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2010 Update, Let’s Talk ½ Ton Trucks

  • Monday, November 23 2009 @ 02:34 pm UTC
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RV News and Stories 2010 Update, Let’s Talk ½ Ton Trucks

Back in 2007, when the 2008 year model ½ ton trucks were being introduced, I wrote an article about the tow ratings Ford was advertising at the time. To sum the article up, Ford advertised that its F-150 was capable of towing 11,000 pounds. Now, for someone with some experience towing trailers I found this claim difficult to believe. After some research I discovered that in 2004, 2005 and 2006 the highest tow rating for an F-150 was 9,900 pounds. In August of 2006 Ford announced the 2007 F-150 was capable of towing 10,500, and in January 2007 the tow capacity was increased to 11,000 pounds. According to the commercial the only difference between these trucks, to justify this increase, was a fully boxed frame.

I also found it interesting that this new, higher tow rating came out shortly after Toyota advertised a tow rating of 10,800 for its ½ ton Tundra. At the time I used a simple formula in an effort to verify the advertised tow ratings. If you take the Gross Combined Weight Rating (GCWR) minus the vehicle curb weight (the actual weight of the truck, less passengers and cargo) we know roughly how much weight the truck can tow.

Note: In my example I used the curb weight listed by the vehicle manufacturer at the time.

The Toyota Tundra had a GCWR of 16,000 pounds, minus the curb weight of 5,200 = 10,800 pounds, which was the advertised tow rating of the Tundra at the time. The Ford F-150 had a new GCWR of 15,800 minus the curb weight of 5,125 = 10,675 pounds, which is 325 pounds less than the advertised 11,000 pound tow rating at the time. Things didn’t add up! And I didn’t understand how the truck’s GCWR increased from 15,300 to 15,800 pounds with little or no changes to the truck. Even with the higher GCWR the truck could not tow 11,000 pounds, at least not mathematically.

I have owned Dodge trucks for many years, and because I tow trailers quite often my last two Dodge trucks have been ¾ ton models. Both trucks were short wheelbase, 4-wheel drive, 5.7 liter, 2500 series trucks with 8,800 pound tow ratings. The last travel trailer I owned weighed in at 7,300 pounds when it was loaded, and although my ¾ ton truck could tow it I wasn’t always comfortable with the way it performed. So naturally when a ½ truck was advertised with a 1-ton plus higher rating than my ¾ ton truck it raised a red flag in my mind.

At the conclusion of my first article I asked, “At this rate what will happen with tow ratings by 2010?” Well the 2010 models are coming out, so let’s take a look at what’s happening with ½ ton truck tow ratings.

You can read my first article in its entirety.

I should probably begin this article when Edmunds Inside Line conducted a 2009 Full-Size Pickup Truck Comparison Test (Chevy Silverado vs. Dodge Ram vs. Ford F-150 vs. Toyota Tundra).

Of course the area of the testing I was most concerned about for this article was the tow test.

The following are excerpts from Edmunds website:

1) We added another task to our tow-test regimen this time. We always test trucks against their claimed capacity, ballasting each rig to a similar percentage of its particular Gross Combination Weight Rating (GCWR). But this produces different trailer weights for each combatant, and it confuses some readers. So we added a second test: a fixed-weight face-off in which each truck pulled an identical trailer up our test mountain.

2) And let's not forget the trailers these trucks pulled. Our Fleetwood Prowler 230 RKS is a 29-foot camper that weighs 6,280 pounds with dry tanks. We also had a Fleetwood Backpack 210 FQ, a 3,880-pound unit that's around 23 feet long. All the trucks pulled the heavier Prowler (ballasted to an even 6,500 pounds) in the fixed-weight test. Afterwards, trailers and ballast were manipulated to burden each truck to 80 percent of its GCWR.

3) 4th Place: 2009 Ford F-150 Lariat SuperCrew 4x4

Perhaps it's optimized for towing, we theorized. A mere 6,500-pound trailer should be a minor annoyance for a truck with an 11,200-pound tow rating, right? Well, it didn't work out that way. Simply put, the Ford got beaten on our 11.5-mile test grade, coming in dead last by 27 seconds in a test that should have stressed it least. It was the only truck to drop below 50 mph, sagging to 47.8 mph at one point, and it spent the most time at wide-open throttle. None of this should be a surprise. Physics suggests that a tepid 5.4-liter V8 that makes 310 hp (in the heaviest truck, no less) should not be able to out-tow others that boast 380 hp and up. Physics is right. Furthermore, the 3.73:1 axle ratio that's needed to generate the advertised tow rating drastically affects every day fuel economy. Our unburdened F-150 achieved 12.6 mpg, well below the window sticker ratings of 14 mpg city and 18 mpg highway (which were achieved with the standard 3.55:1 ratio). This 2009 Ford F-150 is a nice truck in many ways, but it's clearly time for a new engine. The 5.4-liter V8 is simply being asked to do too much.

