Why Your Pickup Truck’s Tow Rating is BS

Why Your Pickup Truck’s Tow Rating is BS

Trucks are big profit generators for automakers. The half-ton and heavy-duty pickup segments are probably the most fiercely competitive categories in the industry. Brands fight tooth and nail for every sale they can make. To move the metal they’re willing to leverage any and every competitive advantage no matter how small. Not surprisingly this winner-take-all mentality is delaying common-sense reform that benefits truck buyers.

SAE-Tow-Ratings-05.jpgWhen it comes to towing nobody seems to agree on anything. Getting automakers to cooperate on this issue has been like herding a clowder of water-logged cats – lots of hissing and scratching but no meaningful progress.

Right now a universally accepted methodology outlining how maximum tow ratings are derived is not in place. Every manufacturer seems to follow its own test procedure. As a result, tow ratings for a Chevy and a Ford aren’t comparable, meaning consumers shouldn’t be swayed by an extra 1,000 lb rating one way or the other.

In an effort to alleviate this confusion SAE International, a professional engineering association that sets technical standards for the automotive industry has an answer, and it’s called J2807.


“All the manufacturers got together and worked to formulate this new standard,” said Sam Butto, a Toyota Representative. “It’s been a fairly hot topic since it’s been initiated a few years ago.”

Keeping this issue on the boil Butto said “We’ve been complying with it for many of our vehicles since 2011.” Toyota took a leadership position on J2807, adopting it two years ahead of when competitors said they’d comply with it.

Without diving into the details, which are about as dry as stale saltines, the proposed test outlines myriad procedures for automakers to follow. For instance, to be certified to tow a certain weight a vehicle must successfully accelerate to a certain speed in a given amount of time; it has to be able to tackle specified grades (hills) without overheating; and be able to bring its load to a safe stop in a given distance. There are literally dozens of other tests aside from these. It’s all very thorough, and probably things automakers already do, but getting everyone to follow the exact same procedure is key to delivering a meaningful rating.

SAE-Tow-Ratings-03.jpgTom Wilkinson with Chevrolet communications said, “We were prepared to start it in the 2013 model year under an understanding that our competitors were going to follow it,” but that didn’t happen. He also said “Ford had decided not to go in for ’13,” but that their next-generation truck, which is expected to come out around 2015, should comply with J2807.

“We’ve already said we’d apply the testing standards on our all-new vehicles,” said Mike Levine, Ford’s Truck Communications Manager. He pointed out the 2013 Escape crossover and Fusion sedan both follow SAE towing guidelines. However, Levine also mentioned that even though the procedure takes effect this year it’s, “Not a mandatory standard.”

SEE ALSO: Tow-Rating Standoff Continues

When asked whether J2807 would negatively impact Ford’s trucks Levine said, “I would say stay tuned and see what we do with our all-new vehicles.” He did not say when any new truck could reach the market.

Ford is a powerhouse in the pickup segment. Its F-Series is the best-selling truck in America and has been since Jimmy Carter lived at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. It’s interesting that they’re waiting to adopt the SAE standard. It’s possible their trucks could face a large decline in towing capability.

“I think a lot of people out there are speculating as to why they [Ford] won’t adopt something they sat at the table to help create” said Butto. “We can only speculate like anyone else.”

SAE-Tow-Ratings-10.jpgLike quarreling siblings Chevrolet and Ford have been going back and forth, but what about Chrysler? “Our position on the half-ton piece of it is… others should be leading the way on it,” said Nick Cappa of Ram Truck Communications. According to him, larger competitors in the pickup segment should step up and adopt the standard first.

His pride in Chrysler’s offerings is obvious; Cappa said, “We have the best truck out there in the half ton market.” The 2013 Ram 1500 is the freshest full-size pickup available today, offering an available eight-speed automatic transmission and an innovative air suspension system.

“We’re working closely with SAE to fine-tune those standards,” said Cappa and, “We have done a really good job of anticipating and engineering those standards into our future products.” As a result they’re “seeing the potential for less change in our trucks than our competitors.” He described the potential difference as negligible.

Echoing Cappa’s comments Wilkinson said “In some cases they [tow ratings] won’t change much. In other cases they’ll change more,” though he stopped short of mentioning any specifics.

SAE-Tow-Ratings-06.jpgDetroit automakers may dominate the truck segment but they’re not the only game in town. Toyota fields a capable vehicle in the form of its Tundra. And just like a third-party political candidate the Japanese company has been taking a very different approach to the SAE standard.

“I’m sure that each manufacturer has their reasons for not adopting it” said Butto, but Toyota management decided to stand by J2807 because they believe in it. “The customers deserve it,” he said.

