Trucks: How to Choose the Right Towing Package

Trucks: How to Choose the Right Towing Package
Towing is a numbers game, one that requires the right combination of tow rig power and hauling capacity so that your truck is up to the tasks you want it to perform.

Here's your ultimate cheat sheet for understanding what towing capacity is and how much you need for your truck.

Towing is a numbers game, one that requires the right combination of tow rig power and hauling capacity so that your truck is up to the tasks you want it to perform.
Towing is a numbers game, one that requires the right combination of tow rig power and hauling capacity so that your truck is up to the tasks you want it to perform.

Thought there'd be no more math homework once school was over? Well, for those who want to tow a trailer, there's no way around it. Towing is a numbers game, one that requires the right combination of tow rig power and hauling capacity so that the truck is up to the task.


We're here to help. Consider this your towing cheat sheet: a shortcut to the facts and figures you need to safely tow your camp trailer, ATV's, boat or horse trailer to that favorite spot in the backcountry.


One fact we can offer right off the top: When Ford says its redesigned 2018 F-150 offers best-in-class tow capacity15, that's no mere boast. Ford follows the testing standards established by the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) to determine a vehicle's tow weight ratings. The standardized procedures and requirements set down by the SAE are common for all vehicle manufacturers, making tow ratings between truck brands a true apples-to-apples comparison. Here's how to better understand what towing capacity really is and how to choose the right towing package for your needs.

The ability to get a truck and a heavy trailer rolling from a standing stop, up a boat launch ramp or over a steep grade requires significant torque. So, a truck's trailering capacity is closely matched to its torque output.
The ability to get a truck and a heavy trailer rolling from a standing stop, up a slippery boat ramp or over a steep grade, requires significant torque. So, a truck's trailering capacity is closely matched to its torque output.

Two Kinds of Power

Horsepower may get all the glory in advertising and marketing, but when there's serious work to be done, what you really want is torque — a key consideration when you're trying to determine the towing package that's right for you. Both are measurements of engine output, but they're different kinds of output. Torque is the twisting force generated by an engine, while horsepower measures the engine's work being done over a period of time.


Simply put, torque launches a vehicle, while horsepower determines how fast it can go. Getting a truck and a heavy trailer rolling from a stop, up a boat launch ramp or over a steep grade requires significant torque. So a truck's trailering capacity is closely matched to its torque output.

For example, the 2018 Ford F-150 is available with a choice of four gasoline engines. Its best-in-class tow rating of 13,200 pounds was achieved using the engine that produces the most torque, the 3.5L EcoBoost V6, which is rated at 470 pound-feet (lb-ft) of peak torque. The 5.0L TI-VCT V8 produces more horsepower than the 3.5L EcoBoost — 395 versus the EcoBoost's 375 — but the V8's lower torque output of 400 lb-ft sets its maximum tow rating at 11,600 pounds.

The 2018 Ford F-150 is available with a choice of four gasoline engines. Its best-in-class tow rating of 13,200 pounds was achieved using the engine that produces the most torque, the 3.5L EcoBoost V6.
The 2018 Ford F-150 is available with a choice of four gasoline engines. Its best-in-class tow rating of 13,200 pounds was achieved using the engine that produces the most torque, the 3.5L EcoBoost V6.


Axle Ratios

A big contributor to a truck's tow rating is its axle ratio, a number that expresses the relationship between the teeth in the ring and pinion gears in the differential. Basically, it's an at-a-glance way to gauge the mechanical reduction offered by the differential gear set.

Axle ratios have an interesting quirk. What are considered "higher" gears are expressed by numbers that are lower than "lower" gears. The 2018 F-150, for example, is offered with axle ratios that range from 3.15 to 4.10 (on the Raptor). The 3.15 gears are considered "higher" than the 4.10s, even though they are numerically lower.

As a general rule of thumb, higher gears will provide better fuel economy, while lower gears produce better acceleration performance and towing capacity. When the manufacturer chooses a "standard" gear ratio, that is typically the one considered to produce the best balance of fuel economy and performance.

In the case of the 2018 F-150, its 13,200-pound best-in-class tow rating was achieved in a two-wheel-drive, long-wheelbase, SuperCrew model with the 3.5L EcoBoost V6 engine and a 3.55 axle ratio. The standard axle ratio for that model, though, is 3.15, a ratio that lowered the truck's tow rating (all else being equal) to 10,700 pounds.16

(A comprehensive chart of all of the F-150's variations, their available axle ratios and the resulting tow capacities appears in Ford's 2018 RV and Trailer Towing Guide, which is available online or at your Ford dealer.)

When considering axle ratios, as general rule of thumb, higher gears will provide better fuel economy, while lower gears produce better acceleration performance and towing capacity.
When considering axle ratios, as general rule of thumb, higher gears will provide better fuel economy, while lower gears produce better acceleration performance and towing capacity.

