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I thought this had been proven a while back, but apparently whenever the price of gas goes up, truck drivers seem to get this fever about the tailgate and its position and/or attachment to the truck. From the first week I bought my truck to now, almost everyone seems to have a different way for me to “save gas” with the bed of the truck.

For those of you who haven’t seen it or are curious, here’s what the Mythbusters concluded — ride with the tailgate up unless you want to stick a net on the back. Personally, this negates many of the reasons I got a truck in the first place. I often need the extra 1.5′ the tailgate provides for moving lumber, so it’s a closed tailgate for me.

What do you do with your truck? Let us know in comments.

Insert from MythBusters – Tailgate Up or Down 2 [YouTube]


17 Responses to Tailgates: Don’t Buy The Hype

  1. Closed tailgate, although on my longest highway trips (when MPG is most critical) the bed is usually full of plants anyway.

  2. Cameron Watt says:

    There is no tailgate on my one ton for no other reason than it gets smashed up. I mainly haul cord wood, scrap metal, tool boxes, and skid-mounted equipment with my pickup.

    You’d be surprised what will stay on the back of a truck without tying it down…until you start hopping on a hill climb 🙂 Tie-downs make for inexpensive insurance and I net or tarp loose loads whether or not I have a tailgate on my truck. There’s also a six inch plank I put across the back to maintain order.

    @Sean: I lay long lumber, if it’s not too many pieces, with one end tied down on the back end of the bed and the forward end laying on the roof of the cab(and also tied down!). Overhead clearance isn’t an issue so I don’t care as long as everything is mainly between the bumpers.

    If the truck has a tailgate then I keep it closed and rest the back ends of the boards on top of it so the angle of the boards is less extreme. Of course this doesn’t work if you have more than a quarter truckload.

    Out my way you can get a ticket for having an obscured licence plate if you run with your tailgate down or even have a ball hitch on your bumper but I haven’t seen it enforced for years.

    You’d think that a welder would have a nice ladder or headache rack on his truck but, as they say, the cobbler’s children go barefoot.

  3. Dan says:

    One thing that tends to get overlooked when discussing this topic is the fact that the tailgate actually serves a structural purpose in most pickup beds. Go too long without a tailgate and the bed sides will start flopping around, eventually bowing so far out of square that it’s impossible to re-install the bed.

  4. Mike says:

    I didn’t use my truck to haul anything like lumber / firewood, so I used to leave the tailgate detached in my garage until I needed it for something. I did really like how I could turn around and see my rear bumper when backing into a tight spot.

  5. Robert says:

    I leave it at home and drive the Geo Metro instead…unless I really NEED the truck (notice I didn’t say WANT).

  6. ttamnoswad says:

    I saw the show, and just remembered that I don’t think they tested the difference between long bed and short bed trucks. I would imagine the turbulence profile would be different depending on the bed length.

    On my old 79 toyota long bed, you actually could feel the drag with the tailgate up and the speedo at 65. I would put the tailgate down for long trips and keep it up for around town, daily routine driving. It was 2wd and was much lower to the ground comparatively, so I wonder if the overall height of the cab compared to the deck of the bed surface would also influence the flow of air.

    I don’t think the myth is busted, I’d like to see it done again with an 80’s pickup, perhaps thats the last era where tailgate position mattered compared to todays EFI and computer controlled transmissions.

    btw my 2000 ranger v6 auto gets 16 mpg around town. I miss that old Hilux.

  7. “You’d think that a welder would have a nice ladder or headache rack on his truck but, as they say, the cobbler’s children go barefoot.”

    My headache rack’s stainless. With aluminum “utili-trac” inserts for tie-downs.

  8. darren says:

    If your concerned about fuel mileage you probably shouldn’t be driving a truck. BTW, I’ve tried up, down and without a tailgate and found no appreciable difference in any way.

  9. luke says:

    gate up.
    just because I drive a truck does not mean I have to look like a hick doing it

  10. browndog77 says:

    In some states (NJ for one) it is flat out illegal to drive w/ the gate in the open position. I suppose if you have a flagged load hanging out there it may be overlooked, but I know 2 guys who were ticketed trying to save gas!

  11. Fong says:

    This debate has been going on forever and despite the countless scientific data, some people still swear they can “feel” it. Forgive us skeptics about the calibration of those “feelings”.

    It’s not turbulence that generates drag. It’s purely a function of the drag coefficient characterized predominately by the front profile of the truck and flow separation over the back of the cab.

  12. My understanding is that modern trucks are designed so that with the tail gate closed and the bed empty a pocket of air forms (not sure if it’s stationary or moving) so that the air coming over the top of the roof flows smoothly over the bed.

    Removing the tailgate (or replacing it with a net), putting a tonneau cover, or a cap would change the way the air flows and possibly create more drag.

    Now whether it changes the drag enough to effect fuel efficiency is a whole ‘nother question. It could be that since trucks are so heavy and have such a bad aerodynamic profile that any change in fuel economy is lost in the noise of other factors.

    I keep track of my MPG on every fill; it varies greatly from fill to fill. It would be hard to notice a few MPG improvement without some real statistical analysis and controlling other factors such as load, wind direction, percentage of stop and go driving, etc…

  13. Chris says:

    Fong: Actually, turbulence is *exactly* what generates drag. That “flow separation” you refer to is…wait for it…turbulence.

    Your characterization that “it’s purely a function of the drag coefficient” gets the relationship backwards. Cd does not create drag; drag creates the data that leads to a Cd number.


  14. Bennicus says:

    What about canopies? I think they do a pretty good job when there isn’t a ladder on top and I think it even helps when I tow a trailer.

  15. jiggy says:

    wow. this site is amazing. air drag is a real factor that decreases your speed. that is one reason why race cars are those wings and lowered chasis to increase speed. one of the many ways to save on gas is about proper maintenance of the engine and tires. planning the trip is also one great factor. what works for me is always checking the tire pressure and air filters for long trips and having an engine wash with the radiators cleaned with a mixture of detergent and kerosene to wash away the soot. the cooler the engine the better it performs.

  16. Dave P says:

    I only drive my truck to work. When I need to pick something up I steal my wife’s truck. Sure, the money comes out of the same account, but I feel like I’m saving money on gas….

  17. Robert says:

    jiggy about the only thing you said there that is anywhere near correct is about checking tire pressure, but it should be done frequently…not just for long trips. As for all the rest of that BS you’ve got a lot to learn still, but at least you have internet access so… get to it!

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