“We would like to see everyone adopt it, it’s good for manufacturers and it’s especially beneficial for consumers” said Butto, noting that industry protocols can be advantageous for everyone.

SAE already set the standard for measuring engine output. This ensures a GM horsepower is the same as a Chrysler horsepower, which is in turn identical to a Toyota horsepower. For instance, this prevents one automaker from testing and rating an engine without an air filter or exhaust system, which would artificially boost the output of the powerplant, giving them a spec-sheet advantage. Following a standard and agreed-upon protocol ensures a level playing field.

Here’s another way to think of it. A yard is 36 inches long, three feet. Using the metric system it’s a little more than 91 centimeters, which probably sounds more impressive since it’s a bigger number. In reality of course they’re the same distance, just measured in different ways.

At this point things are kind of deadlocked. Ford won’t adopt J2807 until its next-generation trucks come out, which is probably in a couple years; likewise it appears GM won’t comply with the standard for at least that amount of time; and Chrysler’s not going until others lead the way. It’s like a group of friends that decided to go skydiving. Everyone is in the plane, has their parachutes on and is standing at the open door but no one wants to jump first, except Toyota, who leapt out when the aircraft was too low.

SAE-Tow-Ratings-02.jpgWill automakers ever bury the hatchet and adopt SAE J2807? Wilkinson said “I think it will happen at some point but I’m just not sure when.” No one wants to sacrifice a potential sales advantage. As long as consumers compare spec sheets maximum towing figures matter. Summing things up Cappa said “It’s a competitive market.”

However, real-world usage and numbers on paper are often very different things. How many truck owners ever come close to the limit? “Our guess is that very few people either with a light duty or a heavy duty tow near the maximum,” Wilkinson said, noting that any changes brought about by J2807 will probably impact a very small number of customers.

At this point no one can directly compare tow ratings until all the players involved release figures that are derived from testing that complies with the SAE standard. Ultimately it boils down to bragging rights and whose pickup has the burliest numbers, something no manufacturer wants to yield to the competition.

GALLERY: SAE J2807 Tow Ratings


  • MistyGreen

    They don’t want to adopt the tests because they would spend more on testing than on development!  There are 129 variations of the F-150, including trims, engines, and body types, but NOT including towing packages, hitches, etc.  Forget the Super Duties.

    Let’s say they adopt the testing standards.  They approximate the towing capacity for the first example, the F-150 XL Regular cab – 4×2, with a short bed, the 3.7L engine and no additional packages.  Ok.  Simulations show the towing capacity should be 5500 lbs.  Run the acceleration test. [15 minutes later] Great, run the overheating on a grade test. [90 minutes later] Ok, we got the SAE thermometer installed?  Great, run the test.  [30 minutes later]  Ok good.  Run the braking test.  [15 minutes later]  What do you mean it didn’t stop fast enough?  Run it again!  Heat up the tires or something!  [30 minutes later]  Ok, we have to lower the rating.  Let’s run all of the tests again with 5250 lbs.  Six hours later they ran all the tests again and are done.

    If they’re lucky they get the payload rated the next day.  The day after that they do it with the 5.0L engine, and the long bed the next day.  Eleven months later, the testing is done for the light duty trucks.

    They can’t do that.  This is a trickier situation than I thought.

  • GoJagZ

    Im sorry, but you are incorrect on the issue. The trim level of a vehicle isn’t going to affect its towing capacity, nor will the length of the bed. The same reason a Ford Focus hatch gets the same HP as a sedan. Its an engine/transmission/chassis combination that will matter. The bed size can vary, but it still sits on the same chassis. They will have to run the test on each engine/tranny/chassis combo. That cuts down your estimate of 127 to about 4-6. It isnt nearly as difficult as you are making it seem. The issue comes down to the fact that each company is inflating their numbers and no one wants to have to downgrade their ratings. That is why every truck commercial says, “Best in-class towing”. Once the automakers man-up and do the right thing, it will be great for consumers.

  • MistyGreen

    You really think that adding another foot and a half of sheet metal and frame to the rear of the truck won’t affect the towing capacity?  Or the added weight of a crew cab vs an extended cab, with the same overall length?  Even though it’s still using the same engine?  That’s a little silly.  Do you also think that the payload isn’t affected by the vehicle carrying an additional 100 lbs of weight on the rear axle?  Really?  ALSO, you really think there are only 4-6 engine/transmission/chassis combos on the F-150???  Do your homework a little bit here.  The numbers you probably found are grossly simplified just so it’s possible to decipher.  If you really want to find it yourself, find the Ford F-150 “Towing Guide”.  It’s easy enough to find on ford’s website.  A variance of 100 lbs in towing capacity must be noted.  Also, my ‘estimate’ of 129 isn’t inaccurate for what I was saying, but don’t worry, I didn’t spend long coming up with that.  There are a LOT of variations.  Trust me, I deal with this stuff every day.
    I think you’re correct in that the trim level normally will not affect these capacities, but they would if there is a towing package that is standard with a certain trim.  It isn’t nearly as simple as you’re making it seem.

