Is Your One-Ton Big Enough?

OneTonEnough Frieghtliner

Story and photos by H. Kent Sundling

You might think a one-ton dually is a big truck and that anything with dual rear wheels could handle most towing jobs. But a dual-wheel single-rear-axle hauler truck like a Peterbilt, Freightliner or International can be a viable option if you tow 20,000-pound trailers often.

Class 3 one-ton pickup trucks have regularly increased their payload and towing capacity over the years, sometimes from structure and powertrain changes, sometimes from marketing hype. At the current rate, one-ton dualies’ torque and horsepower could catch up to those of semitrucks before the end of the decade. The new trailer towing standards set by the Society of Automotive Engineers may slow that trend, but at some point with 20,000-pound plus trailers, you may need a higher-capacity truck with more stopping power.

Starting in 2011, the Big Three raised the gross combined vehicle weight rating on one-ton dualie pickup trucks from 26,000 pounds to 30,000 pounds. One-ton Class 3 dualie pickup trucks are the Ford F-350, GMC Sierra 3500, Chevrolet Silverado 3500 and Ram 3500. Class 3 trucks have a gross vehicle weight rating between 10,001 and 14,000 pounds. This includes single-rear-wheel one-ton trucks, even the Hummer H1.

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You will see one-ton dualies towing trailers and hauling welders and slide-in campers. Then you'll see quite a few just driving around like cars, which makes sense when you figure what another car payment, insurance policy and oil change would cost for an extra car; so why not just pay a little more for fuel on a truck you already have? 

Class 6 trucks have a GVWR between 19,501 and 26,000 pounds — almost twice as high as Class 3 and one step down from over-the-road semitrucks. Some conversion trucks in this class de-rate their axles to get into the Class 5 rating disguised as a large pickup truck. Trailer tow rating is harder to pin down. Truck manufacturers basically determine the maximum trailer weight. Many Class 6 trucks as a cab and chassis have their GVWR and GCWR retagged by the body upfitter. Upfitters add features like beds, running boards, interiors and even their own warranties.

If you tow through mountains often, having an oversized truck with air brakes and an engine brake will ease the excitement coming down the fast side of a mountain. Engine brakes are in the diesel engine head, like in over-the-road semitractor rigs. It involves an extra lobe on the camshaft to open an extra exhaust valve to release cylinder pressure in the compression stroke, taking the power out of the engine to slow down the truck.This is more effective at slowing a truck than the exhaust brakes in one-ton diesels that shut off the exhaust flow after the turbo to build up back pressure in the cylinders. 

OneTonEnough Freight Int
Class 3 one-ton diesel dualies from the Big Three have improved their trucks’ braking ability over the last decade with larger disc brakes and exhaust brakes. Class 6 trucks — such as the Ford F-650, M2 Freightliner, International Durastar, Perterbilt T-330 and Kenworth T-300 — have air brake and engine brake options like over-the-road semitrucks.

Have you noticed that when your truck is loaded, it may point its headlights at the stars and doesn't set level? Even though semitrucks are loaded most of the time, you won't see much of a change in headlight angle, and the whole truck will squat a little when loaded or empty. Most semitrucks use rear air suspensions that automatically level themselves. Air ride may be the answer to truck squat in future Class 3 trucks, but for now it's a suspension option on Class 6 trucks.

A GCWR of 26,000 pounds is an important number — not enough room here for a debate over commercial driver’s licenses, but any truck with this rating or lower won’t need an air brake endorsement on a driver’s license. Once you go above 26,000 pounds, a 12 percent federal excise tax for commercial trucks kicks in. 

Class 6 diesel trucks are very powerful, occupying a whole other realm of torque — more than 1,000 pounds-feet. These trucks have larger diesel engines and more towing power. They aren't designed for racing but for slower, more controlled liftoffs. Class 3 pickup trucks win the battle with speed and acceleration. 

But with large air brakes, engine brakes and weight, Class 6 wins the contest for stopping a trailer.  It’s also nice to have a heavy truck pulling the trailer; it gives you more control when you brake going downhill, keeping the tail from wagging the dog. And if you were to lose your trailer brakes, these big trucks will stop you better than a Class 3.With Class 6 trucks, you are also looking at a truck designed for more than 1 million miles instead of a target of 300,000 miles for a good diesel pickup truck. But then there is cost and how many years to divide it by. Class 3 dualies can cost over $60,000; Class 6 trucks as a finished conversion can cost over $130,000. Class 3 diesel engine warranties are 100,000 miles; Class 6 diesel engine warranties can be 750,000 miles.

