When is 10,000 pounds not necessarily 10,000 pounds? When it's a pickup truck's maximum tow rating.

Numbers can't lie, right? Well, in the case of tow ratings for new trucks, they can be a little fuzzy. You may never take your $90,000 Land Rover off the pavement or put your Nissan GT-R through a drag race for pink slips, but you probably like the idea that you could. Whether it's the off-road capability of 4-wheel-drive SUVs, the 0-to-60 times of sports cars or the towing capability of pickup trucks, we love our bragging rights.

The Issue

Full-size-truck builders realized long ago that, although most of their owners would never pull anything behind their trucks, having the strongest towing machine on the block means something to buyers and could help in boosting sales. Consequently, truck makers have historically played it a little fast and loose when calculating tow ratings.

It's not that truck makers intentionally mislead consumers, but each uses its own formula for calculating the maximum weight that its trucks could tow. Different processes create different results. So, 10,000 pounds for one manufacturer might be the equivalent of 9,800 for another and 10,100 for a third. We can't know for sure, but the differences could be even greater.

The Solution

It required several years of negotiating, but truck makers finally reached an agreement in 2008 on a standardized formula and process for determining tow ratings for new trucks. It's the SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers) standard, or in bureaucratic speak, J2807.

The details are somewhat involved, but the important point is that reaching the maximum tow capacity would be based on three standard tests: climbing, acceleration and launching. Each test would be under strict conditions followed by every manufacturer. Moreover, standards were established for exactly how much passenger and cargo weight each truck would carry when performing each test.

In theory, at least, this would level the playing field.


The problem, though, is that until June of this year when General Motors complied, revising the tow ratings for the 2015 GMC Sierra 1500 and 2015 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 to the SAE standard, the Toyota Tundra's tow ratings were the only ones that were in accordance with J2807.

In a press release issued by GM announcing the revision to the SAE standard, maximum towing capacities dropped from 300 to 400 pounds, depending on the specific version.

According to the auto trade publication Automotive News, Ford and RAM both announced that they will also comply with the SAE standard beginning with 2015-model-year trucks.

What it means to you: Until the 2015 model year, posted maximum towing numbers won't necessarily determine winners and losers among the latest trucks.

author photo

Russ Heaps began covering the automotive industry in 1986, first overseeing the automotive pages of the Boca Raton News and then the Palm Beach Post in Florida. In 2001 he became managing editor of AMI Auto Week and NOPI Street Performance Compact magazines. Since leaving AMI he has freelanced his auto reviews and industry analysis to the Washington Times, Hispanic magazine, Journal-Register Newspapers, Bankrate.com, MyCarData.com, Interest.com, and others. He resides in Greenville, SC.

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