Towing ratings stand high on the priority of choice alongside power, economy and payload when purchasing a light pickup truck. However, recent research in the US and Australia have shown, the value of tow ratings are almost irrelevant in the real world.
It turns out when vehicle towing rates are calculated the max tow ratings are always applied to an empty, base model truck with just the driver. Some countries have introduced standardisation comparison systems to keep things simple for purchasers to choose between brands and models, however the system is still flawed.
In the USA, the system assumes driver and passenger weigh in at 68kg each, and the truck carries 32kgs of equipment. Fair enough for a couple perhaps, but with the crew cabs favoured and many towing folk bringing camping, hunting, jet-ski and fishing gear plus friends or families it’s not necessarily realistic. Even light commercial workers usually have materials, tools and workmates onboard. Using fully loaded trucks would provide a more useful tow rating, correct?
The US J2807 system also assumes ball weight of 10% of trailer weight, the light end of the traditionally targeted 10-15%. That often becomes an issue with the luxury pickups that many families prefer.
Weigh bridges can be sobering places when the Gross Vehicle Weight Rating is reached with full fuel and (nothing else) with the rated trailer at 10% ball weight you’d be overweight even before anyone or anything was put in the truck. And don’t get started on people who’ve forgotten geometry and the lever effect, believing that “x” amount of kgs on the tow ball adds the equal kgs on the rear axle.
The standard also assumes the pickup is equipped with the options that one third of that model are equipped with not including any requested towing package and hardware, not usually the majority. Fine for the fleet buyer ordering thousands of white 2WD rubber floor regular cabs, but the fact on the street is there are many high end trims that weigh many kilos more than the lower trim options that don’t reflect on the models tow rating. Don’t forget aftermarket parts, factory upgrades and accessories either, many wheel choices will drop a tow rating by 200 kilos and your tyres probably will not carry the necessary load either, another upgrade, so more weight added there too.
Ask any manufacturer what their owners tow and the answer will be less than the maximum or some waffle on that “90% of our customers, if they tow at all, tow 3 tonne or less. Fact is probably 10% tow what they believe to be the maximum, or worse, more than they are supposed to, we know it, you know it, so best not to say any more about that.
Those who make the trailers and campers are even more optimistic. Manufacturers seem to have favourable scales and love high tow ratings since they can then advertise that their products “can be towed by a crew cab pickup.” In reality, only one particular regular cab, base trim, 2WD might be able to tow it, would you be going camping in a utility fleet spec truck? A typical top spec accessories loaded crew cab probably can’t do the job. You would also be surprised how many people forget that fresh water, fuel and gas bottles are heavier than air.
With a little time as an observer, very rarely do you see someone pulling an caravan or boat that doesn’t also have some accessories and equipment, ATV or dirt bike(s), fuel, generator, skis, kayaks or something else along for the ride. Everyone usually forgets the weight of the canine contingent until wagging tails pop up.
Commercial, fleet and many HD-segment buyers use the tow ratings but they also consider things many recreational towers overlook. What we really need is a prominent disclaimer, like a sticker listing weights and stating, “Your tow rating may vary.”
There’s only one way to know what your pickup can tow, and it involves a trip to the scales, knowledge of what Gross Combined Weight Rating (GCWR), GVWR and Gross Axle Weight Rating (GAWR) are and how to calculate it all. Sure, the salesman is correct when they say your truck could pull this or that, but will they be in court with you if something goes wrong?
Worth some thought before you hitch up people.