How Far Can a Ford Lightning Tow an RV? Here’s How They Do the Math

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Range is a primary concern with anyone hoping to take an EV on a road trip– and that all-important range number can take a huge hit when you start to add in factors like additional weight and vehicle loads. That make an EV driver’s dependence on their range estimate that much more important, and getting that range estimate right will be the difference between a satisfied driver and one stuck on the side of the road. Ford understands this, and recently released a video explainer of how they calculate their F-150 Lightning towing range with a trailer.

How Ford Fixed This Problem For F-150 Lightning Buyers

Sensiba’s Story Time

When I bought my first EV with any kind of range that might work on a road trip, I fell into a trap. The 2018 Nissan LEAF was supposed to have a 150-mile range, so I initially thought that it could go an honest 150 miles on the highway. I quickly figured out that this just wasn’t how it worked. At all. I knew that speed and terrain affected the range you get with an EV, but I didn’t know just how much it could take away. In the past, my Chevrolet Volt switched to gas and my older LEAF was only something I drove to work and the grocery store. So, this was the first time I had to figure out just what to expect. Unlike a Tesla or the F-150 Lightning in the video, my base package LEAF has no trip planning software. It only has what many EV drivers call the “guess-o-meter,” which estimates your range for you. It mostly bases its range estimates on current speed, energy usage, and your past driving, but has no idea whether you’re about to drive across the plains or whether you’re about to go up or down a mountain.

I knew to find CHAdeMO stations on PlugShare, but I didn’t initially have any way to determine whether I’d make it to a station or not, and how much of a charge I’d need to make it happen (if possible). After experimenting with different things, I discovered A Better Route Planner, which I’ve found to be pretty accurate as long as Open Street Maps (ABRP gets its data from there) has the right speed limit data for a particular highway.

But, even with good data on speed, terrain, weather, and the vehicle’s efficiency, other variables can pop up and ruin your day. One of the big ones is towing, and you can’t be exactly sure how much of a hit a particular trailer and load will give you. A good rule of thumb is that you’ll lose half of your range towing, but if that turns out to be wrong and you take a bigger hit, you could end up stranded.

So, any company wanting to sell a serious pickup truck with a claimed tow rating needs to help their customers figure this out. That’s why Ford made it a priority. “We know many F-150 Lightning customers will be first-time electric vehicle owners who expect that familiar Built Ford Tough capability along with robust towing,” said Linda Zhang, chief engineer of the F-150 Lightning. “That’s why we created smart technologies to help take the worry out of towing long distances by giving customers more reliable and accurate range calculations, and then automatically locate charge points along the way, if needed.”

Ford not only asks you to enter data on your trailer, but also has a built-in scale to determine what kind of weight you’ve added to the hitch or into the bed (such as with a fifth wheel). It uses the weight data and the data you supply to give you an idea of whether you’ll make the destination, or where to charge to make sure you get there. More importantly, it adjusts its estimates on the fly based on data stored on Ford’s servers, including weather, past trips other F-150 Lightning owners have taken on your route (or similar routes) with a trailer, and tons of other data to give you a refined range estimate that you can actually count on.

I’m hoping we can convince Ford to let us tow with an F-150 Lightning sometime so we can see how all this works for ourselves, but it sounds like a robust system that can keep you from getting stuck on the side of the road with a big trailer and an empty battery.

Featured image by Ford

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Jennifer Sensiba

Jennifer Sensiba is a long time efficient vehicle enthusiast, writer, and photographer. She grew up around a transmission shop, and has been experimenting with vehicle efficiency since she was 16 and drove a Pontiac Fiero. She likes to get off the beaten path in her "Bolt EAV" and any other EVs she can get behind the wheel or handlebars of with her wife and kids. You can find her on Twitter here, Facebook here, and YouTube here.

Jennifer Sensiba has 1948 posts and counting. See all posts by Jennifer Sensiba