How Easy Is It to Use the F-150’s On-Board Scales and Smart Hitch?

‘Fess up, truck owners: How often have you “done the math” to verify payload weight before the front-end loader dumps a bucket of mulch, or a forklift deposits a pallet of paver stones into your half-ton pickup? We’ll bet you’ve never removed mulch or pavers to bring the load into compliance. And we’ve all seen those trucks towing trailers whose insane tongue-weights have their headlamps pointed at Venus. Well, starting now your 2021 Ford F-150 will take the guesswork out of this, with the truck’s new Onboard Scale w/Smart Hitch option.

How Do the Ford F-150’s On-Board Truck Scales Work?

Load-leveling sensors used by other systems measure the suspension’s deflection at each corner. Knowing the individual spring rates, the truck can infer how much load is thus pressing down on each corner. It then uses this information to graphically represent how much additional load you can put in the truck. Note that this method is not accurate to the ounce or pound; rather, the truck’s VIN-specific predetermined payload capacity is programmed at the factory and all loads are expressed as estimated amounts under or over that amount.

The feature is accessed via the truck icon at the bottom right of the infotainment system’s home screen, which brings up a screen with several menu items. Start by setting up the passenger-load reminder to ensure that the truck isn’t overloaded after you and any helpers climb back in the truck. The press of a button allows you to set the current weight as the “before” weight before anybody gets out of the truck and/or unloads anything. Or you can estimate the total weight of passenger and cargo items prior to loading the bed. Then when it comes time to load up, you can either watch a bar graph on the info screen or watch four LEDs in the center of the taillamps light up solid from the bottom up. The top one will flash if you overload the truck. A third option—really useful if you’re at home and a family member is loading the truck—is to monitor this feature on the Ford Pass app on your phone.

What Does the F-150’s Smart Hitch Function Do?

This feature utilizes the same sensors as the scales feature, but it helps ensure the trailer hitch’s tongue weight remains in spec. This is trickier because (at least for now) the user must somehow determine and program in the overall weight of the trailer. This feature is also accessed via the truck icon, and again the driver can choose to program a current loading state or estimate this total. Then the type of trailer hitch must be programmed (conventional, weight-distributing, gooseneck, or fifth wheel). Finally, it’s time to lower the trailer weight onto the hitch. The central infotainment screen or app can be used, or the driver can observe the taillight illumination, which blinks the lowermost lamp while underloaded, the topmost one if it’s overloaded, and hovers in the middle two when loaded properly.

Ford acknowledges that it’s possible the powertrain controller might one day be able to infer the total trailer weight based on the load the engine senses under acceleration. This will only ever be knowable after the trailer is hitched up, but it could prompt the driver to redistribute the load if the tongue-weight percentage is deemed to be off once a more accurate total trailer weight is determined.

What’s the Cost?

The feature is optional or standard on most F-150s except regular-cab short-box models. As a stand-alone feature, the cost is $650, but choosing this kit often forces additional options be added to your F-150. On the cheapest rear-drive XL regular-cab with an 8-foot box, adding the Onboard Scale w/Smart Hitch forces $8,470 worth of extra gear (pushing the truck’s total to $40,405). But on a more mainstream rear-drive Lariat SuperCab with the 6.5-foot-bed, adding the Onboard Scale w/Smart Hitch merely requires adding the Max Trailer Tow package ($1,995) and a $470 locking 3.55:1 axle. All of this also nabs a $500 package discount, bringing the net total cost to $2,615 (on a $49,855 truck).

Now the question is, will the ability to know whether or not one’s truck is overloaded prevent anyone from driving it that way?

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