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Uniform tow rule adopted

| Saturday, Feb. 22, 2014, 12:01 a.m.

Life is about to get a little better for pickup buyers. Chrysler, Ford, General Motors and Nissan all plan to join Toyota in using a uniform test for the towing claims they make for their full-size pickups.

“This is good news for car shoppers,” said Edmunds.com senior analyst Bill Visnic. “They can compare apples to apples when they buy a new pickup.”

Towing capacity — the weight a vehicle can safely haul on a trailer — is one of the most important performance figures for pickups. Everybody from owners of recreational campers to ranchers, farmers and contractors relies on it to figure out which truck is right for them. It's as big a deal as fuel economy is for a compact car; a higher figure equals higher sales.

“People buy pickups to tow and haul,” said Bob Hegbloom, head of Chrysler's Ram trucks. “These vehicles are tools. This brings a standard into place” to ensure all automakers measure their towing capacity the same way.

Traditionally, every automaker created its own test for acceleration, braking, stability and other key criteria while towing. Not surprisingly, their trucks passed with flying colors. Advertised figures for towing capacity became a bit of a joke. Whenever one company claimed a new, higher figure, its competitors would quickly follow suit in a game of one-upmanship.

“It's good for the customer to have all the companies use the same method to derive their trailer rating,” said Doug Scott, Ford truck marketing manager.

The automakers' engineers helped write the test procedure, working with the Society of Automotive Engineers to create a standard called J2807. The companies agreed to the standard a few years ago. Only Toyota initially used it.

The test is so tough the towing capacity Toyota could claim for its Tundra full-size pickup immediately fell 400 pounds. That may explain why the other automakers declined to use a standard they'd just written.

Ford's radically re-engineered 2015 F-150, which will feature an all-aluminum body, precipitated the change of heart. The F-150 is the best-selling vehicle in the country. In many ways, it's the pacesetter for full-size pickups. After Ford said the new model will have a J2807-approved rating, Chevrolet, GMC and Ram all said their big pickups will, too. The Nissan Titan will adopt the standard when an all-new model debuts next year.

The new Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon midsize pickups will also adhere to the new standard. The Toyota Tacoma midsize already does. Nissan won't say when its midsize Frontier will join the pack.

Destination fee clarified

What's a destination charge, and why do you have to pay it ? The charge isn't usually part of the advertised price, but it can add $1,000 or more when you buy a new car or truck.

It covers the cost of shipping the vehicle from the plant and what the dealership did to get it ready for you. Depending on the manufacturer, that can range from a wash and mechanical inspection to hand-detailing and a demonstration of features.

Mark Phelan is the Detroit Free Press auto critic. He can be reached at mmphelan@freepress.com.

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