Does that mean you could pay 7.5 times more for a Class 6 than a one-ton dually? That makes paying twice the price seem cheap for a Class 6. Since we're talking big money, what about fuel mileage? Since the EPA doesn't rate either truck class, my experiences with both classes have seen 15 mpg on an M2 Freightliner running empty and 9 mpg with a 20,000-pound trailer. Tractor trailer over-the-road rigs with GCWR of 80,000 pounds typically get 7 mpg. 

Compare that with what you read here on the 2011 Heavy-Duty Hurt Locker gas mileage comparisons on the Class 3 dualies.



I don't know about you dudes but I certainly don't need anything that big to do my towing chores! LOL

The story in action

one thing about having a truck with air brakes is you do need a CDL, with the air brake license endorsment to drive a truck with air brakes, no matter the GVWR, even if you regiter it under the 26,001 lbs limit, and that is possible. Is that worth the hassle to you? But all it realy means is you would have to take a writen test, and then a road test, with the truck and sponsored licensed driver.

do you no what is funny people pull a load they thing they dont need to brake ,...wy you dont make a test to show some people the difference ...specialty a windy day..

3/4 ton and 1 ton not enough? MDT too much?

This one calls for the FORD F-450 baby!

Too bad the new F-450 pickups are little more than different badging on an F-350. The first 2 years of the F-450 pickup were a different story though.

After using Super Duty Ford's for 24 years in our concession business, we bought a used Freightliner Sportchassis. Best Move Ever! No comparison in the "handing while towing" department. The towing mileage is actually better, and like the article states, we can plan on it lasting 30 years, not 10 or 15. I recommend it to anyone who does extremely frequent towing and wants a vehicle built, tested, and designed for "real" commercial use.

You do not need a CDL to drive a truck with air brakes unless you are driving commercially. My neighbor had a new Ford 550 to tow his 40 foot horse trailer but it just could not do the job. Because I drive commercially, he asked me what he should buy to tow his horse trailer. I told him to buy a Freightliner M2. He bought one and had it built with all wheel drive. He still thanks me to this day for getting rid of his gutless Ford and buying the Freightliner.

You can still get a full commercial duty crewcab F450 or F550 Lariat. But it is sold as a cab chassis. You will have to have a pickup bed put on it. There are several companies doing this conversion with or without altering the frame, and the prices are quite reasonable when compared to a Class 6. Just Google custom pickup truck beds.

There are jurisdictions in Canada that do require an air brake endorsement for any air brake equiped vehicle. That is separate from a commercial licence depending on what you are going to drive. I'm not sure if a USA resident coming into British Columbia Canada would get into trouble if they had an air brake equiped truck without an endorsement.

Gives me an idea for a future article/review. Take an F650, prep it for trailer towing and see how it performs. The catch? Use the V10 gasser. I kinda want to know what its got, plus being the only gasser in its class i'm sure lots of other people want to know how well it could tow being a cheaper option than the Cummins engine.

@ Greg If your neighbor had a cheby hd then everything would have been ok. He probably would never have asked you what could tow it better now would he? People like you just make me sick. Just STUPID comments like this make me hate gm even more. Do you get the picture or are you blind???? No wait a minute, just stupid all over again!!

On Australian farms it varies from our "MDT's to HDT's
A Japanese MDT B- Double carrying Hay.

there is a mistake in this artical class six trucks are 2 steps down from most over the road trucks because most are class 8

@ Jackalope not much of a gap

conventional towing
2012 f450 6.7L powerstroke 17,500 pounds
2012 3500 6.6L duramax 18,000 pounds

fifth-wheel trailer
2012 f450 6.7L powerstroke 24,000 pounds
2012 3500 6.6L duramax 23,000 pounds

Maximum Payload
2012 f450 6.7L powerstroke 7,110 pounds
2012 3500 6.6L duramax 7,215 pounds

So its kinda pointless to waste more money on a f450 when much cheaper priced 1 ton can do everything it can better other then a 1,000 pounds less of fifth wheel

24500 pounds for ford f450 fifth wheel my bad so 1,500 more

@ Greg If your neighbor had a cheby hd then everything would have been ok. He probably would never have asked you what could tow it better now would he? People like you just make me sick. Just STUPID comments like this make me hate gm even more. Do you get the picture or are you blind???? No wait a minute, just stupid all over again!!

@KW, THIS! Although Greg is the GMC kid. He does this same type of stuff to Chevy. Or when he backs the Bowtie he underminds and downgrades it. Makes me hate GM that much more too. I've got no problem with Chevrolet. I can't stand the rest of GM though.

Could be hard to find a set of trucknutz big enough for one of them sob's.

