It's a victory for truth, justice and anybody who ever towed a trailer up a steep hill.
The leading makers of big pickups have agreed to a standard test to determine their towing capacity. By the end of the 2013 model year, most truck buyers should know — for the first time — how their vehicle performs against the competition.
"We wanted our customers to know that 10,000 pounds of towing capacity means the same things for all trucks," said Robert Krouse, the General Motors engineer who chaired the Society of Automotive Engineers committee that created the new standard.
This is a really big deal for millions of drivers. Towing capacity measures how heavy a trailer a vehicle can safely haul.
The rating is as important to many pickup and sport utility vehicle buyers as fuel economy or horsepower are to minivan or sports-car shoppers.
The big difference, and the reason the SAE standard is a breakthrough, is that, until now, automakers could pretty much make up the numbers they claimed for towing capacity. Each company designed its own test, and their trucks always aced the tests. Imagine the Environmental Protection Agency didn't exist, and car companies could make up fuel-economy figures to boost sales.
The new standard solves that problem. Created with input from leading truck, trailer and hitch makers, it assures that every truck tested fulfills the same performance requirements.
"Before, you couldn't say who had the best towing capacity, because you didn't know how it was tested," says Mike Levine, editor of Pickuptrucks.com.
"This is the first time a customer can do an actual apples-to-apples comparison."
The test includes real-world tasks like acceleration, braking, towing up a steep grade in 100-degree temperatures, understeer and stability.
In addition to validating a truck's working credentials, it assures a basic level of safety for the driver and for others on the road.
Toyota is the first to use the standard. It already applied it to the Tundra. The Tundra's claimed towing capacity decreased, but its credibility grew.
Chevrolet, Dodge, Ford and GMC full-size pickups are expected to adopt the test during the 2013 model year, which begins Jan. 1, 2012. Nissan will use the standard someday, but won't say when or on which vehicles.