New Tow Trucks

By Linda Water Nelson

New tow vehicles today are the most capable, safest, and best-equipped ever. What are you waiting for?

2016 Toyota Tundra towing boat

Remember, you read it here: For 2016 and 2017, there are no bad trucks. Tow vehicles today are unquestionably the most capable, safest, and best equipped ever. A big thank-you for this goes to the Great Recession. While business and industry made their old trucks last during the downturn, truck makers ramped up development programs, kept people working, and made great strides. You're now the beneficiary of this.

Manufacturers brought you improved fuel efficiency, power, and towing capacity; integrated innovations from the technology sector; focused on interiors; added safety and security; and made the resulting vehicles beautiful and functional. It's no wonder America has a love affair with the pickup truck. Just take a deep breath after you gasp with sticker shock. You can shop smart and get the best value.

  • Be honest about your requirements versus your wish list. You may need a truck that will tow 9,000 pounds, but the trim package and optional features are generally a wish list. Leather is lovely, but today's fabrics might be a better choice and value.
  • The Internet is your best friend. Print out manufacturer spec sheets, and use build-your-truck features. Use a highlighter to accent all the relevant information. Take your notes with you to the dealership.
  • Take your trailer and boat to a public weigh station and get true numbers. When figuring gross vehicle weight, be sure to add in a generous allowance for gear, passengers, and everything else you might bring along. Also, as part of the equation, add the weight of the vehicle itself and estimate the weight of fuel — roughly six pounds per gallon — carried on both the boat and vehicle.
  • Technology and safety/security packages are often options that pay for themselves. They make it easier to line up the vehicle and the trailer for towing and often eliminate the need for spotters. Don't be so macho that you miss out.
  • Chances are that you'll own your new truck for well over a decade, so look at residual values. No guarantees here, but they can be pretty consistent.
  • Remember that truck salesmen aren't really your friends. Their mission is to increase the transaction price and take home a bigger commission.

Here are some of the latest and greatest new trucks for 2016 and 2017.

A New Ford Super Duty For 2017

Front wheel drive Ford truck towing boat

The success of the aluminum-intensive F-150 has led the dominant pickup-truck producer to carry over the technology to its heavy-duty offering, available in late 2016. Rather than striving for mpg improvement, the use of the same cab and other elements allows the company to add more performance features. The frame is fabricated from 95-percent high-strength steel, and there's a re-engineered cargo box. Most details haven't yet been disclosed, but trailer towing is clearly a factor in the design and engineering.

Active Front Steering, which reduces the effort to turn the steering wheel at lower speeds, will be a first-in-class feature, and blind-spot monitoring with cross-traffic alert and trailer-tow features (modified to adapt to the length of the trailer) are part of the mix. Up to seven available cameras, including trailer reverse guidance with easy-to-follow on-screen graphics and 360-degree split-view display, are also available. A tire-pressure monitoring system tracks and displays the specs of a connected trailer and warns when tires are underinflated. No numbers yet on tow capacity, but you can expected that it will be the best in the heavy-duty class. Two engines will be available: a 6.2-liter gasoline V-8 and a Ford-built 6.7-liter Power Stroke V-8 turbodiesel.

2016 Nissan Titan XD: In Its Own Category

2016 Nissan Titan XD

All new, the Titan XD features a Cummins 5.0-liter turbodiesel engine (310 hp/555 lb.-ft. of torque) or an Advanced Endurance V-8 (390 hp/401 lb.-ft. of torque) and is heavier than the standard half-ton, putting it into its own category. No mpg numbers, as trucks larger than half-ton don't post EPA fuel-efficiency numbers. The XD is capable of towing up to 12,000 pounds for a properly equipped diesel. Features include an integrated brake controller, tow/haul mode with downhill speed control, and a trailer-light check system that allows single-person hookup operation for checking turn signals, brake lights, and running/clearance lights. A rearview monitor with trailer guides and an available around-view (bird's-eye view) monitor for parking ease are part of the mix. Configuration choices include three cabs, two frame sizes, three powertrain offerings, and five grade levels. Some of these, including a standard Titan, are still to be announced as part of the Titan rollout. The Titan XD is only available in a crew-cab version with prices starting at $40,290 for a 4x2 at the basic trim level and rising to $60,520 for the loaded Platinum Reserve 4x4.

Chevrolet Colorado Expresses Midsize Mojo

2016 Chevrolet Colorado diesel

With great fanfare in 2014, GM introduced its re-entry into the midsize-truck market and revitalized the segment. Numerous awards followed, and truck owners are showing their love for the peppy, quiet trucks with a maximum tow capacity of 7,700 pounds. Introduced first in a gasoline version, now there's a 2.8-liter Duramax turbodiesel just hitting the street with 181 hp and 369 lb.-ft. of torque. Fuel-efficiency numbers should be published soon. The turbodiesel, clearly the best alternative for towing, includes a smart diesel-exhaust brake system, standard Hydra-Matic 6L50 six-speed automatic transmission, integrated trailer-brake control, and 3.42 rear-axle ratio.

