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If you’re excited to get on the road but you’re just not sure whether the F-150 that falls in your budget can pull the travel trailer you want, you may be wondering what your options are. The real towing capacity of an F-150 depends on a lot of things, but I’ll try to break them down here.
A light-duty truck can be an excellent option for towing a travel trailer, you just have to make sure the weight of your travel trailer is managed for the truck you have or want to purchase.
Select F-150s can tow up to 13,000 pounds as long as you have the right tow package and trim level. Don’t be fooled by higher figures given to you by a salesperson. They’re not always right, and they’re trying to sell trucks, so make sure you check reference charts to make sure the F-150 you’re looking at can actually tow what they say it can.
That 13,000-pound figure includes an empty trailer void of your personal belongings and an empty truck with only the driver and no other gear holding it down, which means there’s a lot of variation to that number and what a truck can handle.
It’s important that you use real-world numbers and real-life situations to figure out whether your truck can two your trailer.
There’s no single number that describes the towing capacity of an F-150. It depends on multiple factors, including but not limited to:
- Engine type
- Axle ratio
- Truck weight
- Truck length
- Towing package
Taking a look at an F-150 brochure specific to the year of the truck will show you that there are a lot of numbers correlating to each configuration and how much it can pull.
At it’s lowest, the F-150 with a 3.3L Ti-VCT V6 engine has 290 horsepower and 265 lb-ft of torque. Selecting the regular bed and standard cab gives you a maximum towing capacity of 5000 pounds. That not very much, so it probably won’t work if you want to haul a travel trailer.
However, a better-equipped F-150 with a 3.5L Ecoboost V6 engine has 375 horsepower and 470 lb-ft of torque. The SuperCrew cab and a long bed with a robust towing package will be able to tow 10,000 pounds or more.
There are a lot of configurations in between that lead to a more complicated answer than you might have thought. We’ll dig into which factors make the biggest differences for you if you plan to two a travel trailer with your truck.
It’s not just the F-150 that has a huge range of configurations. There are other lightweight, half-ton pickups in this same category, and they include:
- Chevy Silverado 1500
- Dodge Ram 1500
- GMC Sierra 1500
- Toyota Tundra
- Nissan Titan
A half-ton truck is named as such because it can handle a payload of about half a ton. While the payload is different from towing, it does have an impact, and the half-ton trucks of today actually have a higher payload than half a ton.
The payload refers to how much the truck can carry when the cab and the bed are loaded. So while it isn’t the same thing as the towing capacity, it does have a direct impact on the tongue weight and the total weight of your truck, hitch, and trailer.
The tongue weight limit is the amount of weight your hitch puts on the truck. This pressure will depend on what you’re towing and how the weight of the trailer is distributed. The more weight at the front of the trailer, the more pressure it will put on your tongue.
A hefty tongue weight is a good thing to a certain extent, because it makes your vehicle more stable. A trailer that’s too light at the front will drift and sway more than a heavier trailer. However, your truck may not be able to tow a trailer that’s too heavy, so you have to find that balance.
There’s an easy way to weigh your tongue using a trailer tongue weight scale. This will get you started figuring out how much weight is on your tongue and whether it’s the right amount or not.
For the F-150, Ford recommends a tongue weight of 10-15% of your overall trailer weight, including when it’s loaded with gear. This will involve some math because you also need to factor your tongue weight into your overall payload.
If your payload is around 2000 pounds, but you need to allot 1000 pounds for passengers and gear, that only leaves you with 1000 pounds for your tongue weight. If you consider that 1000 pounds are about 12% of your total trailer weight, you can only pull about an 8000-pound trailer.
It’s no surprise that heavier trucks can tow more. Heavy-duty trucks refer to ¾ ton and 1-ton pickups. These trucks are made for heavy loads and have a larger payload as well as towing capacity.
Moving up to an F-250 or better will get you a higher payload that can handle heavier loads, but that doesn’t mean the F-150 can’t get the job done. But it will depend on what type of trailer you’re towing.
While your F-150 can definitely tow a travel trailer rated within its towing capacity, it’s likely that it can’t tow something like a fifth wheel. Fifth wheels hook up to your truck via a hitch in the bed, which makes the entire rig more stable, but your F-150 isn’t going to be strong enough for a trailer that large.
One common thing you’ll see is that gooseneck trailer capacities are higher than conventional towing capacities. That’s because so much of the fifth wheel’s weight is managed by the bed, which is what a truck is designed to do.
It’s not so cut and dry when it comes to the actual towing capacity of an F-150, because they’re all over the board. However, Ford’s F-150 does continue to have best-in-class towing in comparison to other manufacturers of half-ton pickups.
There are several models of the F-150, each with its own specifications, which means they can handle different weights. These models include:
- King Rand
The XL is the most basic model and the Limited comes with just about anything you could ever want in terms of luxury. Everything else falls somewhere in between with plenty of standard and optional features to choose from. If you want better off-road capabilities, the Raptor is the best choice.
Every model also has a range of other features that will affect its towing capacity. Ford does a good job of offering a lot of different configurations, so you get exactly what you want. It’s important to be aware of your combination of the following:
- Engine strength
- Axle ratio
- Length of truck
- Weight of truck
Each one of these has an impact on your towing capacity.
In general, the stronger the engine, the more towing capacity it will have. That’s because a stronger engine has more horsepower and more torque. The F-150 comes in several different engines.
The 3.5L Ecoboost V6 is actually the strongest, and it has more torque than even the F-250 with a 6.2L V8. That’s pretty impressive. It’s a gas engine that also gets great fuel economy, so it’s an excellent choice for a lot of people.
