Sometimes automakers get carried away with adding gimmicky features and accessories (uh, hello gesture control, I’m not going to swing my hands around like a crazy person to change the radio station), but you won’t hear too many complaints about the newest trend of multi-function pickup truck tailgates. Trucks exist to provide utility and capability, so it makes sense to innovate with practicality in mind. Visit a used Ram dealer or GMC dealer, and you’ll find two of the best multi-function tailgates, but other manufacturers are catching up.
Multi-function tailgates cover a range of different types. Some convert into steps for easy bed access, some provide on-the-go work surfaces, and some can morph into up to six different configurations. Many of these tailgates are now operated remotely with a key fob button and include barn doors that swing out for easy access even when your trailer is hooked up, a feature that alleviates a longstanding frustration of boat- and RV-hauling drivers.
The best part about these new, highfalutin multi-function tailgates is the price: the Ram Multifunction tailgate adds just $995 to the price tag of a new truck, and the price difference on a used truck is even smaller. Other manufacturers build it in as standard equipment on certain trims. Regardless, the extra cost is money well spent, and multi-function tailgates are so popular that buyers everywhere are making purchasing decisions based on tailgate functionality. Multi-function tailgates provide so many conveniences that you’ll wonder how you ever lived without them. Here are our three favorite multi-function tailgates:
Ram’s Multifunction Tailgate
We’ll admit, it looks a little odd in the upright position, thanks to the visible vertical crack that at first glance may appear to be a deep scratch (albeit a perfectly vertical one), but aside from that, we can’t find much to criticize about Ram’s crazy-functional tailgate. Designed for easy access during loading and unloading, multiple settings and access points make it clear that Ram thought of just about every use. To get this feature in a used truck, look for Ram models from 2019 and on.
First off, the tailgate opens traditionally (up and down) but also has built-in 60/40 swing out doors (hence the vertical crack) that provide bed access even when a trailer is hooked up. This eliminates the gymnastics previously required to access the bed – a big relief for anyone who’s awkwardly launched themselves into the bed via a rear tire. The 60/40 swing-out doors also make accessing the bed easier because you don’t have to reach over the length of a traditional tailgate.
In the traditional open position, the tailgate can even handle up to 2,000 pounds of weight, making it a great place to hang out and grab a bite before a football game or efficiently doubling as a workspace at the job site. It’s also helpful if you’re hauling extra-long, heavy cargo. Add the optional RamBox Cargo Management System, and you’ll get lockable storage spaces with drains and lighting, perfect for use as an ad hoc cooler at tailgate parties or as a spot to safely stow tools. The included 115-volt outlet is especially handy for keeping everything powered.
GMC’s MultiPro Tailgate
Introduced for the same year as the Ram multi-function tailgate, GMC refers to its MultiPro Tailgate as a “multi-purpose tool,” and we agree. There’s not much it can’t do, and with an advertised six-function promise, GMC makes a compelling case for spending the extra cash to get it. However, if you want to find one on a used truck, you may end up spending quite a bit since it was originally only offered on the SLT and higher trims of the GMC Sierra. While that has changed for more recent model years, those trucks will be even more expensive on the used market.
The MultiPro Tailgate is a tailgate-within-a-tailgate design, with a traditional bottom-hinged ‘outer’ tailgate and a smaller inner tailgate, the latter of which is where the true functionality exists. It’s a bed extender, an entry step, and more. With so much functionality, it’s fair to assume that there’s an element of cheesiness to the design, but happily, that’s not the case. This is an extremely durable feature that’s designed for heavy use.
First off, the tailgate is raised and lowered by pressing a button, and it can also be remotely operated: there’s a button on the instrument panel and another on the vehicle’s key fob. Electric tailgates are a welcome upgrade from manual versions that require brawn and a little finesse to open and close smoothly.
As for features, they include a load stop capability that keeps longer cargo from sliding out, as well as a full-width step, which is a nice addition to GMC’s already clever corner step built into the rear bumper. Access is even easier with the inner tailgate lowered because you can stand about much closer to the bed, eliminating the need for reaching in at awkward angles.
Our favorite MultiPro Tailgate feature is the inner gate work surface. It opens to a workbench-level height, and if you find a used truck with the available 120-volt outlet and Kicker MultiPro Sound System, you can turn the back of your truck into a tailgate entertainment center. The moisture-resistant sound system even works independently from the truck, so you don’t have to keep it running to enjoy streaming music.
Ford’s Tailgate Step
But while Ram and GMC offer some impressive designs, the first multi-function tailgate was introduced by Ford back in 2008. Although the Ford Tailgate Step is pretty basic today, it is quite available in the used truck market. Ford is also stepping up the game for 2021, and we’re impressed with the list of enhancements, which includes some rugged side-mounted cleats that help make securing cargo a lot easier. Also new are clamp pockets so the tailgate can double as a workbench. Both are unique to Ford.
We’re not sure the new optional work surface is worth the extra cost new, and you won’t be able to find it on a used truck for a year or two, but it’s part of what differentiates Ford’s tailgate from the competition, so we’ll review it here. The work surface includes a ruler and a handful of roto-molded receptacles, including a pencil holder, a cupholder, and a phone or tablet holder. They feel a bit like afterthoughts, but in practice, they’re quite handy.
Ford’s Tailgate Step is not just a clever name: it includes a retractable step for easier bed access. It’s a simple design, but it’s also durable. Other than that, there are no multi-function settings or swing-out doors. It begs the question: why not? Other manufacturers are receiving positive feedback for their tailgate innovations.
Ford claims that its research determined that customers use tailgates primarily as workbenches for projects, including construction work at job sites and home improvement jobs. That is why the company responded with practical features that helped make these projects easier to accomplish. While we appreciate Ford’s logic, we don’t quite understand why a beefed-up workbench has to be exclusive of a multi-function tailgate.
Add Utility to Your Used Truck
We expect to see future innovations in tailgate design, and this is evident from General Motors’ recent patent filing for its own multi-function tailgate. Patent US7677626B2 shows a similar design as the GMC Multi-Step, with a few distinct structural features that differentiate it and add even more functionality. The ramp platform, for example, includes a pulley device, ostensibly for helping raise and lower heavy cargo – like motorcycles – in a safe and controlled manner.
We love the ingenuity of multi-function tailgates and how they steer away from gimmicky features. This approach, which puts utility above kitsch, builds trust among buyers, and helps spread word-of-mouth. When it comes to engineering advances, the multi-function tailgate is a home run and a big win for pickup truck buyers. So as you search for your next used pickup, look for a model with a multi-function tailgate at your local used Ram or GMC dealer.