Dear Joe and Vicki: How do I go about choosing a tow vehicle to pull a travel trailer? Should I choose the tow vehicle first and then find a trailer it can tow? Or should I first select the trailer and then find a tow vehicle that can pull it? How do I determine whether the tow vehicle will be able to handle the trailer?
Joe: Ideally, you will identify (but not purchase) the trailer that best suits your RVing interests and needs. Then, locate (but not purchase) the tow vehicle that best handle the size and weight of that trailer. Finally, research to determine the type of hitch you will need. In the best of all worlds, the tow vehicle will also satisfy your everyday transportation needs both while you are on the road towing your trailer, and in between RV trips as a transportation vehicle. In the real world, don’t be surprised if you have to make a number of compromises. Once these objectives are met, all you have to do is figure out how to pay for them.
Vicki: Here are a few guidelines for choosing a tow vehicle: Decide whether an SUV, van or pickup truck will best suit both your personal and towing needs. Visit the dealership selling that vehicle and obtain a copy of the manufacturer’s trailering guide and towing recommendations. Since the towing recommendations will be expressed in weight, do your homework and ascertain the following: The tow vehicle’s Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR). That’s the maximum weight, including passengers, fuel, cargo (including the trailer's tongue weight), and the weight of the tow vehicle itself, that the tow vehicle can safely carry down the road. The trailer’s Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR). That’s the maximum weight, including full water and propane tanks, optional equipment, cargo, accessories and the weight of the trailer itself, that the trailer can safely carry down the road. The tow vehicle’s Gross Combined Weight Rating (GCWR). That’s the maximum total weight of the fully loaded tow vehicle and fully loaded trailer that the tow vehicle may safely handle. It’s not out of line to assume you will load your tow vehicle to its GVWR and pull a trailer also loaded to its GVWR. If the combined weight of the two vehicles exceeds the tow vehicle’s Gross Combined Weight Rating you need to lighten the load or get a tow vehicle with a higher Gross Combined Weight Rating. Here’s another way of looking at it. Place the fully loaded tow vehicle and fully loaded trailer on a scale. The total weight of both vehicles should not exceed the tow vehicle’s Gross Combined Weight Rating.
Joe: Not enough can be said about the importance of staying well within the manufacturer’s weight limitations. Personally, I’d feel better knowing my tow vehicle was rated to handle 10% more weight than I was towing. Choose and equip your tow vehicle so it is more than adequate to do the job. Most manufacturers offer an optional towing package. It costs less to order the package than to add the equipment after you take delivery. When it comes to choosing between adequate power and fuel economy, I would take the power. I’ve never seen an RVer drive to the top of a long, steep grade, get out and curse his rig for having too much power. Before you buy your RV package be sure the manufacturers of the tow vehicle, trailer and hitch all agree you have a towing combination that is made for each other. Do your homework, pay attention to the manufacturer’s written recommendations and be sure the tow vehicle you choose will take you where you want to go and let you do the things you want to do.
Joe and Vicki are the authors of a number of how-to RV books and e-books. Return to RV Know How