By Mark Williams and Kent Sundling
Photography by Evan Sears
This is a strange time in the heavy-duty towing world. Just a few years ago, representatives from each of the big truck makers formed a Society of Automotive Engineers committee to hammer out the exact procedures and testing necessary for all manufacturers to follow in order to allow truck buyers to compare apples to apples when shopping for the right truck. It was supposed to go into effect in 2012, as 2013 models were arriving.
For whatever reason, truck makers still don't use the same set of standards. But just because there isn't complete agreement on how to test maximum towing numbers, that doesn't mean truck makers won't keep loudly promoting their truck's segment-leading status — especially in the heavy-duty segment. And that's exactly what Ram did last year with the changes it made to its 3500 HD: re-engineering its frame with 50,000-pounds-per-square-inch steel and announcing a gross combined weight rating and maximum tow rating that were several thousand pounds higher than its nearest competitor.
Because of all that, we knew it was time to take the two strongest HD pickups on a fact-finding mission to explore their maximum tow capacities and how that translates into the real world — and by "real world" we mean some of the toughest towing venues in the country.
Searching the dense jungle that is the heavy-duty truck market, only two powerful pullers broke through. In one corner is the previous personal-use HD pickup champion from Ford, with a maximum towing capacity of 24,700 pounds, the 2013 F-450 Super Duty. And in the other corner, the current numbers champion, is the 2013 Ram 3500 HD, promoting a max tow rating of an astounding of 30,000 pounds. As we've learned far too often, maximum numbers are good to have (especially in commercials), but if they can't stand up to some basic challenges on public roads, those numbers won't mean much for customers.
For this real-world test, we contacted each manufacturer and had them send us the biggest tow beast they had available. Ford sent us a 2013 Ford F-450 Lariat crew cab 4x4 with the new Platinum trim package, which offered 4.30:1 axle gears, a 14,000 gross vehicle weight, a 24,700-pound towing capacity and a price tag of $69,430.
Ram didn't have its maximum puller available (the regular-cab two-wheel-drive long-bed 3500 HD), so we opted instead for the Laramie Longhorn crew cab 4x4 as a better top-of-the-line match for the Super Duty's trim package. As it stood, the Ram 3500 HD offered 4.10:1 axle gears, a 14,000 GVW, a 28,800-pound maximum tow capacity and a price tag of $68,960.
Because maximum (and safe) towing is incredibly important to us, we decided that the best way to make this story fair was to enlist the help of one of our favorite trailer makers to create two identically made, 30,000-pound capacity flatbed gooseneck trailers (to read about these impressive Load Trail flatbeds, click here).
Each trailer weighed 8,270 pounds and thanks to their dual dualie axles, we loaded more than 16,000 pounds of decorative rock (thanks again to our friends at Frisco Fireplace & Stone), giving us an actual trailer weight for both trucks right at the Ford's 24,700-pound limit. Yes, the Ram is rated to tow more, but to keep this comparison apples to apples, we needed to keep the weights the same. We should note that the Ford did have a slightly lower empty bed height, so we had to lower the kingpin about 4 inches to keep the Super Duty trailer angle as level as the Ram 3500 HD trailer.
Once hitched up and loaded (and after some baseline zero-to-40-mph acceleration and 40-to-zero braking tests — with a World War II half-track troop carrier on the back of our trailer!), we headed out on the road, putting about 1,600 miles on our two trucks, driving both the infamous Davis Dam, which straddles the Arizona/Nevada border as it crosses the Colorado River, and the Eisenhower Pass in Colorado. As you might expect, some of the results were both impressive and surprising, while others confirmed our suspicions.
In this series of stories, we'll provide you with the fuel-economy numbers we achieved and let you know how well each truck handled the back-end load. Also, we'll let you know how each truck treated the drivers' back ends as well. Finally, as it worked out, we were able to take push our Ram 3500 HD tester to its maximum rating limits by adding about 4,000 pounds, making the total weight of our Ram HD trailer just less than 29,000 pounds to see how it could (or could not) tackle the punishing Eisenhower grade. We'll have more on that later, but for now, sit back and enjoy, because here comes our King of Beasts towing test.