Major makers of pickups and SUVs have agreed to a standard test to rate their vehicle's towing capacity. By the end of the 2013 model year, most truck buyers should know -- for the first time -- how a vehicle performs vs. the competition.
"We wanted our customers to know that 10,000 pounds of towing capacity means the same things for all trucks," said Robert Krouse, the General Motors engineer who chaired the Society of Automotive Engineers committee that created the new standard.
This is a really big deal for millions of drivers. Towing capacity measures how heavy a trailer a vehicle can safely haul. The rating is as important to many pickup and SUV buyers as fuel economy or horsepower are to minivan or sports-car shoppers.
Each company designed its own test, and -- surprise! -- their trucks always aced the tests. Imagine the EPA didn't exist, and car companies could just make up fuel-economy figures to boost sales.
It's been caveat emptor, and catch me if you can on towing. Makers would boast about the pounds their pickups and SUVs could tow, and their exhaustive testing used to determine the towing capacity.
But when a new truck claimed a higher number, the other manufacturers would rewrite their spec sheets. Their trucks' towing capacity -- coincidentally ... magically! -- increased to match or beat the new kid on the block.
It was a farce, but there was nothing a customer could do, short of bringing a 10,000-pound trailer to their test-drive.
The new standard solves that problem. Created with input from leading truck, trailer and hitch makers, it assures that every truck tested fulfills the same performance requirements.
"Before, you couldn't say who had the best towing capacity, because you didn't know how it was tested," says Mike Levine, editor of Pickuptrucks.com. "This is the first time a customer can do an actual apples-to-apples comparison."
The test is demanding, and automakers expect published ratings to decrease:
The SAE test includes real-world tasks such as acceleration, braking, towing up a steep grade in 100-degree temperatures, understeer and stability. In addition to validating a truck's working credentials, it assures a basic level of safety for the driver and for others on the road.
With the demanding test, automakers expect their tow ratings to decrease by anything from a few hundred to more than a thousand pounds. They're willing to take the hit, because it's in their interest as well as the customers' to have credible towing figures.
Toyota is the first to use the standard. It already applied it to the Tundra. The Tundra's claimed towing capacity decreased, but its credibility grew.
Chevrolet, Dodge, Ford and GMC full-size pickups are expected to adopt the test during the 2013 model year, which begins Jan. 1, 2012. Nissan will use the standard someday, but won't say when or on which vehicles.
Every truck tested to the standard can say its towing capacity is SAE rated. That's the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval when it comes to vehicle performance. The SAE is the leading independent body for vehicle standards and tests.
The towing standard is not mandatory. No manufacturer has to use it. If they don't, though, the figures they claim for towing capacity will be less credible and more open to challenge than their competitors'.
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