@ Lou I think you'll find that anyone travelling must abide by the local laws. That being said, if a province or state requires an air brake endorsement for a particular vehicle, then a visitor must have that endorsement. No different than speed limits. Same rules apply even when travelling in Europe or other parts of the world. Local laws are to be adhered by anyone travelling there.

Plus it makes sense to have the endorsement/training if operating a vehicle equiped with air brakes.


There are tricks to aviod the air brake CDL requirement when ordering a truck. In class 6 trucks I would recommend that a truck be ordered with air over hydraulic brakes. These systems have hydraulic lines almost all of the stopping power of air brakes with no CDL requirement.

In the future I expect more lines to blur between class 3 and class six the capability gap narrows. Even now the gap between driving a dually and a class 6 truck is becomming simliar with automatic transmissions becomming more common in medium duty trucks.

I really hope that GM re-enters the class 4-6 market segment in the future to spurr on competition. The Ford (550, 650, 750) and Navistar medium offerings have not seen substantial change in almost 15 years. Mercedes hasn't done much to advance the segment with shutting down Sterling and not a lot of new offerings comming from Freighliner.

I admit I am a GM fan but I would like to see them re-enter the segment to spur competition. In all honestyif I were in the market for a truck now I woudl go the 350/3500 route instear of class 5/6 since offerings are so weak.

MJ that was a general answer to a general ?, there is also something called hydro-vac brakes that are a step between the both of them, but do you realy want to have a accident with you air-brakes, and not have an endorsment?, the courts and lawyers would eat you alive! if the truck has a compressor, used for any control in the braking, you need an endorsment! there are those hugh motorhomes with air brakes, and there drivers for some reason need no special license, I believe it is because they have no comercial application for a motorhome? there are a lot of gray areas, and I can't ever get a straight answer for that ? but I would not take the chance!

@KW & SteveHarris- based on your grasp of the English language and your ability to form a complete thought, you guys are in 5th or 6th grade, right? School's out for summer. Go outside and play.
I'm pretty sure that Greg was essentially agreeing with the article- His friend's class 5 truck wasn't getting the job done, and he is having much better results with a Class 6/7.

GM screwed up when they discontinued their mid size truck line Kodiak and Topkick trucks, I have a 2007 topkick and I love it!

Regarding the V-10 power F-650: Try to find a tow rating for that particular truck. The GCW is awfully close to the GVW. Ford says to 'consult your Ford fleet specialist' for towing information on the gasoline F-650.

Where I live they have brought in additional endorsements to ones driver's licence. There is a Recreational Trailer Endorsement and a Heavy Tow Endorsement. If you pull a recreational trailer larger than 4,600 kg or 10,120 lb you need an endorsement. If you pull greater than 10,120 for work but the truck and trailer do not have air brakes you can get a Heavy Trailer Endorsement" added to your "non-commercial" driver's licence.
I like the idea of these endorsements because it means that people have to prove that they are capable of pulling these trailers.

@ Lou Similar laws here in Ontario too. You now need a Class A license to pull large trailers with a "pickup" but having that and then taking an air brake course (thus the endorsement) doesn't give you the right to drive a tractor trailer. You have to be tested separately for that. Same with these large bus style motorhomes on the road now. A car license is OK to drive something that large because its a RV but an air brake endorsement is required in Ontario if the motorhome has air brakes. Can be quite confusing to know what's legal and what's not. Better to cover your butt!

@Bill B - I would suspect that all of the Provinces and Territories would be very similar. BC did seem to be similar to California too.

my friend has a 5 ton duece and half and no need for cdl when you put not for hire sign on the the truck and use recreational uses

I looked on this site to get some information, and what did I find - some guys who can't comment and disagree without slinging testosterone and acting like a bunch of bickering teenage boys on the school playground. I signed up just for one post a comment and never again go to this site. I'm the webmaster for another website and you guys - KW and SteveHarris - would be banned. Grow up and learn how to interact with the rest of the human race!

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In the USA the there is a federal entity called the FMCSA, they set the base parameters for requiring a cdl, the state of issuance can then add requirements. The fmcsa says a cdl is required for single units with a gvwr over 26000 pounds. A class B license is good for single units exceeding 26k but not towing more than 10k. A class a is the same but towing more than 10k. Those limits are set by the federal government and must be met by the state departments. In the us there is no such thing as an air brake endorsement, there is only a restriction that is applied if you tested in a vehicle without air brakes. Anyone in the us can operate a vehicle with air brakes as long as the gvwr is under 26k, there may be an exception or two based on state requirements. The limitations and privileges of ones license is honored by all other states and Canada, so even though you may need an air brake endorsement in Canada regardless of weight, a class d license holder from the us can in fact drive a vehicle under 26kgvwr with air brakes in Canada, the same is true from one state to the other. The back of your license say very clearly what restriction and privileges one has as it pertains to vehicles they can drive and is honored by all states and Canada. I know this is all true, I have spent the last week banging my head against the wall scouring statutes, talking to the FMCSA, us dot, mn state dot, highway patrol, freightliner corporate, DMV, and dps. I'm trying to buy a used m2 with a 33k gvwr, and I would like to de-rate the truck so I don't need a cdl, so I can back up everything I said with black and white statutes. The f450 and the like do not compare with a class 6 tractor period. Apple and oranges.

