Mating the tow vehicle to the trailer is the most important factor in towing safety and enjoyment. If the vehicles are not matched correctly, stability becomes a factor and can lead to loss of control. The tow vehicle has to be rated to tow the weight of the loaded trailer, and it needs enough power to be able to pull it up a hill and control it while on the downgrade.
A large travel trailer will require the towing power of a rear-wheel-drive V-8 equipped truck, SUV, or full-size sedan. You will also find some heavy-duty diesel trucks made specifically for towing fifth-wheel or travel trailers. They look like the trucks that pull eighteen-wheel trailers and run from $40,000 to $100,000 or more.
Towed Weight Limits
When evaluating your vehicle as a tow vehicle, you will need to know the vehicle tow weight. Look in your owner's manual for the maximum weight (GVW) the vehicle can tow. The next thing you need to find in the manual is the gross combined weight rating (GCWR). The GCWR is the maximum combined weight of the tow vehicle and the load you will pull. This is the most important towing weight specification you will need to know. You can also contact the manufacturer directly for that information.
Weight is calculated by adding the dry weight of both the tow vehicle and the trailer being towed. Then add in the weight of all fluids, foods, clothing, and other supplies that will be in the trailer. Add to this the weight of the passengers in a tow vehicle fully fueled and ready to go. Add a bit more for good measure. If this number does not exceed the GCWR of the tow vehicle, you are in good shape.
Based on the size and number of cylinders you give them along with the model, manufacturers can tell you the towed weight limits. Many reputable RV dealers will also be able to provide you with this information. The RV dealer who wants to keep you as a lifelong customer will give you honest information and not try to sell you more trailer than you can safely pull.
If you are buying a vehicle to use as a tow vehicle, be sure to ask about trailer towing packages. These optional packages come from the factory or are added on at the dealer and will increase the rated load of the vehicle. These towing packages can also be added on “after-market” to the vehicle you own already. A towing package will include upgrades to the vehicle suspension, radiator, and alternator. The flashers will need to be upgraded to support the trailer lights in addition to the cars. Another important area that will need attention is an upgraded cooling system for the engine and transmission that includes an oversized radiator and transmission oil cooler. Towing a trailer is hard work, and an engine and transmission will overheat without these additions. Towing a trailer without a tow package or modifications could also void the vehicle warranty.