Are Towing Numbers Getting Out of Hand?

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The new F-450 has claimed the maximum towing title with a capacity of 31,200 lbs, a startling amount when you consider that the same vehicle was rated to tow just 16,700lbs a decade ago.

Are Towing Numbers Getting Out of Hand?

Is Ford’s F-450 Too Much Truck For Private Use? Photo by: Sam VarnHagen/Ford Motor Co

While almost doubling tow capacity in 10 years is an impressive accomplishment for Ford, is it a safety concern for the rest of us? After all, standard driver’s education classes don’t prepare people for towing 2,000lbs, let alone 30,000lbs. Should Ford be allowed to sell an F-450 to anyone off the street?

Who Needs 30k Pounds of Tow Capacity?

Ford says that their new 2015 F-350 will have a new max tow capacity of 26,500 pounds with the fifth-wheel/gooseneck trailer towing package, and an improved gross combined weight rating of 35,000 pounds. The new 2015 F-450 will have a max tow capacity of 31,200 pounds, and a gross combined weight rating of 40,000 pounds.

In order to reach these numbers, Ford has made improvements to the engine and chassis to handle this much towing capacity. While their inside-out arrangement for intake and exhaust on the new Power Stroke is innovative (and boosts performance considerably), at what point are tow ratings too high?

Remember: the average truck owner has no supervised towing experience or training. Most of us learn from a family member or friend, then hop into the driver’s seat and hope for the best. While this usually works out just fine, there are problems with “regular Joes” pulling trailers.

Are Towing Numbers Getting Out of Hand?

With more powerful trucks giving driver’s a false sense of confidence, will we see more accidents?

Automotive journalist and former truck driver Aaron Turpen suggest that our concerns about massive tow ratings might be misplaced.

“31,000 pounds is a lot of weight, but since most buyers of the F-450 are very likely to be commercial buyers rather than private, I doubt this is a big issue,” says Turpen. “I can’t imagine very many buyers who would buy this truck and actually use it at that capacity privately.”

Are F-350 and F-450 Buyers Really Commercial Users?

Aaron Turpen may be right about the average F-350 or F-450 buyer being a commercial user, as it’s relatively hard to find a trailer that weighs much more than 20k lbs that could concievably be for private use.

  • Most newer 40’+ travel trailers clock in at 12,000 lbs dry. Fully loaded, they’re 17,000 lbs. If someone flat tows a car or small SUV behind their 17k lbs trailer, the total can easily exceed 20k lbs.
  • A “light” 6 horse trailer with living quarters is 7,000+ lbs in weight empty. With 6 animals and tack, the weight could exceed 20k lbs with ease.
  • A 40’+ race car hauler with living quarters can weigh more than 20k lbs. 

While these particular setups are considerably more heavy than the average travel trailer, horse trailer, or car hauler, they’re not exactly unheard of. It’s conceivable that a relative neophyte could end up behind the wheel of an F-350 or F-450 pulling 10 tons.

In order to approach the 30k lbs weight limit, you probably need a commercial trailer…at least until the trailer manufacturers start building bigger and heavier trailers for private use.

Why Not Ask F-450 Buyers To Get A CDL?

Since most F-450 buyers are probably going to be commercial users anyways, and since most CDL regulations would seem to be applicable to the F-450, why not make sure F-450 buyers have a CDL? Or perhaps even F-350 buyers who opt for the max trailer towing package?

According to Aaron Turpen, a commercial driver’s license is only needed if the load being hauled is commercial…almost regardless of weight or length. It’s sort of shocking when you think about it, because it basically means that anyone can drive a truck with a massive trailer without any special training or certifcations, provided the setup is for private use.

