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Mark Phelan: Pickup makers to use common towing test

February 24, 2014

   

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 ó the weight a vehicle can safely haul on a trailer ó 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. Itís 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 Chryslerís 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.

"Itís 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 automakersí 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 theyíd just written.

Fordís 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, itís 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 wonít say when its midsize Frontier will join the pack.

UNDERSTANDING THE MYSTERIOUS DESTINATION FEE: Whatís a destination charge, and why do you have to pay it ? The charge isnít 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.

"The destination fee is set by the manufacturer," said Forrest McConnell, chairman of the National Auto Dealers Association and owner of McConnell Honda and Acura in Montgomery, Ala. "Thereís no markup for the dealer."

That makes it the one part of a carís price thatís nonnegotiable.

Destination charges vary from one company to another, and from one vehicle to another within an automakerís lineup. For instance, Edmunds.com says Ford charges $825 for a Fiesta subcompact and $1,195 for an F-150 pickup. Destination charges for imported vehicles are generally in the same range as domestics, despite having traveled farther. The charges on a Japanese-made Honda Fit and German-made BMW 320i are $790 and $925, respectively.

Federal law says the destination charge for a vehicle canít vary from one part of the country to another. Whether you buy a Cadillac ATS a mile from the assembly plant in Lansing, Mich., or 2,200 miles away in Beverly Hills, Calif., the fee remains $925.

Thatís because buyers from around the country used to flock to Detroit to see their car built and buy it for hundreds of dollars less than at their neighborhood dealership, automotive journalist and historian Mike Davis said. Local dealers objected, so Congress mandated uniform fees.

"Everybody pays the same destination charge for a given vehicle," Cars.com chief analyst Jesse Toprak said. "For the consumer, thereís no point wasting time trying to negotiate it. Even if you donít like it, you have to let it go. Itís like death and taxes."

 

 

 

  McClatchy-Tribune Information Services