Today, the Society of Automotive Engineers announced a new system of standards to measure pickup truck towing capacity, with the support of Chevrolet/GMC, Ram, Ford, Honda and Toyota. The standards will go into effect for the 2013 model year.

The race to the top of the full-size and heavy-duty pickup classes is a tight one, with each automaker constantly updating and revising its trucks to claim the title of top dog with regards to torque, horsepower or towing and hauling capacity. The SAE report will standardize the figures automakers come up with, so that consumers can make a fair, apples-to-apples comparison. “The reason the SAE standard is a breakthrough, is that, until now, automakers could pretty much make up the numbers they claimed for towing capacity,” writes the Detroit Free Press. “Each company designed its own test, and -- Surprise! -- their trucks always aced the tests.”

The new towing tests would involve evaluating a truck’s performance in real-world tasks like towing up a steep grade, stability, acceleration and braking. The old figures were derived from factors like front and rear axle weight ratings, engine power, gross combined weight ratings, transmissions and other drivetrain elements that have to be beefy enough to stand up to the stress of towing and hauling.

Though the standard won’t be mandatory, it’s likely that automakers will be keen to adopt it, the Detroit Free Press says. Tow ratings may decrease by a few hundred or a few thousand pounds, but it will give each manufacturer’s claims more credibility. Otherwise, it would be like a carmaker claiming its newest affordable small car gets 50 mpg, without letting the EPA test it out.

Automakers will start using the new standard tests for 2013 model year trucks, since much of the information about 2012 model year trucks has already been released. If you’re in the market for a pickup truck and plan to use it to tow or haul close to its limit, you may want to wait until 2013 model information is released before making your decision. That way, you’ll truly know what your truck is capable of. If you can’t wait to buy but are concerned about how much your truck can tow in the real world, you can either ask your dealer if you can take a test drive to a place where you can hitch up a trailer, or you can ask about the methods the carmaker uses to determine its tow rating. You may even be able to contact the brand’s public relations staff to find out more.

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