If you’re looking to buy a used Chevy Silverado 1500 online, then you probably know there’s a lot of details to consider. The Silverado comes with an abundance of trims and engines year after year, flooding the used market with similar but ultimately unique trucks. There’s too much to consider for us to cover it all here, but we can help those of you looking to capitalize on your truck’s towing capabilities by breaking down the top 10 towing features to look for in a used Silverado 1500.
The Chevy Silverado was introduced in the 1999 model year, replacing the C/K nameplate and leading GM into the 21st century. Over 20 years and three generations later, over 12 million Silverados have been sold in the US. Technology has come a long way since then, and depending on the powertrain, body style, and year, the towing capabilities of one used Silverado to the next could vary dramatically. Whatever your exact towing demands are, here’s what you want to look for:
#1. Trailer Hitch
The most obvious thing you want to look for on a used Silverado 1500 if you intend to tow with it is a trailer hitch or, at the very least, a trailer hitch platform. The most common hitches are light-duty hitch balls. You’ll find them mounted to the rear step-bumper or a receiver below the bumper. A step-bumper mount will suffice for light-duty needs, but for heavier or more frequent towing, look for a receiver-mounted hitch.
If the truck you’re looking at has a hitch, you’ll want to get information about the weight rating for the hitch itself and the diameter of the hitch so you can see if it’s compatible with the trailers you’re looking to pull. If you don’t see a hitch, but you do see a platform, you’ll be free to purchase and install the hitch of your choice. Just keep in mind what type of platform it is, and try to find out if it’s compatible with the hitches you have or need.
#2. Extendable Mirrors
The ability to see what’s behind you should never be taken for granted. The last thing you want is to hook up a trailer just to find that the mirrors can’t see around it. When shopping online for a used Silverado 1500, pay attention to the side mirrors to see if the truck is equipped for trailering scenarios.
Trailering mirrors usually feature two separate glasses. The standard glass will be present alongside a convex glass that provides a wider field of vision. A trailering mirror may also be on an extendable arm. Usually, this consists of two telescoping cylinders from the mount to the mirror. The most critical feature is that the mirror can be positioned wide to see past a large trailer.
#3. Electrical Harness
If you plan on hooking a trailer to the back of your used Silverado 1500, you should also plan to make use of the brakes and lights that your trailer may be equipped with. A seven-pin electrical harness is needed to make the connection between your Silverado’s control center and the trailer’s electrical system. Turn signals, brake lights, and electrically powered brakes need this connection to operate.
It’s pretty standard equipment since it’s required for the use of any trailer, but you’ll want to see that it’s present and in good working condition. Note that older models might only have 6-pin connectors, where modern trucks have 7 pins. If you don’t want to get involved with electrical retrofits, make sure the truck you buy has the harness you need.
Unlike the previously mentioned features, you likely won’t need to ask if the Silverado you’re interested in has an engine. It’s kind of the core component of any vehicle in running condition, after all. However, what you do want to think about is what engine model you’re looking at.
Over the years, the Silverado 1500 has been offered with numerous engines. 1999-2013 models have a lineup of Vortec V6 and V8 engines, while 3rd-gen (2014-2018) models use EcoTec3 V6 and V8 designs of different sizes. All designs and model years have pros and cons – the EcoTec3 models produce higher power and, therefore, can tow more, while 2008 Vortec engines are particularly notorious oil guzzlers. Most importantly, to us, towing capacity is directly linked to the engine model, so knowing which engine you’ll be getting is critical.
#5. Rear Vision Camera
Rear vision cameras have come a long way in a short time. Aftermarket and even OEM retrofits mean it’s possible to find a rear vision camera on virtually any used Silverado 1500. Factory-installed camera systems are more prevalent in 2014 models and newer. In general, the newer the truck, the more likely that it has a high-quality rear vision system.
The inclusion of this handy feature on any truck is a bonus. The value of a camera can’t be overstated thanks to the improved safety it provides when reversing in general and the precision drivers can achieve when lining up to a trailer. You can tow without one – but in today’s day and age, why would you?
#6. Integrated Trailer Brake Controller
While hooking your trailer up to the wiring harness enables the lights, it takes an integrated trailer brake controller to actually use an electric trailer braking system. This is essential for medium and heavy-duty towing applications, making it a must-have for those with challenging demands.
