Top 10 Towing Features for Pickups

2014_Toyota_Tundra_SR5_033 II

By Andrius Mikonis

While pickup trucks used to be basic workhorse vehicles, their increased popularity means truckmakers now pay more attention to refinement and technical innovations. But even as pickup truck use becomes more diverse, trailer towing remains one of the primary purposes for a pickup truck. So it's no surprise that engineers have focused on helping people tow.

In this post we pick our 10 favorite (in no particular order) factory-installed features that come in handy when pulling a trailer. Some of these faves come from popular accessory applications; others are truck-specific adaptations of existing technology; and some require just a simple change to make towing life easier.

What has turned up on your latest truck that gives an advantage when you pull a load or what would you like to see automakers add? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.

 

1. Clever Bed Storage

IMG_2335 IICars.com photo by Evan Sears

Towing requires a few items beyond just a trailer. Need a bin for your bungees? A place to store your dusty ratchet straps outside of the leather interior of your crew cab?

Finding a place in the pickup to organize your stuff has always been an issue. The RamBox Cargo Management System brilliantly takes a hard-to-use space and provides lockable, dry storage. Clearly you can put anything you want in a RamBox, but it's the perfect place for towing accessories that you want to keep in the truck. The RamBox also offers protection for the bed rails. A nice touch was adding it to keyless locking and unlocking system.

 

2. Multiple View Cameras

Backup Cameras II

A backup camera is certainly a welcome addition to any vehicle, particularly on larger ones like pickups. Add a camper or a loaded bed and once you have a backup camera you'll never want to live without it. However, the masterstroke with these devices was placing the lens so that pickup owners can see the trailer hitch for fast solo hitch-ups. It sure saves a lot of walking back and forth when you are alone, not to mention smashed-up license plates.

Multiple view backup cameras are now standard across Toyota's Tundra lineup, but with center-stack infotainment screens becoming standard and slick in-mirror displays now available, affordability for this technology continues to increase across all brands. We also like cab-mounted cameras and side-view cameras.

 

3. Four- and Seven-Pin Plugs

IMG_3544 IICars.com photo by Evan Sears

If you are going to tow a trailer, one thing you will definitely need is a trailer light wiring harness. So if you are building a vehicle that's made for towing, why not build it right in? Gone are the days of hacking into the pickup's wiring harness, trying to remember which color is which and making splices that are doomed to eventual failure.

Most trucks today come with four- and seven-pin connectors, so you don't have redo the wiring for different trailers or look for an adapter. Anyone who has ever been on their back under a pickup truck tracing wires can rejoice. Now if someone would come up with a solution for dependable wiring on the trailer.

 

4. Integrated Trailer Brake Controller

IMG_2453 IICars.com photo by Evan Sears

Anyone doing serious towing with a trailer that has electric brakes is going to need a trailer brake controller. So what did we do before the factory built them in? We drilled holes and screwed a plastic box into the bottom of the dash. Not the best location when you actually need to use it. It was also more wires to cut, run and splice.

The widespread use of aftermarket trailer brake controllers certainly gave engineers the idea to incorporate trailer brake controllers as a standard option, and it also inspired some truckmakers to connect it to an electronic trailer-sway control. An added bonus of the controller is that you to use built-in display screens to adjust gain. And there's no more banging your knee on the black box. The technology is available in all pickups except Toyota, Nissan and Honda.

 

5. Electronic Trailer-Sway Control

Trailer Sway Control II

Electronic stability control has been a great asset to the modern motorist by automatically helping to correct a skid. The sensors for the vehicle stability control system are already there, so by tweaking the programming it can be used to mitigate a trailer-sway situation. As in a skid, when you start sawing at the steering wheel and the truck is doing something different, depending on the system, the electronic trailer-sway control will apply individual wheel brakes on the vehicle, cut engine power and/or apply the trailer brakes if there is an integrated trailer brake control. It provides an extra edge in getting that fishtailing trailer back in line.

 

6. Smart Tow/Haul Mode

Tow-Haul II

While some old-timers will tell you the manual gearbox is the preferred method of transmitting engine power when towing, it's the think-for-yourself factor that appeals to these grizzled veterans. Early automatics responded somewhat to analog throttle input, but not to load. With the age of electronic control came Tow/Haul mode, which raises shift points when accelerating, downshifts sooner when decelerating and delays or disables overdrive. By offering up and downshifts with the touch of a button, you can override the transmission without worrying about missing a gear and throwing your column shifter in neutral at a crucial moment. It keeps the engine in its sweet spot and helps extend transmission life. Since most truckmakers don't even offer a manual anymore, Tow/Haul mode has become an indispensible feature.

