Serious Truck Buyers Don’t Care About Half-Ton Pickups’ Advertised Towing Capacity

Pickup trucks can pull an awful lot of weight. It’s unsurprising that many manufacturers brag about their half-ton trucks’ 13,000+ pound towing capacity. But the truth is that very few configurations can actually tow this much. What’s more, most experienced truck buyers planning to regularly tow 10,000 pounds or more will opt for a heavy-duty truck anyway.

How much can half-ton pickup trucks tow?

The Ford F-150 can tow up to 14,000 pounds. Chevrolet claims the maximum tow rating of the Chevrolet Silverado 1500 is 13,300 pounds, while its cousin–the GMC Sierra 1500–can be configured to pull up to 13,000 pounds. Ram claims a towing capacity of 12,750 pounds for its full-size, light-duty 1500. Toyota’s redesigned Tundra can tow up to 12,000 pounds.

Black Ford F-150 pulls an airstream camper trailer up a steep hill, beneath a bridge, trees visible in the background.
2021 Ford F-150 | Ford Motor Company

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Manufacturers test these tow ratings themselves. They each put a carefully configured pickup truck through a series of towing tests designed by the Society of Automotive Engineers (the SAE J2807 Tow Tests, to be precise).

The culmination of these towing capacity tests is pulling a loaded trailer from the Davis Dam on the Colorado River in Nevada up Highway 93 to Kingman, Arizona. The road climbs almost 3,000 feet in just 11.4 miles, and temperatures often soar over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. It is easily one of the most punishing towing routes in the United States.

Can every half-ton pickup truck tow 12,000+ pounds?

Absolutely not. Manufacturers advertise a maximum tow rating based on a very specific configuration of their truck. While you could custom order a truck this way, most any half-ton pickup truck you find on a dealership lot will not have a towing capacity this high.

Half-ton Chevy Silverado shows off its towing capacity by pulling a large trailer down a tree-lined country road for a promo photo.
2019 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 | General Motors

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The Fremont Motors Sheridan Ford dealership shared some revealing numbers. A 2020 Ford F-150 with the 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6 can tow up to 12,700 pounds–when configured with a very specific transfer case and rear axle ratio. If you simply change to a more common rear axle ratio and transfer case, its towing capacity plummets to just 8,000 pounds–with the same engine!

Truck owners who plan on doing much towing usually opt for a three-quarter-ton or full one-ton pickup truck. These owners don’t pay much attention to the advertised tow rating of half-ton pickup trucks. Manufacturers often advertise they have the highest half-ton towing capacity in a specific category, but these numbers apply to very few actual trucks.

Towing capacity may be calculated for advertising

As tow ratings increase every year, the actual motor a high tow-rating pickup truck has matters less. Equally important to towing are a half-ton truck’s cooling capacity, transmission, and rear-end axle ratio. This gives automakers a bit of flexibility in choosing which configuration to send to Davis Dam. Their choice may come down to advertising.

A white Ram 1500 tradesman trim parked on a dirt road, hooked up to a cargo trailer with a tractor in it to demonstrate its tow rating.
2022 Ram 1500 | Stellantis

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For example, Ford brags that the F-150 has the highest towing capacity in the half-ton class: 14,000 pounds claimed by the EcoBoost V6. But Ford no longer offers a diesel half-ton, so this leaves an opportunity for a different kind of record.

General Motors was able to test the Silverado 1500 with its Duramax turbodiesel and claim the highest tow rating of any diesel half-ton pickup truck (13,300 pounds). General Motors sent a 2WD Silverado to Davis Dam, but sent a 4WD Sierra 1500. This allows GMC to advertise the highest tow rating of any 4WD diesel half-ton pickup truck (13,000 pounds).

Finally, Ram tested a 1500 powered by its 5.7-liter HEMI V8. This allows the automaker to advertise the highest V8-powered half-ton pickup truck tow rating. What’s more, Ram has gone the longest without a redesign. Often the pickup truck with the most recent redesign claims the highest overall tow rating in the segment, so it revolves between the manufacturers.

Half-ton pickup trucks are incredible vehicles. They offer plenty of room for passengers and cargo, are comfortable for long drives, and boast increasingly good fuel mileage. But at the end of the day, these are full-size, light-duty trucks. They are designed for light work as well as driving empty. It is their heavy-duty three-quarter-ton and full one-ton brethren that are uncompromisingly engineered for big payloads and heavy trailers. Therefore, buyers who do a lot of heavy trailering usually don’t worry about half-ton pickup trucks’ maximum tow ratings.

Next, find out what you get when upgrade to a heavy-duty pickup truck or learn why towing with a half-ton truck isn’t always a great idea:

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