Two gasoline-powered engines are also available: The 2.5-liter four-cylinder (200 hp/191 lb.-ft. of torque) is rated at a max of 27 mpg highway, while the 3.6-liter V-6 (305 hp/269 lb.-ft. of torque) is rated at a max 26 mpg highway. Tow capacity for these, when properly equipped, is 7,000 pounds. As with full-size pickups, there are numerous configurations. There's no regular cab — a smart move, but four-door extended-cab and crew-cab models are available in 2WD or 4WD. There are three trim levels: WT (work truck), LT, and Z71.

2016 Toyota Tundra Adds Towing Features

2016 Tundra TRD-Pro trailering boat

The third-generation Toyota Tundra has been updated for 2016 with features that boaters have been requesting. Fewer fuel stops are a definite plus, and the top four models have been upgraded with a larger gas tank (38 gallons versus the 26.4-gallon predecessor) that should improve range considerably. A standard integrated trailer-brake control for trucks with the 5.7-liter engine is also new. Prior models had integrated wiring, but the control had to be an aftermarket purchase and install. No engine or suspension changes: A 4.6-liter V-8 with 310 hp and 327 lb.-ft. of torque and the 5.7-liter V-8 with 381 hp and 401 lb.-ft. of torque are the choices. Both share a six-speed automatic overdrive transmission. The differential ratio is 3.91 for the smaller engine and 4.30 for the larger engine with the tow package. Fuel efficiency ratings are 15/19/16 mpg for the 4x2 with the smaller engine (14/18/16 mpg for the 4x4) and 13/18/15 mpg for the 5.7-liter 4x2 (13/17/15 mpg for the 4x4). The Tundra starts at just under $29,000 MSRP, but plan to spend substantially more if you want that 5.7-liter engine and plan to tow much more than 5,000 pounds.

Ram Heavy-Duty Claims 2016 Best-in-Class Tow

2016 Dodge Ram heavy-duty pickup

Truck makers love bragging rights, and the team at Ram Brand is no exception. For 2016, Ram leads the pack with a tow rating of 31,210 pounds and 800 lb.-ft. of torque for their Ram 3500 with a Cummins 6.7-liter diesel engine. While it's unlikely that your boat will challenge that capacity, many of the features on the Ram 2500 and 3500 will meet your needs. The standard 5.7-liter hemi V-8 delivers 383 hp and 400 lb.-ft. of torque, and an available 6.4-liter hemi V-8 offers 410 hp, 429 lb.-ft. of torque, and fuel-saving cylinder deactivation. Both feature variable-valve timing for efficient performance and are available in manual or automatic transmissions. Ram has two rear suspensions, including an air-suspension option that detects rear-suspension load and increases air pressure until the vehicle reaches normal ride height for improved stability and leveling. Body roll is minimized through front-end stiffness and engineering. Ram Heavy-Duty trucks offer all the technology and safety features, with assertive styling. The towing-prep package has an in-box connection junction and a standard Class 5 receiver hitch with four-pin and seven-pin connectors on the bumper. Both gooseneck and fifth-wheel capability are offered.

2017 Honda Ridgeline, Bigger But Still Midsize

2017 Honda Ridgeline

The official tow capacity hasn't been released yet, but it's a sure thing that the 2017 Honda Ridgeline will target a load similar to that of its GM competitors: about 7,000 pounds for the gasoline-powered version. In showrooms by the first half of 2016, the Ridgeline is bigger than its predecessor, with unibody construction, fully-independent suspension, and a 3.5-liter direct-injected V-6 engine, with torque-vectoring all-wheel drive available. The engine is mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. The company expects segment-leading fuel economy; the numbers will be released near the actual launch date.

A highly visible change is in size and proportion, with both width and length increased; the new Ridgeline is more than five inches wider and four inches longer than before. There's also a four-foot-wide bed space between the rear-wheel arches; payload is expected to be roughly 1,600 pounds, again comparable to those of competitors. The Ridgeline also boasts the largest interior space in the segment. Relevant additional features include the durable composite bed with a drain plug and a standard lockable in-bed trunk, dual-action tailgate, and an available in-bed sound system. Lights and power outlets are also on board, as are the most requested safety features (called Honda Sensing) and such technology as Apple Car Play and Android Auto compatibility. The MSRP was not published at press time. 

Linda Water Nelson, based in Austin, Texas, has written about tow vehicles for more than 20 years.

— Published: Spring 2016


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