 

7. Air Suspension

Air suspension II

There is no shortage of aftermarket airbags, but Ram was the first to offer a factory-optional load-leveling rear air suspension. With the success of the five-link suspension on the 1500, moving the 2500 to coil springs saw an improvement in unladen ride quality. Rear air suspension automatically levels the truck when loaded and helps beef up the 2500's newly added fifth-wheel and gooseneck capabilities. Adding air suspension to the leaf-sprung 3500 allowed engineers to soften the ride when empty.

 

8. Bed Step Access

GM corner bumper step II

More often than not, towing involves climbing onto the rear bumper to get into the bed or to give the trailer tongue a kick. Since pickups are taller than ever these days, those tasks are harder to do. The solution was bed steps; they were one of those ideas that cost basically nothing to implement, but are genius in their simplicity. Cutting a step in all bumper corners seems obvious now, even considering there was a day when most trucks didn't come with a rear bumper. But what really cinches it is the 45-degree angle cut into each rear stake pocket to make a more comfortable hand-grab point. It's an elegant solution to a common problem.

 

9. Bed View Camera

Bed camera II

As the use of cameras on vehicles widens, a novel new idea is mounting the camera in the high center spotlight that Ram introduced in its heavy-duty lineup for 2013. The display uses the 8.4-inch infotainment screen in the center stack to give you a view of the cargo area for easier fifth-wheel and gooseneck hookups or for checking your load. It works for backing up, when parked or for 10-second intervals for a quick look while driving. Tailgate-mounted backup camera capability is maintained by moving to an LCD monitor in the rearview mirror.

 

10. Damped Tailgates

GM LED bed lights II

No matter how you use your pickup, it's going to involve opening the tailgate. What's more annoying than when it slips out of your hand and it slams down? This is unacceptable unless your horsepower comes from an actual horse. Previous factory attempts to break the fall, such as adding a torsion bar, have been largely ineffective. Some accessory companies tried to come up with a solution that usually involved a hydraulic strut, but hats off to GM and Toyota for introducing standard soft-open features in 2014 that also make the tailgate easier to close.

 

11. Bonus: Exhaust Brake

IMG_3171 IICars.com photo by Evan Sears

Exhaust brakes (also called Jake brakes) have been used on cross-country big-rigs almost from inception to help slow down and control the monster loads with the help of exhaust pressure, but the technology took a while to make it into personal-use diesels. Cummins has a three-position Smart Exhaust system, while both GM and Ford are getting more sophisticated with their exhaust brake capabilities with each iteration. These systems should be used early and often when carrying big, bulky loads, especially when navigating steep downhill decents through mountains and hill country. 

Manufacturer images

 

Comments

I fail to see how the step in the bumper is that big of a deal. I mean is the extra 3 or 4 inches to step on the top of the step bumper really difficult?

I know no one really calls them step bumpers any more but remember when the rear bumper was called a step bumper because it had the flat surface that you could step on to get into the bed unlike the standard bumper step bumpers where an option. Now it seems that people have become so lazy and have lost the ability to just step onto the top of the step bumper that they now need another cut out in it.

Sorry but I just don't see it.

I for one like the step bumper, not because of the step, but for the fact it stiffens the sides of the bumper, while also giving you a place to step, regardless if the tailgate is up or down. Considering the cost of the design change, I think it is well worth it.
I have a 2011 HD with aftermarket airbags installed, and they make a world of difference.
All the systems work together to make towing heavy loads so much easier and ultimately safer...

RAM big Horn, I think they had to give chevy a spot and that's all they could come up with. I personally think its a waste and wouldnt use them anyway

At the top of this list should be the factory fifth wheel prep. kit, In my opinion Ford has the best, Rams design works but not as good, you need adapter kits. I believe GM does not even offer it.

That's funny cause 7 out of these 11 are pictures of GM trucks.

Toyota has had damped tailgates on the Tundra for at least 8 years.

I installed the Dee Zee tailgate damper and love it. Open my tailgate everyday for over a year and no problems.

Now I do not tow but if I did a would love to have the ability to install a 2nd rear vision camera on the back of the trailer I was towing and then tie it in with the factory rear vision screen.

