Posted by: Mark Polk | 10:43 am

Caution – Why Truck Tow Ratings don’t Add Up

I have always been an advocate for RV consumer safety issues. My goal with this article is to bring awareness and help educate the consumer on how to interpret and research vehicle towing capacities  published by  manufacturers.

Truck manufacturers are notorious for publishing tow ratings that sometimes seem too good to be true. It’s because, in what I refer to as the “towing wars”, each manufacturer wants to come out on top to boast that they have the “best-in-class” tow ratings. The big question is can these inflated ratings put the RV consumer in jeopardy when they attempt to tow the amount of weight a manufacturer says the vehicle can tow? Several years ago I took issue with a Ford commercial I saw on TV when Ford made the claim its F-150 could safely tow 11,000 pounds. You can go here to read how that unfolded. I also posted an update to the article here.

Recently a concerned Ford truck owner wrote to me asking for help in determining what the correct tow capacity was for his 2011 Ford F-250, 6.7L diesel, crew cab, short bed 4×4 truck.  It seems that after reviewing Ford towing guides, information published on the Ford media site and talking to Ford dealership representatives he was more confused now than he was before.

Up for another towing challenge I decided to take the plunge and see what I could figure out. 

During my initial research I reviewed two different Ford trailer towing guides published for the 2011 model year Ford vehicles. Interestingly the maximum loaded trailer weight rating (MLTWR) for the truck in question was different in both guides. No wonder he is confused about the truck’s towing capacity. One towing guide published a MLTWR of 15,700 pounds and the other published a MLTWR of 14,400 for the same exact truck.

As I dug a little deeper I discovered the 2011 Ford towing guide with the higher tow capacity was created on 09/03/2010, and the 2011 Ford towing guide with the lower tow capacity was created on 04/20/2011. With the aforementioned towing wars between the big three automakers one has to wonder if maybe the tow capacities were inflated for the purpose of being “best-in-class” when they first introduced the 2011 model year trucks.

This is a statement published by Ford early in the 2011 model year, cited from a article titled,  2011 Ford F-Series Super Duty Regains Towing Leadership with Production Upgrades; Leads in Customer Satisfaction

DEARBORN, Mich., Feb. 7, 2011 – Production begins this week on Ford F-Series Super Duty trucks with upgraded towing capacity. The beefed-up frame and hitch return the industry’s best-selling heavy-duty truck to the head of the pack in conventional trailer towing. Higher-strength steel in a frame crossmember and an upgraded trailer hitch give the truck the additional towing capacity.

This begs the question if the higher-strength steel in the frame raised the towing capacity for 2011 model year trucks why was the capacity lowered in the revised towing guide published in April, 2011?

What I found even more interesting is the fact that in the 2012 Ford towing guide this same truck’s towing capacity increased from 14,400 pounds to 15,200 pounds. I wonder what actually changed on the 2012 model to add another 800 pounds of towing muscle into the mix!

Putting all this aside for now my best guess is a Ford truck buyer is supposed to follow the information found in the towing guide with the latest revision date when attempting to determine a correct towing capacity. If we go with that conclusion we are back to a 14,400 pound MLTWR for a 2011 Ford F-250, 6.7L diesel, crew cab, short bed 4×4 truck.

When a vehicle manufacturer publishes the MLTWR for a vehicle it is the maximum weight of a fully loaded trailer that particular vehicle can safely tow. In defense of the vehicle manufacturers the MLTWR is based on standard options that come on the vehicle, no cargo added to the vehicle and a tongue weight of 10-15% for conventional trailers or 15-25% pin weight for 5th wheel trailers. It normally includes 150 lbs. for the weight of the driver. Any additional options, aftermarket equipment, passengers, cargo and hitch weight added to the truck must be deducted from the published MLTWR.

