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Ford trucks feature new towing prowess

July 16, 2004|by JEFF JOHNSTON/Motor Matters

Ford F-250 through F-550 trucks have enjoyed tremendous popularity amongthe RV towing community. The 2005 model year should boost that status even further when Ford brings some exciting new towing features to market with the latest line of Super Duty trucks.

There's always a competition of sorts to see which truck manufacturer can boast of the best tow ratings. Ford effectively removed all doubt this year by upping its Super Duty truck fifth-wheel towing capacity to 17,000 pounds, and 15,000 pounds for a conventionally hitched travel trailer.

The new ratings include a payload capacity of as much as 5,800 pounds for the F-350 with dual wheels.

Ford's towing hardware is grouped under the new TowCommand system name. The most significant component of that system is Ford's new factory-installed trailer brake controller, a first for the industry.

Most trailer brake controls use time-based or inertia-based devices to regulate and modulate the amount of trailer braking action. Many of these controllers can be difficult to keep in adjustment and their braking action is often less than smooth or consistent. Reading and following the instructions helps, but these controllers are still troublesome for many drivers.

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Ford's new built-in brake control uses the truck's brake pressure to modulate the trailer braking action. The sensor is a pressure transducer that's part of the master brake cylinder, so it precisely monitors the driver's brake applications and relays the information to the brake control's computer. This ensures a near-perfect match between the truck and trailer braking action - there's no push-pull inequity once the controller's gain is set to match the trailer's brake characteristics.

This Ford pressure-sensing system is similar to the sensors used on brake controls years ago before anti-lock brake systems became standard equipment on tow vehicles. The advent of ABS made the hydraulic-pressure-sensing brake controls impractical, which lead to the advent of inertial and time-based units. Luckily for RVers, Ford figured out a viable alternative.

A bar readout on the dash unit indicates the degree of brake application. Varying the brake pedal pressure produces more or less colored bars on the indicator. There's also a green indicator to signal that the trailer is connected and the brake circuit is complete. Should the trailer become unplugged, a red warning light flashes on the controller, a warning message flashes on the gauge cluster message center, and an audio alert sounds as well.

The brake control is fully integrated with the truck's major electronic systems. If the truck's ABS is activated, the controller automatically adjusts the trailer braking to avoid having the trailer brakes lock up and produce a skid.

We towed both 10,000- and 15,000-pound trailers on a high-speed oval test track at Ford's proving ground during a recent Super Duty media launch event. Straight-line "almost emergency" braking, slow city-driving-style braking and everything in between takes place smoothly and seamlessly, with nary a jerk or nudge from the trailer. The balance between truck and trailer braking is good. This is the best-feeling brake control we've used in many years, and its availability may help sell quite a few new Fords.

The TorqShift automatic transmission is now available across the board on all three Super Duty truck engines. It was previously available only with the 6.0-liter Power Stroke diesel.

All three Super Duty engines have received power tweaks for 2005. These

include a 40 horsepower and 15 lbs.-ft. of boost for the base 5.4-liter gas engine, a

45-horsepower increase for the big-block 6.8-liter V-10 gas engine, and a modest 10 lbs.-ft. move up for the 6.0-liter Power Stroke diesel. Both gas engines also benefit from the addition of three-valve-per-cylinder aluminum heads, as introduced previously on the new-generation F-150 truck.

Also significant is the new 4WD truck front suspension that uses coil springs, radius arms and a solid axle. Combined with the new upgraded steering box and related components, the new trucks ride and steer as well as they stop. New upgraded disc brakes all around help the truck in the "Whoa!" department.

The truck's front end has received some changes for 2005, including grille, headlight and bumper upgrades, but the balance of the body is mostly carryover. Likewise, the interiors are much the same, except for the refreshed dashboard and instrument cluster.

Ford's new Super Duty trucks have a lot to offer an RV towing enthusiast, and their new features may get the competition hopping to catch up.

Copyright Motor Matters, 2004

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