Options Enhance Towing Capability

Selecting the correct features pays off down the road.

Most full-size pickups occasionally tow trailers. 'With the Ford Super Duties, 90% of our customers tow and 80% of them haul,' says Phil O'Connor, Super Duty marketing manager, Ford.

Depending on how often and what you intend to tow, it is worth investigating features that enhance your pickup's towing capabilities. Adjustable towing mirrors, transmissions with tow/haul modes and high-torque diesel engines just begin to scratch the surface. Let's take a look at some of the offerings from General Motors, Ford and Dodge.

Powertrain For The Task

'The first thing to look at when buying a truck is what powertrain you need,' says Dan Tigges, marketing and product manager for full-size trucks in Fleet and Commercial Operations, General Motors. 'If you know what you need in a truck and the weight of what you are towing, your dealer can advise you on the best model and options to do the job.'

Engine torque and axle ratios are critical to optimum towing performance. 'Normally, the deeper axle ratios, the 410 and 373 gear ratios, will give you better off-the-line performance,' says Tigges. Coupling these low gear ratios with high engine torque allows you to get heavy loads rolling.

'Torque is the twisting power of the engine,' explains Tigges. 'It's really torque that gets you going and horsepower that keeps you going. If you are doing stop and go driving, torque is the performance aspect to look at to get your load moving. To keep your load moving down the road, that's your horsepower.'

This is why diesel engines are popular for towing. The torque curve begins at a much lower engine speed than with gas engines. 'So when you are launching the vehicle, you are getting the full torque power right away,' says Tigges. The Chevy Silverado/GMC Sierra pickups equipped with Duramax diesel engines serve as a good example. 'Our Duramax diesel with the Allison transmission has 605 lb.-ft. of torque.'

Note that the transmission plays a critical role in the ability to transmit this torque reliably to the rear wheels. 'If you do not have enough transmission behind a high-torque engine, you will wind up tearing up your transmission,' Tigges points out. The Allison transmissions used in the Chevy Silverado and GMC Sierra pickups trace their lineage to medium-duty truck applications.

The Allison transmission also features a tow/haul mode. 'Actually, all of our automatics have the tow/haul mode, even our half-ton pickups,' says Tigges. This feature changes the transmission shift points to keep the engine in the power band when towing. 'It avoids the transmission doing a lot of searching on hilly roads.' This also allows the transmission to run cooler.

When hauling heavy loads down long, steep grades, a grade-braking mechanism automatically downshifts to help slow the vehicle when the driver applies the brakes.

Quadrasteer Adds Sability

Stability when making lane changes and maneuverability in tight areas are also concerns when towing. The Quadrasteer option for Chevy Silverado and GMC Sierra 1500 extended cab and 1500HD crew cab pickups allows the rear wheels to turn opposite the front wheels at speeds lower than 25 mph and turn the same direction as the front wheels at speeds over 45 mph.

This aids slow speed maneuverability. At higher speeds, the system reduces vehicle yaw, or rotational motion, for more control during lane changes and demanding conditions. 'The truck almost slides over from lane to lane,' says Tigges. 'The trailer and the truck tend to stay more in line together.'

These trucks also have slightly higher capacities. 'It has a higher GVW and heavier components than some of the standard-steer trucks,' Tigges explains.

Power For The Heaviest Loads

To address the needs of customers who pull extremely heavy loads with their pickups, Ford rolls out the TowBoss package as an option on its dual-rear-wheel F-350. This increases the fifth-wheel towing capability from the previous 17,000 lbs. to 19,200 lbs. 'With conventional towing, we are at 15,000 lbs.,' says O'Connor.

To accomplish this, the truck was redesigned in the areas important to capability. 'The axles have been beefed up substantially,' says O'Connor. 'The springs are more robust. The frame is much stronger. It is designed specifically to carry loads of this magnitude.'

The TowBoss package uses a unique powertrain combination. 'We took a 430 limited-slip rear end and mated it to the diesel automatic powertrain,' explains O'Connor. 'That's how we got to 19,200 lbs., because all of the other systems of the truck were capable of achieving 19,200 lbs.'

Keep It Under Control

When towing heavy loads, control is just as important as the ability to get the load moving. 'When we looked at enhancing the trucks, obviously maximum towing and maximum payload were important,' says O'Connor. 'But the other piece of the puzzle is control. You can't have all of the capability without being able to control these huge loads.'

This is where Ford's TowCommand System ' which includes an integrated brake controller, TorqShift automatic transmission with a tow/haul mode, adjustable trailer towing mirrors and an upgraded braking system ' enters the picture. 'The idea is that all of these four systems work in conjunction with each other to provide maximum control,' says O'Connor.

The integrated trailer brake controller is the only factory-installed and warranted electronic trailer brake controller on the market. 'It is integrated into the dash,' says O'Connor. 'You don't have an external box screwed into your dash with wires hanging down that you are banging your knee against.'

Ford market research indicates that 70% of Super Duty owners currently install aftermarket trailer brake controllers. Unlike these aftermarket controllers, the integrated controller uses actual braking pressure, measured inside the vehicle's master cylinder, to know how much braking force the driver means to apply. 'It varies the amount of voltage to the trailer brake depending on how much pressure you put on the brake pedal,' says O'Connor. 'It is proportional braking.'