I'd have to agree I like the GM bumper step. It makes getting in and out of the bed a lot easier, but it could be dropped down just a hair more and it be perfect. It makes the bumper stronger with the added brackets, something Ford lacks and my old GM900s where there is no extra support on the outer edge where you step.

I'm liking the details of the Tundra. Wished GM Ford Ram would stamp their names in the tailgate like Toyota does instead of gluing big cheap plastic symbol on and calling it a day. I see the tailgate handle has the name of it to. I like them small details, it doesn't make the handles look like cheap plane jane plastic just suck on cause it needs to be there.

Some of these items are silly.

What does a dampened tailgate, bumper step or Ram box have to do with towing?

@LouBC

Same as my first reaction. On second thought, the Ram Box would be very handy for your stuff.

the step-no
the tailgate no

@papa jim - not a fan of the Ram box as it narrows the cargo area and one would have to be careful not to damage the paint unloading or loading gear. I find the price is too steep as well.

@Lou_BC
Not only do you have Pickup based anti-sway control, but AL-KO, the German company has a major research facility in Australia, that has developed Caravan/Trailer based ASC and working on an updated ABS for Caravans
http://www.alkoesc.com.au/howitworks.html#.VEVmqt1XerU

Judging by this comment by the author;
" trailer towing remains one of the primary purposes for a pickup truck"

I do think the author is out of touch. I don't think trailer towing is the primary reason for a pickup.

Maybe people who buy think they MIGHT tow one day.

I'd bet less than 1/2 of the pickups sold don't tow. Maybe HDs might be bought for towing. But a 1/2 ton pickup is primarily bought to tow. No.

Sorry this article isn't quite accurate.

Pickuptrucks.com keeps telling us how essential a factory built-in brake controller is, but the only compelling argument for one that I've ever heard is that it is theoretically possible to integrate the brake controller to automatically damp trailer sway.

While I agree that would we a nice feature, I have yet to read a single article telling me which trucks, if any, have this capability. Is it too much to ask to give us the details?

My Tekonsha unit has served me extremely well and I would need a good reason not to put it in my next pickup.

@ johnny doe... The FORD logo on the tailgate like it is because the camera is actually in the bottom of the logo. Looks cleaner than a plastic bump on the gate handle. Toyoto has a habit of making things look "added on" like the truck high mounted roof brake like. Most others quickly integrated them into cab roof but Toyota had them as a bolt on bump on the roof for awhile.
RAM side box ok, unless you wanna add a bed cap or utility box.
AS far as trailer wire hook up, my '02 Supercrew came factory with a dual 4/7 pin connectors on bumper, so not new.

Love all of these above features. Ram box and cargo, tailgate camera are some of my favorites.

@papa jim - not a fan of the Ram box as it narrows the cargo area and one would have to be careful not to damage the paint unloading or loading gear. I find the price is too steep as well.

Posted by: Lou_BC | Oct 20, 2014 2:45:42 PM

You still have a 4' wide loading bed. What do you need 2" more between wheels for.
Name one thing which, you need to fit there and doesn't fit with RAMBOX.
You don't know to be careful and you don't have 1500 for this factory made option.
It's pretty cheap for all the hardware, features and complexity.

I wish I had the bumper step, not much bumper top to step on with gate open and boot scratches the paint under the tail lights. Not everyone is young and limber for the full height of newer 4x4 bumpers, and others have wives and kids climbing in back there. When hitched to my trailer, and gate open, there is not much room to hop up on gate from behind, need to go up on the narrow side. Way more practical than Ford's man-step.

Rambox is also cool though I need room for cover over box without reducing the width of the box at top under 4-feet. I don't know if this is an issue or not. Great place for straps, jumper cables and other small tools so you don't need to hop up and dig in big box for the rope you need at the front under your firewood.

How does my damped tailgate help tow? It doesn't slam into the trailer jack handle if it slips from my hand, I can usually grab it again before denting it.

Also cool - remote or proximity lock for tailgate, hey why not add auto open for when hands full of big and heavy.

Not new (Tundra had it for 10 years) is power rear glass - my hearing isn't great and I love the unobstructed view and volume from wife when backing trailer into tight spots. Rear defrost and ability to load long stuff into cab is also handy.

I love my backup camera for hitching and more, and sonar too for city parking.

For my needs, I still think that the ram box is a dumb idea. When I load my ATV, motorcycles, bikes, or anything else, I like to have room to move--the ram box eliminates that room. I also extensively camp with a truck camper--ram box is useless. Why don't more manufacturers put small tool boxes in the bottom unused portion of the bedsides like the old days? That is a useful location in just about any situation, albeit small.

