Does Your Towing Capacity Decrease with Altitude?

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When loading up your truck, you need to know the gross vehicle weight rating and the gross combined weight rating—this way you know how much you can safely carry and tow. Calculating these numbers isn’t hard, and all truck manufacturers in the United States require the numbers you need to be listed on the interior of your truck, usually in the door jamb.

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But what happens when you’re traveling at high altitude and losing power?

Ford recommends that its customers reduce their gross combined weight (which is your gross vehicle weight rating combined with the actual weight of what’s being pulled, so this is the max weight of what your truck can carry) by 2% per 1000 ft., starting at 1000 ft.

Losing performance at higher altitude (like in Warren or Sussex County, NJ) is all about safety and can compromise your truck’s ability to perform if it’s overloaded at high altitudes in those counties or if you have a job out of state. Should your vehicle be towing less, and why?

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Gas and Diesel Differences in Towing Capacity

Gas engines aspirate relatively similar at high altitudes as a person does—since the air is less dense, they’ll have trouble getting better performance. Gas engines in particular lose power when the altitude environment increases, so in order to try and maintain performance, decrease the gross vehicle combined weight by the recommended 2% per every 1000 ft. you go up.

With Ford’s EcoBoost engines, they’re capable of maintaining their performance at high altitude better because they’re able to adjust their turbos to spin faster to accommodate the different air intake. However, they can still lose performance. Reducing the gross combined weight of your vehicle can help maintain and even increase performance at high altitudes that you pass through in Warren or Sussex County.

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While diesels are not as affected by the higher altitudes, they will experience a change in performance. When calculating the amount your vehicle can tow, you need to subtract your gross vehicle weight rating (including the passengers, any cargo, and weight of your specific truck) from the gross combined weight rating of your truck, and the number left over will be the amount you can safely tow. But what happens when you throw the altitude in there?

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The Importance of Safety

2% for every 1,000 ft. may not seem like a huge deal, but when you add up the amount you’re towing and the altitude you’ll be traveling at, you can lose several thousand pounds trying to abide by Ford’s recommendations. Where did these standards come from and why haven’t they been issued by other manufacturers?

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The main reason that Ford allots these recommendations for your pickups with them is safety. Overloading your truck is dangerous enough as it is, let alone at high altitudes. Calculating limits changes when the operator is presented with a higher altitude—since Ford’s recommending a decrease of 2% per 1,000 ft., this can add up.

Know your vehicle’s specific weight in order to properly calculate your towing capacity, specifically when going at high altitudes. Don’t rely on what someone told you your truck weighs—get it weighed yourself to know for sure. Safety shouldn’t be undermined, as overloading these trucks can compromise the whole system—brakes, axles, and the frame will all be affected.

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So the question should be—should your towing capacity decrease with altitude, and should you accommodate the difference?

Ford seems to think so, but other manufacturers, not so much. Ford appears to just be looking out for their customers safety while still getting great performance at high altitudes!

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