The 2021 Ford F-150 will tell you when you overload your truck

·3 min read

Midway through the run of the 2021 F-150, Ford managed to sneak in a few options that weren't quite fully baked when the updated truck first went on sale last fall. While they were announced back in April, Ford was only recently able to demo the new Onboard Scales and Smart Hitch – two features that came about as the byproduct of an updated electronic architecture engineered to enable an adaptive suspension system which Ford calls "Continuously Controlled Damping."

Ford took the same extra-mile approach here as it did with the PowerBoost hybrid – looking for ways to exploit the new platform apart from the obvious. In this case, it resulted in two handy features for people who use their trucks for more than just commuting. We get it; neither sounds particularly sexy, but underneath the Microsoft-y naming convention are a couple of clever gadgets truck owners might actually find useful.

Onboard Scales is about as clever as features come, and it solves what Ford says is one of the most common mistakes made by truck owners: incorrectly estimating how much they can safely haul. Onboard Scales uses those chassis-mounted sensors to measure suspension load at each corner, which it translates into total weight and spits out in a new Sync 4 app, allowing you to monitor the truck's total weight against its maximum payload rating to make sure you're within a reasonably safe operating window.

The system takes a lot of guesswork out of loading the truck, and remember, it's not just about the weight in the bed. Passengers count against your total too, and you can plug in a passenger offset to let the truck know you plan to add another couple hundred pounds of human being before all is said and done. Don't want to constantly walk around to the front of the truck to see how close you're getting to max? No problem. The F-150's tail lights incorporate LED progress bars that will show how much you've loaded so far; the top one blinks when you've exceeded your target (or the maximum payload capacity).

That's not the only way weight can get you in trouble in a pickup, though, and that's where Smart Hitch comes in. Smart Hitch does for trailer weight distribution what Onboard Scales does for Payload. The Smart Hitch setup in Sync 4 requires you to enter your trailer's total weight in order for the system to function. Once that's in, it will display the current weight on the hitch along with the minimum and maximum safe tongue weights for your trailer specifications. It'll even walk you through using a weight-distributing hitch if you've never set one up.

As you adjust the trailer load, Smart Hitch updates the display in real time, and like Onboard Scales, it will show you how you're doing using LEDs on the rear of the truck. The lower lights enable to let you know the tongue weight is too low; upper ones indicate it's too high. If you're in the middle, you're golden. Adjusting the load in an enclosed trailer? You can access the dash information from a smartphone app too. No need to walk outside to check on your progress.

Smart Hitch does have its limitations. While it could easily calculate total trailer weight, the truck would have to be in motion for it that to happen, as the computer would have to extrapolate it from the load placed on the engine while underway (accounting for things like ambient temperature, altitude, surface incline, etc.). In short, it could be done with some degree of precision, but how much value does that information have if the driver has already pulled out into traffic?

Onboard Scales and Smart Hitch are bundled together in a package available on multiple F-150 grades. Depending on which grade you choose and how you spec the truck, you may need to add one of the F-150's tow packages to get the goodies.

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