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Don’t Trust the Dealer: How to Tell if a Truck Can Really Handle Your Trailer’s Load

“It won’t pull a gooseneck? Cause if that's true, the guy who sold me the truck flat out lied to me about what it would tow.”

Brad Heath has a lot of really great conversations with potential customers.  Unfortunately, this conversation was not one of them.  That’s because he had to explain how a woman’s expensive new truck was not able to haul a 2 horse gooseneck trailer.

Sadly, this is a common problem we see in the industry.  Oftentimes, people are misled about the towing capabilities of their trucks.  This happens both intentionally and by accident with truck dealers who are more focused on making the sale than keeping customers safe.

Once someone has a low performing truck, they end up either overloading it with an unsafe load or making compromises on their trailer design so their truck will work. Either way, we hate to see horse owners end up in a bad situation.  Here are two stories to help you avoid this common problem.

Story #1: The Ford Without Enough Fight

When Kristen first reached out to Brad, owner of Double D Trailers, she was hoping to get information about her new 2019 Ford F-150 Limited Truck.  She had already made some very expensive modifications to the vehicle and was not in a position where she could trade it in for a different model.

Her specific truck was the 3.5 L Eco Boost H.O. (High-Output).  According to the 2019 Ford Tow Chart, her vehicle was able to handle a max tongue weight of around 1,320 lbs with a max payload capacity of 1,530 lbs.

The payload is the maximum weight the vehicle is equipped to carry in the bed of the truck.  It also includes the passengers, fuel, additional cargo, and the tongue weight. 

The tongue weight is the amount of force pushing down on the back of the truck from the connection with the trailer.  Basically, if you were super strong and could walk up to your unhitched trailer and lift it up by the coupler, you’d be holding the tongue weight.

Kristen had her eye on a new 2 horse gooseneck trailer from Double D Trailers.  She was hoping these numbers would allow her to safely tow this type of trailer like the salesmen claimed.  Unfortunately, Brad had to burst her bubble. Apparently the dealer had “flat out lied to her.”

“An empty gooseneck without living quarters is going to have a tongue weight of around 1,400 lbs so this would exceed your truck’s limit of 1,320 lbs.  So you won’t be able to tow a 2 horse gooseneck trailer without exceeding your max payload rating,” Brad explained. 

“You could, however, safely tow a bumper pull two horse with no living quarters of any sort and a shorter wheel base. That’s because bumper pull trailers typically have a tongue weight of around 900 lbs when empty.”

2 horse gooseneck horse trailerRemember, Double D Trailers are made of Z-frame material with galvalite and aluminum skin.  So they are just as light -- and much stronger -- than any aluminum trailer you’d find on the market.  Our numbers are not extraordinary by any means.  In fact, many trailer manufacturers would give you much higher numbers for their trailer weights.

But that doesn’t help Kristen much.  Her truck is still not capable of handling this type of trailer. So, what’s the issue here?  Why was Kristen in this predicament to begin with?

Well, it all comes back to that salesmen.  Oftentimes, we see that truck dealers are the worst source of information on towing.

They know tons about the fancy back-up cameras, transmission, and smart seat adjustment specs on a truck.  They may even know a thing or two about the advertised towing capacity of a particular model.

But when it comes to crunching the numbers and understanding the relationship between towing capacity, tongue weight, and payload, they are far from experts.  In fact, they often make grand claims just to please the buyer and make the sale.

That’s why you should always understand these numbers before you go to the car dealership.  Even better, purchase (or at least spec out) your horse trailer before you shop for your tow vehicle. 

We only buy the truck so it can haul the horses.  So the horse trailer is often the most important part of the equation.  Plus, a custom horse trailer will last you 20+ years where a truck is likely going to be traded in after a much shorter time.

So, what was Kristen’s response to this conversation?

“Well, I’m screwed then.”

Sorry Kristen!