For reference, here are the Class A and B CDL levels for Colorado (CDL rules vary by state):

Class A: Any combination of vehicles which has a gross combination weight rating or gross combination weight of 26,001 pounds or more, whichever is greater, inclusive of a towed unit(s) with a gross vehicle weight rating or gross vehicle weight of more than 10,000 pounds, whichever is greater. (excluding private use)

Class B: Any single vehicle which has a gross vehicle weight rating or gross vehicle weight of 26,001 pounds or more, or any such vehicle towing a vehicle with a gross vehicle weight rating or gross vehicle weight that does not exceed 10,000 pounds. (excluding private use)

Looking at those numbers, it is pretty easy to see how a pulling a large camper, horse trailer, car hauler, etc. would qualify for a CDL. While no one is a fan of increased rules and regulations, the case for making F-450 buyers get a CDL seems pretty clear cut. The max tow rating of the F-450 combined with the vehicle’s weight exceeds the 26k pound limit by quite a bit (at least 10k lbs).

What About Private F-350 Drivers? Do They Need a CDL?

Considering that commercial drivers piloting more than 26k lbs of trailer and vehicle need a special license, it’s logical to wonder if anyone driving an F-350 with the max. tow package needs a CDL as well.

“Honestly, those who drive non-commercial big vehicles like that are often far safer than are the professionals simply due to the fact that they don’t do it as often (aren’t as comfortable) and probably don’t go nearly as far or drive for nearly as long,” offers Turpen. “It’s only when they’re parking and/or backing up that they’re a problem.”

While Aaron’s experience and expertise is on point here, it’s important to understand that truck makers are constantly adding features designed to make towing easier. At some point, these features might give drivers a false sense of confidence, and that could lead to big problems.

What do you think – do F-450 buyers need a CDL? What about F-350 buyers who opt for dual rear wheels and the max tow package?

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  1. LJC says:

    While Aaron makes one sided empirical points, it would be interesting to hear what a state trooper has to say about it.

    • Tim Esterdahl says:


      Good points. I’ll look for comments on this article from law enforcement individuals. They seem to comment on our Facebook page. I’ll keep an eye out and let you know what I hear.


    • Aaron says:

      In my view, regulating this is akin to regulating swimming pools of Olympic standard size and larger. “More people will drown!” They’re so few and far between and the number of accidents non-commercial drivers are in every year is so small that you’re just creating hassles and red tape that does no one any good except the state (who gets to raise fees) and the trucking schools (which you’re required to attend to get a CDL).

  2. Randy says:


    You are asking a heavy loaded question.

    I have had about 80,000 miles experience towing with the F250/350 (non-dually) and 2500HD trucks. Back in the 60’s I towed a 30’ Airstream across the USA with a Buick Wildcat and learned how to drive it backwards 200 yards in National Forest to park it just where dad wanted it. All the Wildcat’s bushings had to be replaced every 5,000 miles. Even with a 460 V8 it was not the tow vehicles we have today, not even close.

    I have several dozen friends that tow 6,000 to 12,000 lbs at least once a week 200-300 miles (large boats for the most part).

    With all that experience over all these years, the “only” accidents I have seen were caused by other drivers. For some reason “other drivers” view the F250/350 pulling 12,000 lbs. as just another ordinary “small” vehicle. Many of the accidents I have seen created fatalities. In cases where 3 to 8 vehicles are taken out on the freeway, it is surprising when everyone walks away.

    Here are the problems “other drivers” create for larger towing rigs:

    1. They view the tow rig as just another light weight car; they fail to recognize how similar it is to an 18 wheeler-big rig.

    2. On major secondary cross streets it is very common for other drivers to just pull out in front of a tow rig going 40mph. I would say 50% of other drivers do this just 100 feet in front of the tow rig. On towing across the city of Houston you will have this happen at least twice on a 50 mile trip – guaranteed.

    3. On the freeway and secondary, cutting in to quick and “clipping” the tow rig, both front and back. This is very common and in Texas you can see this at least once on a 300 miles trip.

    While this video is not a tow rig, you get the idea:

    All that damaged caused by a little car.

    Having a CDL for the bigger stuff, like an F450 tow rig; could be a good thing? It might reduce tow rig accidents by 1 or 2 percent? But most of the tow rig accidents are not caused by the drivers of such rigs.