The trailer brake controller can adapt its operation based on information from the tow vehicle's anti-lock braking system. 'It is tied into the anti-lock brake system,' says O'Connor. 'So in the event of a panic stop where you hit your brakes hard and the ABS kicks into action, the trailer brake controller knows it and reduces the amount of voltage to the trailer brakes. That allows you to maintain control during the panic stop.'

By automatically reducing brake force at slower speeds and lower brake pedal pressures, this system lets the driver creep forward in traffic, stop smoothly at intersections and maneuver in parking lots. At higher speeds, more aggressive trailer braking is possible without driver adjustment. 'It really allows you to have very controlled, smooth stops because the truck and the trailer are working together as one system,' says O'Connor.

And the benefits of the integrated system are available at the same cost as the much less sophisticated aftermarket brake controllers. 'We are offering it at about $200,' says O'Connor.

The display panel on the control unit shows the amount of force being sent to the trailer as the brakes are applied. Audible and visual warnings alert the driver to any malfunctions, including if the trailer wiring becomes disconnected.

Ford has also expanded availability of its TorqShift automatic transmission, which incorporates the tow/haul mode, to all Super Duty models equipped with automatic transmissions. Thus, gas-powered trucks are now available with the TorqShift transmission.

There are benefits in both acceleration and deceleration. 'When you engage the tow/haul mode, you are telling the truck you have a heavy load,' says O'Connor. 'It not only changes the shift points so that it holds a gear longer, but it will provide engine braking.'

When going down hill, the transmission and the engine work together to help keep the vehicle from gaining speed. This helps reduce brake wear.

When travelling up a hill, the transmission will hold a gear longer when in the tow/haul mode. The engine remains in the power band and there is less hunting. 'It makes driving much easier,' says O'Connor.

Finally, Ford has introduced a new front suspension geometry and brake system improvements. 'Going from a leaf spring to a link-coil front suspension gives us several advantages, including increased roll stiffness and the ability to fine tune the ride,' says Peter Reyes, F-Series Super Duty vehicle engineering manager.

'The brakes are about a half inch larger diameter than last year all of the way around,' says O'Connor.

Ready To Tow

Dodge heavy-duty Ram pickups do not rely on special tow packages. 'The biggest thing for our trailer tow audience is that our trucks are set up and ready to go,' says Mike Murphree, manager, Dodge Ram Engineering. 'Based on the Gross Cargo Weight Rating (GCWR) the customer selects, the complete package is set up to give a synthesized/balanced package of acceleration, performance, braking, steering control and cooling.

'The Ram heavy-duty pickups have all of the additional cooling that you would want,' he continues. 'They have transmission oil coolers, power steering coolers and, on the Cummins diesel, there is a computer-controlled, electro-mechanical vistronic fan. The cooling fan system allows low noise when not under tow and engages the fan at varying speeds (not just on/off) depending upon load and ambient temperature conditions.'

For 2005, the Ram heavy-duty automatic is equipped with a switch located on the shifter stalk to activate a tow/haul mode. It is programed to trigger gear shifts at certain pre-described, calibrated events. 'It basically takes some of the shift points further out to keep the engine in the power band,' says Murphree. 'It also helps with trailer braking.'

The Ram HD trucks come equipped with the Hemi gas engine and the Cummins diesel, supplying GCWs of 17,000 to 23,000 lbs. Two axle ratios are available to match your towing needs. 'The current Ram heavy-duty pickup is equipped with either a 373 or a 410 axle ratio,' says Murphree. 'The 410 accommodates higher GCW ratings by improving launch and grade performance ' about 2,000 lbs. higher per package. The 3.73 ratio provides better fuel economy.'

A special power adjustable, heated trailer tow mirror also enhances visibility when pulling a trailer. 'In normal non-trailer tow mode, it can be folded in toward the door,' says Murphree. 'During trailer mode, it can be lifted up and it gives you a lot more visibility along the sideline of the trailer.'

Exhaust Brake Option

One popular and effective option for the Cummins diesel-equipped Dodge Ram is an exhaust brake. 'One key advantage for Dodge is that our exhaust system has a coupler elbow built into the exhaust system that is removable,' says Murphree. 'It allows easy installation of the Mopar aftermarket exhaust brake. On other competitive trucks one must physically cut into the exhaust system to install the exhaust brake.'

The exhaust brake increases your sense of security in mountainous or hilly terrain. 'If you are coming down a hill, you are not constantly on your brakes, worried about burning them up,' says Murphree. 'The exhaust brake does the work for you. Every once in a while, you might have to tap your brakes as you get in steeper portions of the grade. But in a lot of conditions the exhaust brake can actually do all of the brake work for you. It is really a security factor.'

Be Wary Of GCW Claims

Finally, don't compare pickups solely on the printed GCW claims. 'There is not a lot of control over what those GCW ratings mean in terms of acceleration performance, braking performance, loaded handling, loaded steering stability and loaded ride comfort,' says Murphree. Different competitive trucks with the same GCW rating may feel totally different.

'If the customer is truly serious about using his truck for a significant amount of towing, he should seek guidance through various periodicals in which semi-professional evaluators make head to head comparisons,' advises Murphree.