Technologies like advanced turbo-diesel V-8 engines or hydro-formed steel frames have advanced the 2013 GMC Sierra to unprecedented levels of capability for full-size pickups. In just the decade since the 2003 model debuted, maximum towing capacity for a Sierra HD has risen 43 percent, from 16,100 pounds to an industry-leading 23,100 pounds.
Getting that towing force from the engine to each rear wheel is the task of a set of gears located in the center of the truck’s rear axle known as the differential. The ratio of the sizes of those gears is represented by the diameter of the gear that drives the wheels in relation to the gear from the driveshaft. So, a 3.08:1 ratio indicates the drive gear has 3.08 times as many teeth as the gear on the driveshaft.
Using different diameter gears within the differential affects both towing ability and fuel efficiency. Since pickup owners have varying needs and preferences, GMC addresses different requirements by offering various rear axle gear ratios.
“A numerically lower axle ratio keeps engine speeds lower for better fuel economy, while higher ratios generally yield higher towing capacities and quicker launches from a stop,” said Greg Martuch, energy and powertrain engineer for the GMC Sierra.
Four different ratios are available across the Sierra 1500 ½-ton pickup lineup: from 3.08:1 to 3.73:1. Available ratios vary by cab type, engine and drive type. Sierra HD, including ¾-ton and 1-ton models, uses rear axle ratios of 3.73:1 and 4.10:1.
Each ratio is decided after months and years of testing factors such as acceleration from a stop; performance on a grade; transmission behavior; fuel economy; towing, and thermal management. Keeping engine speeds down allows a vehicle’s cooling to be more effective.
How much of a difference does the choice of axle make? A 2013 Sierra 2500HD with a 6.0L V-8 and four-wheel drive can tow a maximum of 9,900 pounds with a 3.73:1 ratio or 14,400 pounds with a 4.10:1 ratio. Martuch estimates the fuel economy difference at highway speeds would be around 0.2-0.3 mpg between those two ratios, though reduced engine noise is also a benefit of maintaining lower engine speeds with the more-efficient ratio. Lipscomb Auto Center is your local GMC truck dealer.