Read the entire Tow Test Comparison here

I find it interesting that the Ford truck came in last place in the tow test despite boasting the highest tow capacity of the four trucks tested. I also find it interesting that the Ford had the lowest horsepower and torque ratings, but claimed to have the highest tow rating.

If the ½ Ford, rated to tow 11,200 pounds, finished last in all of the tow test categories while towing a 6,500 pound trailer what would the results be when you add 4,700 more pounds to the trailer? I personally think this tow rating is inflated beyond a weight that is safe for the average consumer to ever consider towing, with any ½ ton truck. If you advertise an 11,200 pound tow rating somebody is going to put it to the test and just thinking about it makes me nervous.

Edmunds summed it up like this: Those Ford and Dodge tow ratings never made sense to us on paper, chiefly because the Ram's 5.7-liter V8 makes 390 horsepower and 407 lb-ft of torque, while the F-150's 5.4-liter aging mill makes but 310 horses and 365 lb-ft of torque.

Now let’s take a look at what 2010 has to offer for ½ ton truck tow ratings.

I was a little disappointed to see that the 2010 Dodge Ram 1500 tow rating was bumped up 1,500 pounds over the 2009 model with no real changes to the truck itself. The new Gross Combined Weight Rating of 15,500 pounds increases the Ram’s tow rating to 9,100. Of course the truck must be configured properly to achieve this tow rating. According to Edmunds some of the reason for the increase is because the Ram easily outperformed other trucks with much higher tow ratings when Edmunds conducted its 4-way truck comparison test.

Now the ½ ton Ram has a higher tow rating than my ¾ ton Ram. I don’t necessarily agree with this new updated capacity, but I will say 9,100 pounds is more believable than Ford’s advertised 11,200 pound rating.

Speaking of Ford, what does 2010 have in store for Ford ½ ton tow ratings? Whereas only one ½ ton model of 56 configurations available in 2008 claimed to be capable of safely towing 11,000 pounds; in 2010 Ford has ten ½ ton models with ratings of 11,000 pounds or more.

I personally disagree when a manufacturer claims that its ½ ton version of a truck with a 5.4L engine and 3.73 axle ratio can safely tow a 5 ½ ton trailer down the road. The 2010 model engine is 310 horsepower @ 5,000 RPMs and produces 390 lbs.-ft. of torque at 3,500 RPMs. The only time you will achieve this peak horsepower rating is when the truck is running at 5,000 RPM’s.

The formula used to convert torque to horsepower is to multiply torque by RPM / 5,252. If the engine produces 390 lbs.-ft. of torque @ 3,500 RPM this translates to about 260 HP, but how often do you drive at 3,500 RPMs? I couldn’t find any charts depicting the torque curve for this 5.4L Ford engine, but in reality at a lower RPM range it will be towing 11,000 pounds at much lower torque and horsepower ratings.

Tow ratings, weight terminology and vehicle ratings have always been difficult to sift through and understand. In my opinion to use the strategy of inflating ½ ton truck tow ratings, to 5 ½ tons, in an effort to sell trucks is an injustice to the consumer. The consumer needs to be properly educated to safely tow heavy trailers, not misled by vehicle manufacturers.

Towing 11,000 pounds is better left to the larger, beefier ¾ ton and 1 ton trucks that manufacturers build. I just don’t get why they see it necessary to burden their ½ ton trucks with these kinds of hefty tow ratings.

I am a product of the sixties and very well understand vehicle manufacturers competing for the consumers business. Chevy and Ford had 427 engines, so Dodge came out with a 426 HEMI to stay competitive. Forty some years later Toyota comes out with a ½ ton truck they claim can tow 10,800 pounds and overnight a ½ ton Ford can miraculously tow 11,000 pounds. The ½ ton Dodge, with a lower tow rating, beats the Ford up in a comparison test, so Dodge increases its rating by 1,500 pounds. Come on guys!

The muscle car era is over and today’s more sophisticated buyer wants the truth. One of these manufacturers should stop being so competitive to be number one in every category and try the honest approach for once. Advertise that your ½ ton truck lineup can safely and efficiently tow a 6 or 7 thousand pound trailer and advise the consumer to look into your ¾ ton and 1 ton lineup if they are towing more weight than that. You might be surprised at how receptive the trailer towing buyer is to this honest approach.

2012 UPDATE: Caution – Why Truck Tow Ratings don’t Add Up

Happy & Safe Towing,
Mark Polk
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