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The heavy-duty ute Australia really needs but nobody seems to offer

RAM, GM Special Vehicles, Ford with the F-150, and now Toyota with the Tundra.

All offer, or will offer big utes which are marketed to tow in the order of 4500kg, as compared to utes like the Ranger and Hilux which max out at 3500kg, along with big wagons like the LC300, Patrol, and Defender.

But as ever, the maximum rated tow isn’t realistic. It isn’t for the Ranger/Hilux etc, or the big wagons. And it’s not most of these big American utes (sorry, pickups).

There’s eight tow limits to consider (more on this soon), and the first one you hit dictates what you can tow. The problem with most of thse big utes is payload and rear axle load. Payload which is the how much the vehicle can carry, and the problem there starts with the towball mass (TBM). For a 4500kg trailer you towball mass might be around 400kg, maybe 450kg…the 10% rule is just a guideline.

Let’s take the RAM 1500 Express Crew Cab. It has a kerb (unladen) weight of 2620kg, and a GVM of 3420kg – take one from the other and we have a payload of 830kg, not great for a smaller ute let alone a bigger one. Maximum towball mass isn’t listed – key stats like this are often missing from carmaker websites even when towing is a focus – but we’ll work on a maximum of 10%, so 450kg. We take our 830kg payload, subtract 450kg of TBM and we are left with 380kg for the vehicle; that has to include all occupants, modifications etc – and if you’re towing a big van because you’re a family of four or five, then 380kg won’t go far. At least RAM’s definition of kerb weight includes a full tank of fuel. The RAM 1500 Limited Crew Cab has a payload of only 701kg, so with 450kg of TBM you’re down to 251kg.

Let’s now look at rear axle load for the 1500 Express Crew Cab. That’s 1770kg. The kerb weight is 2620kg, and we’ll assume 45% on the rear axle, so 1179kg. Now to consider the 450kg TBM; except because the towball is well behind the rear axle, every kg on the TBM is more than one kg on the rear axle. Let’s work on a factor of 1.2, which is conservative, so 450 x 1.2 = 540kg of extra load on the rear axle. Add 540 to 1179 and we get 1719kg…very close to the 1770kg limit. And we’ve not factored in vehicle occupancy or load.

Much the same sums can be done for the GM Special Vehicles Silverado LTZ, as you can see in this video. And it looks to be same again for the Tundra and F-150.

Oh and another factor – it’s a good idea for the towcar to weigh more than the trailer. These utes tend to have GVMs of around 3400kg, which is a long way short of 4500kg so that alone is a reason to be cautious even before we start running up against towing limits.

Now there are American utes which are capable of towing 4500kg and RAM’s 3500 is an example. It has a kerb weight of 3500kg and GVM of 5232kg, so more than a 4500kg trailer…and a huge 1759kg payload. Rear axle load is a massive 3175kg, so using the same maths as above the rear axle load with 450kg TBM is around 1968kg, well within the 3175kg limit, as is everything else. But the Ram 3500’s GVM is more than 4500kg, so you need a light rigid truck licence to drive it. On the other hand, do you or do you not want to properly tow your heavy trailer? I’ve towed 4000kg with a Ram and can confirm it’s a great heavy-duty tow vehicle.

Another good example of a true heavy-duty ute is the GMSV Chevrolet Silverado HD (not to be confused with the Silverado LTZ, no HD) which has a kerb mass of 3752kg, GVM of 5148kg and rear axle load of 2994kg – like the RAM 3500, these numbers are appropriate for a 4500kg tow, unlike the lighter-duty versions.

I wish carmarkers would stop marketing the lesser utes as capable of towing weights they clearly can’t – I can tell you that when disillusioned potential buyers end up in my inbox then the brand is damaged in their mind, and they don’t mind sharing their opinions. But I suppose that would require marketing people to have some clue about towing which in my experience, is asking too much.

The ideal vehicle for me to tow 4500kg doesn’t exist, but it would have these specifications:

  • kerb weight 3000kg, GVM 4495kg (car licence capable, and 5500kg GVM option), payload 1500kg+
  • massive rear axle load limit, 3000kg should do it
  • GCM equal to GVM plus max braked tow
  • all wheel drive (I will not agree that 2WD is superior to AWD when towing, drive a wet, cold, twisty road and tell me I’m wrong)
  • coil suspension (yes coils can take a load) with load-levelling
  • big enough fuel tank for 1500km range when not towing
  • all the tow tech; trailer stability control, tow/haul, exhaust brakes, brake controller, tow mirrors, hookup camera – the big American utes tend to do this well.

So let’s have one of those and not another pretend-4500kg ute! And remember if you want to calculate all those pesky towing weights, then use my towing weights calculator.

Finally, if you really want to solve your weight limit issues get one of these and be done with it, although you’ll need to suffer a lack of luxury and power.

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  • by Andrew Hilliard
    Posted 28 August 2022 14:44 0Likes

    I am with you on this the “smaller” big American utes are way short on payload. About 3 decades ago I worked on the help desk of a local manufacturer and had constant issues with the plumbers who managed to fit lots of copper pipe in the rear of their Smaller F series. (Diffs were not happy) Can I have the 4495 gvm with a minimum 1200 kg payload 1500 towing range in something not as gigantic as the various 2500 Ram or f 250 s.
    Older age has lead to a bit more luxury in my van choice but still keen on the dirt!

  • by Greig
    Posted 14 November 2022 20:47 0Likes

    Ridiculous explanation of the American utes. stating 450 tbm in their figures! I’m yet to see a caravan with a greater tbm than 350. so all your figures are WRONG In the real world not the one you portray here they all would have at least 100kg more payload at a minimum.

    • Avatar photo
      by Robert Pepper
      Posted 4 January 2023 15:02 0Likes

      Some large vans are over 350 TBM and it’s always good to have some reserve in all capacities.

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