This engine is standard in the Platinum and the Raptor, but it’s an upgrade if you choose a lower trim level. The Raptor even has a high output version of this engine that produces more torque, and it comes in a V8 rather than the standard V6.
Your axle ratio is crucial to providing torque, which is important when you’re towing something. It’s the force that gets your truck moving. Once you’re at full speed, torque matters a lot less.
Here’s how your axle ratio works. Your engine creates energy that makes your driveshaft rotate. The energy is then transferred to your axles. The axle determines how your wheels will turn using this same energy and it distributes it accordingly.
It’s easy to see that the more energy you get at your wheels, the stronger and faster they’ll turn. Pulling less weight means faster movement with the same amount of energy, which equates to better fuel economy.
But pulling heavier loads means the wheels need more energy to pull the weight, which reduces your fuel economy.
Axle ratios are displayed as numbers like 3.15. This is the number of times your driveshaft as to turn to rotate your wheels one time. The higher this number, the slower the movement will be and the more force that will be used to turn your wheels.
For towing, higher axle ratios are better, but they obviously result in lower fuel economy, which can be a detriment to some.
Length and weight of truck
The length and weight of your truck are also applied to the total weight of the rig when you have a trailer attached. The effects of everything you do are enhanced. Tight turns and faster speeds give you less time to react when you’re pulling weight behind you.
As the driver, you’re in charge of your truck’s behavior, so you want it to be in control of your trailer. For maximum control of a trailer, your truck should be as long and heavy as possible.
Picture in your head a large heavy truck towing something very small. If there’s any sway due to road or weather conditions, the trailer will incur the most damage. Your truck will be much more stable because it’s stronger.
If you picture instead, a small lightweight truck trying to pull a heavy trailer, you can see where you might run into trouble. Any sway that gets control of your trailer will adversely impact how your truck behaves, and it could be very dangerous. This is why you never want to pull above your towing capacity.
The weight of the truck that you want to pay attention to is the gross combined weight rating (GCWR), which is how much weight your truck can handle in its own weight and payload.
The length of the truck is directly impacted by the size of the cab and the length of the bed. King Ranch, Platinum, and Limited are the only models that have the crew cab/long bed configuration, so they’ll have the longest wheelbase.
You can order the lower models with these options, but they don’t come standard.
We’ve already talked about payload, but this is where it comes into play. The total weight of the driver, passengers, a full tank of gas, gear, and anything else you put in your truck is its payload. But when you add pressure to your trailer hitch, this number should also be factored into the total payload.
The payload capacity, much like the towing capacity, ranges significantly based on the F-150 you choose. Nearly every model is different. At the lower end of the payload scale (1700 pounds), you’ll find the 3.3L, 4WD, SuperCrew cab.
For a maximum payload of 3270 pounds, you need a 5L V8 gas engine with 2WD and a regular cab. That’s nearly double the payload, which gives you more wiggle room on your tongue weight.
Ford offers towing packages that will enhance your towing capacity due to several installations on the truck itself. These include trailer hitches, more powerful alternators, and a few others. While there are some standard towing packages, others have to be custom ordered.
Class IV trailer hitch
This is included in Ford’s basic towing package and it comes standard on the Lariat, King Ranch, Platinum, and Limited models. You can also get it as an option on the XL and the XLT. An EcoBoost V6 engine will give you up to 6000 pounds of towing while the EcoBoost V8 increases it to 7000 pounds.
The package includes a 4-pin or a 7-pin wiring harness, the trailer hitch receiver, and a Smart Trailer Tow Connector.
Trailer tow package
This package upgrades the Class IV hitch by adding an auxiliary transmission oil cooler and an upgrade to the front stabilizer bar. It’s standard in the Raptor, but you can get it as an option in all others.
This package gives you a towing capacity of 11,000 pounds and includes everything that the Class IV trailer hitch package does.
Max trailer tow package
This package is an option on all models, but does not come standard. It can only be used with the 3.5L EcoBoost engine and the 3.55 electronic-locking rear axle. You can install it on the 3.73 rear axle if you also have the Heavy-Duty Payload Package.
This increases your towing capacity to 13,000 pounds and includes everything the previous packages do plus a 36-gallon fuel tank, a trailer brake controller, and an upgraded rear bumper.
If you’re considering getting an F-150 to tow a travel trailer, you may still have some concerns. These frequently asked questions may help you figure out what you really need.
Answer: In general, an F-150 can really only pull about 5000 safely, unless you have a model equipped with the right engine and towing package. Select configurations can tow up to 13,000 pounds, but you’ll need to make sure you have the right towing package installed first.
Answer: There are some F-150s that can tow up to 8000 pounds. If you have the 3.5L EcoBoost V6 with the max towing package installed, it can tow up to 13,000 pounds, which gives you plenty of towing capacity for 8000 pounds.
The 5L Ti-VCT V8 has a maximum towing capacity of 11,600 pounds, which would also be enough.
Answer: The best way to find out whether your vehicle has a towing package is to look up the VIN on the Ford ETIS website. You can view all specifications here, which will tell you if there’s a towing package and what the towing capacity is.
There are many different factors to consider when finding out how much an F-150 can pull, so pay attention to things like payload, towing packages, and overall length and weight. It’s important to know how all of these things work together so you get the safest towing experience possible.
Because 4WD adds so much weight to your vehicle, it can significantly reduce your towing capacity due to limited payload. Also consider how many people will be riding in the vehicle and how else you might load it.
It’s also important to tow under your maximum limit to reduce sway, especially in a lightweight truck. You can push the limits of your towing capacity, but your experience won’t be as good or as safe.