The owner of the truck in question purchased the truck with intentions of towing a 5th wheel trailer. In a nutshell three of the top towing concerns for a 5th wheel trailer are:

1)    You don’t want to exceed the truck’s gross vehicle weight rating, GVWR

2)    You don’t want to exceed the truck’s rear axle weight rating, RAWR

3)     You don’t want to exceed the truck’s gross combined weight rating, GCWR

What I found to be very interesting in this particular situation was how the published tow rating just didn’t seem to add up. In an attempt to determine a safe hitch weight for a 5th wheel trailer the truck’s owner took 15% of the 14,400 pound MLTWR. He was being conservative at 15% since the majority of 5th wheel trailers manufactured have a hitch weight in the 18-25% range. With that said, 15% of 14,400 lbs. is 2,160 lbs.  When we add the 2,160 lb. hitch weight to the 7,492 lb. curb weight the truck is only 348 lbs. under the GVWR. When you add one passenger and the 5th wheel hitch you are over the truck’s GVWR. Is it feasible to assume the average truck owner will only add one passenger and a 5th wheel hitch to a crew cab pick-up when you go camping?

Let’s see how the truck in question weighed in.

When the truck headed to the scales the owner had one passenger, a full tank of fuel, and an optional sunroof and retractable bed cover added to the truck. The truck weighed in at 8,260 lbs. The front axle weight was 5,000 lbs. and the rear axle weight was 3,260 lbs.

To keep this simple, I’m going to add 200 lbs. for the hitch, 100 lbs. for additional cargo and the estimated 15% hitch weight of 2,160 lbs. to the 8,260 lbs. scaled weight and see what happens. When added together the truck’s GVW is 10,720 lbs., exceeding the GVWR by 720 lbs. This also puts the RAWR at 5,720 lbs. which is very close to the 6,000 lb. limit the axle is rated for. In this situation the truck is overloaded and cannot tow a trailer with 2,160 lbs. of hitch weight.

So why can’t this truck, rated to tow 14,400 lbs., tow a 14,400 lb. 5th wheel trailer with 15% hitch weight? That is the big question! It’s understandable that you couldn’t tow the trailer if the owner adds lots of additional weight to the truck, but in this scenario it should be able to tow close to capacity it is rated for.

Now the question is how much can this truck actually tow and still be safe?

To get the numbers within the truck’s GVWR I had to drop the 5th wheel trailer weight to roughly 9,500 lbs. This would give us a 15% hitch weight of 1,425 lbs. and when added back into the truck’s scaled weight it totals about 9,985 lbs., which is still too close to the vehicle’s GVWR in my opinion.

So, as you can see when you purchase a tow vehicle, the published towing capacity can be misleading. You are under the impression your truck can safely tow 14,400 pounds when in reality it can barely tow 9,500 lbs. without possibly risking personal safety or potential damage to a component on the truck.

I would still like to know how the same 2012 model year truck had an 800 lb. increase over the 2011 model year truck! I guess we’ll have to see what Ford has to say about it.

This is an unfortunate situation for any truck buyer. To avoid this from happening to you I recommend you add the weight of the truck (making sure it is accurate) and any additional options, aftermarket equipment, passengers, cargo, and the hitch and hitch weight of the trailer you are considering purchasing.  If the total amount of weight exceeds the RAWR or GVWR it is not safe to tow. Something else I always tell buyers is to add the trailer’s GVWR to the truck’s GVW to see if it exceeds the GCWR. If it does it is not a safe match.

Pay close attention to any footnotes when using trailer towing guides and make sure the towing guide is up to date and accurate before making the decision to purchase a tow vehicle. If you are confused about tow ratings many RV dealers have knowledgeable individuals who can assist you. Remember it’s better to find the trailer you want first and then shop for a truck that can safely handle the weight.

Happy RV Learning,

Mark Polk


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Copyright by Mark Polk owner of RV Education 101 – All Rights Reserved


  1. Mark, excellent article. An RVer contacted me last year with a similar problem. I wonder what Ford will say about it.


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