We Need Your Help: 2011 Ford F-150 Towing Mileage Challenge

We Need Your Help: 2011 Ford F-150 Towing Mileage Challenge

We're looking to find out, once and for all, which of these two new Ford F-150 engines has the best towing fuel economy: the EcoBoost 3.5-liter V-6 or the 5.0-liter V-8. We need your help to do it.

We'll pay to rent two readers' trucks (plus food and lodging) to measure their mileage on Highway 163's steep grade, west of Laughlin, Nev., and on a 50- to 75-mile loop near the California, Nevada and Arizona borders.

Both trucks must be 2011 Ford F-150 SuperCrews with 5.5-foot cargo boxes (145-inch wheelbase), four-wheel drive and 3.73 rear axles.

We're going to hitch the trucks up to identical trailers and tow increasing loads of 3,000 pounds, 6,000 pounds and 9,000 pounds and report back how much gasoline each truck consumed.

Want to get involved? Drop an email to mlevine_at_pickuptrucks_dot_com to work out the logistics and dates.

Got questions? Ask away in the comments below.


Run all trucks on 87 octane first and then fill them up with 93 octance to see if the engines run more efficiently. I know some cars are cheaper to run on 93 than 87 because the extended mileage more than pays for the premium price.

I just got off the phone with my fleet guy. Ordered a 2011 SCrew 4X4 Long Box with the Ecoboost, so I'll be watching this test hoping I made the best choice! Thanks Mike!

Good stuff. It'll be interesting to see how close towing MPGs are between the 5.0 and EcoBoost.

I bet the margin closes slightly as the load, hills, wind conditions increases. At 9000lbs, the EB turns into EcoThurst and the 5.0 will have slightly better fuel economy.

I would love to be there with my Chevy, 2011 Z-71 5.3, 3.42 18" 275/65. I know I won't be the 1st to the top, but I will get the best m.p.g.. I tow a 20' Airstream, granted it only weighs 6,400 wet, but I could throw another 5-600 in the bed an have a go at it. But in my regular travels I get 12.5 towing, 17 in town, an 21 on the open road m/t, but I don't speed, and use the cruise control all the time, my foot never touches the fuel pedal. Please don't anyone get me wrong, I like all the new trucks, American trucks. Just because its made in this country, does't mean its American, if an American cook prepares Japanese food does't mean its American food, its still Japanese. Oh wel keep the greesy side down, and the shiney side up^,:)

Mike Levine:

I strongly recommend that the towing tests be performed with premium fuel for both engines. We already know how the EcoBoost performed on 87 octane. Running on premium would allow us to compare its performance on premium vs. regular. The 5.0L will also benefit from premium per the Owners Guide.

According to the 2011 F-150 Owner Guide (pp 393-394), all F-150 engines provide improved performance on premium fuel:

"Octane Recommendations

3.7L V6/5.0L V8/6.2L V8 engines

Your vehicle will run normally on 87 octane regular fuel. Premium fuel will provide improved performance.

3.5L V6 EcoBoost™ engine

Your vehicle is designed to run on regular fuel with an octane rating of 87 or higher. For best overall performance, premium fuel with an octane rating of 91 or higher is recommended. The performance gained by using premium fuel will be most noticeable in hot weather or in severe duty applications such as towing a trailer.

Some stations offer fuels posted as 'Regular' with an octane rating below 87, particularly in high altitude areas. Fuels with octane levels below 87 are not recommended for either engine."

(In other words, don't use less than 87 octane even in the mountains)

From an engineering point of view, there is a reason why the EcoBoost has good fuel economy unloaded, but not so good when towing. The EcoBoost engine is severely knock limited above about 60-70% load, which requires very retarded ignition timing. The retarded timing hurts efficiency in two ways, first by reducing the effective length of the expansion stroke, which leads to higher exhaust temperatures, and secondly by requiring additional fuel enrichment to limit the resulting higher exhaust temperatures.

Therefore, the EcoBoost engine is most efficient around 50% load, while the 5.0L is most efficient probably around 75% load, before enrichment is required. The EcoBoost will naturally be at a disadvantage to the 5.0L during towing, and not using premium fuel will only increase the disadvantage. This is why the Owner Guide recommends premium fuel for the EcoBoost, especially when towing.

Don't both engines deserve to be tested with fuel that provides the best performance?

@ Ross

Thanks, I'm not the only one! ;)

Yeah, but you might be the only two. It's not likely I'll be pumping premium into my truck anytime soon...

I would be very onterested in seeing the performance difference with premium. Last long road trip in my 04 Durango Hemi I had to stop for fuel half way home. Pumped the cheepest fuel at the station I stopped at which happened to have an ethanol blend good for 93 octane. The difference in performance was quite noticable.