    But I agree, I think it’s bogus that they aren’t using the same testing methods.  Perhaps the only answer is to have some agency run random tests, like the EPA does with mpg.  I’m surprised the big 3 were all sitting around the same table and decided on such strict testing procedures.  It certainly is frightening though, to not really know what your truck can handle really.

  • well, look at the 2012 vs 2013 Ram 2500, basically identical vehicles, the only difference I can find is the 2013 Ram 2500 uses the same rear springs as the 2012 Ram 3500, yet it’s tow rating with manual transmission went from 12,600 lbs to 16,400 lbs.. (the 3500 is the one with the new stronger frame, the 2500 uses the old frame)

  • MistyGreen

    Right, the 2500 and 3500 have a whole lot of differences, certainly the rear springs are one that contributes to that difference. Were you comparing the 2500 over the two years or the 2012 2500 with the 2013 2500?

  • festmatt5440

    The tow ‘ rating isn ‘t affected much ; by the carrying capacity , of the springs. . It does have a to do ; with what is under the hood .

  • Madis

    Towing Capacity is great, however most trucks are actually limited by the Tongue/Pin weight

    If truck A can tow 16k lbs (5th wheel) but the payload is 2900 (not including anything more than curb weight and 150lb driver), you will never be able to hit your max towing.

    Assuming a 150lb driver, you have 30gal of gas/diesel at around 8lbs per gallon. That’s 240. Then you have your hitch at around a minimum 50lbs. You are down to 2600.

    Add another 400 lbs for any gear, passengers, pets, Driver being over 150lbs, etc, you are down to 2200.

    If you assume your pin weight at 15% (which is a low estimate) then your max towing is 14,666. At 20% it’s 11k, and at 25% it’s 8800. And let’s be honest, 600 on all occupants, hitch and gear is low for an estimate.

    Towing Capacity is awesome, but how good is it if you can’t get there in a real world situation.

  • MistyGreen


  • Boo hoo

    It’s not nearly as hard as you’re suggesting. Every manufacturer already got their testing facilities which would have to adopt the new procedures, that’s all… 11 months to test just the light duty trucks? what are you smoking?

  • 2012 2500 to 2013 2500.. the one where the tow capacity went up almost 4000 lbs..

  • KenT

    Actually, I wouldn’t expect them to run all the tests at the lower rating. In the aviation testing I’ve done, if it already passed at the higher spec, it is written off as passed for anything under that. We would only run the test that failed at the lower rating and mark that as the final passed rating.
    There is also a lot of testing that is written off by “similarity” when two models had easily comparable specs. I really doubt they are going to actually test 129 different times. J.M.O.

  • Rexford L

    now look at the 2012 2500 SLT diesel crew cab 6.4 bed 4×4 with auto and 3.42 gears, max towing = 9650 lbs max payload = 2389, 2013 2500 SLT diesel crew cab 6.4 bed 4×4 auto and 3.42 gears, max towing went up to 17,400 lbs and payload to 2601.. me thinks that for 2012 Ram really REALLY under rated the towing capacity or they said screw it, and went way overboard on the 2013’s.. (I think they under rated the 12’s, by a lot.

  • MistyGreen

    That sounds like the difference between the towing capacity of a regular, rear-mounted hitch, and a gooseneck hitch. So maybe they just didn’t give the gooseneck rating for 2012. But yea, big diference!

  • Rexford L

    nope, since the 2012 with 4.10 gears tow rating is 14,650 lbs. (the ONLY gearing offered in the 2013 is 3.42, so they are really fudging numbers somewhere)

  • GeoB

    > 30gal of gas/diesel at around 8lbs per gallon

    6 lbs/gallon is very much closer to reality. Water is ~8 lbs/gallon.

  • GeoB

    My 1990 4×4 Ford F250 diesel 7.3L with a manual 5-spd has a significantly lower tow rating than the automatic… because it has a manual clutch. Yes, a torque converter can give you a lower gear ratio- 2:1 is common- but I think they were concerned about folks not using the clutch correctly. I use it right and don’t worry about the difference in rating. I welcome ANY standard if used industry-wide.

  • George

    I have 2002 Ram 2500 diesel six- speed ; have driven standards all my life. Automatics slip ‘ and wear out faster ; and cost a lot of money to repair .

