Trailer Talk

How Important are Claims About Towing Capacity?

Who's really 'best in class,' and do customers really care?

July 31, 2014

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The latest truck maker to claim towing capacity superiority is Ford, which has upped the horsepower and torque of its Power Stroke V-8 diesel to propel an F-450 pickup and a trailer as heavy as 31,200 pounds.
The latest truck maker to claim towing capacity superiority is Ford, which has upped the horsepower and torque of its Power Stroke V-8 diesel to propel an F-450 pickup and a trailer as heavy as 31,200 pounds.

UPDATED -- How much does trailer-towing capacity mean to buyers of heavy pickup trucks? Over the years, the Big Three domestic auto and truck makers have made big-poundage claims that indicate it’s pretty important to them. They believe that many customers consider towing as one of their most important considerations in picking a pickup.

The latest one to claim superiority is Ford, which has upped the horsepower and torque of its Power Stroke V-8 diesel, to 440 horses and 860 pounds-feet, to propel an F-450 pickup and a gooseneck trailer as heavy as 31,200 pounds. Ford marketers proclaim that this is “best in class.”

What class is it? In a specs box on Ford’s media website last week, an F-450 diesel dually’s gross vehicle weight rating was listed as 14,500 pounds, which put it in Class 4. That’s what I reported in an earlier version of this blog.

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In a demonstration a couple of weeks ago, Ford pitted a pair of F-450 pickups against a Ram 3500 dually pickup with a high-output Cummins Turbo Diesel, which had a GVW of 14,000 pounds, or Class 3. That caused Ram people to protest Ford’s claim, arguing that their 3500 should’ve been compared to an F-350.

After the original version of the blog was posted, a Ford spokesman called to say the 14,500 figure was a typo, that the correct GVW rating is 14,000. (It's been fixed on the Ford website.) Fourteen thousand is what the F-450’s been certified and registered as with government officials, he said.

But 14,000 is also an F-350’s GVWR. Why is that? Because the F-350 emphasizes payload while the F-450 pickup emphasizes towing, he explained. The F-450 pickup’s frame is the same as the F-350’s, with bowed frame rails, but the 450 has axle, suspension, brake and wheel upgrades. (The F-450 cab-chassis truck has straight frame rails and higher GVW ratings).

Anyway, the point is the tow rating, and the Ram is close at 30,000 pounds. For that and other reasons it’s a fair matchup, the spokesman said, and Ford wins with 1,200 more pounds of towing ability.

Ram people also say Ram’s 3500 competes against Ford’s F-350, not the F-450. (Looking at the model badges, that seems to make sense.) And the F-350’s tow rating is 26,700 pounds, or 3,300 less than the Ram 3500’s. Ram further notes that it uses a Society of Automotive Engineers procedure to arrive at tow ratings, while Ford does not.

Not yet in the SuperDuty pickups, the Ford spokesman said, but it will use the SAE procedure when they are redesigned. Ford began phasing in the procedure with lighter-duty products, and used it in setting the tow rating of the F-150.

Meanwhile, General Motors chooses not to get involved in this latest spat because, a spokesman told Automotive News, the argument is “meaningless to 99.9% of customers.”

I tend to agree, but would put the percentage lower because customers loyal to one make or another might care a lot about those numbers, in pounds or horsepower. The numbers are things to brag about, even if customers seldom pull trailers that heavy.

Extra power allows a guy to blow by slower traffic on a long upgrade, whether it’s a really heavy semi or a chump with an inferior pickup. That’s fun, even if it’s a little silly.

Regarding the number claims, shouldn’t a customer simply determine his towing needs, then buy the make and model that will handle the job and otherwise make him happy? If there’s a manufacturers’ dispute over numbers, look at the specifications rather than the model badge.

And check to be sure there are no typos. 

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Author Bio

Tom Berg

Senior Editor

Journalist since 1965, truck writer and editor since 1978. CDL-qualified; conducts road tests on new heavy-, medium- and light-duty tractors and trucks. Specializes in vocational and hybrid vehicles.

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