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Can Your Car Handle a Pull Behind Trailer?


Are you considering renting a travel trailer or 5th wheel, but don’t know if your current vehicle can tow it to the campsite of your dreams? Here’s a quick guide to help you decide which trailer your car can likely tow:

Vehicle Towing Information

Let’s start with 5th wheels. A pickup truck is essential to pull a 5th wheel, and the truck will need a 5th wheel hitch in the bed. Even with all of that equipment, you will need to know a few things about your truck. A pull-behind trailer of any size also requires knowledge about the vehicle that will be towing it down the road.

Photo Tripping America - Pull Behind Trailer - Outdoorsy

You should familiarize yourself with the following:

  1. GVW (the total weight of your car or truck, including passengers)
  2. GVWR (the gross vehicle weight rating of your towing vehicle) – this is how much weight your vehicle can tow. The GVWR is usually found on the sticker in the driver’s side door frame. You can also find it in the owner’s manual or from the manufacturer.
  3. The torque of your vehicle – how well it can pull at low speeds
  4. Trailer hitch towing capacity – hitches come in five classes with different ball receiver sizes)
  • I – rated up to 2,000 lbs. with 1-1/4” receiver
  • II – rated up to 3,500 lbs. with 1-1/4” receiver
  • III – rated up to 6,000 lbs. with 2” receiver
  • IV – rated up to 10,000 lbs. with 2” receiver
  • V – rated up to 12,000 lbs. with 2-1/2” receiver

Most of the above items can usually be found on the sticker in the driver’s side door frame.  You can also find it in the owner’s manual or from the manufacturer.

Once you’ve determined the GVWR of your tow vehicle, multiply that number by 80%. The resulting weight is how much your trailer can weigh when it is fully loaded with water, propane, and all of your stuff.

Photo Tripping America - Pull Behind Trailer - Outdoorsy

Then look at the amount of torque your engine has. If the number is low, you will not have much pulling power. This number also figures into your vehicle’s GVWR – hence the amount of weight you can safely pull is low, as well.

Take a look at the hitch rating on your vehicle. That, too, will narrow your trailer selection by the weight that you can safely pull.

Real World Example

Here’s an example of the above-mentioned selection process:

  • Tow vehicle is 2018 Ford Explorer
  • GVWR is 6,160 lbs.
  • 6,160 x 80% = 4,928 lbs.
  • The hitch is Class 3 rated up to 6,000 lbs.
  • A fully loaded trailer cannot weigh more than 4,928 lbs.

Using this example, narrow your trailer shopping focus to those weighing less than 4,928 lbs. loaded.  (Remember, water weighs about 8 lbs. per gallon. If you have a 40-gallon water tank, 30-gallon gray tank, and a 30-gallon black tank and all the tanks were full, that is 800 lbs. of liquid to subtract from your total weight. That alone will bring the loaded weight of your trailer down to 4,100 lbs. even though you might not have full tanks all the time – better to plan for the worst case scenario.)

Smaller vehicles can usually only haul small pop-up campers and empty ultra-lite trailers.  Don’t run the chance of ruining your tow vehicle by pulling something above its allowed GVWR.

Here’s Your Cheat Sheet

To make all of this a little easier, here is a wonderful guide published by Trailer Life that lists tow vehicle by the manufacturer and gives you the entire breakdown of their towing capabilities. Just pick the year your vehicle was created, then look up its make and model.

Photo Tripping America - Pull Behind Trailer - Outdoorsy

As you can see, it’s not too difficult to determine which vehicles best tow the travel trailer you’ve been dreaming about. Just take the time to look at the appropriate figures before you invest in a trailer.  Hopefully, you’ll avoid buyer’s remorse by getting the RV that fits your existing automobile or truck! You can even test a trailer out before you buy – rent one at Outdoorsy and take it for a trial run!

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