So you’ve thought about your towing vehicle, below Steve Henkel’s book “Boat Trailers and Tow Vehicles a User’s Guide” is a great resource to explore some of the specifications necessary for a good tow vehicle. He discusses below:
Suitability of Hitch Attachment Points
Certain cars have easy-to-bolt-on hitches that can be obtained through trailer
retailers from aftermarket suppliers like Hitch World (a U-Haul subsidiary).
Reese, Draw-Tite, or Da’Lan (a foreign car and truck hitch specialist). Other cars
won’t fit any off-the-shelf hitches known to man. If you happen to own one of
these “nothing fits” automobiles, you may have a problem with no easy solution.
In some cases (such as with the 1989 Jeep Cherokee) the only right way is to
order the hitch to be factory-installed when the car is built. To be safe, check
hitch requirements and availability before you buy your new tow vehicle.
Incidentally, unless you want to risk voiding your auto warranty, forget using
a bumper hitch on any new car. Before the days of shock-absorbing bumpers,
bumper hitches were extensively used for light and medium loads, since they
were easy to install and inexpensive. But today such hitches are not recommended except for the very lightest loads, and in several states all bumper hitches are banned.
Truck hitches are something else again; “step hitches” mounted on a step at
the center of the bumper of many light trucks are not considered bumper hitches in the usual sense.
Suitable Trailer Hitch and Ball Configuration
Hitch and ball size and type vary according to the size and type of load to be
towed. See Figure 3-17 for the classifications you can choose from, and see
Chapter 7 for a discussion of the wide variety of hitch and ball types available.
Length between front and rear wheels affects steering and traction. The longer
the wheelbase, the better for towing, all other things being equal. Example: A
heavy tongue weight on a short-wheelbase vehicle such as a Honda Civic (not
recommended for towing) can wreck the car’s handling characteristics.
High Engine Power and Torque at Relatively Low RPM
Any tow vehicle’s engine should have sufficient horsepower and torque to
accelerate promptly when entering a highway and to climb the steepest hills
expected to be encountered without having to reduce speed excessively. Power
should be obtainable at moderate engine speeds to avoid constant downshifting.
That usually means having an engine that derives extra power from a large cylinder displacement, rather than a turbocharger to boost power. In fact, some manufacturers (e.g. Saab and Chrysler) recommend against using turbocharged
engines on tow vehicles.
Rear-Wheel Versus Front-Wheel Drive
FWD cars have more weight on the front wheels and less on the back wheels
compared with RWD cars. And weight distribution how the car weight and
the tongue weight are distributed between front and rear wheels- affects traction, steering, and ability of the car to absorb the extra load of the trailer. With
typical vehicle weight on the back wheels of only 36 or 37% for FWD vehicles
(vs. 44 or 45% for RWD models), the FWD cars have less traction to pull big
loads, especially on steep grades (such as launching ramps) where weight distribution is shifted off the front wheels and onto the back ones. It’s largely for this reason that Chrysler Corporation rates even most of its big cars to tow a maximum of only 2,000 pounds.
Drive Gear Ratio
The so-called axle ratio (i.e. the number of engine revolutions made for each
revolution of the drive wheels) affects rear-wheel torque: The higher the ratio
the faster the engine is turning for a given road speed, and the higher the
Higher ratios give greater pep and pulling power, but poorer gas economy.
ATF (automatic transmission fluid), transaxle lube, power steering fluid, engine
oil, engine coolant- all can heat up more than usual when subjected to the
adverse conditions of towing a heavy trailer. Manufacturers of vehicles designed
for such heavy-duty conditions offer special cooling equipment as options.
Some cars have higher-capacity brakes than others, and vehicles towing big
loads may need trailer brakes to help control the combined moving mass of both
vehicles. Most states require trailer brakes for loads over 3,000 pounds (see
Appendix 1). But five states- and many automakers- require trailer brakes
on some models for loads over a piddling 1,000 pounds.
Fat and thick tires with a wide tread area provide not only better traction, but a
margin of safety where heavy loads are involved. They’re recommended for towing by some manufacturers, required by others.
Possible Manufacturer’s Liability
Some car makers seem more sensitive than others to the possibility of lawsuits if
something should go wrong while one of their cars is towing a trailer. I asked
one corporate auto marketer whose cars seemed to be at least the equal of other
brands rated for 1,000 to 2,000 pounds why his weren’t recommended for towing
at all. “In this day and age,” he responded, “the whole hang-up is liability. We
may change our minds later, but for now, we just don’t want to take a chance.”
The moral of this story is that, if you try towing a trailer without first checking your owner’s manual and warranty, you could be in for big trouble. With the
new closer-to-the-limit car designs, car makers say that towing a load that’s too
heavy might overheat and consequently damage engine, transmission, and
brakes, and could overstress tires, damage suspension, cause steering problems, or scrape the muffler and rear end as the car bottoms out on the road. And low powered engines might mean having to slow down on grades to the point that the car’s a menace to traffic.
How can you avoid the problems of towing with an underrated vehicle? First
figure out how much load you have to tow. The tables in Chapter 3 will give you
an approximate gross trailer weight for various boat lengths, But note: These are just guidelines. Your boat and trailer weights are likely to vary from these figures; better check your registration papers or sales literature for exact numbers.
And don’t forget to add a couple of hundred pounds for miscellaneous gear
stowed aboard the boat while trailering.
Then consult Appendix 2 to find which cars are rated to tow how big a load, and which are not recommended for any towing. Caution: The list covers most
makes and models, including vans and pickup trucks, but is not complete. Check
your vehicle dealer if you can’t find the machine you’re looking for in Appendix 2.
Finally, be sure to use a car that’s fully suited to the towing task at hand, as
determined by the people who should know, the manufacturers. Judging from
my experience, you can’t always rely on what the salesman says. In researching
the data for Appendix 2, for example, I was given incorrect tow rating information by five different sales and customer service representatives for five different
vehicle brands. Consequently, your best bet is to check the manufacturer’s literature rather than just asking the salesman. You’ll almost always find detailed trailer towing information in the owner’s manual (usually available for study in the showroom simply for the asking), if it’s not spelled out in the usual sales brochures on the racks in the showroom. In summary: These days you can’t assume that any heavy car with a big engine is suitable to tow a trailer. There are many factors beyond weight and power that affect towing capacity. But if you use care and diligence in picking your new tow car, you’ll get years of boat-trailering pleasure in return.