Whether you’re transporting a dirt bike to the trails, or taking heavy garbage to the dump, chances are you’ll want to do some towing at some point in your life. Most modern cars are reasonably well-equipped for the job, but it’s important to know your limits if you want to tow safely.
To help you wrap your head around the surprisingly complex world of towing capacity, we’ve assembled this handy guide. Below, we discuss everything you need to know about towing capacity; from basic definitions, to important safety information, to which vehicles are up to the task of towing. Hopefully, armed with this information, you’ll be one step closer to safe and effective towing.
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What is Towing Capacity?
A vehicle’s towing capacity is simply the weight it is capable of pulling along. Usually given in pounds, the figure provides a rough point of reference for how much each vehicle will be able to tow. It’s a useful figure, and being aware of it will ensure that you don’t tow more than you should, risking your own safety and that of other road users.
However, because vehicle manufacturers want to make their products look as powerful as possible, the towing capacity they list may not be the whole story. This number is typically a best case scenario, factoring in a host of optional upgrades to elements such as the suspension or powertrain. Even with these upgrades, the towing capacity listed may not be achievable without specific aftermarket gear, such as a gooseneck trailer or weight-distribution hitch.
In summary, although a vehicle’s towing capacity is a useful piece of information to have, it should be taken with a pinch of salt.
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Other Important Definitions
Towing capacity isn’t the only measure of a vehicle’s ability to pull a trailer. Below, we define some important towing terms, to help you pierce through the jargon:
- Hitch Weight
First of all, we’ll tackle the question “what is hitch weight?”. Hitch weight is the amount of weight a trailer’s hitch can safely handle. As you’ve probably guessed, not all hitches can handle the same load, so it’s important to check out your hitch rating before attaching anything.
- Hitch Rating
As you probably know, a hitch is the metal frame attached to the bottom of a vehicle, at its rear end, providing a mounting point for trailers. Hitches fall into different rating categories, based on how much weight they can handle. Class 1 hitches can take up to 200 pounds of weight, making them suitable for small trailers and bike racks, while class 5 hitches can handle up to 1,700 pounds – perfect for multi-car trailers and even boats. Between these two extremes are classes 2, 3, and 4. Knowing your vehicle’s hitch rating gives you a good idea of which towing applications it can cope with.
Payload refers to anything you place in a vehicle or – whether that’s passengers, furniture, luggage, or groceries.
- Gross Trailer Weight
Gross trailer weight, or GRW, refers to the total weight of both a trailer and its contents. Knowing your GRW is vital if you’re to choose the correct class of hitch for your towing needs.
- Tongue Weight
Often abbreviated to TW, tongue weight is the force that a trailer’s tongue exerts on the ball hitch of the towing vehicle. Ideally, 10% – 15% of the trailer’s total weight (GTW) should press down on the tongue. If the tongue weight is too light, a vehicle’s back end can actually lift during transit, making for highly dangerous trailer sway. Conversely, too much tongue weight can cause the towing vehicle’s back end to droop, impacting braking, visibility, and handling. You can measure tongue weight yourself using a specially designed scale.
- Gross Vehicle Weight Rating
Usually abbreviated to GVWR, a gross vehicle weight rating is the heaviest weight at which a vehicle can safely operate. All vehicles will be loaded with fuel, cargo, and passengers at some point, so having a GVWR to bear in mind ensures you don’t overload it. If we compare GVWR vs towing capacity, the former refers to the total weight which a vehicle itself can accommodate, while the latter describes the total weight it is capable of towing.
- Gross Combined Vehicle Weight Rating
GCVWR is the maximum weight that a loaded vehicle, combined with its loaded trailer, can safely be. Knowing this rating will help to ensure that you don’t overload your vehicle or trailer.
You’ll be able to find your vehicle’s towing capacity, GCVWR, standard hitch rating, and GVWR in the owner’s handbook.
Common Towing Scenarios
The towing capacity you’ll need will depend very much on what you’re planning to pull along. Below, we run through a few common examples:
- Towing a Mobile Home
Mobile homes are great for family vacations – they allow you to take your very own hotel room along for the ride wherever you go, helping you to feel at home and saving money too. To successfully tow a small mobile home, you’ll only need a towing capacity of 4,500 pounds. For larger, twin-axle models, an all-wheel drive truck is a better bet, with a sturdy towing capacity of around 7,000 pounds. Whatever type of mobile home you tow, remember to factor in the weight of your family’s luggage.
- Taking Garbage to the Dump
Had a recent clear-out or re-decorated a room? You may find yourself saddled with more garbage than your average bin can accommodate. It’s time to go to the dump. The most efficient way to throw away this waste is to take only one trip, and hook up a trailer. Fortunately, even compact cars such as a Volkswagen Golf or Ford Fiesta are capable of handling this type of towing. Most trips to the dump can be accomplished with a towing capacity of just 1,200 pounds. For heavier loads – perhaps you have a lot of old furniture – a towing capacity of 3,000 pounds could be more appropriate. Just remember that any trailer weighing more than 3,000 pounds may require brakes in your state.
