Keeping pace in the marketplace isn’t just about updating the styling on vehicles; even more important is developing new features for them. The AutoTrader Awards have recognized Ford’s Onboard Scales with Smart Hitch as the Best New Technology Innovation for 2023.
Some might argue that it’s not precisely “new,” since Ford announced this new technology a year earlier. However, due mainly to supply-chain shortages, our jury of 20 expert automotive journalists had to wait to see what it was all about. It’s the second time in a row that Ford has taken this trophy. Last year, our inaugural award went to the automaker’s Pro Power Onboard inverter in the F-150, which can be used to run power tools and appliances.
Likewise, Onboard Scales with Smart Hitch is offered on the F-150 as a helpmate for loading and towing. The scale measures how much cargo you’ve put into the bed, while the hitch indicates the tongue weight of the trailer you’ve attached.
These innovations are important because many people choose trucks over cars and SUVs because they need to tow or haul. The issue is that it may not always be easy to determine if you’re doing it right, especially if you’re relatively new to trucks, as many buyers are.
When automakers advertise maximum towing or payload capacity, they’re generally referring to the highest numbers across the entire lineup. But capacity depends on several factors, including engine, transmission, cab configuration and options, and the truck you’ve bought may have a maximum capacity that’s several hundred pounds lower than the advertised weight. Overloading a truck affects its braking and handling, and it can be dangerous to drive it that way.
Onboard Scales measures how much is being loaded into the truck as it’s being packed in, and has three ways of letting you know how you stand in relation to that particular truck’s maximum payload. The information is available through the truck’s centre screen, on your phone through the FordPass app, or with the “smart” taillights. There’s a vertical LED light bar that progressively illuminates until all four lights are lit up, indicating the payload limit has been reached. If you pack in too much, the top light blinks to indicate overloading. The scale can also be set back to zero while you’re using it, so you can weigh any additional items as you add them to the load.
The Smart Hitch also uses the centre screen, phone app, or taillights, calculating a trailer’s tongue weight and indicating if it’s too heavy or light, and the load needs to be rebalanced on the trailer. If necessary, it can provide information to help adjust a weight-distributing hitch.
The genius of the two systems is that they are preprogrammed to the payload and towing capacity of that particular truck, rather than – for example – any average F-150 SuperCrew 4x4 truck. It’s also very helpful that the taillights work with it, so you can check as you’re loading the truck, without having to stop and climb in to see the centre screen, or grab your phone for the app. It’s important that these features take into account exactly how people work with their trucks.
These two technologies take much of the guesswork out of towing and hauling, whether owners are new to trailering, or have been hitching and loading trucks for many years. For usefulness and ease of use, Smart Scales with Smart Hitch was a winner with our jury for our Best New Technology Innovation.