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Real Trucks for Real Women

A Guide to Selecting a Useful Truck

By Kim Williamson

The salesman gestured at a red S-10 pick-up truck on the corner of the lot. "How about that nice little S-10 extended cab?" he said.

"No sir," she answered, "I want a REAL truck."

"A real truck, you say?" he asked lifting his brows. "Are you planning to tow something, ma'am?"

"That is exactly what I plan to do," the woman said. "I need something that will pull a horse trailer."

More and more women are becoming independent and hitting the road with RVs, horse trailers and other towable vehicles. Whether you are going to tow two horses in a small trailer or five horses in a thirty-foot gooseneck, I will try to simplify the basics so you will know what you are looking for when you start shopping.

F-150, F250, Silverado 3500, diesel or gas? If you find yourself asking, "What does all this mean?" Then "sit down, shut up and hang on," 'cause I am about to help you sort through the rhetoric and find the truck that is right for you!

First thing, you will need to decide how long you will keep the truck, what you will be towing, now and in the near future, how far will you tow this vehicle and what is the terrain like (hilly, mountainous, or completely flat)?

Terminology: You can tell a lot about a truck by looking at the series of numbers and letters on the side of the truck, usually on both doors. Terminology is really simple once you see how each make of truck uses similar wording to mean the same thing. Here is an example:


For example, a Chevy might say, Silverado 1500 or Sierra 1500. Chevrolet is the make and the Silverado or Sierra is the model and they are labeled this way because of the extra features unique to each truck (power windows, power seats, cloth interior vs. vinyl, V-6 vs. V-8) but the 1500 will always mean that the truck is a ½-ton. A Dodge might say, "Ram 3500 V10." This means that the truck is a Dodge Ram 1 ton with a V-10 engine.

The difference between the models above is the amount of weight that the truck is designed to haul. When designing these trucks, the manufacturer takes a lot into consideration. A ½ ton truck is a light duty pick-up; the manufacturer will put a lighter engine, transmission and springs into this truck. It is designed for the gardener and weekend recreationalist with comfort in mind. The 1-ton truck is a truck designed for heavy work with a big engine and transmission to match, as well as, axles, springs, shocks, transmission and oil coolers, and dual wheels for stability of heavy loads. The ¾ ton is for those somewhere in between.

Wheelbase refers to the distance between front and rear axles and becomes important if you are going to be towing a gooseneck trailer. Large and extremely heavy trailers will require a longer wheelbase because of the axle length vs. weight placement on the towing vehicle.

Engine size: Size does matter girls. Do not ruin your vacation in Big South Fork because your truck had the little engine that couldn't get through the gorge or up Mount Eagle. Do not make the mistake of sacrificing power for gas mileage and do not take your salesman's word for the amount of power that you need. You are not going to get "good gas mileage" pulling horses. There is no such thing. Do your own homework and know what you need before you go shopping; and remember, it isn't just the weight of the horses in the trailer, don't forget your gear and the weight of the trailer itself. When in doubt, more is always better when considering power. I recommend a minimum of a V-8 engine for pulling horses and other hefty trailers and such.

Engine size can be expressed in either cubic inches or liters. What used to be the 350 cubic inch is now called 5.4 liter V-8 engine. The bigger one that used to be the 454 is now called the Vortec 6.0. (These engines vary a bit in size between the brands of trucks, but I am going to use the Chevrolet engines because they are so common and easy to understand). Most of you can get by with a 5.4-liter engine for most everything. If you are planning on hauling more than two horses, I recommend a larger engine size. The difference can easily be noticed during acceleration and climbing hills. As a rule, the manufacturer will match a heavier transmission; axle ratios and often times add oil and transmission coolers to the trucks with the larger engines. (Again: more is always better).

Gas or diesel? Although costing much more then a gasoline engine, the diesels are more powerful, get better fuel mileage on the highway, and last longer than gasoline engines. If you are going to do a lot of long distance traveling with your horses and/or are going to be pulling a living quarters trailer larger then 25' you might want to seriously consider buying a diesel instead of gas.