- Transporting Heavy Mechanical Equipment
If you need to transport specialist equipment from site to site, you’ll also need to make use of a trailer. The necessary towing capacity for this task will vary depending on what you need to move, but you can rest assured that a capacity of 8,000 pounds will be more than enough for most items. It might seem difficult to find a production car with this sort of capacity, but you do have quite a few options, which we’ll run through later on.
- Towing a Horsebox
If you or a family member are of the equine persuasion, you’ll probably need to tow a horsebox at some point. Because horses really do come in all shapes and sizes, it’s important to know their weight before any towing takes place. A small pony can weigh as little as 450 pounds, while a giant shire horse can tip the scales at up to 2,200 pounds – a huge difference. To be on the safe side, a towing capacity of 4,500 pounds will cover all bases.
- Towing a Car
If you’re picking up or delivering a car, towing is the best way to go. This protects the car from many road hazards, and allows it to arrive neat and tidy. However, carscan vary greatly in weight, so a trailer that can accommodate a classic mini might not be able to take a large station wagon. Whatever model you’re towing, it’s best to use a vehicle with a towing capacity of at least 5,500 pounds.
Best Cars for Towing
If towing is a regular part of your automotive life, it’s definitely worth investing in a vehicle with a significant towing capacity. To help you find the right vehicle for you, we’ve found a few potential options.
- Volkswagen Touareg
With an impressive towing capacity of 7,700 pounds, Volkswagen have pulled it out of the bag with their Touareg. The truck is the largest model to go into production since the Phaeton, offering plenty of space for passengers and cargo.
Despite its hefty dimensions, the Touareg is surprisingly nimble thanks to four-wheel steering. It also features a wide range of gadgets inside, including a 12 inch screen mounted behind the steering wheel.
- Land Rover Discovery
As you may well expect, a good old fashioned Land Rover is also a great option for towing. The latest Discovery has a towing capacity of 7,700 pounds, making it ideal for mobile homes, horse boxes, and even cars and mechanical equipment.
With its excellent handling and four-wheel drive, it can get you just about anywhere, too. Along with its powerful three liter engine, the Discovery also features all the mod cons you need, from a heated windshield to parking assistance.
- Skoda Octavia Scout
If you’re not in the market for a truck or SUV, you don’t need to sacrifice your towing capacity. Skoda’s Octavia Scout can haul up to 4,400 pounds, making it ideal for a wide range of towing applications.
Along with its surprisingly high towing capacity, the Octavia offers great fuel economy, running up to 58 mpg. Four wheel drive comes as standard, too, so it’s surprisingly well equipped for whatever off-road adventures you throw its way.
- Vauxhall Insignia Grand Sport Hatchback
Vauxhall have put together the perfect family car to tow with: ideal for everyday driving, but equally capable of towing a mobile home or ATV, for weekend fun.
With a towing capacity of up yo 4,300 pounds (the 2 liter diesel version), the Insignia can handle just about any domestic towing situation. It’s also comfortable, responsive, and features plenty of space in the trunk. Overall, it’s a sleek and affordable car with a towing trick up its sleeve.
Tips for Safe Towing
Useful as it is, towing can also be dangerous, so it’s important to always tow with caution. We’ve compiled some vital tips to help you stay safe while towing.
- Choose the right Speed
Driving with a trailer in tow should be an overall slower affair than your average journey, to help prevent any wobbling. On the interstate, it’s a good idea to stick to the right hand lane, since your acceleration will be much more sluggish than usual. Since you’ll be driving a little under the speed limit, sticking to this lane will also allow faster vehicles to pass you, preventing the frustration that can lead to accidents.
- Practise makes Perfect
If you’ve never driven with a trailer before, get in plenty of practise hooking it up and driving around some quiet roads. Depending on the size and weight of the trailer, you may notice a significant difference in the way your car handles and feels. If you’re nervous, many driving instructors also offer trailer lessons.
- Attach with Extra Care
Even if you’re a veteran hauler, check and double check that your trailer is properly attached before hitting the roads. Also check that the trailer has appropriate plates, lights, and safety chains.
- Keep your Distance
When towing a trailer, your stopping distance increases dramatically, so it’s important to leave much more room between you and the car in front than you usually would. This will give you plenty of time to react if they suddenly slam on the brakes.
- Take Wide Turns
Turning will also feel different when you drive with a trailer in tow. Your vehicle’s length has essentially doubled, so it’s important to take your turns significantly wider than you usually would, to avoid hitting obstacles or ending up on the sidewalk.
- Be Cautious with Capacity
We can’t emphasise this enough: never tow more than your vehicle is equipped to handle. If the towing capacity is not enough for the task at hand, borrow or rent an appropriate vehicle before risking it. Exceeding your towing capacity can lead to braking issues, decoupling, and swaying. It also puts excess stress on components such as the transmission, risking damage to your car.
- 5 Essential Things to Know About the Towing Capacity of Your Car – Your Mechanic
- TOWING CAPACITY – howstuffworks