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Car Buying

How to Choose the Best Pickup for Towing

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author photo by Nick Palermo July 2014

Modern pickups offer carlike comforts along with the usual dose of utility, making them an attractive choice even for drivers who rarely haul a load. Some drivers, especially those who tow a boat, camper or other trailer, need the full capability of a pickup. To choose the best pickup for towing, truck shoppers should consider the factors that contribute to towing capability.

With so many versions of each new truck model available -- regular cab to crew cab, V6, V8 and diesel engine choices, 2- and 4-wheel drive -- towing capabilities vary widely, too. Asking yourself a few simple questions will help you narrow your choices. What do you plan to tow? How will you use your pickup when you're not towing?

If you'll often use your pickup without the trailer, you'll want to choose a vehicle that suits those needs, too. You may want to choose a lighter or more-efficient pickup that is able to handle your trailer but is also a ride that you can live with every day.

New Standards

Before new standards for towing capacities were introduced, comparing ratings between brands was tough. Now, automakers are adopting uniform methods for testing and rating pickups. The standard is called SAE J2807, and it's already in use by Toyota and GM. Ford, RAM and Nissan will follow with SAE-J2807-compliant towing ratings for 2015 pickup models.

You'll definitely need a pickup that's rated to handle your trailer's total weight and tongue weight. Have those figures handy when beginning your search. If you only pull your trailer a few times a year, it's okay to choose a pickup with a towing rating just above your trailer's weight. If you tow regularly, it may be a good idea to pick a truck with a higher rating.

Light Duty vs. Heavy Duty

Some light-duty trucks offer huge towing capacities in excess of 10,000 pounds, but drivers with big trailers, such as fifth-wheel campers or gooseneck horse trailers, may be better off with a heavy-duty pickup. Again, frequency of use is a consideration. You don't want to pony up thousands more for a big Ford F-350 or a GMC Sierra HD if you're only towing occasionally.

If you plan to tow a personal watercraft or a light-utility trailer, you may not even need a full-size pickup. Consider a smaller truck, such as the Toyota Tacoma or the upcoming Chevy Colorado, if you're only pulling a light trailer.

Gas or Diesel?

Diesel is great for towing. It provides plenty of low-end torque to get you moving and to achieve good efficiency at higher speeds, too. Diesel-motor options are mostly limited to heavy-duty pickups. The notable exception is the RAM 1500 EcoDiesel, a full-size light-duty pickup with a diesel V6. GM says that it will offer a diesel option in the midsize GMC Canyon and Chevrolet Colorado, but only gas engines will be available when they first come to the market.

Diesel engines also often add thousands to the purchase price. They can tow more and can sometimes achieve better fuel economy, but if you'll rarely be towing anything, it may just not be worth it.

Do You Need a 4x4?

Four-wheel-drive pickups typically have slightly lower towing capacities than their 2-wheel-drive counterparts due to the extra weight of the 4-wheel-drive components. They're also typically less fuel efficient than 2-wheel-drive trucks, but having a 4x4 can be very handy, especially for pulling a trailer. A slippery boat ramp, soft ground or a hill with loose gravel can spell trouble for a 2-wheel-drive pickup, but a 4x4 should be able to climb right out, trailer in tow. If your trailering adventures take you off the beaten path, play it safe and choose 4-wheel drive.

What it means to you: The task of determining the towing capacity of a particular pickup may seem daunting with so many factors coming into play, but modern pickups are very robust. Only drivers with the heaviest trailers need to pay close attention to the numbers. The best pickup for towing is the one that is rated to pull your trailer and will suit your needs even when you don't have a trailer behind you.

This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
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How to Choose the Best Pickup for Towing - Autotrader