Ford's Onboard Scale: How it works and how much it costs on the 2021 Ford F-150

April 28, 2021

Ford is doing to towing what the automatic transmission did to the manual: Make it easy enough for anyone to operate. Three new features announced Wednesday on the 2021 Ford F-150 aim to reduce towing guesswork.

One will measure payload; the second measures tongue weight; and the third is the very useful adaptive damping, which becomes an option on the F-150 for the first time.

Onboard Scales that estimate payload on the 2021 Ford F-150 and a Smart Hitch feature that measures tongue weight represent the latest advancement in simplifying the towing experience. Capable of towing up to 14,000 pounds, Ford's bestseller can carry between 1,765 and 3,325 pounds, depending on drivetrain and cab configuration. It's hard to know with any certainty just how much you're hauling in the bed. Onboard Scales add some certainty by displaying the approximate weight in the touchscreen, on the FordPass app, or in graphics within the pickup truck's taillights.

2021 Ford F-150 tow technology

2021 Ford F-150 tow technology

This last part is interesting. Ford says "smart taillamps operate like the battery charge indicator on a mobile phone." On the C-clamp shape of the taillight, there are four bars in the middle of the housing, and on the side nearest the tailgate. If the top fourth light illuminates, then the truck is nearing its max payload. If it exceeds it, the top light blinks and you may need to remove one of those kegs from the bed. The scale can be zeroed out on the touchscreen to just measure what's in the bed. 

Four sensors, one on the corner of each wheel, measure suspension displacement to approximate the additional weight, Ford explained in a call with The Car Connection. A graphic in the app or on the touchscreen mimics the taillight bars, and if the payload is exceeded, the display turns red and an alert warns that the limit has been exceeded. That warning pops up only once per key cycle, so if you choose to keep hauling excess weight, there won't be a series of bings and bongs or flashing messages; the screen will stay red, however. So you can continually overdo it without being too annoyed, and Ford said none of the info gathered to make the estimates will be used against warranty claims. 

"None of this information is being used for warranty purposes or to void any sort of warranty," said Josh Norwood, chassis engineer at Ford. 

The Smart Hitch feature is an extension of the payload measurement using the same four sensors, but for towing capacity. It's not easy to determine how much force the trailer tongue exerts on the hitch, which is why the estimated rule of thumb for tongue weight is 10-15% of the gross trailer weight—the weight of the trailer plus whatever is on the trailer.

For instance, if you're towing a 2,000 pound boat, and the trailer weighs another 1,000 pounds, the tongue weight would be 10-15% of that combined 3,000 pounds. Say you're conservative and don't want to tax your transmission, so you estimate 15% of tongue weight on the 3,000 pounds you're towing, then the tongue weight adds 450 pounds. It's significant. Especially if you have a crossover SUV rated to tow 3,500 pounds and you're towing 3,450 pounds.

2021 Ford F-150 tow technology

2021 Ford F-150 tow technology

The Smart Hitch estimates tongue weight to take the guessing out of the equation. Ford says it "provides guidance on weight distribution of hitch overloading" on the same three sources as Onboard Scales, via the touchscreen, app, or taillights. Any approved hitches from Ford or the aftermarket work, so you don't need to buy a special one. 

The last feature rolled out on the 2021 Ford F-150 comes from the luxury field of full-size SUVs, and already exists in the 2021 Ford Expedition King Ranch. On the F-150, Continuously Controlled Damping uses sensors to provide multiple inputs to a computer to adjust valves in the shocks to firm up the ride when hitting a pothole, for instance, or softening it for comfier cruising. In Tow/Haul mode, the damping smooths out the truck and trailer responses to road conditions, and provides more linear steering, Ford says.

Onboard Scales and Smart Hitch come bundled together for $650, and is available on XL trims and up, but other optional equipment might be necessary, Ford rep Andrew Surma said. On base XL trim, it requires the Max Trailer Tow Package and Ford Co-Pilot 2.0. On XLT and Lariat, you need to have the Max Trailer Tow Package. On King Ranch High and Platinum High, you need to buy the Continuously Controlled Damping feature for $695, but OBS/Smart Hitch come standard on Platinum, King Ranch, and Limited. 

The features will be available by June. 

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