Towing-Package Essentials

Towing-Package Essentials

Johnston, Jeff

A tow-vehicle buyer is presented with a dizzying array of options when choosing a new tow vehicle, but there’s one option that should be crystal clear and a must-have: the towing package.

There are several good reasons for, choosing factory-installed towing hardware. You have full warranty coverage on the equipment. It was designed by the best engineering minds at a major auto, manufacturer, and that’s reassuring when; the hardware is tying your tow rig and trailer safely together. You’ll probably save money over the cost of aftermarket hardware. And perhaps best of all, use of the factory options means being ready for the road is a turnkey operation that calls for few or no trips to specialty shops after leaving the dealership.

In many cases, you don’t have a choice. If the vehicle is to be rated for its highest towing capacity, the towingpackage option is mandatory to give the rig its optimum performance potential. For less strenuous duty, the towing package is optional.

Check dealer literature to determine the content of the towing-package option. Some of the items you may encounter include:

Towing axle ratio: Most packages include a lower (numerically higher) axle ratio; forexample, a3:73:1 or 4:10:1 instead of the 3:55:1 that comes with the stock vehicle. A lower ratio results in greater torque multiplication at the rear wheels, which means more power for towing. It also means the engine turns somewhat faster for a given road speed, but that’s the tradeoff for improved towing performance.

Hitch receiver: If the rig already has a receiver, all you need to select is the proper ball mount and the associated hardware, such as a load-distributing hitch. The receiver will be properly matched to the tow vehicle’s trailer tow rating so you needn’t worry about any hitch overloading situations – as long as you pay attention to the numbers. You’ll also avoid interference problems with the exhaust pipe(s), the fuel tank and the spare tire.

Wiring package: The wiring package at its simplest is a group of color-coded pigtails near the back bumper that’s ready for installation of the trailer-plug receptacle. It can also be as complete as a plug or two installed out back, a pigtail for brake-control installation under the dash and full integration with the tow rig’s electric system.

Alternator: It takes extra charging current to keep a trailer’s battery(ies) charged in addition to handling the electrical power needs of the tow vehicle. The battery itself may also be larger.

Heavy-duty suspension: The trailer and its hitch weight add load on the towvehicle suspension, so the normal reaction among dealership sales staff and buyers alike is to order the optional HD suspension, particularly when fifth-wheel towing is involved. In fact, when the trailer is a conventional ball-type trailer, it’s often best not to order a heavy spring option if there is a choice (if the towing package does not include HD suspen-sion) for trucks rated 8,600 pounds and above because stiff ride and the tendency of the rear springs to do some or most of the work of the load-distributing hitch can be the result. A stiff ride is a very common complaint among owners of ton and one-ton pickups not towing fifthwheels.

A case can be made for not ordering HD Suspension even for fifth-wheel towing – except in very high pin-weight situations – opting instead to install auxiliary springs or air bags after delivery to support the pin weight (if necessary), which allows a more civilized ride on standard rear springs while not towing. It’s necessary to compare the standard and optional rear-axle-weight ratings (GAWR) relative to the anticipated trailer pin weight. It’s easy to upgrade rear suspensions after a truck is built, but nearly impossible to soften the ride of an oversprung truck without replacing the suspension. SUVs have enough of their body weight on the rear axle so that it’s not an issue.

Brake control: Ford’s 2005 model Super Duty is the only tow rig that offers a factory-installed brake controller. This new unit works amazingly well, and should be at the top of a must-have list. Otherwise, towing packages usually include a trailer-wiring harness with a circuit for an aftermarket brake-control unit – a very worthwhile component of the package.

Stability control: The Big Tow package on Nissan’s Titan is the only one that includes electronic stability control. Some GM vehicles offer Quadrasteer or electronic stability control, but these are not part of the towing option.

Mirrors: Both the Ford Super Duty TowCommand package and the Nissan Titan Big Tow package include dual-element extendible mirrors; in many cases the primary mirror element is electrically adjusted and heated.

Extra cooling: The largest possible radiator, a larger transmission-oil cooler and often a power-steering-fluid cooler are essential parts of the usual HD cooling component of a towing package, and no tow vehicle should be ordered without them. These components not only help the tow rig avoid overheating any vital functional parts, they also lead to longer trouble-free component service life. – Jeff Johnston


Trailering packages vary by model, but here are some components that may be part of it:

Hitch receiver

4 and/or 7-pin connector

Larger alternator

Larger battery

Larger radiator

Additional electric fan(s)

Transmission-fluid cooler

Engine-oil cooler

Rear antisway bar

Extendible mirrors

Vehicle Dynamic Control

Integrated brake controller

Brake controller pre-wire

Synthetic lubricants

Lower axle ratio

Re-valved shock absorbers

Copyright T L Enterprises, Inc. 2005

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