Press Preview: Ford F-150 “Pro Trailer Backup Assist” Demonstration
Odometer (Vigor): 104,556
Odometer (ILX): 140,793
Shout out to my buddy Cody from Random Drive for the sweet Drive to Five logo!
For a couple of summers in the mid-1990’s, my family spent most weekends at the lakes near our home in southern Utah. We’d load up my dad’s 1994 Ford F-150 with as much gear as it could handle, latch on our two Yamaha WaveRunners, and crawl into that teeny extended cab for a ride over to Lake Mead or Lake Powell. Even then, before I was a license-holder, I noted in appreciation how handy my dad was at driving with a trailer full of toys.
Hey, check out those shades! Man, I was a nerd. Still am?
The winner of all trailer-towing competitions was most definitely our friend Mike. He drove this TWO-TRAILER “train” to Lake Powell once with his PowerStroke Ford 3/4-ton pickup. What is the overall length of this thing?
Quad cab (long bed!) full size pickup + massive Maxim boat + dual jet ski trailer. How did he ever get that all down the road?
If you’re like me, you might get a little anxiety when asked to back up a truck & trailer. It doesn’t happen very often, but when it does, it can take multiple attempts to get it just right – and it can lead to a little frustration, not to mention embarrassment. Imagine showing up at the boat ramp and wiping out against the dock or completely miscalculating the water entry angle.
“Trailer backing” is not something taught in any Driver’s Ed class that I’m aware of, so for many of us, the first time we were dealt that task was in a real-world situation. Ford has gone to the drawing board with this problem and developed a solution.
That solution is called Pro Trailer Backup Assist (PTBA). Step by step:
- The trailer is connected to the truck (Ford has developed technologies to help with even this aspect, including a multitude of cameras that lessen the need for a “spotter.”
- The dimensions of the trailer are loaded into the truck’s computer – it allows multiple “saved” trailers which can be named. i.e. “Boat” or “Cargo.”
- A checkerboard-like sticker is placed facing upward on the tongue of the trailer. This is scanned/read by a rear-facing camera on the tailgate of the pickup.
- From “Park,” the driver engages PTBA via a button mounted on the lower instrument panel.
- Using mirrors, the back-up camera, and the old fashioned “turn your head around” method, the driver removes his or her hands from the steering wheel, shifts into reverse, and allows the truck to idle backward.
- Trailer direction is controlled via the dash-mounted dial – right to turn the trailer right, left to turn the trailer left. The truck’s wheel spins on its own – quickly at times – to make needed adjustments. Releasing the dial entirely causes it to center again and back the trailer straight rearward in its current line.
How’d I do? Well, my training was limited. I started out by playing a touch-screen “game” inside the tent where I used my fingers to direct a backing-up F-150. I passed that test without destroying a truck or trailer, so walked outside feeling pretty confident.
“Which one do you want to back up?” asked Nick from Ford’s agency. I scanned the parking lot. My choices were: ATV trailer, small travel trailer, larger travel trailer, or… on the horizon, I saw the big enchilada: a 22-foot-long “Supra” ski boat. Yes, that’s the one I wanted.
I saddled up inside a white “Limited” trim level F-150 for my real-world demonstration. When Ford says “Limited,” it’s true. The VIN / production number of the trunk is printed on a placard atop the center console. But exactly how many “Limiteds” will be sold? Ford representatives didn’t know. The truck rings in at around $60,000 as-equipped and is powered by a powerful yet fuel-efficient V6 “Ecoboost” engine. Tech specs aside, the purpose of Tuesday’s exercise was to experience Ford’s PTBA system in a controlled environment.
Nick joined me in the cab of the pickup and I performed a couple of “un-assisted” backing exercises. It took a bit to get my bearings, but I sorta-kinda got the hang of it. I didn’t try anything too technical, though. “Now,” Nick said, “Turn on the backup assist.” I followed his instructions and got rolling. It’s pretty intuitive, that little dial. The degree to which I turned it would correspond with the severity to which the trailer would cut left or right. And the good news is that even when you go “hard” with the dial and crank it full-tilt, it still won’t let the trailer jackknife. Somehow, Ford’s engineers have thought of everything. (And it’s earned them 5 patents)
So, with some level of skill, I managed to back that ski boat into a narrow parking space at a 90-degree angle. And with that, I was awarded a short video for my efforts and a keychain & baseball cap as parting gifts. Thanks, Ford, for showing me the latest in truck tech!
LOOK AT ME GO!
Hope everyone is having a great holiday weekend! I just got back in town from Hollywood, CA in the ILX (full write-up to come).
I had the chance to get these two out for a lap around the block this evening.
Happy Labor Day!