For most of the 90-or-so-year history of pickup trucks, and of buckboards and freight wagons before them, a tailgate was about the simplest thing on the vehicle: a straight piece of wood and then metal, reinforced as needed and, in modern times, double walled, hinged at the bottom, and latched at the sides. They drop down for loading and unloading, then raise and slam into place for travel. A big majority of pickups still on the road remain that way and work fine.
Of course, a tailgate’s principal purpose is to keep cargo inside the bed, though it isn’t a bad idea to tie stuff down so it remains in place in the face of wind and road bumps, or, heaven forbid, the truck rolls over. If unsecured boxes or tools slide around on the floor, the gate should at least keep them aboard during smooth travels. If a tailgate must be lowered into the open position to accommodate cargo that’s longer than the bed, it’s unwise to drive away without strapping or roping the load to keep it from sliding out.
A few years ago, truck builders decided to help keep cargo stationary. They offered boxes, racks, and enhanced tie-down points to make securement easier. Spray-on bed liners add some friction to the floor’s surface to make things stay put.
Of course, bed covers, whether soft tonneaus or hard lids, encapsulate a load and hide it from nosy eyes or thieving hands, and protect it from the elements. Many front-hinged hard covers lock onto the top of the tailgate, turning a bed into a long, secure trunk.
Tailgates can be a barrier to getting in and out, but standard bumpers include a step and this can be used to climb up and over the gate. Accessory steps from aftermarket suppliers place the foot piece lower so the climb is easier. These have shanks that slide into a hitch receiver and lock in place with a pin, and the step has a slip-resistant surface.
OEMs now offer them, too. For instance, Nissan dealers sell a rear bumper assist step for Titan and Titan XD pickups for a suggested list price of $245. Ram offers a low-mounted step for $295.
About a decade ago, General Motors introduced bumper corner steps that can be used with the tailgate up or down.
These are especially useful on pickups with a low stance.
By 2013, Ford had the bright idea to build a step into the tailgate. It’s a U-shaped device that pulls out of the top of the gate and swings down on hinges toward the ground; an accompanying bar stands up to form a vertical handle that the climber grasps to steady him/herself. Ford designers refined the concept for ’15 to make it easier and stronger.
Tailgates that swing aside as well as down — introduced more than a decade ago by Honda in its car-based Ridgeline — allow a person to stand against the bed’s rear and close to the cargo. A palletized load can be forklifted onto the bed and slid all the way in or out. And a person can use an accessory step to get aboard. Still unique to the Ridgeline is a locking trunk beneath the bed.
Ram pickups now offer the Multifunction Tailgate with an accompanying low-mounted step. The gate opens four ways: flat, left door only, right door only, and both doors. Each door swings open 88 degrees.
“The tailgate came to be after talking to customers and is also a result of our engineers and designers putting their heads together,” says spokesman Trevor Dorchies.
The Multifunction tailgate is a $995 option.
GMC’S Jaw Dropper
General Motors’ GMC brand is heavily promoting its MultiPro tailgate with a marketing campaign featuring observers so struck by the product’s cleverness that their jaws drop. In another spot, pickup owners carry their old tailgates en masse to a scrap pile.
Pieces of the MultiPro tailgate fold out to keep loads from sliding. They also rise to form a work surface and down to allow closer access to the bed and to form a step for entry or exit.
Jim Gobart, the engineer who conceived MultiPro, says the idea came to him from a boss who complained about Home Depot purchases sliding to the back of his truck bed. His initial thought was to have an inner piece of the tailgate fold down to let customers get about two feet closer to the bed itself. From there he thought to also add a step to create a stairway, and before he knew it his idea turned into six different functions.
“The MultiPro made an immediate ‘gotta-have-it’ impression on our leadership team and work started in secret on prototypes,” says spokesman Stuart Fowle. “Since the concept was new and the (work) demand placed on a tailgate is so high, the tailgate underwent more testing and validation than any tailgate in GMC history. As a result, in addition to being innovative and flexible, it also holds up to 375 lbs. when folded down.
“(The MultiPro) is standard on SLT, AT4 and Denali trim levels but not offered on base or SLE trucks,” he said. “So it doesn’t have an option price.”
MultiPro is exclusive to GMC’s Sierra pickups for one year, said another source. After that, it might appear on Chevro- let’s Silverado pickups. One negative is that if it gets bashed, higher repair costs could generate nostalgia for a simple old-fashioned gate. But the new gate is clever.