    • Tim Esterdahl says:


      Great points on the “other” drivers causing the issues. A few years ago, I took a towing class from a guy who tows race cars. He basically said the same thing that other drivers don’t appreciate the differences of a towing vehicle versus a normal vehicle.

      That video is pretty crazy and just goes to show what driving like an idiot can cause.

      I’m glad you liked the article enough to write your great comment. I really thought this topic brings up some interesting discussion points.

      – Tim

    • Aaron says:

      That is my experience driving over the road professionally as well, Randy. Nearly all accidents involving big rigs are the fault of four-wheelers (cars) rather than the trucker. While I was never in a moving accident, I did witness many of them. They were almost always either because the car cut off the semi (turned into the lane abruptly and very close to the driver) or because the car was tailgating. A few were mother nature and no one could have done much to avoid it.

      • Larry says:

        Wow Aaron, I don’t know where you driver but, I drive I80 down a 7 percent grade 6 days a week. True I see a lot cars doing stupid stuff but I have seen hundreds of trucks blowing down the canyon at 75 in the right lane passing everything in sight. And I have been seeing it for 20 years. I almost got smashed by one while I was going 65 when he got boxed in and could not move left. I could not move over due to construction on the shoulder. He locked the wheels and all I could see was smoke in the mirror. A car in front of me, one to the left and no shoulder on the right. He got a window to move left about 20 feet from my back bumper. Just last week one rig smashed into the back of another at high speed. Both were destroyed and one dumped thousands of oil in the canyon.

        Your statement is just not true.

        As for the subject. Towing any 30,000 pound load with a 7500 pound 7 liter diesel pickup at 70 MPH is a disaster waiting to happen. A 10,000 pound camp trailer is one thing a huge excavator is another. Even with the big F550 people need some experience to tow those loads.

  3. DJ says:

    In a word, yes. These companies, mostly the big three, are so hungry to put out a bigger number than their competitor that it has just turned into a huge marketing game, with IMO little consideration for safety.

    Something else I’ll throw in, it’s one thing to be able to tow 20-30k lbs at 55mph at sea level on a flat road. It’s entirely another thing to tow that weight and slow it down going up and down passes in Colorado like Wolf Creek.

    • Tim Esterdahl says:


      Good point on driving through the mountains. I’ve driven through places like Wolf Creek or through the Eisenhower Tunnel. It is challenging enough with my truck. I can’t imagine towing 31,200 lbs on top of that.


    • Aaron says:

      Having hauled both commercially and personally up and down Wolf Creek itself, I can tell you that it’s not as difficult as people might assume. It’s all a matter of letting the truck do its work (gearing, engine brakes, what have you) and not trying to set any land speed records. That pass, btw, is VERY unusual and wrecks on mountain passes like that usually do not involve more than the vehicle that failed and crashed.

      Again, the vast majority (more than 99% I’d wager) of non-commercial drivers who are towing that much weight are NOT doing it in a place like that.

  4. Aaron says:

    For those who don’t know, here’s what’s required to get a Class A CDL (truck-trailer combination, 26k+ pounds, trailer 2+ axles):

    Trucking school, usually lasts about three weeks at about four to six hours a day. Costs around $2,000+ When I went, it was for eight weeks at $2,500 and it was for eight hours daily, five days a week. My school included the on-road test as part of its curriculum, but not all of them do. That test is $250 or more EACH TIME you take it (failure means paying again).

    Licensing varies by state, but will require three tests at $15+ per: combination, air brakes, and on-road test. Additional endorsements are more tests and money (HazMat, Double-Triple Trailer, Tankers, Passenger, School Bus). You’ll also have the standard state licensing fee on top of that, which was $50 in Utah and is $20 here in Wyoming.

    In total, you’ll spend $3k or more to get your CDL-A and a LOT of time off work or in extended weekend courses.

    It’s not as simple as just taking another test at the DMV and paying a few bucks in fees. Just FYI.

  5. Marko says:

    When towing, like motorcycling, watch out for the other guy! You better be on hyper alert, or some fool can get you. Not relaxing or fun, just reality in my experience.

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