@Ken, what I think it is, is the EB is just a more efficient engine than the 5.0. The efficiency is more noticeable in an unloaded pickup. When pulling 9,000 lbs behind it, the inefficiency of the extra 2 cylinders and 8 valves on the V8 will be negligible. I don't think the EB will be worse at towing than the 5.0, I think it was in this case because a flat nose trailer was used behind the EB, and a v-nose trailer was used behind the 5.0. The drag co-efficient difference has to be huge.

Maybe we need to donate some $$$ to pay for the upcharge to premium? ;)

Ross quotes Ford....
"Your vehicle is designed to run on regular fuel with an octane rating of 87 or higher....Some stations offer fuels posted as 'Regular' with an octane rating below 87, particularly in high altitude areas. Fuels with octane levels below 87 are not recommended for either engine."


That is also part of the problem with the last test. Mike said he put some 85 in the EcoBoost the last time.

Quote from Mike:
"We also filled up only with regular octane gasoline, which ranged from 85 RON to 87 RON."

@Mark: When you need fuel, you need fuel and I made the decision to run on regular gas for the full test because that's what Ford says the EcoBoost was rated to run on. In hindsight, I should have questioned this assumption.

In my defense, see http://www.ford.com/trucks/f150/specifications/engine/

Ford says the "Recommended fuel" is "Unleaded regular." There's no asterisk that says it has to be 87 octane or higher.

We filled up with 85 octane once, in Thompson Springs, Utah.

I found a few more things you might be interested in. In your test you said you were 200 to 11,000 feet above sea level.

In the towing guide it says to reduce GCWR by 2% per 1,000 feet.

The 3.55 EcoBoost 4x2 has a GCWR of 15,000 lbs. 15000 - 22% = 11,700 GCWR. How much does this truck weigh? Around 6000 lbs? Therefore your load include cargo should be a max of 5,000 - 6,000 lbs when you are up that high.

Correct me if I'm wrong.

See below.

From the towing guide:

High Altitude Operation
Gasoline engines lose power by 3-4% per 1,000 ft.
elevation. To maintain performance, reduce GVWs and
GCWs by 2% per 1,000 ft. elevation.

(also see the note about the rounded front trailer)

Powertrain/Frontal Area
The charts in this Guide show the minimum engine size
needed to move the GCW of tow vehicle and trailer.
• Under certain conditions, however, (e.g., when the
trailer has a large frontal area that adds substantial
air drag or when trailering in hilly or mountainous
terrain) it is wise to choose a larger engine
• Selecting a trailer with a low-drag, rounded front
design will help optimize performance and fuel
NOTE: For additional trailering information pertaining to your
vehicle, refer to the vehicle Owner Guide.



One more thing. Another mention of the 87 octane can be found in the quick start guide. I understand this wasn't in your truck and neither was the the owner manual.

From the quick start guide:

Trailer Tow
Your F-150 is equipped with a comprehensive trailer
towing package. Please refer to your Owner’s Guide
for complete information on weights as well as the
proper equipment to use while towing.

(proper equipment can be the fuel type I assume?)

Fuel Type/Tank Capacity/Flex Fuel
Your vehicle is equipped with either a 26 gallon
(98.4L) or a 36 gallon (136.2L) fuel tank. You may
have a Flex Fuel Vehicle. Flex fuel vehicles have a
yellow ring around the top of the fuel filler inlet (tube)
and can use either regular unleaded fuel, E85 ethanol
fuel or any mixture of the two. If you do not have a flex
fuel vehicle, then only use “Regular” unleaded gasoline
with an octane rating of 87. Do not use E85 fuels,
because your vehicle was not designed to run on
fuels with more than 10% ethanol.


I want to see regular gas. That is what I always use in my 5.0.

It looks like you'll need a Super Duty to tow 9,000 lbs at 11,000 ft above sea level acoording to Ford's specs.

Ford Super Duty also has the 2% penalty per 1,000 ft of elevation, but the much higher GCWR will make it able to tow the 9,000 lb trailer at that height.


Mike, great offer! This is exactly the kind of information/test many of us have been looking for. If I had a truck, I'd offer it up, but this is the info. I'm looking for to make my decision.

The only thing I would add is what has already been mentioned, and that is it would be VERY helpful to test both trucks/engines loaded and unloaded. While all previous efforts to test these vehicles are very much appreciated, it's been tough to see a real true comparison for both engines in trucks that are equipped identically, over the same route. This seems like a great opportunity to provide a truly wholistic comparison and would be reveal some great data.

Thank you for pulling this together.


You should dyno them as well. I am sure the owners would not mind.

Thanks for all you do!