  • James

    in real life I have friends with 2 early 2000’s D3500’s that consistently scale at over 30,000 #’s pulling a 5th wheel with a 4 door 8′ bed.

  • John Anderson

    And this is precisely why I bought my Sequoia. At least Toyota stepped up to the bar and complied. I know that it passed engineering tests…not just some marketing/sales hype.

  • MistyGreen

    That would make sense. I guess they’d probably do the same thing.

  • Frank Baine

    All good points, but I have to chuckle at the 150lb driver weight used in the calculus. Harley uses some ridiculous weight like that too to calculate their gross. The last time the average adult American truck and Harley driving male weighed 150 lbs was after the Korean war. And the woman on the back of the bike? Not even going there.

  • Steakman911

    Tow ratings are such BS smoke and mirrors and unfortunately people get sucked in to buying either to small a tow vehicle or too large an RV.

    What counts and what counts at the scales is this:

    Front Axle Weight Rating
    Rear Axle Weight Rating (and what your tires are rated for)
    GVWR Gross Vehicle Weight Rating…and it is this one and your RAWR that will determine what you can tow…not what some wing nut at a dealership or RV Dealership says you can tow. All that info is on your drivers side door panel

    I’ll use my vehicle as an example: 2006 2500HD Duramax 4 door 4 X 4

    GVWR = 9200 lbs. That means the weight of the truck, passengers and cargo cannot exceed 9200 lbs. OK fine. So my vehicle with a full load of fuel (300 litres), Titan tank with 52 gal and a slip tank with 30 gal and my wife…I am about 8000lbs

    That left me 1200 lbs for Pin weight on this 5th wheel. Pin weight is typically 15-20% of trailer weight. Trailer is an 2011 Chaparral at 8000lbs dry. Add Batteries, Propane, Camping Gear, clothes-food-booze etc…likely around 1500 lbs extra to total at 9500 lbs.

    That makes my pin weight 1900lbs. 1900 + 8000 + 9900 lbs…700 lbs over.!!

    So what to do.? I checked my tire ratings – good to go – Load index 121
    Axle is rated at 6100 lbs and also good to go.

    So rather than add air bags – I went with the RoadMaster Active Suspension..slick set up that pretty much eliminates rear end sag..not that I had much but it was a bit noticeable.

    But when I hear about guys buying a 33′ 5th wheel at 12000 dry, I just shake my head if they plan to pull with a 2500 of anyones brand.

  • Steakman911

    421,210 km on my 06′ Allison…pulling 10,000lb 5th yearly and no issues what so ever.

  • ChiefRocko

    Not sure about others, but GM includes a full tank in the weight of a truck, as well as the 150 lbs driver. So if the sticker says 7200 lbs is what the truck weighs, fuel is in the equation already.

  • ChiefRocko

    Your totally wrong. It does matter. Your only talking HP. Different trim levels can have different brake packages, different hitch platforms, different size tires (load ratings), transmission, oil/trans coolers and weights. Hp is only one part of the equation, you have to be able to stop it, and the suspension has to be able to handle it. There is a reason 2wd has a higher tow rating, even though both use the same engine/trans. Also you will notice the tow ratings are different for different cab/bed combos.

  • aviator701

    Gasoline = 6+ lbs gal. #2 diesel = 7+ lbs gal. 18-wheeler drivers know this to calculate legal weight. Especially w/300 gal total tanks. H20 = 8+ lbs gal.

  • Krumholt Ventures

    I’m happy with my 2008 dodge ram resistol mega cab dually with a ride rite

  • I realize that all of you were arguing about a year ago about how difficult it would be for the manufacturers to comply with the standard, but Dodge is apparently doing it for all RAM models next year so it’s not as impossible as some people are claiming.


  • Corey .H

    Wrong. It’s all about stopping and controlling the load safely. Bigger brakes and a longer wheelbase means higher tow rating. Motor is fairly insignificant factor.

  • narg

    I’ve always enjoyed towing more with GMC than Ford. And now from reading this article I think I see why, as Ford seems to be against moving to a more correct standard of rating. So it seems to me they’ve been untruthful for a long time…

  • kate10

    I am a new pickup owner, never had one before, drove small cars or full size vans. As I am reading this article I get the feeling they are talking more about using the vehicles as work related rather than recreation. I purchased mine to pull a 21ft 6400 lb travel trailer. I will be living in the tt full time and the truck is my lifeline. I HAVE to KNOW for sure the pickup will pull and stop the tt. This is my life. I am reading on rv sites how heavy the trailers are being pulled and with what. I am here to tell you that some are hitting the tow capacity on these rigs. So a standard HAS to be in place for all manufacturers. If we have the incorrect information based on sales and making money, and someone dies, you can bet there will be a lawsuit.