@Dav
Like this?
http://www.bossaluminium.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/25.jpg

@ Robert Ryan,

No, more like this:

http://smg.photobucket.com/user/caseyjones1/media/titan3.jpg.html

In your link, I wonder if that pickup has a spare tire or how low it sits--although those tires look really narrow, so maybe it fits. On my pickup, that type of sliding box wouldn't work as the spare tire sits up partially between the frame rails.

For my needs, I still think that the ram box is a dumb idea. When I load my ATV, motorcycles, bikes, or anything else, I like to have room to move--the ram box eliminates that room. I also extensively camp with a truck camper--ram box is useless. Why don't more manufacturers put small tool boxes in the bottom unused portion of the bedsides like the old days? That is a useful location in just about any situation, albeit small.

Posted by: Dav | Oct 20, 2014 9:54:17 PM

Why did you order it then. Wait, you didn't , you are just troll.

@Dav
A side compartment
http://www.explorercampers.com.au/uploads/2/2/4/4/22441034/8577562_orig.jpg

Enough with the Ram Boxes already, if you don't need them then don't order them. If you need to get in the box and it is to high get the air suspension and lower the truck. If you can't handle the gate you're a sissy I know a seventy two year old woman that drives a Ram and she manages. Trailer brake controllers, really if you know how to drive you can manage a trailer with an old hand controller. If you can't drive don't pull a trailer. I have over three million accident free miles in semis and I managed to back 53' trailers up without bloody cameras. Grow up peat sake

@Dav
A rear compartment
http://i582.photobucket.com/albums/ss267/mick7504/OverloadedUte.jpg

RamBox narrows the cargo box especially when a tonneau cover is installed. I haul bulky stuff and take up every space of the bed. If you don't haul, this very narrow bed may work for you. RamBox doesn't work for me and I hope they discontinue it.

@mike:
Why do you hope they discontinue the rambox? What difference does it make to you if it's offered as on option on a truck? Do you think you should dictate what people can buy?

I agree with Mike. Rambox is dumb. I hope they discontinue the Rambox too and come up with SMARTER storage options that don't take away space from the bed.

Personally I'd stay away from the Ram box since it narrows the box too much, limits the ability to load bulky cargo width wise in front of the wheel wells. It also kills the idea of the truck cap and takes away more space with an inside the rail tonneau cover.

Yes, you can load stuff on the floor but what if your items are wideer the stock wheel wells or taller than the bid sides - a lot of my cargo is.

The other bad thing is that one can't really put anything heavy or awkward in them because you can risk scraping the side of the bed when loading or unloading.

One last problem is the Rambox warps.

The corner bumper step on the Silverado is alright but mud, dirt, gravel, sand, salt and snow will get into it very easily.

Biggest regret for me was giving up bedspace for RamBox. The boxes warp and leak.

The problem is that the expensive items you want to put in there are not going to do well if they get wet. This needs to be waterproof. I know in the brochure it shows putting shotguns down in the rambox. Have a $2,000 Ithaca or Benelli that sitting on water not good.

I want my bedspace back.

@RBH: "I fail to see how the step in the bumper is that big of a deal. I mean is the extra 3 or 4 inches to step on the top of the step bumper really difficult?"
Yes. When today's pickup trucks have the top of that "step bumper" higher than knee level, some people simply can't step that high. When you consider the 4x4 has that same bumper almost hip high, it's even harder to 'step' onto that bumper--not that the notch in the bumper is THAT much of a help at that height.

@Lou_BC: "Some of these items are silly. What does a dampened tailgate, bumper step or Ram box have to do with towing? "

In the case of gooseneck and 5th-wheel towing, the dampened tailgate and bumper step are especially useful during hookup and disconnect; unless, that is, you have a custom notched tailgate installed, but even then you have to climb into the bed to inspect the hitch and maybe connect wiring. As for the RamBox... well, to give you an idea, when my parents and I used to go camping (they camped up through their 70s), they used a Caddy Sedan deVille as their tow vehicle and kept all the hitch gear in the trunk. While I admit a huge load-leveling hitch block wouldn't fit in a RamBox, the load-leveling springs and anti-Sway gear would fit nicely along with the tube of ball grease and other hookup supplies.

@Robert Ryan. My truck camper has side compartments. I don't want a flat bed.

