Why It’s Important to Consider More Than Towing Capacity
Just because a vehicle has a tow rating of 5,000 pounds doesn’t mean you should automatically assume that it’s capable of towing that much weight. Many popular three-row crossover SUVs, such as the Kia Telluride and Volkswagen Atlas, have maximum tow ratings set by their manufacturers at 5,000 pounds. However, towing capacity is not the only factor to consider when deciding how much weight to tow.
Understanding Towing Terms
Before hooking up a trailer to a vehicle, it’s important to understand some common towing terms. The Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) refers to the maximum loaded weight of a vehicle, including passengers, pets, and gear. The Gross Combined Weight Rating (GCWR) refers to the combined maximum weight of the vehicle, passengers, trailer, and everything on the trailer, such as gear and fuel. Tongue weight is the amount of weight directly applied to the vehicle through the tongue and hitch of the trailer and should typically be between 10-15% of the gross trailer weight. The SAE International (SAE) standard, specifically J2807, establishes the performance requirements for determining tow-vehicle gross combination weight rating and trailer weight ratings.
Considering Weight and Other Factors
Weight plays a crucial role in towing capacity, but there are other factors to consider as well. Altitude and temperature can significantly impact the stress on your powertrain. Higher altitudes or driving through mountainous regions, along with extreme heat, can put additional strain on your vehicle. When too much weight is loaded behind a vehicle, it can lead to overheated brakes and transmission, an overwhelmed cooling system, or even trailer sway, which can cause loss of control and accidents.
Know Your Vehicle’s Capacity
Every vehicle sold in the U.S. has a label, usually found in the driver’s door jamb, that displays its Gross Combined Weight Rating (GCWR). This rating accounts for the vehicle, trailer, passengers, and cargo. It’s important to consider not just the weight of the boat and trailer but also the additional weight of fuel, gear, and any other items on board. Moreover, choosing options like larger wheels, panoramic sunroofs, and other accessories can add weight to the vehicle, reducing its towing capacity.
Read the Fine Print
Manufacturers often provide specific guidelines for towing capacity in their owner’s manuals. These guidelines may take into account factors such as the number of occupants and cargo in the vehicle. For example, the 2021 Honda Pilot owner’s manual states that with two occupants weighing 150 lbs each and 17.6 lbs of cargo per passenger, an all-wheel-drive Pilot equipped with a transmission cooler can tow 5,000 pounds with a maximum tongue weight of 500 lbs. However, with four occupants weighing 150 lbs each and up to 17.6 lbs of cargo in the cargo area, the towing capacity drops to 4,500 pounds with a maximum tongue weight of 450 lbs. Extra cargo in the cargo area further reduces towing capacity. Therefore, it’s crucial to consider the specific guidelines provided by the manufacturer.
How Ratings and Capacities are Determined
Most automakers use the SAE International’s J2807 standard to rate a vehicle’s towing capacity. This standard involves rigorous real-world tests that simulate various towing scenarios. These tests typically include driving up and down steep grades at different speeds, acceleration runs, and passing tests. Automakers often use specific highways or roads to establish handling, braking, and cooling requirements.
While a vehicle may be technically capable of towing its rated capacity, it doesn’t mean it’s always advisable. Pushing the limits can lead to undesirable outcomes such as trailer sway, where either the trailer leads the vehicle or vice versa. This game of control is not something anyone wants to experience on the road. To ensure safety, it’s recommended to aim for the load to only be around 75-80% of the vehicle’s tow rating. For example, if you frequently tow a 5,000-pound boat and trailer, consider a vehicle with a tow rating of around 7,000 pounds.
Choosing the Right Vehicle
It’s essential to assess your towing needs and the conditions in which you’ll be towing before purchasing a vehicle. While heavy-duty pickup trucks may not be necessary to tow a 5,000-pound boat, smaller SUVs like the Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport may not be the best choice either. There are family haulers, such as the Dodge Durango and Audi Q7, that can tow more than 5,000 pounds and still fit comfortably in a garage.
In summary, towing capacity is just one aspect to consider when deciding how much weight to tow. Factors like altitude, temperature, vehicle options, cargo, and passengers all play a significant role in determining a safe and appropriate towing capacity. It’s crucial to understand the specific guidelines provided by the manufacturer and aim to stay within a range that allows for optimal control and safety on the road.