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Ford Heavy Duty Transmissions – Which is the Best For Towing?

Ford Heavy Duty Transmissions – Which is the Best For Towing?

In this article we will discuss the three transmissions that Ford uses in their heavy-duty trucks, the 4R100, 5R110W, and the 6R140. At the end, we will logically compare and contrast the three transmissions until we come to a conclusion on which is best overall for towing/ hauling.


The 4R100 transmission is a heavy-duty unit that Ford introduced in 1988. It is an updated version of the E40D, its predecessor. This transmission is a crucial component of many of the popular Ford vehicles, such as the Ford Lightning, Ford E-series, Ford Super Duty, Ford Excursion, and Ford Expedition.

To follow the renaming schemes for its other transmissions, Ford renamed the E40D the 4R100. The 4R100 was available for 2wd and 4×4 applications from 1999-2003. It was mounted to the 7.3 V8 Power Stroke engine.

It was discovered that the 4R100 transmission, when exposed to increased torque load or overload, its performance was weakened which can hurt towing ability. Here are some additional issues that have been found in the 4R100 transmission.

  • The transmission slips when shifting gears
  • Fluid leaks from the front of the transmission
  • Hard shift when changing gears
  • Vehicle stalls in reverse
  • Transmission works only in reverse


The Ford Motor Company in Sharonville, Ohio, was the manufacturer of the 5R110W transmission. It was first introduced in the 2003 model year with the Ford F series trucks, then the International CF trucks in 2004, and the Ford LFC trucks in 2005. Production ended in 2010. The level four 5R110W comes with a reprogramming kit for better shifting and is regarded as their strongest transmission (good for towing and hauling).

For more holding power, Kolene steels and additional Alto Red Eagle clutches were added to the direct and forward clutch sets.

However, here are a few problems that have been identified with the 5R110W transmission.

  • Gear shifting delays
  • Unable to downshift
  • Engine continues to rev, even when the brakes are applied
  • Transmission gets stuck when in neutral
  • Shifting becomes choppy and rough


Ford manufactured the 6R140 in 2011 for use on their F-250 and F-350 line of Super Duty pickup trucks. The Ford 6R transmissions are modeled after the ZF6HP26 transmission and are considered the most powerful stock transmissions ever put into a passenger truck. Ford Motor Company manufactured it in their plant located in Michigan. The 6R debuted with the 2006 model year Mercury Mountaineer and Ford Explorer.

The 6R140 is an automatic transmission with six-speeds for lengthwise engine placement in rear-wheel drive vehicles. The Ford 6R140 transmission has been through extensive reliability and durability testing in Ford’s supercomputers, the lab, and the road, ensuring customer satisfaction. Extensive computer-aided engineering was done for improved efficiency in terms of reduced failures and time.

Rigorous testing ensures the powertrain and transmission are up to the challenge of the most demanding customers of the Super Duty truck. The 6R140 heavy-duty TorqShift six-speed transmission provides the customer with increased capability, control, and efficiency than in the past which helps remarkably with towing.

There have been some performance issues, however, having to do with the software that controls the gearbox. Due to this transmission’s complexity, it must be programmed a certain way to make sure everything works correctly. Some of the programming issues of the 6R140 include:

  • Forward or reverse gear engagement noticeably delayed
  • Harsh shifting
  • Seeking the proper gear
  • Slippage

Often these transmission issues can be fixed by reprogramming the ECU/TCM with the latest control software. But if a mechanical failure causes these issues, it may take an experienced mechanic to determine that. If you need basic technical information about your 6R140, check out this site’s rebuilt 6R140 transmissions,

Here are the top seven features of the 6R140 transmission that make it stand out over the others.

  • It works with Ford’s diesel and gas engines. The 6R140 is flexible and intelligent enough to accommodate the 6.7-liter diesel’s low-end grunt and the new 6.2 liter V8 gasser’s high-rev peak power. It adapts by using a different torque converter, friction paper, clutch plates, and scheduled software calibrations, depending on the motor.
  • Single-piece housing is used rather than multiple pieces bolted together. It results in a quieter design, lighter weight, and eliminates the possibility of fluid leaks.
  • Improved fuel economy is optimized. The 6R140 uses several technical methods to improve the mileage. One method is by using a lockup piston torque converter, closed. The torque converter in an automatic transmission does the same thing as a clutch in a manual.
  • If a driver wants custom control over the 6R140, they can switch from full automatic or tow/haul modes into manual modes or Progressive Range Select modes. Range Select is activated via a toggle on the shift lever, which allows the driver to reduce the range of available gears while in Drive.
  • Power Takeoff is used to power the auxiliary tools, like the generators, off of the engine.
  • The 6R140 uses a planetary gearset to carry engine torque. It doesn’t limit torque at launch, preserving the transmission hardware. It can also handle high shift speeds of the gas engine and high torque loads of the 6.7-liter diesel.
  • Over time, both large and small contaminants are removed from the transmission fluid extending its maintenance cycle to 150,000 miles. The filter, which is coarse-grained, cleans 90% of the gearbox’s transmission fluid, while the fine-grained filter cleans the remaining 10% continuously.

The transmission fluid used in the 6R140 has created a new standard so we will see Ford using the same transmission fluid for most of its vehicles regardless of the application going forward. Transmission fluid for the Ford F-250 Super Duty transmission will be the same as for the Ford Fusion sedan, Ford Escape, and the Ford F-150 half-ton pickup. They have done a lot of work to streamline the vehicles into using the same standard fluid.

After evaluating all of the information at hand about these three heavy-duty Ford transmissions, it is undeniable that the newest 6R140 transmission ranks as the best for towing/ hauling. All of the features talked about in this article in regards to the Ford 6R140 6-speed automatic transmission make it the best choice by far, and the most expensive too.


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by Dirk DeBie // Contributor to Businessing Magazine.

Opinions expressed by contributors are their own.