If you were in want of a 2010 with the 5.4 i'd be more then happy to let you use mine. 8,889 on it Platinum with he Max tow

If you are to want a 2010 with a 5.4 you welcome to use mine. It is a Platinum with the Max Tow and has 8,889 on it

@ Mark - I don't know anyone who is going to decrease their towing capacity 2%/1000 ft at altitude.
If anything, a turbocharged engine will have an advantage in thin air.
I hope this test comes together.
If I were in the market for a new Ford, I'd love to know all of the differences between a 5.0 and an EB 3.5 . I do like what I am hearing about the 3.5.
Ford needs to offer the bigger fuel tank. The only truck that should be offered with the smaller tank is the 3.7.

this is a great test...good job Mike L.
And great point on the tires and rims of same size makes a lot of difference for economy !!!

Thanks for your response. Because you don't know anyone is not a really good reason for not following it. If Mike goes against it, then he is overloading the truck for these conditions and not testing what Ford recommends for their vehicles. This is not being safe and responsible for what Ford recommends in these conditions. Dodge had a lower GCWR and they didn't bring it to some of the challenges. If anything, follow it because it is someone else's brand new truck that they spent their hard earned money and you don't want to cause any problems with it.

They also have the same 2% reduction per 1000 ft condition for the Ford Super Duty and Ranger. I have also seen this warning on other manufactuers and vehicles. Do a google search.

So in addition to using the wrong gas (85) and not the fuel Ford recommended (premium), the truck was overloaded by about 3000-4000 lbs or up to 80% more than it should have been.

This also means the Rumble in the Rockies test was overloaded. With all the people involved from Chevrolet and Diesel Power Mag, I don't think all of them didn't know about this.

From the Rumble in the Rockies, "For our test, we used a stretch of I-70 that started in Dillon at 8,776 feet and ended at exactly 11,000 feet, rising 2,224 feet over 7.6-miles (approximately 40,000 feet)."

Max GCWR for the F-350: 30,000 lbs.
Trailer weighed: 18,920 lbs.
Truck weighed: 8,440.
Test GCWR: 27,360

At the start of the test: 8,776 = reduce GCWR by 17.552%
At the end of the test: 11,000 ft = reduce GCWR by 22%

That means the actual GCWR at the start should have been: 30,000 lbs - 17.5% or 24,737 lbs
And the actual GCWR at the end: 30,000 lbs - 22% or 23,400 lbs

Therefore the trucks were overloaded by 3000 4000 lbs throughout. This is not following what Ford recommends and is not being responsible for these conditions.

The right thing to do would be to update to both of these stories (the F150 towing tests at elevation and the Rumble in the Rockies). This condition should also be taken into account for future tests. You want to be responsible and use all of the fuels Ford recommends and not go over the recommended GCWR at elevation.

The reason that they reduce the towing capacity at higher elevations (and most all manufacturers do this) is two fold: Reduced maximum power and reduced cooling (radiator, brakes, trans, etc.) due to thinner air.

According to Ford's declaration of reducing towing apcaity by 2%/1000', someone towing in the places Mike has is expected to reduce engine power by almost 20% or more and I rate that as significant.

The main point of thisis really that there a lots of factors in towing and we users of the machines aren't going to be able to know them all. But now that we know, shouldn't we start following it?

@ Mark - do transport trucks reduce their loads 2% per 1000ft.?
I'd say that if you lived at higher elevations and remained at those higher elevations for sustained periods of time - it would make more sense. A diesel truck therefore would be a better choice.
Concerning Ford's reccommendation for premium under extreme use; I'd be more inclined to run premium if there was a recommendation and I pulled a lot. I'd stay away from any tryuck that recommended premium all of the time.
I think it is more of a case of CYA by Ford or the other manufactures. It puts the onus upon the owners to be more aware of what they do.
I personally would never want to tow more than 6-7,000 lb with a 1/2 ton regardless of the elevation.

I have been reading on all of the forums and woodalls that they do take off 2% for higher elevation. I don't know about this myself but they all seem to know about it. If the 2% reduction puts them over the max they should lighten their load.

In my area, this won't affect me very much because I won't be towing anywhere near 9000 lbs or at a high altitude. My load will be more like 3000 lbs.

But where Mike is testing performance in Colorado it is not unsual to be traveling between 7,000 and 11,000 ft. Therefore, Mike will no doubt be over the tow rating at 9,000 pounds in a F-150.

I guess my point is, don't believe everything the reps tell you at the media events and what they advertise on the main webiste. Read the manual, the towing guide, and remember the degradation of power as you climb in altitude.

@Mark: Ford's Trailer Towing Guide says, "Gasoline engines lose power by 3-4% per 1,000 ft. elevation. To maintain performance, reduce GVWs and GCWs by 2% per 1,000 ft. elevation."