I would like a quote on a Frieghtliner, double cab ,4 door and 4-wheel drive.

I have a 1990 Oshkosh Marcopolo Shuttle bus built in Brazil, 16000 gvwr, Stewart&Stevenson chassis. I gutted the bus last year to upgrade interior. Needless to say, the vehicle was vandalized by thieves. This bus was the first bus that I ever owned. It has a 12 valve Cummins and a At542 Allison automatic. I was planning to take the motor and other goodies out and scrap the rest so that I can build on a dually. As I began to finish the strip, I realized I was starting to see the chassis and frame. My thoughts immediately changed, "why don't I just do some measurements and find a cab to stick on it"? It already has new 225/70/19.5's all the way around with the aluminum 6 lug Alcoas, 4 new calipers, 4 rotors, and pads. The rear suspension has the heavy duty airbags like semis have and leafs in the front. My only fear is that I may have issues with finding the right gear box for the steering because the steering shaft went straight down and the service braking system was mounted right above the gear box also. I plan to go with a 7 speed manual out of a GMC Brigadier. I figure I'd test drive it with and without a load to see if I like it, but if not I'd go into the differential to adjust to my liking. Any comments are welcome.

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Before I go reading all the above comments with, "I don't need a truck that big to do my hauling," or such, Mark makes a very clear point about safety when towing and how Class III has risen into and beyond Class V capabilities to the point that when towing a 20K# to 30K# you already have to have a CDL just to tow that much weight! Why then, does the 1-ton truck even NEED that capability? Put it back up with the Class V and Class VI so we don't have some idiot out there trying to tow more than they as a driver can handle? After all, we already know there are some who will do it just because their truck can--illegally because they're not licensed for it.

A one-ton truck by label is designed to carry a maximum of one ton--that's 2000 Imperial Pounds. That will accommodate a 20,000 pound load on a gooseneck/fifth-wheel hitch IF you do not include any passengers or cargo. Leave it at that and classify any truck over that capacity as a Class V just to ensure the owner is rated to drive it safely.

Well, we now have proof that active moderation is ABSOLUTELY MANDATORY on this website.

Thank you, Cars dot com, for paying attention to our demands these last few years.

Pickup trucks are built to pull weight, or else to last. Semis are built to do both. I doubt that any pickup truck suspension will hold up if someone actually utilizes the weight rating. Single axle semis are over built, but that's worth a couple mpg isn't it?

F-650 Plane ol' truck is the bestest truck!

I am SO relieved to read this information. We have a 1990 dually 3500 Sierra with 454 engine and have hauled a home-made camper like a lance together with a 6000lb 24'flat bed with built in storage over Colorado Rocky Mountains more than once and have since hauled it long distances to Canada. What a trooper!!

MY BIG QUESTION NOW IS: Our truck has been sitting with the approx 3500-4000lb weight of the lance camper for about 6 months straight whilst we were in transition period. What should we do in preparation for another move? Has all this weight affected our tires or truck at all? We took off our bearings for the 24' flat bed to check them and the guy at the shop said they still look in great condition after all that driving previously in Colorado and now in Canada. wow. Are there any other general safety tips from anyone? We appreciate your feedback ~blessings :)

PS: Sometimes we had to pull over and let our truck rest when it got overheated. Is there anything we can do to improve or check our truck so that it won't get overheated?

Thank you for writing an article on this, it was an informative read!

This comment is directed to the author. The majority of current activity on behalf of SAE International is aerospace as measured by revenue. In the article you refer to the "Society of Automotive Engineers" when that name was dropped from the society over a decade ago. It is legally just "SAE International". Your efforts to correct this in the future will be appreciated. Thank you.

Great Job! Your blog is so informative for me.You share some beneficial tips I really like it.It also provides the personal satisfaction of undergoing and completing a creative project. Keep it up Admin.

Blocked Driveway Towing

I have a 2015 crew cab Chevy duramax diesel four wheel drive high country if that matters. I am looking at buying a fifth wheel and empty weight of fifth wheel is 18500. Can my truck handle this trailer when I load food water clothes etc and not do any damage. Thanks

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