Story #2: The Chevy that Chickened Out

reverse load horse trailerThis second story again illustrates the problem with trying to match a trailer to a truck rather than the other way around…

Carol came to Brad with a question buying a 2 horse gooseneck horse trailer to fit her 17+ hand horses.  She had her eye on our SafeTack Reverse Gooseneck Trailer. Carol wanted room for sleeping but not necessarily a full living quarters.

Before we start building a trailer for any new customer, we always double check information on their tow vehicle.  That way a customer knows up front if their current vehicle will work or if they’ll need to upgrade for safety. Brad asked her to send the exact sticker on her truck so he could see the values for himself.

In Carol’s case, she was driving a shiny new 2020 Chevy Silverado 1500 with a max payload of 1,862 lbs.  Again, this would need to include all passengers, cargo in the truck bed, and the trailer tongue weight. We were disappointed to read that her truck was only able to handle a gooseneck tongue weight of 1,170 lbs according to the sticker.

towing safety

A typical trailer like what she wanted would end up weighing around 6,000 lbs with a tongue weight of 1,600 lbs.  This means she would be maxing out her vehicle even before she added regular cargo (things like extra hay, tack, snack cooler, etc.)

Short story?

Carol can’t buy the trailer she wants unless she buys a different truck. Or, she could choose to buy the trailer anyway and would be overloading her current truck with an unsafe load.  She would be exceeding what the manufacturer says it can safely haul.

Her horses also play a factor in this problem.  Since she has large 17+ hand animals, she would need a trailer with extra width and height to comfortably fit them.  This increases the load of her trailer even more.

Brad explained, “Since you have 17+ Warmbloods, any of our SafeTack models would require a full 96” width and 7’8” height upgrade with extra footage in the stalls for each horse.”

After hearing this unhappy news, Carol went back to the drawing board to think about her options.  We look forward to working with her when she is ready.

Why Are So Many People Being Fooled with Lower Model Trucks?

These are just two stories, but they represent a much larger problem within the industry. 

We often field questions from buyers who don’t understand or were misled about their truck’s capabilities. The result is a lot of people who are overloading their tow vehicles and putting their horses and themselves in danger each time they go on a trip.

horse trailer towing safety

Generally, truck manufacturers like to brag about the large “towing capacity” of their vehicles.  They say things like, “Oh, this Ford F-150 can tow this many thousands of pounds.”  They couple that claim with beautiful and rugged shots of the truck driving over boulders and rounding steep curves on treacherous mountain drives.

It sounds and looks great at first.  But there’s a problem here.

Manufacturers (and dealers) forget to mention the smaller numbers which are just as important in determining a safe load.  They forget to mention the tongue weight capacity that a truck can handle. They forget to highlight the payload capacity.

Think of these values like the weak links on a chain.  If they are overloaded, the entire system breaks.

Here’s another great example from Brad…

“It’s sort of like saying the kitchen in my home is large enough to house a commercial style oversized refrigerator.  That sounds great at first.  But in the fine print, there’s a note that warns that the only door to the kitchen is 24” wide. No fridge will fit through that!”

“Maybe that’s a poor analogy… but it’s exactly what almost every vehicle manufacturer and deal does.  Focus on what it ‘can’ do, rather than want it ‘can’t.’”

Take Carol’s case for example…

If she wanted to stick with the Chevy brand, they make a ½ ton model that can handle 2,250 lbs.  She would need to increase from a ½ ton to a ¾ ton model for anything higher than that.  Ford also offers one with a 3,000+ lbs payload in the ½ ton size.

We’ve noticed that GMC is typically much higher than Chevy in tow ratings, so if she prefers the Chevy style truck, GMC would be a good alternative.

In the end, it’s not the brand of the truck that matters so much.  It’s the numbers associated with a particular model.  So take your time to spec out a trailer before you visit the car sales lot.

And don’t take your salesmen’s word on it.  Do you own research, understand the numbers, and make a safe decision for you and your horses. If you have any questions about your own truck’s capabilities, please don’t hesitate to reach out to Brad.  He can help you crunch the numbers so you end up with a safe rig.


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