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Traveled Lane Trailers Divider
Part I:  What Can My Vehicle Tow?

Disclaimer:  Please refer to the manuals of  tow vehicle, trailer and hitch for recommended operating procedures and limitations before use and/or purchase.

When we started this months article we had intended to cover the pieces and parts that make up a hitch.  We get these questions alot, and we find that folks are very uncomfortable with the situation because they really do not understand what they need or require. As we proceeded with the article we realized that the hitch is secondary to the fundamental question of, What can my vehicle tow?  After all, the trailer you choose should fall within the vehicles towing parameters and thus the hitch is selected to accommodate the trailer. (If you have a smaller tow vehicle you may wish to read our article on the Brenderups).

Where to begin.  We would like to be able to tell you to just simply ask your dealer, but we have been around too long to give you that answer. Sometimes it can be almost that easy.  We have found that certain vehicle manufacturers are very specific about the towing capabilities of their vehicles.One that comes to mind is Toyota. Their SUV and light truck sales brochures were very specific, if you buy this vehicle with this equipment this is the tow capacity and this is the maximum tongue load.  Sometimes you may have to dig a little deeper into the actual manuals, an example would be the Land Rover Discovery its manual is very specific as to towing capabilities.  In high gear you can tow this much, in low gear this much with a maximum tongue load of   "xxx".  If buying new, our biggest advice is DO NOT take a salespersons' word for it, ask them to show it to you in writing.

What if  it's an older vehicle then what?  If you are absolutely unsure of the situation some folks have taken their Vehicle Identification Number (Vin#) and called the manufacturer, not a dealership, the manufacturer.  Based on the vin# they can tell you how your vehicle is equipped and most times give you a definite answer as to towing capability. Another option may be the tag located on the frame of the vehicle inside the driver's door.  We know many trucks have manual pages dedicated to towing and in conjunction with the information on your frame sticker you should be able to at least figure out what equipment your truck has. Once you get this information there are then charts which  indicate what your vehicle can tow. Be warned however, sometimes these numbers are not straight forward and a call to the manufacturer may be helpful.

Some general interest items. 

1)  A mistake alot of folks make is that they base the towing capacity of their vehicle on the numbers stamped on the hitch that has been installed.  Hitches are rated in classes with weight ranges and do not indicate the actually towing capability of the vehicle. Basically hitch and vehicle are two independent entities.

2)  There are at least three items which determine towing capacity: engine size, rear end gearing ratio and transmission type, automatic Vs manual.  On some smaller tow vehicles the addition of extra engine cooling, transmission coolers, and beefed up suspension is also not unheard of.  Usually you will find these types of items included in what has commonly been referred to as a "towing package". One item about transmissions, if you are considering or have a smaller tow vehicle with  a manual transmission look carefully at the towing numbers. We have seen situations where "like" vehicles have had 1/2 to 2/3 the recommended towing capacity of their automatic counter parts.  This is more prevalent in the lighter vehicles, when you move to the "heavy duty" work vehicles we have not noticed this type of variance.  Whatever the vehicle, verify the towing numbers.

3)  Maximum tongue load:  We emphasized this word earlier because it can make a difference in your ability to pull.  Tongue load refers to the amount of weight that the trailer puts on your bumper or hitch area.  The generally accepted rule of thumb for domestic built horse trailers is 10%. We have   seen estimates ranging from 9%-15% but 10% is most commonly referred to.  What that means is, if you have a trailer weighing 2400lbs, (2) 1,000lb horses for a total of 4400 lbs., you should expect to have somewhere in the neighborhood of 440 lbs. sitting on your bumper.  Most often when you look at the specs of American built, or "Americanized foreign" vehicles you will find that the maximum tongue load recommendations are usually 10% of their total towing capacity.  If they are not, further investigation may be required.  One vehicle that comes to mind had a towing capacity of 5000lbs but only a tongue load of 350lbs.  This could be a potential problem.  There is something called a "weight distribution unit" which transfers the weight from the bumper area to the axles of the vehicle and the result is a lightened tongue load. If you decide to embark on an adventure of this type, please read all information for tow vehicle, and hitch carefully, and keep in mind some vehicle manufacturers do not recommend the use of weight distribution units.  This type of information should be in the manual.  If not, start asking, this is not a situation where you want to assume anything. 

As we all know for every rule there is usually an exception. To read about one exception you may want to glance at our Brenderup article.  These trailers are from Europe where small tow vehicles and big horses are the norm and therefore their trailers are designed & engineered to accommodate that style of towing. 

4)  Amongst the many considerations required for a gooseneck we would like to add one which is sometimes over looked.  Consider you truck bed length.   We always recommend an 8 foot bed.  Simply because turning can be very distracting with the neck of the trailer only coming within inches of some extend cabs.   We have customers who have been down this road and will strongly agree.  If you plan to buy a truck with less than an 8 foot bed, please shop wisely for a trailer, you may spend the rest of your life driving straight :). If you plan to buy a really wide trailer, as an example some living quarters and slant loads, you may want to consider this even if you have an 8 foot bed.

5)  GVW - Gross Vehicle Weight.  We realized after reading this article several times, that none of this will help you if you are not aware that trailers have a GVW associated with them.  A GVW is the maximum amount a trailer can weigh with its cargo.  GVW is usually based on the axle capcity i.e. a trailer with two 2500 lb axles will have a GVW of 5000lbs to accomodate both trailer weight and cargo weight.   This is a simple example and the formulas for manufacturers to compute GVW are much more complicated as we understand it. Why did we tell you this, simple, it is usually our recommendation that once you figure out the towing capacity of your vehicle you then want to find a trailer with a GVW which falls within that capacity.  There are some exceptions to the rule, like european trailers, but when you are dealing with light tow vehicles and domestic built trailers we are  pretty firm on this point. 

This article has generally come from the perspective of  "I have a vehicle and what will it tow?"  In a prefect world where money would not be an issue, you would select your dream trailer, then buy the perfect tow vehicles with all the bells and whistles. But most of us live in reality and have to make do with what we have. This can sometimes leave us facing decisions of "need Vs. want Vs. safety..."  We are sure most if not all of you are like us at TLT, safety is first, decision made.

Happy Trailering... See you Next Month. (Or whenever we feel like something needs to be said.)

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If you have any comments, suggestions or topics for a "Trailering 101" article we'd be happy to take them.  Trailering education is our goal.

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