I think there's a lot of wiggle room in that statement, especially when we're talking about a naturally aspirated engine vs. GTDI. I'll go out on a limb and say that Ford will change this statement in the near future to reflect a more modest reduction for the EcoBoost because of its turbos.

But your point is taken.

WRT to 85 octane fuel, we filled up with it once in Thompson Springs, Utah. In hindsight, I don't disagree I should have filled with mid-grade at this stop. It won't happen again.

@ Mark - good point.
I've heard many stories of guys buying diesels and massive trailers and getting caught by DOT.
Not fun having your $100,000 truck and camper impounded, or parked until you get someone with the proper licence to take it home.
I've talked to salesmen that were clueless. They'd sell their soul to get a commission.
I live at 2,267 feet and it is all up from there. My truck is rated at GCWR 13,500. That decreases my capacity by 607 lb. The highest paved pass, but a long ways away from my home is 5,820. That gives me a 1,572 lb reduction or 11,928 lb. I know of a gravel pass at 7,239 ft. That translates to 11,542. a reduction of 1957 lb. My truck weighing 5,800 lb. would allow me a 5,700 lb. trailer (if I chose to go to the highest drivable elevation.)
I'm in the market for a 5,500 lb (dry) or 7,000 loaded camper in the 25 ft. range. I'd be fairly safe for most of the driving I would do.
The problem with manuals is that they are so big, and for the most part full of useless information. My owners manual fills the center armrest compartment of my truck. No wonder that no-one reads it all.
Thanks for the information.

Reason big rigs may not downrate is that our trucks do not have the range of gearing available to the engines that the big rigs do, nor would we accept the fuel penalties.

Loss of engine power and cooling may be critical to a vehicle that doesn't have the gearing or rear end ratio because the power is used so inefficiently (from a load point of view) in even normal application. At any rate, at least one manf (Ford) who makes a wide range of towing vehicles, has declared that altitude reduces towing capacity.

Gee guys!!! You yanks have it all! We in RSA and living in Johanesburg tow our "ski boats" - 18 - 24 foot deep sea boats 600 kms down to Mozambique or Northern Natal to fish. We have to then launch the boats thru the surf off the beach with the vehicle so need 4x4 . Have only used Toyota Land Cruisers 4.2 diesels. About the only thing that works here as we do not get your American beauts in right hand drive. Why beats me - there is such a market here for them!!

I second the motion for a Rocky mountian run here in the Canadian Rockies, some mean grades here, like to see how my new EccoBoost 3.73 5.5' box Platinum supercrew would do pulling 9000# in the mountians.

So far best combined city/hwy i can get is 16.5 - 17.5 mpg, is the Canadian truck when the units are switched from metric to mpg measuring Imperial or US gals? Here in Canada the EccoBoost is rated at 20 city & 30 Hwy which has to be imperial gallons?

- sure miss the 5.5' box on the 5.4 loaded Lariat Super Cab on my 2007 I just traded in, 133" WB no longer available, nice wheel base for backing trailers up with, could swear I got 18mpg combined.

Back to the head to head pull against the Chev, why did the Chev only have a 3:42 rear end(that's like a highway rear end, higher then the Ford 3:55, does it not come with lower gears which would put it more in line with the Ford 3:73 rear end, isn't that run miss leading, not that I'm a Chev fan as I just bought a Platinum EcoBoost, just like to see a head to heat straight up with no excuses for the Chev guys.

I can't wait to see the results of this test between the EccoBoost and the 5.0!
I had an XLT/XTR today as a loaner while my new EccoBoost was in geting the box sprayed and I swear in town that 5.0 held it's mpg above 17 with out trying or babying it.
My new EccoBost I struggled babying it to hold on to 16 in town and if I didn't baby it it drops like a rock to 14 or less.
These were based on a reset and ran the same trips of about 100k or so for each truck, using the read out on both trucks.
In town the 5.0 you hardly have to push the gas to hold 50 or 60kms/hr where as the EccoBoost seems to loose speed and when so you must push the gasto hold the speed and the fuel economy drops right down.
Hwy travel is where I think the EccoBoost will pull away from the 5.0 as far as mpg is concerned.

20years of buying/leasing, being a loyal Ford owner I was talked into buying this EccoBoost and was hoping it would be the answer to the old 5.0's and 5.4's and be the one I hold on to for awhile and pay off in the long run.(like 10 years)

Hope the EccoBoost shines against the 5.0 in Mike's next test, can hardly wait.

Next few days I'm not going to baby this EccoBoost in town and see what happens as compared to the 5.0 I drove today.

How about 3.7 quad 4x2?

So when do we see a test? Ford kill this like they managed the Dyno test?

well this blog is great i love reading your articles.

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