By David Boldt
We like advanced technology as much as the next guy, but we're beginning to see too much in all the wrong places. If we could ask anything of the big truck makers nowadays, it would be to keep the high-tech investments geared to safety and to expand the capabilities of our pickup trucks and SUVs. While examples of invasive technology can number in the hundreds, we've selected our top 10 pieces of towing tech as a counterbalance.
Consisting of both hardware and software, this list doesn't pretend to be a comprehensive sampling. However, it could be a guide of sorts when considering your next truck or upgrading what is already in your garage. Here is the list:
Given the importance of what's under the hood relative to what's hooked to your hitch, we'll underline stump-pulling torque as a prerequisite to successful towing. While any number of powertrains can and will deliver that torque at moderately high rpm, the inclusion of a turbocharger (exhaust-driven) or supercharger (belt-driven) to the under-the-hood spec assures you of having that torque at just above idle. We like this particular technology in the top spot because it's there when you need it, yet there's little penalty when you don't.
For far too long, light duty and diesel haven't been part of the domestic vernacular. Yes, that's changing with recent launches in the domestic truck and SUV ranks as well as strong rumors of Toyota adding a light-duty turbo-diesel in 2016. It's not all about torque at low rpm; with diesel, you also can speak to efficiency. The price bump for diesel is significant, and it'll take many miles/years of driving to offset it. But if you want to maximize efficiency, extend your truck's useful life and — not incidentally — enjoy responsive power virtually any time you want it, diesel is the option box to check.
3. Auxiliary cooling
What goes up must come down, and if you're towing heavy loads on a regular basis, what's going up is your temperature gauge. There are any number of ways to keep your temps in check, including high-capacity radiators, oil coolers and transmission coolers. If using a light-duty pickup for heavy-duty loads, we'd opt for all three. While pricey, these additions are considerably less expensive than having an engine rebuilt or a week's worth of lodging while awaiting that rebuild.
4. Trailer-sway control
On a big-band dance floor, you might wish to swing and sway like bandleader Sammy Kaye. When pulling 4 tons of RV … not so much. Whether your towing is impacted by crosswinds, poor trailer loading or a combination of the two, using a sway-control device — offered by any number of trailer-specific suppliers — is a no-brainer. It's the safe alternative to a lost load, a fatal crash or permanent indentations in your leather-wrapped steering wheel.
5. Load-leveling rear springs
Even Students of Ram would have been hard-pressed to distinguish the redesigned 2013 Ram 1500 from the previous generation by its visual differences. The big money was spent underneath its macho skin, and one of the benefits for trailer types was the availability of a load-leveling rear suspension. Visually or dynamically, few things are worse than hitch weight bringing down a truck's rear. The truck's steering becomes suspect, and braking balance is thrown off completely. Better to keep your truck's bed at roughly the same height as the hood, and if you're going to slam your truck, do it on both ends of the truck. Then join a club.
6. Integrated trailer brake control
Until the chassis of a tow vehicle and trailer are one and the same, there will be an inherent imbalance between the braking actuation of your tow vehicle and towed trailer (assuming this is a trailer big enough to have its own braking system). To even things out and keep the tow vehicle ahead of what's being towed when braking, opt for an integrated brake controller. Swapping places with your trailer is like a head-on collision — rarely does it end well.
7. Backup camera
What you don't know can and will hurt you. Of course, those proficient with backing up while looking in a rearview mirror will require some adjusting to backup cameras, but that's relatively painless. Adding a backup camera can be done during the ordering process or by relying on a plentiful aftermarket. We have but one caveat: Mud and/or snow can dirty the camera lens, so clean it often.
8. Extendable side mirrors
You won't know where you're going if you don't know where you've been. This phrase was undoubtedly first used to provide historic context, but it also applies to towing a trailer. With more than 80 square feet of trailer immediately behind your pickup, it's important that you can see as much of what you're towing as possible, especially when cornering on smaller streets. With most stock mirror systems, you have little or no chance of knowing what's going on behind you — even when there's nothing behind you. Opt for extendable mirrors, however, and much of the mystery is solved.
9. Heavy-duty tires
Most light-duty trucks and SUVs are equipped with light-duty rubber. For most occasional towing that light-duty spec will work just fine. If, however, you tow regularly, you should consider the addition of stronger, higher-weight-rated tires. With heavy loads adding stress to frames, suspension and brakes, stiffer sidewalls and puncture-resistant tread patterns will be your friend.
10. Secure storage
Even with 28 feet of Airstream behind you, it's unlikely your luxo-liner will accommodate all you want to carry with you. For that, we'd opt for secure storage that's available to pickup owners via a lockable cap, toolbox or cargo tray. You won't miss it until you don't have it, and with the addition of secure storage, your chances of having it increase exponentially. Admittedly, this is our nod to low tech, but with the proliferation of electronics comes the proliferation of electronics theft.