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Buying the right hauling vehicle

Ford Motor Company towing expert Harry Rawlins gives tips for buying the right hauling vehicle

Towing tips from Ford.

When the engineers at Ford want an expert opinion on towing, they go to Harry Rawlins. As the 4x4 and Trailer Tow engineer for Super Duty trucks, he has been influential in bringing such technical innovations as the integrated trailer break controller to Fordís Super Duty lineup. We asked Rawlins to weigh in on how to choose the right vehicle to meet your towing needs.

What you should look for when shopping for a tow vehicle:

Torque is most important, but you don't have to have a high-torque motor. You can tow just fine with proper gearing. A deep first gear really helps get the load moving. Then, when you get on the highway, horsepower is important to maintain your speed on hills. Proper gearing will keep the vehicle from shifting in and out of overdrive.

Pickups usually have deeper gear ratios in the axles, compared with sport utility vehicles, so they're better suited for towing. Additionally, for heavy loads, you need a strong rear axle with adequate rear gross accumulated weight ratio to carry the tongue load of the trailer. This is where a solid rear axle is best.

All that cargo-carrying capacity that pickups have helps for fifth-wheel and gooseneck trailers that can have up to 25 percent of their load on the tongue of the trailer.

How trailer weight affects the type of vehicle you need:

I would say once you get over a 5,000-pound trailer, you need to start looking at full-size pickups and SUVs. Once you reach 10,000 pounds, you are into the heavy-duty pickup truck market.

Towing tips from Ford.On towing with a 4x2 truck, compared with a 4x4 truck:

A 4x2 truck can tow more than a 4x4, mainly because of the added weight of the 4x4 system (transfer case, front axle and driveshaft). The powertrain in the vehicle is usually rated to tow a load, and that powertrain is often shared between 4x4 and 4x2 models; thus the lighter truck can haul a heavier trailer. The tongue load from the trailer actually adds weight to the rear axle, and thus the vehicle will gain traction, an added benefit for going with a 4x2 truck.

On the compromises consumers make when choosing a vehicle for towing:

They're much less today than in past years. Customers are demanding trucks be comfortable when towing and when unloaded, so the manufacturers, like Ford, are stepping up and refining the trucks to meet customersí needs. But basically, if the customer buys a truck that can haul heavy loads and then never tows with it, they have a truck that is overbuilt for their needs. If the customer picks a truck specifically for towing, there may be a few compromises, but they will have a more robust truck that will hold its resale value better.

On what is the most common mistake made when selecting a truck for towing:

There are actually several common mistakes that customers make. Many customers buy a truck based on what looks good instead of what functions best. In other cases, they find that the trailer grows faster than the truck, forcing them to upgrade to a bigger truck. Also trailer ratings are usually based on the maximum capability of the truck. Once customers start adding all the upgrades (stereo, leather seats, power everything, etc.), the weight of the truck adds up quickly, and that subtracts from the weight of the trailer.

Towing safety tips:

Always check to make sure your trailer brakes and lights are working properly and that regular maintenance is performed on your trailer.
Remember that you have a trailer behind you and that you have to make wider turns and prepare to stop sooner.
Remind yourself that you don't have to tow at the same speed as everyone else on the road. With a large trailer, your fuel economy is significantly impacted by your speed. Take your time and drive safely.
Keep a watchful eye on the other drivers. People without trailers don't usually leave enough room for you to stop or make corrections. You have to adjust your driving style to theirs.

Posted Sept. 28, 2006