Tow Packages

The phrase "...properly configured" also refers to a pickup that has been upgraded with a factory tow package. As capable as the F-150 is out of the box, towing requires some specialized equipment that non-towing owners don't need. Knowing the options available will help you determine the right towing package for your needs. Three tow packages are available for the F-150. The F-150 with the 3.5L EcoBoost engine can be upgraded to the Max Trailer Tow Package, which builds on the standard tow package equipment with a 3.55-ratio axle (with rear differential locker), engine oil cooler, 36-gallon fuel tank, upgraded rear bumper, and integrated brake controller.

The Class IV Trailer Hitch (53B)  tow package includes:

  • Class IV trailer hitch receiver
  • 4-pin/7-pin wiring harness
  • Smart Trailer Tow Connector
  • Auxiliary transmission cooler
  • Upgraded front stabilizer bar
  • Ford's Pro Trailer Backup Assist, an electronic driving aid that greatly simplifies the complicated act of backing up a trailer.

The Trailer Tow Package (53A) includes:

  • 4-pin/7-pin wiring harness
  • Higher-power cooling fans
  • Higher-capacity radiator
  • Class IV trailer hitch receiver
  • Ford's Pro Trailer Backup Assist
  • Tailgate LED
  • Smart Trailer Tow Connector
  • Upgraded front stabilizer bar 

The Max Trailer Tow Package (53C) includes:

  • 55 Electronic-locking rear axle (axle is changed to 3.73 Electronic-locking differential if ordered with Heavy-Duty Payload Package)
  • 4-pin/7-pin wiring harness
  • 36-gallon fuel tank
  • Higher-power cooling fans
  • Higher-capacity radiator
  • Class IV trailer hitch receiver
  • Ford's Pro Trailer Backup Assist with Tailgate LED
  • Smart Trailer Tow Connector
  • Integrated Trailer Brake Controller
  • Upgraded front stabilizer bar
  • Upgraded rear bumper

Note that none of Ford's tow packages include trailer tow mirrors, a stand-alone option that should be considered a must-have for tow rigs for the way they improve rearward visibility. Also consider adding the F-150's available Blind Spot Information System (BLIS) with Trailer Coverage. BLIS uses sensors in the taillights to inform the driver (via amber lights in the outside mirrors) of traffic approaching from the rear that may be in the driver's blind spot and can extend the range of the normal BLIS sensors to include the length of a trailer (up to 33 feet).

Two available upgrades that truck buyers who do a lot of towing should consider include trailer tow mirrors for improved rearward visibility and available Blind Spot Information System (BLIS) with Trailer Coverage. Two available upgrades that truck buyers who do a lot of towing should consider include trailer tow mirrors for improved rearward visibility and available Blind Spot Information System (BLIS) with Trailer Coverage.

Next Step: Homework

Now it's number-crunching time. The F-150 offers a wide range of engine, body style and axle choices, each resulting in a different tow rating. Your job is to determine just how much weight the truck will be hauling to find the right match.

Several factors are at play here. You can obtain the weight of your trailer from its manufacturer; the same holds true for boats, ATVs, motorcycles and such. Keep in mind that those are generally dry weights and don't include fuel, coolant and other engine fluids. You also have to account for the weight of any accessories or gear you've stowed aboard a towed boat or packed around the bikes or ATVs on the trailer. (Spare fuel, for example, weighs about 7 pounds per gallon.)

Some of that gear can be stowed in the truck instead of on the trailer. But just as a pickup has a trailer tow rating, it also has what's called a Gross Combined Weight Rating (GCWR). The GCWR is the total amount of weight the truck can handle safely, and it includes the weight of the truck — with passengers and cargo — and the weight of the loaded trailer. There isn't just one GCWR for the F-150 line because the rating is affected by so many variables, including the weight of the body and bed, whether the truck is a 4x2 or 4x4, and so on. (The F-150's various GCWRs are charted in Ford's 2018 RV and Trailer Towing Guide.)

For example, the 2018 F-150 SuperCrew that earned the 13,200-pound tow rating had the highest GCWR in the F-150 fleet at 18,400 pounds. That sounds huge until you start doing the math: Subtract 13,200 pounds from that figure and it leaves 5,200 pounds for the weight of the truck and all that's in it. Considering the truck weighs about 4,500 pounds, if you and your two fishing buddies weigh 200 pounds each, you've just about maxed out the truck's capacity.

The lesson here: Don't underestimate the weight of what your truck has to haul and tow, so that you leave a margin of safety below your truck's GCWR. You'd hate to have to leave one of your friends at home, right?

To see the new 2018 Ford F-150 in the field on action-packed fishing and hunting adventures, visit The Ford Outfitters.

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