Chevrolet’s third generation of C/K pickups was nearing the end of its development cycle in 1986, with the fourth generation coming on line in 1988. Introduced in 1973, the third generation saw no major redesigns during its entire production cycle. The K series of four-wheel-drive trucks followed that trend, with minor refinements for 1986. One exception was a new front appearance package. The third-generation K30 was chosen by the U.S. Army as its standard utility vehicle.
Chevrolet's full-sized design used five riveted cross members in a steel ladder frame, with the bed and cab mounted as separate units. There were two different frames, one with a 131.5-inch wheelbase for standard cab trucks and the other with a 164.5-inch wheelbase for extended Bonus Cab and Crew Cab models. The K30 was also offered as a chassis-cab version to provide for mounting cargo boxes, wreckers and flatbeds.
Curb weight for the standard cab K30 with the six-cylinder was 4,913 pounds, the Bonus Cab had a curb weight of 5,338 pounds, and the Crew Cab's curb weight was 5,399 pounds. Diesel V-8 models weighed in at 5,367 pounds curb weight for the standard cab, 5,801 pounds for the Bonus Cab and 5,862 pounds for the Crew Cab. Power front disc brakes with 12.5-inch rotors were standard, along with power steering. The rear brakes were 13-inch drums with 3-inch shoes. Chassis-cab models could be optioned with 5,000-pound rear springs with a dual-wheel axle. Rear axle capacity was 7,500 pounds. Front axle capacity was 4,500 pounds. Towing capacity for the K-30 was 10,300 pounds. The cargo payload was 2,500 pounds. Fuel capacity was 20 gallons. Dual 20-gallon tanks were optional.
A 292-cubic-inch inline six-cylinder was standard for the K30, producing 115 horsepower at 4,000 rpm and 210 foot-pounds of torque at 800 rpm. All 1986 California K30 trucks received the 379-cubic-inch diesel V-8 that developed 148 horsepower at 3,600 rpm and 246 foot-pounds of torque at 2,000 rpm. The diesel was the optional engine for trucks in 49 states. Chassis-cab trucks offered the 350-cubic-inch gasoline V-8, which produced 185 horsepower at 4,000 rpm and 285 foot-pounds of torque at 2,400 rpm and the 454-cubic-inch V-8, which made 240 horsepower at 3,800 rpm and 375 foot-pounds of torque at 3,200 rpm. The standard transmission was a four-speed manual with a 12-inch clutch. The optional transmission was the Turbo Hydramatic 700R4 four-speed automatic. This transmission could be ordered with overdrive. The transfer case was a two-speed New Process Model 205. The front axle had manual locking freewheel hubs, with automatic locking hubs optional. Full time four-wheel-drive could be ordered with the automatic transmission.
The three cab styles offered were the standard cab, an extended Bonus Cab and a six-passenger Crew Cab. All three cab styles were offered for the chassis-cab trucks. The only available bed was the box-style Fleetside. A special front appearance package was available with quad headlights and a grille that had the center bar painted to match the body. This package was standard for the Silverado trim option. Overall length for the standard cab was 212.2 inches. Cab length for the standard cab was 109.3 inches. The other two styles shared a 246.4-inch overall length and cab length of 142.3 inches. Width of the K30 was 79.6 inches, with 50 inches between the bed fenders. Overall height for the standard cab was 76.4 inches, with the Bonus Cab and Crew Cab at 76.3 inches.
The 1986 Chevrolet pickups were offered in three trim levels. The Custom Deluxe was the base level. Base models had vinyl seats, door panels and headliner in five available colors. The Scottsdale came in vinyl or cloth and included extra insulation and interior lighting. The Silverado included padded cloth seating, full carpeting, a custom steering wheel, padded headliner and brushed aluminum inserts in the doors and dashboard. All models had fully padded dashboards.
The EPA does not list estimated fuel mileage for the 1986 Chevrolet K-30 pickup but did test the K-10 Suburban with the 379-cubic-inch diesel V-8 at 15 mpg city, 20 mpg highway and 16 mpg combined. A segment on television’s “60 minutes” claimed to expose a defect in the third-generation Chevrolet pickup design that resulted in fiery explosions during side-impact crashes; the NHTSA found no significant differences from other trucks in the same class in side-impact safety. The "60 Minutes" story was later disproved.