Automakers often brag about the towing abilities of their pickups, encouraging shoppers to believe that their vehicles could safely pull almost anything.
The towing claims are effective, moving heavy metal in the single most profitable product segment in the auto industry.
They are also highly dubious. All but one pickup manufacturer refuse to follow standardized towing-capacity tests they all agreed four years ago to adopt for 2013 models -- test procedures that would lower the towing capacity ratings they now claim.
Instead, automakers follow their own test regimens and advertise claims that could encourage customers to push their vehicles beyond safe limits in terms of stopping and control.
The years-long industry effort to develop a voluntary, verifiable, common towing standard is stuck -- trapped by automakers afraid to disarm unilaterally in the middle of a pitched pickup PR battle.
The SAE's J2807 towing test standard, adopted by automakers in 2009 and scheduled to go into effect for all pickups in the 2013 model year, now is being followed in the segment only by Toyota.
What the standardized test procedures mean for a manufacturer is this: If you want to claim that your pickup tows a certain amount of weight, it must do so under the precise conditions spelled out in the standard.
Chrysler Group, General Motors, and segment leader Ford Motor Co. have backed away from their commitments to test their pickups in compliance with the standard. Like Cold War superpowers, they cite a distrust that their competitors will reciprocate among the reasons to delay their agreement from four years ago.
"The customers are the ones that are the biggest losers here," said Mark Williams, editor of Pickuptrucks.com, which has championed the common standard and railed against the failure to implement it. "In the truck world, we understand pissing matches.
"But this isn't about bragging rights. This is about benefiting the people you supposedly serve and making sure they are using your product safely."