Know Your Pickup's Weight-Carrying Limits

Source: Bruce W. Smith

Pickups are designed to tow, which is why the majority of owners purchase them. That's also why tow ratings are a source of pride and a marketing tool for manufacturers.

But trailering numbers can be misleading to the average pickup owner. The "maximum tow rating" of all pickups is predicated on the truck being "properly equipped," which means using the correct hitch setup for the weight of the trailer it's towing.

That means when a trailered weight reaches a certain point, as set by the pickup manufacturer, a weight-distributing-type hitch or a gooseneck/fifth wheel needs to be used instead of the factory receiver hitch with the typical shank-and-ball or pintle hook.

Towing a trailer on the receiver hitch using just the shank-and-ball is called "conventional" towing — and the capacities for this type of towing are well below a pickup's maximum trailering capacity.

What's the big deal in how heavy a trailer is towed or what hitch is being used? A few things: liability in the event of an accident, vehicle control and occupant safety.

Until recently truckmakers did their own in-house testing to determine tow ratings. Shared testing standards did not exist, so there wasn't a way for consumers to compare like vehicles with one another. Buyers took the manufacturers' word for it.

That all changed when vehicle manufacturers joined with SAE International (formerly known as the Society of Automotive Engineers) to create SAE J2807 — a comprehensive set of parameters and test standards to determine tow ratings. J2807 took almost a decade to craft before it was finally adopted by all of the main pickup players.

In a nutshell, SAE J2807 requires the vehicle manufacturer to use a vehicle equipped with the popular options found on at least 33 percent of the vehicles sold for that model; they also must run the test procedures with the equivalent of a 150-pound driver and passenger. The truck is hitched in a specific manner to a trailer that meets SAE specs and puts the tow vehicle (the pickup truck) at its maximum gross combined weight rating, meaning the combined weight of the pickup, its maximum payload, full fuel tank and the weight of the trailer.

Then a series of tests are conducted that target handling, trailer sway, braking, acceleration and component durability. The tests also include driving up the Davis Dam, a 7 percent grade that runs eastward out of Laughlin, Nev., for 11 miles to the top of the 3,500-foot summit in daytime temperatures of 100 degrees with the air conditioning going full blast. The vehicle manufacturer looks at all the data and decides what towing limits to place on that particular make/model vehicle.

If a vehicle is described as "J2807 compliant," then its towing capacity and resulting limitations regarding the use of weight-distributing fifth-wheel and gooseneck hitches has been done using the SAE standards.

That's why today's tow ratings should not be taken lightly: They really are the limit the vehicle manufacturers have determined is the maximum that vehicle can safely tow and/or where additional equipment is necessary to tow the load.

Ignoring the vehicle manufacturer's towing requirements can affect the truck's warranty, and from a legal perspective, towing beyond the specified limits may place all the liability on the driver's shoulders in the event of an accident.

With that said, maximum on-the-ball hitch towing capacities aren't always easy to find. So we've done a little legwork for you. The information below shows the conventional towing limits found in the vehicle manufacturer's towing guides or owner's manuals. If your trailer weighs more than the weights listed below, a weight-distributing hitch is required. Generally speaking, the maximum conventional tow rating for midsize and half-ton pickups is about 5,000 pounds, with GM trucks being the exception. In the heavy-duty class (three-quarter ton and one-ton pickups), towing capacity ranges from 5,000 (Ram) to 13,000 pounds (Chevrolet and GMC). Below is a listing of each truckmaker's factory conventional tow ratings, and the respective 10 percent tongue weight recommendations, as well as our source information.

Ford
F-150: 5,000 pounds/500 pounds tongue weight (2016 RV & Trailer Towing Guide, Page 16)
F-250/350 single rear wheel (gas): 6,000 pounds/600 pounds tongue weight (2016 RV & Trailer Towing Guide, Page 28)
F-250/350 6.7-liter single rear wheel: 8,500 pounds/850 pounds tongue weight (2016 RV & Trailer Towing Guide, Page 28)
F-350 dualie/F-450: 8,500 pounds/850 pounds tongue weight (2016 RV & Trailer Towing Guide, Page 28)
For Ford's 2016 RV & Trailer Towing Guide, click here.

GMC
Canyon (V-6): 5,000 pounds/500 pounds tongue weight (2016 Trailering Guide, Page 17)
Sierra 1500: 7,000 pounds/700 tongue weight (2016 Trailering Guide, Page 13)
Sierra 2500HD/3500HD: 13,000 pounds/1,300 pounds tongue weight (2016 Trailering Guide, Page 14)
For GMC's 2016 Trailering Guide, click here.

Chevrolet
Colorado (V-6 or four-cylinder diesel): 5,000 pounds/500 pounds tongue weight (2015 Trailering Guide, Page 12, or click here for the 2016 diesel)
Silverado 1500: 7,000 pounds/700 pounds tongue weight (2015 Trailering Guide, Page 9)
Silverado 2500HD/3500HD: 13,000 pounds/1,300 pounds tongue weight (2015 Trailering Guide, Page 10)
For Chevrolet's 2015 Trailering Guide, click here.

Ram
Ram 1500/2500/3500: 5,000 pounds/500 pounds tongue weight (2016 owner's manual, Page 690)
For Ram's 2016 Towing & Payload Capacity Guide, click here.

Toyota
Tacoma: 5,000 pounds/500 pounds tongue weight (2016 owner's manual, Page 184)
Tundra: 5,000 pounds/500 pounds tongue weight (2016 owner's manual, Page 161)

Nissan
Frontier: 5,000 pounds/500 pounds tongue weight (2016 owner's manual, Section 9, Page 32)
Titan: 5,000 pounds/500 pounds tongue weight (2015 Towing Guide, Page 5)
For Nissan's 2015 Towing Guide, click here.