Tell an everyday commuter you’re a novice hauler about to tow more than 9 tons of truck, trailer and cargo and their knuckles might turn white.
Yet with the right equipment and basic preparedness, even first-timers will find that modern heavy-duty trucks are more capable of performance than ever before. Engines and suspensions are improved, giving everyday pickups more strength, and advancements in technology make the towing experience more accessible.
Still, understanding all the different ratings and towing capabilities can be daunting. Here are five things to know about towing with today’s three-quarter-ton pickup trucks:
1. Know Your Ratings
It’s important to be aware of the capability of your truck. Automakers are notoriously secretive about true towing figures to avoid conforming to a standardized metric that would make for easy comparison against competitors. Fortunately, there are numbers that drivers can use to properly prepare:
- Gross Vehicle Weight Rating, or GVWR, is the maximum operating weight of the towing vehicle including fluids, passengers and cargo. This figure is typically found on the sticker inside the vehicle’s driver-side door.
- Gross Combined Weight Rating, or GCWR, represents the total maximum weight that a loaded towing vehicle can operate with its loaded trailer. GCWR for your truck can be found online and may be listed in the owner’s manual.
- Other helpful measurements to research and know:
- Maximum trailer weight
- Payload capacity (the amount of weight that the truck itself is capable of hauling)
- Trailer tongue weight (the amount of force the trailer applies to the hitch on the towing vehicle)
On a recent drive through the Iowa heartland, a 2017 Chevrolet Silverado 2500 HD hitched enough weight to near its capacity. Attached to the truck was an 18-foot Big Tex trailer carrying a John Deere 324E skid steer — essentially a compact bulldozer with lift arms, weighing more than 4 tons.
Though the trailer and its cargo alone exceeded 10,000 pounds, it was nothing the Chevy couldn’t handle. A crew cab Silverado 2500 HD with the 6.6-liter Duramax diesel engine has a GCWR up to 25,300 pounds. Truck, tractor and trailer added up to about 18,000 pounds, leaving room to spare.
“It’s very important to know what you’re going to tow,” said Hugh Milne, marketing manager for the Silverado. “It’s always a good idea to get it weighed so you don’t buy too much truck or too little truck.”
2. Pack Some Muscle
Under the hood of the truck, the Duramax turbodiesel V-8 engine offers 445 horsepower and 910 pound-feet of torque. It made easy work of the heavy load.
All three heavy-duty trucks feature available diesel engines with 900 pound-feet of torque mated to durable six-speed transmissions, as well as strengthened frames and suspensions. Toyota and Nissan build lighter-duty trucks that don’t compete in this market.
3. Take Advantage of Technology
Many new trucks come loaded with advanced technology gadgets built specifically for towing. They become especially important when towing loads that push heavy-duty trucks to their limits, Milne said.
“There’s a lot of mass back there, so it does tend to push you,” he said.
Slow down for an offramp and the Silverado 2500 HD will activate two innovative stopping mechanisms.
- An integrated trailer brake will apply stopping power to the trailer. It can be adjusted to deliver the right amount of force for optimal braking and is easily monitored on the 4.2-inch screen next to the speedometer.
- To activate the exhaust brake, flip a switch on the center console. This feature uses engine gasses swirling through the exhaust to create backpressure and aid deceleration. On the way down a mountain pass, exhaust brake can dramatically slow heavy-duty trucks without stressing the brake pads and rotors.
Ford and Ram heavy-duty trucks are also available with trailer brake and exhaust brake.
Choosing the right towing equipment is essential – this includes the type of trailer and hitch. During the John Deere towing exercise, the Silverado 2500 HDs that were towing off the back hitch used an aftermarket trailer ball to improve capability. GM also brought the 3500 HD dually to tow larger loads using a factory-installed Fifth-Wheel/Gooseneck Prep Package.
Carrying the skid steer was the Big Tex 14ET, a heavy-duty tandem axle trailer with multi-leaf springs and electric brakes. It can tow 7,000 pounds per axle and features a pierced-beam frame that “allows you to have a lower center of gravity when hauling heavy equipment like this,” said Bud Posey, spokesman for Big Tex. “It helps with the twist and torque of the trailer.”
For hauling bigger Deere equipment on the 3500 models, Big Tex used a 20-foot 22GN gooseneck trailer capable of hauling 23,900 pounds. At this weight, the trailer can bob and bounce, so an adjustable coupler was installed to keep the trailer as flat as possible.
5. Be Confident
Talk with your truck and trailer dealers to ensure that your setup is capable of handling what you plan to tow. It’s also a good idea to review state laws, as a commercial driver’s license is required to tow loads above a certain weight limit.
Swinging the loaded Silverado 2500 HD wide into turns, accelerating onto onramps and coming to a stop were pleasantly drama-free. The hydraulic power-assisted steering is firm and deliberate. The suspension cushions the truck along bumps to keeps the cabin calm and quiet.
Even changing lanes to make a pass on the highway was no problem at all. In Tow/Haul Mode, the Silverado holds onto gears longer to maximize the engine’s considerable muscle – it creates the sensation of a freight train with turbo whine, steadily amassing speed with enough inertia to thrust 9 tons down the highway.
To be fair, this was a relatively short drive on flat surfaces. But the truck handled its cargo in a way that made the job seem easily accessible, even to a greenhorn.