2016 Ford F-150 Pro Trailer Backup Assist
Ford Tech Will have You Backing A Trailer Like A Pro
We’ve seen it a hundred times: A novice trailer tower gets into a situation where he or she needs to back up the truck with a trailer attached. Before selecting “R” on the transmission shifter, there is a long pause while they try to mentally prepare for what comes next. The grip on the steering wheel tightens, knuckles turn white, pupils dilate, sweat starts to form on the brow, and the mental game of which way to turn the wheel starts to creep into their driving psyche. Sometime we’ve even seen them give up, only to have someone with more experience take the reigns of the truck and trailer to great relief.
Ford, having heard the desperate cries from novice truck owners everywhere, has developed a new technology where backing a trailer no longer has to be an intimidating part of truck ownership. Thanks to the latest advancement in truck technology, Ford’s new trailer backing assistant is on the way to make backing a trailer as easy as pulling one.
After eight years of in-house development and multiple patents, the trailer tech that debuted on the Atlas concept is finally ready for the prime time. Marketed as Pro Trailer Backup Assist and launching on the 2016 Ford F-150 in all trim levels as part of the trailer tow package (save for the XL, where it can be had a la carte), Ford’s latest technology will allow anyone the ability to safely and competently backup a trailer.
Utilizing the backup camera, electric steering, and some other sensors, Pro Trailer Backup Assist adds a sole control knob above the trailer brake controller to interior of the truck. After a brief setup with a trailer, the system is engaged using the on/off button in the center of the control knob. Once ready, it’s as easy as working the throttle and brake, while steering with the knob – hands completely off the wheel. The system has the ability to keep a trailer backing up straight, despite bumpy or crowned surfaces, and will steer the truck, based on the driver’s inputs to the knob. If released, the knob returns to center and will straighten out the trailer and tow vehicle.
To protect the truck and trailer, Pro Trailer Backup Assist incorporates safeguards that will prevent the trailer from getting into an angle that can’t be recovered from and saving the rig from a jackknife situation or from going too fast. The system also detects hands on the wheel and sensing a driver intervention, will return full manual control to the driver immediately.
The technology works by attaching a special sticker “target” on the tongue of the trailer, then applying four crucial measurements used in the Pro Trailer Backup Assist algorithm. The measurements are: 1. The distance from the license plate to the center of the ball 2. The distance from the ball to the sticker 3. The distance from the camera lens to the center of the sticker 4. The distance from tailgate to the center of axle (or pivot point of multi-axle trailers) These measurements are entered through the Driver Information Center and once completed are assigned to a trailer that can be named by the driver.
A crucial part of the system, the supplied sticker, might not look like much but is an engineering marvel in its own right. Designed to be effective in all weather and light conditions, the sticker features both matte and gloss finishes on it and has even undergone extensive durability testing against peeling, cracking, and even UV fading. It will be interesting to see how the industry responds, as we can see trailer manufacturers including the sticker on new trailers if the technology takes off. Incidentally Ford will provide you will six stickers from the factory, while the truck will remember up to 10 trailers. As of now, Pro Trailer Backup Assist doesn’t work with gooseneck trailers, but we expect that to change in the near future, perhaps even by the time the all-new Super Duty launches next year.
We had a brief stint in a ’16 F-150 prototype where we had the chance to back up a 3,200-pound MasterCraft boat and trailer down a launching ramp. With years of trailer experience, it took us a few tries to break ourselves of old habits. The best advice we have is to get into the mindset of driving the trailer, rather that steering the trailer with the tow vehicle. Simply turn the knob the direction you want the trailer to go and the F-150 will do the rest. After a few tries, we had it down and were amazed at how fast the system can turn the wheel to compensate for road imperfections and place the trailer exactly where the driver is aiming. We should also mention that a novice driver, with no towing experience whatsoever, was able to hop in and nail backing the trailer next to the dock on the first try.
With a host of technologies to make the work side of truck ownership less intimidating, Ford has another worthwhile advancement with Pro Trailer Backup Assist. We can see this being a huge selling point, not only for those who tow regularly but for casual towers, fleet operators, and those who have another driver in the household that tows, but with reduced comfort level behind the wheel. Pro Trailer Backup Assist is just one more compelling reason to consider the F-150 when shopping for new trucks. Check out this video demonstrating the system below.