How can you trust the payload and towing ratings on your truck?

It's a little something called SAE J2807 that makes it honest, but that's now the whole story. Read on.

Brian Cooley Editor at Large
Brian Cooley is CNET's Editor at large and has been with the brand since 1995. He currently focuses on electrification of vehicles but also follows the big trends in smart home, digital healthcare, 5G, the future of food, and augmented & virtual realities. Cooley is a sought after presenter by brands and their agencies when they want to understand how consumers react to new technologies. He has been a regular featured speaker at CES, Cannes Lions, Advertising Week and The PHM HealthFront™. He was born and raised in Silicon Valley when Apple's campus was mostly apricots.
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Brian Cooley
2 min read

If you shop for a truck, payload and towing ratings are typically a key part of the process. But how do you know you can trust the published numbers? Thanks to something called the SAE J2807, you can get a pretty good idea.

SAE International is the main technical congress of the auto industry and one of its many specifications is the SAE J2807 process for determining gross combined vehicle weight and towing capacity for light vehicles. This includes the most popular pickup trucks, such as the Ford F-150 or Chevy Silverado

Some of the parameters include the assumed weight of driver and passenger (an optimistic 150 pounds each), the kinds and weights of trailers used for testing, the tires the trailer is shod with, and a defined series of acceleration and grade tests. There are tests for brake holding power and ones that measure sway and understeer while towing.

But perhaps most intriguing is a road test conducted on an 11-mile stretch of Arizona SR 68 known as the Davis Dam Grade, pulling a specified trailer on at least a 100 degree day with the AC on full. That test can be simulated in a wind tunnel, but some carmakers have found that doing it on location makes for a great photo op or commercial

Nothing says a truck's maker has to follow SAE J2807 but they almost universally do. It's something to bear in mind as you read the fine print specs of any new truck you're considering. 

All of this brings up a key point: Even if you're confident of your truck's capabilities thanks to SAE J2807, how do you know how much weight you're hauling or pulling? Ford has a new technology that reveals that using weight sensors built into the truck's chassis.  Your approximate payload weight is displayed on the center stack screen, on an app, or via a slick set of segmented LEDs in the taillights, not unlike a cell phone signal indicator.

Watch the video above for a real world conversation about payload and towing with my truck-savvy colleague Emme Hall, Reviews Editor at CNET's Roadshow.