@Zviera - the Ram Box tightens the box up more than what you stated. This is from Ram's web site:

Width @floor
regular: 66.4
Rambox :50
6.4 inch loss

Wheel wells:
regular:51
Rambox: 48.1

@Zviera - the Ram Box tightens the box up more than what you stated. This is from Ram's web site:

Width @floor
regular: 66.4
Rambox :50
6.4 inch loss

Wheel wells:
regular:51
Rambox: 48.1


Posted by: Lou_BC | Oct 21, 2014 11:15:12 AM

Yes. Name one thing which you personally need to fit there and doesn't fit with RAMBOX.

The best towing feature the manufacturers could offer? The actual, as equipped, vehicle specific curb weight of the truck clearly displayed on the door post sticker that provides , GVAWR. GVWR. This along with GCTRW and actual payload figures. No guesswork, no more reliance on potentially inflated or outdated figures from brochures or websites, no BS from vehicle dealers (new or used) and none from RV dealers. The manufacturer's VIN has all the info necessary to provide an as equipped curb weight for the truck.

The best towing feature the manufacturers could offer? The actual, as equipped, vehicle specific curb weight of the truck clearly displayed on the door post sticker that provides , GVAWR. GVWR. This along with GCTRW and actual payload figures. No guesswork, no more reliance on potentially inflated or outdated figures from brochures or websites, no BS from vehicle dealers (new or used) and none from RV dealers. The manufacturer's VIN has all the info necessary to provide an as equipped curb weight for the truck.


Posted by: BAT | Oct 21, 2014 12:32:27 PM

I agree with you. Plus axle pressure- load sensor.
It's pretty cheap, easy to implement and some F150 ecoboost owners would know when they overload their rear axle.

@BAT - agreed 100%.

@Ziera - "Name one thing which you personally need to fit there and doesn't fit with RAMBOX."

3 dirt bikes, 12 aluminum boat, cargo rack, quad with after-market tires, small side by side, canopy..........

The reason why the discussion started was whether or not a Ram box should be listed as a tow feature.

Trucks are versatile platforms, the Ram box may be useful for some but for most who actually carry bulky items, the Ram box is too expensive for the loss of utility/versatility.

Power extending tow mirrors would be nice. Should be high on the list.

@Lou
You have 3 dirt bikes? Sure.

@zviera - I have had 2 street bikes and 2 dirt bikes at one time along with quads. Most of my friends have bikes so yes, if one is going to carry one bike one often ends up carrying 2 or more. even a couple of 85 cc MX bikes take up a bit of space. One does not want sharp angles on the tie downs as it makes it easier for the bikes to topple over even when carrying two.

I like the versatility of having the room. A dry box can be removed a Ram box cannot.

@DenverMike - tow mirrors should of been on the list as opposed to the Ram Box. The Ram box is for cargo, an area that Ram seems to struggle with.

@Lou
You don't have any dirt bike now. Next!

@Dav,
OK

Why is it so incredulous to have 3 dirt bikes? I have 4 and 2 street bikes. That said, I typically only haul 3 dirt bikes at a time in my Tundra.

Some of the items listed on the "towing feature" list are dubious and have little to do with towing, much less any real convenience for the owner.

For those of us that actually do a good bit of towing two items are considered real necessitates; high quality towing mirrors and a key pad.

The towing mirrors "speak" for themselves but if you are towing boats, camping trailers, or active in outdoor sports of any kind the "keypad" is invaluable and a life saver.

It is completely ridiculous that only "one" truck maker offers the "keypad" as either standard or at least an option.

And that brings up another point; no "one" company brings together everything that truck owners want in a single truck.

The marketing idiots that design these things have no clue because they do not use trucks in the real world day in and day out.

A lot of for the most part niceties here that have just like heated seats and sunroofs become "neccesities" for many. While some are more useful than others most really are luxuries and most of the more relevant ones to getting the job done were easy aftermarket even do it yourself add ons. The real story here is how niceties like these have now driven the price of a truck so high while also adding weight and hurting fuel economy. Its a game of compromise I know. I am a huge fan of anti lock brakes, and air bags and backup cameras but cannot deny that they raise the price of the vehicle and have amounted to a very noticeable/substantial and relentless rise in the price vehicles in general and especially trucks.

how about an engine with a lot of torque at a low rpm insted of these screamers that almost everyone is making today.

After going through your article, I have found that all the features you have mentioned in this post are really helpful when pulling a trailer.



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