How Much Torque Is Enough in a Truck?
When it comes to trucks, torque figures are always front and center. Why is torque important? It’s a measure of the twist of the motor, not just its power. The more torque you have, the more you can tow, and the larger a stump you can pull.
The new Rivian R1T electric truck has 908 lb-feet of torque and the new Hummer EV truck has 11,500 lb-ft of torque. Those numbers were unheard of just a few years ago; a 1995 Ford F-150 had just 265 lb-ft, and a 2010 GMC Sierra 1500 had only 205 lb-ft.
Today’s trucks easily make 400 lb-ft, and that’s generally enough to tow any small boat or horse trailer. But it wasn’t that long ago that 1,000 lb-ft was a magic number.
Torque is important to the power of a truck, not horsepower. It measures the twist of a motor, not just its thrust. Race car drivers say horsepower is how fast you hit the wall, while torque is how far you move the wall. With a truck, you want to move the wall.
The first 1,000 lb-ft trucks
While 1,000 lb-ft or more is common with modern electric trucks, and cars, just a few years ago it was unheard of. Today, many trucks make 700 lb-ft or more.
The 2019 Ram Heavy Duty, whether it was a 2500 or a 3500, was the first heavy-duty truck that you don’t need a commercial driver’s license to drive to have 1,000 lb-ft. Today, the 2022 Ram 3500 truck comes with a 6.7-liter high-output inline 6-cylinder Cummins turbo diesel that makes 1,075 lb-ft. That much twist means that the 3500 can tow 37,090 pounds and carry 6,750 in the bed. At the same time.
Ford now tops the 1,000-mark, too. The 2022 Ford Super Duty can be ordered with a 6.7-liter Power Stroke V8 with 1,050 lb-ft. Ford’s Super Duty has a tow rating of 37,000 pounds with a gooseneck trailer, and a 32,00-pound 5th-wheel tow rating.
Chevy and GMC, too, offer monster torque figures, but not in the four-figure range. The Silverado 2500 HD and the GMC Sierra Heavy Duty make 910 lb-ft from the 6.6 liter Duramax Turbo Diesel V8. Each can tow 36,000 pounds.
But, now, the new Hummer EV has 11,500 from its four electric motors combined. That’s a mind bending about of twist, equal to a Silverado 2500 HD AND a 2020 Audi A3.
But, because the Hummer isn’t designed to be a work truck like the heavy duty monsters listed above, it “only” has a tow rating of 7,500 pounds, while the Rivian R1T can tow 11,000 pounds with its 908 lb-ft.
How much torque do I need to tow?
Let’s start with horsepower. The standard rule of thumb is that it takes about one horsepower to tow 25 pounds. Though horsepower is important, it’s torque – the twist – that helps you tow. A new Freightliner semi-truck can make 2,005 lb-ft for comparison but only makes about 600 horsepower.
People who tow for a living often worry about differentials, axle ratios, tire sizes and more that can multiply the torque. But, for the rest of us we don’t need to think about that stuff. If your truck and trailer are too big, you may need a CDL or Commercial Drivers License. Generally, if your gross (total) vehicle weight exceeds 26,000 pounds with a 10,000-pound trailer, you need a CDL.
For the rest of us, towing shouldn’t be that complicated. Instead of worrying about the amount of torque, look at the sticker the factory put on the inside of your door or your owner’s manual for guidance. Most cars and small trucks can tow the little trailers that U-Haul rents, or about 1,000 pounds. A small SUV can usually (though not always) tow about 2,500 pounds, like a motorcycle trailer, safely. Most full-size trucks today can tow something like a car trailer, or about 5,000 pounds, safely.