Mar 18, 11 | by: Bruce Smith
Pickup tow ratings, towing and liability issues
Pickup tow ratings—and what they really mean when it comes to liability issues and your business
By Bruce W. Smith
“No matter what hitch, suspension, brake, cooling, or engine upgrades you make to your pickup, its towing and load-carrying limits can’t change once it leaves the assembly line.”
It’s a few minutes past 6 a.m. and your crew has to be at the jobsite in an hour. The guys are grabbing snacks and filling the ice chest with drinks and ice while you top off the fuel tanks on your dually and the compact loader on the trailer.
Your new four-door diesel 4×4 is a dream pickup; comfortable, roomy, and powerful.
In fact, with a towing capacity of more than 16,000 pounds it’ll more than meet any needs for your construction and landscaping business. The little loader you’re towing today, which weighs just a little more than 8,800 pounds, is an easy tow.
You replace the fuel cap, check the hitch to make sure the safety chains are in place and the latch on the hitch ball locked, and head out on the road.
Now imagine being in an accident on the way to the jobsite. There are injuries in both vehicles. To your horror, a lawsuit ensues and you are subsequently found liable for a multi-million-dollar judgment to the injured people.
The reason: Negligent operation of your pickup by towing beyond its maximum towing capacity.
UNDERSTANDING TOW RATINGS
How can pulling a trailered load thousands of pounds lighter than your truck’s maximum towing capacity be wrong? Never happen.
Don’t bet your business on it: The above scenario is an all too real possibility.
Even though you thought your new heavy-duty diesel dually could tow 16,000 pounds, one small detail noted in the owner’s manual was missed: the difference between “weight-carrying” and “weight-distributing” towing limits.
Weight-carrying, or towing in the conventional mode as it’s commonly referred to, means the trailer is hooked to a tow ball or pintle setup attached directly to the hitch mounted on truck’s frame as it comes equipped from the factory.
Weight-distributing, however, is when the trailer is attached to a special weight-distributing (load equalizing) hitch with its spring bars and adjusting chains in use – a setup commonly used when towing travel trailers.
The differences between weight-carrying and weight-distributing hitch setups are worlds apart when it comes to maximum towing capacity: While weight-carrying limits range between 5,000 and 8,500 pounds for heavy duty pickups, weight-distributing ratings can top 18,000 pounds.
In the above scenario, your dually’s maximum weight-carrying capacity was 6,000 pounds rather than the 10,000-pounds-plus being towed at the time of the accident. Such an oversight can be costly in court.
Another often-missed towing caveat in the vehicle owner’s manual is the necessity to use a “sway-control device” on all towed loads beyond a certain weight. Again, this equates to using a weight-distributing hitch, which is a sway-control device.