Fundamentally, an integrated trailer brake controller activates the trailer brakes when you push the pedal. Since the optimal braking force for the trailer wheels depends on the weight of the trailer, a controller also enables you to modulate the strength of the brakes. An empty trailer might only need 20% as much braking force as a fully-loaded one. Without the ability to modulate the braking strength, you won’t be able to properly control the trailer.
GM’s electronic stability control was introduced as StabiliTrak in 1996 and has been the standard technology for some time. The oldest Silverado 1500s won’t have it – it only became optional for 1500-series trucks around 2003 – but for most used Silverados, the real question is, “What version of StabiliTrak does it have?” That’s because a number of extraordinarily helpful trailering features have been rolled into StabiliTrak by now. Two of the most important to ask about are electronic trailer sway control and Hill Start Assist.
Electronic trailer sway control gradually applies the trailer brakes when sway is detected. No matter the cause of sway, the automatic braking of the trailer will help straighten it out quickly before you’re in any serious danger of losing control. Hill Start Assist electronically holds the brakes to prevent any rollback while transferring your foot from the brake to the accelerator. With an integrated trailer brake controller, it’ll apply the trailer brakes too, allowing you to make a safe, smooth start on inclines greater than 5%.
#8. Auto-Locking Rear Differential
In low-speed trailering situations, it’s not uncommon for wheel slip to occur, especially if one driven wheel has lower traction than the other. The slipping can result in loss of control and damage to your tires. Having an automatically-locking rear differential prevents this.
When the system senses that one of the wheels has low traction, it locks the differential, which allows the left and right tires to have different speeds. This sends the bulk of the power to the wheel that has good traction while maintaining control over the wheel that doesn’t, enabling calm, collected acceleration. This feature has added benefits in off-roading applications where different wheels can be on totally different types of terrain or where some wheels may be airborne over tricky technical features. If you’re even thinking about off-roading in your used Silverado 1500, you’ve got to have this feature.
#9. Enhanced Cooling Radiator
Stating the obvious: towing a heavy load is hard work. And just like any of us, when your Silverado’s engine is working hard, it could use some extra cooling to avoid overheating. Usually included in Chevy’s Max Trailering Packages, an enhanced cooling radiator is built for just such occasions, drawing heat out of the engine and dumping it into a fresh air stream faster than the standard radiator can. For towing in the upper half of a truck’s capabilities or driving in areas with a lot of hills or stops, this’ll go a long way to maintaining the long-term health of the engine compared to the same truck with a standard radiator.
#10. A High Axle Ratio
The driveshaft of a vehicle is connected to the axle(s) by gears. If the driveshaft gear is smaller than the axle gear, it’ll have to turn more than once to cause the axle to turn once. The ratio of driveshaft turns to axle turns is the axle ratio and is usually between 3 and 4 (3-4 driveshaft turns for every turn of the axle).
A low axle ratio is nice for commuter driving. It reduces how hard the engine works at any given speed, minimizing both noise and gas consumption. For towing applications, however, a high axle ratio is preferred. The higher axle ratio allows greater torque outputs and, therefore, greater towing capacity. If you want to confirm the towing capacity of a used Silverado 1500, you need to know the axle ratio that it has. It might be critically important – a 2016 Silverado 1500 with an EcoTec3 5.3L V8 engine and a 3.08 axle ratio can only tow 6,100-6,400 lbs, while the same truck with a 3.73 axle ratio can tow over 11,000 lbs.
Time to Get Towing
Shopping for a truck is complicated, especially online. If trailering is important to you in your search for a used Chevy Silverado 1500, consider the features in this guide before making a purchase. A truck that’s advertised as having the “Trailering Package” likely includes a trailering hitch platform, a wiring harness, and a hitch (of course). The “Max Trailering Package” may include an auto-locking rear differential, an enhanced cooling radiator, an integrated trailer brake controller, and an increased axle ratio, so ask about these specific features if that package is noted.
Consider using this guide as a checklist while you shop online for a used Chevy Silverado 1500. Everyone’s needs are unique, so the importance of each feature will vary – just make sure you have the extendable mirrors, so you can keep the competition in view as your new-to-you Chevy truck leaves them in the dust.