Transmissions: Which is better, an automatic transmission or a standard? This is a matter of preference and some women are comfortable with a standard transmission. They tend to last longer if used properly, give you more control of your transmission in the mountains and are cheaper when you are ordering a new truck. However, if you do not know how to operate them properly, do not punish your horses while you learn to drive one. It is a lot easier to juggle coffee, donuts and a road map on the way to the horse show if you don't have to shift gears.

Ladies, make sure that the truck has a transmission cooler. The transmission cooler works with your radiator to keep your transmission cool while under a load.

You will not always have a choice of transmissions as you do with engines. The manufacturer will take notice to engine size, towing packages and the like to put the right sized transmission with the truck. However, if given a choice, remember more is better.

One thing the dealer will always forget to explain to new truck owners is the proper use of the overdrive transmission. There is a button, usually on your gearshift control that will also have a corresponding light on the dash that tells you whether or not you are in overdrive. On the Chevy it will say, "tow-haul". You can assume that you are in overdrive every time you start the truck. Overdrive has to be manually turned off when you are towing a trailer. If there isn't a light on your dash that is lit up saying, "tow-haul" or something to that effect, you are in overdrive. On some models, overdrive will be a "D" with a circle around it or it will look something like this: P R N D 3 2 1. When faced with this combination, pull your trailer in the "3"; the "D" is overdrive.

With extended cabs and double cab trucks, lots of women are using their truck as a family vehicle as well as a power unit to pull to horse shows and trail rides. Over drive was designed for these people. In a sense, overdrive gives your transmission one more gear to shift into. This drops your RPMS below 2000 and gives you better gas mileage for driving to work, getting groceries and family vacations. Your truck was never meant to pull the trailer in overdrive.

Axle Ratios: Basically, axle ratio refers to "the number of times the drive shaft turns per each full turn of the axle and wheels." You will see axle ratios on pick-ups of 3.55, 3.73 and 4.11. Basically, the larger the number, the more revolutions; thus more power in the rear end. Most all half-ton pick-ups will have an axle ratio of 3.55 or less. You do not want less. The one-ton dually comes with an option of 3.73 or 4.11. The 4.11 is better in mountains, but the 3.73 will give you a nice highway speed while still giving you a good ratio to get you up and down hills.Putting it all together

A ¾-ton, 4-wheel drive truck with an engine size of 6.0 liters and a gear ratio of 3.73 or 4.11 is the most versatile truck you can buy for pulling horses. You can keep that truck as you progress from one horse to four. It will haul a camper in the bed, pull a gooseneck, carry 65 bales of hay, and get you up and down hills and in and out of horse shows and campgrounds. The ¾ ton will last you a very long time while providing many weekends of recreational enjoyment with safety and comfort in mind.

Now that you have some knowledge of terminology, engines, ransmissions, and axle ratios you will be at an advantage when faced with the many decisions of buying a new truck or shopping for a used one. Have fun and don't forget; more is always better!


What about 4 wheel drive? Do I need it? Will I use it? Four-wheel drive on a truck will cost you more, but it is worth it, especially if you own horses. Besides the obvious fact that 4-wheel drive keeps you out of potential situations that could leave you stranded. Anytime the manufacturer puts 4-wheel drive on a truck, they areassuming "off road". Consequently, they build your truck a little "beefier" then they normally would. You get an extra leaf spring on all four axles, sturdier shocks, protection shields that cover the bottom of your drive train system, and the truck sits up a little higher for better clearance of off road obstacles. Sometimes pulling to campgrounds and horse shows, you just never know what you are going to run into in terms of parking accommodations.


Don't forget the towing package. With a towing package you will get a reece hitch, an oil cooler, and a transmission cooler. However, if you have or are going to buy a gooseneck trailer, I would let the trailer dealership install the ball in the bed of the truck. They have more knowledge and experience with horse trailers and towing vehicles; and sometimes you can get a dealer to "throw it in" when negotiating to buy a horse trailer.

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