtains are anchored at many points along their bottom edge and usually ratcheted until very taut (at which point these are referred to as tautliners). This configuration is light in weight and allows easy loading-unloading from either side.

Flat Top truck

See Flatbed truck

Flatbed truck

Also called a flat top, tabletop, tray truck, traytop or trayback. A truck with a load-carrying area that is flat and level. There is no tailgate, walls, frame or roof. These are best for shifting loads that are not easily damaged and do not need weather protection or theft protection. They are also used for carrying cargo with awkward dimensions that does not fit into a pantech or tautliner.

Gross Vehicle Mass (GVM)

This is the total weight of a vehicle when it is loaded. It is a main determinant in cargo vehicle licences. For example, a C-Class licence only allows the holder to drive a vehicle up to 4.5 tonnes GVM. If their vehicle’s unladen weight is 2.5 tonnes, they can only load it with a 2 tonnes of cargo and still be legal.

Heavy truck

Vehicles, especially articulated vehicles, of more than 8 tonnes GVM. This broad category is governed by further licence classes for professional drivers.

Light truck

The largest vehicle you can drive on an LR licence. It includes non-articulated trucks that weigh between 4.5 and 8 tonnes GVM. This category also includes buses of more than 12 seats.

Medium truck

The largest vehicle you can drive on an MR licence. It includes non-articulated trucks of greater than 8 tonnes GVM.

Pantech or Moving Truck

Pantechs are trucks or trailers with a load area completely enclosed, with rigid walls, roof and tailgate. Pantech-style cargo bodies are often custom built and can be fitted to everything from a small ute right through to the largest multi-combination trailer.

Prime Mover

A prime mover is a powerful truck that is not fitted with any load carrying equipment other than a turntable to which trailers are attached. It is the foremost unit in any vehicle combination.

Semi or semi-trailer

A semi-trailer refers to an articulated vehicle combination where the prime mover is joined to the trailer/s by a turntable.

Table top

See Flatbed truck


See Curtainsider

Tipper, tip-truck, tipper truck or tip-trailer

A tipper truck is a truck or trailer that can tilt to dump its cargo – often loose bulk loads, such as rock, refuse or animal feed. Most tippers empty out the tailgate, side tippers exist but are less common.


An unpowered load-carrying vehicle that is towed by a prime mover or other vehicle, such as the luggage trailer towed by a bus.


See Flatbed truck


A vehicle for moving loads, whether with the load-carrying section attached to the vehicle frame (such as a rigid truck), towed behind (such as a prime mover) or in combinations. Some small rigid trucks may appear similar to utes, but trucks are larger. View our fleet of vehicles to rent a truck with us.


A cargo vehicle (sometimes car based) with a tray or other load-carrying equipment bolted directly to the vehicle frame. Utes are smaller than a light truck and can be driven on a car licence. Maximum load rating is usually around 1000kg. (Also occasionally called a pickup truck).


A C-Class vehicle designed to offer as much enclosed cargo space as possible, which leads to their distinctive one-box shape. Some of the smallest vans, however, are based on passenger cars and retain some of the original styling.

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