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The Truth About Towing

How Heavy Is Too Heavy?

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How much will my truck tow? This is a question we hear a lot at Diesel Power-and it's one that can't be easily answered. We're not sure if those asking the question want to know what the manufacturer suggests, what the Society of Automotive Engineers recommends, or if they want to know what their rig can really tow before it literally breaks in half. But, with the vehicle's owner's manual within arm's reach in the glovebox and the SAE's J2807 towing recommendations a simple website click away, we think most truck owners still want the last question answered for them, above all others.

It's been said that the 3/4-ton and 1-ton diesel trucks on the market today are actually overkill for the average person's towing duties. With stronger frames, stouter suspensions, and more power from the factory than ever before, any of the Big Three can lug just about any load down the highway. But owners looking to transport some serious weight with their rig should find out their vehicle's advertised gross combined weight rating (GCWR) first and foremost, and then add the proper equipment that will help them tow safely.

Proper Towing Equipment
Before you begin towing any sort of load, make sure your truck, trailer, hitch, and everything else that plays a vital role in completing the job safely is up to the task. It's guaranteed that towing more weight than the manufacturer's GCWR will raise operating temperatures. So in-cab gauges come in handy here, as monitoring EGT, engine oil, coolant, transmission, and even axle temperatures means the difference between getting the load where it needs to be-and sitting on the side of the road.

Making sure your hitch capacity matches (or exceeds) the load you plan to pull is essential, as is knowing the maximum weight the truck's factory suspension is rated to handle. Running maximum air pressure in tires rated to withstand extreme loads (typically the smaller the section width, the better) should be utilized in conjunction with wheels that have a high maximum load rating.

Which Truck Is Best?
Another question that comes up day after day is: Which truck is best suited from the factory to tow on a regular basis? But the truth is, no concrete answer exists for this question. However, common sense can be used. A Ford F-450 will be able to tow more weight than an F-250, a 1-ton rig is built stouter than a 3/4-ton truck, and a dual-rear-wheel truck can handle more load than a single-rear-wheel truck.

Drivers That Are Comfortable Towing We think the best tow rig is the one that you feel most comfortable behind the wheel of when towing your trailer. And although we can't recommend you exceed your truck's GVWR or GCWR, a driver's confidence, comfort, and capability of controlling the towed load is typically the limiting factor of how much a truck can pull. Experience is key here; the more you have, the more confident you will be behind the wheel.

There's More Than Just The Truck And Trailer To Worry About
For some of us, towing just plain sucks. To an extent, we at Diesel Power fall into this category, but not because we don't like to tow. Due to our geographic situation, towing any considerable amount of weight in the greater Los Angeles area can be a bit nerve-racking, and while it increases our level of awareness, the uncertainty of city traffic (and its drivers) often keeps us on the edge of our seat. Add in all the narrow surface streets, poor road conditions, lack of maneuverability, shorter stopping distances, and 10 million other drivers-and towing becomes somewhat of a hassle. Like our readers, it all comes down to comfort level.

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Kelsey Higgins
Kelsey Higgins

Thank you for the great information, Mike! My husband has been thinking about getting a new truck because he is worried that his current one will not be able to sufficiently handle towing all of his fun tows. He has been looking at getting a 3/4 ton or 1 ton diesel, but after reading this, I think that is a bit excessive. I will have to show this article to him so that we don't spend a bunch of money on a truck we don't need! 

Corey Smith321
Corey Smith321

Mike, it's always been a question for me about how much stuff my car can tow. Especially doing heavy vehicle towing that was quite challenging for me to. Fun part was having to find the right tool and driving around deep hills.