Monday, July 22, 2024 Detailed Auto Topics
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Several times a month, vehicles come in with major damage caused by trying to tow too much weight. Information on towing is plentiful, but often inaccurate and incomplete from a repair standpoint. Surprisingly, most trucks we see will NOT tow their rated capacity without problems.

Information on towing capacity is sometimes slanted by those who benefit from your choice

Ask for information from someone that does not benefit by your decision

Getting honest advice is important and many times difficult to obtain. This is especially true when buying a truck to tow a large boat or travel trailer. Folks usually believe any truck will reliably tow any amount it can physically pull. Unfortunately, this is not the case. When a truck is used to tow more weight than it should, damage is being done. The component almost never fails immediately, but the life may be drastically shortened. Once the damage occurs, failure is inevitable. This holds true, regardless of how few times the vehicle is overloaded. Over loading a vehicle one time can cause damage and shorten its life.

"I don’t tow that often," makes no difference to overloaded components

Because a vehicle will physically pull a given weight, does not mean it can be used to. The engine of a truck is never the weak link in the chain. Almost any engine will pull the full rated capacity of the truck. The transmission, brakes and rear differential are where problems occur. Rated towing capacity is a popular sales point with trucks. Manufacturers tend to over-rate their vehicles and reliability suffers as a result.

A more realistic guide, from a standpoint of reliability, is to tow no more than two-thirds of the rated capacity with any truck. For example, a truck rated at 7,500 pounds towing capacity, will reliably tow 5,000 pounds. Buying a vehicle, rated at least 33% over the weight to be towed, results in far fewer repair bills.

  Four-wheel drive does NOT add to the towing capacity of a vehicle

Most four-wheel drive vehicles use the same transmission, differential and brakes as their two-wheel drive counterparts. A half-ton four-wheel drive will tow no more weight than a half ton two-wheel drive. Four-wheel drive increases traction on slippery surfaces, but does not increase the amount that may be towed.  Rather than four-wheel drive, a three-quarter or one-ton truck is a much more reliable choice.

  Larger tires do NOT increase the towing capacity of a vehicle

Using an oversize tire may actually decrease the weight a vehicle will reliably tow. Larger diameter tires increase the effective rear axle ratio, and increase the loading on drive-line components.  Taller tires also significantly increase the loading on brakes.  The distance from the road surface to the center of the wheel may be thought of as a lever, working against the brakes.  The longer the lever created by the tire, the greater the load on the brakes.

Taller tires can make brakes work harder

  A "towing package" adds very little to the actual capacity of a vehicle

The phrase "towing package" is often little more than an advertising slogan. A towing package may merely have a transmission cooler and possibly an extra leaf in the rear springs. Adding a cooler to a transmission, that is too light to pull the weight it has to pull, will not increase longevity.

Selecting the proper gear for towing

Towing a light amount (under 2,000 pounds) requires little extra input from the driver.  When towing heavier amounts, it may be beneficial to shift out of overdrive.  This is particularly true if the vehicle appears to be straining or downshifting a lot.  If the vehicle is equipped with a "Tow/Haul" button, it should be in Tow position.  This allows the power control module to change the shift strategy applied to the transmission.

General guide for selecting a gear in which to tow

Shifting the transmission into first gear or manual low will help to protect it, especially on a slippery surface. An example is when pulling a boat up a boat landing. If the drive wheels are allowed to slip, the transmission may shift into higher gears.  Shifting while spinning can cause damage to occur. Shifting the transmission into manual-low applies additional clutches and helps prevent up-shifting if the wheels start to spin.

When towing also consider the full weight being towed. The weight of the boat, trailer or travel-trailer is part of the total weight. There is also the weight of the things carried in the trailer or boat. Passengers add to the load being pulled and should be considered. Be sure to add for water and waste tanks and items like clothing, food, toys, etc.

Selecting a truck that is large enough for the job, will lower repair cost considerably. If there is any doubt, check with the person that services your present vehicles. Asking the vehicle salesperson or dealership is almost useless. A truck large enough to pull the full load carried may initially cost more. Like many things, with the proper vehicle, the overall cost will be far less than using an underrated truck.

Please also see our Detailed Topic on Choosing between diesel and gasoline trucks

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